So here’s a thing. Games industry veteran Julie Uhrman, along with some others, notably Yves Béhar (designer of the $100 OLPC laptop), have done one of those trendy Kickstarters to get funding for a $99 Android based, hackable console. And they’ve raised over $2 million already.
It raises some interesting questions. On the Kickstarter page, they’re saying a lot of stuff like ‘Deep down, you know your best gaming memories happened in the living room…’ and ‘Shooters, platformers, sports games, arcade classics and experimental indie games just feel bigger on a TV screen’. So clearly they’re taking aim at the expensive and very exclusive console market.
Of course, the difference is that the big three consoles have the big games, the big publishers and the big franchises. Not to mention the big money. So how will the OUYA hope to compete?
Well, they’re stipulating that any game that wants to be published on the platform has to have at least some form of free gameplay. They cite League of Legends and Team Fortress 2 as inspiration – games where the core gameplay is free, but with optional microtransactions to unlock extra content like new characters and vanity items (HATS!). How this income will be broken down between devs and the guys behind OUYA is unclear at the moment. In fact, quite a lot is unclear at the moment.
And therein lies the problem with a lot of Kickstarter projects. Sure, I’ll kick in a fiver maybe, but asking for $100 dollars on the promise that at an indeterminate date I’ll get my own OUYA – which over a couple of years in development might have changed into something else entirely (or not end up happening at all), is a very big ask. Crowdfunding is a great idea, don’t get me wrong, but you have to remember that supporting a project on Kickstarter is an investment, not a straight purchase, and as such it comes with inherent risks.
That said, OUYA could be a great breeding ground for indies. Xbox Live Arcade and the Playstation Store have done some great work getting indies into the living room, but they own the platform and are able to dictate what gets published and what doesn’t. From the sounds of it, OUYA will work more like a PC, in terms of publishing, where you can make a game in your bedroom and chuck it up on a site right away if you want. If OUYA allows for the same flexibility then that could be great news for indie devs.
So will it compete with the current generation of consoles? Probably not. I think it’s better pitched as a set top box / media centre type thing. A hackable Apple TV, if you want. Of course, if the ATV ends up supporting games in the same way, it could spell disaster for OUYA.
Colour me interested, but sceptical. Anyone else remember the Phantom?