Android is the operating system that the Ouya is based off of. (Photo : Reuters)
The curiously titled Ouya, a proposed $99 console dedicated entirely to bringing android app gaming to the home theater, has rattled the press like a Taser to the throat. Raising $8,596,475 from 63,416 backers on Kickstarter, the project mangled crowd-funding records. With their overflowing support, gamers sent a message: they are ready for a paradigm shift. In compliment to the console's low entry fee, the Ouya promises a free-to-play model which has caught fire in recent years.
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FREE TO PLAY
The Ouya isn't a charity project. The free-to-play model is a hook, not a gift. Companies need to make some profit, after all. Enter micro-transactions, like those used in Zynga's popular FarmVille game or an increasing number of Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games. In order to understand Ouya's approach, we must look to the use of free-to-play during recent years.
Just a decade ago, nearly every Western MMO operated on a monthly subscription basis. For a recurring fee, the player was given full access to the game's content and typically bought in-game items with fictional currency. Steadily, dwindling subscribers have influenced a reversal of this system. MMO's such as The Lord of the Rings Online, Age of Conan, and most recently, Star Wars: The Old Republic, have moved away from monthly fees and fenced off certain "freemium" content that the player must pay to enter. However, free-to-play is still in its infancy, and games such as The Old Republic are presenting it as a choice. In a July 31st Press Release, developer BioWare stated:
"This option will give players access to each of the eight iconic Star Wars character class storylines, all the way up to level 50, with certain restrictions. Unlimited game access, including new higher-level game content and new features will be made available through individual purchases or through a subscription option."
Free-to-play is still in its infancy and we are now seeing a widening range of experimentation in its implementation. Given the model's youth, there are still a number of kinks to be worked out. There is an undercurrent of distrust in the gaming community about a "pay-to-win" system that discounts skill and grants unfair competitive advantages to players who throw more cash at the developer. While there is certainly a demand for cheaper content, there is a clear danger in a console whose governing rule is that all content must be free-to-play. For developers that are inexperienced with the model, there is room for exploitation.
Perhaps the recipe for success can be found in current free-to-play first person shooters. Games such as Team Fortress 2 by Valve Software and Tribes: Ascend by Hi-Rez studios have been warmly received by the gaming community and proved successful in their deliberate approach to the model. The micro-transactions in Tribes specifically allows the broke gamer the ability to earn all of the items available as micro-transactions at the price of their time. It is simply easier and faster to buy what can be earned, and even so, balance is a priority.
In order for the Ouya to successfully deliver on its promises to provide cheap, quality gaming to its audiences, the console's creators must work closely with developers to create a system of rules that regulates the reach of micro-transactions and promotes balanced gameplay, perhaps following in Tribes: Ascend's footsteps. There is a long, uncertain path ahead, but who could deny it isn't fascinating?
- Tegra3 quad-core processor
- 1GB RAM
- 8GB of internal flash storage
- HDMI connection to the TV, with support for up to 1080p HD
- WiFi 802.11 b/g/n
- Bluetooth LE 4.0
- USB 2.0 (one)
- Wireless controller with standard controls (two analog sticks, d-pad, eight action buttons, a system button), a touchpad
- Android 4.0