Ouya is a real revolution, just not an instant one

Ouya: People's Console!

As the old television as we know (public or private in satelite/cable formats) loses relevance worldwide, the role of the TV device for entertainment, news and media, both for the person and for the family, changes too. That's where I see Ouya is filling a gap in a niche that is under served by global and local media & entertaiment companies and game consoles that we have now. Curiously, the revolution that Ouya is leading, will happen first and with most impact in the so called "developing countries" because, as most of the unfair critics shown, a big part of the "developed contries users" have hard time getting it. In my experience, even hard core gamers (which I'm not) in the Global South, with full featured consoles can sense the possibilities and the niche that Ouya is addressing. Here I will talk about my personal experience with Ouya, its possibilities and some suggestions to be made. I will be contrasting it at the begining with Roku to focus finaly on the Ouya experience and before you tell me that I'm comparing oranges and apples, my quest will be on how you can "add value to the TV experience" in a global market with special emphasis on emergent ones. So, if you're willing to spend between 80 and 100 bucks for this kind of added value experience, ¿where you get more for your money and also what kind of new possibilities these devices open?

But before a disclaimer: I'm not a video gamer. Most of my gaming experience comes from old style tabletop role playing games like the classic D&D, Vampire or indies like Sorcerer or Cycle of Existence. I mostly work in front of a computer screen, so I prefer to play and entertaint somewhere else, where I can meet family and friends in flesh and bones. That being said, I feel compeled by Ouya for several reasons and I think that the external view of someone who is not inside the usual niches of hard core video gamers, console and PC users, or even in the "developed countries", can be useful, precisely because that gives a pair of fresh eyes where the usual suspects are seeing and saying the same.

Some more background

I'm interested in open and community innovation, and, in that model, crowdfunding is a way to explore ideas and made them sustainable. So I was pretty interested in Ouya since its "market signal" as a the second most successful campaing on Kickstarter and in the history of crowdsourcing until now.

Mostly because of the lack of quality programs and the overload of crap news, I replaced cable and public television, almost absolutely, by the Internet. I saw no television since almost a year ago and I have had long periods before that unplugged from television. The space once filled by The Television is now occupied by The Net in the form of social networks (mostly Twitter for relevant news streams) and Netflix for series and movies. I feel not confortable at relaying only on the "big players" and long before their popularity, I belonged to some other and most important sources of networked learning, entertainment and work in the global and local communities of the Free Culture movement. In fact, I have some kind of ambivalence and struggle with the Netflix's lobby efforts for DRM in HTML5 and maybe I will unplug it too, but thats another post issue.

Anyway, with that background in mind, I was planning to buy an Ouya as a hackable game and entertainment console. I was distracted buying a Roku 3 device, because of a well intended but bad advice of a good friend (yes you know who you are! :-P). The problem is that Netflix and Roku practice a geo-segregation policy for persons through content, but where the first is shy and put some of its content grid available, the second goes far beyond and made no Netflix content available at all, even for paying customers. Yes, you can not even install Netflix on Roku and their excuse is that they work as intended on U.S., Canada and Ireland, so if you don't live there and have reached until this line, take this advice: Don't buy Roku in Latin America, get an Ouya instead (motives will be evident later).

So I take several decisions:

  • To damn Roku and start my lonely protest on Internet with the hash tag #RokuIsCrippledForLatam with updates about this issue and how to hack or trash your Roku device.
  • To put my friend on my "pending issues" list.
  • To go back to the hackable by design devices space where Ouya fits perfectly as a pioners in game & entertainment consoles. A space that I shouldn't have left.

The Experience on two promised revolutions

Roku promotes itself as:

... the first product designed to deliver movies from Netflix instantly on TV, using the power of the Internet. Since then, our best-selling Roku streaming players have become synonymous with amazing choice, control, and value in TV entertainment. Join us—and be a part of the Roku revolution.

Ouya has been adverticed also as a revolution. Its web page says:

A New Kind of Video Game Console.


All that 1080p goodness isn’t just for gaming. OUYA brings all your favorite apps to the big screen, streaming shows, movies, and music directly into the living room.

The first thing to notice was that unlike Roku, Ouya delivers its promise. I started to play in seconds and in minutes I was able to install Netflix and play the content available for my account. While Roku's support deparment advice was kind of "please don't hack us"[1], With Ouya hacking is a given.

Yes, Netflix support is not "just click" and yes, you will need to know where to find and some kind of technical expertise for having Netflix "in minutes". But here, in the Global South, hacking your game console just to access content is a default. You need to go to a phisycal place where that happens, have your "trusted provider" for content and jailbreakings. Then you will start to add "cracked"[2] games, because the prices for them are prohibitive in this part of the world (in fact they're also in many places of the Global North). Now consider that you don't have to do any of that things with Ouya, because free to play and extending (sideloading [#sideloading]_ ) are part of the default experience and prices for console and games are reasonable even here!

Now imagine what can be done when content is not used to geosegregrate people. One of my main motivations was to see Netflix, but before that, I was able to enable excellent widely available content, like Ted Talks (both in Roku and Ouya) and Jamendo selected songs. Now add to that was is enabled by privacy aware p2p network apps. In fact, before Ouya, I had thought in some kind of p2p, privacy aware media + router device and Ouya mades me think that the time for such kind of devices has begun (but that would be also a theme for another post).

Final comments and suggestions

  • Netflix as other content and apps are still not smooth in Ouya. I lost a minor part of the screen, the down menu for browsing inside the season chapters is not available and pause/play is a little tricky. I think that this would change whith future versions of the Netflix apk and, hopefully, Ouya people will make some deal to include this as a free app in the market, because clearly, Netflix needs to run in as many devices as possible as a suscription content based business.
  • The social aspect of Ouya needs a lot of work. Here are two places to improve first:
    • Because exploring is part of the experience, having user channels and social suscriptions and interactions that help with that exploration would be a key in getting the explorative advantange most clear and ordered. Think somethink like the collections of groveshark and how you can follow a user and his/her collections. So let's enable users channels of games and selections build in a community fashion.
    • In the same spirit, we need a more granular way to evaluate the game and gaming experience besides "thumbs up". I would suggest at least a scale like this:
      • Not of my taste
      • Good
      • Excelent
  • I have had some issues on reading USB thumb drives. Installing the ouya file explorer gives me a hint about proper hability to read, but files were not shown on xbmc, only on VLC. So the only way to have it working was after a reboot on the console (not the "soft" shutdown with the controller).
  • In the Global South I see Ouya as a family entertainment and media device. There is a potencial market for intermediaries which sell and support the device. I even imagine Ouya in the old fashioned neighborhood games Arcades and community centers. The sense of community, neighborhood and family is stronger here. In that scenarios we need multiuser support, PINs for credit card control and even a cloud account and external storage devices to load your games and other personal data even with low bandwith. But first things first: please put a PIN protected option for credit card for shared ouya environments.
  • And most importantly: don't do geo-segregation of people through content. I read that there is a provision for that on your developer's agreement and I can understand it as a legacy concern of a world that we're, hopefully, leving behind with the help of Internet. You at Ouya are getting a lot of things right, so please don't be wrong on this one.

Ouya is the first of many devices that will be fighting to fill the gap leave by TV and proposing and exploring new scenarios for a new TV mediated experience. The added value proposal of Ouya is a hackeable by design device with exploration and modification as a build in part of the experience with an open company that is willing to try, to make mistakes and to learn, but most importantly to let us do the same together with them and their support. This will be probably a revolution, and, as with many, it will be one that starts first at the periphery, where dynamics are different and the usual suspects are not looking.


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