Skip to main content

The indie game console may already be dead

The indie game console may already be dead

Share this story

Last year, I predicted that the rising tide of Android gaming would raise all boats — that indie game consoles like the Ouya, the Shield, and the Gamestick could mount a challenge against Xbox and PlayStation because of all the attention they were getting as a whole. Sadly, it looks like I was wrong. This week, the leader of the indie console charge is standing down.

Ouya was in the right place at the right time in the summer of 2012. One of the early Kickstarter darlings, the $99 hackable Android game console raised $8.5 million on the strength of its convictions and the résumés of its founders. Ouya CEO Julie Uhrman — a former VP of digital distribution for IGN and GameFly — offered a compelling vision of a game system that could bring the traditional strengths of a closed console to the open Android platform. Ouya would make it easier to find great games on Android by curating, promoting, and even funding indies to do their best work, while offering an inexpensive dedicated hardware platform with physical console controls for those developers to target.

Ouya-kickstart-560

Ouya's Kickstarter success.

Ouya sought to bottle the magic of indie game development

In the best-case scenario, Ouya would have rapidly sold enough competent $99 boxes to make the platform a better proposition for mobile game developers than phones and tablets by offering more processing power and an environment where people would be more comfortable paying for quality console-style games, while attracting console developers as well. In return, gamers would get exclusive titles, purpose-built for the television, that they wouldn't find on any other console. At the time, with no PS4 or Xbox One to part gamers from their pocketbooks, it seemed like a worthy idea that could have preempted next-gen consoles. But that wasn't the way things turned out.

Ouya arrived late, the hardware was panned, and the plan to fund games was beset by scams. Promised titles like Hawken and OnLive never materialized, and a much-hyped exclusive from Portal designer Kim Swift didn't move the needle. The only exclusive game worth playing on the system, Towerfall, isn't exclusive to Ouya anymore — and early reports suggested that even Towerfall wasn't really a hit.

Meanwhile, the Gamestick got an even poorer reception, and Nvidia hasn't been willing to share sales figures for its surprisingly well-built Shield. Valve's Steam Box, thought to be another console competitor, turned out to be a disorganized collection of gaming PCs — at least until Alienware and company can get the original vision off the ground.

So now, amidst a seeming blasé attitude towards failed microconsoles, Ouya is pivoting to become a software platform. The company hopes to embed the software into televisions and set-top boxes, starting with its former competitor the Mad Catz Mojo, and will keep its own console around only as a "reference design" from now on.

Mad-catz-mojo-560-1

The Mad Catz Mojo, a $199 microconsole that runs stock Android and soon Ouya as well

In a statement to The Verge, Ouya founder Julie Uhrman insists that the company isn't abandoning its original vision. "What makes Ouya is not the physical hardware, but the fact that it is made for games built for a TV," she says, adding that the company will attempt to maintain a "consistent experience" across other devices, which will each have physical game controllers as well. But it feels like the company that sought to bottle up the magic of indie game development in an attractive, inexpensive package is smashing that bottle for good.

Ouya will become an Android fragment

What is Ouya without its hardware? It's not a console anymore: it's a subset of the Android operating system that will necessarily have fewer games, due to its smaller install base and extra hurdles, than Android as a whole — only without the previous benefits of a single hardware platform for developers to target. You might liken Ouya to Netflix or Amazon's Kindle in its attempt to spread throughout the hardware landscape, but the technical requirements to read books or play movies are well satisfied by any device on the market, while games attempting to satisfy a console gamer are chasing a moving target. Originally, Ouya planned to upgrade its microconsole every year with the latest chips, but people rarely replace their television anywhere near that quickly. It's not clear why game developers would build Android games for a fragmented Ouya instead of Android, period.

Perhaps that's exactly what Ouya and Nvidia and Mad Catz are hoping will happen. There's still room for Android as a whole to challenge the Microsoft / Sony / Nintendo status quo, particularly next year when mobile chips start embracing PC graphics techniques. Processors like the Nvidia Tegra K1, which will appear in the next Shield, will make porting PC and console games to mobile easier than ever.

What is a console, anyhow?

But a game console means more than a wide array of devices that are technically capable of handling games, and it's more than a store that brings games to those pieces of hardware. The game console as we know it is necessarily a closed ecosystem to some degree so that gamers and game developers know that their games will "just work," and that isn't yet true of broad platforms like Android or Steam. Perhaps that's why, despite the seeming inevitability of mobile gaming, the new Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are selling like hotcakes. And now that those actual game consoles have some momentum, the opportunity may have passed for a true console challenger to stake a sufficient claim.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed Sep 24 Striking out

E
External Link
Emma RothSep 24
California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoes the state’s “BitLicense” law.

The bill, called the Digital Financial Assets Law, would establish a regulatory framework for companies that transact with cryptocurrency in the state, similar to New York’s BitLicense system. In a statement, Newsom says it’s “premature to lock a licensing structure” and that implementing such a program is a “costly undertaking:”

A more flexible approach is needed to ensure regulatory oversight can keep up with rapidly evolving technology and use cases, and is tailored with the proper tools to address trends and mitigate consumer harm.


A
Youtube
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Look at this Thing.

At its Tudum event today, Netflix showed off a new clip from the Tim Burton series Wednesday, which focused on a very important character: the sentient hand known as Thing. The full series starts streaming on November 23rd.


A
The Verge
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Get ready for some Netflix news.

At 1PM ET today Netflix is streaming its second annual Tudum event, where you can expect to hear news about and see trailers from its biggest franchises, including The Witcher and Bridgerton. I’ll be covering the event live alongside my colleague Charles Pulliam-Moore, and you can also watch along at the link below. There will be lots of expected names during the stream, but I have my fingers crossed for a new season of Hemlock Grove.


A
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Looking for something to do this weekend?

Why not hang out on the couch playing video games and watching TV. It’s a good time for it, with intriguing recent releases like Return to Monkey Island, Session: Skate Sim, and the Star Wars spinoff Andor. Or you could check out some of the new anime on Netflix, including Thermae Romae Novae (pictured below), which is my personal favorite time-traveling story about bathing.


A screenshot from the Netflix anime Thermae Romae Novae.
Thermae Romae Novae.
Image: Netflix
J
Twitter
Jay PetersSep 23
Twitch’s creators SVP is leaving the company.

Constance Knight, Twitch’s senior vice president of global creators, is leaving for a new opportunity, according to Bloomberg’s Cecilia D’Anastasio. Knight shared her departure with staff on the same day Twitch announced impending cuts to how much its biggest streamers will earn from subscriptions.


T
Twitter
Tom WarrenSep 23
Has the Windows 11 2022 Update made your gaming PC stutter?

Nvidia GPU owners have been complaining of stuttering and poor frame rates with the latest Windows 11 update, but thankfully there’s a fix. Nvidia has identified an issue with its GeForce Experience overlay and the Windows 11 2022 Update (22H2). A fix is available in beta from Nvidia’s website.


A
External Link
If you’re using crash detection on the iPhone 14, invest in a really good phone mount.

Motorcycle owner Douglas Sonders has a cautionary tale in Jalopnik today about the iPhone 14’s new crash detection feature. He was riding his LiveWire One motorcycle down the West Side Highway at about 60 mph when he hit a bump, causing his iPhone 14 Pro Max to fly off its handlebar mount. Soon after, his girlfriend and parents received text messages that he had been in a horrible accident, causing several hours of panic. The phone even called the police, all because it fell off the handlebars. All thanks to crash detection.

Riding a motorcycle is very dangerous, and the last thing anyone needs is to think their loved one was in a horrible crash when they weren’t. This is obviously an edge case, but it makes me wonder what other sort of false positives we see as more phones adopt this technology.


A
External Link
Ford is running out of its own Blue Oval badges.

Running out of semiconductors is one thing, but running out of your own iconic nameplates is just downright brutal. The Wall Street Journal reports badge and nameplate shortages are impacting the automaker's popular F-series pickup lineup, delaying deliveries and causing general chaos.

Some executives are even proposing a 3D printing workaround, but they didn’t feel like the substitutes would clear the bar. All in all, it's been a dreadful summer of supply chain setbacks for Ford, leading the company to reorganize its org chart to bring some sort of relief.