Ouya: Innovative Idea or Sleazy Scam?

Ouya, the little $99 console that could, reached $5 million on Kickstarter this week and with it came a flurry of opinions proclaiming it to be either a dynamically innovative open source console or an overly-hyped unrealistic dream.  Having seen the same Kickstarter page and marketing material that everyone else has I’m surprised that there’s enough information for anyone to form a truly solid opinion one way or another. Despite almost every piece of the project being unfinished or unseen, many are rushing to a ruling on the would-be console.

This is what happens when “big news” hits the game industry; there’s a knee-jerk mad dash towards an opinion regardless of whether or not there’s enough information to formulate a fair one. The Ouya clearly isn’t finished becoming whatever it is it’s going to become, but that hasn’t stopped some from getting upset over what they think it is or going to be. The Ouya team has recruited Fuseproject’s Yves Behar to help design the console itself, so at the very least the Ouya will look nice under a TV whether or not it’s used.

Sure, Tiny wireless speakers count towards console development experience.

The Ouya hopes to be a $99 open-source Android console that will exclusively offer free-to-play games (more on that in a bit) and will be open for everyone from developers to hackers. Essentially the Ouya hopes to put game developers back in charge of the game industry in lieu of console developers and publishers. An honorable goal if they can pull it off but so far everyone seems pretty convinced that they can’t.

Before even getting into any of the details there are some that feel the entire Kickstarter campaign is a scam. For starters many seem slighted that Ouya may have to look elsewhere for funding after completing its Kickstarter campaign. The Verge reported on this earlier in the week citing sources that said “$4 million is nothing” when it comes to console development. Even after Julie Uhrman who is spearheading the Ouya project said they are not seeking funding outside of Kickstarter, many still think this is all a thinly veiled scheme. Isn’t it silly to argue about how much money they’re going to need before their Kickstarter campaign is over? In a few weeks they may have enough cash for a first run and this whole conversation will have been moot.

If this was the Ouya development team I would see their point. 

Besides, isn’t Kickstarter supposed to generate hype and investor interest? I mean doesn’t a healthy Kickstarter show other investors that there is a market for a product? Tapping multiple investors from multiple sources isn’t a scam it’s not even illegal, it’s business.

To call Ouya’s Kickstarter campaign a scam clearly indicates a lack of understand about what a scam actually is. It’s only a scam if I don’t get what I’m paying for on purpose, sure it takes faith paying upfront, but that doesn’t make it a scam. Hell, even if it fails and I don’t get one it isn’t a scam. A scam implies some sort of intentionally illegal deceit. Sure they may be coy about some of the details, but what company isn’t? That doesn’t make it a scam. A scam is deliberately fraudulent; this is a scam. If I get an Ouya and there’s nothing but super glue and lint on the inside then I’ll write a post about how it’s a scam.  Until then a company attempting to raise money in any way they can does not automatically constitute a scam.

As for those free-to-play games, I think expectations surrounding the Ouya’s game library are way off-base. That is to say, I don’t think people are expecting what they should be expecting. Comparing the Ouya to the other consoles would make sense if the Ouya cost four times as much and charged players upfront for their games, but it doesn’t; the console is cheaper than a tablet, the games are free, and there’s no online subscription plan. I think it’s fair to say it’s not a console so much as an expensive tablet that looks and acts like a console.

Boring joystick design? You guys fit right in!

How many free-to-play games does it take to make a $99 console worth it? Well, depending on how much time is spent with a game, theoretically two or three solid free-to-play games could make the Ouya worth its price tag. I mean League of Legends is free-to-play and some people play that game as a career.

The criticism surrounding the lack of console-worthy games for the Android leaves me scratching my head. I know this is kind of a post hoc ergo propter hoc argument, but perhaps the reason there aren’t a lot of great console-worthy Android games is because there hasn’t been an Android console to develop for. Meteor Entertainment announced this week that they will release Hawken, their eagerly anticipated free-to-play mech shooter, on the Ouya as well. Hawken looks like the first real console worthy free-to-play game, and who know how many games will make similar deals before the Kickstarter campaign is over, let alone before the console is shipped.

Um this is free-to-play? I can’t even say “take my money”

So while the Ouya doesn’t have much to market when it comes to hardcore gamer content, that doesn’t mean there won’t be in the future. This is a risk for the Ouya however, as developer support will be critical if they wish to succeed.

What they can’t really advertise is that Ouya is capable of becoming a pretty legit emulator for older classic console games. There are already Android compatible emulators for systems like the NES, SNES, and Sega, granting access to hundreds if not thousands of older titles. Nintendo didn’t seem to mind emulators on the computer, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they take objection to another console that plays Super Mario Bros.

What people mean when they say they already have an emulator. 

Behind all of the hype and the details about this one particular project there is something else going on here that everyone should pay attention to. $5 million bucks is an awful lot of money raised for a theoretical console that no one has tested, touched, or even seen, and yet here it is breaking records on Kickstarter. Whether or not the Ouya is successful, gamers have sent a message; we want a cheap, open, dev-friendly console. Ouya’s success is irrelevant compared to the success of the Kickstarter campaign itself. More funding records have been broken, and again the market has shown a willingness to fund projects in advance even if some think it’s a pipedream.

So what’s my point? Well, considering there are three more weeks of crowd fundraising, the game library is still growing, and developers just found out this existed a week ago, I’d say my point is to chill out and wait. It’s not like you won’t get an Ouya if you don’t back their Kickstarter, besides all of this hype is most likely going to influence development in some way. Remember, the Ouya they announced won’t be the Ouya that’s eventually released.