Why the OUYA Storefront Coming to Tablets in 2014 Could Change the Game

Digital Spy broke some interesting news earlier – the OUYA storefront will be available to install on tablets, hopefully within the next six months. After the announcement of the OUYA’s Discover store coming to the Mad Catz MOJO device earlier this year, such a move seems rather logical. They’re clearly trying to grow the OUYA brand’s awareness with moves like this, which leads to some predicting doom and others like myself looking at it from a different perspective. The OUYA Everywhere name alone made it clear that the MOJO wasn’t the only hardware they were targeting, although that move was a great one for both sides since it allows the OUYA name to expand to those who just want the MOJO, while giving that platform a shot in the arm after so many iffy reviews have come in from owners concerned about controller compatibility.

The shift to tablets is a smart one since many people have a tablet and a controller, and have avoided buying an OUYA for exactly that reason. After all, if you’ve spend $250+ between a higher-end tablet and a controller, the idea of spending $100 on something less powerful doesn’t really make logical sense. Fortunately, with everything presently on the storefront being free to try, that means that people will be able to get more for their money. Say you’ve got a reasonably high-powered tablet – something with a Tegra 4 in it since while the OUYA is on a T3, it’s also only doing gaming, so we’ll just presume with no actual hardware specs to point to, that it will be the minimum to run the Discover storefront. With $200 presently for the linked T4 tablet, you’re looking at getting far more for your money there thanks to being able to try out so many games for free. The same goes for playing Discover store games via the Mad Catz MOJO. In each case, you’ve got a higher cost of entry than the OUYA console to gain access to the OUYA storefront, but you’ll be able to do more with it than a base OUYA, so there’s a bit of a trade-off.

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One thing that sprang to mind fairly quickly was the thought of the OS becoming useable on a PC, or perhaps even on a Steam Machine. Either move would make sense and extend the reach of the OUYA brand, with the Steam Machine model being perhaps the most radical and the best way to make headway with the name. Right now, Android micro-consoles are shoved in the corner of Gamestop and next to old toys at Target — they aren’t a huge part of the industry and they may never become one. However, by having something that anyone can download and use to play great games, that just happen to run using Android, things change. OUYA as a company can go from having to rely on the console to gain traction to then allowing the hardware to do its thing sales-wise, but focus on the software side of things until gaming hardware as a whole straightens out a bit. Right now, even Nintendo is struggling to gain traction in the console race — and they’d been a driving force in the industry for more than a quarter century.

OUYA is showing that they’re willing to change with the times rapidly, and that does mean upsetting some people holding them to the letter of a Kickstarter pitch made two years ago. The free to try model won’t be mandatory and the Discover store will be available elsewhere, resulting in people fuming about it because they felt betrayed. Why? Because times changed. Statements made in 2012 were held onto as long as possible, and a lot of realities had to be dealt with that the company wasn’t quite ready for then that they later adapted to swiftly. The initial controller’s faceplates popped up, and the company still made changes to them despite being a startup and being able to use an excuse like “oh we’re new, sorry”. They went with actions rather than words and fixed that problem. People didn’t like the sticks, so they changed those around too. The metal casing led to wi-fi issues, so with LE versions, they’ve changed the casing to plastic to remedy that issue. The company has shown that they are willing to listen and change things to best serve their fanbase as a whole.

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Gaming hardware is in a state of flux and that’s only going to get more pronounced as Steam Machines hit the market. Now it’s easy to imagine those hurting PC sales more than gaming consoles, but realistically, they’re being marketed to folks who want high-end PC games, and doesn’t want to have to tinker with customizing a setup themselves and would like something they can show off in the living room. With a Steam Machine, a $700 investment can get you something that looks good in a living room and plays a ton of brand-new games at better-than-console levels with the ability to save a ton of money over the long-haul. However, their pricing is still so high that it’s a major purchase regardless of which kind you want to get – a $500 expense on the low end is still something you need to consider.

By keeping the existing, slightly-outdated hardware around and still putting the storefront on other devices, the company is doing its best to future-proof the brand in case the hardware side of things goes south. Right now, things seem to be doing reasonably well. Initially, the plan was to release new hardware every year. Again, that’s something said in 2012 that made sense then, and doesn’t quite make sense now. The good thing is that the company isn’t just stubbornly doing so because they said they’d do it before – they’re wisely waiting to see where things shake out before spending a ton of money on new hardware. Depending on how well the Discover store runs on other devices, there may never be a need to actually release new hardware under the OUYA brand anyway. Why do that when you can have another company take on that burden and just reap the benefits of its install base?

Going back to Nintendo, they’re in that kind of boat now with the Wii U. The idea of playing Nintendo games on a console is very appealing, but the idea of doing it on the Wii U isn’t so hot right now. As someone who loves the few Wii U games he has, the biggest hurdle for it has been the hardware – namely the Gamepad. Sure, it’s comfortable, but it’s nearly the size of the system and the battery is a joke. Any benefits with the tablet/controller hybrid are negated by having to be tethered to a wall socket to ensure it won’t die during an extended play session. I would much rather having the ability to play the games on my PS4 and just use a regular controller. Between the Wii U’s issues and people begging for their back catalog on mobile devices, it’s clear that Nintendo is being dragged kicking and screaming into the future while OUYA is on far less stable ground, but is playing things much safer over the long haul.

One very interesting thing would be if the OUYA storefront was to hit the Xbox One or PS4. Now, that may seem insane, but we’re already at a point where fairly high-end Android games can be emulated on a PC via BlueStacks, so it’s easy to imagine something similar with OUYA. Neither the PS4 or Xbox One run Android, but it seems likely that it could be emulated. However, given the inclusion of emulators on the storefront, this a very unlikely scenario right now. It’s far more realistic to picture it coming to PCs and tablets, similar to OnLive’s execution, but in reverse since that hit tablets fairly late in the game. Right now, tablet gamers are craving bite-sized experiences that play really well with a controller, and the OUYA’s lineup of things that aren’t on tablets like Soul Fjord and LAZA KNITEZ fits that bill perfectly.

As someone who backed the OUYA’s Kickstarter, I love the idea of the system’s core ideals coming to other platforms. The company wanted to encourage people to develop games that stood out, and with stuff like Wrecking Balls Arena, Soul Fjord, LAZA Knitez, That Dragon, Cancer, and Thralled, it’s doing just that. While the last two haven’t been released yet, the first three will greatly benefit from having more people being able to play them. In the cases of That Dragon, Cancer and Thralled, you have mature topics being dealt with in a medium that isn’t used to them. That Dragon, Cancer is a game about something incredibly personal — the co-creator’s son’s battle with cancer. It was a battle he lost, but not without touching hearts, and resulting in both a book and video game being created through his struggle. With Thralled, you have slavery being the driving force of the game and that’s something the industry has never seen. By taking the OUYA storefront and making it available to more people, these experiences and the messages contained within them can reach people who would otherwise miss them.

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Someone with a tablet may not be down with spending $100 on a console, but they don’t mind downloading the OUYA Discover app and trying some stuff out for free. That could easily lead to them gaining a new appreciation for an entire genre of gaming that they hadn’t tried out previously. It could lead to someone who is a fringe gamer and sticks with Facebook games seeing a game like Thralled and gaining a whole new respect for gaming. Sure, it might be a small-scale thing, but anything that helps someone see something from a new point of view is good. The OUYA micro-console started as as a way to give hope to developers and gamers alike and it did so. Now, it will be able to do so on a grander scale than before, and while that means the vision that some people had for the system won’t be fulfilled, I’ll gladly take having the vast majority of that vision maintained over a longer period of time than having 100% of it kept around for far less. Everything is better with more options, and gamers having more ways to play the system’s library is a boon for everyone.