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OUYA Launch: Lots of People Buying the Console, No One Buying the Games

ouya console and controls

Back when I first heard about the OUYA it was in an article linking to the Kickstarter proclaiming the virtues of having a small and flexible console which could support free development on the Android platform – basically turning any gamer into a games developer whenever he wanted, without the tricky rigmarole of getting published on a big system like Xbox or PlayStation.

Of course most of this was the marketing hype designed to make the system sound smart and flashy, in reality it was basically a cheap box which let you download any existing Android games (like the ones you play on your smartphone) and play them directly on the TV with a console-style controller.

I have to say, I was sceptical from day one.

Firstly, if you really are interested in developing games and self-publishing – you can probably do so with far more ease by just using your PC. Steam had a great indie section and I can’t help but feel if you work at it you can probably find a much bigger audience simply by being on the PC platform than by building your tech for a small Android console which has no guarantees for audience or success.

Secondly, people don’t necessarily like the games they play on their mobile due to quality – they like them due to accessibility. I don’t really want to spend my nights playing Plants Vs. Zombies (or the Android equivalent) when I could be playing something like The Last of Us – I play that game because when I’m on the bus on the way home from work, I’m a captive audience to the titles I can get on my phone and so I make do with what I’ve got.

Nevertheless I’ve been following the news of the OUYA up to its launch about a month ago, interested to see exactly what kind of audience this little system could generate.

And it turns out the audience they managed to generate is one that doesn’t enjoy buying games they could play for free, or buying any kind of paid games at all.

A recent report has shown that 72% of the people who own an OUYA are yet to spend a single cent on games – and that 13 of Ouya’s 20 most popular games have only seen an average of 8% of gamers upgrading from free or light version to the full version of the game.

So where are gamers spending their time on the console? Well setting aside those who bought the console, turned it on and then never touched it again (which is apparently a vocal minority online, leading critics to describe the OUYA launch as lukewarm if not a complete failure) and discounting the people who do just play lite or free versions of games – there is one other activity which is no doubt contributing to the extremely low game sales.

People playing ROMs.

That’s right, it turns out this “easy to develop” Android console was the perfect way to pirate all your favourite games from the consoles of old via emulators and play them using a modern controller directly on your TV. No need to buy subpar mobile games or suffer through free version, enjoy all the quality retro gaming you want for free by just pirating all the great games of old.

Murky legality of this aside (it is illegal, but how much is OUYA to blame here?) it’s safe to say that this launch hasn’t exactly gone as planned for the OUYA development team, even if they have kept a stiff upper lip in public announcements so far.

Will the OUYA be able to carve out its own niche in the bitter console war between Microsoft and Sony (and occasionally Nintendo)? And, more importantly, will they find a way to get gamers to start spending money on their console?

At this point I don’t really see how, which seems like a shame for all of the people who had their hopes riding on this little indie console.

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