Ouya, The $99 Android-Based Video Game Console

By Norman Chan

The goal is to bring best of smartphone and tabling gaming to the living room.

The current fight for the living room seems to be split between two types of set top boxes. Dedicated gaming consoles like the Xbox and PlayStation occupy the high end of the spectrum, with relatively high entry costs for gamers to play (and pay for) "premium" games and access to flourishing arcade marketplaces. On the other hand, plenty of sub-$100 devices like the Apple TV and Roku give users the ability to tap into streaming media services and marketplaces to rent or purchase video and music. The pricey consoles prioritize gaming first with other media features incorporated later as a value-add, while the cheaper boxes tout a superior media playback experience with light gaming capabilities tacked on later (think Roku's Angry Birds implementation). Ouya, a new Android-based device powered by an Nvidia Tegra 3 processor, wants to be an affordable set top box that puts gaming first. And to compete with existing video game consoles, the company is taking lessons learned from the smartphone and tablet gaming experience and game development and attempting to bring that to your living room's HDTV.

Based on prototype designs shown on its Kickstarter page, the Ouya game console won't look much different from existing set top game consoles. It has a cube-like chassis designed by Yves Behar and an RF wireless gamepad that's a little reminiscent of the OnLive controller--but with a trackpad. And accompanying the Tegra 3 SoC is 1GB of RAM and 8GB of storage. That sure sounds like the specs of an Android phone or tablet--or even Google's Nexus Q. But unlike the Q, Ouya will run an unlocked version of Android 4.0 and be bundled with a free SDK, encouraging users to hack the system software (and as its makers claim, even the hardware). Basically, every Ouya owner can also be an Ouya game developer.

But even though the system runs Android, users will get games not from the Google Play store, but Ouya's own marketplace. There, every game will be required to have some kind of free-to-play mode, whether it's a time trial or fully microtransaction-supported experience. Ouya's Kickstarter (where you can pre-order the $99 console) hosts optimistic quotes from notable game developers, though it remains to be seen what Ouya's game selection will be like when the console launches--supposedly by March of next year.