The console market is a tough nut to crack. Since Sega and Nintendo formed their domination in the late 80s, only two companies -- Sony with the PlayStation in 1994 and Microsoft with the Xbox in 2001 -- have managed to muscle in.
Enter OUYA, a Kickstarter project that garnered close to $9 million in support from enthusiastic gamers. Despite so-so reviews, OUYA sold out almost immediately at stores when introduced last month. Is it a cultural revolution among gamers?
“OUYA exists because gamers and developers wanted something new,” Julie Uhrman, CEO and co-founder of OUYA, told FoxNews.com. “They wanted a platform that provided freedom to the creator, and access to games that you could try and love before you paid for them.”
OUYA (pronounced ooh-ya) retails at $99. With new consoles coming out shortly from Sony and Microsoft that will cost $400 to $500, OUYA offers instant appeal to gamers in a rough economy.
''I think it's in the best interest of indie game developers for stuff like this to succeed.'
- Matt Thorson, developer of the OUYA title “TowerFall”
You get what you pay for, however, and OUYA isn’t powerful enough to deliver high quality AAA titles like “Halo” or “Call of Duty.”
Instead, OUYA competes by offering new gaming options that the big three do not. OUYA’s tagline is “Free the Games,” and there is where it reels in gamers.
OUYA is a hackable system based on Google’s Android OS that allows owners to create their own games and load their own apps, opening up eclectic possibilities. Gamers can download emulators that let them play retro games on the system (although this delves into fuzzy legal territory) and budding developers can share their works with other gamers.
Additionally, all titles available on OUYA have to include try-before-you-buy option, supposedly giving power back to the gamers.
The “power to the people” mentality that emanates from OUYA is one of the hooks that has drawn in gamers, as well as many developers who are turned off by the often limited corporate mentality behind mainstream gaming.
“For me, I love the basic concept of the OUYA: an open game console,” Matt Thorson, developer of the OUYA exclusive title “TowerFall,” told FoxNews.com. “I think it's in the best interest of indie game developers for stuff like this to succeed and open up the market more.”
OUYA is being supported then not because of what it is, but because of what it represents.
After all, initial reviews of OUYA have not been good. The hardware is twitchy, the interface tricky, and the game selection weak. A glance at OUYA’s gaming lineup finds a few gems buried in a swamp of mediocrity. When the top selling game on the console is a remake of “Final Fantasy III” -- a title from 1990 -- it indicates a problem.
Additionally, a lot that can be done with OUYA, such as emulation or sideloading -- meaning loading an app that doesn’t come directly from the authorized store -- are complicated and above the ability of many casual gamers. OUYA would seem on paper to be in trouble.
Yet it’s not.
“In less than one year, we went from an idea on Kickstarter to a real, $99 video game console with 227 games, on sale in three major markets (U.S., Canada and U.K.) in key retailers such as Amazon, Best Buy, GameStop … and with more than 20,000 developers signed on to create games,” Uhrman said.
It is noteworthy that even the worst reviews have refused to dismiss OUYA outright, saying instead that OUYA needs more time.
Underlying its success is the culture it represents: Gamers tend to be anti-establishment and left-leaning, with a disdain for corporations. Much of the rage expressed on forums and social media is rooted in the fact that to be a gamer means to be at the mercy of big corporations.
So tiny OUYA, with a “Free the Games” mentality, is gaming for gamers without corporate overtones. And that’s generating the unprecedented support.
If that sounds unbelievable, consider that just last month this same community caused Microsoft to do a humiliating u-turn on planned policies governing used games and connectivity for the upcoming Xbox One. Gamers exercise enormous power, and companies that ignore that do so at their peril.
Yet this power can be a positive force, and OUYA is proof. Gamers will overlook some imperfections, and if the development team can fix some of the flaws and add better titles, OUYA may just spearhead a revolution.