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[Gamesbriefers] Would you develop for Ouya?

By on July 25, 2013


Last week Ouya announced ‘Free the Games’, their plan to match-fund crowdfunded projects, as long as the game would be exclusive to the platform for six months after launch. This week, Ouya developers have revealed the modest sales figures their games have scooped up so far.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about the Ouya. In particular, what would you say to a Gamesbrief reader considering developing for the microconsole?


Ben Cousins1Ben Cousins Head of European Game Studios at DeNA

It’s an interesting concept and it has a great team behind it, but I’m caught in a dilemma when considering Ouya.

  1. It’s a ‘free to play console’ and I make free to play games
  2. Free to play games need huge volume to be successful
  3. So far it looks like Ouya is generating extraordinarily low download volume, even for F2P games

I wouldn’t be able to justify development expense on this platform from a ROI POV at the moment, even if it was just a couple of hours work.

However if the console becomes very successful and downloads move into the possible hundreds of thousands monthly, then I would take a look again.

I don’t know the typical profile of a Gamesbrief reader, but generally I would suggest shying away from subsidised platforms. If the platform holder is going to give you money to make a game for them, there’s probably something wrong with that platform. There are other paths to funding that give you much better options.

Teut WeidemannTeut Weidemann Online Specialist at Ubisoft

Let me see how to phrase this polite. Lets take a smartphone and remove the display, then also remove the touch of course. All the things which makes it sexy. You need a TV to hook it up, and yes, you use an old style console controller instead of touch. Back to the roots I guess. And this should be successful? Why? For the same price I can buy a Xbox 360 and have 2500 awesome games.

Why bother. I always said its Dead on Arrival. It solves a problem which doesn’t exist.

As for development: if you have a successful f2p on Android consider porting it. Otherwise steer around that device.

harry holmwoodHarry Holmwood CEO of Marvelous AQL Europe

Although the geek in me loves the idea of an open console, I just don’t get Ouya. It seems to be solving a problem that doesn’t exist. There are already tens of millions of consoles connected to TVs and online. Ouya cannot hope to get close to those kind of numbers (particularly given the poor critical reception of the hardware and UI to date), so will never be as mass market an opportunity as they are.

Similarly, there are hundreds of millions, soon to be billions, of smartphones out there. That’s a true mass market – the benefit of smartphones as gaming devices is that they’re also in the hands of people who didn’t buy it for gaming – giving us an opportunity to expand our market way beyond those that identify as gamers (and would buy a gaming-specific device). As Ben said, free-to-play needs large numbers to work, and a platform that can’t deliver that isn’t going to be attractive.

So, Ouya is trying to appeal to people who already have a console, and will feature games which are likely less sophisticated than those they already have. Free to play means eliminating cost to start playing – putting a $99 hardware paywall in the way of that is a non-starter in my opinion.

Maybe, Ouya or something like it could get traction long term, by perfecting the hardware, UI and content portfolio, cost-reducing it into a chip and licensing it to TV manufacturers as the best smart TV/gaming solution. But my instinct is that Ouya will become a hobbyist’s curiosity – maybe even a successful one like Raspberry Pi, rather than a genuine consumer success story.

Stuart DredgeStuart Dredge Journalist at The Guardian

At length:

The most convincing case for Ouya at the moment is as a console for retro game emulators, which isn’t hugely marvellous for modern F2P developers as a business opportunity!

But yes, my instinct is the kind of gamers they’re going after beyond that may be happy playing on smartphones and tablets, even if they’re on the sofa at the time. Not sure how convincing the case for ‘bringing these games back to the TV!’ is.

Martin DarbyMartin Darby CCO of Remode

The more I think about Ouya, and indeed Gamestick (which I actually prefer as a device), the less sense it seems to make from a “Joe Public” perspective. The idea of a completely unrestricted console seems to be exciting from a bedroom developer perspective, and perhaps outspilling to hardcore enthusiasts but I can’t help feel that it is something of an echo chamber. Harry’s points seem logical: There are already tons of consoles out there that are more powerful with tons of cheap content, so why buy this? As a consumer I can now pick up a Wii or Xbox 360 for under £100!

The only conclusion I reach is that the price of these devices and many free apps may make them attractive to lower income families for whom the price of the latest smartphone contract, ipad or PS4 is out of reach. However I’ve seen no evidence of a concerted effort to target this part of the market directly. From what I can see (and I may be wrong) Ouya seems to be coat tailing off the back of a successful Kickstarter and a loose zeitgeist that “indie is the future”. I think the reality is it will take more than that to get out of second gear.

I’m not sure I can get behind this sentiment based on faith alone, as history tells us that if you are a platform holder then system-selling content is always your future. Sure you can do this by opening the platform up as Apple did, so the odd’s dictate that you will always get a percentage of content that is good, but as Harry has pointed out, you need tens of millions of devices to maximise this effect. Remember that Nintendo has built a successful business doing the exact opposite: keeping it closed, controlling key system selling IP and making content in a specific style. The goal is still the same: If you make hardware, who is it for and where will the software come from to sell the system?

At the moment I don’t see where the steal is with Ouya or any android console.

Oscar ClarkOscar Clark Evangelist for Applifier

I don’t think these numbers are any surprise to anyone.

Ouya for me is testing the concept of an ‘Unconsole’ and to be frank the fact that it has even launched amazes me. They now face the hard bit. Gaining a audience.

The trouble is with there being no affiliate system for Google Play they, like Gamestick et al have to build everything themselves. Store, Community, Distribution, etc. This makes it extremely challenging. The irony for me is that their killer proposition in terms of user acquisition might be as a TV box which does games; rather than as a games box which does TV. The very thing which has gotten the XBOX ONE into trouble.

Making that happen requires a massive mass-market consumer marketing effort – costly and expensive. Instead we have a Geek branded service delivering little more than could be done with a DLNA dongle or AirPlay connection; something most geeks could do in a heartbeat for a fraction of the price.

For a developer right now Ouya is a vanity project, or at best a placeholder strategy (should that read ‘bet’) to justify updating their control systems ready for the AppleTV or myriad of other Android TV devices to come around later in the year.

That makes the Kickstarter fund matching idea really sensible for the Ouya team. It’s well targeted to developers with a personal passion for this kind of experience and who may well come out with content ideas which break the mould – potentially making Ouya an interesting place to be by the upcoming Holiday season with some level of exclusivity.

Can it save the Ouya? not unless they make more progress to embrace a wider audience and get some decent numbers of players

I’ve said it before, but its not this generation of Unconsoles I’m interested in… its the next one. Will Apple/Samsung+Google step up to the plate?

Stuart DredgeStuart Dredge Journalist at The Guardian

That did touch off some thoughts for me, Oscar: the idea of Ouya as a way to fund a developer’s experimentation with converting their touchscreen games to work well (as opposed to okay) with a joypad; and the more conceptual stuff about making games for a TV screen living-room audience (although as I said, lots of people already playing in living room on existing devices)

So if I was thinking ‘well, I want to start exploring TV in the expectation of opportunities ahead on Apple / Google / etc products’, Ouya and its $1m fund might be appealing despite the likelihood of low sales.

Plus I think there are a lot of developers for whom the ethos of Ouya (open, hackable etc) make supporting it an act of, well, support as much as a commercial decision.

tadhg kellyTadhg Kelly Creative Director at Jawfish Games

Since the start of the year I have been and remain a strong proponent of the microconsole idea. I even dreamt up the name to describe it. Much as with Rokus to big expensive media centres, or netbooks to laptops, the fundamental idea of the microconsole is to bring digitally native pricing and access to the stuffy old console space.

Yet it’s early days yet, as anyone can see. The early hardware is underpowered, a lot of developers are wary of making big leaps (when are they not?) and the average consumer doesn’t really know that it exists. Some early sales figures are miserable, and the more cynically minded are inclined to write the thing off immediately. A passing fancy, they conclude, another CDi. Back to PlayStation.

What they’re missing is that the microconsole idea can afford to operate in a different manner to the console sector. Much as happened with netbooks, the manufacturers can iterate quickly and adopt annualised cycles to release better and better hardware until they get it right. They can incentivise development to come to their platform. They don’t have to lock their spec down for a 7 year cycle.

Furthermore there’s little stopping one of the bigger companies (Samsung, say) from taking a punt in the space too, or buying one of the costing players. That might be the step that legitimises it, much like Amazon getting into the ebook reader market.

It’s difficult to say how exactly it will play out, but when you compare those advantages over time to the Xbox’s proposed lock-in of mainstream-only, or even Sony’s slightly more indie-happy (yet still bolted down) one, it’s the microconsole that ultimately seems the best fit for the future. It’s just not quite there yet.

Ella-RomanosElla Romanos Founder of Remode Studio

I personally don’t really understand the problem or market need they are solving. I can’t seem to find an answer to what type of person they are targeting.

Console users – even if they struggle to afford the latest console, people who buy these consoles generally want console quality/mass market, high visibility games and would rather have an older console than one with indie games they haven’t heard off.

Smartphone users – to me the Ouya is going backwards here. Smartphone gaming is big because it’s accessible, not just in terms of price, but in terms of how and when you play. Plus, it doesn’t take over the living room. Why play a smartphone quality game on a TV? Just play it on your phone or tablet.

It seems that the people getting excited are indie developers, but they aren’t the market. I don’t know what the public perception or awareness is of the Ouya, but that is what everyone should be looking at and worrying about because this needs to be very much mass market to make the numbers work, and it seems to date that the conversations I have heard have been far too focused on how cool this is for indies.

Bernard ChenBernard Chen Director of Product Management at KIXEYE

I think there’s a very narrow niche that’s defined by the price of console gaming and the limitations of smartphones/tablets. The price gap of $99 + F2P vs $200 + games is big and smartphones/tablets are weak for games that need specific kinds of controls. There are so many different hobbyist game developers now, there’s a chance someone will come up with a killer app that fits in this gap. An FPS, maybe? Or something synchronous – that’s still a weak spot for smartphones.

In a lot of ways, the gaming industry right now is like penny poker – so many people can afford to play that the inexperienced and lucky can sometimes beat the veterans. I don’t think the odds are good for Ouya, but they have a chance.

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