The $99 Xbox? Ouya's Affordable Gaming Console Aims to Shake Up an Industry

Can a $99 gaming system with free games take on Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony?

June 26, 2013, 9:29 AM

June 26, 2013 — -- This holiday season Microsoft launches its $499 Xbox One and Sony its $399 Playstation 4. It's a big year for gaming fans and, well, a big year for their wallets, especially when you consider that those prices don't include any of the games.

But starting this week there is a new, significantly more affordable gaming console on the market, which will sit next to those other hotly anticipated systems on Best Buy and Target shelves later this year.

It's called Ouya (pronounced like Booya, without the B). It costs $99 and it's nothing like the other consoles in terms of price, performance and offerings. And that's the point.

"Ouya is a different type of game console. We wanted to bring gaming back to the television by making it accessible to gamers," Julie Uhrman, the founder of Ouya, told ABC News in an interview. "All the games are free to try, and we allow any developer with the creativity and passion to build a game for the television to do so."

Watch the Ouya in Action and an Interview with the Founder

What You Get for $99

Unlike the big clunky Xbox, Wii or Playstation boxes, the Ouya is a small little box, no bigger than other small settop boxes, such as the Apple TV or the Roku. The little vase-shaped device houses the guts of a high-end tablet or smartphone, including an Nvidia quad-core processor and a Wi-Fi radio. There's no CD or Blu-ray drive -- you download the games right to the device.

For $99 you get that box, an HDMI cord to hook it up to your TV and a single, AA-battery-powered controller. Additional controllers will cost $49.95.

The box doesn't only have some of the same parts as your phone, but it also runs the same software as some of those phones. The menus and all the games have been written on top of Google's Android platform. But it's not just a stretched version of the software -- the games and the Ouya software have been created for TVs, Uhrman emphasized.

The whole point of using Android, which is an open platform, was to make Ouya an open console. In fact, the O in Ouya stands for "open." The uya? That stands for fun.

The fun, of course, comes with the games. The console launched on Tuesday with more than 160 games, all of which are free to try. "You shouldn't be gouged by paying $60 for a game if you don't even know if you like it," Uhrman says, taking a knock at the high-priced console games out there. The only requirement of game makers when submitting games to the Ouya store is that playing some part of it must be free.

But, no, you won't find "Halo" or "Call of Duty" or "Madden NFL 13" on Ouya. The new console has attracted a range of game makers with experience making games for the PC and game consoles. It also attracts game makers who have never made a game before.

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One game available for the console called "Astronaut Rescue" was created by a father and his 8-year-old son. "His son broke his leg skiing, and the dad was like you aren't going to sit inside all day long and play games, so they decided to build one," Uhrman said.

Joining games like "Astronaut Rescue" are some names that are more familiar to people, such as Sega's "Sonic the Hedgehog," "Final Fantasy" and "You Don't Know Jack." The lack of well-known titles might be a sticking point for many, but the free options might be all it takes to bring users in, say some experts.

"The Ouya is attractive because of the $100 price and its free-to-try games. That alone will give people pause enough to consider picking up one of these consoles even though they don't play the popular games today," Brian Blau, a research director at Gartner, told ABC News.

The first level of Sonic is free, but to unlock all the levels it costs $6.99. Ouya users are asked to input their credit card numbers during the set-up process.

Spurred by Mobile

What you won't find are a lot of games just brought over from mobile phones, even though the impetus to create the system stemmed from the impact of mobile gaming.

"Games are becoming common on the television. They are sequels, they cost too much to make them -- you are getting the same games over and over again," Uhrman says. " We were starting to see more innovative games on mobile platforms because it was easier for developers to create them."

Uhrman, who has spent 10 years in the video game industry, said she began to see game makers leaving their games for consoles and move over to making games for the phone and tablet. She herself found herself playing games on an 8-inch screen with her daughter, rather than on the big TV in front of her. As the industry changed and evolved with people playing on those smaller screens and testing games before buying them, Uhrman believed the entire console market had to be flipped on its head.

Getting What You Pay For?

Bold words as the brand new Xbox and Playstations make their way to market later this year. However, there are certainly many things the Ouya cannot do that those consoles can. Beyond providing richer games and graphics, they provide more features when it comes to home entertainment, including video and music streaming services. Although Ouya plans to add some of those features soon.

Additionally, early reviews of the Ouya also knock the system for some software and graphics bugs. "There are a few issues that Ouya will need to overcome as quickly as possible. One is this issue of stability," Blau says. "Gamers are a tolerant group but only to an extent."

Still Uhrman believes the console, which is already sold out through Amazon for now, offers something very different for a clear purpose. And, of course, there's also that other reason to consider it, Uhrman says: "I mean, it's $99."

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