What the Opened up OUYA Storefront Means For Gaming

Earlier this week, OUYA’s CEO Julie Uhrman announced that the company’s Discover storefront would be opened up for other devices. The idea of writing an extended piece on that was appealing, but seemed a bit like declaring a fire when only a small puff of smoke was visible. In making this decision, they decided that the devices that get the OUYA’s storefront will have a minimum standard of hardware to meet. She compared this to the Kindle setup where you’ve got a program called a Kindle that can work in many devices, as well as the core Kindle devices that are made with that program in mind. The first announced device that will take advantage of this will be the MadCatz MOJO. The formerly $250 microconsole has gotten off to a rocky start despite Mad Catz having an established name in the industry for many years, and with a price drop to $200 and the inclusion of the OUYA’s Discover storefront, it now becomes a more viable console for those dissuaded by poor reviews citing many problems getting Google Play games to run properly.

The move to a more open setup for the Discover store tells me many things. The first is that this will get the OUYA name out there to more people — including those who aren’t willing to spend $100 for OUYA exclusives, but as a bonus thrown in with another purchase, they’ll give it a shot. This issue has come up quite a few times on our podcast, with me being the only OUYA owner on the panel and others just not seeing much value in its original game library. Sure, the system’s only $100, but if you don’t want even one game on it, then it’s not worth $100. However, if there’s a device that you see $200 in value in, and you also get OUYA Discover store access, then you’ll be far more willing to give the game’s library a shot. Making the storefront open to more devices means that its higher-end present-day console exclusives like Saturday Morning RPGSoul Fjord, and Shadow Blade will be able to be enjoyed by more people. By doing that, it also shows that OUYA is quite proud of what higher-quality developers have been able to craft, and that they’re willing to sacrifice some hardware sales in order to make those games available to more people. It also seems like a very clear indication that the company is likely looking to end the lifecycle of the original OUYA hardware and move onto the second incarnation fairly soon.

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The writing has been on the wall for that particular move for a while now — it’s doubtful they’d have sold it for $60 over the holidays if they weren’t looking to phase it out, and things like the white and black double storage with a minimal cost increase show that they’re at least going to eek as much out of it as they can by increasing the overall value to consumers. One great thing about OUYA as a company is they haven’t had their heads stuck up their asses and have been open to change. They got complaints about the backer controllers coming apart in shipping – which that happened to mine, and then fixed that with sturdier magnets. Fans expressed concerns about the buttons getting stuck in the pads, so they fixed that, and then the most recent change to  the controller saw them revamp the analog sticks to be more responsive, have less of a deadzone, and changed the shape to be more comfortable.

Predicting doom is a natural thing for something like this. A couple of years ago, HP took its Touchpad tablet’s WebOS setup open source in an attempt to salvage things after a fire sale price reduction took the $400 tablet down to $100 within months. The open source move didn’t gain much traction, and HP’s tablet market was left for dead until the super-budget Wal-Mart tablet hit last year. With this, you’ve got a case that may appear similar in theory, with the OUYA’s budget-priced hardware not taking off like a rocket or receiving much in the way of critical acclaim. However, things are a bit different here. The company isn’t “ditching” the original OUYA hardware.

The $100 box will still be required to develop games for the OUYA Discover storefront, and is a boon for the devices that run the games because they’ll seemingly all have to be at around the OUYA’s specs at a minimum to run the games, which means that the games should run just as smoothly on other devices as they do on the OUYA itself. This should be a huge help for the MOJO, which despite having more powerful hardware than the OUYA, doesn’t allow development for the hardware. It’s simply a content delivery device for the Google Play, Amazon App, and now OUYA Discover storefronts. Now, the system will at least have some games you can’t get on the Play Store, and existing owners who had to choose between one system or the other can enjoy OUYA games and Google Play Store games that don’t run well if they run at all, on the OUYA.

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The controller will be an interesting issue because while PS3 and 360 pad support is included for many games, the touchpad-specific stuff like scratching a ticket in Saturday Morning RPG will have to be worked around. Fortunately, they could just make a controller mapper to support a wide variety of different controllers within the Storefront software without requiring developers to make it for the games themselves, but the touchpad will be a bit trickier. The MOJO’s CTLR emulates touch screens with a switch, so in theory, that pad should just be able to do that with the toggle and some tinkering to make sure it can be emulated well. While nothing’s been announced regarding this, it’s impossible to imagine that it hasn’t been thought about. At worst, it seems like this could wind up a bit like the Vita TV’s ability to play Vita games. It can do so, but not 100% of the games are playable due to some being optimized to take advantage of everything the Vita’s hardware offered up. That wouldn’t be a perfect setup for the Discover store being opened up, but would give peole access to most of what the OUYA store has, and gives people a reason to get the original hardware to check out any top-level games that might be incompatible.

The OUYA has been a fascinating system since it was first announced on Kickstarter. It led to Android microconsoles being a thing, and gave gamers who always wanted to make a game the chance to do so on a $100 console. While the Android console movement hasn’t exactly taken off like I’d hoped it would when the OUYA was first shown off, if Amazon ever makes one, you’ll see that happen pretty quickly. The Kindle Fire opened the door to more mainstream budget tablets, although that also came about after HP’s Touchpad lowered the initial barrier of entry for those devices. It’s hard to imagine a household not having a tablet but just a few short years ago, they weren’t all that high on the priority list for families. In theory, the OUYA’s $100 price tag should’ve had that same effect for Android microconsoles and perhaps it did  and the movement just didn’t take off for consumers.

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Companies clearly saw that it opened some doors or else there wouldn’t be other Android consoles on the market now, or coming later. I don’t see Android consoles becoming so big that they’re the norm in a household, but it’s easy to see them as a way for lapsed gamers or more casual gaming families who just want to spend a bit of time with a game and move on — kind of like a Facebook game mentality, but with a TV as the centerpiece, to get together and play something as a group for a family night activity. For the cost of a $100 OUYA, or $200 MOJO, they can play some modern-looking stuff that is impressive — like GT Racing 2, the Riptide GP games, or Modern Combat 4 and show off some classic games to their kids to give them an appreciation for what gaming was like “back in the day” through either emulators  or games designed with retro gaming in mind, like Jumpman Forever (available in beta form now on the OUYA) and Maldita Castilla – an easier offering for fans of Ghouls and Ghosts.

The opened up Discover storefront gives the company a way to monetize the OUYA name and its store, effectively giving them a piece of a pie should an Andorid microconsole ever really take off into the stratosphere that isn’t theirs. It’s a smart forward-thinking move that doesn’t completely cannibalize their own hardware should ensure the company’s financial future for a longer period of time. This is an exciting move for the company and Android gaming as a whole because it’s seeing two already-open platforms get even more open, which should give people more reasons to be excited about the possibilities of Android gaming and check out some of what they’ve been missing by viewing every game made for Android as just being cell phone fodder.