Game “biz” veteran Julie Uhrman (formerly at GameFly and IGN) has assembled a team to create a $99 Android-based home console. The project, now seeking $950,000 through Kickstarter, would allow indie game developers broader access to their audiences’ living rooms with fewer barriers to entry. As of this writing, it’s raised over $3.5 million in less than two days.
Ouya is meant to be an open console where games and game development are cheap and easy for everyone, without costly or prohibitive distribution channels (each Ouya console is also a developer kit). Although indie games have become more popular and accessible in recent years, entering the living room has been a challenge. At a low price point ($99), and with the requirement that all games be at least free to try, Ouya hopes to allow such games to penetrate a market where Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo have traditionally dominated.
This thing has raised more money than any other Kickstarter to date. This is thanks in part to big names like Tim Schafer and Markus Persson, who express skepticism, but spread the buzz nonetheless. Schafer’s own famous Kickstarter raised $3.4 million in its 30 day period. But, don’t compare Ouya’s success to theirs yet - that amount was raised by 87,142 different people, the majority of whom contributed only $15 (effectively pre-buying the game). Ouya’s sizable fund thus far comes from only 27,000 donors, and most (23,000) contributed $99 (effectively buying the console).
Tech and possibilities
The Ouya encourages tinkering, saying “Hackers Welcome,” right on their Kickstarter page. Rooting the device does not void its warranty, and homebrew developers are encouraged by an included SDK. The possibilities for use of this tech are wide.
Those more dubious-minded folk might attempt to port games from other platforms themselves. Others might just use the device as a media center, using Netflix or Hulu or the like to stream video.
The only disadvantage to this setup potentially lies within its rather limited specs. 1 GB of RAM is better than the current gen consoles (though necessary for a device that hopes to do more than run games), but its Tegra 3 processor can’t really handle the level of power expected of a typical AAA title. By its expected release in March 2013, these features will be even less impressive. There’s a single USB 2.0 port — good to include for those who want to use non-controller peripherals (keyboards). But, if someone were to use this port for a hard drive in an attempt to get past the low 8GB included flash memory, they’d find themselves with slow transfer speeds.
Of course, minimalist tech is likely part of what makes the console possible at such a low price.
Although Android may seem like an odd choice, it’s Ouya’s best option. Google has put a lot of effort into making Android useful for projects like this, adding things like USB host support and cross-platform hardware rendering with Renderscript. Android developers with existing games on the platform should have little work in porting their games to Ouya, in part thanks to the Ouya controller’s touch pad.
Furthermore, an Ouya developer’s game will be accessible to a wide variety of Android devices from the get-go, which will only increase as better hardware and software iterations advance the market. With a bit of tweaking, such games can also be made to work with older versions of Android. The diversity of the Android ecosystem also allows the possibility of multiplayer between many different devices running the same code.