The Fifth Column: Open Source Video Gaming: OOO-yah!
When Gabe Newell speaks, the video game industry tends to take note. Recently he mentioned that Windows 8 is a ‘catastrophe’ that will lead product manufacturers to abandon the platform. In addition to this he stated that he wants to make it as easy as possible for the games on Steam to run on Linux. This support for Linux is a ‘hedge’ in the event that Windows 8 crashes and burns.
The world of video games has changed a lot in the last few years with the rise of iOS and Android. Gamers now have mobile devices in addition to conventional consoles and computers to get their gaming fix. According to our man Gabe, games are critical in driving consumer purchasing behaviour. Linux has not been able to garner industry support as a desktop gaming platform. So given the poor support for games on Linux, is all lost for the Open Source video game movement? The answer is a resounding ‘No’, and not because of Valve’s hedge bet.
The future of Open Source video gaming is called Ouya. Yes, I know, I don’t get the name either. From the promotional video it sounds like you must pronounce it OOYAAH – which is also weird. Ouya is an open source console which runs Android. It has turned into a KickStarter sensation with an initial funding target of $950 000 and to date has raised more than six million dollars, in pledges. Despite the phenomenal success in securing funding, there were initial concerns that Ouya was another false start in Open Source video gaming. After all there are other Open Source Gaming devices in the market place. There is the Pandora handheld which is a portable Linux PC which you can also use for gaming. The GP2X is a dedicated Linux based handheld console. It is however aimed at homebrew developers and is used to run emulators of popular consoles like Neo Geo and Sega, it is also only available in South Korea. There are also other consoles that promised to disrupt the market but in the end did not amount to much, see the 3DO and the Phantom. The 3DO was a cutting edge console at the time of its launch but an exorbitant price tag and poor third party developer support meant that it suffered a quick exit from the market. I didn’t know what the Phantom was until I Googled it, a ‘next generation’ console that did not make it past the prototype phase, the name is aptly prescient.
The Ouya has a lot in its favour. It uses the Android OS which is a proven platform for Indie game developers. This means that it integrates into an established Open Source gaming and application ecosystem. The device is small and highly portable which means it’s easy to show to your friends. It leverages a proven digital delivery model by excluding an optical drive. In addition to all this, the cream on the cake is the $99 price point, and this includes one controller. There is no other console in the market that can come close to competing with the Ouya on price. If you want a better idea of the kind of graphics $99 buys you, you can have a look at the Tegra 3 video.
With the rise of Android on smartphones and tablets, the Ouya appears to be a natural progression from portable gaming to a dedicated console. Its features have attracted the attention of Square Enix who plan on releasing Final Fantasy 3 for it. The OnLive game streaming service will also be available on the system. They have also signed a deal with Vevo, the music and entertainment service. With this early support from industry heavy weights, it will not be long before more publishers sign up – if only to hedge their bets. Perhaps that was what Gabe Newell was hinting at…Steam on the Ouya, remember you heard it here first.