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Ouya’s controversial ad betrays a lack of understanding

The future of games

Earlier this week, you may have seen the furore over indie console Ouya’s video ad, which depicts a man vomiting and pulling out his own spinal cord after buying a $60 game:

“Shows a misunderstanding of the potential audience for indie games”This is not only a bizarre, misguided marketing move, but shows a misunderstanding of the potential audience for indie games. In the short-term, Ouya needs enthusiast gamers like us to fund its development into a mature business, but beyond that, its target audience should be starkly different.

At the moment the perception of indie games, particularly on PC, is that they are a niche product for the most hardcore gamers who want to explore beyond the mass-market blockbuster titles. This is who the Ouya advert targets, a supposed in-joke for the nerdiest of gamers. But this is missing the greatest opportunity in the history of the games industry.

Smartphone and tablet app stores probably sell more games than all other platforms combined. But in these stores, it’s difficult to tell apart games that have been made by one person from games made by a studio. There are no ‘indie’ games, ghettoised by categories, labels or public perception. There are only games.

“This is missing the greatest opportunity in the history of the games industry”This is great for indie developers, who find themselves not only at the forefront of a wave of disruption, but also on a level playing field with much larger companies. And the importance of this will only increase over time as more people buy these devices and games for them. When Apple get round to announcing an SDK for their Apple TV, there are going to be even more alternatives to the big consoles in the living room and even more places for developers to publish their games.

Ouya should be part of this brighter future for indie developers, but they must realise how their audience will change. They aren’t going to sell millions to men in their underwear, outraged at $60 games, but the type of people who will buy inexpensive hardware for their living room. These are people who see games as just another entertainment option, alongside Netflix and a night out with friends. These are people for whom the lower production values of indie games are good enough, just as they are on smartphones.

To the people who put this video together, that may sound like a disheartening future, but it’s the only one that offers Ouya a chance to be a genuine contender in the industry.

The author of this fine article

is the Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in November 2000. Get in touch on Twitter @PhilipMorton.

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