Ouya: why it's great vs. why it sucks

Blogs Damien McFerran 13:12, 24 Jun 2013

Can Ouya really revolutionise the games industry, or is it doomed from the start? James Coote and Alex Stevens deliver their arguments

A short time ago, we posted a feature entitled “Ouya: Doomed from Day One?” which triggered quite a response from the gaming community. Many readers took issue with the negative tone of the piece, and insisted that the new Android-based console would carve out a profitable niche in the market.

To get a more balanced view on the debate, Alex Stevens - the very same Ouya skeptic who took part in the aforementioned feature - sat down with passionate Ouya advocate James Coote to drum out the arguments for and against.

James Coote: PC and mobile have already existed for some time as open and developer friendly platforms. While some games just play better with a controller versus touch screen or mouse and keyboard, what Ouya really adds is a path for developers into the lounge/sitting room environment. It's a social space, one shared by family and friends, and that lends itself to different types of games. 

Ouya allows developers to make motion control, or Wii U style second screen games, the sort of which don't usually end well sat in front of a PC or riding the train home with your smartphone / tablet.

However, it's with local multiplayer games that Ouya is really starting to come alive and find a home as a low cost antidote to hardcore gaming machines. Ouya, therefore, is an accompaniment to your PlayStation or Xbox, rather than a replacement. 

It's likely to remain there for a while too, since it'll take time to build the sort of library fit for a primary gaming device. In many ways, Ouya has been the victim of its own success, being hyped up as a giant killer when actually it's a slow burner. 

Alex Stevens: Your argument seems to ride on a lot of hypotheticals and positive thinking. It’s been mentioned several times (and not just by myself) that the Ouya loses any edge in price it may have once you factor in other human beings. For the local, social multiplayer experience you’re describing, consumers can purchase an Xbox 360 for less than the cost of an Ouya and a second controller, giving you access to cheap, quality AAA titles in addition to a thriving indie scene.

The Ouya is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist, which is in part why its marketing has been so erratic. Originally it was billed as a device to take on the “Big Three” and shatter the bonds that have restricted gamers for years by corporate console overlords. Now it’s the cute little box you stick between the PS3 and the 360 when it became obvious that expectations had to be lowered dramatically. 

James Coote: Right now, the Xbox 360 is definitely a dampener on Ouya’s potential sales, and there will still be another year or so’s worth of AAA games coming out for it. However, after years of neglect, Microsoft have effectively ditched the developer community on XBLIG/XBLA.

Ouya doesn’t just provide a replacement/alternative for those games and their developers, but seeks to build and improve on what came before; by responding to developer concerns, improving developer tools and evolving the platform based on their needs (as well as those of the game players).

Ouya also aims to really tackle head on the problem of discoverability in digital distribution marketplaces (app stores). Connecting players with the games they will enjoy. Ouya are taking a fresh approach by measuring engagement, rather than number of downloads or gross revenues, and again, bringing a willingness to experiment and find out what works and what doesn’t.

Both those are huge problems for the games industry, and ones that major players have been reluctant or unwilling to try and solve. They also take time to come to fruition, and can be abstract, remote concerns for ordinary consumers. Ouya has recognised that in the meantime, they need to sell the system on the more immediate problems it solves: providing an all in one media centre device, emulation box and filling the gap in the market especially for local multiplayer gaming

Alex Stevens: It's difficult for me to read the above paragraphs and take them with any more salt than I would an Ouya press release. I think we have a fundamentally different view of the reality of the situation. Even taking some of these assertions at face value, none of what you've mentioned are system sellers.

Are there metrics for discovering good content better than sales numbers? Maybe - but tinkering with unproven ideas on the developer side won't sell units, and won't be an enticement to developers who know what they're doing to commit blood and treasure to create a quality exclusive product for the Ouya.

Abstract solutions to problems that may or may not exist aren't what consumers who are looking for a gaming console want, and serious developers worth a line of code know this.

James Coote: Many people will be initially disappointed as they quickly race through the content it has to offer. But every couple of months, they'll dust it off and come back, have a play through the fresh content, and stay just that little bit longer each time.

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