With the public release of the Ouya console looming, Android is being pulled into a new market. Funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $8.5 million, the console marks a new breed of gaming machine based on open-source technology. Set for release in June 2013, the console will launch with access to the OnLive Game Service and a library of more than 100 games made specifically for the platform.
With the Ouya running on a modified variant of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, the console makers have decided to make their gaming platform equally modder-friendly. They’ve even offered unlocked and rooted units to a select tier of Kickstarter backers. This openness to user tinkering is in contrast to the locked-down ecosystems present in the current big three consoles. This freedom allows any Ouya owner to be both a developer and a gamer, no extra licensing fees or hardware required.
This open approach to software and gaming has been an Android standard since the G1 phone. While these freedoms offer unique benefits that many gamers long for, there are potential downsides. The plague of piracy can often be a problem for open platforms. Evidence of this phenomenon is seen with Android smartphones, where a plethora of online warehouses hold cracked versions of virtually every app.
That’s not to say the green robot can’t thrive in the game console market. The Ouya creators are already taking an anti-piracy cue from Android’s app store by mandating that every game have some form of free component like a demo, free-to-play option or optional in-app purchases.
Piracy aside, Ouya is a wonderful idea backed by sophisticated hardware implementation and an Android platform holding mammoth market share. The potential of tapping into an Android library already housing hundreds of thousands of apps is a smart move that grants an immediate advantage over existing consoles. That same advantage, however, could also prove to be the system’s greatest limitation.
Those of you who own an Android phone know the frustrations with outdated hardware and software. A recent article by VentureBeat discusses benchmarks of the Ouya console which already show it falling behind the breakneck pace of Android development. The console’s creators will have to prove to customers that they can keep Ouya’s software relevant enough to play the latest games or risk slipping into the obsolete.
If all goes as planned, the Ouya platform could be the perfect marriage of gaming and open-source technology. The product marks a bold new horizon for the Android operating system, one which will no doubt reveal new insights into the expanding utility of Google’s mobile software.