The Kickstarter campaign for Ouya blew up this morning.
Update: Since I originally posted this story three hours ago, the Kickstarter campaign to fund the Ouya Android console doubled its funding total. The campaign is fully funded with more than $990,000 raised, and by the time I press the publish button, the total will likely be more than $1 million. I guess the little startup Ouya struck a nerve.
Original: One startup company believes the problem with videogames these days is the stale business model. Hardware makers sell their development kits at a high price to companies, which are then forced to spend hundreds of millions of dollars creating AAA games that will sell to the masses. The quality of what that market produces suffers because no one is willing to bet that much money on a neat or original idea. Hence endless sequels. Ouya wants to shake all that up by offering a completely open source console with an Android backbone and a stylish design for $99. Games on the Ouya console will be free to play, and Ouya will provide a free development kit to anyone who wants one. The plan even encourages hacking, allowing the curious to take apart the box and tinker to their heart's content. The news of the console broke a week ago, but Ouya's Kickstarter campaign went up today, and it seems more than 4,500 people (at press time) think an open source Android gaming console is a great idea. The goal is to raise $950,000 and after one day they are already halfway there.
The brains behind Ouya see the writing on the wall. "We get it - smartphones and tablets are getting all the new titles - they're 'what's hot.' The console market is pushing developers away," the campaign pages reads. "We've seen a brain drain: some of the best, most creative gamemakers are focused on mobile and social games because those platforms are more developer-friendly. And the ones who remain focused on console games can't be as creative as they'd like."
The answer is to open up the system. "It's time we brought back innovation, experimentation, and creativity to the big screen. Let's make the games less expensive to make, and less expensive to buy. With all our technological advancements, shouldn't costs be going down? Gaming could be cheaper!"
Several prominent game designers sounded off on what they thought about the idea. "This has the potential to be the game developer's console. It's about time!" exclaimed Brian Fargo, of Interplay and inXile fame and creator of Hunted: The Demon's Forge.
"I'm excited for OUYA! I am a firm believer that there is always room to challenge the status quo," said Jenova Chen, founder of thatgamecompany and designer of Flower and Journey.
Even a spokesman from Notch's Mojang sounded off on possibly bringing Minecraft to the Ouya. "If OUYA delivers on the promise of being the first true open gaming platform that gives indie developers access to the living room gaming market, yes that is a great idea. We will follow the development of OUYA and see how it resonates with gamers. I could see all current Mojang games go on the platform if there's a demand for it."
From the images provided, the Ouya console does indeed look beautiful, clearly trying to ape one of its biggest competitors. "We designed the controller to be a love letter to console gaming. It has everything you've learned to love: fast buttons, triggers, laser-precise analog sticks, a D-Pad - and we've added a touchpad for any games making the trek from mobile or tablet to the TV.
"We call it 'the Stradivarius of controllers,' and we hope developers will be inspired to take gameplay to a new level with it," the campaign said.
The whole concept is certainly appealing. A $99 box with a potentially limitless library of free to play games would shake up the balance of power in the games industry away from the executives at EA, Activision, Sony, Apple, and Microsoft and puts in the keyboards of the people actually making games. The business model depends on support from paid game upgrades and possible microstransactions, but the open source attitude will hopefully open up console game development to a huge number of burgeoning game designers to directly bring titles to an even larger number of game consumers.
I'm not sure if I'm the target audience for this kind of thing, but I applaud the attempt to change the current paradigm. I'll be watching what happens with the Ouya closely.
And for those of you wondering, it's officially pronounced Ooo-Yuh.