If anyone was keeping tabs on the quickest Kickstarter projects to reach their pledge totals, OUYA would be somewhere near the top having notched up the required $950,000 in just a single day. Money raised for the hackable Android games console that will cost $99 to buy, is now past the $5.5m mark with still a few weeks to go until the Kickstarter door slams shut.
OUYA seems to have divided the gaming community, but T3 is definitely intrigued to see what's in store from a console that has the backing of high profile figures in the tech industry including Jambox designer Yves Béhar and Xbox co-creator Ed Fries. So what does the company make of its Kickstarter success status? We put our questions to Julie Uhrman, CEO of OUYA to find out more about the console and what is next for the console set to bring Android gaming to your TV.
What is it about the Ouya that you think has captured the public's imagination to the tune of nearly $6m?
There is a surprise factor. For many folks, we came out of nowhere. And we took on some big companies—nobody really does that. The console model as it exists today has been around for years. When OUYA burst on to the scene, we challenged the status quo. We had new ideas about how consoles could work. I think people were ready to hear about a new approach.
But when you think about it, our idea isn’t so crazy. In fact, in this Joystiq article, Notch himself was quoted saying, “I am quite frankly surprised this hasn't happened earlier. Me and plenty of other people have tried connecting small PCs to their TVs and plugging in controllers in an attempt to get an open TV gaming experience that they can control, but there's been constant interface and infrastructure problems with that. And frankly, the only really good use of it was to run emulators. Something like OUYA could solve a lot of these issues, making it easier to find and navigate between content, and putting a good community in place around it.”
What was the germ of an idea that turned into Ouya? Who had it, what prompted it and how long has it taken to get to this point?
I grew up playing games on the TV and I don't think I'm alone in feeling that the console game industry has experienced a brain drain in recent years and some of the most talented developers have switched focus from the TV to mobile and social. Game developers will say that there are just too many hassles in getting a game on to the existing console systems, the process is expensive and it’s very time and resource intensive.
For gamers, we witnessed prices rise with each console cycle. Gaming was pricing some people out of the market. I hate the idea of people not being able to enjoy great games because of cost. I wanted to open up games to a broader audience.
Ultimately, I wanted to bring great games back to the TV and make gaming more accessible. We believe the TV provides the best gaming experience, from the HD-quality graphics to earth-shattering surround sound to the lean-back 10-foot experience.
When I read about another system using Android, it occurred to me that that might be a solution. And because tech was so much more powerful and accessible, I began to rethink some of the other “standard operating procedures” we see in the console market. For example, we realized that we could use a standard chipset instead of the custom chipsets that console makers have been using for more than 20 years. Custom chipsets are no longer necessary in today’s age of powerful, accessible tech and by eliminating them you can drive down the cost of a console significantly.
As the idea started to solidify, I reached out to friends and colleagues in the game industry, well-known game designers and great tech entrepreneurs. Everyone was really enthusiastic. We’ve been jamming on things ever since.
What are the benefits of Kickstarter? Do you see it as much as a marketing platform as a finance-raising one?
First I want to make sure that folks understand that we absolutely needed Kickstarter to raise the money to finish the product. Our decision to use Kickstarter was in no way a marketing move or a pre-sell effort. This wasn’t a marketing type move.
That said, the fact is crowd-funding certainly has viral social benefits. And, Kickstarter has been fantastic for us because it allowed us to engage in direct conversations with both game developers and future customers. It’s very unusual to have such frequent and candid interaction with such a large percentage of your target market while your product is still in development. We’ve really benefitted from those conversations. We’ve taken notes on the feedback, we’ve tried to answer questions responsively and we’ve even been grateful for the skeptics and the critics because we feel like they challenge us to be at the top of our game. We’re just about halfway through our Kickstarter campaign but we’re already using those Kickstarter comments to inform and improve our efforts.