New Console on the Block

 
 

Julie Uhrman, CEO of OUYA chats to Steven Balbirnie about breaking into the console market, enabling the average person to develop games and designing for hackers

There’s a new console on the way and many of its features may surprise you. Standing alongside the WiiU, Xbox 360 and PS3 will soon be the OUYA. The OUYA is an Android console, which anyone can develop for, anyone can hack, and it will retail for under $100. At a time when gamers are increasingly cash-strapped, such a competitive price could give the OUYA an edge over its rivals. As OUYA founder and CEO, Julie Uhrman says: “Hardware and software are more accessible and affordable than ever before. Shouldn’t gaming be a little less expensive?”

Uhrman can speak with considerable authority, possessing an impressive CV including previous roles at GameFly, IGN and Vivendi Universal. Support for her entry into the console market has come from a wide range of respected sources, including industry analyst Michael Pachter. “While it is certainly a bold move to take on the likes of Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft, I think there may be room for another player, particularly at this price point. It’s been a long time since a new console was introduced, and it is likely that pricing for consoles will go up. By coming in at a lower price point and challenging the existing pricing model for TV-based games, OUYA could hit a sweet spot with gamers,” says Pachter.

There is little doubt that many have agreed with him; OUYA is the fastest project to pass the $1million mark on Kickstarter. The goal for the campaign was to raise $950,000; by the time it had closed over $8.5million had been secured from over 60,000 backers. Uhrman attributes this massive response to “the surprise factor. For many folks, we came out of nowhere and we took on some big companies; nobody really does that.” She also points out that “the concept is very practical and the timing is right. It helps of course that we have a great team and some really fantastic developers, partners and advisors in our corner.”

Another element contributing to OUYA’s surprise factor is the fact that every OUYA console includes a software development kit, which would allow anyone to develop and publish a title from the comfort of their own home. This is an aspect of console gaming that existed in the early days of the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum but died out over time.

After twenty years, OUYA is bringing this feature back. “That element of development pretty much faded out as more and more hurdles were put in place for developers. The more closed off consoles became the less likely it was that a game could be made by a small team. We’ve done our best to remove hurdles. The only thing that will limit developers now will be their own imaginations.”

This approach has received ample praise from developers. Alex Schwartz of Owlchemy Labs has said “an open console is the next step in democratising game development.” Jordan Mechner, the creator of Prince of Persia, has also endorsed the OUYA, saying: “I love the idea of an open game console – it would be fantastic for players and developers alike.”

The OUYA is also an open console in the sense that not only can anyone develop for it, but anyone can hack and modify the console without voiding their warranty. While Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony are intensely opposed to their consoles being hacked or modified, the OUYA was “built to be hacked.”

Uhrman explains the rationale behind this decision: “There will always be hackers and tinkerers, people who take what’s known and push it to new limits. It’s human nature. Instead of creating a console and constantly churning out software versions with the sole intention of battling hackers and modders, we accept the reality. People want to feel like they’re in control of something they’ve paid good money for. We understand that desire to see what they come up with, particularly hardware hackers making new peripherals. It’s going to be awesome.”

While OUYA will be launching in March 2013, the team behind it will have plenty of work to do in the meantime. “We’ve been totally inundated with messages from interested developers and we are trying to get back to each and every one of them,” says Uhrman. “That said, it’s too early for us to announce a launch slate. We want it to feel fresh, exciting and new.”

So far it has been confirmed that OUYA has been backed by, and will support, Vevo, XBMC, Tunein, iHeartRadio and Plex. Games confirmed for the console include Square Enix’s Final Fantasy 3, U4iA’s Offensive Combat and Human Element by Robotoki, with more titles and backers still to be announced.

OUYA will be taking on some industry heavyweights, but with its competitive price and its innovative approach to developers and hackers, it will stand out from its peers. As Uhrman says: “It’s a departure from the way traditional console makers have operated and I think maybe people like that we are challenging the status quo.”

OUYA is available to pre-order now at www.ouya.tv

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