Julie Uhrman, founder and CEO of Ouya.
Ouya, the fledgling Android-based videogame console, has drawn a great deal of attention with its astonishing Kickstarter success. In just three days it has raised over $4 million, making it the second-largest Kickstarter ever with a great chance of setting the all-time record.
With this dramatically increased attention came a level of extra scrutiny. While some industry watchers are quite impressed with Ouya, others are highly skeptical.
On Wednesday, I spoke with Ouya founder and CEO Julie Uhrman and asked for her response to the common caveats: Ouya consoles don’t exist yet beyond a bare-board prototype, the controller isn’t finished, and Kickstarter’s rules mean that the project’s 32,000-plus backers have no guarantee that the console will ship at all.
“Those are totally valid comments,” Uhrman said. “At the end of the day, people have invested in us and our success. They are personally invested in us and we are personally invested into delivering to them something great. We all have reputations on the line.”
Ouya promises to bring a more open and inexpensive game platform to the living room. Based on Android architecture, the $99 console will feature an App Store-style downloadable game service that enables developers to sell their own inexpensive or free-to-play games.
“It is one thing to make something, make promises and build it in the garage and no one really knows if it comes out or doesn’t come out,” Uhrman says of the Kickstarter fundraising drive. “We took a very different approach. We wanted to get the support of gamers and developers. We wanted to make sure there was as big a need for this as we thought. We did that all knowing that if there was a need, we could deliver and would deliver.”
Ouya initially asked for $950,000, which it surpassed within the first few hours. Uhrman said that the Kickstarter company helped Ouya determine how much funding to ask for.
“I think they tell all of their projects to really ask for the money that you need,” she said. “And so what we asked for would be enough to fund the movement of our hardware from prototype to production, to finalize our development tools and start seeding game development.”
“Funding game development is really important to us. Having great content at launch is critical. We are actively pursuing those in a much more aggressive way now because we can” with the extra funds, she said.
Uhrman said that Ouya would soon introduce “stretch goals,” Kickstarter slang for upgrades to the project made if it reaches ever-higher levels of funding, that would be aimed at both gamers and developers.
“For the consumer segment, our focus is content. For the developer segment, it’s tools, it’s access to things that will bring their games to our platform more easily,” she said.
Even if Ouya’s current hurdles can be jumped, it could be that March 2013 — just eight months away — is a too-optimistic launch date considering all of the snags that could occur in the development of something so complicated as a game console.
Uhrman expressed confidence in the launch date. “We feel good about it. That’s the plan.”