Tuesday, June 11, 2013

OUYA: Lots of potential, but not quite ready for prime time

Last week, I got my OUYA game console, in what was one of the last batch of devices to go out to Kickstarter supporters. I've got it connected and working (sometimes,) but the device's potential is considerably greater than what the current console can deliver.

At the outset, let me make clear that I'm not dumping on either OUYA's device or the company itself. I want to see OUYA succeed, but to say that the current device is "rough around the edges" is an understatement:

  • The instruction manual that comes with the console explains how to connect and power up the device, but it says nothing about how to add batteries to the controllers. It's easy enough to find information on the Internet on how to take off the side panels in order to add batteries, but users shouldn't have to do that.
  • When I first turned the console on, all I got was the "circle U" logo on screen, which stayed there quite a while. I assumed that the console was locked up, so I held down the power button until the console powered down. Then, I powered it back up, and had the same problem, so I pulled the power plug, waited a while, and turned it back on. Same problem. It took several tries before the console successfully booted up and came to the home screen.
  • Once in the user interface, OUYA bounces between customized screens and conventional Android menus and dialog boxes. That's not all that confusing for people who are familiar with stock Android, but it's likely to be a problem for novice users. For example, when downloading and installing a game, it looked as though I'd installed the game based on OUYA's prompts, but then I got an Android dialog box which asked if I wanted to install the game. So, I installed it (or installed it again.)
  • My console has locked up a variety of times, usually when restarting the console or when searching for a game to install. Lockups require that the power cord be removed for several minutes.
  • If you want to purchase a game, you have to first save your credit card information in an OUYA account. There's no way to enter a credit card from within games. At this point, I don't feel comfortable keeping my credit card permanently on file with OUYA, and I don't want to go through the process of first entering and then deleting it every time I want to buy a game or make an in-app purchase.
  • There's also no way to manage your account from the OUYA website. It would be much easier to enter credit card information from a web browser, but other than creating an account, everything has to be done from the console.
  • I love the fact that OUYA is open to any game developer, but that sometimes results in inconsistent or missing controls. For example, I've been unable to figure out how to completely exit from several games. In one case, the game has a menu with an "Exit" option that's available by pressing the power button on the controller, but all it does it take you back to the game's home page. There's no way to completely exit the game (at least that I've found.)
All of these problems are fixable, but taken together, it's clear that the OUYA console is, or should still be, in beta testing. However, the console is scheduled to go on sale to the general public on June 25th, through Amazon, Best Buy, GameStop and Target. As of today, I can't recommend that you buy an OUYA. If you wait a few months, the most serious bugs should be worked out, and there should be a much better selection of games available. OUYA would probably have been better off by holding off on general retail availability until the fall.

As I said, I'm a big fan of the ideas underlying OUYA, and I think that it will eventually be a great casual gaming console with lots of potential for set-top box applications as well. It's just not there yet.
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