A Thought on OUYA

OUYA: The console we need, but is it the console we deserve?
OUYAThe Indonesian version of this post could be found on GamesInAsia.

Note: This post is originally written on late July 2013, so some stuff might have changed since then. My overall opinion is still the same though.

Ah, the OUYA. The $99 game console that plays mobile game on your TV. The pioneer of the age of the microconsole. The proof that crowdfunding is the real deal.

I was sold on the idea of the OUYA right after I watched their introduction video. I believed that the console industry is in dire need of a disruption and I wanted to participate in such effort, so I decided to back it with my $99.

And apparently I was backer number 290! Being an early backer doesn’t mean I’ll get the console early unfortunately. In fact, I only got the console much later, around early June 2013. I’m not complaining though, being able to create and ship those products without much delay is quite an achievement already.

OUYA Console

So, how is it?

Overall, I really like it. I already have tons of fun playing several games on it, and while using it, there are some parts that feel like they’re the future. Looking back, I think the OUYA has delivered exactly what it promised months ago, which is bringing mobile games to the big screen.

Anyway, the OUYA is a multi-faceted product, so there isn’t any easy way to do a thorough judgement on it. However, I believe that there are only 3 aspects that we need to look at to get a complete impression of the OUYA. These aspects are the hardware, the software, and the ecosystem, so let’s check them out one by one.

OUYA Thank you

The OUYA is a physical product first and foremost, so let’s talk about the hardware first.

First, let me remind you again that OUYA is a $99 game console. At that price point, I knew the hardware wouldn’t be anywhere near Apple level, so I set my expectation real low. I seriously expected the console to feel all light and plasticky, just like a toy.

So when I finally got my hands on it, I am very pleased to find out that’s not the case at all. The console as a whole feels very solid and surprisingly quite weighty (though it’s still light enough to be carried around easily). The ports on the console are quite clear too, I found myself being able to setup the whole thing painlessly using the adapter and HDMI cable bundled with the OUYA.

The console is only half part of the story though, after all, most interaction with the device will be using the controller. Like with the console, I don’t have any problem with how the controller feels. It feels very good when I gripped it with my hands, and the joysticks also responded to my input with a nice tactile feeling.

It’s not like the controller is flawless though. My main gripe with it lies on the shoulder buttons (the L-R triggers on Playstation controller). Pressing the top triggers isn’t satisfying enough, and the bottom triggers are really hard to press. The same goes with the d-pad, it could use more tactile feedback since currently pressing it doesn’t feel as good as it should be.

One last thing. While the controller connects to the console using bluetooth connection, I don’t feel any latency issue when I use it. I have heard that some people are complaining about the latency, however, that’s not my experience at all.

OUYA Interface

While it’s true that OUYA is a physical product, we all have learned that software can make or break a product. Unfortunately, as of now, software is the weakest aspect of OUYA.

And no, the problem isn’t about the performance. It’s about the missing features. Guess what I did when I first got into the OUYA menu. Of course it’s to download various interesting-looking games. So try to imagine my surprise when I realized there’s no place to check my games download queue. Or when I realised I couldn’t easily check how much available storage I have left.

There’s also the problem that the navigation on OUYA isn’t optimized for the controller. For example, on the game description page, to browse the screenshots users have to press up to highlight the screenshots and then scroll left and right with the joystick. It’s like they forget that the controller has shoulder buttons that can be used to choose left and right easily.

Unlike hardware though, software can evolve over time. So it is highly possible that one day the OUYA will get a brand new interface from a software update. I just hoped that the OUYA guys focused on fixing the interface first before adding more features such as leader boards and social stuff.

Then again, iTunes interface is horrible yet people still use it because of all the contents, so…

OUYA Games

Since OUYA is a game console, it is important that we also talk about what games are available and what games are good on the OUYA. And more importantly, how is the experience of gaming on the OUYA?

First off, let me just say that the OUYA guys got the model right, which is Free to Try. Having an (almost) instant access to hundreds of games for your console is a real blast. Being able to easily browse available games and then trying it out right away is exactly the kind of experience that I want on my game console. Some games do take the free concept to the extreme, for example, League of Evil actually offers the first 50 levels or so for free!

Speaking of League of Evil, I’ve actually played the sequel a bit on my iPod. I didn’t get very far though, playing a fast-paced platformer on a touchscreen just doesn’t feel good. However, playing it on the OUYA with a real game controller gives the total opposite experience. It feels… just right, like the game is always meant to be played with a controller.

Seriously, the tactile feedback on your hand feels unbelievably good. I’m finally able to double-jump, run, dash with precision and actually feeling awesome doing it. Man, how I wish League of Evil 2 and 3 to be released on the OUYA as well. Now I know I won’t be going back to play another platformer on a touchscreen device.

OUYA League of Evil

Seeing how League of Evil is a great game on OUYA, is it safe to say that platformers are a good fit for the OUYA? Based on some other platformers I have tried like Gunslugs and Sonic 4, I think it’s safe to think so. Even runner-platformer like Wind-Up Knight and Vector feels really good when played on the OUYA.

Actually, not just platformers, any game that requires a lot of movement will feel better when played on the OUYA. For example, moving and aiming in the touchscreen version of Shadow Gun feels very awkward, but doing the same thing using a controller feels much more natural. Even Final Fantasy III feels better when played on the OUYA since the character need to travel a lot.

And man, I’ve gotta say, playing Final Fantasy III on the OUYA really takes me back to the PSX era (and BTW, the PSX emulator on the OUYA is really, really good, even better than the one on the PC).

Speaking of Final Fantasy III, the game costs around $15, just like its counterpart in Google Play. And this is my biggest peeve with the OUYA ecosystem, I have already bought a Final Fantasy III from Google Play! Not just FFIII, I have also bought Sonic 4, Vector, and a bunch of other games from outside the OUYA. Having to pay again for the same game really made me think twice about purchasing anything.

Yeah, I know that isn’t the OUYA guys fault, it still sucks though.

By the way, it’s kinda interesting that I haven’t met any game with in-app purchase for virtual currency or something similar.

OUYA Game: Ittle Dew

While we’re on that subject, let’s talk about the payment system for a bit. From my experience, the payment system on the OUYA is pretty painless, just like what you’d usually find on a mobile platform. The only problem is that OUYA asks for your credit card number right in the beginning when you first log in to the console. While it’s not a problem for me, I imagine it will trouble a lot of people with no credit card.

Though I have heard that you don’t actually need to put a correct card number on it, so it may not be that big of a problem.

Anyway, so far we have only covered games, but being an Android device, OUYA can also run other Android apps. During the two months I’ve been with my OUYA, I have watched movie, listened to music, browsed internet, and watched Youtube on the TV in my living room (now where’s that Twitter client for OUYA…). Sure, not all apps are available on the OUYA store, but OUYA is an open console, so all you really need to do is copy and install the app to the console.

And you know what’s crazy about being open? Earlier on this post I complained about OUYA’s interface, and guess what, someone has already made a custom launcher for the OUYA! Hell, that launcher is even more customizable with wallpaper, folders, and stuff. Maybe the OUYA team doesn’t need to build a better interface after all.

OUYA Baxy

Phew, we’ve finally reached the end of this long, long post regarding the OUYA. Well, to sum it all up, OUYA’s hardware is really nice, the software really needs more work, and there are already lots of games that could (and should) be played on the OUYA. I’d even say those games are worth the OUYA.

Should you get it? Well, if you have always longing to play smaller games with controller on a TV (just like I did), go get it. Otherwise, if you’re just some casual guy, go wait for the Apple or Google game console.

A Thought on Gaikai Acquisition

You wanna talk about Gaikai acquisition now? Seriously? That’s like ages ago!

Yeah, I know, I know. I did write my quick take on that subject though, and back then I planned to expand about it once I got the time. And looks like I finally got that time =D

So here we go…

I’m Sorry, What Is Gaikai?

Let’s back up a bit and talk about what exactly is Gaikai and how it fits in the gaming industry. Around 2010, with the widespread of high-bandwidth internet, a new kind of gaming has emerged to take the world by storm, the cloud gaming.

Cloud Gaming

So what is cloud gaming again? Basically cloud gaming is a way to play game where the game is processed in the server and streamed live to your computer or whatever device you’re using. Using cloud gaming, the server will handle the heavy task of processing the game and let you view and play it from anywhere. You can say that the cloud/server is the console and your internet connection is the cable that connects it to your monitor and keyboard (or just touch screen).

Since cloud gaming calculates everything on the server and just serves you the result, hardware and operating system is no longer a constraint for gaming. You can play the game on any operating system whether it’s Windows, Mac, or even Android. And you can play it on any kind of form factor as well, whether its a laptop, a tablet, or even a smartphone (yeah, Crysis on a phone will not be a dream anymore) Not just that, cloud gaming could also provides new payment model, like the pay-as-you-go model where you can just rent a game for 3 days or purchase it fully or even subscription and episodic games.

In short, cloud gaming is the future of gaming. Just imagine being able to play any kind of game no matter where you are or what kind of operating system you’re on or what kind of device you have (as long as you have a decent internet connection, that is).

Gaikai

Both OnLive and Gaikai is at the forefront of this new kind of gaming with both companies providing a different set of games and features. Both of them seemed to have different directions as well, where OnLive starts to focus on mobile devices and Gaikai is still focusing on gaming on TV. The future looks really bright, but alas, on July 2012…

Sony Computer Entertainment Acquired Gaikai
Yeah, out of the blue, Sony bought Gaikai for $380 millions.

“SCE will deliver a world-class cloud-streaming service that allows users to instantly enjoy a broad array of content ranging from immersive core games with rich graphics to casual content anytime, anywhere on a variety of internet-connected devices.”

Okay, I’ll be honest, I’m not a cloud gamer (huh, that term sounds weird), not for at least another 5 years. My connection just isn’t fast enough for this kind of internet usage, but I definitely can see how this is going to be the future of gaming. It solves a lot of gaming problems! No longer there will be console-exclusive games, no longer games on mobile devices will only feature subpar graphics, and no longer there will be piracy (though I’m not so sure about this last point). All in all, I definitely support this.

That said, I should be happy that Gaikai is acquired by Sony right? After all, with the amount of resources Sony has in its pocket, Gaikai wouldn’t have any trouble expanding anywhere in world, right? And with Sony’s capability as a game publisher, Gaikai could easily persuade more game developers to provide their game through Gaikai services, right?

But no I’m not.

Sony

This is an acquisition by Sony, who has another gaming platform. It’s totally unthinkable of Sony to have another gaming platform, the cloud platform, alongside their current gaming platform. Not to mention that their current platform already runs on most of their devices from consoles, handhelds, smartphones, to tablets. Introducing yet another gaming platform would just make the consumer confused.

This is an acquisition by Sony, who already has a console and brand (PlayStation) out in the market. Do you really think that Sony will be willing to kill their PlayStation brand and console to pursue cloud gaming? I just can’t see how Sony is going to integrate Gaikai services with the PlayStation. Sure, Sony can turn PlayStation console to be capable of streaming games from the cloud, but that doesn’t align at all with the concept of cloud where hardware doesn’t matter and Internet is all you need. I mean, why would Sony make a service that can be used by their competitor?

This is an acquisition by Sony, a big company with a business model that Gaikai is attacking. As I have explained before, cloud gaming makes the hardware no longer important, which means that gaming console will no longer be important as the game can be played on any kind of device. So yeah, the success of Gaikai or cloud gaming in general would spell doom for Sony’s business model (and profit).

Of course Sony can always kill their lines of console and dive head-first into cloud gaming. And that would be totally awesome, having a big company like Sony pursuing this kind future. But let’s be real here, has anybody ever successfully killed their own old product? Even for a company like Apple who’s known to disrupt the industry, they haven’t managed to kill any of their products. Mac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad all serves a different purpose and augment each other instead of killing each other.

I hope I’m wrong, I really do. But to be honest, this felt like HP-WebOS situation all over again. Only worse.

Ouya

On the topic of the future of gaming, there’s another development in the scene, the OUYA. The OUYA is basically a game console that harnesses power of mobile gaming such as developers accessibility and cheapness. It is depicted as the revolution that will revive the game industry. While it may be true, I believe the OUYA is merely a stop-gap for the gaming revolution before cloud gaming becomes more accessible to the mainstream market and becomes the dominant force in the gaming world.