Why? Because there’s a lot more to making a video game console than just raising the money.
I’m not guessing at this, I know it. I know it because history has taught me, like it does with most things. Designing, manufacturing and getting a console to market is one of the most difficult tasks in the entire field of consumer electronics, with companies needing to find a delicate balance between specs, cost, market size and developer support.
That’s why only a handful of outfits, at least in the post-1983 era, have ever actually managed to do it. For every Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft console that sells tens of millions there’s an Atari, Philips, Amiga or even Sega machine that hits the market, bombs and then almost (or in many cases actually manages) to drag an entire company down with it.
Assuming, that is, the console even makes it to market in the first place.
Perhaps the two most glorious examples of the perils of entering the console market come from the 3DO and the Phantom.
The 3DO was first released in 1993. Backed by Panasonic, and with models also later released by Sanyo and Goldstar, the 3DO was a true “next gen” console of the time, boasting horsepower that demolished that of its competition. It had been led to the market by Trip Hawkins, the man who founded Electronic Arts. It looked, at the time, like a sure bet. The first genuine challenger to Sega and Nintendo’s console dominance in years.
Yet three years later it was no more. The 3DO was too expensive, didn’t get enough games and was soon being matched in terms of performance by the likes of the PlayStation. When production ceased in 1996 the 3DO had become more of an industry joke, a byword for failure, than an industry leader.
At least it made it to market and into some people’s homes, though. An even more poignant warning for the Ouya comes from the Phantom. If the 3DO was a byword for failure, then the Phantom was the very definition of the word.
Its history reads much like that of the Ouya, in that it was an all-new product with an innovative twist seeking to enter the market and shake things up.
The Phantom was first unveiled in 2004, and like the Ouya, promised something extraordinary: it would bring games associated with other devices and places and drag them into the living room. Where the Ouya wants to bring small indie games to the couch, though, the Phantom boasted that it could play PC games, making a market that at the time was expensive and restricted to desktop computers cheaper and more accessible.
What a great idea! And it was. In theory. The problem Phantom’s creators, Infinium Labs ran into, though, was that as a new company bringing a new device to an established market, they found themselves quickly in over their heads. While the concept sounded great to casual observers, and the console’s technical hook – that it would include an innovative keyboard controller – was neat, the fact was Infinium had grossly underestimated the amount of preparation, work and most important of all, support it would need to get the Phantom off the drawing board and into people’s homes.
Two years of delays, which in the end became the butt of industry jokes, sullied the console’s name before it faded quietly into oblivion before it had ever sold a unit.
Now, I’m not saying the Ouya is destined to share the same fate. For all we know, it could indeed revolutionise the way we play video games. Or even if it doesn’t, find a small, yet comfortable niche in the market.
What I’m saying is, as Ian Bogost pointed out earlier today, pledging support for a Kickstarter cause can be fun. But a pledge is just a vote with money attached, it’s not a guarantee the console will even be made, let alone find a modicum of success.
So, just…enjoy the hype while it lasts, but if it all ends in a vacuum of money and a trail of broken promises, don’t say history didn’t warn you.