The launch of Ouya is behind us, but Playjam's GameStick, Mad Catz's Mojo, and others are still to come -- and that's just year one. The era of microconsoles has barely gotten started, but they already inspire strong feelings in many developers.
Gamasutra recently interviewed a number them -- some working on microconsole games, and some avowedly not -- to find out what they think of the present and future of these platforms.
When it comes to the Ouya, "I'm a big supporter," says Pietro Righi Riva, of small independent studio Santa Ragione, developer of the IGF-nominated MirrorMoon. He's bringing the game, due out this autumn, to the Ouya -- because he likes the ethos it represents.
"It looks homemade, it looks put together quickly, and some people really do not like that because it feels cheap, but I really love it because it doesn't make me feel like I'm not good enough," says Righi Riva. "I'll always be playing on cooler and more expensive consoles like the big guys, but I'm really enjoying that experience right now."
Double Fine's Kickstarter success Broken Age is also coming to the Ouya, and according to lead programmer Oliver Franzke, that's as much about the culture surrounding this new microconsole as business or technical reasons. "I think there is a really nice overlap between who our backers our and the backers of Ouya, because I think it's a very similar group of people. So that works."
Microconsoles could very well grow into a new kind of console culture -- one built on handcrafted, atypical, or quirky games; one more open to developers, creatively and from a business perspective, too. But will they have the chance?
If there's a key promise of the microconsole model that appeals to developers, it's the appeal of delivering a console-style experience without the expense and red tape of publishing your game on a traditional console.
"I like the openness of it," says Tale of Tales' Auriea Harvey. The team is bringing its upcoming tablet game, Luxuria Superbia, to Ouya. "It's the first time there's a console where it's like zero bullshit."
"Traditionally, bringing games onto the major consoles was not only really expensive, but also you had to be a publisher," says Franzke. Of Double Fine's first Ouya game, the recently released Dropchord, he says, "It's been really good and really easy to get the game on there."
So far, microconsoles rely on Android, which also has its appeal, as Franzke explains: "If you're already spending a lot of work on getting the game running on this kind of platform, then it's only a logical choice to go one step further and go on there," he says. "Obviously, we want to bring the game to as many people as possible, so, again, it's just the logical choice to make it work on there too."
And Righi Riva even sees the platform's couch multiplayer and ease of distribution opening up avenues PCs and traditional consoles do not: "Like if I do a cool prototype of a multiplayer thing, now I can take it somewhere -- where before it was just a jam game, it was impossible to market, it was impossible to distribute, because on phones and tablets you have to do splitscreen where everybody uses a quarter of the screen, or on PC it's just impossible -- you just have to do online games. And now it's possible, and that's really cool."
Harvey even hopes that if they get big enough, these consoles can put pressure on the big three manufacturers to further loosen their publishing policies. "If this sort of idea -- plus mobile, plus everything -- is pressuring Sony, and Microsoft, and Nintendo to think about their ways of publishing, then I think that's extremely valuable and I'm very happy, because somebody needed to do something."
But not all developers are optimistic. Ilari Kuittinen, co-founder of Housemarque -- developers of Resogun, a PlayStation 4 launch exclusive -- can see the good and the bad in microconsoles.
"I think that it's great to have these kind of open-ended platforms to begin with, but as a business, I think it's going to be tough for any developer to do much there," Kuittinen says. "For somebody it will be a good springboard for the future, I'm sure, and if you're a lone developer, you might get your living out of that, sure. Sure, it's a great opportunity for a certain type of people. But if you want to have a long-term business, I think it might be pretty tough."
Machine Zone's Gabriel Leydon (Game of War) agrees. He sees the audience of microconsoles as far too small in comparison to their cousins, mobile phones and tablets: "I think mobile has 2 billion users at the end of the year. We're strictly free-to-play. We only want to do free-to-play, and volume matters in free-to-play, so I'm not particularly interested in the microconsoles -- but I do think they have a future."