An upstart video game console maker from California is hoping to translate a wildly successful Kickstarter fundraising campaign into retail glory beginning June 25, the day its low-priced unit goes on sale in Canada, the U.S. and UK.
But industry analysts say that even at $99, the OUYA console will have a tough time penetrating a market dominated by the so-called Big Three: the Microsoft Xbox, Sony PlayStation and Nintendo Wii.
'The odds of survival are going to depend entirely on whether or not they can build a niche following among the game enthusiasts.' — Scott Steinberg, CEO, TechSavvy Global
"In my personal opinion, out of the gate, the core[of gamers] isn't likely to bite," says David Riley, an industry analyst for NPD Group, in an email interview. "And the core represents a significant chunk of the industry's revenue."
Scott Steinberg, CEO of consulting firm TechSavvy Global, takes a slightly more optimistic view of OUYA's chances.
"The odds of survival are going to depend entirely on whether or not they can build a niche following among the game enthusiasts," Steinberg says. "It's going up against far superior gaming hardware."
Housed in a sleek, compact grey box, and powered by the Android operating system, the OUYA (pronounced "oo-ya") contains 1GB of RAM and 8GB of internal flash storage, and will retail for $99.
When it launches on June 25, Canadians will only be able to buy it online, at Amazon.ca.
An 'open game console'
OUYA is the brainchild of Julie Uhrman, an industry veteran who wanted to build a console that was a throwback to TV-based gaming, but that also offered consumers different kinds of games than those currently available on the Xbox or PlayStation systems.
Currently, any designer that wants to create a game for the Xbox or PlayStation has to find a publisher that will develop and market it. The big three console makers have strict design specifications for their games and favour tried-and-true formulas such as war games, which have historically discouraged smaller developers.
OUYA, on the other hand, is built on an open-source Android system, which means anybody can design a game for it.
"The idea of an open game console where any creator could develop games for the television, where you remove all of the barriers, where you have a business model that is free to play for all gamers, I thought would really resonate," Uhrman says.
Last July, she launched a crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter with a goal of raising $950,000 US to build the console. Donors who pledged more than $99 would receive a console (and controller) months before the wide release.
The campaign became the second most successful Kickstarter campaign ever, garnering over 63,000 donors for a total of $8.5 million.
While OUYA has received private investment as well — notably from graphics company NVIDIA — the Kickstarter campaign demonstrated that there was significant consumer interest in an alternative to the Big Three.
Over 150 games available
As of the launch date, OUYA has over 150 games available in its online store. The list includes Fist of Awesome, a retro fighting game that pits a lumberjack against a variety of forest animals, and Knightmare Tower, in which a knight must slay a litany of ghouls.
In a move that is unique in the industry, OUYA players can test-drive the games for free before actually paying for them.
"It's not right that you have to pay $60 for a game before you know if you even like it," says Uhrman.
"As a result of that, and the huge budgets for the triple-A publishers, you're seeing fewer and fewer titles every single year — and mostly just sequels to games you've already played. You're not getting the opportunity to play games from new developers that are incredibly creative and may offer a different story and different kind of play."
More and more people play video games every year, and Dutch research firm Newzoo predicts that the international market will grow to $86.1 billion by 2015.
That said, the console market has been losing ground to tablet and smartphone gaming in recent years.
Delivering on its promise
OUYA has received significant buzz prior to its launch, not least among independent developers who see it as an exciting prospect for creating unusual and potentially trailblazing games.
"The OUYA affords indies an opportunity to make really experimental things and also not to have to have that level of multi-million-dollar polish," says Justin Kwok, creative director at Toronto developer Blot Interactive.
Kwok concedes that it will be hard for OUYA to make significant revenue by subverting the formula that has made Xbox and PlayStation so successful.
But if OUYA can make an impression on gamers who are looking for something other than first-person shooters such as Halo or Gears of War, he says, it could see longer-term profit.
"If OUYA does a good job of creating games and fostering the creation of games that are new and exciting and enjoyable, the money will follow," says Kwok.
At TechSavvy, Steinberg says OUYA cannot unseat the Xbox and PlayStation, which sell hundreds of millions of units. But even if it could sell a million units, OUYA could have staying power.
"If it can find its audience and deliver on its promise fast enough, the market is big enough" to support it, says Steinberg.