Influential indies on the brouhaha around Ouya

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Influential indies on the brouhaha around Ouya
The Ouya, a $99 Android-powered console whose prototype has raised $4.9 million in 7 days on Kickstarter, is a mystery wrapped in a sleek silver box. Many players seem to gravitate toward the idea because of its price point, while it would appear developers, especially indies, are backing it for its open hardware.

But those are just appearances – we want to know what prominent and plucky indie developers actually think the Ouya can do for the industry. So we asked a few, including Minecraft's Markus Persson, The Binding of Isaac's Edmund McMillen, Retro City Rampage's Brian Provinciano and five other indie starlings. Their thoughts are collected below in the order each developer responded to the email thread, because that seems more fair than arranging them by "best hair" or something.

A few of the indies are tenuously linked to the Ouya and have already been quoted on the Kickstarter itself, or have a game listed in the mock-up images, but none of the following developers have seen or played the Ouya. These are initial reactions to an idea, and speculation about a rapidly evolving industry:

Chris Hecker (SpyParty): I'm supportive of the idea and potential of an open console, but I'm cautiously optimistic about the reality. There's a continuum between totally closed, curated platforms like XBLA and PSN and totally open laissez-faire platforms like the PC, but there appear to be several valleys in that continuum where bad things happen, things like extreme downward price pressure, huge discoverability problems and a lack of a strong correlation between game quality and sales. I think we've yet to find a healthy "mostly open platform" business model, but maybe these guys will do it. That would be awesome, and I'd totally put SpyParty on it if it turns out to have a healthy market for quality games.

Influential indies on the brouhaha around Ouya
Adam Saltsman (Canabalt): Hypothetically the Ouya has a lot of benefits, I think. A dedicated game console that is well designed and "open" in the same sense as Google Play and the iTunes App Store is really exciting to me. Whether the end result will reflect all those things adequately, it is impossible to say for sure. I do believe from talking with some of the Ouya team that their intent is to make something great and useful (and popular, of course). So yeah, I think it has a lot of potential. I am excited to see it put some pressure on some of the unnecessarily draconian downloadable console practices still in existence as well. Will be interesting to see what happens!

Influential indies on the brouhaha around Ouya
Brian Provinciano (Retro City Rampage): It's a good thing, for sure. The more platforms, the better. However, Sony and Nintendo have become very welcoming to indies as well. I'm pretty much a one-person developer yet I feel both treat me as well as they do the bigger companies. They're really embracing indies. Sony started with their PSP Minis program (where your games run on both PSP and PS3) and now has PlayStation Mobile which is completely open (enabling your game to run on PS Vita and Android devices). The SDK for PS Mobile can be downloaded today and it's completely free. For indies wanting to put in the extra work to release full-blown games on consoles such as PS3 or Wii, both Sony and Nintendo allow developers to self-publish, enabling us to be true indies.

I plan to stick to Sony and Nintendo platforms for the time being, but if Ouya takes off I will definitely look more into it. It has the potential to be what XBLIG could've been and will hopefully give indies more opportunities to make a living from developing their dream games.

Influential indies on the brouhaha around Ouya
Nathan Fouts (Serious Sam Double D XXL): Indies can currently release whatever they want for the PC, Xbox 360 (via XBLIG) or mobile. So from an artistic standpoint, they're set. That leaves us with trying to actually make money on games. I think this new console would matter most if it offered some new base hardware interface (which I don't see) or it could deliver a huge new audience.

Regarding the audience, let's say $3 million represents 30,000 developers (at $100 a console).
Maybe in total there's 100-200k hungry app developers across the world hunting for a new gold rush. So that's $10-20 million, which is a lot of money, but is in a much smaller league compared with the big consoles with millions of sales. Even though the Ouya fills the one current console market gap (free-to-play), as long as the market is so small for it.

I don't think it would exert much pressure on the rest of consoles to change. Additionally the low hardware specs (for a future console) are only going to be a hinderance to luring a larger segment of gamers to buy it. Wii fought the odds, but it'd be amazing to see another console pull that off.

On the bright side, I can imagine a scenario in which developers create really compelling, mind-blowingly original hardware and software that could get a larger swath of people interested in buying it (like making a Kinect sensor work with Ouya in a new way we can only now imagine, or building something amazing for 3D TVs). Overall, it's extremely exciting to see and think about, especially how it could change the market. But the more I think about it, the less likely it seems like it will sell enough to matter overall.

Influential indies on the brouhaha around Ouya
Edmund McMillen (Super Meat Boy): I agree with Chris when it comes to being cautiously optimistic. I'd love for there to be this amazing console that lets everyone dev for it... but there already was and the lack of control turned it into a garbage dump of crap apps, rip-off games and rehashes, I mean honestly iPad and iPhone started out with serious games trying to break in but got undercut by everyone and became a dump. This aspect of the Ouya seems flawed and could be the downfall of it if it gets legs once it releases.

Content control isnt something start-up devs are going to be fans of, it's going to be discouraging, but if you want people to take a platform seriously there needs to be someone who says, "No, this game is a rip-off of this game," or "No, this game is undercutting everyone and offering the same gameplay," or even "This game isn't good." I know most aren't going to be a fan of this, but there are ways to innovate around these pitfalls. I think Steam Greenlight was an attempt at this, and I'm sure there are other ways around it as well.

I hate to sound all pessimistic here because I do think if everything goes the way they project and/or want it to that this system could be pretty cool, but I'm not gong to get my hopes up til I know for sure.

Influential indies on the brouhaha around Ouya
Will Stallwood (Auditorium): I am pretty skeptical about the whole Ouya console deal. My main concern is the lack of one true launch title. The Xbox had Halo and the Wii had Smash Bros. What does the Ouya have? However, seeing the Kickstarter doing so well... it looks like there will be a decent install base present at launch.

Some of the Kickstarter reward tiers are a bit scary as well. It looks like they are guaranteeing exposure to select developers who offer up certain levels of money. The marketing of a game should be based on its brilliance, not the money behind it. What kind of effect will that have on the marketplace? On the other hand, I am happy they want to get to know their devs.

Even with all our skepticism, we're donating and holding our breath, hoping they succeed.

Influential indies on the brouhaha around Ouya
Markus Persson (Minecraft): I am quite frankly surprised this hasn't happened earlier. Me and plenty of other people have tried connecting small PCs to their TVs and plugging in controllers in an attempt to get an open TV gaming experience that they can control, but there's been constant interface and infrastructure problems with that. And frankly, the only really good use of it was to run emulators.

Something like the Ouya could solve a lot of these issues, making it easier to find and navigate between content, and putting a good community in place around it. But as Will said, the lack of a solid launch title will be a problem. I keep my other consoles pretty much not even plugged in when there are no good games out, and I could see this one going the same way as the Pandora. I bought that one on launch to get an open handheld gaming device, but the lack of interesting content has kept me from using it.

I hope it does well. It would be amazing. It's basically the Steam box.

Influential indies on the brouhaha around Ouya
Anders Gustafsson (The Dream Machine): Obviously, I also have a lot of concerns about the content and curation, but I approve of the general idea. The trend moves toward equating the words "player" and "consumer." In order to play the latest games, you're required to pay a lot of money for the console and the peripherals, etc. So seeing someone who's trying to lower the bar of admission to gaming – making it a more open, inexpensive pleasure – feels refreshing.

I really hope it does well.

Influential indies on the brouhaha around Ouya
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