Ben got drunk and backed the Ouya on Kickstarter. Does he now regret that?
I remember it like it was yesterday. I woke up just over a year ago on July 12th 2012 with a nagging sense I’d forgotten something important.I got dressed, had breakfast, nursed my hangover a little and then -- BAM -- it all came rushing back.
I couldn’t understand how it had happened. I had always been so responsible when drunk. This was the kind of thing that happened to other people, not me. My wife wasn’t home; I had to call her right way. It wasn’t fair that she didn’t know the truth.
“I’ve got something to tell you,” I explained. “Last night I had a bit too much to drink and I... I.. backed the Ouya on Kickstarter.”
When it started fundraising, the Ouya claimed to be “a new kind of video game console”. Built on the Android operating system, the idea was to make games cheaper to make and to buy; every game, they claimed, would be free, at least to try. I stand by my view that it’s an admirable aim, but any right-minded person could foresee it was never going to end well.
I don’t know if you’ve ever done something that’s made you question yourself - I mean, really question yourself - something as fundamentally irrational as backing a glorified static mobile phone project entitled ‘Ouya’ to the tune of nearly 80 quid.
It’s a scary feeling, let me tell you.
My degree was in Psychology, so I dug up the old textbooks and eventually found what I was looking for: the Kübler-Ross model, better known as the “Five stages of grief”.
I present for you now my journey with the Ouya through those stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. If my experience helps prevent just a single person making the same mistake as me, it would make it all worthwhile.Denial.My first thought was that perhaps the Kickstarter wouldn’t reach its goal. I mean, it was aiming to reach nearly £1m. Surely that wouldn’t happen. Surely.
In the end, the Ouya raised more than $8.5m. For a while, it almost looked promising. There was talk that Mojang was on board, along with Square Enix and Namco-Bandai.
I reasoned that perhaps it won’t work out as badly as people are saying. I mean, playing games like Minecraft, Final Fantasy III and PacMan would be great! Admittedly I’ve already played them all on at least two or three different devices over the years -- but they’ll still be fun, right? Right?Anger.WRONG. My Ouya turned up nearly 11 months later. Inside the box was a red slip that read: “Thanks for believing”. Below that was the Ouya itself, a reasonably inoffensive little cube that would comfortably fit in your hand if you wanted to, say, hurl it through a window. Next to the console was an Xbox-esque controller. One of the battery covers had slipped off during transit.
I hooked up the power and the HDMI and fired it up. I was greeted by a kind of tribal chant of “Oooo-ya!”. Then there was a fiddly controller sync where I honestly wasn’t sure if the thing was DOA. Eventually they found each other and I was able to sign in with my pre-existing Ouya account, and join my WiFi network.
I was ready to see what it was all about, but first: a firmware update. I waited... and waited... in the end it took nearly an hour (I should note that I’m on a 60mb connection and never have WiFi issues). Once it had finished, the console would no longer recognise my WiFi. I tried in vain to resolve the issue before eventually admitting defeat and hunting down an ethernet cable.
The dashboard has four options: Play, Discover, Make, Manage. Discover is where the store is, so I headed over to see what games there were. I was greeted with rows of grey boxes - the thumbnails weren’t loading in. Once again I waited... and waited. Nothing. To work out what the games were I had to navigate around the anonymous rectangles, but the control was so laggy it barely seemed worth it.
Eventually I noticed that indie sensation Hidden in Plain Sight was on there, so I downloaded it. I called a friend and demanded his presence immediately. Along with my wife, we played it for two or three hours straight. The Ouya can accept any pad so we played three-player with a the Ouya controller, an Xbox pad, and a Dual Shock 3. I was impressed.
Unfortunately, I tried to do the same thing again two weeks later and the only pad that worked was a wired Xbox controller. We tried for ages to get the Ouya and PS3 pads to sync with the console but had no luck. In the end I re-downloaded the game on Xbox Indie Arcade and we played it there. It was precisely 100% less hassle.
Most disappointingly, it turned out Hidden in Plain Sight was one of only three or four decent games on the system. Between the lack of content, the controller issues (connectivity, lag), the jerky graphics and overall clumsy feel, I’d had enough of the thing. It had embarrassed me in front of friends and robbed hours of my life for no reward.
I’d just about resolved to smash it into tiny pieces, when suddenly my anger dissipated and I found myself in stage three...Bargaining.“I’ll do anything to justify this purchase!” I thought.
The console was dead to me as far as games went (although I’ll concede it makes a reasonable SNES emulator), but what about as a media streamer? I’ve got a big shed at the end of the garden with a TV, a sofa, and internet via HomePlugs, so why not?
I hit Google hard. “Sideloading” was the buzzword. Using the USB input, Dropbox and an Android phone in various combinations, it’s possible to install apps that aren’t in the Ouya store.
I got on the internet and offered various experts their bodyweight in gold in exchange for some tips on how to get sideloading to work. It’s actually quite easy, and soon enough I had XBMC, iPlayer, YouTube, Netflix and 4oD on there. It had all appeared to pay off. The Ouya had a use!
But it wasn’t to be. In those examples alone, there were a host of niggles. For a start, Ouya has a chronic overscan issue, meaning apps frequently extend beyond the edges of the screen. Like many users, I can’t fix it through my TV setup.
XMBC was a pain - laggy and crashed repeatedly. YouTube wouldn’t let me sign in. 4oD just doesn’t work properly. iPlayer and Netflix work reasonably, but the image quality is inferior to every other device I’ve ever used and the overscanning annoyance is frustrating.
Are these problems fixable? Maybe, but I put a whole afternoon into trying to sort them out and got absolutely nowhere.
I gave up.Depression.
Initially, Ouya had appeared to address a shortcoming in the gaming world. At first glance, it’s an appealing prospect: Democratisating games development, building closer developer-customer relationships, and delivering high quality games on cheap hardware.
But the fact is, there’s nothing new here. You can play most of the Ouya’s games on at least two existing devices. Any PC can be used as an emulator. And all consoles and PCs these days make reasonable media centres.
You should never buy technology only to find yourself hunting for a way to use it; the reverse should be true: you identify a need, and you find the technology to suit your purpose.
So I don’t know what to do with my Ouya. Mostly I just stare at it and sigh.
Acceptance.The final stage, acceptance, is still out of reach. My wife thinks that by writing my experience down, I might get closer to finally laying this nightmare to rest.
Anyway, on a brighter note, have you seen this open source handheld gaming console? I think it’s going to be great and for just $90 they’ll send me a pink one!
What could go wrong?
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