Late last summer, I backed a Kickstarter project by the name of Ouya. For those who aren’t aware, Ouya was introduced to the world as an affordable video game console for the masses built on Google’s Android ICS (now upgraded to Jellybean) OS. Ouya’s original Kickstarter goal was to raise $950K. The Ouya Kickstarter project took that goal and destroyed it, with funding topping $8.5M when it closed on August 9th, 2012.
Looking at the Ouya project from a purely technological standpoint, many people may be wondering “Why?”. Why create such a device, and who in their right mind would want one in their home, let alone be an early adopter? Powered by nVidia’s Tegra 3 processor with 1GB RAM, the Ouya device shares specifications with my HTC One X and is no more powerful than the latest generation of phones being released in 2013. Further to that, with a powerful next generation console from Sony1 planned for release later this year, many are predicting that Ouya will be a flop due to the tough competition it will face.
So why did I, a console enthusiast, back the Ouya Kickstarter project? Let’s first start with what I feel the Ouya is not:
- The Ouya is not a gaming console with the target market of the big three
- The Ouya is not simply a phone in a box
- The Ouya is not just a way to get Angry Birds on your big screen TV
- The Ouya is not a console for “kids”
- The Ouya is not a free-to-play system as was reported by some of the earlier press coverage; free-to-try would be a more apt description
What I mean by my statements above is that the Ouya is more than any simple bullet or classification. For example, I imagine that aside from some exclusives, many of the games you enjoy on your phone or tablet will also be available for Ouya. Similarly, I do see Ouya being accessible for adults and children alike; and just like the Wii and iPhone before it, I anticipate that the Ouya will have some potential to disrupt the gaming market.
So, back to the question: Why did I back the Ouya Kickstarter project? Well, it’s because to me the Ouya is only one small part videogame console and it is one much larger part promise of something great. To help illustrate this promise, I am going to focus on four main points:
1) Media Democratization for the Masses
(aka: format doesn’t matter any more)
For those who have started transitioning from physical to digital media, you have undoubtedly run into some constraints. For example, a rented or purchased iTunes movie must be watched on an iOS device (directly or connected to a TV) or on a PC. Similarly, your very powerful Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 consoles have very hard restrictions on how they can be used. For example, while my simple $100 ($60 on sale) Roku box is able to stream content from my home Plex Server on wifi, both my Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 struggle to perform the same function over ethernet, and neither can be easily (or legally) modified to serve this purpose better. The same can be said for AppleTV. The fact that Ouya is open to “rooting” by either hardware or software modifications gives me hope that not only will the Ouya be a superior media extender to my home network, but also to the rest of the internet. Think the beauty of Netflix + Sonos + Plex (and/or XBMC) all built into one easy-to-use device.
2) Cutting the Cord
(and the middleman)
So maybe my gripes here are bigger because I’m in Canada and our access to content is significantly limited compared to what is available in the US. Let’s put that aside for now and go back to the fact that we have an open source HDMI and ethernet equipped device running what is now arguably the fastest growing OS in the world. This may be the biggest step since internet streaming that moves us towards cutting out cable companies (and eventually television networks). Whether Ouya drives this or not, it’s only a matter of time before all content creators deliver media directly to the consumer. If you think NHL/NBA/NFL/MLB season passes or Netflix producing and delivering House of Cards and Arrested Development are awesome, just wait for what’s coming!
3) Prices that Reflect Value
I’m aware that some games cost a fortune to produce. Halo 3 reportedly cost over $50M to produce and market, and Microsoft has been stating that the budget for Halo 4 was significantly higher. But why the significant2 pricing discrepancies across devices? To take one example, why does the Angry Birds Trilogy cost $40 on PSN and Xbox Marketplace but is only a few dollars on my phone? By bringing stores such as the Android Marketplace to our home consoles, and ultimately to our home TVs, I feel that there will be more competition for our dollars, and thus more realistic pricing for those offerings. Competition is generally always good for the consumer.
Flexible and powerful.
4) A Brain for Your Home
Ok, so this may seem a bit far-fetched, but the concept has been around for years (if not decades). In fact, with every recent console generation, Sony and Microsoft have made the promise of their devices being the home’s neural network. Now I understand that the Ouya is no powerhouse machine, but at the same time please note that you’ve probably bragged about the awesomeness of the power contained within your latest cellphone. So let’s not be hypocrites here: we all know that a Tegra 33 processor can handle some pretty complex tasks. So toss in a little DDNS service into your home network, wire up your house (photos and music on your NAS, security cameras, thermostats, internet-enabled appliances, next generation Roombas, etc., etc.) and imagine the possibilities! Remotely, your phone or laptop becomes a remote control and a window for the rest of your house – all made possible by a little box called Ouya.
So there we have it. I’m less than a month away from receiving my Ouya console and yet my anticipation for what happens in the upcoming year is much greater than receiving the console itself. This device will be made (or broken) based on how well it is received and supported by developers. My fingers are crossed.
Before I leave you, I do encourage you to comment and let me know if you agree or disagree with me – and why. And don’t forget to check back for my hands-on impressions once the console arrives! Thanks!