The Ouya console is making waves in the gaming crowd and I think this new console could making gaming exciting again.
A change in console gaming is coming. The Ouya console recently broke Kickstarter records when it raised more than $3 million in less than a day, proving that the idea on a open source console is definitely something gamers want…that’s right, I said gamers. Not families, not the casual Angry Birds player…real gamers. Gamers that have been shoved aside in recent years for the more lucrative non-core gamer demographic. As the game industry leans more and more into the mobile market, the living room is being left behind rendering Xboxes and Playstations all around the country as little more than Netflix hardware. I’m excited to see this “revolution” in the console space. Not only do I think it will be a good thing for core gamers, I think it will be a great thing for developers.
As I’ve written before, I’m not a big mainstream gamer. Sure, I’ve done my time with Call of Duty and Metal Gear and things in between, but I’m not the gamer that rushes out to plop down $60 at midnight for Gears of War 18 or Assassin’s Creed 7. I’m much more of what you’d call an “indie gamer” since I seem to enjoy (and spend the most money) on smaller games that are often made by solo developers and small teams. These are the games where you’ll find a little more innovation and a lot more passion, not to mention they’re usually a lot cheaper. However, if you’re a fan of the indie games like I am, then you know that the console ecosystem does little to really promote all the creativity going on out there.
In the world of Xbox 360 you have your two-tier indie system. You have the Xbox Live Arcade where you’ll find games that are a bit more polished, like Fez and Spelunky, but Microsoft seems to control the gates tightly making it hard for developers to get bumped up to XBLA status. This leaves most devs sitting in the Xbox Indie Games marketplace where it’s a lot harder to get noticed and supported. It’s true that there is a lot of crap to be found on the indie landscape but it’s also not hard to find great games like Orbitron Revolutions, Protect Me Knight and Crossfire. The eye candy found in big budget games might not be there for many indie games, but I’ve found the fun factor on smaller games to be many times that of top tier games. You just get a lot more bang for your buck. Something like the Ouya console has a chance to bring indie game development up to the point where it can compete with titles found on the Xbox and Playstation. Seriously.
What the Ouya represents
The Ouya console represents something every wannabe game developer has always wanted: a console that offers a low barrier of entry to make games. The Ouya console will be an Android-based system and it will be entirely open. It’s a ready-to-go console with all the horsepower a dev needs…all they need to do is bring the imagination, creativity and time. Right now developers can go through the Xbox process to get their indie game up in the marketplace but the user base on such a mainstream console is small. Most people with an Xbox are either mainstream hardcore gamers playing Battlefield 3 all day, or it’s families having dance-off competitions and watching Netflix (or maybe a little bit of both). The amazing amount of support riding behind Ouya tells me that there are a lot of gamers like me that want to see something that can easily hook up to my TV with a controller and have fun playing indie games.
How many times have you downloaded an indie game on your PC and all you’ve wanted is to be able to play it on your big screen television? This happens to me all the time, and while I can hook my laptop up to the TV and get there, it’s an incredible hassle, not to mention my laptop is meant for more than just playing games. It’s always a struggle to get things to work right on my laptop, especially once you start talking about controllers and peripherals. Having a dedicated console like the Ouya sitting next to my Xbox ready to go would solve all those problems. There would be confidence that the next small indie game you find would be playable as the video game gods intended: on the television.
Although if I think about it, what I really want is Steam in a console. Steam is a great way to find indie games for your PC but it’s just for the computer. There were rumors a few months ago about Valve making their own Steam console but those were seemingly dismissed pretty quickly. Maybe a “Steambox” is getting developed in some top secret lab right now, I don’t know, but the Ouya has beat them to the punch right now. If the Ouya turns out to be all that it claims, I would hope that Steam would partner up and join in somehow. Why build your own console when you can just tap into one that is already built?
Ouya is not a threat
However, even with all potential that the Ouya has going for it, I don’t see the console as a threat to any of the existing gaming landscape. Everyone is clamoring for mobile right now and that’s not going to slow down, nor should it. There’s money to be made there and new audiences everyday to try and capture. But while the majority start shifting their priorities to mobile development, what happens to those of us that still want to play from the comfort of our couch? We’re seeing less and less, and I’m seeing more and more titles being released for the iPhone that I would love to play on a nice, big screen. I realize it’s expensive to develop games for all platforms and that’s why I think the Ouya fills what has become a true gap very nicely.
At the same time, I don’t see the Ouya really challenging the existing mainstream consoles either. Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony have billions of dollars at their disposal as well as more than 30 years of franchise establishment. You can’t compete against that on a large scale. At this point in time it’s just not possible. The people that buy the Ouya will be putting their new console right next to their other consoles and playing all of them. The Ouya is not a replacement, it’s just another channel by which to get games that is otherwise made difficult on other consoles.
Of course, if the Ouya comes to market and starts catching on, you know the big devs will start releasing things there as well. Publishers like EA and Activision aren’t going to ignore a new revenue stream. I can see the Ouya becoming a sort of “minor leagues” for big publishers to try out games that they might not be sure will work on a mainstream console. It’s expensive for them to promote new retails games and not every game turns out to be a hit. The Ouya could give them a cheaper market to try out games from indie developers and smaller houses that aren’t named Infinity Ward or Epic. If a game grabs hold in the Ouya space, they can push for a port to Xbox or even a sequel that then exists in both spaces.
A new place to create
I’ve dipped my toe into the game development waters in the past. Several years ago I made a PC game called Zombie Road that was a simple arena shooter. It wasn’t very good but a lot of people (I’m talking hundreds here, not millions) played it and I got a lot of positive feedback. The game was more my way of learning how to create a game and less about making something to sell, after all, I did steal all the graphics from Metal Slug. Nonetheless, it gave me a way to express some creativity while having fun programming all the bits and bytes…yet in the end it was stuck on the PC. Even if it had been an entirely original game, it wasn’t heading to Steam or making it onto many desktops. I would like to think that if something like the Ouya had existed then, my game would have reached a much wider audience. And in turn that outlet would have motivated me to keep working on games and improve.
There’s just something seeing your own game on a console that is magical. Everyone has a PC or phone and while it’s to see that as millions and millions of potential players, it also means you have to worry about their PC. Different sizes, configurations, horsepower…that all becomes a factor and that’s all a pain in the butt to worry about. Dedicated gaming devices like consoles take all that worry out of the equation, and not just for the developer but for the player as well. And don’t dismiss the feeling you’d get knowing your game would be played on a TV with a proper controller.
Lets hope it happens
The now $4 million raised Ouya has raised on Kickstarter is most certainly a sign that the console will get made and sold. It also proves that gamers are tired of the same old crap and are looking for the chance to play some new games. Do we really need a new Call of Duty? How much fun is really left in Mario? We as gamers have been fed a lot of the same over the past few years and the Ouya is a clear response to that. The inide games that would be born and raised on the Ouya console represent a renaissance in gaming. This rebirth is happening in mobile right now but I’m excited to see that there are lot of people out there want the same type of excitement at home, in their living room, playing on the couch.