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Ouya founder promises new $99 console every year, better game discovery

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Ouya Julie Uhrman Dice 2013
Ouya Julie Uhrman Dice 2013

"I'm obsessed with how little I sleep," says Ouya founder and CEO Julie Uhrman, touching her Jawbone Up. She says her kids are to blame. However, it might also have something to do with another child of sorts, another Yves Behar-designed product: her company's $99 Android game console. Once a Kickstarter project, the Ouya will now be sold at Amazon, Best Buy, Target, and GameStop this June, a tall order for a company as new as hers. And yet, Uhrman is thinking much further ahead than June. She tells us that her team is already planning to introduce a new version of the Ouya — with as much mobile processing power as possible — each and every year.

Tegra 4 next year?

As you might be aware, new mobile processors come fast and furious these days — as Qualcomm's Raj Talluri pointed out in a DICE keynote this morning, we've gone from single-core to dual-core to quad-core chipsets in just two years. And while the Ouya's Nvidia Tegra 3 chipset is no slouch, there's already a Tegra 4 inbound, and at least one developer is already questioning the Ouya's hardware limitations. But what if there's a Tegra 4-based Ouya next year? It's a possibility: "Our plan is to have a yearly refresh of Ouya where we leverage the best-performing chips and take advantage of falling component prices to create the best experience we can at the $99 price point," Uhrman tells us.

"If we could do it for less than $99, we would," she adds.

Even now, the Ouya should be slightly more powerful than a comparable Tegra 3 tablet. Since the Ouya plugs into the wall with no need to save battery, Uhrman tells us all four Tegra processor cores can run continuously at 1.6GHz. And though some have complained that the console's 8GB of internal flash storage might not hold many games, you'll be able to hook up an external hard drive to the device's USB port.

Hardware's only part of the picture, though: a game console needs games, and these days people expect their set-top boxes to deliver apps and streaming video services, too — things which Google, Netflix, and Hulu have historically blocked on hardware that isn't pre-approved. Since the console basically runs Android, what makes an Ouya game any different from any other Android game title, and what apps can we expect to use?

Don't toss your Roku quite yet

Unfortunately, Uhrman could only tell us that her company is "in conversations" with Google, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon about accessing their services, suggesting nothing's been fully worked out yet. While we didn't get a full answer on the game front, either, she had some interesting strategy to share.

Ouya will filter for pornography, but not quality

Since Ouya's only requirements for game submissions is that they use the company's Open Development Kit to ensure support for the hardware controller, and that they share at least some of their content in the form of a free demo, you might presume that the company's digital marketplace could fill up with a bunch of crappy, low-quality games. It's a possibility, for sure: Uhrman told us that while Ouya will conduct a "light review" to filter out copyright infringement, malware, and pornography, there's no standard for quality. Of course, for developers, that wide-open platform is part of the appeal: "You can be a triple-A publisher, or you can be an independent developer who hasn't released his first game yet, or you can be a student who is just learning the tricks of the trade, and all of you can develop games for the television."

How might you find good games in the heap, assuming the Ouya takes off? Uhrman had an interesting response: she wants to curate the Ouya app store based on engagement metrics rather than sales data. "We don't believe it's the number of downloads, or the amount of money spent. It's how many times you play a game in a given period of time, and how quickly you start playing a game. When you boot up Ouya, how many times is it the first game you play? How many friends do you tell about a particular game? These are indicators that you really love a game," Uhrman tells us. Assuming Ouya can easily measure those things, it can use them to rank games.

Lastly, where most game consoles have historically bargained to chain desirable games exclusively to their platforms, Uhrman's willing to settle for less right now. "Our goal is to have television-exclusive games," she told us. "Television exclusivity""They may be available on other platforms, but the only place that you can find them on the television is through Ouya." Previously, Square Enix's Final Fantasy III was announced as a TV-exclusive for Ouya, and today Uhrman announced that Double Fine's Kickstarter project Reds will make its only TV appearance on Ouya as well... even though HDMI cables and AirPlay mean that you could probably pipe the upcoming PC, Mac, Linux, iOS, and / or Android versions to a television if you really wanted to.

With only weeks left to go before the console should start shipping to Kickstarter backers, and months before its retail debut, the Ouya still has a lot to prove to both buyers and developers. But with buy-ins from Amazon, Best Buy, Target, and GameStop, tens of thousands of original orders to fulfill, and the synergy from tablets and phones, it seems like the mass-market Android game console could possibly have enough momentum to overcome the chicken-and-egg syndrome.