Game console Ouya to bring gaming back to the TV

Startup hopes to attract both gamers and developers with a $99 console and an open gaming platform. Disrupting the system comes with a hefty price tag: a $950,000 fundraising campaign.

The $99 Ouya game console. Ouya

Hard-core gamers like a challenge. Just ask gaming business veteran Julie Uhrman.

Uhrman wants to disrupt the gaming industry with an affordable console called Ouya, a name she hopes will become the battle cry of game developers. Her company is soliciting developers to help build an open ecosystem of games on Android, essentially bringing the openness of mobile games back to the TV set.

"It's very ambitious -- it's hardware, it's software, it's building an ecosystem," Uhrman said.

A peek at the Ouya controller and game console. Ouya

But Uhrman said she believes her team has what it takes to challenge the status quo. The company starts its Kickstarter.com-based campaign today, with a goal of raising a very ambitious $950,000. The funding will allow Ouya to take its console prototype -- designed by Jawbone designer Yves Behar -- to production along with its controller counterpart. They hope to launch the product early next year.

The company's got some solid names on its angel investors list, including Jay Adelson, founder of Digg; Joe Greenstein, founder of Flixster; Hosain Rahman, founder of Jawbone; and Eric Hautemont, publisher of the Ticket to Ride board game.

With mobile games being less expensive to create, developers have moved away from making games for consoles, leaving an industry that, in Uhrman's eyes, has done very little innovation in terms of gaming content.

And despite the stalled creativity, Uhrman said TV remains the best platform for gamers when it comes to graphics and overall experience. (She said it's definitely her favorite.) She and the many developers backing Ouya want to see this new console bring developers back to that platform by offering an affordable way to create games for Ouya.

Built on Android and made to plug into your TV set, Ouya can play games in HD with a Tegra3 chipset.

"Our focus is on games -- we want to provide a phenomenal game experience," she said.

The only rule Ouya has is that the games must be free to try before purchase (so gamers don't ever feel like they wasted their money after downloading a game for the first time). Otherwise, Ouya is embracing the economic model of mobile games -- a 70/30 percent split for developers and Ouya. The company's Kickstarter.com campaign also touts special developer packages with consoles that comes rooted, a sign that it's built to be hacked.

"We are trying to leverage all that is great -- free to play, openness, touch screen, bringing what is familiar to TV -- and we want to wrap it up in this great bow -- affordability and game-ability for gamers and developers alike," Uhrman said.

A peek at the Ouya controller. Ouya

While Uhrman said she believes consoles will eventually become a chip in a TV set, the market isn't dead yet, despite what some folks said during this year's E3 conference . And she thinks Ouya will prove that.

Developers certainly hope so. The company already has a slough of supporters, including Brian Fargo of inXile.

Fargo, who is also an investor in Ouya, said that the greatest innovation in the gaming industry is taking place in the open environments of PC, iOS, and tablet, and that Ouya can provide an exciting opportunity for TV gaming.

"It's probably the first time anybody has talked about releasing a console system that's clearly and purely dedicated to the development community," Fargo said, adding that other console have walled-off systems. "They would talk to developers but at the end of the day, they really weren't part of the plan. You get a lot of lip service."

And that's too bad, he said, because an open environment brings out the best ideas.

"Ultimately, no company or person can compete with what the crowd can do," Fargo said. "They're just going to have more ideas."

His own team raised almost $3 million on Kickstarter.com for its game Wasteland 2, which showcases the power of the developer community. He said it's critical to get developers on board because they inspire one another to make better apps and all it takes is "one killer app" to change the playing field.

He thinks Ouya can hit its $950,000 goal if the company effectively conveys its message.

"If there's that sense to try and support something to open it up, there's a chance to reach that number -- it's a bold number," Fargo said.

Check out Ouya's Kickstarter.com campaign here.

 

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