Ouya: Under the hood of the $99 console
As a $99 Android-based games console with an entire library of free-to-play games, Ouya certainly does things differently. This free-thinking is partly a response to the changing needs of the games industry but it also comes from an unusual production team not typically associated with the traditional games business, including hardware engineer Muffi Ghadiali whose previous work includes product management at Hewlett-Packard and Amazon’s Kindle team. Here, Ghadiali discusses the inner workings of Ouya and responds to criticisms surrounding its off-the-shelf components. To read more on Ouya, including exclusive interviews with Ouya CEO Julie Uhrman and the console’s all-star games developer backers, see games™ 126, on sale now.
We are confident in our price point and know that this can be done. We’re using standard industry hardware. Anyone could look up the bill of materials based on the components we’ve announced and do their own calculations about the price. This approach is just one example of how Ouya has challenged the thinking that has guided the console industry until now. Consoles don’t require a custom chipset and expensive development tools anymore. Technology has improved and it’s more available and powerful than ever before. Because we bypassed the custom chipset, we don’t need to pass additional costs onto consumers. I think Julie [Uhrman] has said it before: What is innovative here isn’t the technology. It’s the business model and the relationship we have with developers. Our tech is standard, but it’s wrapped in a beautiful package designed by Yves Behar, and the controller is really cool.
Why did you decide to use the Tegra 3 chip and what do you say to people who think the chip will start to show its age by 2013?
It’s no surprise that people read through our plans and talk about how they would do it differently or could do it better by doing X, Y or Z. But we are confident in our ability to provide a great gaming experience based on the specs we’ve outlined. Many of the people who question this decision are thinking in mobile terms and forget that Ouya doesn’t have a battery or a screen, so we don’t have to balance power for battery life. We are actively working with NVidia to maximize the power of the Tegra 3. With Tegra 3 we can offer provide performance without significantly driving up costs. By integrating a current product rather than a future product we have an advantage in that we know exactly how it performs, and can get developers working on Ouya as soon as possible.
Can you go into more detail about how you’ll be maximizing the chip’s power with NVidia?
The Tegra3 has been traditionally optimized for mobility and battery life. Since Ouya is a console that’s always connected to a power supply, that’s not a concern for us. We can increase graphics performance, and gamers will experience higher fidelity graphics and smoother performance.
What can you tell us about the developer environment on Ouya?
Ouya will use industry standard development tools, based on what exists for Android. By using an established standard, we are immediately accessible to the millions of developers familiar with Android today. Over time, we’ll add more.
Porting games from Android will obviously be simple but what can you do to help developers port from other systems like PC and iOS?
We will provide porting guidelines for developers interested in adapting existing games to Ouya. That said, we don’t intend for Ouya to be mostly for ports. We expect that developers will create new types of gameplay built on Android to capitalize on the TV, and to exploit the unique features of our controller. We’ve already had literally hundreds of developers email us offering to develop exclusive content for Ouya, there simply isn’t another console like it.
Since going live on Kickstarter you’ve obviously received an abundance of feedback. Has any of this feedback led you to alter the design of the console or change any of your plans?
Yes. It’s unique that future customers can weigh in on a product in development, and Ouya is especially lucky because our backers are largely comprised of both gamers and game makers. It’s an informed audience with really insightful feedback. We don’t take their comments for granted. We are always looking at feedback and making decisions based on where we are in the product development cycle. Some examples of areas where we took feedback: Ethernet (we added a port); Design of the d-pad; Button markings (to address color blind gamers).
Can you go into more detail about how you intend, if at all, to protect Ouya from piracy and hackers?
Ouya will be just as secure as any other Android-powered device. In fact, because all the paid content will require authentication with Ouya’s servers, we will have an added layer of security. Hacking and openness are about getting what you want to do with the hardware. We embrace hackers because we expect that they will push the limits of the hardware beyond what we’ve imagined. Rooting the device won’t give you any more access to the games themselves.
Ouya’s kickstarter phase is over but the console is still available to pre-order. To read more about the $99 games console, see issue 126 of games™, featuring exclusive interviews with the creators of Ouya and the high profile game developers who are personally funding the project. games™ 126 is available both in print and as a half-price digital edition.