Early Ouya Reviews Trickle In And They’re Not Pretty

Early Ouya Reviews Trickle In And They’re Not Pretty

Early reviews for the upcoming Android-based video game console have been scathing.

I’ve been a long-time, unabashed skeptic when it comes to the Ouya console, a $99 Android-based system that promises to bring those games you know and love from your smartphone to your TV.

After reading The Verge’s Ouya review, many of my concerns appear to be justified. The publication gives the system a 3.5 out of 10, writing:

For $99, everyone who backed Ouya’s Kickstarter has unwittingly signed up to beta-test a game console. Alpha-test, even: this is a product with some good ideas and a potentially promising future, but it’s a million miles away from something worth spending your money on. Even if the concept is right, the Ouya misses the mark. The controller needs work, the interface is a mess, and have I mentioned there’s really nothing to do with the thing? I’m not even sure the concept is right, either: there are plenty of fun Android games, but currently few that work well with a controller and even fewer that look good on your television. Let’s say everything goes exactly right for Ouya. Every good game in the Play Store becomes available to Ouya, Netflix and Amazon decide to play nice with the device, and the ROM and hacker community explode and make every app and many more available to the nascent platform. Then and only then, Ouya can be viable — if it can combine a decent set-top box with a decent gaming platform, it may have a case to make for your $99. But those are a lot of cards that have to fall a particular way, and without them the Ouya is a lot more like a Raspberry Pi than an Xbox 360.

Ouch. Kickstarter backers didn’t just help fund the Ouya, they’ve been the major hype generators for the system.

Unless the Ouya can be patched up quickly, we may see quite a few upset backers in the coming months.

Ouya has responded, noting that: ”We will be making Ouya review units available in early to mid-May so that you are able to review the more complete consumer experience and prepare your coverage in time for the June 4th retail launch. To clarify for you–Ouya has sent no review units out to press. Any reviews you have seen online are a result from individuals who received early backer units from supporting our Kickstarter.”

Defenders of the Ouya responding to The Verge review point out that a “microconsole” shouldn’t be compared to the Xbox 360 or PS3 (or their next-gen counterparts.) After all, a microconsole is cheap and can be upgraded more frequently—like a smartphone.

To that I’d simply point out that if you upgrade your microconsole frequently you will, in fact, be spending closer to the amount you might spend on a traditional console. You could also purchase a Wii or a PS2 for around $100 with each console already boasting countless games.

Of course, I also find myself a bit nervous about the whole “Ouya as disruptive technology” message. (I’m a skeptic of most ‘disruptive technology’ messages, though I’m aware such tech does rear its fearsome head from time to time.)

For one thing, it’s not as easy to disrupt an industry as people seem to think. Maybe we all just like to watch things get disrupted, and place our hopes in fancy new tech. We see this sort of wishful thinking take place not just with the Ouya but with the Steam Box, the nVdia Shield, and really just about any other new and exciting piece of hardware. But not every piece of hardware can be the iPhone.

Likewise, the app model of gaming, replete with gem-stores and micro-transactions, is not a vision of the future of gaming I find terribly optimistic. It’s fine for your phone, I suppose, but I’m a bit more protective of my TV gaming.

The Ouya won’t just offer free-to-play games, of course, but also free demos and various other models. It will be a system where revenue experimentation can occur, and that may be one of its silver linings.

What this says about Kickstarter, however, is perhaps more important.

The crowdfunding platform obviously has its merits, and many great games are currently being made thanks to the site. Some of those games may not have ever been made, and with a new Torment game in the works, and countless other old-school RPGs coming down the pipeline, I’ve certainly come to realize how much potential Kickstarter has.

But it also presents a dubious dynamic between backers and producers.

Is the Ouya being rushed out the gates to please the people who pledged during the Kickstarter? Will backers be left with a half-finished product while work on the next Ouya release takes place? The Verge reviewed a “pre-review” unit, so that’s important to note, but one wonders how many improvements can be made between now and the June release.

If content is the real problem, how much will that change in two months?

Then again, I’ve been a skeptic for some time, and I’m well aware of the nefarious power of confirmation bias.

Read the entire Verge review here. Other sites reviewing the system appear to agree. Read Ouya creator Julie Uhrman’s post on the coming improvements to the system here. If you’ve received a unit, feel free to chime in down below and tell us what you think.

Follow me on Twitter or FacebookRead my Forbes blog here.

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