Why Ouya isn’t doing well

3 Posted by - July 26, 2013 - Opinion

It’s a $99 game console, and each one of the 200-plus games available on it comes with a free demo. And yet, the Ouya isn’t moving much product.

The apple-sized device itself is supposedly moving fine, though that information comes directly from Ouya CEO Julie Uhrman, and Uhrman is also bullish on software sales. “Monetization on Ouya is, so far, better than we expected,” she told Game Informer. But when the top developers on the platform released their sales numbers, they were far from encouraging. Arguably the top exclusive on the system, Matt Thorson’s TowerFall, has only racked up 2000 sales at a $15 price point, according to Thorson.

That’s a runaway success compared to others. Nimble Quest, from Tiny Tower developer NimbleBit, only made $427 off its Ouya port. Over 6500 people downloaded its free demo. Only 122 people clicked the “buy” button.

What’s going wrong?

A lot of the problem might lie with the Ouya itself. True, it’s a completely new product with very little awareness outside of gaming circles, but even inside those circles, it’s got an image problem.

Because while Ouya’s built an impressive community of developers providing content, it hasn’t established a community of players. And a few things are getting in the way of that.

For starters, Ouya is built around under the same constraints that cratered Xbox One’s reputation for so long: You must be online to use it. Ouya doesn’t require daily check-ins or have a crippling, labyrinthian DRM policy, but if you can’t get your Ouya hooked up to the Internet, you can’t use Ouya, period. Most games can be played offline, but you have to be online to sign up and download them. That immediately cuts out a segment of the population

Even worse, despite that online requirement and a sizable number of Ouya games that have local multiplayer options, shockingly few offer online multiplayer.

It must also be said that Ouya’s customer service leaves something to be desired. You must enter a credit card at the set-up, but no clear way exists to delete your account. Once they have your card, it’s just not very easy to take it away from them.

And while it was never supposed to, Ouya simply can’t compete on the same scale as other gaming platforms. It doesn’t have a mix of huge triple-A titles and smaller indie darlings — it’s all indie darlings. Make no mistake, Ouya plays host to some very good titles, but none stand out on Ouya’s simplistic menu tiles, and most are available on other platforms. Ouya can’t depend on one or two killer apps to move product off shelves…it needs a dozen or so must-play exclusives at Apple-game prices. Then Ouya needs to get the word out on those games, both in and out of its interface.

Ouya came out of the gate with strong community support — you don’t raise $8.5 million on Kickstarter without that. Plenty of people in the indie game community still sing Ouya’s praises, and perhaps they should…it’s a platform specifically geared towards small, agile game development. But with both PlayStation 4 and now Xbox One actively courting the indie scene and supporting self-publishing, Ouya needs to capitalize on the same entrepreneurial spirit that put them on the map in the first place.

And they need to sweep a community players up in that spirit again. The honeymoon ended pretty fast. Now Ouya needs to settle into a long, comfortable relationship, and that sort of thing takes a lot of work.