Ouya: The Free to Play Console?
As mobile and social free to play games continue to flood the Android and iOS marketplace, and games like CCP’s upcoming Dust 514 create interest in free to play console games, it seemed inevitable that someone would put the two ideas together at some point. Enter Ouya, the upcoming Android powered home video game console that recently broke many Kickstarter records for funding. Originally seeking $900,000 USD in funding, the Ouya campaign has raised $3.5 million USD as of the time of this writing. So what’s the entire buzz about?
Ouya designer Yves Behar and founder Julie Uhrman seem to have a singular vision in mind. The idea is to create a console gaming system that delivers all the benefits of mobile gaming while allowing you to play right on your living room television. What sets Ouya apart from normal gaming consoles though is the concept of open development. Ouya intends to allow anyone to create games for the system. Are you a programming hobbyist or a large scale publishing company? Fine, you’ll have access to development kits right out of the box and you are free to publish your games without licensing, retail, or publishing fees. In fact, every Ouya owner has access to the same tools.
The system is going open source in an attempt to draw on the creativity of the masses rather than stifle that creativity with expensive dev kits and production teams. Even the hardware itself can be modified. Ouya’s creators actually encourage it! Hackers are welcome to personalize their systems in any way they see fit. The creators say the system is easy to root AND it does not void your warranty in any way. Hack it and add peripherals if you want, anything goes. While all of this sounds great there is one catch for developers.
From Ouya’s Kickstarter page:
“We're handing the reins over to the developer with only one condition: at least some gameplay has to be free. We borrowed the free-to-play model from games like League of Legends, Team Fortress 2, Triple Town, and many others. Developers can offer a free demo with a full-game upgrade, in-game items or powers, or ask you to subscribe.”
So as long as the game has some sort of free to play component, developers are fee to do what they wish. This will certainly be welcome news to potential developers and gamers alike. The free to play model has proven to be very lucrative when executed correctly and many developers will be trying to hit that sweet spot for gamers and rake in some cash at the same time.
It seems many AAA developers are keen to the idea behind Ouya as well. Head on over to Ouya’s Kickstarter page to see quotes from the likes of Jordan Mechner (creator of Prince of Persia) and Mojang (the developer behind Minecraft) among many others.
Aiming for an early 2013 release, the Ouya is expected to retail at $99 USD for the system and one wireless controller. The controller has two analog sticks, 1 D-Pad, 8 buttons, one action button, and a touchpad Ouya’s dev team hopes developers will utilize in their game designs. Additional controllers are expected to be available at launch as well.
This is certainly news to keep an eye on in both the gaming world as a whole and the free to play market. The system challenges current industry practices and targets Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony from a development cost standpoint. While the Ouya specs certainly will not be attaining the same power behind the big three consoles, the Ouya certainly puts pressure on the social gaming front for those companies, and challenges the closed minded and expensive development standards of some production houses.
With the huge amount of funding already generated on their Kickstarter page, the Ouya team looks to have found a market even larger than they expected. As launch gets closer, it will be interesting to see how the Ouya evolves with the additional money now dedicated to development.
Here’s where we break from the information, though, and I inject a few opinions. I have some pros and cons for the Ouya.
Magicman’s Ouya Pros:
1) Open Source hardware and software: This is obviously a HUGE pro to many gamers and developers. While I may not be making games myself, if I can somehow mod my Ouya to be a classic console emulator I would be thrilled.
2) Free-to-Play: This is a no brainer as well. The free to play model is what we focus on here and we all know examples of well executed free to play games. If Ouya can deliver what we love about the free to play market it will be hugely successful. Free-to-Play is a bit of a Con for me too though as you’ll see below.
3) The Price: $99 dollars for a system that promises to deliver almost all genres? Sign me up. While the Ouya team listed FPS, Action, Adventure, RPG, and other genres , MMOs were not a named genre for the initial release.
Magicman’s Ouya Cons:
1) The Specs: Don’t get me wrong, I realize what types of games we’re talking about here. Think Angry Birds and you’ve got what will probably be the dominant game size and scope you’ll be seeing on the Ouya. Hopefully some developers will be a bit more ambitious. Here’s the current specs directly from their Kickstarter page:
- Tegra3 Quad Core Processor
- 1GB RAM
- 8GB of Internal Flash Storage
- HDMI Connection for the TV with 1080p HD Support
- Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
- Bluetooth LE 4.0
- USB 2.0 (One Port)
- The Wireless controller described above
- Android 4
A quick rundown of the list shows you specs that are already surpassed by many tablets currently on the market. Add in the fact that the Ouya isn’t set to launch until 2013 and these specs could be even more of an issue. Since the Ouya campaign has pulled in a great deal more money than they needed, I am hoping that these specs get seriously upgraded as Kickstarter stretch goals are added.
2) Free-to-Play: I told you this was a pro and a con in my opinion. Who exactly is going to define free to play for the Ouya? Will a one level trial and the rest unlocked through a purchase meet Ouya’s “free” requirement? Will we see nothing but trials on the marketplace without a cash investment? I think they really need to nail down exactly how much content needs to be free before the system even launches. I do not know about you but I have no desire to pay $99 to play the demos I can play right now on my Android Phone except play them on my television. I am also skeptical of the games themselves. If all games are mini-games how long would you realistically play the Ouya?
3) Piracy and a Flooded Marketplace: Like it or not piracy should be a big concern for the Ouya team. With very few restrictions on the development of software there are likely to be numerous examples of successful software being pirated so someone else can make development money. Ouya has not talked about this yet but I think they should already have some ideas in mind at this point. On kind of that same topic is the flooding of the marketplace. Free to Play MMO fans already know quite a bit about this. Every day it seems a new Anime MMO is launching and honestly a large number of them should not have been published let alone played. Take a look at your cell phone’s marketplace and you’ll see the same thing. Thousands of games with only a handful actually being worth playing or buying. Does anyone really want to surf that kind of flooded environment on their television? There have to be some quality control measures placed on development in my opinion.
So that’s it! What do you think? I’ve given my pros and cons but maybe I missed something. Throw it in the comments below! Overall I am excited by the model and ideas behind the Ouya even if I am still somewhat skeptical of the execution and performance given out so far. I know I’ll be watching this new gadget with eager eyes for now, will you?
By Mike Byrne (aka Magicman)
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