When it comes to the video game industry, usually there are only a certain number of “power players” that manage to flourish with new hardware. One definite front runner is Nintendo, who’s been in the console business since 1985 with its NES console and continues to this day with the Nintendo 3DS and the forthcoming Wii U coming later this year. Microsoft has definitely caught a foothold as well, with its Xbox 360 console being the current best seller worldwide. And we can’t forget about Sony, who's been fielding a console since the mid-'90s and now has its high-end PlayStation 3 with Blu-ray technology built in.
But does that mean there’s no room for new “little guys” in the industry? Not necessarily. The fact is, with the right amount of marketing push and support, there could easily be room for something new on the market. Take the Ouya team, for instance - a few weeks ago, the company introduced its new Android-based game console, perfectly suited for casual players and hackers alike (they can modify their system however they choose with USB and Bluetooth accessories, or even play around with designs), and even though there wasn’t any major third-party backing (at the time), the company’s Kickstarter project (link: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ouya/ouya-a-new-kind-of-video-game-console) met its $950,000 goal in a matter of days. In fact, it eclipsed that, and, with nine days left in the program, it’s already exceeded well over $5.8 million, with room to push past $6 mill before the goal concludes.
The technology itself is rather impressive, put together by the same minds that made the rather cool Jambox. The Ouya game unit itself is about the size of a Rubik’s Cube, with easy connectivity to televisions so gamers can upload their favorite mobile games for big-screen play, including Minecraft, Canabalt and ShadowGun among others. Furthermore, the controller actually looks rather convenient in design - a bit flatter than most PS3/Xbox 360 game pads but also easy to grip, with two analog sticks and face and shoulder buttons that are quite accessible.
Though the system has only seen an independent push in the wake of its Kickstarter program, it’s obvious that it’s quite popular when it comes to people wanting to see what it can do for them both for game development and playing. However, since the launch of the campaign, Ouya has seen a couple of additions that could very well change the scope of what it could offer when it launches early next year.
The first is exclusives - though it doesn’t have a full library of them just yet, it does have an interesting first entry in the form of Human Element. It's the first game coming from Robert Bowling (formerly with Call of Duty’s Infinity Ward team) and his development crew at Robotoki. Bowling recently agreed to partner up with Ouya to offer his upcoming zombie game exclusively first on Ouya before making a more widespread release. The project isn’t coming anytime soon, but the first chapters will be made for Ouya first.
Secondly, Ouya recently found a great new partner that will help expand its game library: OnLive, the cloud streaming service. This company, which launched its service over a year ago, streams AAA and independent titles through its servers, either directly to PC or through connectible MicroConsoles for televisions. These titles include Saints Row: The Third, Batman: Arkham City and the upcoming Darksiders II among others, so obviously there’s room for growth for a game line-up. Sure you still need a separate OnLive subscription and need to buy the games just as you would on the Ouya service, but it’s a small price to pay for convenience and an instant game library. You really get a lot of mileage out of OnLive’s $9.99 PlayPack plan. (We actually stayed up late with a few sessions of ToeJam and Earl last week. Jammin’!)
Now the real question is, can the Ouya be a competitive console on the market? It doesn’t exactly have the budget for a major advertising campaign like the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 do, nor does it quite have the strengthened third-party support that would give it the ideal game library at launch – though to be honest, with OnLive it will have a number of worthwhile classics along quite a few new games, so that works in their favor.
You also have to consider convenience - the Ouya console will not only offer a number of great games through both services, but it will also offer something quite convenient for users: demos. As part of a requirement for games that go up in their digital shop, third party publishers have to provide some sort of interactive free demo either from the game or using content related to it. That’s a “try before you buy” set-up, something not every game has on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and another benefit in their favor.
Coming back to the marketing thing, what Ouya lacks in a multi-million dollar commercial budget it might make up with word of mouth. That Kickstarter program didn’t reach $5.8 million purely out of luck, rather from users that talked about the convenience of reserving a system for $99 or more through the program’s multi-tier reward set-up. (It’s still being offered today, if you feel like buying a Ouya game console – or even getting one with your user name etched into it.) It’s bound to pick up even more in popularity once it releases, though whether it can push its way into distributors like Best Buy or GameStop has yet to be seen, but we’re sure a few online retailers will pick up on it. That is, if you didn’t buy a $99 console already - talk about a bargain!
The bottom line, Ouya still has some questions surrounding it before we can truly say whether it can keep up or not, but the services are definitely stacking up along with the positive buzz for it. It’s definitely going somewhere – now it’s just a matter of seeing exactly where.
One thing’s for sure: we want our Ouya console.... and soon.