***UPDATE: So apparently they will be taking a cut of game sales, which I guess means they're setting up their own marketplace too. Hmmmm.***
You have, by now, probably seen the Kickstarter page for the Ouya, an Android-based home console. A lot of people are being a bit sneery, calling it the next Phantom/Gizmondo, and it’s not hard to see why. For one thing, it is suspiciously cheap. $99 for a console and a controller? A console that can run the slighty shite but admittedly nice-looking Shadowgun? No chance, man. Bear in mind that most console manufacturers sell their wares at a loss because they then rinse the fuck out of publishers with licensing fees. The Ouya, on the other hand, is on an open platform - the people behind it aren’t making any more money every time you buy a game. They have to profit on the hardware, else they don’t have a business. They’re talking about funding some first-party games, but that’s not enough. Unless you’re Nintendo.
Another clue that the people behind it may be LIARS is this image:
Hahahaha shut up. Several paragraphs later, this text follows:
“All the games on it will be free, at least to try.”
For non-Android people: this refers to the fact that any purchases made on the Google Play Store can be rescinded within 15 minutes. So if an app turns out to be dogshit or simply doesn’t run on your Android device, you can sack it off for a refund. Great! But Ouya’s implication that all the games ARE FREE is just nonsense, unless they’re talking about Android’s rampant piracy problem. Ho ho!
But HERE IS THE THING: I quite want one. Because for all the alarm bells the Ouya sets off, it is not at all a bad idea! The internet has half-joked for some time about how great it would be if Valve made a console. Assuming for argument’s sake that they’re not doing that, the Ouya could be a pretty close alternative.
So let’s say it is real and will exist one day, and it really is $99 for a console that sits under your TV and plays pretty nice-looking games that rarely cost more than a few quid, and it runs on Android so there’s already a whole wealth of multimedia apps ready to go. That is a bargain. If Sony or Microsoft announced they were doing pretty much the same thing with their next console, you would all shit yourselves and call it the future. It’s only the fact that this is from an unknown company that it’s raising a few eyebrows.
They also seem to know what they’re doing in terms of developer support. They say they’re harassing the big publishers, but I’m not even convinced they’ll need them. Sure, they might bring an air of legitimacy to the console for some, but anyone who plays a lot of downloadable games understands that we’re now on a much more level playing-field. With Minecraft already working on the console and supportive quotes from the likes of Jenova Chen and Adam Saltsman, the people behind Ouya demonstrate some awareness of the kinds of developers that’ll really make the console work.
Speaking of awareness, Ouya’s apparent acceptance of hacking/rooting is pretty interesting. They might well be shooting themselves in the foot - they’re practically telling people they can easily pirate games - but, good lord, isn’t that better than your average company’s attitude of implementing draconian anti-piracy measures and then burying their heads in the sand when it clearly does nothing but annoy paying customers? People will pirate games no matter what. You might as well not treat everyone like a thief, eh?
That’s not to say piracy is the only point of hacking an Android device, though. Say you don’t like the look of the interface (I do, but even MS-DOS looks pretty nice these days when compared to the current Xbox 360 dashboard) - people will be able to change that. And absolutely everything else, if they want. People often hack their Android phones just to install custom firmware that incorporates the best aspects of other firmware versions from other hardware manufacturers, in many cases enabling devices to do things that the manufacturer-sanctioned firmware won’t allow.
Better yet, Ouya have said that doing any of this stuff isn’t going to void your warranty, which is pretty good of them. There’s a potential pitfall here, though - their readiness to accept hacking might yet be a sly way of making the community do half their work for them. Opening the device up to the users doesn’t mean Ouya will get away with not updating the ruddy thing themselves. We’ll see, eh?
So Ouya might not solve Android’s piracy problem, but it does potentially sort out the other reason Android currently pales next to iOS as a games platform - the wildly fragmented user base. Because Android can be found on so many different devices with so many different firmware versions, it is simply a total nightmare to develop for. But with the Ouya being the only Android device of its ilk, it could quite easily become a focal point for Android developers, as long as it doesn’t inspire a whole load of copycats.
Oh, and there are already a whole load of decent emulators available for Android devices. They’ll all work. So will OnLive, if you’re that way inclined. Let that sink in for a minute. Think of ALL OF THE GAMES.
I’ve refreshed the Ouya Kickstarter page several times while writing this. It’s made around $300,000 since I started. To put that figure into context, it’s $300,000 more than I’ve made in the same timespan. In fact, I've come dangerously close to losing $99.
Point is, whether this turns out to be an elaborate scam or THE FUTURE OF GAMING, it’s already come too far for any of us to not pay attention.
The slanted yellow and red buttons can fuck off, though. Look at them. Ugh.