Published: 16 July 2012
By now, most of you have probably at least heard that apparently Nintendo will not be followed by Microsoft or Sony in terms of a new machine being released. That distinction, according to Kickstarter, will be bestowed upon the Android OS powered OUYA. From what I can gather, the project is being headed up by "industry vet" Julie Uhrman. To be honest I couldn't find much of her past work, but she has created a company entitled Boxer8 that will feature the new hardware as their flagship product.
In an interview with Wired.com, she seemed to understand the situation by saying "We all have reputations on the line," but consistently showed confidence in their idea and it's early projections. Uhrman:"'For the consumer segment, our focus is content. For the developer segment, it’s tools, it’s access to things that will bring their games to our platform more easily.'" And when asked about the March '13 launch window, she responded "'We feel good about it. That’s the plan.'" Look, I understand she's the boss lady behind the project, and anything less than glowing optimism is unacceptable. Particularly while their fund-a-thon is still going strong over at OUYA's Kickstarter page. And admirably, the thing has gotten big time monetary support, with more that $4mil. raised in the first 72 hours. That in itself is very impressive, and the fact that they already have a "million dollar idea" should be something the folks at Boxer8 should be very proud of. But...
I've been reading articles on the project from many opinions. One on Gameindustry.biz written by Mark Friedler is calling for this Yves Behar designed brushed-metal box to be as "big as the iPhone." In the write up, he sings the praises of this open approach as being in line with the efforts of the Sega Dreamcast and the vaporware '04 machine Phantom. The latter, of which, was going to promise downloaded playable versions of the latest PC games. Not a bad idea, in theory. He makes mention that the tablet and iPad infiltration is the reason behind the huge "boom" in mobile platform gaming: "Although mobile gaming as been successful, it's success has been driven by iPad and tablets that have taken the mobile experience to a whole new level." And of course the paramount reason for the OUYA's soon-to-be existence is touched on. The fact that this thing can, and by Uhrman's hopes will, play host to games designed by anyone. And that those said experiences will be at best (to the gamer, this is) completely free-to-play, be based in a "freemium" model, or at bare feature a demo. And Friedler finishes by saying he "bets" the OUYA "will be very, very big."
While words from a proven businessman, such as Mr. Friedler, are welcome and displays a valid opinion, so far he holds the position of the gross minority. Most gaming pundits are, let's just say, not as optimistic. Ben Kuchera of the Penny Arcade Report put together a rather detailed rundown of why OUYA's founders might just be writing checks that they may not be able to cash come this March. He says that as of now, we don't know much about the intricacies of the hardware and what it's capable of. We understand that there will be a controller with a touchpad, but as Kuchera has it: "I asked about this as well. 'That design is not final,' I was told. 'We are in a prototype phase and exploring several options.'" He also notes that even with the listed prototype specs, such a short turnaround is a lofty goal with all the R&D still to be done: "There are only eight months between now and the slated ship date of March 2013. That would be an aggressive timeline if we were talking about Microsoft or Valve, much less and untested startup." The proposed outlook of indie development is also brought into question by developer Robert Boyd in the article. "'It's primary selling points are that it's cheap and developers can make games for it without buying expensive development kits. However, you can already get all that with a cheap PC and unlike the OUYA, the install base for the PC is already massive." And where Mr. Freidler sees a positive, Kuchera understandably explains that the encouraged rooting of the console, and open dev ecosystem will make OUYA ripe with piracy eventualities.
I haven't been writing in this business for many years. In terms of gaming journalism, I'm pretty low on the experience totem pole. And my career pales in comparison to the pair of gents I decided to site. But because of my inexperience, I tend to pride myself on not being a "jaded journalist" and try to be mindful of keeping agenda out of my reviews. So it gives me some disappointment that I must side with Kuchera and others on this issue.
I will say that it is still very early for some of the more spiteful things I've heard about the new machine. Kuchera is simply giving specific reasoning for why he is skeptical. A crucial occupation that Friedler does not observe for his piece of giddy optimism. Friedler consistently packages basic references and terms we already know about the machine and says "it will be awesome." Not why this will be the case, just that it will. That's not good enough. After reading the entry, I glanced at his credentials, to which Gameindustry.biz has in part: "He runs a mobile, social and advertising games consultancy Worlds and Games LLC." Could it be that amongst the aura of disdain (so far) for the OUYA from numerous and respected mouthpieces in gaming, that someone who is in line with possible monetary gain could be putting his positive/encouraging "two cents" into the conversation? Could it be that because of the noted novice experience that the Boxer8 cast has with developing and launching hardware, that a company like Worlds and Games LLC could, indeed, do some "coaching up" for a reasonable fee? Perhaps and perhaps not. I just find it a little convenient that someone in the position Mark Friedler is in would write a rather hollow response to all of the negativity. Optimistic game enthusiast or opportunistic business professional? You decide.
We must also heir on the side of caution when taking Kuchera to be the gospel. This is a person who is a writer in a business where there are a few big companies at the top, which dictate most of everything that goes on day to day, week to week, year to year. A model that has afforded this gentleman a rather nice profession (as it has an "elevated hobby" for myself). So a possible major shakeup to the status quo must offer some amount of anxiety. If all games are free and open to everyone from day 1, why would anyone sit around reading about things they might play to make informed decisions on purchasing titles. They would just download it. If they didn't like it, oh well, it was free and there is a "delete" option. Having said all that, his argument is much more deep, involved, and thought out. The Xbox LIVE Indie games branch is a pretty cool little service, but the best game to come from it,I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MBIES 1N 1T!!!1, was released in 2009. One could conclude that XBLIG is the closest comparison to how the OUYA is conceived to operate. And if the aforementioned release is the best, and I would argue only, "claim to fame" the service has, can one reasonably expect an entire machine to exist on this idea? Of course not, which is why it will also feature titles like Minecraft. Oh, wait... Maybe it will, maybe it won't? According to Kuchera, Mojang have made no deals with Boxer8 for a port. And as gaming "tweeter" Kevin Dent points out, the cost for porting a game of that popularity can be over $100,000. When would OUYA have the funds to start pulling in games like this? Can they receive enough funds from the Kickstarter folks to be able to publish a list of promised IPs by this fall? We'll just have to wait and see.
Also, according to the Wikipedia page (I know, I know), the console will be based on the Ice Cream Sandwich iteration of Android. Jelly Bean was just released, meaning they will construct a new console with an old version for it's firmware. How will Boxer8 address compatibility issues with its applications? Will OUYA's 1st party support infrastructure (it will have that, right...) offer patches for all apps when put on the machine or will bigger, less numerous system updates be used? Will the games, video plug-ins, ect. be flexible enough to be run on a rooted machine? How close to the default guidelines must a hacker stay so they have the ability to execute "sponsored" stuff from the big publishers? I could go on with this thought, but you see the possible, if not eventual, headaches.
While I observe and generally agree with Dent and Kuchera on all of their points, there is a main reason why I'm not hopeful for OUYA right now, and it oddly comes from the Friedler article: "The combination of the speed and agility of the mobile market combined with the living room TV experience offers another major paradigm shift for the game business..." Again, either he is refusing to acknowledge or is purposefully ignoring the issues with this machine. This "combination" he speaks of is incredibly counter intuitive. The reason the mobile gaming market is threatening the current console model is because of the first word in the description: mobile. Would enough people want to sit down and play Angry Birds on their couch? Isn't its addictive quality predicated on the fact you can squeeze in a new level during your introductory marketing class, or trying to attain three stars while waiting for your order at Buffalo Wild Wings? I would contend Doodle Jump is most effective in situations like sitting on the porch, tossing a few back on a lazy night. If I'm going to be in front of that ominous "60'' display" that keeps being referred to, wouldn't I much rather be playing Halo, Gears of War, FIFA, or GTA V? The reason, I think, the Phantom wasn't practical enough to work is that the highest "specs" for a given time would not facilitate the machine for a number of years. Even with the very best PC hardware parts money could by in 2004, it would not have run the AAA titles in, say, 2009. OUYA being based on an OS that is already out of date bears a striking similarity. And all the problems with piracy are fit for another post all by themselves. I will give concession to the impressive haul of support the Kickstarter listing has gotten so far. But OUYA will need many, many more than its 38,000+ "backers" to be a success. To be honest, a solid, working model with a storefront and really good games by March '13 has about the same possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field. But I'm sure Julie Uhrman and company would probably retort back something to the effect of, "never tell us the odds."