It has been a long time since I felt the need to get on my soapbox and post to my Modern Dystopia blog. Life is pretty good and I haventhad anything to complain about. Not that a blog should only be for complaining, but sometimes you just need to get things off your chest.
A while back I helped fund a Kickstarter project for a little gaming console called Ouya. It’s certainly not the first project I have backed, on Kickstarter or other crowd funding sites, but it is one that has been the biggest regret. You see crowd funding is a fresh and in my eyes, a wonderful concept. A new paradigm for how the consumer interacts with designers, ideas people and other creative types. It’s a way to bring into being someone’s dreams and to produce art or products that may never have otherwise seen the light of day. I’m very proud to have backed around 60 projects! That’s right, I’ve been a bit of a philanthropist and I’ve really loved seeing what has come of this generosity.
So that brings us to Ouya. It was the bright light of Kickstarter. Where previously games had excelled, now an actual console was being offered, and lots of big promises were being made. So I jumped right in on the ground floor and put my money towards the project. It didn’t need my money though, a huge number of people backed Ouya to the tune of over 8 million dollars. But did we really do our due diligence? Did we read between the lines? Why were so many people eager to fork out the cash for what always was going to be a below par console with capabilities already matched in most of homes?
Well a few commentators seem to have had the foresight and wisdom to see what might be coming. Chris over at Theorycraft wrote an article “Why The Ouya will Flop“. In hindsight I wish I had seen and read that article before promising my money. Another article over at Eurogamer also sounded some alarm bells. Again I didn’t read the article which was title ‘The Trouble with Ouya“.
Yesterday morning my Ouya arrived. Like most over people who backed the Kickstarter my Ouya arrived very late, in itself that wouldn’t be an issue. Kickstarter is not a store, it’s crowdfunding, and with any sort of funding there are risks and no promises. Except the team at Ouya (Which for all we know is Julie Uhrman sitting by herself in a rented office somewhere) kept making promises, they kept making misleading statements, and they kept saying we’d be getting our Ouya and it would be amazing. Well it certainly isn’t. It’s probably one of the worst PR disasters I’ve seen in the tech world, and EA are pretty good at PR messes. Kickstarter updates said everything was good and on track, they said our consoles had been shipped, but it was what they weren’t saying that pissed everyone off.
Ouya didn’t tell us that ‘shipped’ meant they’d simply done from factory to a shipping company. The consoles weren’t actually in transit, they were missing. Tracking numbers were sent out eventually, but with no tracking links. The company listed as the shipping company didn’t actually have the consoles. My console was delivered by Australia Post eventually, not by DHL whose name was mentioned in my email, and the tracking number supposedly matched the format of some other company altogether.
I wasn’t the only one, and almost 30,000 .. yes that’s right 30,000!! comments on the Kickstarter page were going unanswered and being brushed of with friendly, but canned responses. I myself emailed support and had no response until I started speaking out on Twitter and other public forums. When I did get a response it was just boilerplate, and that was proven when I replied and got the same response sent right back. I figured out what had happened, I’m not silly, they palmed off the distribution to a third party and moved on to do other things. Like camp outside E3 like beggars, making fools of themselves in front of the whole world. These sorts of stunts are just that, stunts, and they don’t a reputable company make.
My Ouya arrived. Out of the blue. Luckily I was home because it wasn’t a receipted delivery so the Aust. Post guy could have just left it on my doorstep. I opened the box with mixed expectations. On one hand Ouya had presented itself as a modern, hip company, but I’d also started hearing mixed news on the unboxing. Immediately I opened the box though I knew the Ouya was a joke. It was like getting something from a dodgy chinese online store with no name electronics. The outer box was twice as big as it needed to be. The extra controller I had bought was banging around loosely with only a scrap of bubble wrap giving a vague nod in the direction of protection. Some AA batteries had been dropped in as well.
The Ouya box itself looked OK, a nice matt charcoal colour. Unboxing revealed another cheap looking controller and the Ouya cube. But pulling these out the rest of the package was just a pile of cables and bits dumped in the box. The cheapest of the cheap, that’s what it looked and felt like. I’ll post pictures below, you can see the unboxing for yourself. That way you don’t have to buy one, I’d hate for anyone else to be this disappointed!
Anyway, moving on. Plugging it in and setting it up was a breeze. That was a positive experience, but it was the only one. The minimalist approach is nice looking, but lacks interface cues and standards that we’ve come to expect. Entering text is tedious and unwieldy due to the awful controllers. The D pad cant even move left and right consistently. There is no text prediction and the menus are vague in their meaning.
I downloaded a few games from the miserable selection. Most games looked like they came straight out of 1993 and if I wanted Demos I could get more and better demos in the Playstation store. The whole ‘free games’ thing is a joke. It’s like the entire business model is based around offering the equivalent of ‘shareware’ demos. I wasn’t even able to play some of the games I downloaded because the controls didn’t work. That’s right, out of the box the controllers shoulder buttons were non functional. With no way that I could see to remap buttons this rendered my experience an almost complete loss on day one.
I did play you Don’t Know Jack. However I can play that on anything, and at least on other devices I diont have to put up with controller buttons that get stuck down every second button press. Seriously, I paid MONEY for this thing???
OK. Rant over. I’m really sorry that a project like this, with such a huge number of backers may have soured 30,000+ people towards future Kickstarter projects. if you backed Ouya I suggest you treat it as an isolated case. Of course use due diligence with any project you may want to support, but on the whole Kickstarter is a fun place full of great ideas. Some may not pan out as well as hoped, some may fail or not live up to expectations, but they are people trying to do things just a little bit differently, and that should always be encouraged.