Plugged In

Ouya console coming June 4, but issues persist

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Ouya console and controller (Credit: Ouya)

Ouya, the crowd-funded console that hopes to offer an alternative to pricier systems, finally has a launch date.

While those who helped fund the system through its successful Kickstarter campaign will start getting their units in the coming days, the rest of the world will be able to purchase the Android-based console June 4 for $100 from Amazon, Best Buy, GameStop and Target.

That's substantially less than a Wii U or the expected price of a PlayStation 4 or next-generation Xbox, but there are certainly some trade-offs for the low price.

The Ouya, shown this week at the Game Developer’s Conference, is not a system for players who want flashy graphics. The company is instead showcasing 8-bit games that would be more at home graphically in the Atari 2600 days, though the final lineup for the retail launch will be different than what early owners will see. That's not to say they're not fun, but it's going to be an uphill battle to market to consumers who are used to higher visual fidelity.

The system boasts a sleek interface with four categories: Play, Discover, Make and Manage. Play, as you might guess, is where the owner's game catalog is stored. Discover is the storefront and also features a mode allowing developers to upload their games for public testing. Make lets any owner become a game developer, while Manage lets users control system settings.

The main hardware is small and attractive, but the controller has been getting mixed reviews.

“The triggers and D-pad work just fine, but they look cheap and feel mushy,” writes The Verge. “And the controller feels well-constructed but somehow not very solid.” Other journalists who had some hands-on time took to Twitter to complain about a lag issue between the controller and the onscreen actions.

Early backers will see between 60 and 70 games, but CEO Julie Uhrman says she has no idea how many retail customers will see. Though at last month's D.I.C.E. conference she told attendees game makers have already committed to 450 titles for the system, she notes that was taken from a fan site and has no internal data to back that up.

Ouya is adopting a cell phone strategy as far as revisions go. Uhrman says she expects to release new hardware every year. Whether people will be willing to buy new hardware annually in this space is a big question mark, though.

And that's just one of many potential stumbling blocks for the system. Ouya doesn't plan to work with the ESRB (the games ratings board) for titles. Instead, it says, it will scan them internally for things like malware, IP infringement and pornography, then make it available.

Uhrman also could not voice a firm plan to ensure games are COPPA (The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act) compliant, a growing issue of concern for the Federal Trade Commission -- and a key factor given the expected large number of games that will include microtransactions on the system. Ouya will also launch without parental controls, though the feature is reportedly coming.

It's an interesting experiment. The question is: Will Ouya be able to attract an audience beyond those who contributed to the Kickstarter? And, if so, will it be able to sustain that customer base once new systems from Microsoft and Sony arrive later this year?

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