OUYA: Dead on arrival

The game industry is currently abuzz with the Kickstarter success of OUYA, “a new kind of video game console” as described by its creators. It reminds me a lot of how Apple started out in the early days – rebels in the world of Orwellian corporations. What it fails to do in my eyes, however, is convince me of being able to reach its lofty goals – revolutionizing the suffering console market. When you take a split-second glance at it, you see disruptive innovation written all over it. Look harder, though, and the mask starts to fall apart piece by piece. Here’s why.

Open platform, no gatekeepers = anarchy at its best

The company says it will let developers release whatever their hearts will desire. That means there will be no curation and ill-intentioned developers will be able flood the store with drivel, no questions asked. Want to make a quick buck and sell trash to consumers? Go ahead, there’s nobody stopping you! Yes, each game (or app) will require developers to give away a sequence for free, but what if that sequence is not indicative of the final product? What if the whole thing is orchestrated so as to mislead the consumer? Potential voting systems, you say? Those can easily be abused. Lack of curation is clearly not the answer.

This also begs the question: How will gamers find the good games in the midst of a sea of apps? Don’t forget, the sea which includes trash that other platforms ditch at first sight (or at least aim to do that).

And then there is piracy which will likely be a big problem from the get-go. Android is known to have a high level of piracy as it is and OUYA seems like it will only take it a step further.

This bring us to the most troubling hole I personally see in OUYA’s strategy – its target audience.

Target audience not interested

Clearly, the core gamer is the voluptuous woman (or man, whatever floats your boat) OUYA is wooing here. And, as we are all well aware, core gamers are not the biggest fans of social/mobile games, especially those associated in any kind of way with the three dreaded letters – F2P (free-to-play) (Edit: There are some F2P exceptions, such as League of Legends and Team Fortress 2, but the success of these has a lot to do with accessibility which I talk about later on). The company makes a big mistake describing their games as “free to play” right on their introductory Kickstarter page, even though this definition of theirs also includes paid titles with demos and subscription-based games.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Here’s a much bigger problem for F2P games on OUYA. It is said that around 10% of the total user base consists of paying users when it comes to F2P titles. That’s if you are GREE or DeNA which most companies aren’t. Not even Zynga can get that number. Zynga, the Facebook dominator, enjoys “only” 1.2% of paying users from its dropping number of MAU (monthly active users) which, at the time of writing, sits at 235 million users. Here’s the catch – the majority of these users consists of the casual users who don’t mind paying up to refill their energy bar.

Don’t forget, core gamers don’t like the F2P rule book. Even if a developer, say, decided to make a AAA F2P which would respect the user and would focus on fun first, monetization later, it still wouldn’t be viable, as such a project would cost a lot of dineros. Therefore, to even consider the option of going big in the F2P space, the developer would first need an established audience of large proportions which I don’t see materializing due to the open, free-for-all nature of the platform touched upon earlier.

Yet another problem with the core market, the kind which supports the traditional business model, is that they already own either an Xbox 360 or Playstation 3, both of which offer a plethora of fantastic indie games available from closed, but heavily curated digital stores. Of course, that’s in addition to the more popular high-budget retail titles and supplementary entertainment media services, like Netflix. And let’s not forget that both of these consoles are heavily rumoured to soon go down in price, given the disappointing sales numbers in 2012.

And that’s not all. Also threatening is the eventual arrival of next-gen successors which are rumoured to be unleashed in Fall 2013, at the earliest. You can bet your bottom dollar that quite a few core gamers are heavily anticipating the arrival of this eight console generation and have no problem waiting until they hit store shelves.

Accessibility plays a crucial role too

All throughout the post so far I intentionally ignored the core PC audience. PC gamers are known to be heavy supporters of indie titles, especially the Steam community. They were the ones who gave rise to the incredible success of Minecraft. One might point to them and say they are THE target audience for OUYA, but that would be wrong. PC offers something which OUYA doesn’t and that’s accessibility. Desktops and laptops are EVERYWHERE. People buy them to do indispensable tasks, such as watching cats doing all sorts of crazy shit and, duh, watching porn. That and play video games. Housewives seek relief in going on shopping sprees in FarmVille and core gamers immerse themselves in recreating Westeros in Minecraft. There’s a reason why many of these gamers don’t want consoles – they don’t need one, because PC serves all of their needs, gaming-related or not.

The same goes for iOS and Android platforms. They are mobile phone platforms and their primary use is communication. The games that are available in the app stores are just a (big) plus, nothing more. Mobile phone buyers don’t go “It has Angry Birds, GOTTA get one of those!” prior to purchasing the device. Therefore, equating the iOS/Android user base and potential with OUYA’s Android-based platform in any kind of way is a HUGE no-no.

In short, games available for PC and mobile are highly accessible, because these two consumer electronic devices are so damn wide-spread. EVERYBODY has them. And their primary/sole functions are not gaming. In contrast, OUYA is a dedicated game console.

Conclusion

My conclusion is that OUYA will not enjoy anywhere near the level of success expected by so many people. It will cater to a really small niche of consumers, offering nothing more than a hacker-friendly platform filled to the brim with a plethora of futile games/apps. The capital-lettered console clearly got the attention of the industry, but don’t hold your breath for it to get anything more than that.

Edit: I addressed a comment regarding the success of core-centered F2P titles, such as League of Legends and Team Fortress 2. Thanks Ben.

Advertisements

About zantoplisek

Works at Outfit7, videogame apostle, movie buff, air guitar extraordinaire, tech junkie & comic book fan. Lover of all things burger.

13 responses to “OUYA: Dead on arrival”

  1. Martin Solis says :

    I respect your very well written rebuttal to the concept of the Ouya. However, I belive you can’t go on one deep end of the spectrum without at least dipping your toes in the other.

    The reason why so many componies are making mobile games is becuase of how closed off the other consoles are (mainly for the reason you brought up in your Op/Ed, namely Quality Control). Right off the bat in the pitch video she brings up the “good ol’ days” of using your Apple 2e and making your own games and selling them!

    Ouya is trying to consolidate all the mobile devs into a single market that can offer them the same console experiance and exposure that the other big 3 can offer, sans the extreme graphical support. If componies like Gameloft or Zynga can make quality games for Android and iOS with marginally inferior graphics but fun gameplay I dont see why other developers would’t be able to find a suitible home in Ouya.

    • zantoplisek says :

      Thanks for the comment Martin.

      That’s the problem I pointed out in my post as well – you can’t compare the ecosystem of OUYA as we understand it now with what Apple and Google were able to establish with their respective app stores. Those two digital stores are on all-around devices which serve many needs, not just gaming, whereas OUYA is a dedicated console. This alone already shows that it’s wrong to assume that OUYA’s store (not curated, like Google Play or App Store) will provide the same means to success that Google/Apple offer.

      It also won’t offer the same exposure, as the big three (or mobile platforms), far far from it. PSN, XBLA, and Wii Ware are closed and heavily curated digital stores which are not swamped with trash. You can’t release games which take advantage of consumers. You can’t release games which infringe on other games. On OUYA, this will all be allowed and because of it, developers seeking to make some honest money will avoid it altogether. Why bother? It doesn’t make any business sense whatsoever.

      You’re right in saying that OUYA is trying to be the hub for core digital titles for developers, but, like I said, developers won’t make games for a platform which will have such a limited audience and where you can’t make money – all due to the open, anarchic nature of the platform.

      • Martin Solis says :

        Would you say that the exposure that Ouya has now and leading up too its launch its just as powerful as any marketing the big 3 could get? I’m somewhat of a video game historian and the most important factor for every console released is the launch games (Look at the recent 3ds launch for a good example of a poor launch lineup and it’s impact).

        Right out of the gate all eyes will be on Ouya. Suppose that there are several new games on Ouya at that time, do you think that in this short window these games would have simular exposure regardless of their quality?

        If so, do you think a “Killer App” would lift most peoples doubt or consider it a fluke?

        Thanks for your responces. It is very relieving to converse with fellow gaming enthusiasts in a civil fasion. =)

    • zantoplisek says :

      The exposure it has now is just a fraction of the exposure consoles from the big three get at launch. Microsoft, for example, spent 500 million dollars just to promote Kinect. The reason why it appears as if everyone knows about it is because it’s all over gaming press. But you need to keep in mind that we who follow game news on a daily basis are in the minority here and represent an incredibly small number compared to the user base of the established consoles. Only the hardcorest of console gamers do so. Those not up to date with the latest in the industry, of which there are dozens of millions, have no idea what OUYA is. Closer to launch, the company will probably also invest in traditional media marketing, but they are no Microsoft or Sony. Assuming they invest in offline advertising, it will be minuscule when put side by side with the marketing efforts of Microsoft or Sony. Also, the exposure it has now will no doubt die out later on in the year. OUYA made a brilliant decision by going public with the console in Summer time, the time period when there is a draught of games. In Fall, it won’t be able to stand in the lime light any longer and once Microsoft and Sony are about to announce the next-gen consoles, things will only get harder for OUYA exposure-wise.

      I agree that the launch line-up (and killer apps) is very important. I wrote a piece on Nintendo 3DS on how/why it struggled in the beginning and why it’s much better off now (price drop played a big role too): https://zantoplisek.wordpress.com/2012/05/16/surprise-handheld-market-still-breathes/ But whereas Nintendo is an established player in the console space, OUYA is a newcomer. You won’t see companies investing in the development of high-profile killer apps for the console. At first, you’ll only see games which are already available on other platforms. Only when a few titles succeed will developers be willing to invest heavily in the creation of killer apps (but like I said, I don’t see OUYA getting that far – proving it’s a viable platform). Some will experiment, but those games won’t be what we consider killers apps. And here you ask: what about Minecraft? Nobody saw that coming. What Mojang had that OUYA doesn’t though is high accessibility – I discuss this aspect of the problem under the accessibility point.

      Now, OUYA also says it will explore the possibility of developing titles in-house. With 4.7 million and counting on Kickstarter, it would surprise me if they don’t go into first-party development and try to come up with a killer app. But even if they succeed in developing THAT killer app in sufficient time (launch scheduled for Spring 2013) by some miracle, I still don’t think it will be enough.

      I really think that by combining the anarchic platform with relatively low accessibility, OUYA is digging its own grave.

      P.S. I’m glad to have such quality discussions as well :).

  2. Dave says :

    Important question…Do you write on any other site, or just here?

    • zantoplisek says :

      I used to write for Xboxic (part of ICGamers), but now I write only on this blog.

      • Dave says :

        ok…there is an issue. I won’t talk about it here, but someone will be getting in touch with you to straiten it out. I’m not authorized to do anything but see if there was a problem, and there was. And the problem isn’t you, I just needed to get some facts before I took the next step. Thanks for writing me back as quickly as you did.

    • zantoplisek says :

      “Trust me, I am the same person, really.”

      See, it’s me.

  3. zantoplisek says :

    If you’re referring to the N4G confusion/apparent plagiarism, please do know it was me who posted this article under my other username that is nofear360.

    If this isn’t it, feel free to contact me here: zan.toplisek@gmail.com

    • Dave says :

      Oooohhhhhkayyy….Now I feel better. I am not authorized to say anything, but I have dealt with people who steal people’s works and fight tooth and nail to say it was their own. I am not one to roll over and accept what I am told when it comes to plagerism. Sorry for being a jerk about it, and I will recant what I said on N4G.

  4. Retro (@Retronator) says :

    I think a lot of what you say makes sense and I’ve seen first hand how bad marketplaces with low entry can get (xbox live indie games, indie city). This is where the app store is able to pull though due to its monopol position so anyone that wants something on ios has compete in the same space, big or small.

    I do agree that big players wont touch ouya from the start, making it a primarily indie console. If they are able to pull in the biggest names of the indie world (and so far that’s looking good) they could become the new powerhouse devs for the platform, burying the oceans of mediocre, bad or purely exploitive things that I agree will happen.

    But yeah, the more that I think about it, you’re spot on with observing that mobile games are only a plus on an otherwise useful platform while ouya is not and that will make it hard to drive players, apart from the niche indie scene, to the market.

    On the other hand, I’m not that sure that a niche console should be considered dead. It could have a very small, but very vocal/loyal audience, like Linux. For an indie, that’s a market very much worth monetizing. If this feeds itself in a very positive loop, things could lead to indie devs becoming the big names in the eyes of consumers, at least the internet crowd (in contrast to wallmart everyday joes). If that grows big enough and money keeps rising and big players need to start paying attention, maybe it can also go mainstream. But I wouldn’t bet on it. I’m much more ok with it being a quality, niche product. Dead maybe in terms of Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo (just like Linux is to Windows and Mac), but not dead at all for those half a million or so that will care.

    Anyway, I’ll be glad to find out first hand where this story turns. I had my dreams placed on top of Xbox Live Indie Games (then Community Games), but moved to iOS after Microsoft did a butcher job with suffocating the marketplace. So a new chance to at least get a fair try this time is lucrative to me, although I do find both the touch interface and the mouse more ideal for the kind of games I want to make. So we’ll see what gives in the end.

    • zantoplisek says :

      Thanks for taking the time to comment Matej.

      You’re right, OUYA won’t be literally dead on arrival. The title can be misleading in this respect. My verdict for the console is better presented in my conclusion.

      Linux is a fantastic example of how OUYA could turn out if things go well. What I mean by saying it won’t succeed is mostly that I don’t see it disrupting the console market. So very likely to be the Linux of consoles, yeah, not the Windows or Mac.

      I read about your experience with Microsoft, it sucks they don’t practice what they preach.

      The controller is another mystery to me, well, at least partly. First, they haven’t yet shown what the other half of the controller looks like. The photo on the Kickstarter page shows only one half of it and in the video we see them playing with either a prototype or some other controller. Then there’s the touch aspect of the controller – how will this work? They say it will be a touch pad, so I’m assuming it will be similar to how Sony implemented touch controls in PS Vita. But if this is how it’s going to be, I don’t see how touch-based games will be playable with the controller. Many touch-based games require you to tap on a specific part of the screen. Doing it blindly (your eyes are on your TV screen) on a pad won’t do the job.

      There’s still so many questions that need to be answered. I’ll be keeping my eye on OUYA as well, it will be interesting to see how they proceed.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: