Apple, Google and Microsoft are all gunning to take control of the living room.But now there’s a new startup called OUYA that could give all three of them a run for their money.
OUYA is a $99 Android-powered box that’s open to any developer for hacking. That means you can crack it open and play with the hardware and develop any kind of Android application for a television.
OUYA is starting as a Kickstarter project, looking to raise nearly $1 million to get it off the ground. Any extra money goes toward helping developers create games for the platform.
Given how open the platform is, it’s sure to be a hit with developers who are always very appreciative when they find new hardware and software they can muck around with and turn into their own.
For example, when the Xbox 360’s Kinect motion controller first came out, there were a bunch of hacks for it — though Microsoft didn’t endorse them.
By embracing the hacker community, OUYA is making a strong, alternative play to the rest of the devices gunning for control of the living room. And with good developers come good apps and good hardware — and a better end-user experience.
In addition to running Android applications, OUYA is going to carry a ton of games that you can play for free. Developers, by default, have to make part of their games free to play.
We caught up with Julie Uhrman, CEO of OUYA, to find out just what’s happening with the device. Here’s what we found out:
- It’s built on Android, so it won’t just be a gaming console. OUYA is starting with games, because that’s typically been a good selling point — like for the Xbox 360.
- You can crack open the hardware. OUYA encourages its developers to add new hardware and mess around with it, and they’re considering releasing the hardware design specifications.
- It looks great, and it’s only $99. The design is done by Yves Behar, a designer picked by PayPal and Jawbone to produce great-looking products. It’s about the cost of an Xbox 360 console on contract, but it’s completely open.
Here’s a lightly-edited transcript of the interview:
BUSINESS INSIDER: What is OUYA?
Julie Uhrman: It’s a new game console, specifically for the TV that we think is really going to disrupt the market. We’re bringing the openness of mobile internet platforms to console gaming. It’s inexpensive, the games will be free to try, whether it’s a level or demo or some amount of time. Developers can monetise the consumer any way they want — it can be micro transactions, a demo, it can be a paid app, or a $60 app. Our only requirement is some aspect has to be free to try. Any developer that wants to build a tv game can do so.
We’re working with Yves Behar to build the project. It’s gonna be beautiful, and we’re putting a ton of attention on the controller and the rest of the design. We’re all sort of feeling that the console industry has experienced a brain drain as gamers and developers are switching from console to mobile. The hardware is too expensive, nothing was announced at E3. All the creative and innovative games are coming from tablets, that’s where developers are going. We believe tv provides the best experience, it shouldn’t have to be this way. We want to bring games back to the living room. The greatest amount of dollars are being spent there. Some of the guys that have fled developing for mobile will come back.
BI: How are the games distributed?JU: The games are going to be downloaded onto our console, but it is digital distribution to the extent that there’s no disk drive.
BI: Do you expect this to just be a game console, or a media hub like the Xbox 360?
JU: We think the largest quantity of boxes in the living room are game consoles. The reason we’re starting with games is because that’s the reason to buy. All the other types of content you can get from another number of sources, including your DVR. One of the reasons we built this on top of android is that any application that’s built off android would be able to use our box. Could Netflix be on this? Absolutely. The focus is games because the box needs to have a reason for someone to buy it, and that’s having a great gaming experience. But as far as all types of content, that’s based on Android. We’re having those conversations right now and we’re starting with developers.
BI: What are some of the technical specs?
JU: You’re looking at a quad-core CPU, a Tegra 3 GPU, a minimum of 8GB of flash memory and 1GB RAM minimum. We’re not streaming games like OnLive — it doesn’t mean we couldn’t support an application like OnLive, but the way this will function is a downloaded experience. We really believe we will have games that span all genres, role playing games to platforms. In addition to having your standard analogue stick and directional pad on the controller, we’re including a touchpad because that will bring anything that develops a gesture-controlled game to build on that. It allows gamers to build new types of games, how they can use the standard control functions and the inclusion of a touchpad, because we believe the controller is so critical to the experience. We want to make sure it has fast buttons and accurate sticks, it has substantial weight and feels really good in your hands.
BI: Can developers add any kind of hardware to the device? JU: There are a couple things — the way the box is being built is, it will have Bluetooth capabilities so you can tether any additional peripherals. If you want to use your phone as a controller, we will allow that. We’ll have a USB port to build additional peripherals. We’ve really embraced the idea of openness in all aspects, we’ve embraced Android for game developers to make it easy, seamless, financially less burdened. We’ve embraced openness from the hacker community, meaning when you think about the console and controller, we will have standard screws in them. You can open them up, boost the chips, add additional power, add additional devices. The circuit board will have documented test points, and if people are interested we’ll publish the hardware design. Every console is a debug console, so you can root it without breaking your warranty. It’s kind of funny — for the same price of becoming an iOS developer, we’ll give you a console and you get the software development kit for free. When you get OUYA, you have all the tools necessary to build great games.
We invite experimentation. We want you to make it yours. The game industry, we believe, is increasingly entrenched in the business of running the business. There was a lot of talk around E3 that consoles are dead. We don’t think consoles are dead, we just think it’s time to rethink the business. It shouldn’t be that difficult. We’re trying to give a solution that allows anybody to be creative, anybody to be a developer, and a gamer to try every game.
BI: So this is running on Kickstarter?
JU: Yeah, we have a lot to do. It’s gonna be one of the largest Kickstarter apps ever, between $800,000 and $1 million. The idea is that we went the traditional route, hardware products are difficult to get funded. What we’ve seen with Kickstarter, it’s a phenomenal opportunity to get something off the ground. We really believe this is the people’s console, we wanted to take it to Kickstarter so we could get their support and feedback as early as possible. The money will take us to production units, it will allow us to get the top developers, give us the ability to fund game development. If we blow through our goal, we want to help developers get access to our platform. When consoles originally launched, they had to build custom chips. We don’t have to do that. Everything we need to build a great new console is available.
BI: Given that the Xbox 360 just had a price drop, do you think $99 is compelling enough?
JU: Price is incredibly important, especially when it comes to gamers. In reality, it’s the last year of the cycle of the game consoles — they’ll launch something next year. When you think about what they’ll provide, they are adding more features and functionality. We think that our price will continue to decline because we make money off the software. Plus the other consoles, they are closed. This is open, we believe people will want to experiment and it’s just much more accessible. It’s easier now that it was in the ’80s to be an independent developer working at home. The challenge is managing those processes and working with each of these platforms.