At an event in Chicago organized by the Chicago chapter of the International Game Developers Association, OUYA Founder and CEO Julie Uhrman met with local game developers to sell them on developing games for the new console system, as well as get the developers’ feedback and ideas for how to develop the system to better serve their needs and desires.
With OUYA supplying the room of 150 strong with game developers’ favorite things — wine, beer, and pizza — Jay Margalus, IGDA Chicago Chair, introduced Uhrman to begin a night of discussion revolving around the revolution that is the convergence of mobile and console gaming. Uhrman and her colleague, Bob, brought the current developers model of the OUYA console and controller to demonstrate the system’s menu as well as demo one game currently developed for it. Uhrman spent most of her time taking questions from the audience, who was interested in the system’s capabilities, the plans for expansion, and the requirements they would have to meet to develop games for it.
With 27 days until the device begins rolling out to those who supported it’s development in the Kickstarter campaign, Uhrman and Bob set their task as being one of convincing developers to join their open source console gaming revolution. As someone who has written about the OUYA before, and has an interest in it as a gaming device, an education tool, and a cultural artifact, I made certain to be there to report on the latest developments from OUYA, and what the device offers to game developers, both large and small, indie and not.
Before the presentation, Bob silently demonstrated the menu and game Puddle. After having seen the videos and images online, I was still struck by how small the console really is. It is no bigger than a Rubik’s Cube, and yet the graphics on the game Bob demoed were rather impressive, on par with some of the best mobile app and online Flash games. Puddle is a physics game, where you control the 2D space by altering its angle along the X and Y axes to maneuver liquids through increasingly perilous mazes. The controller also seems very lightweight, and in a cute way the buttons spell out its name, something I never noticed before. The main menu currently features links for Games, Apps, Store, Devs and Settings, and Uhrman latter discussed this menu and their plans for it.
To begin her presentation, Uhrman wanted to stress how her background led her to see the mobile gaming boom coming, but that she still prefers to have the experience of playing games on a television, allowing for fellow gamers to gather and socially interact. From this came her desire to build an open game console for the television, the driving idea and philosophy behind the OUYA’s creation and implementation. They want OUYA to be able to merge the free-to-play and indie design spirit of mobile games with the social interactivity possibilities of console gaming on a television screen. And, overall, they want to be the most developer friendly platform ever.
Uhrman seemed very genuine when she said all this: that they really want to have feedback from game developers on how to improve the console, and to work with developers to support their games. Uhrman repeatedly stressed that the OUYA will only succeed if developers provide quality content — as both games and other apps — and because of this need, they are willing to allow for a range of innovative gameplay and monetization methods that game developers may devise. With the integration of the Devs menu option, which will provide information and help for creating games for OUYA, Uhrman’s hope is that gamers may someday become developers, thereby increasing the content available through their game and app stores. When I spoke with Uhrman directly, she even indicated having a students channel, where students would be encouraged to develop games and perhaps even compete in a competition, as a way to bring them into the world of game development.
However, because they are focused on providing quality games and gaming experiences, Uhrman discussed the review process that game developers will have to submit to in order to have their games distributed through OUYA’s store. Developers will first have to register with OUYA, using the portal https://devs.ouya.tv/developers. In this portal is information on the review policy and content guidelines, which will contain updates on how quickly they can review the games as well as “content no-no’s” that cover such things as no hate speech and no inducement of real world violence. Thus, while the console will operate on an Android OS, it will not be as free to distribute content as through the Google Play apps store. And because of this desire for quality, the Play apps store will not be accessible via the console; only their proprietary apps store will be available.
As a way to perhaps soothe ruffled feathers on this matter, Uhrman also discussed how they are hoping to develop better engagement metrics to let developers know who is playing their games and how often. Rather than just relying on download numbers, they also hope to be able to measure how often a game is played, for how long, and if it is the first game played when the system is started. They are also planning on creating channels of communication between gamers and developers in the Devs section. The goal is to allow each developer to have his or her own channel through which they can control how and what they communicate to their gamers. Uhrman suggested this as a way to provide behind-the-scenes information, beta testing, even development blogs, and thereby cultivate relationships with their gamers. OUYA sees this as part of the way to develop a community around its system, and they hope to be able to create such virtual social interaction soon after its full launch this summer.
When asked about how the user, new to OUYA, will get started with it, Uhrman indicated that the gamer would first be asked for payment information, so that a credit card will be in the system and automatically recalled whenever a game is purchased and downloaded from the store. After supplying this information and creating an account, the user would be kicked into the Store feature, and perhaps even into a specific channel in the Store, so that they can begin browsing to download. Whether or not they would have to pay to download would be up to the developers, who would have control over this monetization scheme. Uhrman also mentioned how they are working on ways to create OUYA apps for mobile devices, where, if a user finds a game somewhere online that is available on the console, they could remotely download the game, pushing it from their mobile device to the console. Having such integration would broaden the possibility of finding and engaging with developers’ games.
Another question that came up concerned hardware updates. Uhrman indicated that their goal is to follow more a mobile device tempered release cycle, updating more every year than every 4-5 years, as has been the standard for consoles. Because the hardware is made with commodity parts, which Uhrman described as being off the shelf — to the extent, she exclaimed, that anyone could make the OUYA, since they’ve made the specs known — she hopes they can continue to take advantage of falling microchip prices to keep the OUYA’s price around $99 and allow for faster hardware updates than their big name console competitors.
She stressed that the hardware is not the focus of OUYA; the game ecosystem is. She wants to create a good gaming experience first and foremost. So she indicated that since the system is set up with Bluetooth, both gamers and developers could sync other Bluetooth enabled devices to the console as additional and different interfaces, thereby creating different types of gaming experiences. Her hope is that developers will take the initiative to develop games that require different types of interfaces. While the final controller will be a nicer color, with cushioned grips, she doesn’t want it to be the end all in interfaces, and mentioned that the console is even optimized to allow for additional USB peripherals.
Finally, because the system only has 8GB of internal memory, she did stress that developers should plan for saved game files to be cloud-based. And right now, that means hosted by the game developers, not by OUYA. However, she said there are no fees for developers to register and create games for OUYA, and there are no additional equipment purchases necessary to create the games. The $99 console is the same device for developers and gamers alike — simply plug it in to a computer to develop, or into a television to play.
With Uhrman citing the KISS design principle, having one device for both purposes also aligns with their overall philosophy of trying to merge the traditionally separated worlds and roles of developers and gamers. Doing so would place OUYA squarely in the Web 2.0 paradigm of converging those identities, and thus would further the revolution that would actually be more of a return to the way games were developed in the dawn of video game consoles. It looks like by this fall, we may have a good sense just how well people are responding to this revolution — just in time for the PS4 to indicate whether or not the big consoles are on their way out.