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Threats to Ouya - Developers Win
by Thomas Grove on 08/10/12 05:50:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


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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Julian Gosiengfiao
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Hi Thomas, interesting article as usual. :)

(And it's nice to finally see a post in defense of the OUYA!)

Just to share my 2c on piracy - I think OUYA have approached this with some elegance. Since they've opted for requiring a free version of every game (and unlocked by whatever IAP will be called on the platform), this pretty much acts as a layer of game-specific DRM. In fact, I'm pretty sure piracy is the main reason they're pursuing this.

Even on the Chinese storefronts which are chock-full of pirated Android apps, we don't really see much IAP hacking, probably because the workload for each one is so big. The "usual" IAP hacking involves diddling around with savefiles, which is more of a headache than simply downloading .apk's.

IMO the biggest threat will indeed be another storefront that runs on OUYA - and this is going to be a regional headache for them, since billing can get complicated by region. If any other store providers fly in with better local billing options, or offer a better cut to devs than 70/30, that'll be it for OUYA's regional prospects.

That said, I definitely agree that everyone wins. I can't help but dream of experiencing the PSX era all over again - and maybe participating this time!

Thomas Grove
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Good point, free to play business model is said to reduce the effects of piracy on revenue.

Jane Castle
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You know I am very skeptical about the whole OUYA platform......

- Do they have relationships with the manufacturing houses in China?

- Who will they use to source the electronic components from? Do they have
relationships with the suppliers? Can they purchase said components in sufficient
quantities to hit this $99 price point?

- Who will make the molds and teach the manufacturers how to assemble the units?

- Who is to handle the logistics of shipping from China and then to the waiting hands of the

- Is the system ROHS compliant?

- Who will do the UL approval?

- What relationships does OUYA have with the retail market?

- Who will setup the servers needed to run this online store as well as the support

- If my OUYA breaks or doesn't work what support system do they have in place?

- Chinese manufacturers need substantial orders in order to hit the magical $99 price point
that they are claiming. And by substantial, I mean orders in the mid to high hundreds of
thousands if not million+. Will OUYA have this type of working capital after they have
spent their money manufacturing a prototype, developing the online store, paying
employees etc. etc.

- How will they handle the massive hardware QA that will be necessary when developing
this console?

- Who will develop the custom firmware\hardware for the joystick?

I wish the team the best. However, to date I have not read anything about how they will go about addressing these issues and still have units ready in the time frame that they are projecting. I also speak from experience given that I have manufactured my own custom circuit board. The experience was brutal and there are A TON of details to be dealt with. I fortunately managed to solve these issues in my case, however OUYA is a thousand times more complex than my product.

So while your article is an interesting read, OUYA needs to have the questions I have posed above SOLIDLY solved before anything else can be discussed.

Mark Sommers
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I agree with you on all of those points (I hope they do address them as I love this project). However they received nine times the amount of funding they originally aimed for - surely that means they can address a lot of these problems?

James Coote
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Most consumers don't care about the manufacturing details, important though they may be, hence why none of that has come up in the marketing material released so far

@Mark - The general consensus is they already had VC funding before they went to kickstarter, otherwise they wouldn't have got as far as they have

Jane Castle
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@Mark they received 8.5 million from Kick Starter. I hate to be a kill joy but for a hardware project of this magnitude that is not nearly enough. As James stated they most likely have additional VC funding.

Thomas Grove
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Normally pre-order sales only cover a fraction of manufacturing costs.

Most consoles are also sold at a loss, with expectations of a return on investment via software licensing.

I think Jane has raised some wonderful points that I'd also like to see answered, however I don't see an Ouya preorder as particularly risky. They're working with a guy who was involved with making a $200 laptop and they're not doing anything too custom, they're working with commodity hardware and a commodity OS.