OUYA and the assault on the 'big three' of console gaming

Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo should consider themselves “on notice.” Making a gaming console is not an act of magic or divine intervention. The old paradigm is about to be shaken up by OUYA (pronounced OOH-Yah), a free-spirited Android-powered console set to debut next year that will undercut the giants of console gaming in price and potentially shake things up in the area of content.

OUYA, like most exciting projects do at some point, currently exists as a Kickstarter project but expects to ship March 2013. To date, OUYA is closing in on raising $5 million, or approximately $4 million more than its original goal. Nearly 40,000 gamers have backed the project, indicating that the demand for a fourth option in console games is building a groundswell.

There’s a lot to like about some healthy marketplace disruption amongst console gaming. Mobile, social, browser-based and regular PC gaming have all been opened up to independent developers for years. In fact, the smaller shops have long-since eclipsed the titans of the industry in quality and sheer output in those mediums.

However, when you think “gaming” you probably still imagine a human, some kind of controller and a TV set. OUYA is setting out to break that mold by providing an open environment for people who simply love gaming the “traditional” way.

The most attractive aspect of OUYA, at least upon first glance, is it's a very economical machine. At a targeted $99 price point, gamers can pick up a new system and have access to tons of free games without any extra up-front investment. The biggest question about that value proposition is what games will be available for free and just how “free” will the games be that people actually want to play? One of the stated requirements for having a game on OUYA is that a portion of it can be played for free. So far the biggest name attached to the console is “Minecraft.”

OUYA’s team claims it will host AAA-level titles, though what that actually looks like and how many publishers let their content reach the box remains to be seen. There are a couple obvious problems if you are one of the multiplayer juggernauts such as “Call of Duty,” namely that OUYA eradicates the siloed level of control you are used to. It’s hard to imagine people playing “Modern Warfare 3” on OUYA alongside the tightly monitored players on Xbox Live. The idea that the OUYA is so open, malleable and literally says “hackers welcome” on its Kickstarter page may scare away some of the majors (at least at the beginning) from allowing their content on such an open platform.

Some creative minds are wasted on web-based and mobile games. It’s not a slight against those formats, but the difference in medium calls for a different skillset. For an aspiring designer, programmer or artist to be able to work on something intended for a console, there is a barrier for entry that requires years of hard work and good circumstance. With OUYA, things are opened up in a way that may be a true game changer. Being technologically open and supportive of independent games means that if a developer has always wanted to make console games, they can start getting experience on the platform they want immediately.

In its supporting literature, OUYA is lauded as an answer to something gamers have been “craving” in consoles. The device more accurately addresses a fatigue that console players have with the current offerings from Microsoft and Sony. On the user's end, there’s nothing “wrong” with the 360 and the PS3, it’s just been seven years and plenty of gamers are ready for something new. OUYA undercuts those two on price significantly, but other than the value and the focus on a different set of games, it’s hard to identify what makes OUYA stand apart.

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