Above: Ouya Founder/CEO Julie Uhrman with interviewer Joshua Topolsky of the Verge.
At SXSW, everybody loves a good disruptor -- the next killer app or service that promises to make waves in an industry. In a keynote interview Monday afternoon at the Austin Convention Center, Ouya founder/CEO Julie Uhrman made one of the conference’s most earnest attempts at delivering just that by discussing Ouya, a grassroots gaming and home entertainment console arriving in limited release at the end of this month.
A cube-shaped set-top box the size of a snow globe, Ouya owes its life to a phenomenally successful Kickstarter campaign. Last year, Uhrman blew past a goal of $950,000 in funding in a mere eight hours by promising to deliver an independent gaming console that would bring openness and innovation back into what had been deemed a stagnant field. Over a 30-day period, Uhrman and Ouya collected $8.6 million from more than 63,000 supporters.
“It was the opposite of ‘Field of Dreams.’ We said, ‘If you come, we will build this,’” Uhrman said, noting that she assembled a strong development team, including the renowned product designer Yves Behar, before turning to Kickstarter. “There was a real hunger for this product out in the world. No new hardware was announced at [the gaming expo] E3 that year. And all the big new games were sequels.”
Stagnant or not, gaming and home entertainment is a crowded market, and Uhrman was careful to note that she doesn’t necessarily see Ouya as an either-or proposition for those who already own consoles made by Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo. Rather, she positioned the device as sitting between the big consoles and smartphones and tablets, which have attracted scores of new gamers in recent years with thumb-friendly apps like Temple Run and Angry Birds.
“We were playing games on our phones and tablets, and we found that it was a distraction as opposed to an immersive experience,” Uhrman said of the Ouya team. “We wanted to see a new breed of inventive and creative games that will transport you and take advantage of a big television screen.”
Ouya will start at $99 and run a modified version of Google’s Android software. The device will be largely focused on streaming, and Uhrman said she is in talks with Amazon, Netflix, Hulu and others to offer their services at or near launch. Vevo, iHeartRadio, TuneIn and OnLive are already on board.
Because of its status as a big-screen home entertainment device, Ouya hopes to establish healthy profit margins for its developing partners. Developers -- Uhrman said that there are currently more than 7,000 -- will be able to charge whatever they want for their games and apps, rather than being encumbered by the expectation of 99 cent and $1.99 downloads that currently prevails on mobile devices. Ouya will also provide helpful metrics, like how frequently an app is used and for how long.
“We don’t want to limit anyone’s potential,” Uhrman said. “We just want to create a great platform where anyone with imagination is able to build a great experience.”
Backers of the Kickstarter campaign will receive their Ouya devices at the end of this month. A pre-sale for the console is currently available on the company website, although Uhrman wouldn’t say how many she has sold so far. In June, a wider retail rollout is planned via outlets including Amazon, Best Buy, Game Stop and Target. Uhrman said the device will be available for sale in 110 countries at launch.