Ouya brings free-to-play games to TVs

While gamers wait for the next Sony and Microsoft consoles, Ouya preps a $100 machine that will feature only free-to-play games. The new contender runs Android.

Ouya plans to challenge traditional video-game companies with a $100 console for free-to-play games.

Most free video games are found under the “casual gaming” category – word puzzles and simple online games. Ouya hopes to change that with the creation of a $100 gaming console that will bring the appeal of mobile and Facebook games to televisions.

The Ouya console runs off the Android operating system, so, as company founder Julie Uhrman says in Ouya's Kickstarter profile, smart-phone “developers already know how it works.”

Designed by Yves Behar of Jambox and One Laptop Per Child fame, the console is sleek and attractive, evoking bridge design in a big-budget sci-fi movie – or video game.

“It has everything you've learned to love,” says Uhrman on the Kickstarter page, “fast buttons, triggers, laser-precise analog sticks, a D-Pad – and we've added a touchpad for any games making the trek from mobile or tablet to the TV.”

To make the system's promise a reality, the company is raising money – a rather hefty $950,000 – through the Kickstarter crowd-funding site. Gaming has had good luck on the site, with three of the top five fundraisers being games, and each raising more than $1.5 million.

All games designed for Ouya will have a free-to-play element.

“We're handing the reins over to the developer with only one condition: at least some gameplay has to be free... Developers can offer a free demo with a full-game upgrade, in-game items or powers, or ask you to subscribe.”

The games will be available via an “app store” style library.

The tech specs include a Tegra3 quad-core processors, 1 gigabyte of RAM and 8 gigs of internal flash storage, an HDMI TV connection with support for up to 1080p HD video, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and a USB 2.0 – all running on Android 4.0.

With an Android operating system, developers will also be able to bring their phone apps to the new TV system.

In order to make Ouya more than just a good idea, it will need to convert the prototype to production, secure regulatory approval, deliver developer kits for initial programmers, and fund some initial games. The project already has more than $400,000 worth of donations on its $950,000 goal in under a day. Given the way Kickstarter functions, the company must receive its entire goal by August 9, or they get none of it. Reaching that amount seems likely, given the initial interest.

“Pundits predict the death of the console, but I think instead it's exactly this kind of evolution that we'll be seeing instead,” says Karen Clark, product manager of social platform for iWin, Inc, a casual-game maker in San Francisco. “Consoles (as with most hardware) are expensive and require years of brisk sales for their makers to break even. Given that model, it's understandable that companies who make them place safe bets on partnerships with large [top-tier] game studios to make big, expensive 'blockbuster' games. With a cheap, indie console, I foresee a lot of experimentation by developers. That will be great for gamers who are looking for unique experiences." 

Clark adds that she agrees “with Uhrman's comment that this will allow indie developers to target consoles again, since many have turned to mobile, given a dearth of money making opportunities on the Big Three consoles (Microsoft Xbox360, Sony PlayStation 3, and Nintendo Wii).“

Casual games have become a $6 billion industry, according to the Casual Games Association. But since that figure accounts for only a small slice of the overall $25 billion video-game industry, Ouya has every financial reason to challenge industry-leaders Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft.

Not to mention the gameplay involved in a little guy bracing a trio of 900-pound gorillas.

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