Ouya – Who are ya?

By Nick Geoghegan, 28/09/2012

There’s not much I can add about Ouya from a technological or PR perspective that hasn’t already been covered in great detail elsewhere on the net. But it strikes me that Ouya, the new open source gaming platform, made famous through its hugely successful Kickstarter campaign (amassing nearly $1m in just 12 hours & nearly $9m by the end of it’s Kickstarter window), is a potential candidate for Challenger of the Year 2013.

If you haven’t had a chance to read about Ouya, it’s a new entrant to the video game industry, designed by Yves Behar of One Laptop Per Child fame and running Android – Google’s increasingly popular operating system (though not with Apple), and judging from the noise coming from the Ouya camp, there could be some fascinating challenger behaviour heading to the gaming category.

Right off the bat, Ouya are demonstrating a  desire to move against the flow of the gaming market. Philosophically, all the conversations around Ouya centre on a desire to break the mould of the traditional gaming market, a market that the founders have been part of for many years. Ouya appears to not be “how things are supposed to be done.” They seem to be embracing Intelligent Naivety and are asking “what if?” questions.

Normally, Developers are charged huge amounts to license a software developing kit (SDK) for a platform. At Ouya, the SDK will be free. Even hackers are being encouraged to have a go at modifying the Ouya’s software and hardware – a far cry from the high level secrecy and reverence to the product that is traditional of this industry, so keep a screwdriver handy.

The status quo of video games sales is one of a high upfront price for a powerful console, followed by the purchase of  highly developed AAA rated games. Again, this is where Ouya departs from the rest of the market. The Ouya console is set to have a launch price of just $99, eminently more affordable than the main competitors in this field. In an industry that has found itself struggling in recent times, a new entrant with a radically different price point could create a seismic shift in itself.

That low price is made possible by a concious decision to sacrifice something that this Challenger sees as unnecessary, in this case sacrificing computing power. The box will not be a graphical or processing powerhouse, but as more and more people get used to playing “good enough games” on their smartphones, tablets and browsers (where the traditional demand for awe inspiring graphics or gaming dynamics is conceded) , is Ouya about to make that a winning approach in the living room?

How will Ouya play this narrative out? It will be interesting to see if they can create some momentum behind this idea – perhaps putting themselves out as a People’s Champion or Democratiser. Is a “no frills gaming” campaign on the horizon? Will it be about gaming for the people? Is Ouya the Jet Blue of the gaming category?

And the games? Free to play apparently… Every single game will have free elements. Then it’s up to you, the user, to choose how you take the game forward – through subscriptions, upgrades, in game payments or simply buying the title outright. In itself, this idea sounds promising but also complicated… How will consumers react to this not just the first time, but the second and third?

On top of that, Ouya is making traction with some meaty partnerships. The Android platform means that any app available on Google Play is now potentially an Ouya app. That means Netflix. That means Hulu. That means Angry Birds. Could this be Google’s most successful route into the living room yet?

I’m really looking forward to the Ouya, and I’m 99% sure that I’ll be shelling out the $99 pretty soon, but more than anything, I feel that I’m watching from the sidelines to see how they deal with some of the key issues that are going to come their way.

Firstly, will it live up to the hype? This is the first Ouya ever and they have already pre-sold 40,000 units. That April 2013 launch date is beginning to look awfully close and we still don’t know what sort of games we’re going to see at launch…

Secondly, I don’t know where the audience is going to come from. The Wii was incredibly successful at launch, but has stumbled since, mainly because the people who bought the Wii weren’t “gamers”. They bought the Wii to “have a go” and as such, many of those Wii’s now sit in cupboards, unloved and unused because there owners quickly became disinterested. Is that same fate going to follow Ouya? Are scores of people going to pick up a $99 base unit and then never pay for a single piece of content?

Thirdly, and this is the thing that I’m most interested in, what is their story? Why does Ouya exist? What are they challenging publicly and why is that going to make me get on board? It’s a blank canvas at the moment – the word of Ouya has spread, reflected in their 40,000 pre-orders, which is a sizeable group of evangelist ready to preach. But what are they going to preach? Is their aim to take on the PlayStation, Nintendo and Microsoft giants and play the Feisty Underdog? Are they the People’s Champion, lowering the cost of gaming for all? Or are they the Next Generation, changing the way that games consoles are thought of forever?

It’s one to keep an eye out for, if nothing more.

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