Up until now, multi-billion dollar electronics companies like Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft have dominated the video game industry. With the help of hundred-person video game studios and massive marketing campaigns, they’ve been consistently successful at producing high-end, $300 gaming consoles along with libraries of $60 games with killer graphics. All so you can sit in your living room and zone out, tethered to your virtual battle ground or utopia or whatever, while tethered to your television with a controller.
This was how things were done before the birth of the smartphone, which took gaming out of the living room and into your pocket. More dramatically, the new era of touchscreen entertainment took game-buying out of your local Wal-Mart’s electronics section and into the App Store, where suddenly mom and pop operations were charging 99 cents for games and no consoles were necessary.
There’s a new start-up raising money on Kickstarter that wants to bridge the gap between those two worlds. Ouya is raising money for an eponymous, $99 console that’s built to bring gaming back to the living room and game development to a new open source community. Designed by the guy behind Jawbone’s Jambox, the Ouya console is built on the Android platform and features a Tegra 3 quad-core processor, 1GB of RAM, 8GB of flash memory and a 1080i HDMI connection. The controller looks a lot like the one that comes with the XBox except it comes with a touchscreen for playing mobile games on the big screen. The hardware even comes with standard screws so that you can open up the case and tinker with the guys.
The real innovation will come once people get their hands on the Ouya, though. Instead of leaning on major game studios to develop titles, Ouya’s creators are borrowing from the mobile game development model that welcomes small shops to build the games on an open source model. Developers will be required to provide free trial versions of the game and will give 30 percent of their revenue back to Ouya. “It’s very ambitious — it’s hardware, it’s software, it’s building an ecosystem,” says founder Julie Uhrman. “We are trying to leverage all that is great — free to play, openness, touch screen, bringing what is familiar to TV — and we want to wrap it up in this great bow — affordability and game-ability for gamers and developers alike.”
One can’t help but wonder if the open source community is up to the task of building an entire library of games for a new console. Like we mentioned before, games for systems like the Playstation and the Xbox come from established gaming studios with huge franchises and massive budgets. And while the model’s worked for mobile gaming, there’s a case to be made that console-based games bear a complexity that might not grow out of an open source process. Furthermore, Apple might just sneak in and beat them to the punch by bringing their App Store games to the TV with a rumored update to their Apple TV hardware.
People seem into the idea, nevertheless. Ouya’s just-launched Kickstarter campaign has a goal of $950,000 to raise money for manufacturing and development. So far, it seems to be pulling in about a grand a minute.
Update: Ouya may have set a new Kickstarter record: a million dollars in a day.*