Why the OUYA is More Than Just a PC

July 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

The first comment on Giant Bomb’s article on the OUYA sums up a great deal of the internet’s reaction to the latest Kickstarter project,“I’m just throwing it out there: this is a terrible idea for a console and the people who have made this succeed are bad people.”Comments like these litter almost every piece of coverage of the story, noteworthy for meeting its crowdsourcing target of $950,000 in just eight hours. At the time of writing, the total amount pledged to support the project stands at a whopping four and a half million. The project has so far proved to be a massive success, which is sometimes easy to forget something considering the sheer volume of negative responses.

The crux of the criticism is that this is nothing new. We’re being reminded that people have been able to connect computers up to their televisions for years. The closed-platform systems (read: the ones with a single company deciding which games can and cannot make it on to the system) haven’t held a monopoly to the television in quite some time. The people who are making these criticisms are wrong. The OUYA is something completely different from a low-powered computer.

For starters the OUYA is going to be cheap. At just $99 the console undercuts every desktop PC, laptop, games console, and even gaming handheld on the market. This is not something that’s going to burn a big hole in your pocket, but then again nor is it going to challenge the computing muscle power of any other system. The OUYA’s Tegra 3 CPU places it firmly with the last generation of consoles in terms of raw power, but as we shall see this doesn’t matter nearly as much as you’d think.

The OUYA would struggle to run your average made-for-PC title then, but thankfully it isn’t, and herein lies the biggest advantage of the ‘little console that could’, standardisation. Standardisation is everything here, and is the trump card every console has to play against the inevitably technically-superior PC. When making a console game, developers know exactly what hardware is going to be used to play it. They can focus all their energies into making a game that runs as well as is possible on a very specific piece of hardware. Awkward questions about people who may have better or worse graphics cards simply don’t apply here, and this is to every developer’s advantage. There is, in other words, a standard of hardware that every developer can count upon.

Not pictured: the controllers d-pad. Could be an issue when Nintendo and Sony hold patents on the only two d-pad designs that actually work.

This is how those six year old consoles underneath our televisions are still able to hold their own against desktop computers, and this is how the OUYA will be able to stand tall in ways other open-platforms cannot.

This may be a small point, but there’s one other crucial way in which the OUYA is different from a PC, and that’s the fact that it’s made to be navigated with a gamepad. If I were to hook a desktop computer up to my television (as indeed I’m planning to do when my budget allows) it is true that I’d have a very capable console-esque machine on my hands, but it wouldn’t be nearly as streamlined.

You boot up your PC. It loads (but it fairness, consoles do this too). You’re at the login screen, you click your username (with a mouse) and type in your password (with a keyboard). Now you’re at your desktop. You navigate to your steam folder, double click on your chosen game, and only now can you pick up your gamepad and start playing.

This is in complete opposition to the console, which has had its entire user-interface designed for a controller. Part of the console experience is being able to navigate from your couch without the need for a keyboard and mouse, and this is something that’s simply not currently possible with a computer. It is, however, with the OUYA, and when you’re pressed for time this sort of streamlining matters.

I’ve spoken before about the delights of a one-console future, and the OUYA is an important step towards this utopian goal. With it we have a standardised system, which appears to be very open on the software front. The next step is open-hardware, and it’s here that the minds behind the console have been muted. They promise that the OUYA will be ‘hacker friendly’, but this is a far cry from what a truly open-platform actually needs, which is the ability for other companies to make a product identical in feature to yours.

Once this happens we’ll have something resembling an economically perfect market, with competing manufacturers producing homogeneous products, driving prices down and quality up. As an example, hypothetically you wouldn’t be forced to buy a failure-prone Xbox 360 from Microsoft, because Panasonic makes an identical console which is far more reliable.

At any rate, even if the OUYA doesn’t bring us a one-console future this doesn’t stop it from being a huge achievement. It is far more than the PC-lite its detractors are labelling it as. It’s cheap, standardised, and streamlined in ways only a console can be, and should really shake up the industry when it releases in early 2013. As I see it, the only problem is that I’m currently unemployed, so if anyone wants to pledge a little on my behalf I’d be very grateful….

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