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Pandora creator: Kickstarter sensation Ouya could be dead on arrival

Crowd-funded console faces a tough road to market, claims Pandora’s Craig Rothwell
Product: Ouya | Publisher: Ouya Inc.
Ouya Android, thumbnail 1
The newly crowd-funded Ouya console may be breaking records and attracting thousands of generous backers, but it could end up being a commercial disaster which will cost its founders dearly, according to a man who knows a thing or two about launching new gaming hardware.

Craig Rothwell is part of the team behind the Pandora handheld, which was first announced way back in 2006 but suffered delays and setbacks before finally making it to retail.

As such, Rothwell is ideally positioned to provide an experienced viewpoint on the perils of conceptualising, manufacturing and distributing new video gaming hardware.

Rothwell’s most obvious concern is the price - the team behind Ouya are adamant that they can provide a Tegra 3-powered base console equipped with 1GB of RAM and a wireless controller for less than $99 (approximately £60).

“You simply cannot make a quality console and controller for $99, no matter how low you go in China,” comments Rothwell. “Even a Chinese semi-slave production line won't hit $99 at that spec, as the big name parts they are talking about are a set cost. "

"My feelings are that at that price - and remember you have to take off the Kickstarter fees, which brings the console and touchpad-equipped controller in at less than $99 - they will be making a loss on each unit sold.”


The Ouya game controller (via Kickstarter)

Rothwell and his team are currently engaged in bringing the second generation Pandora to market, and he is quick to point out the harsh lessons they’ve learned from the genesis of the original machine. “With the first Pandora we didn't dare take orders until we could show all the hardware working, with exact specs, and a working case and controls.

“We worked out all costs and had quotes which we went public with, and even then everything which could go wrong did go wrong. We survived by the skin of our teeth and via some very, very kind customers and developers. In many ways, we did ‘Kickstarter' before Kickstarter was even a thing; we raised over $1.5 million back in 2009 to fund the completion of the Pandora project.

“Now we have been though that baptism of fire, and know everything that is involved, it’s clear that a race to the lowest possible price isn't how you succeed. That's generally how things can go majorly wrong; when trying to come to market with a rock bottom price, one error, one contractor messing up, and it's curtains."

"Because Ouya is already being sold at that rock bottom price before going to production, there is no way for them to adjust for error. I hope they have a big secret pile of cash they can call on if they need it.”

It’s not just the pricing that troubles Rothwell. Although it’s early days for Ouya, there are nevertheless a lot of unanswered questions about how the system will actually work once its installed under your telly. Naturally, the Pandora man has his own theories. “My guess is that you will have to pay some kind of subscription to use the console, and that is where they plan to claw back some money.”


The troubled Pandora device (CC-Licensed Michael Mrozek)

Rothwell also questions the claim that the system is truly open, and points out that the proposed developer pricing arrangement isn’t quite as revolutionary as Ouya’s founders would have you believe. “They say they are 'open' but the hardware they are using isn't open - it will require binary blobs to use and their software appears to contain DRM,” he says.

“What they are doing with regards to developer fees is also nothing new; they want to charge developers 30% to release a game on their console. What's the point in doing all that work for their comparatively tiny audience when you can get a better deal releasing on iOS or ‘normal’ Android via Google’s popular Play Store? You might as well get a HDMI cable and an iControlpad and use your super-powered Android Tablet on the TV. You can do that right now, without the need for the Ouya.”

Ouya has already smashed its Kickstarter target and still (at the time of writing) has almost a month to go before funding closes.

The interest in the system has been nothing short of astronomical, but as Rothwell knows only too well from his journey to market with the Pandora, expectation has a habit of coming back to haunt you. “When all the hype dies down, this machine could well be DOA, and Ouya could be looking at a giant black hole of losses.”

Reviewer photo
Damien McFerran 12 July 2012
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Show: Latest | Oldest
Jul 2012
Post count:
awitherite | 20:10 - 16 July 2012
How are people so dense? $99 is for the early investors. There is not a set price yet for when this thing go retail.
Mar 2008
Post count:
ET3D | 20:07 - 16 July 2012
He may be right about manufacturing costs, but after that he starts with wild speculation about what the console will be like, and what developers will think. Sure, someone could link a $600 tablet to the TV, but how does that make a $100 tablet not attractive.

Perhaps he's just worried that Ouya will succeed and prove that people can do what he can't.
Jul 2012
Post count:
Ganja1999 | 13:11 - 16 July 2012
And we should listen to this guy why? In no way you can compare the failure of the Pandora to a new console like the ouya. The pandora failed at so many fronts that its really lame to even blame unreliable suppliers for that. Not to mention the lamest of all that preorders got a backseat to customers who could part with more money.
Jul 2012
Post count:
jhrogersii | 04:36 - 15 July 2012
This is just more tech curmudgeon talk. The controller and game store setup are the only real variables. I bought a cheap Android tablet to try out a several weeks ago for $100. It had Android 4.0, a 1Ghz processor, and 512 MB of RAM. These specs aren't spectacular, but they were mid to high range a year ago. Now they're dirt cheap. The OUYA's specs are the same right now, but will likewise be cheap and easy to build next year.
Jul 2012
Post count:
Jimsk | 15:59 - 13 July 2012
As somebody involved in bringing hardware to market, I have to say that mcobit smashed this on the head. You don't have to be unlucky to get unreliable suppliers... You *will* get unreliable suppliers. We actually had our units built in the UK as supply became an issue and with the suppliers in your own country, you can always drive out and give them a kick up the arse!

Prototyping is horrendously expensive, even if you get it right quickly.
Then there is electrical testing and field tests. Will it have wireless of some description? That will need testing and signing off.

Seriously, good luck to all involved but can't help thinking they've really not grasped the seriousness of what they are trying to achieve.
Jul 2012
Post count:
Frankz | 15:44 - 13 July 2012
Considering you can buy an Android tablet for less than $99, up the specs and remove the LCD touchscreen and you aren't far off the Ouya. If a Raspberry Pi costs about a 3rd of that (non-profit) and runs Linux, XWindow and can playback 1080p movies I think they can do the Ouya for the price they quote.
If the dev tools are available for homebrew I am really looking forward to it.
Jul 2011
Post count:
aros | 09:46 - 13 July 2012
Worth the risk, I'm gonna chuck in the
Jul 2012
Post count:
mcobit | 06:26 - 13 July 2012
Craig shure knows what he is talking about. You don't just add up the costs of the parts, but you need to calculate the molding for the parts, the creation of the pcbs, the prototypes, etc. All of that adds to the cost and if you are unlucky you have some other problems like unreliable companies, bad parts etc. All he wants to tell is, that you have to have some money to back it all up.

I think the pricepoint is quite low, too. They should have gone for something like $200.

If there are cheap chinese gamepads for $10, well, there is a reason for them to be that cheap. The quality is just awful and the sell millions. You don't want that low quality for your prestige kickstarter product...
Jul 2012
Post count:
Baldilocks | 04:50 - 13 July 2012
Want cheese with your whine Rothwell?
Jul 2012
Post count:
somewhatcool | 01:47 - 13 July 2012
The only people who invested in Ouya are indie developers (joke). Seriously, Android games on a TV? ok we have the good, the bad and the ugly of android games. Mostly ugly followed by bad and a few (very) few good ones. Playing an android game on a smartphone or tablet is retro fun, the fact you can play (mostly free) games to kill time while you wait for your big brother to finish his turn playing Battlefield 3 on the Xbox has its place but playing mostly crap android games on TV? Please get serious. Indie developers take note I believe gamers play games on their smartphone/tablet because its not available on the console/TV/PC, there is psychological kick (albeit mostly sadistic) about playing a game exclusively on their smartphone/tablet not available on the Xbox, PS3, etc. Did the people who are making Ouya do a serious focus group test? or just thought to themselves "hey this game would be great to be played on tv". I think the later. Its very isolated, self belief, prejudiced, subjective thinking to believe Xbox, PS3, smartphone, tablet owners will rush out and play games on this, a snow ball chance in hell. Either they have a better graphical game on their Xbox or they already have the android game on their smartphone or tablet. The bottom line Kids like playing android games on their smartphone/tablets, not on television. Lets imagine they dont own a smart phone or tablet, would I buy my kid for Christmas a Ouya or a Nexus 7 tablet. Sorry thats not a trick question. NEXUS 7 is the answer. I think Ouya went on Kickstart after the venture capitalists stopped returning their calls, because of the release of the Nexus 7. I sincerely wish Ouya (which for a four letter word somehow I keep forgetting) the best of luck against Xbox and PS3. Wow $2 million is such a lot of money, a drop in the ocean to launch a console. Lets get back to the real world with some facts, Xbox 360 was released in 2005, Microsoft was estimated to be losing $125 per box just on cost of goods. Over its lifetime, the business segment containing the Xbox is down more than $5.5 billion -- not including the cost of acquisitions such as the 2002 purchase game developer Rare, which cost more than $300 million. There is some weird thinking that kids will just magically start buying this Ouya console. It does not work like that, Microsoft spent half a billion dollars just on marketing for the Kinect alone. I could go on and on but I think you get the point.. its more Oh yeh (Ouya) I believe it when I see it.
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