For a long time now, the console gaming market has been dominated by companies like Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo. These companies exercise tight control over which games can and can’t be released on their platform, how often they can be released, and at what price they can be released. But platforms like iOS prove that a game platform is possible with the games and apps not being tightly regulated by the hardware company. Even hardcore games like Team Fortress 2 have proven alternative pricing models, such as free-to-play, work.
Such developments in the business of games are motivating the team behind the Ouya, a $99 Android 4.0-based TV game console project that is looking to get crowdfunded on Kickstarter. Ouya is promising a more open, hackable, and flexible gaming environment that has never been seen before in the console market.
Julie Uhrman, founder of Ouya – who’s had executive experience at IGN, Vivendi Universal, and GameFly – thinks it’s about time the console market finally learned something from platforms like the iOS about new business strategies. “It’s ironic. All the growth in gaming is moving to mobile platforms, [and] we’re seeing a lot of AAA developers leaving their console shops to go to mobile. Yet three out of every four dollars is still spent in the living room, a majority of gaming time is still spent on the TV, and if you survey any gamer they’ll tell you their No. 1 platform is the TV.”
The increasing expense and complications of getting a game on to a console are forcing developers onto other platforms, Uhrman said. She opined that it’s leading to a situation where the consoles are “stuck with sequel after sequel versus new games and IP because it’s too expensive and no one wants to take a risk… We just think the time is really right. Nothing new came out of E3 [hardware-wise], and everybody’s feeling a little tired. It’s interesting because around the time of E3, everyone was asking if consoles were dead. We don’t think consoles are dead, we just think it’s time to rethink the way we do business.”
The Ouya has the hardware specs you would expect from a console that costs $99. It uses the same kind of quad-core NVIDIA Tegra 3 processor that powers Google’s Nexus 7 and Microsoft’s Surface tablets, along with 1GB of RAM and 8GB of built-in storage. This will let the system run decently complex 3D games at 1080p, but the graphics won’t be very good as compared to the Xbox360 or the PS3.
The price tag and open design seems perfect for hackers and hobbyists. Users can open the case with a standard screwdriver to upgrade everything from the RAM to the motherboard, and even solder onto the motherboard using “clearly documented test points”, according to the fact sheet. Regular consumers won’t be expected to regularly upgrade the internals like one would a PC. However, Uhrman said developers can be confident in developing for “one chipset that will be totally standard.”
Every console will come pre-loaded with an SDK, letting anyone familiar with Android development be a potential developer for the Ouya without paying any additional fees. The Android operating system on the Ouya will be fully rootable as well, meaning that a Linux distro will be seen on the machine shortly after launch.
Uhrman said Android was preferable over an open source platform like Linux for one main reason. “Familiarity is key,” she said. “Any time you want to launch something new, you want to remove as many reservations and hurdles as possible… there’s always opportunity cost, and you want to give the best value proposition. I looked at what was out there, and Android is well-accepted by hundreds of developers, it’s easy to understand it is not expensive to start developing on, and we’re starting to see a huge movement of developers to the mobile space… It’s something that they know; they’re not learning something new.”
An Android operating system doesn’t mean the device will have a completely touch-based interface. Ouya will include a wireless controller with two analog sticks, a d-pad, and eight action buttons, along with a touchpad set in the middle to allow for gesture-based controls.