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Editorial: The Many Pros and Cons of the OUYA

Marcus Estrada

Chances are you've heard about the OUYA game console already. If you haven't, then you're definitely in the minority. Just a few days after the project launched on Kickstarter it accumulated 25,000+ backers and over 3 million dollars. This showing has surpassed the last massive Kickstarter success that was the Double Fine Adventure which made 3.3 million by the end. OUYA still has nearly a month to grow even larger.


The device basically plans to be something which will bring new developers back to the living room space. Product starter Julie Uhrman bemoans the shift of indie development to smartphones and tablets. Her hope, and apparently many others' as well, is to have this device verge the gap. As the OUYA is an Android-powered device, it hopes to attract developers with a similarly low barrier of entry to create as smartphones do today. So, how is it setting to accomplish its various goals? What about the project seems smart and what other parts seem problematic? Let's examine the OUYA.





Pro - Android 4.0


Right now, the OUYA is a fairly competent device in comparison to smartphones and tablets (especially considering price). With a focus on Android, it will also maintain a friendly-looking starting point for interested developers. While most hobbyist coders may shirk from the mere thought of developing a PS3 game, they generally aren't as reserved about smartphone development. Do you see how many apps are available across Apple and Google's respective marketplaces? Yeah, it's not the hardest to develop for and this seems why they went with making it an Android device.




It's not the same exact Android OS that smartphones are using. While there is a strong and growing library of Android games, they aren't all going to work on the OUYA right out of the box. Since we don't have more details about this, it may be very simple to translate the smartphone version of an app into the OUYA version, or it might not. Even though the controller has a touch screen, it remains to be seen how well that would translate with already existing games. Regardless, every app maker in the world isn't going to just suddenly make itself compatible with the controller. So far, there has been positive response to the project from the likes of Adam Saltsman (Canabalt) and Mojang (Minecraft), but it remains to be seen who will end up supporting the device.



Pro - Tegra3 Quad-Core Processor


This processor, along with a gigabyte of RAM, is capable of playing really nice games. Many people expect an Android-based device to bring out Flash game quality. This isn't the case at all though. Anyone who has been paying attention to the mobile gaming scene has probably noticed that some games look pretty darn good. It won't be top of the line by the time the device releases, but it's certainly a nice start for the price.




Everyone isn't born knowing how to best make use of the Tegra3. Most people who develop Android games aren't jumping in with a load of skill behind them. This isn't a bad thing, but most developers won't be prepared to fully harness the power of the processor. Most of the companies making gorgeous mobile games are just that - companies. OUYA seems to wish to appeal most to new or casual developers so don't expect to see too many games like in that demo reel.





Pro - Open Development Environment


Every OUYA is a console as well as a devkit. This is massive in the world of gaming. Why? Well, most times devkits are completely separate units which cost ungodly amounts of money. Having a fairly cheap device that you can immediately start fiddling with from the start is an awesome concept. Probably the majority of people getting a OUYA won't be in it for this feature, but for those who are so inclined it is a great bonus. Modify the system all you want as none of it voids the warranty!




Remember when I talked earlier about how bustling with content mobile markets are? If the OUYA succeeds out the gate and gets into the hands of many aspiring developers then we're going to see a lot of content. Obviously this isn't a problem all by itself but there is a reason why only certain games get onto XBLA and PSN. Quality control is often in place on digital marketplaces because otherwise they will be overrun with terrible things. Expect to see half-done arcade clones, various re-skins of Pong, and generally lots of things that only the developer themselves will be proud of. Finding the good content may be very hard if you don't know where to look.





Pro - Cheap and Cool


Even though most of us already own a smartphone, tablet, computer, and many other devices, that doesn't change the fact that this seems pretty darn cool. Having a device that plays a proposed lot of games (all with a free component) on your TV is neat. At the price point, it also has little competition from more serious consoles out there. Sure, there's the subsidized Xbox 360 now but that requires a contract. Even the Xperia Play (touted as a smartphone with a gaming controller) has a high retail cost. OUYA is a standalone device with fair components inside. It must be noted that the OUYA is not $95-$99. That is purely the Kickstarter "pre-order" price point that will soon be filled. We do not know what the retail price of the system will be but it will probably be a little over $100.




The poor OUYA will be outdated by the time it launches. If it arrives at the proposed March of next year there will be a new set of smart devices ready to launch. They will include things like Tegra4 processors and who knows what else. The smartphone and tablet market are always expanding at a much faster pace than one might expect. Either way, it might sadden purchasers to realize their device is behind the times right when they open it. Developers, too, may wish to stick with focusing on newer things each time since it seems our society is caught up with always buying the newest of the new.




Pro - Free Games!!!


This is one of the most appealing (or unappealing) features of the system. For what the system is offering spec-wise though, it seems mostly a positive to me. What gamer wouldn't want to have access to a library of free games? Just like the move to free to play, there's a lot of quality gaming content out there available for no cost if you're interested. Assuming the OUYA gets off the ground, owners will have at least a few worthwhile games to play without having to spend extra money.




When games are free, what makes developers want to make them? In order to be on OUYA you don't need to have a F2P title. You might simply offer up a demo and then a paid version of the full game. That's fine at the outset - until you think for a second to realize that a lot of people this system is trying to appeal to are "hackers." Whatever your interpretation of the word is, it seems that many who will own the device will have no issue with pirating games. For those who use Android, you have probably seen how easy it is to do this. If it's an issue, then expect that most games on the system will be F2P, and if you don't like that style of gaming then you're out of luck big time.


When it comes right down to it, the OUYA is certainly pushing for a certain audience. They seem to have received it too by just looking at their Kickstarter funding. The question still remains - does such a device have a place in our gaming market? It will exist and have fans, but so do things like the Dingoo and GamePark series of handhelds. Have you heard of both? They have very small communities, but are out there all the same. Will this very popular Kickstarter help keep interest in the system when it finally arrives on people's doorsteps? When it does, will developers gravitate toward it or simply continue their focus on devices with larger install bases? Unfortunately these are the questions that no one will be able to answer until the OUYA is available.


What do you think? What will cause the OUYA to succeed or fail?

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