"At the end of the day, Ouya is beautiful, but people don't buy consoles," the woman behind the Android-based home console that is coming out next month recently said to me. "They buy content."
She's right, right?
Ouya CEO Julie Uhrman said this while she and I chatted in Las Vegas last week. People get excited about new hardware, but it's the games that draw people in — it's the games that define a system. What's an Xbox without Halo or a Nintendo 64 without Super Mario 64? Plenty of gaming machines launch with a lot of stinkers, but a Nintendo DS eventually gets its Nintendogs. A PS3 eventually scores a Metal Gear Solid IV. The game comes out that you have to have. You buckle. You buy the machine.
So what's the big game for Ouya?
It doesn't really have one. Uhrman was in Vegas to give a talk at the DICE Summit, where she announced that Words with Friends creator Paul Bettner would be bringing a game to Ouya and where she said that Tim Schafer's Kickstarted adventure game codenamed "Reds" will come to Ouya before it comes to any other home console. Neither of those is a launch game for a machine that will begin to be delivered to Kickstarter backers and online shoppers next month. The $US99, Rubik's Cube-sized hackable console will start selling in stores in June.
But there's no killer app.
Maybe there doesn't have to be one. Android games will run on this machine. Those that are free or have a free demo will be available in the Ouya marketplace (every game has to be free to try, Uhrman has long said). Amid that bunch, perhaps there will be a game worth having an Ouya for — a game worth turning Android gaming from a mobile experience to one that involves playing something on a TV with a traditional twinstick controller in hand.
Uhrman said that a recent Ouya game jam produced lots of games, many of them designed for local co-op. Her message is one of an open platform that liberates creators and that empowers them to make any game they can dream of for a traditional TV console experience. But is there a game coming from this community that you'd just have to play? Would you be willing to simply guess "yes"? We're talking about a $US99 console. It is cheap, after all. Perhaps the gamble is that people will just buy a thing that's that inexpensive and play whatever the best available games are. Eventually better stuff will show up. Maybe a killer app will emerge.
When Ouya was Kickstarted, people gave about $US7.5 million more to crowd-fund the console than Uhrman and her team asked for. Much of that money will pay for the consoles that early funders were essentially paying for. But could some of that money go to the kind of first-party, in-house game development that can ensure a console some games of its own? "'Should we do this ourselves?'" Uhrman pondered to me. "We haven't decided."
During her talk, Uhrman talked about how excited she is for Grand Theft Auto V. That won't come to Ouya, I pointed out to her. This year's model of the Ouya couldn't run it. But maybe Grand Theft Auto III could? "It already works on Ouya," she said. Well, yes, it's out on Android. It's not free, though. We'll have to see how that works out.
Maybe you're making the killer app for Ouya. Maybe you're making its Wii Sports. If so, please let us know.