Why OUYA will fail
You’ve heard of OUYA already, right? It’s pretty big over on Kickstarter. If you haven’t, I urge you to check it out:
If you don’t feel like looking, here’s the gist. It’s a 99$ console, powered by Android 4.0, where all the games will be ostensibly free-to-play in some way, shape or form.
Just a quick skim might make you think that they may really have something there. And I’m here to tell you that they don’t… Or at least that, by my estimation, this is a flop just waiting to happen. I’ll discuss what I think are the major downfalls of this console. So either I’ll make a whole lot of sense here, or I’ll just spout stupid shit that makes no sense. That’s up to you to decide!
So let’s go!
What’s the appeal?
Well, let’s talk about why people are interested in the OUYA in the first place. Figuring out why people want it will inevitably tell us why it may succeed or fail. Well, it’s simple: It’s super cheap (for the moment hovering around the 100$ price range if you only get a single controller, 30$ per extra controller), so it’s a pretty easy buy to do. Second big thing? ALL games on it will be, ostensibly, free-to-play. As in, either every game will be a demo that you pay to unlock, or will be completely free but will include microtransactions. The other point of appeal, and the one that the makers are really pushing? Playing games on a TV!… Wait, what? Yeah, their concept here is that “people play games almost exclusively on tablets and smartphones and we want to move them back to TVs!”… which is a bit weird, but okay, that’s a selling point too maybe.
On the dev side… Well, it’s Android-powered, so it’s build on a familiar platform that will be easy to develop for, and the free-to-play model the console forces upon the devs (may it be demos with unlock keys or microstransactions) can possibly be benificial to them if the console gets any kind of popularity. COULD being the keyword here.
Why it will fail: Games
So far, no real games have been announced for it, but a few developers may or may not be on board. thatgamecompany, who made the HORRIBLE Journey is on. Mojang might be on board if the thing is a success. The dude who made Canabalt is on board. Jordan Mechner, the creator of Prince of Persia is interested. The founder of inXile, who are currently making Wasteland 2 is positive about it. Spry Fox are in, whoever they are. Madfinger Games too, whoever they are. See the common thread here? None of them are proven developers, they’re low-budget indie devs who would benefit the most from a free-to-play model until/if bigger companies come in and steal their market. inXile is probably the closest to a proven dev, and Jordan Mechner hasn’t made anything in 9 years. Mojang? Well he made a game where you stack blocks and somehow became super popular from that.
So, at the moment, nothing is really announced for this, and what IS announced is subpar mobile games. That you can already get for free or close on your tablet or smartphone or iPod… or even Google Chrome browser. There definitely needs to be a lot more long-term planning here.
Other problem with the games: Look at the iOS and Android marketplaces. See something? These marketplaces not only don’t have any quality control, they just approve anyone and anything no matter what, whether there’s copyright infringement or not. You have to swim through universes of crap before finding a single gem. This can and will happen here, unless they’re VERY strict in regard to what gets released. Will they? Only time will tell.
It’s great that there’s a controller, of course, but when you make a video game console, it has to sell on more than “it has a controller and you can play it on a TV!”, you have to sell it with actual games. And right now even the Wii U is showing more promise on that aspect than the OUYA is. Add to that the fact that OUYA also has to compete with the PS3 and Xbox 360, both of which have a low-cost downloadable game service where you can get similar games to what the OUYA is offering… And the OUYA is looking less and less like a good idea.
Why it will fail: Free-to-play
There’s an inherent problem with free-to-play business models: They won’t generate a whole lot of revenue for most devs.
I’m not saying free-to-play can’t work, of course. League of Legends was one of the most profitable PC games of 2011. Team Fortress 2 got a good revenue boost from going free-to-play. World of Tanks is huge in Europe. Dungeon Fighters Online and Maple Story are also really freaking big. Gunbound still exists (I need to get back into that game) so I assume it’s at least healthy in the model. The common thread here is that they were already popular before going free-to-play, or were amongst the first few free-to-play games and “sold” themselves on that aspect. But, for each really successful free-to-play game, there are hundreds upon thousands of failures. Games that are free-to-play fail more often than not. On a market where ALL of them will be free to play? You’ll have a couple main-stay must-buy games, but everything else will be ignored, or won’t be loved enough to warrant the microtransactions.
See something else in the above games? They’re all online multiplayer games, and that’s one of the limits of free-to-play… because what would people pay for in a free single-player game? Unless they’re just paying for an unlock key to get the full game (ALA PSN/XBLA… making those services a much better option for smaller devs due to bigger consumer bases), there’s really nothing to make people pay for on this end, so the free-to-play model will be inherently limiting in regards to the style of games that come out. And, even then, the games need to be super small in file size to be able to fit multiple of them on the prohibitively tiny 8GB of storage that the console offers, so, inevitably, they’ll be pretty worthless to pick up compared to full-fledged console releases in the same genre due to a lower amount of content.
Oh and less potential revenue means less potential budget/development time, so the quality of games, no mater what, will suffer. There are other arguments against free-to-play, like how it can potentially segment the userbase or give unfair advantages to people who pay vs people who don’t, or how it can be taken WAAAAAY too far (see: EA’s idea of making players pay to reload their gun in an FPS… yes, they actually suggested that)… but I think my points are enough.
Why it will fail: Hacking/Open
Well crap, look at this. Not only is it already using a very hackable OS, but the people making the console ARE ENCOURAGING PEOPLE TO HACK IT. Oh, and not only that, but people can open the thing up and modify its hardware and the people making the OUYA WANT that.
The problem? Well, if it’s as easily hacked as it seems and the people making the console won’t be doing anything at all against it, people will start putting up apps to get all the games for free/find a way to bypass the free-to-play business model ALA Installous. This could go to become a glorified emulator, since developers won’t be willing to not only release free-to-play games, but also release them on a console where hacking it is fully encouraged… Why release games on a console where you’re at a disadvantage, after all? That’s why the PSP lost support from devs early in its lifetime, and it can happen again here.
Why it will fail: Hardware
You see, this is basically a tablet/smartphone that happens to have an HDMI output and a controller instead of a touchscreen. The problem with that is that these things become out-dated fast. Video game consoles, conversely, need to survive for years. I imagine the first run of OUYA consoles, looking at the current specs, to be out-dated… tomorrow. It’s not even using the latest Android OS, and by the time it comes out (March 2013) Tegra4 processors will be out. This seems to be designed to compete against other consoles, but looking more closely, it really seems like it will compete against smartphones and tablets, due to featuring similar/the same games… and that means that people will probably realize pretty fast that the tablets in 2013 will already be strongerthan this console.
Looking at other hardware, the next Xbox and the next Playstation are also on the way. The Wii U will also be out by then. And, while waiting for those, it still has to compete against the PS3 and Xbox 360. All of them offer a stronger game library than the OUYA probably ever will, and all are more technically advanced. The OUYA does have the price advantage though, but it’s hard to say if that will really help, since the 360 and PS3 and Wii already have very large install bases. Oh and they all have solid online services where you can buy games for cheaper than retail, and they have demos some of the time (all the time on 360, sometimes on PS3).
“Playing games on a TV” isn’t a selling point
It’s crazy how much they’re pushing that aspect when it’s really not that big of a deal. Serious gamers are already doing that (or on their computer monitor, or on dedicated gaming handheld consoles like the 3DS and Vita), it’s the less serious casual crowd that has migrated to cheaply-made games on smartphones and tablets. For that market, why would they buy this when they can already play the same games on their smartphone/tablet/web browser? Those people don’t WANT to play on TVs, they’ve already transitioned (basically from DS to Wii to iPhone) and are there to stay unless something major happens… and this is probably not it.
People AREN’T going crazy about this
Just a point I want to stress here. Yes it does seem like, as far as kickstarter projects go, this is going pretty well. As of this writing, there are just a little bit over 38000 backers, over 2000 of which didn’t pledge for a reward that nets them the console (getting them to a total of 4.9million dollars). So that’s a bit under 36000 consoles sold (not counting the fact that people CAN still pull back at this point, but that’s irrelevant). 36000 pre-orders for a console… isn’t terribly high. The backers are going crazy about it, yes, and about 5 people think it’s the next big thing in gaming… But so far only tech-savvy gamers who really like the indie scene bought into it so far, and it’s really hard to say if ANYONE else will want this.
I’m really not sure what their aim is here. It’s an oddity, really. I think their heart seems to be at the right place, but that they’re not going at it the right way, or getting a lot of people on board at all. I’m getting it for the wtf factor (yes, I do have 120$ pledge on this, due to international shipping), but most people won’t want to do that.
I think it’s possible to make this a success, but I’m not exactly sure HOW. Or maybe I’m completely wrong and it will be a massive hit, it wouldn’t be the first time. The price sure seems to be the biggest actual appeal, but I’m not convinced that, with that incentive alone, this could garner a lot of sales.
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