The Android-based Ouya gaming system promises to be one of the first user-configurable console gaming experiences. It will sport Android OS 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich under the hood and that OS will be fully hackable for anyone enterprising enough to undertake the task. The concept, if not yet the execution, of Ouya must leave the makers of traditional console gamers asking if they have gone far enough to create a unique user experience for each gamer.
Ouya consists of the box, which houses an Nvidia Tegra3 quad-core processor, 1GB RAM, 8GB of flash storage (important for game saving), HDMI to the TV, with support for 1080p HD, WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth LE 4.0, USB 2.0 (one), and wireless controllers with standard controls (two analog sticks, d-pad, eight action buttons, a system button) and a touchpad. Ouya also of course includes the Android 4.0 OS, and also includes Ethernet. The above specs, particularly support for 1080p, are considered minimum requirements for gamers, yet have been missing from the Wii, which did not emphasize graphics. It should be noted Nintendo has promised 1080p support for the Wii U, but Nintendo’s gaming experiences have never been about flawless graphics.
For the Wii and the forthcoming Wii U, the frightening prospect about Ouya is that it promises to incorporate a number of innovative features of the Wii and Wii U yet maintain a $99 price point. Ouya will have a both a touchpad and a traditional gaming button setup on the wireless controllers, much as the Wii U’s controllers will.
Ouya’s controllers will not have the ability to display graphics like the Wii U controllers, but one of the critiques of the Wii U controller is that it may be too large for many people’s hands to manage, and Ouya will incorporate both a touchpad and buttons into a controller sizing that appears to be more traditional, akin to the current Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3’s controllers.
The item that can truly set Ouya apart is its Store and Twitch.tv. The Ouya Store will be the main repository for game purchase; without an optical drive, Ouya will rely on downloads and perhaps uploads via the USB connection for content delivery. Twitch.tv will be an online video platform that allows gamers to connect and watch other games being played, a first without actual game participation.
Further turning console gaming on its ear is Ouya’s free-to-play component. For its store, Ouya requires that all games available for sale have a free preview version that gamers can play without committing to purchase the full version. In this fashion, Ouya far outstrips the gaming model where gamers must dive in with both feet, sometimes sight-unseen, to purchase a $50 game (or more). Sure, one can find reviews and other content about a particular game online before purchasing a game, but there is no substitute for experiencing actual gameplay before deciding whether to purchase a game.
Ouya’s model represents a serious challenge to the traditional console gaming model. Nintendo would be wise to take heed of some of the innovative features this challenger presents to the gaming world.