Threats to Ouya — You Win!

There is a new Android based game console on the horizon called Ouya. There are plenty of people excited about it and plenty of people saying that it will fail. I had some thoughts while commuting on my scooter (seems that’s where most of my thoughts occur these days) that I’d like to share.

First, I’ve identified three threats to Ouya.
Second, consumers and developers win.

Three Threats to Ouya

First a quick background:

  • Ouya’s business model is to take a 30% revenue share of games/apps.
  • Ouya is an open console, open to hacking, rooting. This is one of their main selling points.
  • Ouya is based on Android, a commodity (and open source), operating system used to power most of today’s smart phones.

The threats:

  • Piracy
    Since their ToS allow for device rooting, the device will be easily capable of playing hacked/pirated versions of games.  
  • An alternative App/Game Marketplace running on Ouya
    There is nothing stopping other companies from releasing an alternative storefront that runs on Ouya. Similar to piracy, except consumer revenue goes to a 3rd party instead of to no one.  
  • Competition from other Android based consoles, or game ready televisions
    There’s nothing stopping anyone else from releasing a similar device. Also, most televisions will come with the ability to play games in the near future. 

Actually these are threats to any platform providers. But while all platforms face the risk of piracy, 3rd party stores, and competition from other platforms, Ouya feels particularly at risk since there is nothing proprietary about their system. They’re offering virtually nothing other than “good will” and — we’re promised — good industrial design.

Consumers and Developers Win

Regardless of Ouya’s potential success or failure in the marketplace, both consumers and developers will come out on top.

Why developers win:

  • Market Defragmentation
    One of the biggest problems with Android on mobile phone is the wide range of resolutions, interfaces, aspect ratios, and system specs. This is called hardware fragmentation. Only large companies like Gameloft really have the resources to properly support porting to a fragmented market. While smart TVs, Ouya, and other consoles might not share standard controllers or hardware specs they will share the resolution and aspect ratio of HD television. This is more than half the battle.Many have critizised Ouya’s chioce of Tegra 3 as being not powerful enough but I think it makes sense as a minimum system spec to target for small developers. Make your game run well on Ouya and it will run well on any newer system that hits the market. Differences in gamepad isn’t a big issue as they mostly mimic the successful playstation controller.
  • Author Once, Deploy Anywhere
    Back when I was the marketing manager for Unity we used the slogan “Author Once, Deploy Anywhere”. The idea is that a small (or even large) developer can create their content and then deploy to multiple platforms with a single click. It isn’t quite that easy as you do need to take differences in controller interface, screen resolution/aspect ratio, and system specs into consideration.If you’re developing an iPhone game, it might not make sense for you to port to more than the top 5 Android phones and Tablets, but because Ouya leverages a Chipset/OS combination that is widely used, and because of the defragmentation mentioned above, the market should be significant enough to warrant the relatively little effort to create the port, especially since commercial engines like Unity and Unreal have already pledged support for Ouya (as well as smart TVs).
  • Wet Dream
    Lots of developers dream to put their games on a console but historically it wasn’t possible for hobbiests or even small companies without a track record. The barrier for a small developer to create and share their game with others on Ouya is super low (and they can use Unity instead of XNA!).

Why consumers win:

Consumers will win because they will have access to television gaming experiences that may not have been created if Ouya hadn’t cleared the path for Android based TV gaming. People are excited, I think the genie is out of the bottle, and even if Ouya fails someone will pick up the baton and keep running with it.

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