July 22 2012
Just when you thought you had a gaming device for every occasion, another contender jumps into the increasingly crowded hardware market. Perhaps more noteworthy, their Kickstarter campaign has already set a new record with over $5 million in pledges, and it runs until August 9th. They call it Ouya, and, if all goes well, it will be a $99 game console that runs Android and connects to a TV using an HDMI port. Is this the future of video gaming?
As well as being affordable, the Ouya is promising a number of appealing features such as a quad-core Tegra 3 processor, 1 GB of RAM, 8 GB of flash storage, 1080p HD support, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB, and a wireless controller. Unlike current consoles from Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft, they intend to keep the platform "open," which is one reason they're going with the Android OS.
No doubt, the proprietary nature of consoles is a source of frustration for both consumers and developers. Unlike most devices for playing movies and music, consoles limit you to games released specifically for a particular platform. Developers need to go through a relatively lengthy and expensive approval process to get their games onto existing consoles, which impedes many indies working on tight budgets, who opt instead to release titles for the PC.
Meanwhile, the mobile game market has been growing, and perhaps more importantly, the computing power available in mobile devices has jumped by leaps and bounds. In terms of raw power, the latest smartphones (and the Ouya) have surpassed the Wii and are getting close to Xbox 360 territory. Obviously, the Ouya won't be capable of rendering the lastest and greatest 3D graphics in full HD, but that may not be necessary. Games like Modern Combat 3: Fallen Nation and Need for Speed Hot Pursuit already look pretty good in their Android incarnations, and may adapt to bigger screens quite nicely.
The Ouya is a slick concept and it would be great to see someone shake up the walled-gardens of Nintendo, Apple, Sony and Microsoft, but it faces many hurdles other than funding. Titles for Android are getting better, but right now the bulk of them are of the casual variety. I'm not sure people will spend $100 to play Angry Birds on their TV when so many of us already have other devices that run games like these, including our PCs (which support controllers and are easily connected to TVs). An Xbox 360 can now be had for around $200 and it has a comparably enormous selection of games with more impressive graphics to choose from.
Another challenge for the Ouya is that Android dongles with similar capabilities will soon be everywhere. If big players like Samsung or Nokia see a market for them, they'll quickly become as abundant as flash drives, and pricing will get extremely competitive. It's also not at all hard to imagine a smartphone with HDMI connectivity and wireless controller support. On the other hand, the proliferation of mini-computers running Android could result in more apps and better games for the OS, which could prove beneficial to the Ouya in the end.
The open nature of the platform is also a potential pitfall, as it could give rise to security and piracy issues. Android already suffers from piracy rates high enough to scare some developers into sticking with iOS.
As much as I like the concept behind the Ouya, it's not something I could see myself owning. My PC will do everything the Ouya will do and more, whether I'm at a desk or on the couch. I'm a model of convergence in many ways, as one device handles practically all of my electronic entertainment and communication needs, but admittedly, I am the exception. Most people still confine their PC to the office and dedicate the front room to the TV. In that world, if it lasts, there just might be a place for the Ouya, or something like it.