hmmm, looks like i have a bit of a link overload on this one, i thought it important though to cite sources on this one, and honestly all the links are prevalent and eye opening on the reasons why the little console that could, really couldn’t…
I’ve been wanting to do an opinion piece on this beleaguered console for a while now, a couple of things prevented me from doing so. Namely while i pay attention to gaming news perhaps more than most people i’m not a hardcore gamer, secondly i wanted to wait until the writing was on the wall and what i suspected was going to unfold actually happened.
So for those not in the know, or just plain old don’t care this bit of news came out last month, essentially stating that the Ouya isn’t making any money and is now looking for someone to bail them out. To be honest i was shocked that it took that long for the company to die in the first place, as they had done so much wrong so quickly and banked so much on a very flimsy promise that this should’ve been announced last year some time.
So what made the Ouya fail? I will admit that for a brief period in time i fancied the thought it might just deliver on its promises and shake up the video game industry as it was the little console that could when it was bullied at E3 in 2013. Ultimately though the reason it failed is pretty unremarkable when compared to other failures in the industry. The Ouya made the same mistakes that brought down giants like Sega and Atari, and humbled enormously successful companies like Nintendo and Sony.
I’m no gaming authority or historian, but i’m going to lay out my reasons why the Ouya is headed to where all dead consoles go.
Ouya is a classic case of if you build it they may not necessary come. They based their entire company on a (sorry to say) pipe dream. The way the kickstarter and the hype was making this thing out to be some sort of game changing device is laughable now. The company and many of the backers honestly thought that they could over throw the triple crown of Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft overnight by bringing out mobile phone level hardware that you could play on your TV.
It’s a noble vision of how things in the gaming industry could work i suppose; there’s lots of game developers who are looking to get their games out there (although this brings another problem up for later), and making an easy and traditional console available for them to utilise seems like a good idea. Too bad that other widely owned and easy distribution platforms are out there, that don’t require a new user base to be generated, and aren’t on hardware that’s outdated before they even release.
Not to mention their biggest advantage (using android as an operating system) also created their biggest competition. As Android games are multiplatformers by their very nature as you can play them on any device that uses the Android operating system (and also meets hardware requirements). Why would i as a developer commit to just making games for the Ouya when a million people have a S3 or S4 in their pockets at launch?
Then there’s the counting on word of mouth and grassroots to pull you through. Well, i’m going to be brutally honest here; counting on the internet and social media to pull through is always a shitty idea. Remember when Snakes on a Plane was hyped up as the next Titanic sized money maker because it inspired thousands of internet memes? No? Well that’s not surprising as it barely broke even domestically, and has been completely forgotten by now.
Yes Ouya made a lot of money off of 64 000 individual backers but success and hype are two very different things as the systems sit on shelves unsold, and backers opened their consoles only to make fun of them. The internet and word of mouth is a fickle lover, as generating hype is almost as easy as losing it.
The Ouya came out with an incredible amount of enthusiasm as it rode its own hype machine to raise over 3 million dollars in 2 days with its kickstarter campaign. It had a tremendous amount of momentum to ride and honestly i think if it capitalised on it all, this article would have no reason to exist. But the sad truth about it is that it didn’t ride its wave of hype to glory, it got buried under delays, angry backers, shoddy controllers, technical issues, outdated hardware, and no killer apps.
The Wii managed to sell by the truck loads by using Wii Sports as a way to sell its motion controls, and that console resurrected a failing Nintendo. The Xbox showed its graphical fidelity with the aforementioned Halo: Combat Evolved and proved that console’s legitimacy as a competitor to Sony and Nintendo. While a company like Sony had the capital to absorb the failure of the PS3 launch and subsequent slow take off other companies like 3DO couldn’t, and with the poor launch and poor performance of the Wii U it think its safe to say its crucial that a console get its launch right.
This is what Ouya’s first commercial looked like:
The response from me and everyone else was a combination of disgust and bafflement. They did indeed realise their error and pulled that commercial very quickly, but the damage was already done. Why the hell did Ouya release a commercial like this? Why did they think that portraying gamers as being disgusting, unhygienic, emotionally immature, and stupid was a selling point? Why does this commercial feel more like a parody of 90’s over the top advertisements, then an actual commercial? Why does it lie to and patronise the people it wants to buy it?
I was born in the day and age of Sega doing what Nintendon’t, and Nintendo is what Genesisn’t, and that type of advertisement of making fun of your competition worked back then for one crucial reason: the target demographic of video games was still by and large children.
Now i’m not saying people who in the 70’s jammed out on their 2800’s weren’t in their early 20’s or late teens by the time the NES or Genesis came out and weren’t buying the things. But the crash of ’83 essentially hit the reset button on the whole industry, and you can’t tell me commercials like these weren’t aimed at people who weren’t my age in the early 90’s (i was 6 in ’93 btw).
Those commercials worked because the companies knew it was the fights in the school yard that ultimately sold consoles, as all they had to do is hook those impressionable youngsters with catch phrases and loud noises and they’ll do the rest. Ultimately gaming grew up with my generation (the 4th) following us into our tweens with the PSX, then into our proper teens with the PS2 and Xbox, and is now firmly in adulthood with the newest crop of consoles and games.
Admittedly they have cleaned up their act, but in this commercial* they are still advertising launch titles like Final Fantasy III and Sonic the Hedgehog 4 quite prominently, which brings us to the biggest problem.
I looked up what games are worth playing on the Ouya, as i’m curious to see if in the almost 3 years its been around had it actually attracted some worth while attention. Many of them like Bombsquad, Clarc and Super Puzzle Platformer had already been released before the console came out, or are available on other platforms like Steam and the Google Play store.
You know, i hated exclusives as a kid. I wanted to play Ocarina of Time on my Playstation i wanted to play Mario, Goldeneye, and Halo at my house instead of my buddies, but if i wanted to i had to get the console it was on. The brutal reality is that exclusives sell consoles and it’s at a consoles launch that is probably the most crucial time to tout and hype them up. Microsoft’s enormous success with Halo: Combat Evolved is a testament to what a killer launch app can do.
So what did Ouya launch with? I couldn’t tell you really. It didn’t launch with a limited amount of games like the PS3, as the thing launched with 104 titles. Too bad many of them were available else where, and almost none of them were recognisable. The fact that they were touting the Nintendo DS remake of Final Fantasy III that had been out for 7 years is proof enough of the sad state of their library at launch. Not to mention, what interesting exclusives they do have are buried under mountains of shovelware. Which is another fatal flaw that other game manufactures ran into 30 years previous.
While a lack of 3rd party support killed systems like the Sega Saturn and suffocated the Gamecube and N64, too much 3rd party support and no oversight lead to the crash of the entire industry in ’83. Anyone can develop and release games for the Ouya, and just like it did with Atari in the 80’s and Steam in the here and now, thousands of shitty games are out there for players to wade through in hopes of finding the one or two interesting titles in there.
Furthermore encouraging and selling the console on the basis of it being good at emulating other games is another shitty strategy at making money. Why would i buy it when i can already do what you advertise on my computer? Why would i spend money to do something that i can already do for free? Why are you selling a gaming console where i can play better games on it for free?
Julie Uhrman released her statement about how broke the Ouya is and how bleak its future looks but still tried to keep an upbeat attitude with a statement like this:
“We believe we’ve built something real and valuable. I continue to read the tweets and emails of our fans who play OUYA every day, and our catalog is now over 1,000 apps and 40,000 developers. We have the largest library of Android content for the TV (still more than Amazon) — hells ya!”
The emphasis is mine, as the fact that she could be this earnest and upbeat in the face of millions of dollars of debt and trying to hype a product that no one wants is terribly depressing. She must really truly believe that the Ouya was and is still going to shake the gaming industry to the ground, and that the Ouya was the game changer that would end the bloated AAA gaming industry in a positive way instead of a deafening crash that its headed towards.
I’m sorry though i gotta say, no matter how cheap the Ouya gets i’m never getting one. Why would i? With Nividia releasing their newest shield, Valve gearing up to release their Steambox, and the current generation of consoles to explore there is no reason to. I’m not in the habit of giving investment advice but i would strongly recommend that any company that is looking to save Ouya shouldn’t. As it’s a losing bet, and a bad investment from day one.
* One of the last bastions of defence for the Ouya is how its a no brainer that it wasn’t meant to go head to head with current gen consoles to begin with. Well to that i gotta ask: Why are they advertising it as “hitting the reset button” on the games industry if they don’t want it to compete against the ingrained model?