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Ouya's keynote conversation polarizes SXSW

The biggest disruption at a heavily-attended on-stage conversation featuring Ouya founder Julie Uhrman was from the audience members tweeting their discontent and leaving in the middle.

Ouya founder and CEO Julie Uhrman in conversation with The Verge's Josh Topolsky at SXSW 2013.
Seth Rosenblatt/CNET

AUSTIN, Texas--The annual South by Southwest conference here prides itself on being a place for "disruption," but the only real disruption during a fairly pedestrian conversation between the founder of crowd-funded Ouya and the editor-in-chief of The Verge today were angry tweets followed by empty seats.

Ouya founder Julie Uhrman got on stage with The Verge Editor-in-Chief Joshua Topolsky to discuss her company's enormously successful Kickstarter campaign and the product it funded: an Android-based, open-source gaming console. The torrent of Tweets that followed revealed the audience members to be critical of just about everything except the room they were sitting in.

A brief sampling of the Tweets indicates a lot of discontent, but about many different aspects of the keynote.

The conversation itself covered a wide range of Ouya history, with Uhrman boosting the console as often as she could while playing down any mistakes that were made on the road from its Kickstarter beginnings to landing on store shelves.

One of the mistakes that Uhrman attempted to spin positively was the fact that some critics initially thought Ouya was a scam because of a glaring oversight for an Internet-based business: "I didn't even have a Web site when we launched the Kickstarter," she admitted. A PC Magazine article that accused Ouya (and the Pebble watch) of being a scam was the top Google search result for the console for months after the Kickstarter launched.

The crowd's frustration with the conversation was only somewhat unjustified. Uhrman remained tight-lipped except for restating already-known Ouya facts. In addition to not revealing a firm release date in June, she danced around questions from Topolsky about manufacturing partners, the number of pre-sold consoles, and even the nature of the aforementioned mistakes. She explained not having a Web site early on because she and her team were simply too busy.

Uhrman did confirm that Ouya consoles will start shipping to Kickstarter supporters on March 28 and will be in Best Buy and Target stores in June. She also emphasized that game developers are "interested" in working with Ouya, stating that there were more than 7,000 registered developer accounts so far.

She spent noticeably less time talking about why gamers themselves would be interested in yet another console platform, at a time when mobile games are garnering the most consumer interest.

That last one might be the most emblematic of the conversation. Topolsky started soft but pushed harder as audience members bolted, with a packed room dwindling to 50 percent capacity by halfway through the keynote. Uhrman, for her part, avoided even the most tame comments that might've revealed more about Ouya or why she's so passionate about it.

During a South by Southwest Interactive conference noted for its dearth of news, the crowd seemed eager to glom onto something more tangible. But instead of feeding them a hearty meal, attendees got only the kind of lukewarm appetizer served up at so many SXSW parties.