I have a love-hate relationship with Kickstarter.
I love that they have given a platform for creators to get funding directly from their audience. It is a valuable service, and I hope to see many more successful, innovate projects find their way into our homes because of what Kickstarter does. I love what Kickstarter _represents_.
I hate Kickstarter because my RSS feed is being clogged with stories about Kickstarter projects. I recognize this is mostly due to the mostly-new nature of the service, but there seem to be only two stories about Kickstarter projects. The first story is about about how much much money _x_ project has raised in _y_ time. The bottom line is always “a lot” and “not very much.” The second story is about how revolutionary/innovative/disruptive – take your pick of salacious buzzword – said project will be and why I should pay attention.
Of course, I don’t blame Kickstarter for the media’s latest darling. Nor do I blame editorial staff for breathlessly trumpeting the latest hotness that catches the eye of the kickstarting masses. And usually I read the story about the newest project, say ‘oh, neat’ and move along.
I say this because I’m going to write about a Kickstarter project and feel somewhat compelled to explain myself.
Yesterday, Ouya was unveiled on Kickstarter. You can see the _x_ money in _y_ time is very impressive. If you didn’t read the details, Ouya is an open gaming console that runs on Android 4.0. All games released on Ouya must have some free element, Ouya will take 30% of the cut, and each console is a software development kit (SDK). The console will be sold for $99.
Like Kickstarter itself, I love the idea behind this but I hardly find myself getting too excited. I hear a lot about how this is going to ‘change everything’ and ‘be so disruptive.’ This quote from Techdirt sums up the general excitement rather nicely:
“We have seen some disruption [in console gaming] over the years, the Wii being a primary one. It showed the gaming world that the graphical arms race of previous console generations was not as important as innovation in the way people play games. Another disruption happened because of Facebook and mobile gaming. These platforms brought with them the proliferation of a free-to-play business model for gaming. The idea that people could play games for free and then pay money later was something never tried since shareware fell out of favor. These little pockets of disruption have shown that there is a market for gaming outside the typical retail console and PC arena.”
I don’t disagree that the Wii and Facebook have proved disruptive to gaming. I do, however, wonder how the two are at all related to the Ouya.
The Wii changed the gaming scene and led the way in console sales because it provided a unique experience that anyone could enjoy. I remember the first time I saw Wii Sports: it looked silly as all get out, but the idea that I could really control what was happening on screen looked easy, fun and engaging. Wash, rinse and repeat with the Kinect. The motion technology – hated as it may be by the gaming community at large – proved to be an engaging way to involve the masses.
Likewise, Zynga found an audience in Facebook by making games that were easy to play while/after catching up with your friends. These games operate more on a social, rather than purely interactive, level and have provided a new channel for developers.
Does the Ouya do either of those things? I don’t see how, at least not yet. The Wii gave mass audiences party games that could be enjoyed with a group of friends and were easy to access. Will the Ouya be able to do this in a way that the Wii or the Kinect doesn’t already? Likewise, will Ouya make games that are easy to play and provide a social element? If so, will these game be any more compelling than the offerings on Facebook?
I don’t see that Ouya offers anything unique that cannot be found on PC, Wii, Kinect or even XBLA. I like the idea that the console thinks developer first, but I wonder if we’ll ever see any real innovation come to the console if the audiences is never there to begin with. Of course I could make a game, sell it on Steam, XBLA and Ouya to make sure I find an audience, but then, why would I bother with an Ouya if I can play the same games on the PC? It’s a catch-22.
Maybe the Ouya will come out of the gate with a dozen must-play games that are cheap, accessible and irresistible. I have a sneaking suspicion, however, Ouya will churn out a couple of charming indie platformers rather than revolutionize the industry.