A few weeks ago, I got myself an Ouya (trigger warning: newsletter signup doorslam): it’s a $100 games console, powered by Android. I bought it because I’m an avid gamer, and the market and interface tingles my professional interests.
The console itself is beautiful: it’s tiny, and feels solid and nicely weighted. The controllers are disappointingly crappy by comparison: hollow plastic and cheap-feeling. The buttons are particularly bad, but the sticks are actually quite nice and solid.
The dashboard set up is interesting and different, but is a little clunky and immature compared to other systems. I’m sure that this will improve over time as they tweak bits of it. The on-boarding sequence is also kinda cool and not too painful.
The messages and notifications try to be more friendly, less formal, than other consoles, and it mostly works. It makes you feel more a part of a community than the other big name consoles: like people wrote the text rather than the marketing department or a back room developer.
The marketplace is the most interesting thing about Ouya for me. Their USP (Unique Selling Point) is that every game is free to try. That’s quite something. Trials can be downloaded in one click from the dashboard, and the biggest, brightest, call to action on every game’s page is the “Download for free” button.
Most of the games that I’ve checked out are small in size (less than 100MB), so it’s not a problem or a worry to download lots. It seems odd to download from the dashboard, though: do people often want to download a game just based on the thumbnail image and the name?
I have a few problems around the pricing of the games. The first, and biggest, is that you have to dig to find the prices. They are only displayed in a pop up window from the game’s individual page: they aren’t displayed in listings anywhere, or on the Ouya site.
This makes the “Download for free” button feel a little disingenuous (“Download trial for free” or “Try for free” would feel more truthful). It also explains why sales stats don’t seem to be very good: Ouya makes it very easy to download trials, but almost hides away the buy call to action.
The second problem, which is mitigated a little but the first (but not in a good way), is that prices vary wildly: from $1 to $35. Some developers are pricing like the App Store or Google Play, some are pricing like console and PC games. In a way this makes sense: many of the games are crossovers from other platforms, and the prices on Ouya match the ones there.
However, this ties in with the problem of hidden prices and could result in disgruntled users. They may download the trial, come back to buy the game and find the pricing is more like Steam, when they were expecting more like App Store.
For game developers, I think the market is great. There’s a small (compared to the other platforms) audience of passionate and interested gamers, and interesting things are happening here. I think that there's a real choice to have your voice heard.
I think that the Ouya is fun and could become a home for awesome indie things, but it needs some changes.