Why OUYA Isn’t the Cat’s Pajamas
If you’ve been hiding under a really big rock over the past week, firstly welcome back, and secondly, please take a gander at OUYA, the $99 open source console. Running down the basics of the console would be a bit redundant here, and we’ve already done a pretty good job at giving you what you need to know about it.
OUYA brings with it a lot of promise, but I fear that the potential has blinded people to the reality of OUYA: it’s a dog that barks, without much threat of biting. Past idyllic pipedreams, OUYA is a very troubled product that will have a very hard time bringing the change that the console market needs.
The angel investor social network, Kickstarter, has become a beloved member of the gaming community in recent years. Famously bringing Double Fine their next project, contributors from across the net have been doing their part to give little projects wind in their wings. OUYA smashed everyone expectations when it doubled its goal in a mere 24 hours, but maybe we should reel our expectations back a bit and check the sites track record.
Kickstarter has yet to really do wonders for the hardware sector. Of the top ten most funded technology products, only two (CloudFTP and PrintrBot) are currently on the market. This should be a red flag for any consumer who likes to know where their money is going. Innovation takes risks and faith, this is what Kickstarter is built on, but as long as a year passing without being able to purchase the product I pledged money towards should absolutely worry people. I don’t see how OUYA would be any different.
“Fund some initial game development.”
What does that mean? Is the OUYA team making games, or do they have a couple of devs in mind to make exclusives? Giving a company money before they can tell me what it is I’m buying isn’t something I feel strongly about. The Big 3 have known this for years, which is why you see all about launch line ups many months before a console hits the market. Since this business has always been about games first, it’s funny that so many people have over looked this incredible hole in communication.
And what of these third-party “pledges?”
Mojang would love to see Minecraft on the console if demand is high enough. And what shrewd business man wouldn’t want to put his product anywhere where money could be made? But this isn’t a promise of service, just a mention that if the price is right, a man appointed by Notch to speak on his behalf may play.
Jenova Chen, mystical game developer and head of thatgamecompany (flOw, Journey) is “excited” for the project, and believes “there is always room to challenge the status quo.” Nothing pledged from the esteemed game developer, besides interest (which could lead to something more concrete in the future, admittedly). The list of reactions goes on and on, and has the potency of interviewing the public after a bank robbery. Everyone has opinions, but that’s it.
So far we have a game console with no games that is playing the odds against it actually being sold at all. But let’s say is does hit the market, and this Android powered machine is now sitting next to your flat screen and you’re ready to recapture the console-TV romance you’ve been so lacking. You power up your little puzzle cube and hit the OUYA marketplace for… what? Maybe they don’t have first party games out yet, and Mojang is still in the “seeing-if-it’s-worth-it” stage, but there’s got to be something on the marketplace to play, right? Probably, but who’s to say what will actually be there, seeing as Android powered stores are usually tailored to whatever a device-producing company desires. Things you play on your EVO phones or Nexus tablets may not be available on your OUYA. So it’s a real crap shoot, even for things that could be retrofitted to the console. But don’t worry; what is available is “free-to-play.”
Is there a hairier, more misanthropic term in the industry than “free-to-play?”
It brings with it images of awkward Korean massively multiplayer grindfests, shoddy Unreal engine abusing FPS’s, and the dreaded Facebook game. A very short list of games, including titles like Team Fortress 2 and League of Legends, save the pseudo-genre from being forever regarded as trash ware, whether is rightly deserves it or not. The mistrust can come from the fact that free-to-play often just means “pay-to-win.” Studios develop games where you can purchase the best weapons with real money and skip actually going level by and gaining experience (otherwise known as playing the game.) They’re also often on the hook for being cheap rip-offs of games you could pay for, with less actual fun.
The majority of games that suit these descriptions exist on the mobile front, where they more or less get away with it. Mobile gaming is about having short bursts of entertainment, even if it’s not the greatest quality, available to you whenever and wherever you want it. Shooting up zombies in a Call of Duty clone on the train ride to work gives you just enough time to get the visceral pleasure of re-killing the dead, without the critical displeasure of realizing the game isn’t all that good. And if all I really want to do is shoot deadies with a specific type of gun, the game can take a couple more bucks from my iTunes confirmed bank account, and the good times can roll.
What happens when you require people to put more than just a passing interest in these games?
You quickly realize you’ve made a mistake, is what. When you ask people to sit on their couches in front of their TV’s you’re asking them to make a very important commitment. The reason AAA titles on the big platforms work is because when people choose to not watch cable TV and movies on Netflix, the alternative experience is rewarding. The opportunity cost isn’t so high when you get to play Uncharted 3, a game that is very much like a movie in and of itself. But when it’s not a super quality title, you’ll have many more disappointed consumers on your hands. There is no concrete proof that the cache of games for OUYA will reach anywhere near AAA status, and any less than that in a console may be asking too much of people. Unless you can give me good reasons to drop my Dualshock, I won’t.
But good developers can change all that of course. In fact, we don’t even have to wait for big developers to get on board. OUYA is open source, which means any one of us can take it upon ourselves to start the next console revolution. “Hackers welcome,” is a great and wonderful phrase for those who want to make the next DOTA or Counterstrike. But hacker can often also mean pirate, and piracy can’t sound good for a company that wants to make a console that stands to make very little money anyway based on their free to play model. Hacker can also mean cheater, looking to ruin other peoples gaming experience by fiddling with very easy to access nobs.
But let’s go back to the games themselves for a moment.
Let’s continue our hypothetical situation where games are on the OUYA, they’re free-to-play, and the Android market, though super fragmented, still has something you want to play. You download it and have a blast. Now a new Android OS comes out, and you download that to stay current. The next time you start that game you love it crashes intermittently because it doesn’t play nice with the new OS, and you’re going to have to wait for the devs to fix this. Mobile phones have this issue all the time, but it’s usually one that goes unnoticed, thanks to that blanket of negligence I mentioned earlier. But now you’ve made your commitment on your couch. You’re not watching Breaking Bad, expecting to play this game instead, and now you have to jump over and through a bunch of hoops to find out your game just won’t work until someone on the other side of your little box fixes it.
If you thought PSN patches were long, you’re staring at the tip of a really big iceberg, in OUYA’s case. Forcing developers to code special versions of their programs specifically for OUYA would remedy the issue, but also shoot the entire idea of being “Android powered” in the foot. Phone companies struggle day in and out to try to keep up with it all, and OUYA will have to be equally as diligent.
The home console market absolutely needs a shot in the arm; I am not blind to this great blanketing truth. This shake up, though, will not come from the OUYA: a product with more ways to fail than too succeed.