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Android OUYA: The Ultimate Guide from Kumulos (Mobile App Backend)

OUYA is currently one of the hottest things in tech news. It’s broken records with the speed it picked up investors on Kickstarter, and as of writing this they have made more than $5.75 million with over 45,000 backers on the crowdfunding site.

For those not in the know, or in case you have been living in a cave and have chosen this moment to return to society, OUYA is a new games console slated for a 2013 release. It will run Android 4.0 (with an SDK being provided with every console), be completely open source and hacking both the software and hardware is encouraged, along with every game it has having some form of free-to-play.

Power wise, it will be running an NVIDIA Tegra 3 (the same one in Google’s new Nexus 7), 1GB of RAM, 8GB of internal flash storage (with a USB 2.0 port for expanding that storage) and the usual Wifi and Ethernet connections; and all for $99.

Since its announcement on Kickstarter, the console has skyrocketed to fame and has also sparked an intense debate as to whether OUYA represents the next step in the console gaming market. A small, affordable package that anyone can develop for and modify, and all based around Android. For developers it has a potential to allow them to create games that they couldn’t otherwise manage on Smartphones or tablets, but without the steep entry costs and requirements of triple A console development.

Here at Kumulos (Backend as a Service) we’re excited about what the future could hold if this console can be what it’s promising, but we’ve seen this kind of thing before, so we thought we’d look at a few pros and cons and see where we end up on OUYA.

OUYA, the cons

1. Fragmentation? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Android is a massive OS in the mobile industry, holding 51% market share across all its iterations, and with its free form and very open development style, it makes sense that OUYA would choose to utilise this. However, by using Android they inherit problems that all Android developers and manufacturers who use the OS have.

Android has a major fragmentation problem which hinders development, and OUYA will only be contributing to this. At the moment 4.0 is a safe bet as it’s a modern version of the OS that people are now more familiar with, but come next year when the console is released, 4.0 will be becoming out-dated as Jelly Bean takes on the mantle of newest Android, and 4.2 will be in the works. Technically, it’s already out-dated as Google’s just released Nexus Tablet runs on Jelly Bean already.

As OUYA ages, unless they’re willing to provide OS updates through their online service, their console will quickly be lagging behind and developers will have to constantly make their apps and games backward compatible if they want to release them across different platforms including OUYA.

This will in turn cause more fragmentation as people use the open console to upgrade their OS on their own.

Which leads us to the touted ability to hack the console itself. People are free to tack on, tinker with and upgrade their console to their heart’s content. It sounds good on paper, but the reality is that what ships as an OUYA console will quickly mutate into hundreds or thousands of different variations of hardware running just as many variants of OS.

As a developer this is a nightmare if you’re targeting that audience; but what about the other way around? What if you take your OUYA and respec it completely to how you like it working, then make a kick-ass game for it? Can you sell it? Probably not. It probably only works on your console, or a small fraction of those out there that have similarly been modded. This could potentially kill many great ideas dead before they ever see the light of day.

2.     Pirates ahoy!

Piracy is already a big problem on Android. For those with the technical know-how, it’s very easy to pirate almost any app or game, and that’s without being handed the inner workings on a platter. The openness of the console will mean that there will be virtually nothing stopping someone going into an app or game’s code and tearing out everything that stops it being useable on any device that can run it.

This is already making a number of developers uneasy, with many deciding to stay on the sidelines rather than jump into the pool. Why invest time and money into making a game for this console when people will just steal it? Without many developers, there won’t be a robust library of games to attract consumers. Without consumers to support the console, it’s a quick slope down the hill to project failure and company bust.

3.   Its market is already full

OUYA is essentially trying to attract the indie and mobile developer crowd to its console. They’re looking to fill a niche that they see as missing from the games market where small developers have an open source platform to create exactly what they want.

Unfortunately they seem to have overlooked the fact that both of these things exist already. PCs have been a solid open, endlessly customisable platform for years, and the strong indie development culture on the platform shows it, with Steam leading the charge for how to make an online distribution platform. You can even play it on your TV, and many people do just this.

Even in the console market, both XBLA and PSN Store have had many great indie games that people could play, with a wide variety of developers under the wing. Games like Limbo and Journey made big waves and are still held up as examples of great indie development.

OUYA wants to target these markets, but they’re already established. And whilst the barriers for entry are higher in places like XBLA, the quality is also kept to a high standard. Android’s own Google Play marketplace, full of shovelware as it is, is a good example of what happens when people are given free reign with no little barrier for entry.

All of these reasons are valid, and are ones that every developer should be paying attention too. They are, however, also incredibly pessimistic and full of doom and gloom.

Change doesn’t happen if people are always scared to try something new; which is why we’re also providing you with three reasons why you as an Android developer should be very excited about OUYA.

OUYA, the pros

1. Nothing like this exists currently

At the moment, the games industry is split firmly down the middle. Consoles are waging triple A war on each other and throwing literally hundreds of millions of dollars into projects right and left whislt PC is sitting smugly aloof with its barrier of entry being having to spend an entire month’s wages on a computer that can run the games.

On the other side there are the indie and mobile developers making lightweight and inexpensive games that also have more creative freedom. That said, these indie games rarely have any real market impact and rarely have the quality sheen that most have come to expect from their more expensive brothers.

OUYA has the potential to slip into the gap between these two areas and provide something of a bridge. It’s more powerful than a smartphone or tablet, is as open source and customisable as a PC but has the accessibility of a console. Development will be easy due to using Android, and you’re not limited in your creativity, but you have a much wider scope for making games that just couldn’t exist in either market.

Cloud gaming company OnLive has also just signed on to the console, meaning that the OUYA will now have access to a library of hundreds of mainstream, triple A titles at launch; vastly improving its initial ability to sell.

OUYA has the potential to carve out an area of gaming all of its own, which makes developing for it potentially the most exciting thing you could get your hands on as an Android developer.

2.   Low cost, low risk

At $99, OUYA will be one of the cheapest pieces of gaming hardware around, something that we don’t think is going to be lost on the consumer base. They are also very clear about wanting to use the Free-to-play model with every game. Whilst this was a little vague at first, the OUYA team have clarified this to mean that every game must have a part that is free to play, whether it’s a demo, the first couple of levels or the whole game.

These days, where games cost up to $60 in America for something you’ve never even played, buying a brand new console for only $33 more and also knowing that you’ll immediately have a roster of free games to try the moment you start it up is something that will not be lost on consumers.

This could mean that OUYA could end up being the “everyman” console. Most homes these days have multiple computers and consoles as it is, all of them costing far more than $99, so adding an OUYA to that list doesn’t seem like much of a stretch, especially if it proves itself to have a semi-decent library. With that in mind, as a developer you could potentially be accessing a very broad market, eager to try out this new technology.

3.   A new breed of console

As we said in the cons, OUYA has a potential to evolve from a single console into a sprawling, multi-armed family tree of offshoots and custom builds. On the one side this could be seen as a problem.

On the other, this could be seen as the birth of a new generation of consoles.

Over the years, many people have used their technical wizardry to create all kinds of amazing things out of existing technology. For example, the guy who turned his old N64 into a handheld, or someone else who put a touchscreen interface onto the side of their 360. In the software world, game mods are what can make or break a game on PC, or bring it into the light from obscurity. Just look at the success of DayZ and how it has rekindled sales for ARMA II, a modestly popular, two year old game that is now one of the top sellers on Steam.

These are the kind of people that OUYA has the potential to inspire to create weird and wonderful things.

We predict that it won’t take very long for OUYA to have a dedicated modding community, not only software but hardware as well. OUYA will give people the ability to create entirely new open source consoles that could kick off an entire trend in the game community. It has the potential to break down the current structures and replace them with a free-form, open source development environment where anyone has a shot at making something special.

Doesn’t that sound like something you’d want to be part of?

Well, we at Kumulos (mobile app backend) will certainly be following this plucky little console closely. The potential pros, we feel, outweigh the nay saying cons at the moment and if you’re an Android developer, you could be looking at your next big thing in the making.

What do you think of OUYA? Good? Bad? Indifferent?

Sound off in the comments!

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