The OUYA Kickstarter I blogged about yesterday has been a runaway success and has now crossed over $4,000,000. I expressed some concerns in that post about how they’ve confused their message but since then, a larger group of critics have come out with counterpoints. The best written and most comprehensive of these so far is this report that Ben Kuchera did over at Penny Arcade Report. I think he makes a few points that are worth considering if you’re still on the fence about whether this is worth chipping into or not. However, I don’t agree with everything he’s written and I do think his position as a pretty unabashed Apple nut is colouring his statements a bit.
First, let’s talk about where he’s very much right. One of the negatives I addressed in my last post was on how they’ve done a poor job creating a message for this and on that, he appears to agree. They quote several well known indie developers as supporting the system but none of them have yet to announce any projects for the OUYA, including some of those in the pitch video like Brian Fargo. He has said that right now, they have no plans to bring their own Kickstarted project Wasteland 2 to OUYA. Though to be fair, they have never announced support for anything but the PC yet. They also misuse the term “free-to-play” by including things like demos under that moniker which I think we’d all agree is misleading at best. These things need clarification and fast.
He’s also correct in his statement that Android developers aren’t going to put extra time and money into making versions of their games that work with a controller unless this thing gets a good install base. However, being a new product and a new idea, this is always going to be the case. Android never would have become a thing at all if everyone assumed it would fail because it had no developer support out of the gate. This is a new concept and it’s the job of OUYA’s creators to sell it and create that install base. Maybe they’ll succeed, maybe they won’t but trying something new to see if it catches on is the whole point of entrepreneurship. Focusing on only guaranteed ideas is why the AAA industry is such a mess right now.
Where he makes what I believe are unfair leaps are in his criticisms that because this is an Android powered platform where hacking is being encouraged, that it will somehow automatically become a bastion for piracy and will scare developers away. Sure, piracy is a problem on Android. Guess what? It’s a problem everywhere else too. If you jailbreak an iPhone, you can put pirated content on it. Apple and their fanbase don’t like to talk about it but lots of people do that. All the current home consoles have easy piracy vectors available to them as well. The most current dedicated handhelds don’t but that’s probably only because neither has been a sales blockbuster yet. And obviously, there has always been rampant PC piracy. You make any platform that’s popular and scumbag thieves will find a way to break it open and give themselves free stuff they don’t deserve. By making OUYA hackable, its creators are acknowledging this and embracing it, even encouraging people to do new and interesting things with their box. They know that they will have to find a way to keep people out of their “official” ecosystem if they hack the box and I’m sure that’s in the works. Nearly every mobile app and game release now is coming out on both iOS and Android simultaneously so developers don’t seem to be scared away by the platform’s apparently rampant piracy problem. Why will they suddenly be scared by it on OUYA which is arguably just another Android entry point, one that also doesn’t tie people to a single point of purchase like Apple?
He also quotes indie developer Robert Boyd of Zeboyd Games who says one of the big problems with open platforms like Android is that the market quickly becomes flooded with ripoffs and garbage that diminish chances for indie success. This is another thing that’s as big if not a bigger problem on the supposedly curated Apple App Store but somehow that doesn’t count I guess? It’s also something that hasn’t stopped a huge flood of new indie titles on the PC side of things, a platform that was considered the “wild west” for years and on which many indies (including himself) have met with huge success. What makes Android somehow different then all these other platforms?
What I really don’t like about his report is how it purports that this is selling a dream instead of a reality and the ridiculous comparisons he also makes to the Phantom console, a device that I will say again, was a scam run by a known scammer instead of having people behind it who have shipped real things. If you are developing something and already have it at a shippable state, then you were already able to fund it and Kickstarter isn’t necessary. The way Kickstarter works (and they’re very clear about this) is that pitching in to projects is no guarantee that anything will end up being made. Of course you’re buying into a dream and not reality because Kickstarting it is how you make it a reality! Last I checked, the Pebble watch, Wasteland 2 and Double Fine Adventure aren’t any kind of reality either. I mean, does this really need to be clarified at this point? I don’t know if Kuchera fully understands the purpose of Kickstarter when he makes statements like that, especially given how many other projects he’s promoted.
From what I’ve read of Kuchera’s work (which I generally like very much), he’s tends to be dismissive of any mobile initiatives that aren’t iOS and I think that comes through in his story. I don’t think there’s cause to be as down on the project as he is and all but outright calling it a scam at this stage with no real evidence is uncalled for. I’m nevertheless writing this and linking to it because he does make salient points and explains them better than I could have. The great thing about Kickstarter is that anyone who contributes can change or remove their contribution until the project’s funding deadline. I’m keeping my $95 buy-in for now but I do hope that OUYA’s creators will come out to clarify some of the ambiguous statements in their marketing and based on the campaign’s incredible success so far, will be able to get some known indie developers to commit to releasing on the platform. I think that will allay many of the fears and doubts currently out there. If they can’t pull that off with $4,000,000 laid down and rising, I will probably consider removing my pre-order and waiting until I see something real. I don’t blame anyone for laying out counterpoints, nor do I blame anyone who would rather hold off until seeing if OUYA actually comes to market or not. I will say that some of what I’ve read has given me pause though and I feel it’s important everyone is informed about this as it has the potential to be great but could also be a legendary bomb if not handled very carefully.
Clearly a lot of people don’t agree with the sceptics but the downside of a Kickstarter being this successful is that all eyes are now on it and OUYA’s creators will have to work extra hard to ensure questions are answered and concerns are addressed. How they handle the next month is going to be a big factor in determining if I stay in and I bet a large number of current and potential contributors also feel the same way. They’re asking for a lot of money though and I feel it’s important people know what they’re getting into. If you haven’t yet decided, I encourage you to read my initial blog post as well as Kuchera’s story and be as informed as you can be. Any Kickstarter you pitch in to is a roll of the dice but the great thing about this type of funding is that it’s democratised by people only choosing to contribute if they believe in it. Since the plan is to sell OUYA at retail, anyone who wants to can opt to not contribute and pick one up when it goes on sale. If you’re sceptical, there’s nothing wrong with that and I’d say you should hold onto your money in that case. I do think Kuchera seems rather determined to write this off as a failure before it’s even started and that some of his reasons are not solid. Now that they’re out there though, the real test for OUYA’s creators will be countering them with good answers. Get to it guys.