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Ouya haters gonna hate

- July 11th, 2012

The Ouya console will run on relatively low-powered hardware and sell for $99. This makes some people unhappy.

If you have even a passing interest in video games, you’ve probably heard about Ouya, a low-cost, Android-based video game console that’s in the midst of a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign. They’d hoped to raise $950,000 by Aug. 9 to fund production of the thing. Two days into the campaign, they’re at $3 million and counting.

And so begins the backlash.

While I haven’t exactly been wishing someone would produce an inexpensive, low-powered new game console – that’s what the Wii is for! – I very much like the idea of what the Ouya folks are doing. They’re building a $99 device that will allow us to play small games on a big screen with a proper controller, while giving the independent developers who are driving nearly all the innovation in this business another means of expanding their audience.

Not everyone is as receptive to Ouya, though. Two of my Toronto-based games-scribbling peers, dudes with whom I am often in agreement, seem a bit put out by the idea. The always interesting Pete Nowak feels the Ouya represents a backwards step in console tech [UPDATE: Pete responds that he is down on the current console generation, not Ouya itself -- my apologies for the misrepresentation] while Justin Amirkhani (whose Gamer Unplugged project I wrote about recently) calls new tech like the Ouya, Xbox SmartGlass and even streaming music services “snake oil” for the 21st century. Both of these gents complain about the overcomplication of console gaming, the argument being that consoles are taking on some of the disadvantages of PC gaming with few of the benefits.

To which I say… seriously, guys?

You wanna know what a first world problem is? Complaining that it takes minute longer to begin playing your video game because there are new technologies in place that didn’t exist in 1995. Have we become so spoiled by instant-on everything that this is really an argument? Would we rather go back to the days when games couldn’t be saved in mid-progress, when you couldn’t play against your friends unless they were in the same room, when a game bug was permanent and couldn’t be fixed? While we’re at it, should we yell at those damn kids to get off our lawn?

"Back in my day, all you had to do to get ready to play a game was blow on the cartridge!"

I don’t appreciate companies like EA and Ubisoft ramming their mandatory online accounts down my throat, or developers rushing games to retail simply because they know glitches can later be patched, or any number of money-grubbing tactics currently sullying the business. But if you feel that a few minor inconveniences are not a worthy tradeoff for the degree of gaming depth and sophistication we enjoy today, you need to pull your head out of your arse. There are tons of problems in the video games industry, but very few of them are to be blamed on the technologies driving the games themselves.

The argument that the increasing number of steps required to play console games could be something that alienates a broader audience is valid, but is that broader audience interested in console games in the first place? It’s more likely that they’re playing Facebook and iOS and Android games, exactly the sort of titles Ouya is suited for. In fact, this could be the game console you buy for your parents, not yourself.

But it’s not just about soccer moms playing Bejeweled. Ouya is being touted as means for small developers to connect more easily with an audience, using a dirt-cheap console that is rootable, hackable and modifiable by the user. How is giving indie devs another means of selling their games a bad thing? How is not having to wait for Apple or Microsoft to approve your game for digital distribution a bad thing? How is letting the consumer do whatever he wants with the device he bought a bad thing? No one’s going to force anyone to buy Ouya, and maybe it will fail spectacularly. But their hearts are in the right place, and I’m really interested to see what they’ll do with it. Judging from the Kickstarter campaign, a lot of other folks are, too.

It’s all a bit academic anyway. In 10 years, gaming consoles as we know them today will no longer exist, owning physical media (or even owning individual digital copies of media) will seem laughably quaint, and everything will be cloud-based and instant and available on low-cost, low-powered hardware. If my curmudgeonly friends can just tough it out until then, these nightmares of forced installs and updates and multiple log-ins may finally be over.

Stay strong, brothers. Stay strong.

 

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5 comments

  1. KowZ | July 11, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    OUYA is not a new concept by any means, and really is just trying to make an existing concept more palatable to the masses.

    Although, I have nothing against people funding it, I just don’t think we should treat it as this big revolutionary thing that it has been blown out of the water in many mainstream media accounts.

    How many people remember (or bought) Andrew Lamothe’s XGameStation? ( http://www.xgamestation.com/ ) It offered many of the same advantages of the OUYA, and has been around longer. It’s the DIY console that comes with a well written manual.

    I think most of the backlash is because to many of those in the business (Ben Kuchera, Justin Amirkhani, Pete Nowak), this console is something that really isn’t solving anything and is just there to sell for sellings sake. Many of these guys do seem to invite competition into the industry (I think we all do, the industry has turned into a cash machine instead of an artistic being), they just realize that this device isn’t it. We’ve seen other machines in the industry offer the same promises (does the Phantom Console ring a bell? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phantom_Entertainment#The_Phantom_console ), but we have never seen one really make any headway in its promise.

    For a machine targeting household users, this is something that Transgaming in Toronto bet on with their GameTreeTV, and have had little to no success with it.

    So, what makes the OUYA special? What makes this better than all those other attempts? Really, I’m skeptical but I’m not saying it won’t or can’t succeed, just that I see this as what happened with the Wii. It was over-hyped and under-delivered.

    Just my two cents.

  2. Justin Amirkhani | July 11, 2012 at 3:04 pm

    There’s a difference between decrying the progression of technology and the “make do with what you have” sentiment of my post. I’m not suggesting that people revert to using a VCR just because they can’t fast forward through a DVD’s anti-piracy message, in fact I’m arguing for the opposite.

    New technology is great, but it needs to provide real benefit to consumers and in entertainment that means it needs to provide content. Ouya as it stands isn’t offering anything consumers don’t already have access to on their phones, tablets, or PCs.

    True, it may break down the barriers for independent developers and offer them new avenues to find revenue, but there’s a lot that can go wrong for them in an open source marketplace. Piracy is a real problem for indie devs, and the limited marketshare the Ouya will have might make knock back profits for developers who publish on it.

    Then there’s the extra development time making it work with the controller, uprezzing the graphics, and Q&A testing to make it work with a device that can be rampantly modified by every user who owns it. There’s a reason consoles are locked down the way they are today, to ensure that developers can produce a product that works every time.

    I’m as hopeful as anyone that genuine creatives will get a chance to sell their games to more people, but I’m not convinced Ouya will be the boon they need. This isn’t a windfall for anyone but the people peddling the hardware right now, the rest is just promises.

  3. Maranda | July 11, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    I’m excited about this idea; I think it will give developers of any size an opportunity to produce console games at a reasonable cost. Console games are expensive to make and support (via patches, etc) and are limited in terms of pricing models. This system will give developers the freedom to make, support and price their games the way they want which is a win for consumers.

    In our family the ‘freemium’ pricing works really well for us – the adults don’t have enough time to dedicate to subscription based games to make it worthwhile and the kids are always interested in trying new games. I have zero issue making in game payments for games I enjoy though, and often will just buy something I don’t ‘need’ if I enjoy a game in order to support the developer. I’m hopeful that we’ll see some decent freemium or episodic games on Ouya.

    IMO at this price point backing this console is a instabuy. Even with the cost of a second controller it’s less than the cost of two games. I’m pretty confident we’ll get our money’s worth out of it, and feel good about supporting the inovation.

  4. Steve Tilley | July 11, 2012 at 3:28 pm

    I find the “this is not a new concept” criticism baffling. Why does it have to be new? Apple didn’t invent touchscreen smartphones or apps, they just made the user experience so appealing that people flocked to the iPhone. What’s been a truly new innovation in gaming in the last decade? Motion control? Doesn’t work and/or sucks. Online gaming? My circa 2000 Dreamcast says hi. Playing games on phones? I was a master of Snake. Digital distribution? An old idea that works now because technology and user habits have finally caught up to it.

    IMO Ouya’s getting a lot of hype not so much because of what it is but because Kickstarter is still the flavour of the month, and people are freaking out how much money can be raised there. The thing is basically an Android tablet with a controller instead of a screen. But so what? Assuming it’s not an elaborate scam, it could be a cheap, easy console to play cheap, easy games. This is nothing to fear. If devs don’t support it, it will fail. If consumers aren’t interested, it will fail. But if it only costs $99, and if one guy making games in his basement sells 10 more copies because of it, where’s the harm? I’m finding the hate really confusing.

    The argument that you can already play mobile games on the big screen doesn’t hold a lot of water. If you wanna play your iPad game on your TV, you’re spending either $45 on Apple’s proprietary HDMI cable or $119 on an Apple TV for AirPlay mirroring. Android solutions are cheaper, but in any event you don’t have a physical controller to use.

    The argument that people don’t WANT controller-based mobile gaming on their TV doesn’t seem to hold much water either, given the Kickstarter response. *I* don’t really want it, but I also don’t want Facebook gaming, and tens of millions of people don’t agree with me.

    Re your blog post Justin, Watch Dogs alone has sold me on the concept of second screen gaming. My Rdio subscription means I can listen to anything I want, anywhere, and not manage a library of 10,000 MP3s I’ll never listen to. You can argue all these things are obscene first-world conveniences, BUT SO ARE VIDEO GAMES. And maybe if Ouya gains some traction, that dude in his basement will come up with the gaming innovations we’re so eagerly waiting for.

  5. Peter Nowak | July 11, 2012 at 3:33 pm

    I think you may have represented what I wrote. I’m definitely not an Ouya hater – indeed, I hope they succeed. My point is that some existing consoles have become bloated and complex, which is the opposite of how technology is supposed to evolve; it’s supposed to become simpler, easier and therefore mainstream. Older consoles were just that, so it’s ironic they’re heading in the opposite direction.

    You’re right that this will probably all be moot some day in the future when everything moves online, but those days are still far away and may in fact never arrive if bandwidth usage caps keep shrinking. Until then, we’re stuck in a middle age of gaming where the technology has gone from smooth and invisible to annoying and inconvenient because of its glaring visibility.

    It’s worthwhile to note that all these “minor inconveniences” you cite weren’t there just a few short years ago, which means that’s it’s possible to put out incredibly deeper and technologically amazing games without them. Yet the producers choose not to, simply in the name of making more money.

    And “1st world problem?” Come on, that’s an overused trope used to describe anything that isn’t mainstream in Africa. Yes, it’s true – I don’t have to worry about where my next meal is coming from or whether I’m going to catch malaria, so I guess that means I should be happy with everything? Give me a break. Ah well, at least you didn’t suggest we were voicing our “entitlement…”

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