Ouya: The next big thing in gaming?
| by Jamshed Avari
Games are ideally enjoyed in the living room on a big screen, but the best developers in the world are all working on games for phones and tablets, which is where the big money is today. Ouya wants to let users enjoy these games on a console, and make it easy for developers already well versed in Android development to create fresh titles that can take advantage of a big screen. The idea is so powerful that the developers have raised $8.6 million via an online donation drive (as against their original goal of $950,000) and have been received enthusiastically by the gaming press even without any physical product ready to be demonstrated. For those who missed the chance to reserve a console during the Kickstarter campaign, an Ouya console can be preordered at the official website www.ouya.tv for US$ 109 (approximately Rs 6,040).
Console games today are far more expensive than mobile games and take much longer to create. Mobile games, on the other hand, can be extremely profitable without much upfront investment but aren’t always easy to control—and for the Ouya team at least—aren’t as enjoyable. That’s why they want to put actual physical controllers back into gamers’ hands and make them go back to the big-screen experience they’ve moved away from. Beyond the hardware, Ouya wants to build its own game distribution system, much like today’s App Stores, which could negate the costs associated with retail and promotion. Most notably, the entire thing is open-source.
Money just kept pouring in to the Kickstarter campaign, including over a million dollars in the last 24 hours
The palm-sized box will be connected to your TV, and content is accessed via USB or online streaming. The company has announced a number of partnerships with game developers: Square Enix will be bringing Final Fantasy III to Ouya, Robotoki is developling an exclusive title called Human Element, and U4iA Games is developing a “cheeky, free-for-all shooting mash-up” called Offensive Combat. Beyond gaming, the Ouya box will serve double duty as a portal for online entertainment. Even this will be geared towards gaming, with streams from the video community Twitch.tv integrated at launch time. Since it started raising money and becoming more recognized, Ouya has announced tieups with major software partners including XBMC and Plex, two of the world’s most popular media center interfaces. There’s also support for TuneIn Radio, iHeartRadio, Vevo music videos, and the OnLive game streaming service. The Ouya team promises that there are more such deals in the pipeline, but they aren’t legally allowed to announce any details yet.
Up to four controllers will be supported. Controllers can make or break a game console’s reputation, so the functionality, ergonomics and style have to be just right. The Ouya team, whose product is based on the idea of a gaming renaissance, claims the controller it has designed is “a love letter to console gaming” and “the Stradivarius of controllers”, which sets up high expectations indeed. There will be two analogue sticks, a D-pad, shoulder triggers and also a trackpad to help control games designed for touchscreens. The team has said it is working on perfecting the mechanical action of the buttons, the precision of the analog sticks, and even the exact weight of each controller. However all was not well with the initial designs showed off on Kickstarter—commentators pointed out that the subtle circles that marked each button in the initial 3D mockups were completely useless to colourblind gamers. These have since been replaced with stylized O, U, Y and A labels.
The controller has since been revised to be more friendly to colourblind users
Another defining feature of the platform is that all games will have at least some free component, such as free playable demos, but full freemium games with small paid chapters or upgrades will also be encouraged. Open-source also means that Ouya encourages hackers to put together their own accessories and even “root” the system, or in other words, add custom enhancements and tweaks.
The only hitch is that none of this actually exists yet. The team’s Kickstarter page details the current status as “far along” in terms of the user interface and design, but the hardware is still only in prototype form. Having raised so much money, the team should be able to commence mass production soon, but an exact timeline is unknown. Developers can apply for the first round of kits in order to have titles ready in time for the public launch, and those who contributed a certain amount via the fundraising campaign will also receive their consoles before pre-orders are fulfilled and they become available in retail. Kickstarter contributions have closed, but the team’s blog is still visible here.
We can’t wait to see whether Ouya can live up to its promise, but it has definitely proven that there is an audience of tens of thousands of gamers who are ready and willing to invest in the possibility of a new, budget-friendly console. Sony and Microsoft might not have much to be frightened of, but they should definitely be paying attention.
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