Just like how the games we play have evolved over the years, so has how we play games on the consoles we own. Going from cartridges to optical media, and now to titles that are released exclusively through digital distribution, the video game industry has changed in a lot of ways; some for the better and some for the worse.
Amidst all the changes that have transpired and those that are set to arrive soon such as the release of the PlayStation 4 and next-gen Xbox, it’s clear that the industry is going into a new place that is both exciting and somewhat frightening at the same time.
At the core of this change in the gaming landscape is the rise of mobile games. Ever a hot topic within the games industry, the mobile market is one that has proven to be tricky for developers to figure out while consumers simply want to be entertained for a few minutes whilst on the bus or bored at home. With the rise of the mobile market’s prominence in the industry has come a new console, one whose goals is to disrupt the longstanding pattern and traditions all while being both friendly and approachable to developers and consumers alike: the Ouya.
By now most of you have likely heard about the Ouya, whether it was when the platform was going through its record breaking Kickstarter campaign or those who have questioned the viability of an Android powered gaming console. I for one remained somewhat indifferent about the Ouya at first, not just because PlayStation blood/loyalty runs through my veins, but because I haven’t really been enamored with mobile gaming, whether it’s on the iOS platform or that of the Android.
My indifferent feeling about the Ouya was ultimately changed last week at an event held by IGDA Chicago in which Ouya CEO/Founder Julie Uhrman spoke to the masses, most of whom were local developers – both established and indie, about what the platform could provide. While Julie’s presentation, which was part pitch and part transparent honesty, may have had shades of a subtle marketing blitz, it nonetheless left me impressed about what the future could hold – both for the Ouya and the video game industry.
Right off the bat I’ll say this: I highly doubt the Ouya will be released in such a huge way that it results in a shocking surprise scenario in which we see dozens of developers flocking from their HD console trappings to support the Ouya. However, one of the appealing things about the Ouya is that it indeed is an open platform for developers who want their wares to be seen and more importantly played by gamers without the red tape that often accompanies trying to receive certification from one of the big three consoles or hoping that the game doesn’t drown amidst other key releases as is often the case with iOS releases.
With the hardware being accessible in how it can be approached, both thanks to it being Android based and supporting engines such as Unity, the Ouya may not be a graphical powerhouse yet it can’t limit one ever important thing: the imagination of developers. Say what you will about whether or not the Nvidia Tegra 3 graphics chip has the immediate power or longevity to offer consistent visuals for the next two to three years, but the Ouya has such a simple core base to it that the only thing that should, at least theoretically speaking, limit developers is how far they want to push themselves and if they can actually think of something which captivates gamers enough that they become interested to play it.
With the Ouya in a way perhaps coming off as a second-cousin within a family that the need to prove themself to earn their keep, the console at least has some good intentions, if simply the right competitive approach, to at least kick things off with a bang rather than being perceived as a more snazzy looking game emulator you would find at the discount section of Target or Toys R Us. “What about building an Android game console for the television? Let's steal all of the best ideas from all the other platforms and bring them to the television,” said Julie Uhrman during her presentation/Q&A at IGDA Chicago.
In some ways it may seem like Ouya has a “me too!” attitude in trying to be an all-in-one media machine through the presence of Apps, games, and an online store, but the structure of everything at least shows that the console is trying to be competitive and more importantly is seeking to give gamers what they want or at the very least expect, albeit presented in a slightly different way.
Even though the Ouya is less than a few weeks from shipping to the many gamers who decided to back the console during its Kickstarter campaign, the evolution of the platform, both aesthetically and architecturally is still evolving. With the same early dev kit unit on hand during the IGDA presentation, Julie sadly couldn’t show those in attendance the latest Ouya UI, which according to her is set to feature revised elements/pages such as Play (play games in your library), Discover (store front), and Make (page dedicated to devs engaging consumers).
Even the Ouya controller is now subject to some rather major changes since Ouya Content Acquisition Rep Bob Mills was set to fly to Taiwan later in the week to fix the d-pad, which according to him wasn’t meeting his standards, both as a gamer and a corporate rep.
It may be somewhat alarming that the Ouya is still subject to changes and that those who will receive the console later this month will essentially be beta testing the device in advance of the June retail release, yet even then I was still impressed by the openness of both Julie Uhrman and her colleague Bob Mills. Trying to pitch to developers may involve a bit of obvious hyping in an attempt to make things sound overly appealing, yet the honesty of the Q&A session seemed rather indicative that Julie hopes, and is planning, that the Ouya will indeed be a viable console once it arrives at retailer this Summer.
Most of us may be already cozy with our PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, or are already starting a savings account just to procure a PS4 at launch, but the Ouya seems like it’ll provide one simple thing: gaming without any immediate frills that have become more regular than previously. With the desire to make gamers access the Ouya store in as few steps as possible and developers not having to jump through hoops to submit their content, such a thing could result in the more timely releases we were accustomed to in the mid-1990s before games became triple-A endeavors that take $25 million dollars or more and four years to produce.
Even though Julie didn’t demo any new games or tease us of what’s to come, such as the new efforts from Airtight Games and Minority Media, the fact remains that the Ouya is a very simple console to design for, submit games to, and structure a business model for. All those things and the very obvious enthusiasm from key local developers such as Patrick Moran (former designer on Mass Effect, now Creative Director at Wideload Games) and Chicago based developer Jared Steffes, made it clear that the Ouya will have a decent amount of support which could in turn make it a be a more approachable, and perhaps viable, platform for developers to try new things and further push the boundaries of gaming.
Julie certainly spoke a rather good game during her IGDA presentation and her frank nature about certain topics was indeed refreshing since we hardly see a key console executive, let alone a CEO, be bluntly honest about certain topics – especially in a room filled with 140 smart developers who have been around the block. Though it did come across that in some respects a direct course for the Ouya hasn’t been laid out in perfect way. A course may have certainly been planned by Julie and her colleagues, but during her talk it almost seemed as if the route planned for the Ouya was open for a few stops along the way, some of which could be good while others may be the result of running into a problem and not knowing what to do in the wake of it.
Such precarious planning was somewhat echoed in how Julie addressed the potential arrival of Valve’s rumored Steambox. “What’s the Steambox? I don’t know much about it”, Julie jokingly replied when asked how the Ouya would compete in the same market space as a console from Valve. Speaking of the Steambox Julie went on to address the matter seriously by saying, “I have suspicions that it’ll be very expensive. People who are going to want a Steambox will own an Xbox, they’re going to have five iPads, and they’ll have an Ouya and that’s all I care about.”
While one has to applaud Julie for taking a nice jab at Valve in respect to their secrecy and vagueness, it did seem like the plan she and her fellow Ouya execs have is to merely hope for the best, whether it’s for the Ouya to have an established following by the time Valve enters the market or the Steambox being priced too high to be considered appealing to an audience who isn’t driven by their core gaming desires.
The Ouya may be the most open console ever, not just as far as how developers can create games for it but in how the device is being prepped and ultimately released to the masses. There’s clearly a keen interest in this new platform since developers are genuinely excited for it and retail is embracing it, perhaps to add further variety to the masses since this isn’t the same landscape it once was a mere five years ago.
The drive to push content to the fore-front through accessibility along with making the relationship between developers and gamers more pertinent than ever before, and not just limited to interacting via Twitter, are things that will definitely set the Ouya apart in a good way as it shows an intelligent amount of foresight on how things are being handled, especially in this ever evolving climate.
Perhaps running the risk of relying too much on the community to both drive and propel software, the Ouya is nonetheless one of the few possible game changing scenarios in the video game industry since it will no doubt draw lots of attention, both good and bad, along with paving a way for a new generation of developers and gamers to experience games differently, and if we’re lucky, set the stage for how things will be done for the next decade.
At this point it’s obviously too early to tell how things will sway in favor of the Ouya, but it’s clear that there is some genuine excitement for the console and that it’s on track to do things in a different way which could result in the games industry changing for the better.