OUYA: is it ok to review an unfinished product?
The Android console OUYA, which I backed almost a year ago, progressively started shipping to the backers recently. Some of the kickstarter units have already been shipped, and ended up in the hands of popular “tech” websites such as CNET, Engadget, or The Verge, who all wrote reviews about it. Although most of these sites were very clear about the fact that they were reviewing an “early” product, the average-to-very-bad feeling that got out of these reviews certainly impacted lots of potential buyers.
The article on The Verge in particular, was especially harsh. Although the review’s content itself seems fair, the final mark (which is what will stick in people’s mind) of 3.5 out of 10 is the equivalent of a nail in the coffin for such a young company.
The article on the Verge actually started seemingly infinite flame wars between pro and anti OUYA readers, but, more importantly, discussions about what kickstarter really is supposed to be when it comes to delivering a product.
If I had to summarize the debate that’s been going on, I think it would be with the following questions: should established tech websites do a review of (and, in particular, give a mark to) a product that has been clearly labelled as “not complete yet”? Should kickstarter be more clear that a pledge is not a preorder? Should OUYA have been much more transparent about their product, and shouldn’t have they expected that people would judge them on an early product?
I think to understand what’s going on it is essential to read the OUYA review on the Verge, and maybe some of the comments from their readers. There are people who believe that by pledging to a project in kickstarter, you are basically preordering the final product. To me it is no coincidence that Kickstarter clarified their policies just a few weeks after the insane success of the OUYA campaign: the Kickstarter owners saw this coming. Projects like the OUYA today on kickstarter would have to clearly state that you are absolutely not preordering a product, that there are risks, potential delays, etc… you can read Kickstarter’s change of policy here: Kickstarter is not a store.
What happened is that the OUYA team clearly overpromised in their Kickstarter campaign. Exclusive games, trophies, a low price, a sleek design, hacker friendly, etc, etc… Now, don’t be fooled, ALL companies overpromise then underdeliver when it comes to a gaming console, Sony are the first ones to do it. But somehow, when it comes to kickstarter, there’s more emotional involvement as a backer, and we tend to believe in the product much more than we should. In particular when a company says they are going to disrupt the market.
How and where did the OUYA overpromise? Well, according to the Verge, pretty much everywhere. The design was supposed to be awesome, but it seems the controllers have a few flaws with their faceplates, that make the design an obstacle to playing, which is really not good. Trophies, achievements are not there yet (and probably won’t be here at launch), controllers apparently have some lag, and the whole interface seems to be in its “alpha” stages. More importantly, it seems the OUYA is lacking exclusive games and AAA titles, and that its hackability is not as “easy” as people at The Verge would have expected.
Although the points made by the Verge are mostly all relevant, I think it’s a bit unfair to call some of these things out 2 months before the actual launch of the product. In particular, I am talking of the software. I’m assuming it would be difficult today to fix some of the hardware flaws such as the faceplates problems, and maybe the controller lags are a hardware problem too (however I could bet some of it can be fixed with a driver update). But when it comes to the interface and the quantity (and quality) of games, as I work in the software industry, I know how these things work: There’s a huge chance that most of the games and interface changes are happening over the last few weeks, so I wouldn’t be surprised if a much better interface, and much more games were available in 2 months.
Don’t get me wrong, it could very well be that no progress will be made on the software side because all the OUYA team is focused on shipping the product for the next 2 months. I’m just saying it’s a bit unfair to review software 2 months before its public launch. In my company, software often only exists as a pdf or in the mind of a designer, 2 months before it launches.
I backed the OUYA almost 1 year ago, and clearly I am less excited about the console today than I was back then. I did call that out back when I announced it, that the hardware that looked “ok” back then would feel quite “lowend” today, and in the meantime I got an MK802 III to fulfill my multimedia needs. The reviews of course didn’t help. It doesn’t help either that the OUYA is shipping late, and to add insult to the injury, the OUYA team posted a ridiculous chart of their “shipping expectations” for OUYA backers (seriously, I think if I spat such a chart to my managers – or clients – at work I would get fired instantly), so people are starting to question the credibility of the whole project.
As far as I’m concerned, it did put in perspective the entire Kickstarter concept for me. In the end, when you pledge for a Kickstarter project, you are taking all the risks of an investor (putting in money early for a project that might be delayed or potentially not resulting in what you expected) without any of the benefits (in the case of the OUYA, backers will get the same product as people who simply buy the console in stores, and potentially even worse if OUYA ends up fixing some of the hardware flaws: backers would end up with an alpha product). This means that people backing up a Kickstarter need to be 100% behind the product: they are the people who want to see the project see the light of day, not people who are expecting a cheap preorder of the final product.
The OUYA still can be a great console, given enough time. I think it was unfair of The Verge to review the software (firmware and games) so early, and I think it is also unfair to try and compare it to a Sony or Microsoft console. That being said, in the end, what makes a console are its exclusive games, and I’d be on the side of the Verge here, saying that seeing many exclusive games on the OUYA is quite unlikely. As some people have stated though, it will probably make for a decent multimedia player, and the games could be considered as a nice bonus, although I’m not sure that’s how the OUYA company wants us to see it.
If anything, I can predict OUYA will keep disrupting, if not the console market, the way kickstarter works, for a little while. It has revealed lots of “flaws” in the kickstarter system, and I’m sure this will impact the way people pledge for those projects moving forward.
Are you getting an OUYA? Do you plan to use it mostly for gaming, or as a multimedia player?