Looking back from the other side of Ouya’s just-completed $8.6 million Kickstarter campaign, the project’s $950,000 initial funding goal seems overly modest. But Ouya founder Julie Uhrman said it didn’t feel that way when the concept for an open Android-based TV game console was first put forward.
“I thought [$950,000] was high at the time,” Uhrman told Ars Technica in a recent interview about Kickstarter’s success. At the last minute I thought ‘let’s not do it.’ It was one of the highest Kickstarter questions at the time. high, but we knew what we needed to create a market.”
Since launching on Kickstarter on July 10, Ouya has garnered almost equal interest and skepticism from those following the future of the home game console market. The crafting community has garnered widespread support for the system, thanks to its sub-$100 price point and openness to hardware tweaks and software hacks. However, some gamers are concerned that the system’s Android-based Tegra 3 hardware won’t be able to deliver the kind of experience modern console gamers are used to, and that the system will have trouble attracting games other than basic Android phone ports (there are currently several dozen confirmed games for the system, and major publishers Square Enix and Namco Bandai have committed to support the system).
Kickstarter’s success may help with that last point. With more than nine times more money than the minimum they expected to need right now, Uhrman said the Ouya team will be able to better support developers with new tools and invest directly in funding exclusive games for the system. However, Kickstarter brought Ouya more than just money. Uhrman said the crowdfunding service helped the team engage in an ongoing conversation with backers, which led directly to the addition of features like an Ethernet port and support for up to four controllers.
But responding to consumers doesn’t mean that Ouya can fulfill every player request. For example, while many lenders were calling for more internal storage, Uhrman said the option to add external USB storage will provide a more flexible, less expensive solution for those who want it.
“All the while, we’ve really focused on keeping it affordable and keeping that price under $100,” said Ouya spokesperson Tiffany Spencer. “Of course gamers will say we want X, Y and Z, but essentially the specs we chose allow us to deliver a maximum experience at a super reasonable price.”
Ongoing hardware tweaks
Sales of Ouya don’t stop just because the Kickstarter campaign is over; the team is still taking pre-orders on their website and is “very optimistic” about discussions with various retail partners. And the conversation between Ouya and his backers won’t end now that the Kickstarter is over either. The team is reaching out to fans through sites like Reddit as it continues to finalize the hardware.
It might seem odd to still be tweaking a system just months before developer units were supposed to go out, and consumer Ouyas are promised for March. But Uhrman exuded deep confidence that they could achieve their goals, even though they are now determined to produce tens of thousands more systems than they originally thought.
“This isn’t rocket science,” she said of the design. “We’re not building custom chips, it’s standard technology combined in a new way… We’re very confident and committed to launching in March 2013, and we know we can do it.”
“All the technology is standard, so we essentially wrap it up in a well-designed package and develop the software, and we have the right team to do that,” Spencer added.
Prevention of piracy and non-gaming expansion
As an open Android-based system that encourages hardware and software hacking, Ouya seems like the perfect target for widespread piracy. But Uhrman said she’s not even a little worried about that risk, saying the authentication system at the point of purchase from the Ouya Store will protect developers.
“Many great developers and publishers are already putting their content on Android devices, and Ouya will be just as secure,” she said. “Because we’ve embraced this free-to-play model, all content needs server authentication to get it. Rooting the box won’t give you greater access than you have now.”
And while some of the most notable announcements for the system lately have been for non-gaming apps like XBMC, Plex, TuneIn, iHeartRadio, and Vevo music videos, that doesn’t mean the Ouya is turning away from its gaming roots. “Basically this is a game box, it’s going to play great games,” Uhrman said. “The reality is that because it is based on Android, all different types of content can find its way into Ouya, be it streaming music or streaming videos or other types of applications, but essentially this is for gamers and we’re building it together with gamers.” and developers in mind.”