The Ouya will make or break the indie gaming console industry

Ouya

After a year of anticipation (and a few delays), the $99 Ouya is finally available at retail outlets. Even better, the Kickstarter-backed indie console has already sold out online on both Amazon and GameStop, a sign that there’s demand for a cheap and flexible Android-backed gaming system.

The Ouya is a trailblazer, paving the way for the Nvidia Shield, the GameStick and even the portable VR system Oculus Rift. But there have been plenty of rough patches along the way. And if they’re not remedied, then the Android console trend could be tarnished with an untrustworthy reputation.

The first and perhaps most detrimental sin Ouya has committed since moving into production is that it’s done a great job of alienating its core fanbase — the “early backers.” Up until today, Ouya has maintained that all consoles awarded for backing the project initially on Kickstarter were shipped out in May, but plenty of early backers continued to complain about not receiving their consoles. The day before release date of the console, as the Ouya rolled out physically in stores, CEO Julie Uhrman sent a letter to backers about the issue:

Over the past few months, we encountered and conquered many challenges spanning both hardware and software in order to bring the best product we could to market. We have tried to make sure that the challenges we faced did not impact our early supporters, but unfortunately we came up short.

As a result of this misstep, some early (and mostly international) backers will have to wait another 15 to 17 days before receiving their consoles. The whole tangle has left a bitter taste in the mouths of what was expected to be the Ouya’s core fanbase, following the company’s decision to put retailers ahead of the people.

The second problem with the Ouya is the perceived lack of polish and features from both the hardware and software perspective. When the original review consoles went to journalists in March, first impressions were tepid at best: the hardware felt chintzy, the software was lacking, and the UI was confusing. Ouya took the criticism, raised another round of funding, delayed the first shipment, and spent time retooling the console.

While the new Ouya console has made strides in the wake of its lackluster development model — including a redesigned controller and updated firmware to address the UI hiccups — it’s far from perfect. Although games are free to play, the console requires credit card information to even access any kind of software. Worse, there really isn’t much software at all, at a paltry 175 games, and what’s available is not great: A quick scan of the top-rated games from Ouya show a handful of emulators, but original titles lack any flash (or reputation) to bring gamers to the device.

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All in all, things aren’t expected to be perfect with an independent console system — especially the first one for a company. However, the glaring problems with the Ouya could place a black mark on all Android consoles as a whole, and that’s a shame.

Gamers are a fickle and stubborn bunch, and even major players like Microsoft are oftentimes forced to walk back unfavorable situations to something more palatable for the community. At this point, loyal gamers feel like they’ve been duped, cheated, and lied to, so Ouya needs to work double-time over the next six months to bring the console up to par.

A string of great games that don’t require emulators or tricky hacking to run would be a great first step, as would an extra gift to early backers for the delay in execution. With the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One coming down the pike, this is Ouya’s only shot to win back the favor it has unceremoniously lost.

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