Ouya (pronounced Ooo-yah) is a new Android-powered games console currently under development. New games consoles from companies other than the established big three of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo are rare, and with good reason. Gaming hardware is notoriously difficult to get right and is usually a loss-maker with the software sold being where the real money is. However, Ouya isn't your typical home games console, and it isn't designed to go head-to-head with the PS3, Xbox 360, or Wii in any real sense. Instead it's an Android-powered device that will sell for just US$99.
Ouya is a console designed to play the types of disposable games currently popular on mobile devices and downloadable via PSN and Xbox Live. Think independent, low-budget creations that offer something other than gob-smacking visuals.
The new console is the brainchild of games industry veteran Julie Uhrman and award-winning designer Yves Behar, who between them feel they can shake up the status quo that currently exists within the industry. Uhrman is the creative driving force of Boxer8, the company behind Ouya, while Behar (best-known for the OLPC XO laptop and Jambox) designed both the console and the controller.
The thinking behind Ouya is that while mobile gaming is massively on the rise, with developers producing some momentous titles with global appeal, the TV is still the best screen to be playing games on. Ouya provides the hardware platform that attempts to marry the two together, with a console designed to be hooked up to a television and the Internet in order to offer a wealth of independent games.
The lineup of games will initially comprise mostly ports of Android games designed for phones and tablets, but over time this is expected to change. Several independent games developers are already committed to the project, while others (including the developer of Minecraft) have expressed an interest in getting involved at a later date.
All of the games made available on Ouya will be free-to-play, meaning either a section of the game will be available to sample or the full game will be free, with developers cashing in with paid-for upgrades, level packs etc. This is the only prerequisite required for developers wanting to bring their titles to the new console. Beyond that anybody is free to create content for Ouya, with every console being described as its own dev kit. Boxer8 is committed to fostering an open community, with rooting and hacking positively encouraged. Other types of app will also be available to download to Ouya. The first of these to be announced is Twitch.tv, which live-streams competitive gaming.
The hardware specs of Ouya in its current form are as follows:
After sailing past the original funding target of $950,000, backers are being asked to suggest new goals for the project, including improvements to the hardware. From here on in it will likely be a case of weighing up costs versus performance, as Boxer8 is committed to the $99 retail price of the machine. To deliver on that the company will clearly not be able to add every improvement and feature suggested by backers. The console itself can be offered at such a low price because Boxer8 will take 30 percent of all revenue generated by the games sold through the platform.
Ouya is expected to start shipping March 2013. At the time of writing funding has hit $2.4 million, with over 19,000 backers pledging money to the cause, so going the Kickstarter route seems to have been a good decision. In order to get developers on board Boxer8 needs to build a strong userbase for them to sell their wares to. Sticking with private investments would likely not have generated the groundswell of support for the Ouya console or the amount of press coverage that landing on Kickstarter has done.
Ouya looks to be a solid piece of hardware with backing from industry veterans, indie developers, and gamers alike. However, there is one word of caution that should be noted. This is a gap in the market that's closing fast. Not only are smart televisions and set-top boxes such as Apple TV and Google TV likely to add apps and games in future iterations, Internet-connected devices with access to cloud gaming services such as OnLive could completely eviscerate Ouya.
There is talk in the games industry that dedicated hardware is on its way out, with the forthcoming Wii U, PlayStation 4, and Xbox 720 possibly the last pure games consoles ever to grace our living rooms. Sony has already acquired Gaikai for $380 million but isn't yet being forthcoming about how it will use the infrastructure going forward. In a future where the hardware located in people's houses or hands is immaterial to the quality and quantity of games available to play, Ouya may struggle to compete. But that is a future that has yet to materialize.
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