Here comes Ouya, the $99 gaming console

Here comes Ouya, the $99 gaming console
Tech Corner

POSTED: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 - 12:00am

UPDATED: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 - 12:04am

Julie Uhrman needed $950,000 from Kickstarter in less than a month to make her dream of an affordable, free-to-play gaming console a reality.

She got it in eight hours -- and nearly $8 million more after that.

"It was the opposite of 'Field of Dreams,' " said Uhrman, a gaming-industry veteran and former vice president at IGN. "It was, if you come, we will build this."

And so was born Ouya, a $99 console that's shaped like and is just a hair bigger than a Rubik's Cube. It runs on Google's Android operating system and requires developers to offer a version of their games for free.

Kickstarter backers will be getting their Ouyas later this month and they'll go on sale to everyone else in June.

Speaking here at the South by Southwest Interactive festival, Uhrman said she got the idea for Ouya (pronounced OOO-yuh) in response to a video-game industry that to her had grown stale.

No new consoles were announced at last year's E3 gaming conference by the big three console makers (Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony). In recent years, almost all the most hyped and popular games have been sequels. And the rise of mobile gaming has been limited, turning video gaming into a solitary exercise rather than the social one she remembered growing up.

"The TV is the best screen for playing games," Uhrman said in an interview-style keynote with editor Joshua Topolsky of tech blog The Verge. "I remember growing up, playing with my sister ... I feel like we've lost that. I want to bring back the world of TV gaming."

For gamers, the strength of a console often boils down to the games they can play on it. To that end, Uhrman said 7,000 developers have signed up for Ouya accounts, from big publishers who create multi-million-selling titles like "Halo" down to the smaller independents.

The only requirement, she says, is that the game must be free or offer a free trial before the player has to buy it. How the game will make money -- whether it's through ads, in-game purchases or sales after a free trial -- is up to the developer.

"You shouldn't have to pay so much money to try out a new game," she said. "We believe that every single game you should try before you buy."

During the hour-long interview, Topolsky pushed Uhrman on whether the Ouya, which will have 1GB of RAM and run on an Nvidia Tegra 3 chip, will be powerful enough to run the kind of immersive, expansive shooters that have made big gaming releases as lucrative as blockbuster movies.

Her answer came in two parts.

"Yes," she said. "And why would we?

"Those experiences are great on those devices. You wouldn't want to play those games anywhere else. But we are going to have exclusive games. ... We're going to have inventive, creative, exciting content that no one else has. At $99, it's not an either-or decision."

Uhrman said some top developers will be reworking popular titles for the Ouya. Others, some of whom have never made games before using Android, are crafting new titles, she said.

"We're going to have our version of those games, but it's going to be different," she said. "We will have a first-person shooter ... game that you are going to want to play for hours on end."

Ouya also has partnered with game-streaming site OnLive, meaning that some graphic-intensive games could be playable on the device via the cloud.

Throughout its development, Ouya has been open to its public, inviting them to help make suggestions. When backers pointed out on Reddit that the color-coded buttons on the console's controller were no good for color-blind players, Ouya replaced them, making the four buttons correspond with the O, U, Y and A in its name.

An Ethernet port was added when some backers outside the United States said they had no access to Wi-Fi, and a USB port was added for the "hardest of the hardcore" players who will want to store more games than the console can handle.

Increasingly, gaming consoles are becoming all-in-one entertainment hubs for the living room, and Ouya will try to compete in that arena as well. The company already has partnerships with Flickster and Vevo and is in talks with major players like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and Google.

"We're pretty confident we're going to have (that content) at launch or close to launch," Uhrman said.

Between now and then, she'll be focusing on two goals.

"We want you to love it," she said. "And we want it to work." 

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