Peter G (sinetimore) wrote,
Peter G

Ouya, It's A Mess

The Ouya is dead.

It's kind of stunning, because the Ouya corporation wound up with over $24 mil and started the microconsole trend.  But in less than two years, they are just about finished.

And I had such high hopes for the Ouya, too.  Kickstarted and raising $8.6 mil, it's whole idea was to "free the games."  Developers wouldn't have to go through Sony or Micro$oft or Nintendo, they would be able to sell their stuff directly to the public on a level playing field, one that would not be corrupted by the big names that had taken over Apple's app store or Google Play.

For those that don't know, the Ouya was an Android-based console (this was back when I still thought Android was awesome instead of simply the best option available) that would retail for $99.  Instead of buying physical media, everything came through an app store.  There were to be tons of games, free and for pay.  Each Ouya would be capable of being turned into a dev kit, so if you got some programming tools, you too could create your own games and be part of this exciting new revolution!

Like I said, Julie Uhrman, the CEO of Ouya, had laid out a bold vision and raised $8.6 mil through Kickstarter.  I was a little behind funds and the time and didn't contribute.  Turns out, that was a good thing.  Early supporters were supposed to get their Ouyas before the units went to retail stores.  As of last year, there are still people writing on the Kickstarter page that they have not received their units.  Not a small number, either.  And this is after the company leveraged the $8.6 mil startup into a Series A round from TriplePoint Capital worth $15 mil.  Some units were supposed to have the contributor's names etched on the side.  Nope.  Lots and lots of broken promises, with Uhrman saying things would be fixed in two to three weeks, and they never were.

That was the early warning.  Then the units started shipping to the early adopters, and word started to spread.  Among the early adopters were The Verge and Engadget, who weren't overly impressed.  Uhrman started bitching long and hard that they never sent out review units and those sites should keep their mouths shut.  Things didn't get any better two months later when the official retail launch happened, and Kotaku and IGN gave lukewarm responses at best.

Uhrman is living in denial.  The Ouya is simple a bad system.  I have tried it, and I'm glad I never bought one.  The controller is my biggest hangup -- it's Bluetooth, but it's very very laggy, and nothing ruins a gaming experience faster than that.  The games available are simply Android apps and a few exlusive titles -- you are actually developing for a very restricted ecosystem.  In fact, the biggest problem with the Ouya is it has no reason to exist.  Simply put, the Ouya is an Android tablet without a screen.  Twilight, my Toshiba Thrive Android table, has an HDMI out connection.  I plug her into my TV, connect my own Bluetooth controller (which actually reads correctly and promptly), and I can not only do all the things the Ouya can do, but I can do more than that because the tablet is portable and has access to more programs (some games like GTA couldn't run well on the Ouya even though the specs should have let it).  It's like comparing a PC gaming rig to a PS3 or XB360.  In fact, most people I know with Ouyas use them as media boxes, and even then, only when they can be bothered to think about them, they still prefer their Rokus or DVD/Blu-Ray players or even my own TV that just lets you stick a thumb drive in and view media.

Uhrman didn't seem to grasp public relations.  When the developer of the Ouya's most successful game revealed he'd only sold 7,000 copies of it, Uhrman defended the business model and said he wasn't trying hard enough -- after all, with their install base, there were plenty of fish in the sea to market to.  However, by Uhrman's own admission, only 27% of users actually bought games for the Ouya, the rest just went with the free stuff (as I've learned from digital comics, it's risky to base your business model on a demographic that doesn't feel like paying for anything).  Last year, Muffi Ghadiali, one of the cofounders, up and quit the company without explanation.  Two months ago, Alibaba invested $10 mil in the company.  Why?  No idea -- with only 27% of the install base coughing up cash and the biggest titles selling 7K, there's no way they'll see that money back.

Oh, how right that is.  Ouya apparently tripped a debt covenant.  That's an agreement with a lender that certain things will happen a company's debt-to-asset ration reaches a certain point.  Last Tuesday, Uhrman put out a memo that the company is unable to meet its bill payments and needs a buyer right fucking now.  Meda Global is handling the sale.  And Uhrman continues to make the band play on.  "We believe we've built something real and valuable.  I continue to read the tweets and emails of out fans who play Ouya every day, and out catalog is now over 1,000 apps and 40,000 developers.  We have the largest library of Android content for the TV (still more than Amazon) -- hells ya!"  Yes, she actually ended a business communication with "hells ya!".  I think the real miracle is that the Ouya lasted this long.

Like I said, I had such high hopes for the Ouya.  Not only for what it was trying to do, but who doesn't love the underdog?  And yet, between the public face of Uhrman and the system just not being very good, it was a project that never should have happened.  I had made space in my game system collection to put an Ouya.

It's still empty.
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