Ouya and why the world of game consoles is ripe for a revolution

It’s a golden opportunity for outsiders


Photograph: Ouya

If there’s one fact that crystallized a little more last week, it’s that the video game industry is set for some major disruption. Ouya, an Android-running set-top box that is looking for investment via crowd-sourced funding site Kickstarter, made a big splash on Tuesday. The attention came partly because Kickstarter projects are all the rage these days, but also because there is a definite appetite for just the sort of disruption Ouya is promising. The fact that the effort hit its $1million funding goal in no time indicates just how badly the gaming public wants something new.

The frustration was most effectively articulated by Destructoid reviews editor Jim Sterling in his latest video rant, which he posted a day before Ouya hit Kickstarter. To summarize, Sterling thinks video game consoles – primarily the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 – have become “crap PCs” that ultimately defeat their entire purpose. Virtually every console game now requires multiple log-ins, upfront installation, frequent downloadable updates and complicated – and annoying – digital rights management that limits how the game and its assorted content can be used. Whereas once upon a time a person could pop a disc (or cartridge) into the machine and be off to the races in seconds, now there’s a whole slew of hoops to jump through before the action starts.

Lengthy installs and downloads were always the downside of playing games on a PC, but the upside was usually much better graphics. PC games are also often cheaper, if not free, to play online and have more robust player communities, he argues.

One of Sterling’s other bugbears is how game publishers inevitably move to make their big franchises more accessible by appealing to a broader audience through tweaking the games so that they have more action, more romance or whatever. I don’t have a problem with that, but I couldn’t agree more with the general console argument. The irony is that while the games’ content is perhaps being made more accessible, the technology through which they’re played is going in the opposite direction.

I’ve spent the past few weeks working on a few stories that look at the future of computing technology. One wonders whether we’re truly in a post-PC world. The other, which I’m still working on, looks at the idea of ubiquitous computing, or what happens when technology melts into the environment around us. The idea of simplification is central to both stories.

The game console, since its earliest origins, has been a great example of ubiquitous computing – it was perfect technology that was actually hard to even recognize as technology. But, this current generation of hardware – with every successive update and download – has become less and less perfect, which correspondingly means the machines are becoming less and less accessible to non-techies. Sure, they’re packing more power and graphics capability, but they’re infinitely harder to use than, say, the good old Atari 2600. To boil it down: more complex is not good. Simplicity is.

That’s what makes things like Nintendo’s Wii and Microsoft’s Kinect ironic. While both were simplified steps forward to a broader audience, the otherwise continually increasing complexity represents some major steps backward.

It’s hard to pick a scapegoat for all of this–one can’t point the finger only at Microsoft and Sony.

Regardless of who’s to blame, the business of video games is set for major change. It might be a newcomer such as Ouya that sparks the revolution, or as Wired suggests, it’ll more likely be a well-resourced outsider that understands how to disrupt through simplicity. And, yup, that makes Apple a likely candidate.


Ouya and why the world of game consoles is ripe for a revolution

  1. Virtually every console game now requires multiple log-ins, upfront installation, frequent downloadable updates and complicated – and annoying – digital rights management”

    What on earth is he talking about? I play x-box offline and deal with almost none of this. Just the automatic log-in.

    • If you want to play online (which is the draw of most of the better games these days, I’m not sure which ones you’re playing), you can’t even boot up a game after not playing it for a month or two without being hammered by a nice long 5-10 minute update.. and honestly, it’s enough to take you right out of wanting to play anything.. game designers feel its best to release a game that MIGHT have a few bugs in it than to, God forbid, fully test the game before rushing it to market. The worst part it, a good chunk of these updates are to fix security holes and never actually affect the gameplay!!! It is ridiculous. Also, the new DRM is just going to compound these issues. OUYA REVOLUTION!

      • Too bad Ouya is for Android games, which are much more basic than a real videogame. Also waiting 5 minutes for a patch is not a big deal at all.

        Ouya will never reach the height of Sony or Nintendo unless it can provide the in depth worlds that we see on these other systems. It’s a gimmick to play or make worthless cell phone game tripe.

        The only thing that would make Ouya good was if it was a hackable system comparable to current market systems, because maybe then hacker scum would stop ruining other peoples online experience.

  2. Ouya will change nothing. It’s a device for playing android games. Games which most gamers consider trilfes with no depth. Yes a few ports of real games have found their way onto android, but very few.

    You don’t have to be a techy to use a ps3 either. Any patch or update when you buy a game is automatic and usually take less than 5 minutes. Consoles are as easy to use as ever. This article was obviously written by a non gamer. It also typically still takes an hour or more to install a PC game, while patches for consoles game are typically infrequent.

    I also find it very amusing that this writer doesn’t mention Nintendo who’s Wii has more units sold than either Sony or Microsoft.

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