Got my Kickstarter OUYA maybe a couple-three weeks ago and I have to say I am not impressed. Actually, I am impressed, but not about playing games on it. It looks nice. The design is pretty good. It’s tiny. Bigger than an Apple TV considering all dimensions (it’s taller) but I think its shelf footprint is smaller.
It’s small and cute and it uses dim white lights for status instead of bright green or red or blue like all the other blinky status LEDs in my now full-to-bursting entertainment cabinet that I wrote about earlier.
But what I’m not impressed by is the shoddy content curation. More about that below.
I’ve been talking about this with my videogaming friends as the new generation of consoles start to be announced, as we put our pre-orders in and speculate how actual player experience will be when we get them in our hot little hands. And some of the latest E3 demo footage is pretty sweet. I think we’re all looking forward to some of the new stuff. Both Watch Dogs and The Division look AMAZING. I really want to see what they’re like, especially in open world exploration, and even the already released game, Remember Me, looks pretty awesome. Of course, as seasoned gamers, we all know that previews can be very different from hands-on, so we’ll have to see.
So I think I’ve decided, aside from the OUYA which I already have in hand and will discuss a little later, to go forward with the XBox One. This isn’t a decision I make lightly. Right now I own an XBox 360, a PS3, an Apple TV, an OUYA, an iPad with Retina Display, an iPhone 5, Sonos and a 2011 Mac Mini Server (along with hardware I have for my job). I even used to own a Wii. I’m not saying this to brag. What you need to know is that I go to where the games are, go to where the experience is good and where the community is good. And I think that community part is key. Because after owning all of this hardware, I find myself returning most regularly to the XBox. And given open platform stuff like the OUYA or less controlled stuff like the PS3, or more content-rich stuff like the iPad, it’s odd that I would return again and again to the XBox.
I think it’s because Microsoft has a very high QC requirement for their games (moreso, I think, than Apple), they’re not Android based, they’re very proprietary, they have a monolithic player matching system that relies heavily on the XBox-Centric XBox Live membership and experience. It’s very well controlled. They also spend money on content curation. They have a staff of permanent writers, vlog personalities, social media experts whose other job is to promote content, curate it, present it in various collections and reviews and videos. They don’t just let the software developers and publishers do it, but they themselves do it and they do it very intentionally. And I never thought I would say this, but I think that brings an edge and is something I like.
Let’s run this down. The PS3 only held me for the Blu-ray eventually. I did also buy Little Big Planet 1 and 2 (which is charming), Tokyo Jungle (sort of horrifically fun) and some Final Fantasies (sentimental), Journey (amazing experience, but kind of short) but multiplayer is bad (in that it’s an inconsistent experience across developers and games and in that multiplayer gamers can suddenly quit on you for no reason) and last I checked Sony’s content curation wasn’t particularly stellar. To be fair, I didn’t sign up for Playstation Plus, and maybe it’s a little better in Playstation Plus land. Also, just looked at the Playstation store and it looks much richer and improved from the last time I looked, months ago.
I also use the Apple TV a lot. Hulu Plus, Netflix, iTunes (more for TV shows and movies I license), maybe the occasional YouTube. Unless the XBox One starts supporting Apple iTunes content, I’ll probably keep using the AppleTV a lot for viewing streaming videos and content I’ve already licensed.
The OUYA? I’ll talk about that in contrast with the XBox 360 in a minute.
The iOS devices, good for short attention span games and some serious games, but I don’t really return regularly to it for the gaming experience. The touch screen definitely has its uses, but for fast-paced video games I prefer a game controller. I should mention though that one reason I like the iPad and the iPhone for smaller computing devices is that they ask very little of me. I don’t have to constantly run Antivirus programs, disk defrag, registry cleaners, anti-spyware. I don’t have to regularly review startup sequences. I don’t have to keep track of which app saves which files to which locations. I just use them and they work and that simplicity is worth a lot to me. I’m already a Systems Engineer for my working job. I don’t need to be one for my gaming hobby as well. Similarly I like that about the consoles too. A lot less to do to keep them in game playing trim.
On the Mac Mini I play some games (mostly with Steam), but not many unless I can’t get the same game on a console.
So now we’ve come around to the OUYA (in comparison to the XBox). Let’s let the OUYA stand for open source, open platform, open dev and we’ll let the XBox stand for closed source, closed platform, closed/chosen dev. Considering the different consoles’ features (XBox has the Indie Games section of XBox Live and there’ve got to be some limitations on what you can do on the OUYA if only because not every player is going to have time or money to integrate a new Raspberry Pi circuit onto his/her OUYA and patch the OS to accommodate it), this isn’t entirely true or fair but I think it’s true to a first approximation.
Also understand that I, the author, am 44 for only 2 more weeks. I have reasonable disposable income and a key factor here is that instead of investigating each and every offering for any console, I have choices. Instead of video gaming or doing console or gaming platform maintenance I could, for instance, invite some buddies over for cocktails or watch a move with friends or have dinner out. So I’m oriented towards quick-hit gaming experiences and consoles or sometimes arranged multiplayer gaming with friends that don’t ask too much of me for set-up. (And I like games that don’t force me into long, unsaveable sessions where I don’t know whether I’ll survive.)
I played around with the OUYA. It’s a peppy, solid machine. It’s got funny status messages when it updates itself. If anything, it’s too light. The stiffness of certain HDMI cables sort of wrenches it around and I wish it were slightly heavier so it was the one doing the wrenching (of the cables).
On the OUYA, the process of downloading game trials is somewhat non-intuitive and you often get a chintzy feel from playing the trial before you unlock it by paying for it. Of the games I tried out, the most polished seemed to be You Don’t Know Jack, which is from 2011 on other platforms. Despite the OUYA’s promise of “every game free to play” unfortunately some software publishers don’t really take this seriously and the free part is obvious crap designed to make you want to pay for the unlocked version. To be fair, XBox’s trial games started out that way too, so I won’t point fingers there, but I think it’s not my imagination to say that that’s improved over time – now XBox trial games are usually pretty functional. Or maybe it’s just that the market of trial-version games on the XBox marketplace is so much bigger. With time we’ll see if the OUYA starts carrying more interesting games with more fully functional free modes. I haven’t tried their multiplayer matching so I can’t comment on that.
In contrast, XBox’s online and content experience is so much richer and potentially more informative. User reviews in the form of star ratings, sortable lists by release date, user ratings, most downloaded, searchable and browsable indexes of games, recommendations, related games and often advertisement, video reviews and other channels (including the xbox.com website where you can access most of this content even through a corporate firewall) get you to the same content in different browsing modes. Also I’m pretty impressed with the quality of the games created for XBox, either through Microsoft Studios or other large publishers.
On the XBox, Users themselves are rated and this comes to play in multiplayer matching. There’s actually a social penalty (minor but it’s there) for quitting a game in the middle of play. I think it keeps people playing even if they’re not having a 5 star experience, which keeps other players in the session from having a 3 star experience because they’re on a team that’s short handed. There’s also an iOS app that also gets me to that content AND provides me another remote controller for the console. Online play includes achievements and achievement comparison with online friends, messaging, chat, and with games that support it, cooperative or competitive play and party chat. Almost all Xbox games’ multiplayer engine seems to have the same API in common.
So I guess all that’s my reasons for wanting to stick with Microsoft and see what the XBox One brings. I hope Microsoft keeps up the high standards of curation that they have so far. I really think all the curation and all the social features wind up giving me a better experience in comparison with OUYA and PS3. And I wish OUYA could provide that too somehow. Maybe there’s a way to leverage crowd sourcing to do it that doesn’t suck?
Anyway, as long as the gloss and shine is still there, I think my best gaming experience will be via the XBox. So I’m glad I got the OUYA, glad I Kickstarted it, glad it got there, but I’m not glad to play it, at least not yet.
(I think competition in markets brings innovation and I am glad also that Microsoft abandoned its insane DRM plans in the face of so much criticism at E3. And I don’t think that would happen without competition in the market.)
The Bottom Line on OUYA
- $170 Kickstarted Limited Edition plus Additional Controller