One constant in the video game industry is the ever increasing cost of development for modern titles. It happens to be one downside of Moore’s law when applied to the medium. More computational power equals more complexity and fidelity which in turn equals needing a literal army of artists and programmers to complete a modern triple A title. For an example of this try sitting through the credits of any recently released game. Even at a brisk pace, the Diablo 3 credits take 13 minutes to pass by. Add in the high cost of development kits and licensing to get a game to the console big leagues, the idea of creating a title for the console environment with a small team is extremely unlikely. OUYA is planning to use Moore’s Law to instead open up the console market to new developers and talent by utilizing the Android OS.
Small developers have seen the mobile market as the place to make an impact. Development for mobile devices is either relatively cheap or free. Touch screens and accelerometers allow for creativity in control schemes and gameplay, and the limits on processor power and screen size means that fewer art assets get you much farther. Also, phones have a huge install base, one not limited to one per family, but one device per person, who may not even be a fan of video games. This is why mobile games for phones have exploded with content.
That being said, consoles developed the controller for a reason – they are an extremely capable interface devices for games, and turning our backs on the past decade of development of gaming controllers in lieu of touch and movement interfaces would be as silly as replacing all computer mice with trackballs. Yes, they can provide the same function, but you don’t see players at EVO using the playstation move or Kinect for fighting games. So why leave innovation with these types of interfaces to the big leagues? This is where the OUYA steps in, taking us a step closer to open access for all to develop games.
OUYA is trying to do what many have attempted and failed, open up the home console market to small developers. It is true that the PC market still have a large, active indie community. However, as much as I enjoy playing games on a PC, there is something to be said about the living room experience that a console brings to the table. For example, the recent indie hit Journey and the PlayStation Network would not be the same experience on a computer screen.
Journey’s format allows it to be a social experience, one that I was able to share with a room full of students. Part of the game for me was the ability to share the experience with others in the same room and with your online companion. Journey however had a whole studio and Sony behind its development complete with a massive amount of funding to get made. Such a project would require much less overhead on a open platform like the OUYA, and opening the hardware has the possibility to revolutionize the industry.
It a shame that creating games for the major console players is so costly that it is essentially a closed environment. Exceptions like Journey, Braid, and Fez succeed partly because of a personal investment of millions by their creators. That’s just for a chance to be sold. While both Xbox Live and Sony have indie options, they are still costly and not truly open.
The web is perfect example of what a force of change open media can be. For example, take the Web 2.0 revolution. When sites automated the creation of content it opened the floodgates for innovation and new ideas on the web. Blogging, YouTube, and various cloud services have since revolutionized how we interact with media. OUYA can represent openning up the console market to similar innovation, having simple and effective self publishing for interactive media meant for the living room, not just the PC.
OUYA seeks to change the marketplace by making console development ubiquitous with PC and Android phone development. With a standard controller and some twitch.tv support they are acknowledging that a console fast becoming the media center of the living room, and since they are encouraging hackers to add to its applications, it almost guarantied you will have a large number of user made apps to expand its usability. Frankly, it is the next best thing to a steam console.
Now there have been some naysayers on the OUYA, claiming that it will be a flop and even worse, and that it can’t deliver as a console. While we can’t predict the impact OUYA will have, it is ideas like OUYA that make the video games industry unique and more exciting than any other media we have.