OUYA: CEO looks to future as console launches

Courtesy of Ouya/Courtesy of Ouya - This $99 console went on sale Tuesday, June 25.

Ouya officially launched its eponymous Kickstarter-funded indie console Tuesday, in a bid to take a piece of the gaming world. And it has found, so far, that it has an audience.

The $99 console has already sold out on Amazon. While that may not be a good measure of console sales, it shows that Ouya has not overestimated excitement over the Android-based console.

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The enthusiasm comes despite bad reviews of the launch version and earlier versions of the console from the tech press and consumers, who say the console has some serious flaws such as controller lag and a lack of good games at launch.

The crowd-funded darling has found support not only from gamers but also from major retailers, such as GameStop, Target and Best Buy.

“The support really validates what we’re trying to do,” Ouya chief executive Julie Uhrman said in an interview with The Washington Post ahead of the console’s launch. “It validates that people are looking for something new. It’s not common for retailers to partner with with a start-up. Particularly before it’s even ready.”

It still may not be ready. Early reviews of the console Tuesday claim it’s still not quite all there. In other words, it has a lot of unrealized potential.

“We could revise the Ouya’s rating in the future if the company fixes its myriad software omissions,” wrote PCMag’s Will Greenwald in a two-star review Tuesday. “For now, though, unless you’re dedicated and technically savvy, it’s just not worth it.”

That echoes some reviews from tech bloggers of pre-launch versions of the consoles.

Uhrman said the company learned from those earlier reviews — making major changes to the console after the first round of feedback — and will continue to listen to complaints.

“We are constantly soliciting the advice and suggestions of our audience,” she said, adding that the firm releases new software for the console “every few weeks” to continue polishing its rough edges.

“It’s never going to be final,” she said. “But it’s always going to get better.”

Almost nothing about the console’s development so far, from the way it first raised money to the way it courts developers, has followed the common path, said Uhrman.

The firm initially went down a traditional route, but faced skepticism about whether an independent firm could compete with the Xbox, PlayStation and Wii lines.

“We were building our own hardware, our own software platform and an ecosystem of gamers and developers,” said Uhrman, a former executive at gaming-focused companies IGN and Gamefly. “Just [doing] one is difficult, let alone all three of them — and well.”

Ouya has a particularly interesting vision. The console is open to all developers. Every game has to have a free aspect to it, so that it’s entirely possible for users to try any game before they commit with their wallets. And, Uhrman said, the company is out to make “rockstars” of its developers rather than big-name game publishers.

Having struck out on the traditional path, the folks at Ouya decided to try their luck with the Kickstarter crowd, a process that Uhrman described as the “complete opposite” of the “Field of Dreams” model — if they come, then you can build it.

They came. And clamored. Nine months before production had even started, the firm raised $8.6 million from over 63,000 backers.

Developers of all sizes have also jumped on board. Uhrman said they have 16,000 developers, ranging from first-time game makers to major developers such as Square Enix and Sega, who have both made titles for Ouya.

“We’re all about the content and the developers,” Uhrman said, “Especially the ones choosing to build for Ouya first.” And, she noted, for a lot of smaller developers, devices like Ouya are the only way to get their games on the television screen.

And, after the strong interest Ouya fielded at — well, actually just outside — the Electronic Entertainment Expo earlier this month, Uhrman said she expects Ouya’s impact to grow and for the firm to be more than a crasher at the industry bash next year.

“We’re already being called the fourth console,” Uhrman said. “A year from now I can’t wait to see the library of content we have. People can develop the game they want with the platform we want. They will be real rockstars and not the publishers.”

And, she predicted, by next year Ouya will have sold “millions and millions of boxes.”

 
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