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Can Ouya grab the E3 limelight?

Michael French
Can Ouya grab the E3 limelight?

The PS4 and Xbox One will be showcased at E3 after years and years of R&D.

By contrast, in three weeks the Android-based Ouya console finally goes on sale to the public – a year ago it didn’t even exist.

Propelled by record-breaking crowdfunding, it has promised to deliver an open system for developers at an affordable price. With a £99 RRP for the console (units double as devkits), it has pushed to democratise the industry. Its message has turned it into a posterchild for the various purported indie/F2P/smartphone revolutions.

But with 13,000 registered developers and a bunch of publishers – 70 of them in Europe – signed up, it’s clear the promise has captured many imaginations.

“The promise of Ouya is getting people to play TV games again,” CEO and founder Julie Uhrman told MCV during a trip to the UK last month. “We launch at retail on June 25th but are seeing interest everywhere. Kickstarter units are going to 110 different countries. Retail in Italy, Germany, Japan and other further places have asked for this, although we are being more measured about that.”

A VC investment of $15m last month might dictate a faster pace. Investors don’t hand over a heap of cash for the fun of it, after all.

“We want Ouya representation in-country, that’s one of the reasons we took on venture capital funding recently – to allow us to produce units faster and then grow our presence internationally.”

Expanding hasn’t been without incident, however. There was a recent three-week delay to the retail roll-out, and early reviews criticised the pre-release machine.

But the Ouya story’s freshness, and its boss’ frankness, offers a level of charm that you just don’t get with PlayStation or Xbox. Uhrman’s  honest about how Ouya has been getting to grips manufacturing; the device’s production line took longer to hit maximum capacity than anticipated, she says. She is closely in control of the operation; her recent UK trip was to personally show the console to retailers.

Don Mattrick’s never going to share Xbox One secrets; Andrew House doesn’t have to book meetings with GAME.?They have people around them to address their firms’ challenges, of course, but they don’t own those businesses either.

“I always want us to deliver on our promises, so I get frustrated when we delay the release by a few weeks, or when it seems like we’re not producing units fast enough. There are a lot of developers, smaller studios who have fought for scraps, who are new to games on TV who expect us to do what we’ve said we will.”

None of the unanticipated twists, both good and bad seem to have undermined Ouya’s confidence.

If anything Ouya’s getting more aggressive. At E3 it is planning a significant ‘anti-E3’ presence.

“If we are to be ‘for everyone’ then our event at E3 is the same. It’s anti-E3, if you will. We have taken up a space outside the front of the event, with a stage for developers to show their games,” says Uhrman, with clear intent, both in terms of actual physical position at E3 and company agenda, to position Ouya in contrast to the traditional industry at E3. PS4 and Xbox One will be sheltered in the ‘trade only’ LA Convention Centre, while Ouya’s carnival kicks off outside.

A similar thinking lends itself to Ouya’s digital storefront, which is different to those found on consoles. Its biggest innovation is to say what games are the best in two ways. Firstly, it has a human curator (game designer Kellee Santiago, who worked on Journey) running  recommended channels; while a proprietary algorithm combines metrics such as play time to show which games are most popular.

Says Uhrman: “We’ve done this very differently. We are coming up with new ways to discover content.”

While it remains to be seen if Ouya will go beyond its niche, the arrival of this business has been impressive. Even if it fails, there will be a big lesson for the incumbent platforms in games.

“I can’t speak to what those guys do and don’t do – they have different priorities internally,” she says.

“But all the other consoles have multiple things that they have to manage all at once. Whereas for Ouya, this is all we focus on. We wanted to open the TV games platform to all developers, and that’s what our aim is to do. That’s our core focus and all that matters to us.”

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Tags: e3 , E3 2013 , Ouya , limelight

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