Ouya has experienced a wild year in 2013, following the massive success of its Kickstarter drive, the launch of its Android-based console and the drive to get more developers, games and buyers. Ouya CEO Julie Uhrman recounted some of this in a blog post, noting that Ouya now has over 675 games available and 33,000 developers signed up.
There have been difficulties along the way, like the effort to launch a game development matching fund for Kickstarter projects that suffered from some initial problems. Ouya's appearance at the 2013 E3 show took place amidst some controversy as well, but in the end it got the console some attention at a time when most media was focused on the release of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles. Ouya's initial game lineup was small, there were complaints about the controllers, and generally the early reviews of the console were lukewarm at best.
Ouya's put in a lot of time and effort to overcome these issues, providing mutliple releases of system software, revising the controller design, and lining up more games and more developers. Ouya's now available at retail across North America and Europe, and Ouya consoles have shipped around the world. Ouya hasn't released any sales figures, though, and it's not at all clear how well the console is selling. Ouya recently released an enhanced version of the console with twice the memory (16GB) for $129, with the original Ouya still priced at $99.
Ouya CEO Julie Uhrman
The [a]list daily spoke with Ouya's CEO Julie Uhrman about the Ouya's future, the prospect of direct competition from Amazon and Apple, and how Ouya is marketing its console in a noisy retail environment.
Ouya's first year was a rough one, but Uhrman feels they've proved themselves and are ready to expand. “I think we have bigger goals this year,” said Uhrman. “Last year was really a proof year for us – proof of concept, proof of business model, proof of hardware, proof that we could build and ecosystem where gamers and developers engaged on a regular basis. We feel pleased that we achieved all those goals. This year is really about growing Ouya and finding ways to bring games to more people, regardless of where they pay.”
The launches of the PS4 and Xbox One attracted enormous media attention, but did that affect Ouya? “It didn't affect us in any way beyond what we anticipated, which was a lot more attention and excitement for video games on the television,” Uhrman said. “We saw a lift in our sales for the holidays, despite new platforms in the space. At the end of the day, these were exactly what we expected them to be: Very expensive boxes that have a lot of features and functionality, with limited choice of content for gamers that is also really expensive.”
The history of successful consoles has really been about great exclusive games that have propelled hardware sales, and Uhrman is well aware of this. “Of our 675 games, about one-fifth of them are exclusive on the platform,” Uhrman noted. “Developers are finding real success. No, they're not making millions of dollars yet, but they're finding their audience and they're starting to build real credibility and they're starting to build a real brand and a reputation. We see that because some of our developers are coming back for a second time.” Still, there has yet to be a platform-defining hit, but Uhrman points to a number of Ouya exclusives coming out as compelling titles, including Chess 2, Obscurus, and Soul Fjord.
Ouya's platform strategy is evolving. As the mobile hardware that the Ouya is based around improves rapidly, it's reasonable to expect improvements in the Ouya hardware as well. The downside is this would fragment the user base, as some would have more powerful devices than others. It's a problem, but Ouya's plans go beyond that issue. “We will always have an Ouya reference device. Think of it similar to the Kindle strategy, or Google's Android itself,” Uhrman explained. “Ouya is more than just that reference device, it's an ecosystem that really can live on other people's devices. One of the focuses this year is Ouya finding ways to bring games to more people, regardless of where they play.”
Then Uhrman dropped a bombshell. “One thing you'll start to see is Ouya on other people's devices,” she said. “For us, we'll always have a minimum set of standards so the games will work well on our device as well as others. It's the hardware plus an ecosystem. If you think about the traditional game consoles, they're custom hardware and custom chips. To get those games, you have to buy a box for hundreds of dollars. We've always wanted to open that up. We started with a $99 box, but we always wanted to create a console platform that can live on other people's devices. We just knew it was going to take us a little bit of time to get it ready. Now we think the software is good enough, it's ready to be embedded in other people's devices. We actually started having some of these conversations during CES, and the takeup was so great that we're really jumping into the strategy with both feet this year.”
That's an interesting expansion of the strategic vision for Ouya, but the company needs to be aggressive. Both Amazon and Apple are rumored to be launching direct competition to Ouya this year, but Uhrman's not worried. “It wouldn't be a legitimate product category if Amazon or Apple didn't try to compete in it,” Uhrman said. “We think that there is no better proof to our category that it's worth pursuing than Amazon deciding to go into it. We remain focused on being about games first, and changing the way console gaming works.”
Uhrman doesn't want to talk specific numbers about Ouya's installed base, something that's common among hardware manufacturers (especially when the company is privately held). “Our installed base continues to grow month over month, we continue to hit our internal benchmarks,” she said. “Ouya has been,m from day one, a global product. At the end of our Kickstarter we shipped we shipped to over 110 different countries. Becasue of that, today we support three different currencies, five different language, and we're distributed at retail both physical and online in North America, the UK, western Europe and the Middle East. This year we'll continue to expand globally.”
Marketing Ouya is a difficult task in the increasingly crowded game market, especially with new consoles from much bigger companies vying for attention. “Awareness s always a challenge for any new business, no matter ho great the idea is,” Uhrman said.. “For us in particular, we're in a space with relatively large competitors, so getting awareness for the product is always a challenge. We spend a lot of time focusing on our community and building our community.
How do you spread the word about Ouya? “There's no silver bullet,” Uhrman admitted. “We spend a lot of time talking at events, going to developer events, going to where the gamers are, letting them get hands-on with the product. We do a lot with social media, talking to our community, encouraging them and giving them the tools to talk to their friends. There's the component of paid media, but that gets to be a really expensive game and that's not where our focus is.”