Ouya May Ship, But Will it Go?

ouya_console

The launch of Ouya’s Kickstarter project, if nothing else, certainly has made a lot of noise this week. Initially greeted with a lot of enthusiasm by the gaming press, the story quickly turned from following the impressive rate at which money was raised (for Kickstarter), to a number of negative articles lambasting the project’s unrealistic goals and seemingly duplicitous pitch.

That kind of skepticism is well warranted. Contributing to a Kickstarter should always be approached as a gamble. You need to weigh the reputation of the people behind each project, the feasibility of their goals and the timeline proposed. That said, some of the criticisms out there are not well informed. Kevin Dent of Tiswaz Entertainment, a gaming consultation firm, told the Verge he does not believe the hardware will ever ship.

But lets break it down and see what they’re actually trying to offer. Ouya is an Android-based set top box using a fairly standard  Tegra 3 powered design that will sell for $99 with a controller some time after March 2013. As Penny Arcade reported there is not a single game that has actually been confirmed for the system. Instead, Ouya is selling the promise of an indie-focused, inexpensive, hackable system on the strenght of nebulous statements like these quotes from their Kickstarter proposal:

@fourzerotwo… A new console, for $99, that is designed around a free-to-play open source model. I support everything about @playouya

But not necessarily Ouya itself.

Engadget… “Gamers are craving something different, and if the Ouya is a success, it could usher us into a new golden age of gaming…”

So, if it’s successful I guess it was a success?

@Daddygamer… @playouya you’re becoming the people’s console.

Take that all you priviledged Wii owners!

PC World… “Is the $99 OUYA the Video Game Console for the 99 Percent?”

No.

@SoDoubleOGGood… What would Macho Man Randy Savage’s favorite gaming console be? (if he were still alive) ‪#OUYA‬ oooh yeah!

Well, they’ve got a dead wrestler and the Kool Aid guy, I guess? Not sure how that helps.

Gamasutra… “People have been clinging to the same game consoles for several years, and are wanting something different.”

Good news for the PS4, Xbox 720 and Wii U!

Cyathem from Reddit… “I’ve wasted $100 on stupid things. This actually looks cool.”

If you can’t trust someone on the internet who tells you they have a history of buying stupid things, who can you trust?

This is Ouya’s attempt to put their best foot forward and all it amounts to is a lot of hedging from press or gaming personalities, and enthusiastic nobodies. The developer quotes aren’t much better, and mostly fall into noncommital “if it takes off, I guess it could be cool” type statements. Notch, creator of Minecraft, which was specifically name-dropped in the Ouya pitch video, went to Twitter to clarify that if it did come to Ouya it would just be the Android version which “isn’t super great”.

Let’s be clear, shipping isn’t a serious problem. There are plenty of Chinese manufacturer who will be happy to fulfill an order placed ~7 months from now. Aside from the case and controller, Ouya uses a pretty bog standard reference design for Android hardware and those are being produced hand over fist right now. The average price per console they are commited to would easily cover those costs. Unless, that is, they don’t hold that money in trust to actually produce the consoles they’ve already sold. If they start spending it expecting new money to appear when it comes time to actually build, that could result in a catastrophic failure and the require even greater duplicity than I suspect.

It’s just that after they send out the first batch to backers, that will be the end. There’s no real marketing, game development or retail support behind this thing. There’s no reason to believe this will revolutionize anything. Even if it makes it to shelves it will be next to $150 PS3s and 360s with huge, deep libraries of much better games. 35,000 backers and 4.7 million dollars is impressive for a Kickstarter, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to a major hardware launch. Nor is it enough to impress actual investors to get the 100s of millions they’d need to be a real player in the industry.

The fact is real hacker/tinker types know where to get hardware that will work for their purposes now. Ouya isn’t a serious concern to them. Indies have far more lucrative markets between phones, tablets, XBLIG, PS Mobile and PC. The people behind Ouya are just using that as a smokescreen to entice people who like the idea of a hacker or indie platform, but who aren’t actual hackers or indies themselves.

Dual Core Android Dongles sell now for far less than Ouya

My advice to potential backers is hold on to your money. If you’ve already pledged, withdraw your support while you can. If all you really care about is an Android device to play around with on your TV, there are plenty of those you can buy right now. This dual core Android dongle only costs $67 shipped today. It is even being sold by a company that actually has a history of fulfilling orders. Plug in a 360 controller and play all the games or run all the emulators you want. Netflix, Hulu+, Google Play, XBMC and bedroom development are all things you could be doing now for less than the cost of a Ouya.

Or you could wait until next year and see if the finished Ouya actually lives up to the “hype”. Read the reviews, see what games have actually made it over. If it turns out cool, buy one. If not, see how much better the generic Chinese Android hardware has gotten and buy that instead.

The other huge X factor is any time between now and when Ouya actually ships Apple could relaunch the AppleTV with App Store support and a new gaming capable remote. If that happens you’ll probably feel pretty stupid for letting the Ouya guys hold on to your money interest free for 9 months when they’re just going to get bulldozed by a $99 AppleTV with better graphics backed by the biggest company in America and all the top flight iOS developers.

If nothing else, Kickstarter has shown us how much easier it is to sell an idea than an actual product. An unproven device from an unproven team with an unproven business model is not the smartest of Kickstarter bets. You need only look to this recent project for the Pocket TV as a kind of warning. The project promised an amazing, new, custom built device that uses a tiny Android device to turn any TV into a Smart TV for $99. In actuality, it was just a cynical way to market existing generic hardware already being manufactured and sold by Chinese factories for less than $50 a piece in quantity. Not that there’s anything wrong with importing a product for sale, but it’s pretty scummy to pretend it’s your invention, or to use Kickstarter to resell something risk free. The last thing Kickstarter needs is to become an eBay storefront for electronics that are going to be drop shipped from China.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say the people behind Ouya are outright scammers, but they are set up pretty well to make a nice chunk of money whether or no Ouya actually becomes a viable platform. As soon as the first batch ships they can walk away with a nice profit and never worry about Ouya ever again. They’ve used the names of paid consultants like Yves Behar or Ed Fries to legitimize the business, made misleading statements about which games are actually coming, exaggerated the level of hardware design required, and dropped a lot of buzz words like Free-to-Play or Indie or Hackable to distract from the lack of substance. It’s only prudent to take a wait and see attitude.