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Ouya, apps, and the future of gaming

The "appification" of gaming has now come to the console. Hardcore games are next, says Ben Parr.

Open platforms = more choices for games

The annual Game Developers Conference, which attracts tens of thousands from the gaming industry, had all of the usual players this year: Nintendo, Sony, EA, Activision, etc. But they weren't the only players in town this week at GDC.

There was plenty of buzz about Ouya, the new $99, Android-based gaming console that broke Kickstarter records like Adrian Peterson breaks tackles.

Now, before the serious gamers out there savage me, let me be clear: The Ouya isn't going to be displacing the role of traditional consoles like the PlayStation or the Wii (although the Wii U has gone nowhere). But I do think the Ouya is indicative of an important trend in gaming: appification.

Appification is the process in which everything in a given vertical moves to, well, apps. It's happening to the Web and it's happening to gaming, thanks to the wild success of the iOS and Android app stores.

Apps are cheaper than games on discs. Apps offer instant gratification -- there's no need to drive to GameStop. And apps are accessible to the millions of casual gamers that are simply looking for something to occupy their time on the bus.

The Ouya is just the newest example of this trend. It has opened up console gaming development to millions of developers on the cheap. It doesn't require millions of dollars to make an entertaining console game anymore. And while you won't be seeing Bioshock on the Ouya anytime soon, I suspect the major console makers will be taking a few cues from its Android-based competitor. How long will it really be until we completely abandon discs?

I'm a gamer -- I grew up with Final Fantasy, SMRPG, and Metal Gear Solid -- so console games are near and dear to my heart. But I truly believe that the era of $400 consoles is over, and the era of the $99 console is just beginning. The Steam Box, Nvidia's Shield, Wikipad, and the Gamestick are all on their way. And if you think Apple won't add third-party apps to the Apple TV, then you're simply delusional.

Metal Gear Solid isn't going out of style. But don't be surprised if more and more "hardcore" games start getting appified, especially as Internet speeds improve and flash drives increase in size. And don't be surprised to see the selection of games on consoles grow vastly as developers take advantage of open platforms.