Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Okay, I'll Bite. The -Hell- is an Ouya?

I mean, yes, I understand what the Ouya is, and I understand the concept behind it and all of that, but it still manages to confound me on several basic levels as I look at it.  So perhaps it's less a question of 'what is' the Ouya and moreso 'why is the Ouya a thing'?  It is apparently a pretty common question, and I would suggest that it's not one born of ignorance or anything like that.  Rather, I don't think it's an inherently negative thing to question this thing, since all of these gaming devices invariably get questioned by the dumbest people for the stupidest reasons anyway as is.  I qualify this, of course, because the people that believe in this thing, believe in it hard, as these types of things tend to draw, so questioning it doesn't generally end well.  At least, a little less well than questioning something like the Wii or the Vita or the like would go.  Since those types of things aren't exactly as 'new' as the Ouya, and thus have been around such scrutiny for much much longer than this.

So, for the uninformed, of which I imagine there might be several of you, my question of "What is the Ouya" might be your own.  Essentially, the Ouya is a $99 Gaming Console that will cater specifically to games on the Android marketplace, serving as a hub to bring those games from your phone to your television.  Yes those games that are always featured so prominently as "Also on the Android Marketplace" (after the iTunes App Store) that sell for peanuts since they don't have to go through any real certifications or the like (ESRB and the equivalent ratings, mostly) are going to be playable on your TV through this box.  I say "Are going to be" instead of "would be", because this thing is going to be a thing, barring some patent infringement injunctions or the like.  Thanks to Kickstarter, the thing raised $1 Million in a single day, which completely funded it, as the goal was $950,000 over the course of 30 days.  So, it's well over that and there's....still 29 days left.  And people will throw absurd amounts of money at this thing regardless, since the minimum backing (of $99) nets them a console and controller, meaning they'll be able to get it and...uh...play...things on it.

So, using basic math to get rough numbers, since the actual Kickstarter page is going to be a hotbed of action for a week still, let's point out a few things.  As I said, minimum backing (just looked at the Kickstarter, and there's a few pledge tiers below that.) bare minimum to get the Ouya is $95 (Well, technically, the $95 pledge limit has been reached, leaving only the $99), so let's just make that a nice, even happy $100.  Take the fact that pretty much by the time that Joystiq article went live, they already breached the million mark into account.  Just roughing the numbers up a little, that's ~10,000 people interested enough in the device to throw down money for it's eventual maybe release on the very first day such a thing is possible.  I think the actual numbers were something around 8,000 people, since there are several levels of pledges, of course, but like I said, the Kickstarter page will be wild for a time yet and any numbers I give you here have no chance of being anywhere near 'up-to-date', so I'm not going to bother a whole lot.  So let's just run with what I said and say that 10,000 people want to buy this thing, or more importantly at this juncture, simply want this thing to exist.  And the question I have for these people specifically is the one I posed earlier:  "Why?"

I have a few theories, of course, which are the only things I can come up with to really justify the existence of the thing.  Obviously the first and easiest bullet point for this to make is the idea that the full console experience is simply $99 upfront, wherein thereafter you can theoretically enjoy the thing without adding in another cent.  This is because the developers of Ouya ask (read:  Will probably make it mandatory) that everybody who supports the device offer at least -some level- of free gaming, whether it be a trial version and/or a demo, or simply making their game free-to-play with micro-transactions.  Which of course right there means that every Android game out there already will not be compatible with the Ouya by default.  If the controller didn't make that obvious enough, at least.  Of course, this kind of relies on the hope that the people who work on this thing won't be jerks and only make demos of their games to put in the bare minimum in an attempt for the max level of profit that could be wrung from an indie game (which varies from none at all to astronomical amounts, apparently).  I mean, I'm not saying that I expect that to happen, I'm just saying that when it comes to going the extra mile, I can't really name a lot of developers that are willing to do it.

Honestly, pretty much the only other reason is because I imagine a lot of people will see it as 'legitimizing' mobile gaming if there's this console directly related to the games for it.  Since you're not going to see traditional 'console' games (Beyond those that have been ported to Android/iTunes for a quick buck, but shut up that's not indie maaaan) on this thing, but simply games that have been specifically designed for....well, I guess not specifically the mobile scene anymore.  I guess it's more a creature of circumstance, since it's a console specifically built for indie designers, who have simply taken to the mobile scene for the ease of use and development when compared to actual consoles.  And PC, apparently.  Not quite sure how that works, but there you go.  Regardless, that's really what I think this whole project is, less about pushing the Android platform and more about simply giving Indie developers a console since apparently there's no place for Indie Developers in modern gaming.  Not like XBox Live Indie Games, Playstation Pub Fund or, you know, PC Gaming exists or anything.

Anyways, something I had been wondering about, which the Kickstarter page sort of tentatively confirmed for me is whether or not the Ouya itself would be a development platform or simply a box that plays games.  It seems that it's the former, thankfully, which makes a -ton- of sense, so that is something entirely in its favor as well.  While I'm a bit wary about the possibility of games being made 'only' for the Ouya (from people who want to take advantage of the controller rather than the full touchscreen interface) I admit that it's not a terribly bad option if the games themselves are worth it.  That's sort of where Indie Gaming as a whole proves to help and defeat itself at the same time, I think.  For every Minecraft and every Breath of Death VII, you get poorly slapped together clones of other games and games like Alphachimp by the barrelful simply because it's just as easy as coming up with some sort of idea and knowing just enough coding to slide by with the barest of essentials.  Because it's so easy, everyone can do it, but because it's so easy everyone can do it.  I hope the italics sort of helped deliver the underlying message there.

Still, with the launch of the Ouya not happening til March 2013 at the earliest (barring some legal issues or such as I mentioned before.  Personally, looking at the Ouya dashboard makes me think of the 360's, but I'm not sure if that's accurate.), there's still plenty of time for the plot to thicken.  As it's a console where things must be developed -for- it within the rather lax guidelines provided, it's going to have to find some support, and I'm not sure there's a whole lot of it out there.  At least, not in the terms of people who want to develop for something specifically assuming there are people who have spent $99 on this device who are also going to be willing to play your game.  As with most consoles, we could probably see the rather easy porting of existing games (but will companies like Squeenix and EA who have mobile games out there support it?) but if people are as consistent as they've proved to be, there will be no end of the bitching until fresh new things come out of it.  So maybe we'll see something of a renaissance of new innovation come out of this.  Or...maybe everyone will just forget about it come March.  I probably will.

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