Ouya, we hardly knew ya
Ouya's shift from game-console hardware freed it up to target a wider range of TV-connected devices. But it may have jumped from the frying pan into the Fire TV.
It's not every day that a crowdfunding project raises over $5 million. PonoPlayer, the ludicrously high-quality music player that trotted out an army of Grammy winners to support its Kickstarter efforts, recently passed the milestone. The Pebble smartwatch, which still holds the record for the highest-grossing Kickstarter project ever, with more than $10 million raised before it stopped taking pledges, recently landed distribution in Target after launching a steel version at CES.
But reaching that sum or more is no guarantee of a smooth ride. The Ouya gaming console, which raised more than $8 million, was, like many crowdfunded products, plagued by product delays after receiving funding. However, even after the product got out the door, it was met with, at best, mixed reviews. Even if it had executed perfectly, Ouya faced significant challenges. Despite pioneering a category that included products such as GameStick and the forthcoming Mojo by peripheral maker Mad Catz, the product was trapped between the rock of "throwing" mobile games up to the TV (that will likely continue with Google's Chromecast) and the hard place of competing with top-tier consoles with breathtaking games highly optimized for the television experience.
After failing to make much impact with its Android microconcole, Ouya the company will be focusing its efforts on curating games optimized for the TV and controllers via its Android store. On one hand, focusing less on the hardware business should greatly simplify life for the young company and expand its opportunity. Ouya now gets to embrace mobile devices being connected to the television, rather than competing with them.
But life as an independent Android store is difficult. Entities such as GetJar and Slide.Me struggled to find a critical mass of applications and were sidelined as Google became more aggressive about getting Google Play on lower-end tablets in particular. Barnes and Noble ultimately allowed Google Play onto its Nook tablets after trying to go it alone. While the jury is still out on how Nokia will do stepping in for Google as an Android app curator for the Nokia X, BlackBerry struggled trying to bring Android apps to its smartphones via its own App Store and is now letting on third parties such as Amazon.
Indeed, the only two alternatives to Google Play that have managed to attract a groundswell of apps have been the 1Market and the Amazon Appstore. The former requires no signup and offers only free apps. As for the latter, the online retailer and content-ecosystem provider has turned its flamethrower toward the living room with the launch of Fire TV. One of the major ways Fire TV differentiates from its similarly priced broadband TV rivals is with a library of games and controller support. Amazon's support of Android games on TV is encouraging for their migration overall, but Amazon cares only about its own box as opposed to Ouya, which now is seeking support for a wide array of TV-connected devices.
That leaves the behemoth of Google, which could continue to do relatively little to encourage development of Android TV game development. If Google stays away, Ouya may continue to carve out a niche market trying to find a place as the second or third app store on Android devices. Google jumping in would certainly validate Ouya's approach, but Google's aggressive pursuit of getting Play on Android devices could lead Ouya to the sidelines that have been a home for other Android app stores.