By the time you read this, more than 27,000 people will have pledged over $3.5 million to help finance the Ouya campaign on Kickstarter. That beats the Ouya team’s asking price of $950,000 all hollow, and the pledge total will probably climb much, much higher before their crowdfunding campaign closes in the second week of August. Ouya raised more than a million dollars on Kickstarter in less than eight hours, beating out both Double Fine Adventure and the Pebble watch to become the fastest-growing Kickstarter campaign in history. It's a fantastic crowdfunding success story, but plenty of questions remain about why the Ouya campaign is attracting so many donors.
Who would pay money for an open-source gaming console running on a modified version of Android 4.0? The next generation of home gaming consoles will be available next year, and thus the lion's share of gaming enthusiasts have little incentive to invest in a brand-new system from an unproven manufacturer. Gamers who don't already own a home console probably play games on their PC or Apple device, and thus would have seemingly little reason to invest in a new platform like the Ouya. So what makes the Ouya console so intriguing?
The Ouya console is cheap: anyone who donates $99 or more to the Ouya Kickstarter campaign will receive an Ouya console with at least one controller. That’s a better deal than anything offered by contemporary console manufacturers, and it’s cheaper than most mobile gaming devices (sans contract subsidies). Of course, you get what you pay for; the components of the Ouya console are outmatched by current-gen consoles like the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. While most dedicated gamers will balk at the Ouya’s lack of a discrete graphics card, the device isn’t designed to take full advantage of your HDTV and killer sound system. It’s designed to take advantage of the Android platform’s open nature and make it easier for more people to make and play games for less money.
The Ouya console is moddable: let’s face it, tech enthusiasts love to support anything that can be customized, improved or “hacked” with minimal hassle. The folks behind Ouya know that, and they seem committed to promoting the Ouya console as an “open” device that anyone with a standard screwdriver can open up and tinker with.
This is a big selling point because it flies in the face of contemporary console trends: anyone who tries to upgrade the hard drive on an Xbox 360 knows you have to either pay for an expensive Microsoft-branded drive or try and replace your Xbox 360 hard drive yourself (voiding your warranty in the process). Microsoft isn’t alone, either; many manufacturers frustrate our attempts to repair or upgrade devices we own by using proprietary hardware (like Apple with their proprietary screws) or accessories (like Sony’s ridiculously over-priced PlayStation Vita memory cards).
The folks behind Ouya are counting on that frustration to sell consoles. When the console launches next March it should be possible for owners to upgrade or repair their Ouya using standard PC components (hard drives, RAM, etc.), buy and install interesting peripherals from third-party manufacturers (the Ouya supports both USB and Bluetooth), and publish their own games to the Ouya service without needing to pay licensing fees.
The Ouya console looks cool on your shelf: the prototype was designed with help from Yves Behar (the same designer who helped create the Jambox) and it looks pretty slick on the Kickstarter page. That attention to hardware design and aesthetics may seem shallow, but it’s a big part of why Apple is so successful and thus it’s not surprising to see the same strategy garnering success for the Ouya console. If you’re going to pledge money for something that will sit in your entertainment center alongside your HDTV for a few years, you want it to look sexy on your shelf.
The Ouya controller also looks great, and it addresses a few chronic problems with Android gaming to boot. One of the most frustrating aspects of Android games (and mobile games in general) is that there’s just no good way to duplicate the complex control options afforded by a joystick and analog buttons with a touchscreen device. The Ouya console promises to change that, and it'll be interesting to see what sorts of games will be available for the Ouya when it launches next March. Even if the launch games aren't that great, any developer can publish their Android app to Ouya, which means that early adopters will at least be able to find solace in adding one more device that plays Netflix to their home entertainment center.