It's game on for OUYA. The company hoped to raise $950,000 with their Kickstarter campaign to build an Android-based, hackable gaming console. The campaign ended yesterday, after having raised $8.5 million from tens of thousands of backers. Now what?
OUYA appears to be truly dedicated to bringing this awesome-sounding console to market. You can pre-order from OUYA's website. If you're ordering in the U.S., you can get one console and one controller for $109, which will be delivered in April 2013 – barring any unforeseen problems. Is this too good to be true?
Not according to OUYA founder Julie Uhrman. True, she never expected to raise this much money, but that makes the TV gaming console even easier to deliver. “This isn't rocket science,” she explained to Ars Technica. “We're not building custom chips, it's standard technology combined in a new way...We are very confident and committed to launching in March 2013, and we know we can do it.”
We covered the start of Uhrman's Kickstarter campaign and what it hoped to accomplish before. The whole idea was to bring great gaming back to the TV with a gaming console for under $100 that users could hack themselves, adding their own hardware (you can take it apart with a screwdriver) or even writing their own games. Every developer who builds a game for the OUYA system would be required to offer some part of it for free, guaranteeing gamers a great experience. Because the Android software on which OUYA is based is open source, even indie developers can make competitive games.
This doesn't mean that the development of this platform will be totally rosy going forward. Thomas Grove, writing for Gamasutra, noted a number of issues OUYA may yet face. Piracy looms large as a potential threat – and if players start using the platform to play hacked/pirated versions of games, that could turn a lot of heavy hitters against the scrappy company. Also, as Grove noted, “There's nothing stopping anyone else from releasing a similar device.” That's true, of course; but given the pent-up demand that this Kickstarter campaign seems to have tapped into, one has to ask why no one has done it before.
Jenna Wortham, writing for Bits, saw getting developers to create for the platform as another potential issue. In fact, she saw a whole host of challenges; the company “will have to convince Android developers, who are already struggling with issues like piracy, to funnel resources into making games that can be played on a TV screen. The company will also have to finish building out the software, app store and payment platform that the machine will run on. It will have to compete with rivals like Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony in the console market, and deal with the expectations of users, who will be anticipating a finished product that works as well as the competition. It will also have to contend with any unexpected hiccups and glitches that could arise and set back production, or unforeseen problems after release — issues that companies as well-staffed and funded as Jawbone, Sony and Microsoft have fielded with their hardware releases.” And that's not even including the fact that OUYA still has to finish the design of the console and its controllers!
That's right, OUYA is still working on that. But they do have prototypes, and much to the community's delight, they're being quite transparent, even to the point of soliciting advice and opinions from gamers. They're not taking all of the advice, mind you; a request for more internal storage had to be turned down, to help keep the console's cost reasonable. (The device currently features 8 GB of onboard storage). What seems particularly interesting to me is that a number of OUYA's partners are also looking at non-gaming uses for the console, like music videos.
So what does all this mean for gamers? We'll have a better idea in March or April, when the first consoles are supposed to start shipping. But Uhrman is an industry veteran, and she seems relentlessly optimistic. My guess is that it will prove more versatile than its creators anticipate. Certainly, I can see that it might offer a lot to those who like to hack into platforms and see what they can do with them – the same kinds of folks who like to build things with Arduino or hack into Microsoft's Kinect controller to make something really wild. Will it offer enough to someone who just wants to hook a console up to the TV and spend a few hours in absorbing play? That's going to depend on their partners – but let's just say I wouldn't bet against someone who could raise more than eight million dollars in one month from a grassroots campaign with a very gutsy idea. Put Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo on notice: the game is definitely on.
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