Why I'm More Excited For The OUYA Than Next-Gen

I arrived in this industry when the 360 and PS3 were considered "next-gen", and like a kid who never grows out of a speech impediment, I've habitually (and incorrectly) referred to them as "next-gen" ever since. But now that there's a new next-gen on the horizon, I find myself much more excited by changes elsewhere in the industry. Specifically, open microconsoles like the OUYA.

In addition to adapting my vernacular, I'm going to have to get used to a seemingly binary choice of closed and open platforms. We're planning a round-up of different hardware options a bit later, but the OUYA has already sent out their development kits, as promised by their Kickstarer campaign, on time - the first sign that everything is going well in their grand plan to "upend console gaming". Here's why I'm more excited by that than anything I can conceive the big players coming up with.

My more interesting, meaningful experiences are coming from smaller games.

You don't need to be a large game to have a large impact. Look at the GOTY awards for the last few years. How many did Braid win? Portal? Journey? Limbo? The Walking Dead? Bite-sized content fits into our busy schedules, and almost makes bigger games seem obnoxious for stealing our time away from other games. There's no doubt these smaller, downloadable experiences can be just as memorable as the time-consuming triple-A, and last year I was far more interested in the high-speed skiing firefights of Tribes Ascend than the terrorist whack-a-mole of CoD.

In fact, the game I spent the most time in during 2012 was Tower Wars, a competitive multiplayer Tower Defence game that racked up an amazing 59 Metacritic points. I'll contend it deserved more than that, but while those six critics weren't impressed, it was the perfect game for me - and I spent over 100 hours getting into the top 50.

It's a sign the industry is becoming less about making one big game that suits everyone's needs, and more about having so many games available, there's one out there that's perfect for you, no matter what crackpot gaming fetish you have. Fantasising about a post-apocalyptic game consisting of zoo animals? It's a thing. Homo-erotic schmup? Yep, that's been around. Got a craving for a Rick Astley-themed adventure game where the theme is never giving up (or letting down) your companion character? Well... You're just sick.

Of course, if you find that perfect game, you're going to go where it's being sold. The success of the OUYA will depend on developer support, but just because you're developing a game for the OUYA doesn't mean you're restricted - you can sell that game anywhere else, too.

Do We Need A Traditional Next-Gen?

How much better can graphics get? I'm sure this is a question some have asked in previous generations. Perhaps at the time, they too didn't see the need for better visuals and were later proven wrong. And yes, every now and then a new lighting technique is shown that wows me, and the graphics of PC games vs consoles is already showing what can be done with better hardware.

But the difference isn't that much. Certainly not enough to make or break a game. I know some gamers who genuinely care only about graphics, but to think that it's the only path of innovation is backwards. In fact, I'd argue it will stifle triple-A innovation further. With better graphics come bigger production schedules and teams, and the bigger the investments in these projects get, the less risk they're willing to take. The real innovators will be those who expand our thinking of gameplay, business models, and more-with-less aesthetics.

The extra hardware power has some other benefits. It'll be easier to double 60 frames per second for 3D, but I've never cared about that. Each to their own, but if a cinema is only showing a movie in 3D, I'll skip the movie. It'll also be easier to make use of 4kHD, which is more relevant, but we haven't even properly started making use of 1080p yet.

There might be some fun in allowing more units to be onscreen at once, but as the developers of God of War 3 found out, there's a point when this stops being fun. Their game had the capability to include more enemies in a fight, but they stopped at around 35 - any more than that felt too crowded, and that's even considered Kratos' locomotive-like crowd control attack.

There are even some ways this generation of consoles have been heading in the wrong direction. It's taking longer and longer to actually get into a game. Feature-heavy games like FIFA have a plethora of unskippable flash screens and menus that require loading before you can play, and more games are requiring you to sign up or log in to some unwanted service like Uplay. Quick, easy interfaces and hassle-free play used to be a selling point of consoles. Now look at them. Their stores are more cluttered than those on PC, and console games have just as much day-0 and day-1 patching as anything else.

That's not mentioning the potential drawbacks of a next-gen console, such as the possibility of publishers blocking the use of traded games. It might be claimed that these would balance out with potential features, such as cloud gaming, but that specific feature might mean less to us due to our internet capability.

To cap all it off (and granted, this is more of a Microsoft thing) I've had technical problems with every 360 I've ever had, which is a nice way of saying they've all died except the current one. Which is dying. I'm sure there are others in the same boat, and the next console Microsoft brings out will have a "neo Red Ring" perception problem that might deter some early adopters.

One possibly redeeming feature is the ability to game over the cloud - that is, streaming a game's graphics over the internet while you send your control data back. It marries perfectly with ADSL technology, and it would provide access to massive libraries of games that we could rent, buy, or subscribe to. The only problem is the quality of our internet - dropouts would mean your game just stops, and if they decide to put their servers on the west coast of the U.S., that would be a dealbreaker.

It's About The Games

Today's consoles are sold at a loss, and manufacturers hope to make back that money by moving lots of units, increasing market share, and collecting license fees. To some degree, we can understand that they need to make that money back somehow. But as Yahtzee so eloquently put it in a recent article, the painting isn't there to support the easel. And when console makers do things like load up your screen with advertising, or introduce obstacles between you and your game to stop trade-ins and piracy, it's going a bit too far.

In contrast to this, the OUYA is very open. Don't like the dash? Get a new one, or change it yourself. It's yours to hack any way you see fit. The only exclusivity there is exists because developers only coded their game for one platform. Hell, there's probably a substantial number that won't even play many games, using it as a media server or something else. Perhaps the next offerings from Microsoft and Sony will have some capability for free-to-play games like the OUYA will, but they'll always be behind the gaming trends that an open platform can adopt instantly.

Of course, you could substitute OUYA for Steam Box in some places, or perhaps in others, some of the upcoming microconsoles are more relevant. The important thing is it'll be great to have control over my experience on the couch in the same way I currently do on the PC. I'm more than open to being proven wrong, and hopefully that'll happen this year at E3. See any flaws in my logic? Got something else you're looking forward to more? Let us know in the comments below!

3D glasses photo from Shutterstock Easel photo from Shutterstock


Comments

    I'm excited to be done with consoles altogether, never been an Xbox fan, and Sonys patents for next gen tech turn me right off orbis, whether they appear or not its clear what general direction Sony is headed with increasingly high garden walls and I want no part of it. this is the way I became a pc only gamer, not with a bang but a whimper. already using my pc as a steam box via hdmi, works a treat.

      PC gaming... becoming part of the free world? I don't really believe that's the case. In fact with services such as Steam, Origin and w/e sub Xbox service Microsoft is now even beginning to integrate into Windows things just seem to keep getting messier... It's like everyone wants to have a go at sticking their bit in the pie.

    Everyone will change their minds when the actually SEE next gen. It's gonna blow your faces clean off and you'll eat your words :)

      It would blow my face off, if my PC weren't already more powerful than the next gen consoles will be.

        This is how i feel exactly.
        But they will look amazing because the majority of games are designed for consoles then ported to PC, so when they release new consoles you will see a jump in game graphics on PC games too.

        "It would blow my face off, if my PC weren't already more powerful than the next gen consoles will be."

        My thoughts exactly- the only thing I'm looking forward too out of next gen, is hopefully the ability for me to cross platform wipe the floor with analogue noobs.

    My big problem with open platforms like Ouya is the fact that I know nothing about dealing with software issues. "If you don't like it, change it!" it says. My response is always, "How? And if I do install the wrong thing and break it, how do I fix it?"
    It's the exact same thing with PCs. If I install a game which my laptop has the specs to run but, for some reason it doesn't work, I can't fix it with any sense of confidence. A friend of mine has a beast of a computer and he seems to spend more time poring over control panel screens and googling error codes than actually playing games, feeling like because he's spent $500 on a new graphics card, that it's a waste of money unless he squeezes every last drip of performance out of it.
    What I like about consoles is that everything is done for you. Bitching about day one patches becoming more prevalent on consoles is fine - and they DO irritate, to be sure - but at least it's done for you. Set hardware, with it being the responsibility of the developer to ensure compatibility and performance, works for me perfectly even though you can get better performance out of an entry-level gaming PC these days. I think a majority of console users like consoles for this exact same reason.
    I agree with Junglist's general argument, by the way. Most of the game I've bought this year have been off the PLaystation Network, and the AAA titles have largely sat unfinished on my games shelf. If it's assured that Ouya and the like are user-friendly, and don't require too much technical know-how to get applications to work consistently, I'll be tentatively on board. At the moment, though, it's one of things that "other people" will buy, and show me what it can do once they've gone and done it.
    Just like my friend's beast of a computer.

    Last edited 16/01/13 4:31 pm

      That just means your friend have no idea how to use a computer. I have never stared at my control panel except choosing what games to delete lol.

        I beg to differ. He's a software programmer, a developer, and all-round one the smartest people I've ever met. He knows what he's doing, he's just obsessive about perfection, and has to reconfigure everything each time he changes games.

          That seems to be a fault with your friend, rather than a problem with PC as a platform. The beauty of PC is that it can be as complicated as you want it to be; you could, like me, opt to buy a half decent laptop and play games at a quality that rivals their console counterparts or you could, like your friend, fork out a bit more on a high end gaming rig and play games to their fullest potential. The latter option will inevitably have it's problems when people like your friend obsess over perfection, but for us lower end users the quality is still excellent and the effort is minimal.

            Most definitely. I've got no qualms with PC as a platform, none whatsoever. In fact, my incompetency with the damn things is the most frustrating thing about them because I know that at this point of the console cycle I'm missing out.

      Yup, the one thing that will always keep me to consoles is the simplicity. I program for a living and dont want to spend more time on setting up a game, just let me play it.

        But consoles have taken the worst parts of PC gaming such as installations, registering and constant updating. It's not so common to be able to start playing a brand new game within 20 minutes of opening the case because it wants to do so much stuff first.

        I miss the days of just turning something on and playing it.

        On the other hand, PCs are nowhere near as bad as they used to be. New hardware generally detects itself and installs and modern games automatically configure themselves when you're using a 360 controller and Steam has taken away a lot of hassle.

        I feel like PCs and consoles have reached some sort of middle ground when it comes to how annoying it is to start playing a game.

          I was going to say "plug in a NES, SNES or N64 then" but just realised - they often don't work first time either! Often rooting around with cleaning connectors and blowing dust out of the cart.

          Want something to work first time every time without updates - GCN or dreamcast - two most underrated systems ever

    How open will OUYA be? Can anyone upload ripoffs/fake games like they do on IOS and android? or is there a approval system by the OUYA workers.

      I imagine there will be a lot of that ripoff action going on. The system is Android-based, so bringing it to OUYA from mobile won't be hard if that's how it's originally coded. But if you made an iOS hit and someone copies it on OUYA, it'll be the same story as mobile. Not much to protect developers.

    I've been playing AAA, big name titles less and less in the past few years and am enjoying the smaller titles a heck of a lot more. My interest in the PS3 and XBox is waning mainly because we never see half the more niche and exciting titles they do in the US while on my PC I can download tons of neat and interesting games with little to no hassle or region locking and not necessarily having to deal with Steam or other content managers.

    This is why I don't see what the OUYA brings that isn't available already. Maybe it's because I already have my PC hooked up to my TV through an HDMI cable and use an XBox 360 controller. It's possibly also because I've already got several other Android devices that have their own app stores and multitudes of games on them that I hardly have time to play. Sure, the OUYA is exciting for some people in the same way that the Arduino and Raspberry Pi are but as a disruptor in the console market? I just don't see it having that much of an impact outside of a particular group of people. It'd be nice to be proven wrong though as the industry needs a good shake.

    Last edited 16/01/13 4:28 pm

    I'm more excited about having a device like the Nvidia Shield or entry-level Steam Box that will let me stream my PC games to my living room TV downstairs.

    PC's belong in the lounge room, not on a shitty desk somewhere but in the lounge room next to the big ass TV hooked up to the beefy sound system with a wireless keyboard, mouse and xbox control.

      Or... They could also belong on a desk and be used as a productivity tool to get things done. This happens to be the main use of my PC.

        Or... you could be like the 5 richest kings of Europe and own 2 PCs, one at a desk for productivity/ work and one hooked up to the big ass TV for gaming.

          Please... If I were a rich king I would have 20 computers hooked up to a cinema screen

    Honestly, the only real interest I have in the OUYA is as a no-no emulator box for the older systems. It would be handy for that.

    Minecraft takes up most of my gaming time these days. Last night I almost finished my redstone-powered 2-player Connect 4 machine.

    Considering the fact that current-gen consoles cannot do 1080p for a retail release, and this year's CES was focussing on the coming advancement to 4k, I'd say the next generation is well overdue. XBLA and PSN games prove that you don't need hyper-realistic graphics to be amazing (although a well-realised and consistent aesthetic helps), but I don't want developers to continue to be held back by hardware, should they want to push their graphics. Should people that want amazing visuals be forced to get a $1k+ PC? Should devs that want to produce amazing visuals be restricted to the demographic of people that own such a PC? I don't think that they should.

    As for the whole "I want shorter games" thing, we differ quite a bit there. The games I spent the most time with over the last year are Minecraft (Tekkit last year, leaning more to FTB now) and Skyrim. Sure, Limbo and Journey are amazing games in their own right, but once I'd finished them, I went to find something else.

    All that aside, I can't wait for the next gen of consoles, if for no other reason than to get the tech race rolling again.

    Maybe I'm in the minority but I'm not really looking forward to the Ouya. To me, it looks like a phone or tablet that plugs into a TV that doesn't have its own screen but happens to have its own controllers. There isn't going to be much on the machine that I can't already get on my android based phone and tablet. Sure it'll have exclusives, but the quality of those will ultimately be determined by how popular the system is. I'm also going to go ahead and suspect that they'll want you to upgrade every 2 or so years as well which I'm not sure I want to be doing. That's fine for a phone, not so fine for a dedicated gaming system.

    I'm willing to be proven wrong of course but I just can't get excited about the Ouya, or other new stuff like Project Shield or the Razer Blade. Then again, I'm not all that excited about the Wii U, Orbis or Durango either. Maybe I'm just becoming jaded.

    Last edited 16/01/13 6:02 pm

    An android tablet that's been rebranded as a 'gaming console', and suddenly android games are da bomb....no, just no.

    Here's a simple flow chart on whether or not you should buy a next fen console.

    Wan't to buy a next gen console?
    No? -> Don't
    Yes? -> Open your Xbox 360's Dashboard. -> Still want to get a next gen console? Didn't think so.

      What if I want a next gen console to play higher fidelity games instead of looking at menus?

        I wan't to know what the appeal is to looking at menus. O.o

    I don't know Jung... I just don't know...

    Love the positive article on kotaku about the Ouya finally i was sick of the lectures about how it might not work (i knew what i was getting in to) I have my doubts but put money down last week. What about you Jung? Keen enough to order? A lot of the tepid press I think stems from no one flying them around the world to be dazzled.

      Or it could be the fact the company has no history of hardware or software design or dealing with manufacturers. And the fact their office is a P.O. Box behind a gas station hardly inspires confidence. And who wants to play crappy phone games on their tv?

      Yep, I reckon I'll definitely get one. @carl, the company has hit their milestones so far, the dev kit is out on time. They might not have much of a history but they've given us no reason to distrust them so far.

    I've only recently bought in to the high end PC market. The freedom certainly trumps anything consoles can already do but it's not just about the ability to mod games, the visual and performance benchmarks or the versatility of the PC. Everything just plays smoother and is in most cases far more refined (forgiving some of the DRM hoops you are forced to jump through). Not to mention that glorious genre which is RTS. Nothing on consoles can compare. Total War freak!

    I spent a few years using a low mid range laptop (Dv7) and it still out-performed any console game I ever played. Super convenient but still not optimal for gaming. I didn't have to consider tweaking hardware because it was already limited. More like a console than a custom built PC. Now, I'm using an water cooled AMD 8 Core w/ R7850 Twin Frozr III OC / 16Gb RAM. 4x 2Tb hdd's.

    I have almost completely steered away from console games. They are now media units for exclusives. At least there's still some great exclusives on the way for our current standard.

    I am still eager to see what the next gen Xbox/ PS will achieve technically but most notable is the emergence of Valve and Xi3's entry into the console based market along with the Ouya. Interesting things on the horizon with the Nvidia handheld and a particular VR like headset "Oculus Rift" as well. There's gonna be much more at stake assuming these new platforms are successful.

    I have every confidence the next gen will probably blow my face off but I will most likely be too engrossed in PC gaming I won't spend the asking price until much farther down the track.

    As for the learning curve related to using a PC for games, I can honestly say that unless you have a serious learning disability there is no reason you cannot familiarise yourself with the basics and learn as you go. The biggest hurdle is understanding what games will run on your hardware but there are programs which will take the guess work out of it. Of course, obsessives are going to be forever tinkering, optimising and troubleshooting but for the everyday gamer it's pretty straight forward. Steam is pretty much automated as well. There's very little action necessary on the users part and the versatility of the data compliments a great service and functionality. Just let Steam do its thing.

    ..... and multitasking.

    my biggest problem with short games is they often have no replay value and cost to much for what they are

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