The Monday ‘Joe: Looking at Ouya

The Monday 'Joe

Mondays are usually slow for news as people start to stir for the coming week. Therefore, every Monday, we will address one topic to start the week and get discussion flowing. It stimulates the week like a cup of coffee, hence the title.

A few headlines have been springing up lately about Ouya, a console that’s said to be open source which will feature many free-to-play games. On top of all this, it’s set to launch in March 2013 at a starting price of only $99 USD, and the device itself is as sleek as your average Apple product. Ouya’s approach, introductory price, and success on Kickstarter have prompted much comment by various outlets, such as DevelopPC World, and Pocket Gamer, though not everyone expresses optimism for the console’s future. Taking all this into account, here’s this week’s question:

What do you think of Ouya? How much potential does it have in the greater gaming world, and would you consider trying it yourself?

Joshua Moore: The Ouya is a good idea. A great idea. However, let’s face it: it’s impractical. The hardware will cost more than $99, without a doubt. For a platform that’s based on being open and “free,” that’s not good because if they want to stick with the $99 price tag, they’ll have to take a loss. With no place to recover that loss, they will run themselves out of business. Speaking from experience, those small electrical components cost a lot more than people think they do, even when mass produced. The hardware in this sounds comparable to a high-end smartphone or even a high-end portable game system like the Vita, and those generally cost somewhere on the order of $200 to make, give or take. The costs highly depend on the labor and the number of units being manufactured. Although interest in this seems high, it’s not high enough to bring those manufacturing costs to an absolute minimum.

Let’s also not forget just how difficult the process of getting something made is. This is a concept. They have a working prototype, which is good, but you can’t judge how well a mass manufactured device will be based off the prototype. Quality control is hard, but if they really want to try making this thing for under $100, they’ll be hard pressed to manage that without having a shitload of lemons. The combustible kind.

On the subject of whether or not I like the idea or would try it: I do! It’s great! If the developers somehow pull this off, I would love to give the system a try. This concept does everything right and pays attention to the nuances the current gaming industry has forgotten.

Nathan Wood: I’m skeptical, to say the least. Although Ouya’s a breath of fresh air, I’m not sure how successful it will be, and I have a lot of pending considerations and questions moving forward. I can’t seem to shake the thought that the creators of Ouya are unaware of how much it costs to develop and distribute hardware, even if the parts are mass produced. The $950,000 goal they had was never going to be enough. Frankly, I’m not even certain that their current sitting at about $4.9 million would be enough, either, especially once you consider marketing the thing.

But like any other piece of hardware, it all depends on the software, and I’m not sure how many developers will readily make something for the Ouya. What makes the Ouya a more lucrative option than mobile or indie developing for iOs/Android or Steam? And if the Ouya is just going to receive ports of already existing titles like Minecraft, then what’s the point of purchasing a whole new console for games that we already have access to on different devices?

Most importantly, however, I think a lot of people have the wrong idea on what types of games this thing will be able to run. Recently, a survey went up from the developers asking gamers what they wanted to see on the Ouya. In the top 20 list, titles like Mass Effect, Skyrim, Grand Theft Auto, Battlefield, Need for Speed, Call of Duty, and Assassin’s Creed populated the list. I’m sorry to break this to you, but these AAA titles aren’t going to be on the Ouya. You’re depending on a company like Activision or EA to provide some of the game  to us for free, and I’m not even sure the Ouya would be capable of running these titles at a high enough standard. If this list is any indication of what people want to see come out on the Ouya, a lot of people are going to be disappointed.

But I hope I’m wrong because if the Ouya proves to be successful, it only benefits the consumer. Not only do we get another console that’s cheap and open, but more competition is never a bad thing in the industry. If it takes off, Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo would really have to sit down and re-evaluate things moving forward.

Crystal Steltenpohl: I wouldn’t be able to afford it either way, so I can’t say I’ve been paying that much attention.

To be honest, I don’t think the issue is too few consoles on the market, but rather that current developers don’t understand what gamers actually want. That said, this is a good idea. Relatively cheap open source console that allows users to mod? Android-based? Easy to repair and upgrade? No (known) way to void the warranty? Great idea! It’s silly having so many restrictions on current systems (hi, DRM), and these guys are taking it in the right direction. Let’s open things up a bit, guys.

There’s always a downside, though. In order to draw attention to it—and I mean attention from anyone who doesn’t absolutely hate the Big Three—you’re going to need to see highly desired games on there. Why buy a new console if it’s not going to play the big blockbuster that’s coming out in a few months? You’d have to be deluded to think that EA or Ubisoft are just going to be like, “Yeah! We’ll develop this for you as well!” without wanting something in return. And if I want indie games, I don’t need a new console. I can use Steam, Desura, XBLIG, mobile games, or any Humble Indie Bundle/Indie Royale package for that. The ability to mod my stuff? Say hello to the PC, which already exists and does more than play video games. Steam and GameStop to a lesser extent offer me decent enough deals on games I want to play—and I don’t need to buy a new console for that—so I don’t know that money will even be a big enough draw, at least for me.

I’d love to see this kick off, but I just don’t know if it will. It’s going to need big games that people don’t already have on several platforms (e.g. not Bastion, Dungeon Defenders, Minecraft, etc.) to even think about drawing people away from the consoles they already have. I see this as being a hacker’s playground, but I’m not sure what the appeal is for a gamer who isn’t interested in modding or developing. Quite frankly, I don’t think being able to watch Twitch.tv on it is going to cut it.

Christopher Bowen: If you asked me, “Chris, what would you do if you wanted to make a video game console that went in the exact opposite direction of where the industry is going?” I would say Ouya.

Let me get this straight. We’re going to create a stationary console, without major software support, in an era where everything is pointing to ubiquitous portable devices (e.g. tablets and smartphones) that relies on social or freemium games? Games that typically succeed on Facebook and phones specifically because you don’t have to go through any hoops to get them? And this console is likely to be sold at cost to boot at best? And after all this, the sales pitch is, “It’s open source! You like open source, right?” I’m supposed to take this seriously?

At absolute best, this is a naive business proposition. Ouya’s going to take the industry standard 30% from all purchases on this system, just like Apple and Google do. Who’s going to develop software? It’s already hard enough to make software for multiple versions of Android. Who’s going to develop for this system that isn’t going to get the dial moving among the mainstream? The kind of gamers they’re trying to draw are the hardcores, the people who get excited about things like, “You can hack it!” However, honestly speaking, hackers can “hack” anything they want to; putting down a red carpet just makes it less sporting. Ouya is the kind of system that I would develop as a hobby for other journalists and industry professionals who are sick of Microsoft’s shit, but financial statements for years have proven that catering to that market is a losing proposition no matter how badly we want to believe otherwise.

At worst, this is a deceptive business model. I’m happy that these guys got good funding at around $4.8 million from over 37,000 backers, averaging just shy of $130 per person. But they were asking for $950,000. What’s that going to buy? They’re only selling the system for $99, and I have a feeling they’re not selling for any kind of profit at all. Personally, I think the backers on Kickstarter are being played in a sense because this is just initial funding, something they can take to venture capitalists for more funding. This is less a noble ideal than it is the first stage of a multi-faceted business pitch. It has to happen like this because there’s no way this is going to go anywhere otherwise. So the people thinking this is The Next Big Thing are going to be in for a rude awakening. This is especially true when we look at the numbers: 37,000 might sound nice, but if even a AA game sold that number of units of a game, we’d be talking about people being fired and companies going out of business. Those are insignificant numbers, plain and simple.

I don’t think there’s anyone that wants Ouya to fail, particularly not me. I actually hope I’m wrong and people look back on this and laugh at my stupidity in the future, because that would mean Ouya succeeded and the gaming industry would be better as a whole. I’d much rather see that than to be able to look back on this and say, “I told you so.” But from what I’m seeing here, Ouya is going to fail with fireworks.

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The Gaming Bus staff consists of some of the brightest minds to enter the field of games journalism, bringing perspectives from all over the world and from all genres.