Back when Ouya was all the buzz, generating hype alongside millions in cash from both Kickstarter backers and VC funding, I couldn’t quite decipher what the point really was. A console that plays mobile games on your TV? With a controller?
How would that ever drum up the install base necessary to lure developers away from the much more lucrative mobile business? How would anyone really make money on this, when gamers typically play mobile games on their mobile phones and tablets, and full-fledged console games on traditional consoles?
Well, early reviews for the system were far from stellar, and game developers reported that for all their effort, it was pretty much impossible to make any money. The promised hackability of the Ouya didn’t do much for it, either—and neither did various emulators that played, among other things, old Nintendo games.
And so the buzz died down and the hype went on leave, and now the Ouya—as a hardware unit—is going the way of the Dodo.
“What makes Ouya is not the physical hardware, but the fact that it is made for games built for a TV,” Ouya founder Julie Uhrman told The Verge.
Here’s The Verge’s Sean Hollister, originally an Ouya optimist:
“What is Ouya without its hardware? It’s not a console anymore: it’s a subset of the Android operating system that will necessarily have fewer games, due to its smaller install base and extra hurdles, than Android as a whole — only without the previous benefits of a single hardware platform for developers to target. You might liken Ouya to Netflix or Amazon’s Kindle in its attempt to spread throughout the hardware landscape, but the technical requirements to read books or play movies are well satisfied by any device on the market, while games attempting to satisfy a console gamer are chasing a moving target. Originally, Ouya planned to upgrade its microconsole every year with the latest chips, but people rarely replace their television anywhere near that quickly. It’s not clear why game developers would build Android games for a fragmented Ouya instead of Android, period.”
Indeed. And while it’s perfectly reasonable for the Ouya team to adapt and respond to the market hurdles they face, this does underscore the problems with crowd-funding hardware platforms, and with the crowd getting too drawn into the hype for a product long before it’s been reviewed, tested, or even fully designed and built.
To be perfectly honest, while I never actively hoped that the Ouya would fail, I didn’t see it as a bastion of gamer freedom and nostalgia. Rather, the promise of “free-to-play” everything on a mobile platform strapped to the TV struck me as a step in the wrong direction for video games. Perhaps I’m too much the traditionalist.
Then again, the incredible success of the PS4 illustrates that a demand for traditional gaming consoles still very much exists. Traditional consoles with evolving price and revenue models, for sure, but still largely following the pay-to-play model (plus DLC, expansions, etc.)
So what is the future of a video game console? That’s impossible to predict. I suspect digital distribution will continue to grow. Someday down the line services like PlayStation Now and other cloud-based gaming will come into their own, though it will likely be years before that’s feasible.
Our conception of a console will certainly change. And perhaps Ouya, OnLive, and other similar ventures are simply ahead of their time. We shall see.