OUYA dev kit update reveals system, unfinished controllers, bugs, and contradictions

OUYA dev kit update reveals system, unfinished controllers, bugs, and contradictions

At midnight last night, OUYA posted an unboxing of the development kit that is being sent to Kickstarter backers in the coming days. You see the small hardware, they show you an early version of the controller, and they assure you there will be bugs and tell you there are issues with the controller. Also, the video cuts before we see anyone playing a game on the system. Final retail units are supposed to ship in March. This could be a bumpy ride.

A glimpse at the store

Trying to nail down what the OUYA console is and what it will do is a tricky thing. The store will be open, unlike the walled gardens of other consoles. Except it will also be curated, so it’s not really open. OUYA has to approve you. Which is more welcoming than truly open platforms like the PC or other flavors of Android. Because of reasons? The hardware will be easy to open and root, which is great for intermediate or advanced users, but could be a deterrent for serious game development. The system is also clearly unfinished. Android itself is a mature platform in most ways, and gamers have been attaching USB controllers to Android devices for a long time now, so it’s unclear why OUYA has so many warnings about the development kit and the included controllers. “They’re a work in progress, so we want your feedback. (Yes, we know the D-pad and triggers on the controller still need work — the final version will be different.) There will also be plenty of bugs…help us find them so we can fix ‘em!” the blog post states. The video explains that no games will come on the system, and we never see a game running on the hardware. The bugs are noted again. The dev kits also include an “early early early” version of the console’s UI. You can see it above. It’s certainly a UI with many features, such as images of games.

The curated, open system

“OUYA is open… And we’re not just saying that. Since the beginning, we’ve wanted OUYA to be the most open game platform available,” another blog post from yesterday stated. “Don’t get me wrong, we love console games, but we believe they are suffering from the pandemic of the ‘closed’ platform.” By the “most open platform available,” they actually mean “less open than the PC.” “In order to ensure the best possible experience for our gamers and developers, for example, we will be screening games for copyrighted content and offensive material (which we’ll define under our developer guidelines), and we’ll make sure that OUYA is a secure place to discover great games and conduct business,” they state. It will be open, but it won’t be “anarchy.”The thing is, they can only curate their own, still-unseen store. People think the console is the product, but the console is just off-the-shelf parts in a tiny case; it’s a standard Android device. The unique portion of the experience is the curated store, where people will be able to buy games and developers will be able to offer games to OUYA users. They’re also assuming that anyone is going to use this store at all. OUYA will provide instructions on how to root the hardware upon request, which means that anyone with a tiny bit of knowhow can either use existing stores with large selections, play pirated content, or run emulators and home-brewed programs. The machine is going to be amazing for tinkerers and people who want an inexpensive system for their home theater or emulation. The problem is that it’s going to be death for anyone who wants to make money selling games. You hear developers lament the fragmented nature of the Android market, and OUYA is offering yet another storefront, with its own approvals process and billing system. Selling a system this easy to root, and making those tools available to everyone, also guarantees the OUYA will be a wonderful device for those who don’t want to pay for their software. Taken on its face the OUYA is a capable Android device with an unproven store, tiny user base of around 60,000 units at launch, and a business model that sells itself on being both open and closed. I can’t wait to get one to play with, and the system could sell very well, but developers hoping to make a living selling games won’t find much to like about the system any time near launch.