While the world waits for new game consoles from Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, a newcomer plans to take them on with a $99 Android-based set-top box called Ouya.
The Ouya has specs that are on par with high-end Android phones and tablets, including a quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor, 1 GB of RAM and 8 GB of storage. It outputs 1080p video through an HDMI slot, uses Bluetooth 4.0 and USB 2.0 for connecting external devices and includes a wireless controller.
To raise money for a March 13 launch, Ouya has turned to crowd-funding site Kickstarter, where the company is taking pre-orders and other donations. Ouya hopes to raise $950,000 through the site.
Although Ouya is based on Android, and can therefore run games originally developed for Android phones and tablets, it's only using the operating system as a base for its own gaming platform. That means developers will still have to do some work to bring their games to the big screen. They'll also want to optimize for Ouya's controller, which has the usual set of analog thumbsticks, buttons and triggers, plus a small touchpad in the middle.
Ouya wants to lower the barrier for game development compared to traditional game consoles, so there are no licensing fees, and every console will include a software development kit. There's just one big rule that all developers must follow: All games must have a free-to-play element, whether it's a timed trial, a feature-locked demo or a complete experience filled with microtransactions.
Plenty of questions remain unanswered. It's not clear how closely Ouya will police its store (say, for emulators or rip-offs of other games), what the console's community features will look like, or most important, whether developers will embrace the device. Ouya's Kickstarter page shows endorsements from a few big developers, including thatgamecompany's Jenova Chen and Prince of Persia creator Jordan Mechner, but Ouya isn't anywhere close to announcing a list of supported games.
Still, the idea of a cheap, Android-based box built around gaming hasn't been done before, and may prove disruptive. The big console makers have been slow to embrace digital distribution and free-to-play gaming, and at the very least, Ouya is a sign that they can't afford to hold out much longer.