OUYA has been a hot topic of discussion for the last week or so, ever since its Kickstarter reached its $950,000 goal in less than 8 hours. Since then, it has raised five times that amount, and still has more than a handful of days left to produce a prototype that will probably be made out of solid gold, at this rate.
OUYA’s pitch is simple, but relatable: gaming is too driven by the dollar sign now, and has driven most of the innovation that should be present in the console market to the mobile market. OUYA hopes that by creating a small, online, hack-friendly console that developers will return to TV-based gaming and everyone can be happy. And, with OUYA promising 70% of the price the game is being sold at going right back into the hands of the people who made it, developers stand to make a much higher profit than they currently do with console games. Instead of dividing up $60 amongst the publisher, console maker, developer, and retailer, the majority of the price tag would go to the people who actually made the game, rather than people who slapped it on the market.
While there seem to be polarizing opinions on the subject of this new console, even the most hopeful seem to be approaching it with hesitation, myself included. However, while I wouldn’t go so far as to call Julie Uhrman (CEO and co-founder of OUYA) a liar, I have to say that I have my fair share of criticisms and worries about this new console as well.
The big focus of OUYA, as mentioned before, is to bring back the innovation shown in the mobile market to the console market using the Free to Play business model (meaning players will either pay for in-game advantages, or a free demo will be made available wherein the player can purchase the game upon completion if they wish. While there are many successful examples of this model working for PC gaming (League of Legends and Team Fortress 2 being two very notable examples), it can potentially work against those in the mobile market.
There’s also another large disadvantage when it comes to digital marketplaces—since it’s a hell of a lot cheaper to keep a digital game available than it is to keep a physical copy on a store shelf, we’ll probably see a wider selection of games within a digital marketplace. This is a good thing and a bad thing—while it may be great for those who want to purchase old games that are no longer available, it can make shopping for new content very difficult. There’s a huge difference between looking at every game available to you in a store, and trying to look at every game available to you on a digital marketplace. I unfortunately have a feeling that OUYA will fall into the same traps that Xbox, Playstation, and even the mobile marketplaces have fallen into—games that pay to be featured heavily will see the most success, meaning that the bigger companies with “reliable” titles will continue to have the biggest advantage, whereas the innovators will continue to be shoved to the side.
There have been exceptions to this rule, with games like Bastion, Braid and LIMBO getting modest followings and surpassing their developers’ expectations. However, for each of those games there are probably 30 more that got passed over. Even the Angry Bird creators had to come up to bat 51 times before they made a homerun with their current, pig-hating sensation. (All those birds wasting all those potential sausages. The nerve!)
My other concern is the potential of a lack of variety on the OUYA, with its focus on the FtP business model. As is proven with League of Legends, Team Fortress 2, Aion, and a good handful of others, it seems that the most profitable way of producing an FtP game is by having it be an MMO. While doing research for this article to find examples of profitable FtP games (aside from the obvious), I think I may have stumbled across two that didn’t involve playing with more than one person online. And while there’s nothing wrong with MMOs, having an entire console with nothing but is sure to be a bit boring. Personally, I don’t get anything out of them—I find most of them to be boring, repetitive, and most of the time, I really don’t like playing with others. I think part of that is that I usually play games as just an exaggerated version of myself—a self-serving, trigger happy asshole. (Note to any authorities, I haven’t actually killed anyone in real life. I think.)
And while I know we can all think of at least a few issues with the FtP business model (like… selling game-changing items/significant advantages to players that actually want to pay for them), I want to focus on something else that the FtP model needs to survive: the internet.
OUYA is an online console with a digital marketplace, and personally, I can’t stand these sorts of things. I grew up in the desert outside of Los Angeles, between bumfuck and the armpit of California. It took my family forever to be able to switch to an affordable 1.5 MBPS DSL connection, and as of today, they still do not have anything better than this. It is nearly impossible to play an online game reliably out there, it takes days to download games, and streaming takes an afternoon.
My family is not the only one with this problem—there are hundreds of thousands of people who have no decent internet connection available to them, for whatever reason. This article on the Huffington Post shows that in 2010, 40% of Americans still didn’t have high speed internet (something that’s pretty necessary for an online-exclusive console). I’m sure a good percentage of those Americans were gamers, or lived with gamers. That aside, there are still a sizable amount of people who don’t connect their systems to the internet–in 2010, PS3 was able to brag by saying they have the highest percentage of players who connected their consoles to the internet. Their figure? 78%. That means that OUYA is effectively alienating 22% (and that’s the “best” figure) of their potential buyers simply because they have their consoles connected to the internet exclusively. And the PS3’s internet services are free, for the most part—who’s to say that many players didn’t connect their consoles to the internet simply because it was convenient and then weren’t able to effectively use it?
XBOX came in second place in regards to player connectivity with 73%–a number that I’m included in. When I got engaged, I moved out of my apartment and back in with my parents to save money. During this time, my Xbox Gold membership never ran out, however, I was completely unable to use internet-based services effectively. Frequent disconnections plagued me, and with the exception of Skyrim, my online purchases dropped to about 0. Thankfully, I’ve since moved—but taking that into consideration, shouldn’t it go without saying that there are at least a handful of others that are still stuck in my previous situation?
And let’s not forget about cloud-based purchasing and storage, something that I know many of us aren’t exactly happy about. While Steam seems like a gift from the heavens at times, I’m not exactly shouting its praises anytime I have a connectivity issue. Many games have online authentication processes that require gamers to stay connected to the internet to prove that they’re not playing pirated software (something that Ubisoft thankfully removed after realizing they were pissing off their players), which really just punishes the honest gamers who only want to access the game that they paid for whenever they want. Pirates will still find ways of tricking the system regardless of the authentication process—people who buy games will continue to buy games. People that won’t/can’t invest in games will not invest in games, whether they pirate them or not. And while I’m not accusing OUYA of falling into this obnoxious system, it’s certainly something they need to keep in mind, considering they claim their console is hack-friendly but difficult to pirate from.
While I do hope that OUYA accomplishes what it’s setting out to do and turns the console market on its head, I can’t help but feel as though they’re being a bit idealistic. Online-exclusive content, while it may seem like the way of the future, possibly excludes too much of the current population to be profitable when applied to an entire console—and personally, cloud-based storage/purchasing is the bane of my existence. And while I appreciate the push to get gaming back to a television screen, I don’t know if this is the best way to do it. But it’s obvious enough by the numbers on their Kickstarter that demand is high, so I guess all any of us can do is sit back and watch what happens in March when it’s released.