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Newcomer hopes to disrupt the console market with an open Android box

Newcomer hopes to disrupt the console market with an open Android box Exclusive

July 10, 2012 | By Frank Cifaldi

"I'm not alone in thinking the console industry has experienced a brain-drain in recent years."

That's Julie Uhrman, speaking to us last week about her pet project, Ouya, a new bit of hardware introduced today on Kickstarter that hopes to disrupt the traditional television console business by offering a (mostly) open platform.

[Update: After just a few hours, the Kickstarter campaign has reached its funding goal of $950,000. There are still 29 days for the campaign to rack up additional funds.]

For a $99 Kickstarter pledge, Ouya backers will receive a small, stylish box with some reasonably high-end tech under the hood, a unique wireless controller (imagine something like a PlayStation or Xbox controller, but with a touchpad in the middle), and access to a wide variety of Android-based games that were either built from the ground up or have been modified to play on a television.

The attraction for game developers is in Ouya's ability to offer the best of both worlds: an open platform allowing just about anyone to publish a game, much like a modern smartphone, along with a traditional game controller and television display.

"The television is still the best screen for playing games," Uhrman tells us. "It's still where the most time and dollars are spent."

But what may be somewhat off-putting for developers thinking about getting on board with Ouya is that some key business aspects for the platform -- namely the approval process -- are still shrouded in mystery. The exact plans for Ouya's platform are still too early to talk about, but for game developers specifically, here's what we've been able to find out.

The Ouya runs on Android 4.0

Porting games from their tablet and smartphone versions should prove to be a simple procedure. Software is launched from a custom menu that, at least in its current prototype form, is reminiscent of the modern Xbox 360 dashboard.

Under the hood is, basically, a Nexus 7

The Ouya uses a Tegra 3 processor, similar to the one used in many Android-based Asus tablets (including the Nexus 7 and the Transformer Pad series). It also includes 1GB of RAM and 8GB of on-board Flash memory, just like the Nexus 7.

There's a touchpad on the controller

Given that this console is meant to attract those who are already developing touchscreen-based games, the Ouya's included controller has a touchpad directly on the face, as with most modern laptops.

The SDK is free

A big push of the Ouya is in how "open" the unit is. To that extent, we're told an SDK will be included with every unit. Additionally, much like modern phones, every Ouya box also functions as a debug unit for testing.

Ouya takes a 30% cut

Much like Apple, Ouya will take a 30% cut of all transactions made in games on its platform. Oh, and speaking of:

Every game must have some free gameplay

Uhrman says Ouya game developers are required to make some of the gameplay available for free. This can be provided in the form of a free demo with a paid full-game upgrade, a base game with virtual item sales and other free-to-play business models. Subscriptions are also supported.

And finally:

We're not clear on the approval process

And, perhaps, neither is Ouya itself. Our repeated questions as to the nature of the approval process and, more importantly, how Ouya will solve the Android's ever-present discoverability problem were dodged, with Uhlman only saying that the company is "working closely" with independent developers to "build a solution with them in mind."

The Kickstarter campaign, which launched today, is seeking $950,000 to complete development of both the hardware and software platform, as well as partially fund some game development.

[Update: The article originally said games must use the free-to-play business model. More correctly, games are required to provide at least some free gameplay. Sorry for any confusion.]

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