Last week it was the GameDock for iOS, this week it’s the Ouya for Android. Unlike the GameDock though, which is a game console dock for iOS devices, the Ouya is a game console powered by Android. It’s essentially a $99 box with a Tegra 3 chip, 1GB of RAM, 8GB of storage, WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, HDMI, a USB 2.0 port, and one or two wireless controllers. It runs on a special version of Android 4, and is designed to connect to a TV and merge Android games with a full controller, including analog stick control. Despite being Android though, games appear to need some tweaks to play nicely with the system, so mentions of SDKs and partner developers are plentiful in the project description. It’s Android, but it’s not, in a way.
The interesting thing here is how this project has exploded. In a day it has reached over $2 million in funding, more than double its $950,000 funding goal. That’s Pebble speeds. No doubt the $99 price tag has something to do with it, but that price tag also makes me rather nervous. Packing all that hardware and a controller into $99 seems optimistic, even if the project itself doesn’t have any obvious signs of being a scam. Even if it’s cheap though, I still don’t quite get why people are flocking to it at those speeds.
What’s also kinda disturbing is the estimated delivery date of March 2013. While it’s likely very realistic, that’s so far into the future that the above specs are likely not going to be all that impressive by then. The Tegra 3 chip will be 1.5 years old by then, which is getting into end of life. The $99 price might actually be possible only because of this delivery date, as production costs for such a device are bound to have dropped significantly by then.
Truth is that any high end Android tablet or phone with an HDMI connection can serve as a game console, and depending on what you find important with such a setup, might even be able to do a much better job of it. It’s perfectly possible to use e.g. an Xbox 360 controller on Android, and even make the controller emulate touch input if you have root. That last bit means that games that only have on-screen controls suddenly work with a controller. It’s also possible to use a Wii controller’s motion control to play Android games, use a mouse and a keyboard, and Xbox Kinect implementation is being worked on by the USB/BT Joystick Center developer. To make it perfectly clear, everything in this paragraph is things you can do with existing Android devices, not the Ouya.
The Ouya does promise that all games will at least have a free demo, or be free to play completely, have some sot of username-based system, and that games will come out exclusively for the console. To be perfectly frank though, a company that needs to use Kickstarter to gather funds is unlikely to be able to score exclusivity with the big developers. Games like Shadowgun and Modern Combat 3, to mention two of the most console-like Android games out there, have sold between 100,000 and 500,000 copies according to Google Play. That’s 4-20 times more copies sold than there will even be Ouya consoles at launch, 8 months from now. I know that more consoles will be available as time goes by, but how much time does a console that uses 1.5 year old smartphone and tablet hardware going to have? Exactly. So, you will excuse me if I doubt that the big developers are going to give the Ouya and major exclusive titles. There are lots of great indie games of course, but the truth is that unless Ouya itself is making games, any game that is good enough to be a success will be ported to as many platforms as possible. “Exclusivity” is a great marketing promise, but only holds true if you’re Microsoft or Sony and develop games yourself.
The bottom line, as far as I see it, is that no matter how many fancy controllers and SDKs for them you produce, it’s very hard to compete with stock Android for functionality, a system that can be made compatible with more or less every game out there, right now.
Unfortunately, so few people are aware of this that when a product like Ouya comes along, it seems like it’s actually innovative. I’m not saying that there aren’t part of Ouya that has potential, but I think it’s a mistake to make it a hardware solution rather than a software solution.
Anyways, you better hurry if you want in on this before it’s sold out, as the first batch is limited to a bit over 20,000 units if you combine all the pledge levels, with about 15,000 left in the $99 tier. Personally though I would never pledge for this particular project. In a nutshell, why would I want to pay $99 and wait 8 months when I have two Android devices by my side that do a better job now than this promises to do in a year?