Dabe Alan

OUYA developers share enthusiasm, reasons for support, and lack of piracy fears

OUYA developers share enthusiasm, reasons for support, and lack of piracy fears

While I’m skeptical of the OUYA’s chances at mainstream success, the developers who will be supporting the console at launch are a little more hopeful about the console’s future, and their part in it. I tracked down some developers who will either have a game ready for the system’s launch in March or have ordered a developer kit in order to see what all the fuss is about.

Their thoughts on the system make a whole bunch of sense.

The challenges of new hardware

“Nobody wants to do a launch title in reality. Sure, you’ll see posturing about how excited X company is to be making a launch title for a new console, but odds are they will lose money, and a lot,” James Green of Carbon Games, the developer behind AirMech, told the Penny Arcade Report. “Even a successful launch has the tiniest market share compared to the outgoing console. It’s not just the hardware side that gets the bread and butter from the tail end, it’s software as well, because it’s so much easier to develop on a stable mature platform, and the install base is huge.”

So why support a console at launch? Looking at the data from OUYA’s Kickstarter, there may be as few as 60,000 or so units sent to gamers at launch, with more being shipped in the coming months. The key is exposure, and right now many eyes are on the OUYA console.

“I’m a bit afraid of what the launch lineup will be for OUYA, since ports of phone games and pretty low-end things are going to be mostly what is ready in time,” Green said. “Though the same thing that makes me afraid for their lineup gets me excited that AirMech will be there—I think we have a real chance to be their ‘killer app’ that they can point at it and say ‘this is not on PS3/360, this is running on OUYA, and only OUYA.’”

Alix Stolzer is one of two individuals behind the upcoming game Legend of Dungeon. They won an OUYA dev kit at the tail end of their Kickstarter, and have been eagerly watching the conversations about the system. For now, they’re excited about getting their game running on the hardware, despite the small user base.

“It’s just a matter of perspective. If we sold to 10% of the OUYA owners at launch for $10, that would be about $60k, nearly double what we made on our Kickstarter,” Stolzer said. “For a tiny two-person team like us, that would be fantastic, and completely worth the effort, especially since OUYA is basically a bonus, as we are making an Android version of the game anyhow.  I don’t imagine the OUYA will be beating out the PS3 or Wii U any time soon, but as an indie console the amount of success is somewhat relative.”

Did you catch that bit in her answer about her Android plans? This is going to be important later.

Why developers may flock to the OUYA

Rami Ismail is the “business and development guy” at Vlambeer, the developer behind Super Crate Box, Gun Godz, and Luftrauser, among others. He ordered a developer kit, and isn’t shy about sharing this thoughts about why they may support the hardware.

“For now, our reasoning to possibly support the platform is simple: it might work,” he said.  “Look at it this way: most recent indie hits would be right at home on the OUYA. One of the recent trends in the indie scene is the sudden surge of local multiplayer games, which obviously would work great on OUYA - not on most other platforms.”

There is another aspect to this support, and it’s one most of these developers share. OUYA is based on the Android operating system, which makes porting existing Android games to the platform a simple process. It’s not trivial, not exactly, but it should be a very welcoming console for anyone already working in the Android space.

“The SDK for the OUYA comes with a Unity package, which is the engine Legend of Dungeon is made in, and while we’ve only skimmed through it, it looks like it will be a piece of cake to port over,” Stolzer explained. “Plus there are a lot of develoeprs already sharing their experience over on the OUYA dev forums, so if we run into trouble there’s a good community of Unity developers in the same boat to help each other out.”

James Green called the OUYA a “perfect storm” for the developer, as it fits well with their existing plans for Android. “We’re doing Android anyway, and already have a 720P build running at 30fps with no optimization at all. I’m hoping for 60fps myself,” he said. 

“For the actual ‘work’ involved, most of the Android work is touch and gesture features—and you don’t need that for OUYA, so it’s even easier than stock Android. And fragmentation? Forget about it on OUYA, so we may even fasttrack it over Android,” Green continued. “And for UI and interface things on the TV? We’ve always kept controller support mostly working with the hope we’d be on a console someday, and in parallel with optimizing for Steam Big Picture Mode, there’s hardly any OUYA exclusive work to be done.”

It’s hard to find a developer more excited about the hardware. “Overall, I’m personally really excited for OUYA. It lines up nicely with our plans for Android, and we’re going to be pushing the limits of what you can do on a limited power ‘console,” Green said. “I am confident we are going to have the best-looking, most hardcore game at launch and perhaps for a long time after that. Players are going to be able to log in with their current AirMech accounts and have all the same unlocks all ready. AirMech was originally designed for a controller, so this is perfect for us. We’re going to deliver a PS3/360 quality game in a box the size of a soda can.”

They’re even considering live-streaming the process of porting their game, from opening the developer kit to playing the final version to show the ease of the process. If you’re a developer who is already working with Android, or is tempted to move in that direction, the OUYA is a very welcoming entry point.

What about piracy?

It’s going to be easy to root the OUYA hardware, and with the number of tinkerers and Android enthusiasts will be poking around the hardware it will be moments before pirated games and apps appear. Do the developers looking at the system worry about the effects of piracy on OUYA?

“As you might guess, we’re not too worried about piracy. If people can buy a game, they can obtain it in any other way - so we just trust that the people that like what we do buy the game to support our work,” Ismail told the Report.  “If anything, we’re wondering about cloning on OUYA. We’ll be interested to see how curation handles issues like those.”

Other developers echoed that sentiment. “We don’t worry about piracy, it’s fairly unstoppable, so we are doing our best to embrace it. It’s easy to get lost in the sheer number of games being produced these days, and for us, obscurity is death,” Stolzer said. “If our game is being pirated, that means it will be seen by more potential customers. We try to think of piracy as a kind of underground marketing, and that’s one of the reasons Legend of Dungeon is DRM free.  Some pirates are even supportive, and buy the games they like.”

AirMech is free to play, which limits Carbon Games’ vulnerability to piracy. Many developers simply assume it’s going to happen, and add it into the cost of doing business. At least with the first batch of games, piracy hasn’t been a deterrent.

Unanswered questions

It’s not all smooth sailing. Developers have told me the interface included with the system is rough, and developer agreements haven’t been signed. While OUYA states the store will be curated, that process doesn’t seem to have started. I haven’t been able to speak to any developers who have seen the OUYA store, and in fact many are expecting that software to be added close to launch.

“There’s no dev portal where we can submit games or anything—I expect that will come in very hot quite late in the timeline,” Green said. AirMech is using their own backend and they support a few different payment providers so as long as OUYA provides “something bare bones to hook into” they’ll be fine.

“I mean, we come from the console side of development, we know how sketchy things are when Sony or Microsoft is launching a console… from OUYA that doesn’t have that experience… I expect chaos,” Green said.  “Anything less than complete chaos will be a plus, but hope for the best, expect the worst, that kind of thing.”

The best scenario is a smooth launch with a store that’s easy to use, and that focuses on promoting the best content. If the first batch of games are profitable and the system works as advertised, you can expect a flood of developers heading to the OUYA.

“Since OUYA runs Android, they’ll have a rather wide variety of games available at the launch for those users, but as the store is slightly curated, it won’t be a total mess,” Ismail said. “In turn, that light curation makes it a great platform for new developers, for games struggling through Steam’s Greenlight process, but also for hit titles that don’t want to be one great game amongst millions of crappy ones. Finally, because the OUYA is so directly marketed as an ‘indie’ device, the market filters itself. These are all good things for indie developers.”

The key is that these developers have nothing to lose. The OUYA hardware is inexpensive. Porting, or creating Android games is a known process, and the OUYA hardware will be welcoming for Android developers. The possibilities of the platform outweigh the risks for many developers.

I spoke to many developers who share my concerns, but they quickly brushed them aside and proclaimed their hope for the system. “In the end, it all comes down to that OUYA might work,” Ismail told the Report. “If it doesn’t, it was a great attempt and it might ruffle some feathers in the console market. If it does work, indie game development gains a new platform for old and new alike to shine. For game development as a whole, there doesn’t seem to be a losing scenario.”