The backer version of the OUYA finally shipped, and saw a couple of reviews go up on the sites Engadget and The Verge. Both were a bit… less than favorable; I’ve been waiting to see if another review will emerge—maybe a positive one to contrast with—but so far I haven’t seen anything more substantial than a positive tweet or blog post. The most positive I’ve seen was at Joystiq, and it admitted the OUYA “is not ready for primetime” and that “people want a sure thing.”
Granted, I know a lot of people will discount the reviews off-hand, with something like “Well, of course it, it wasn’t an Apple product, of course they’d hate it.” While the sites have a little more leniency with Apple products, I’ve noted they can be predisposed to ranking other products ahead—the new Roku 3 getting better remarks than the Apple TV, for example. But I think it reveals a little more of the underlying reasons why I’ve been so hesitant to buy into the OUYA hype: I’m surprised as heck that they managed to get it out by their expected March production dates, but as the reviews show, it’s somewhere in the Alpha build, or very early Beta.
I’m getting the sense that people are liking it more for its hackability as a home media center—this generation’s XMBC, using off-the-shelf cellphone parts and a forked version of Android—despite the product being pitched as an alternative for the indie gamer who doesn’t want to shell out the big bucks for the PS or Xbox systems shipping in the next few years, or who’d take the time and effort to make their own STEAM box. It’s for enthusiasts who get hyped up about Raspberry Pi, not the mainline gamer. (While Pi is actually pretty cool, most people have no use for it on a daily basis.)
Which is fine; different strokes for different folks—I’m lazy and my Roku works fine for me, though I wish the originals would get the new hotness update instead of that shitty old carousel display that wastes space, and better support for USB devices and various audio/video codecs would be nice, to use the content on my external drive. Anyways, I’m getting sidetracked.
As a game system, the reviews point out the same reasons I was hesitant and didn’t go with the Kickstarter after all. First, Google’s had enough of a hard time getting people to design apps for 10″ tablets (again, plenty of apps on my Nexus 7 that scale for shit can attest to that); getting people to design apps for a 50″ HDTV would be nightmarish. Plus, OUYA doesn’t have the benefit of hiding its push behind the weight Google’s throwing around, since they’re using their own appstore environment. So not only do they have to convince developers to release another version of their app—bigger, stronger, and free-but-not-really-free, you’ll have to re-purchase all the apps and games you already bought for your phone or tablet. Sigh.
Next, that app needs to run fine using the technology and parts used to power smartphones. Next, smartphone parts become obsolete every 6-10 months; the tech in the current OUYA is already falling behind. So OUYA is coming out with yearly $99 releases; ok, that keeps the tech nice and current, but the cost is becoming more of a burden at that point. More than one and you’re already past the cost of a Roku; more than two and you’re past the cost of a decent Xbox 360; after five or six years of updates, you’ve just spent as much as you would on a next-gen Playstation, Xbox, or a solid mid-range gaming PC. Is $99 a pop expensive? Kinda, but in the grand scheme of technology, not really. Do you have to buy a new one every year? No, but I’d be surprised if the speed at which mobile gaming increases doesn’t necessitate purchasing a stronger OUYA every 2-3 years.
I like the implementation of the menu system as shown thus far, though I hope they patch over the bits of stock Jelly Bean sooner or later with their own stuff. And the promise from developers to make titles just for OUYA is a step in the right direction. Maybe it’s just my hesitation to be an early adapter, because early adapters don’t come in to the established, full-fledged experience; case in point, compare the Blackberry 10 or Windows Mobile app stores to Google Play or the iOS Appstore. Maybe it’s just that I’d rather put up with bad control schemes to play the same games on my mobiles because they fill a certain niche (killing time on the one electronic device most people consider essential), and would rather play the grandstanding, mainline titles—the Haloes, Bioshocks, and Elder Scrolls of gaming—on my TV or computer. Whatever the reason, I’ve actually been losing interest in the OUYA the closer it comes to mainstream production, and feel kind of bad about it.