Some doubt OUYA but I'm staying in for now

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.

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10 Responses to Some doubt OUYA but I'm staying in for now

  1. It’s easy to be a skeptic. But what’s he’s missing is that Ouya is more of a cause than a device.

  2. NomadTF says:

    I don’t think comparing this to the Phantom isn’t all that off, as it was admittedly my first thought. But this already feels legitimate whereas the Phantom sounded like a maniac’s pipedream and one that nobody believed in. But this headspace tech and entertainment people are in where they swear that ONLY iOS is a worthy thing to develop for has got to stop, it is idiotic. I may be a skeptic about the Ouya, but I really hope it kicks some ass and gets some real innovation going out there.

    • There are undoubtedly questions here. We know some about the marketing and design people are but little about the leadership team and what if any other funding they have. It’s fair point to question that but yeah, it’s very easy to tell how this is different from the Phantom and the well known people from the team have enough clout that they likely wouldn’t associate themselves with this project if they didn’t think it had merit.

      • Ulairi says:

        The Phantom had someone who launched the Xbox behind it. But, you’re right, it is a different situation with the Phantom they announced who their VC partners were and how much money they raised. In this situation we know even LESS but they are taking money from non-qualified people on hopes and dreams. I don’t feel back if some VC guy loses money on something like the Phantom or this. They are supposed to know better. I do feel bad when companies take advantage of regular people and play on their emotions. It is not good. I won’t say it’s a scam but it isn’t honest and it should see a lot of criticism and skepticism from the media instead we get them being complicit with the whole thing.
        The fact that EVERY tech blog, game blog, and everything haven’t been asking these very same questions and demanding answers is a shame. This is going to blow up big. I have a very good understanding of the cost of production in China and the money required to do so. I am holding my fire until we get more information but if the information doesn’t come, I’ll unload on GWJ and hope you cancel to get your money back. I want to get them the benefit of the doubt but I still do not believe that this product will come to market

        • Phantom announced their investors and how much money they raised? I never read anything about that. Not saying you’re wrong and they obviously got some money but from what I read, they got a few small time clueless investors on board but bigger VCs wouldn’t touch them which was a big part of the reason they didn’t keep the charade going longer. There are other Kickstarter projects (such as Serellan’s Takedown game) where the creator (a guy who was also a relative unknown) said that had investment dollars waiting to active if the project got funded. I didn’t see anyone questioning him at the time and his situation was no different. Successful gaming businesspeople like Brian Fargo are also supporting this project actively. They’re not stupid and don’t lend their voice to scams, especially not after just getting funded on Kickstarter themselves.
          I really don’t follow the argument on how they’re “playing with people’s emotions” here. Nothing in their pitch does that or even attempts it. I pitched in because I thought the idea was cool and something that should be tried, not because I felt some personal connection to the project or a deep philosophical reason behind why this needs to happen or some such.
          Again, the OUYA creators do have questions to answer and they have a month left to do so. People can take their money out of the Kickstarter any time before it’s funded and if some of the questions Kuchera and others are asking don’t receive answers that are satisfactory to me, I will probably withdraw my pledge and take a more wait-and-see approach with this. I simply don’t believe there is any evidence to strongly support your assertion that this is going to melt down. I can’t remember where but I’ve also seen a breakdown of what this likely costs to make and that breakdown said that even at the top end of the scale of what these components cost, they could still make a profit on this thing, even though it would be slim initially.
          If you don’t think this product will come to market, that’s a perfectly fine view to hold. I have not been convinced of that yet and while I think it’s very fair to ask questions as Kuchera did, I think assuming this project is guilty until proven innocent when he enthusiastically backed other projects that come with the same inherent Kickstarter risks is unfair. I’ll be the first to admit I was wrong if this starts to appear scammy and will post here if the situation changes in such a way that I think means people should take their money and run. I will give OUYA a chance to respond to Kuchera’s accusations.

  3. Kenny says:

    The Phantom was in production by a publicly traded company. There were required to make filings that had the information available and they went through multiple rounds of funding. Brian Fargo is actively supporting this product? How? I read his comment on the Kickstarter page but he has no plans for games releasing on it. Also, the fact that they mislead people when it came to Minecraft means that we should be even more skeptical about this whole thing.
    I don’t like playing “I’m an expert” but my first job out of college was looking at the manufacturers of technology products for GS. I am very well versed in how the process works. I don’t want to come off too strongly because we know so little that it could be on the up and up but the information isn’t there and journalist owe it to people to find out the information. The fact that only one guy is speaks to the quality of games journalism and not kickstarter.
    I think our difference is that you haven’t seen any reason not to believe them and I haven’t seen any reason TO believe them. I think that the fact that this information isn’t already out there is not a good sign.

    • I thought Infinium Labs went public after their previous investment money ran out in order to try to keep things going. That’s what I read somewhere but maybe it was mistaken. Fargo has been promoting this a fair bit on Twitter. He believes in the idea but obviously, I don’t know how much he knows about the company’s operations and I don’t know if he has any investment in it or not. And again, there are other Kickstarters that have operated in the same way as this one (i.e. fund us here and we’ll get more investment) and others like the Pebble Watch (previously the most successful project ever) that also had nothing more than a prototype. What makes this one different from those?
      I’m not questioning whether you know how the manufacturing process works, you may very well do. I was just putting it out there that someone else who thought it could be done. However, if I Google “OUYA manufacturing costs”, I do see other people who share your scepticism about the viability of that. Some are hacks whose opinions I couldn’t care less about but others are potentially more credible. Yet again, I will pull my money out if they aren’t able to provide decent answers to the questions that have been asked. But jeez, they have a month until the thing funds and it’s only been two days. A little time for them to respond isn’t out of line is it?

      • Kenny says:

        I replied on GWJ with a link about the millions Phantom raised from VC.
        I think when you are raising money from people who are not qualified investors that we owe it to be skeptical and dicks. We owe it to ask these tough questions and give them a tough time until the information comes out. I don’t want people to get screwed and I don’t want Kickstarter to get hurt because I enjoy kickstarting projects that I want (oger, deadlands, etc)

        • I agree people should be sceptical. The price of Kickstarter is eternal vigilance. I don’t think people need to be dicks without cause to be and I don’t think they’ve given cause for that yet. If they refuse to answer the questions or provide wishy-washy “PR answers”, then yes, people should become more hostile and I’ll be among them.

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