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Stateside: The rise of unconsoles like Ouya is the industry's Here Comes Honey Boo Boo moment

Stateside: The rise of unconsoles like Ouya is the industry's Here Comes Honey Boo Boo moment
Chicago-based Carter Dotson is a senior writer at 148Apps.com, which was recently acquired by PocketGamer.biz publisher Steel Media.

The console and mobile gaming markets are at a crossroads.

Console game sales have been steadily declining, and companies like Nintendo and Sony remain slow to adopt new practices and game ideas. Meanwhile mobile grows ever bigger and bigger.

We've been attracting new audiences, and experimenting with new ways to make money.

And now, mobile is making its first serious incursion on to the console turf with the Ouya, an Android-powered console - or 'unconsole' as some are describing them - with a dedicated controller, priced like the Apple TV.

Of course, mobile may be a misnomer in the case of unconsoles like Ouya, but Here Comes Honey Boo Boo airs on what used to be called The Learning Channel... Americans are okay with misnomers.

We're game

What mobile gaming means is flexibility.

With limitless devices and multiple storefronts, Android remains a tricky proposition for developers, but the promise of limited Ouya models to support will make development easier.

And the ability of middleware such as Unity to support Android means most developers should be able to release on Ouya without much difficulty.

The Ouya team appears to be reaching out to indie developers as well.

Adam Saltsman, well known for his work on Canabalt and Hundreds, says 'I've been working relatively closely with the Ouya folks, mostly in giving feedback about the hardware design, especially the controller'.

He has a pre-release development unit, and he's not the only one. The console starts shipping in April, will hit retailers in the months following, and has plenty of hype to boot.

The world's a stage

But it's the fact that indie developers have an excitement for the device, and that Ouya is excited in turn that's really promising, even if it's not guaranteed to be a success.

Remember on mobile, the ability for small teams like NimbleBit and Imangi to become successful, and for Rovio to release a series of games worth multi-billions of dollars is because they were able to address an audience of hundreds of millions without anyone telling them they couldn't

They had a global opportunity for success.

Ouya is entering a new market at a consumer-friendly pricepoint, and with the flexibility in both development and game pricing that could make it an intriguing proposition for all developers. And, oh yeah, it's built on familiar technology.

This should provide a new opportunity for indies to succeed in getting their games to new audiences. At worst, it represents a way for developers to make some extra change with their existing Android titles, and considering how many indies struggle, anything could help.

Back in the slow lane

Meanwhile, the console side of the industry continues to move slowly.

Free-to-play games are practically nonexistent. The opportunities for indies are rare. Sony and Nintendo are putting out occasional titles from indie developers, and while Unity's support for Wii U's could be a positive harbinger for indies to get their games out, there's nothing like mobile's open market.

The closest thing to an indie market - the Xbox Live Indie Games store on Xbox 360 - is officially a lame duck, since Microsoft has officially ceased development on XNA, the C#-powered language that runs its games.

The store was never huge anyway. It did modestly well for some developers but there was nothing transcendent. That Microsoft buried the store deep in the Xbox dashboard didn't help.

Part of the lament for XNA's demise is some developers enjoyed it.

Luke Schneider of Radiangames has made games for both iOS and XBLIG. When asked about the effect of the potential shutdown of XBLIG on console indie gaming, he said the removal of C# provided "one less valid outlet, which is a real shame because it's such a wonderful programming language".

For those who are interested, Adam Saltsman reckons Monogame is a competent free open-source XNA replacement.

I unconsole. I am

So, as it stands, Microsoft is shutting down the key outlet it's provided for indie gaming, while another console is starting up an effort to bring a console to indie and mobile developers.

It seems regressive. While there's no telling what Microsoft might do with the next Xbox, right now none of the big three have an open submission process.

They could launch one at some point in 2013, but there are no particulars of how they would work, or if they even exist. So Ouya is going to have one huge advantage: it actually exists.

But will console-focused indies actually shift to Ouya?

Adam Saltsman believes that if XBLIG is truly dead, "I think you will probably see some people shifting their focus to something else. If Ouya gets a big enough install base that might be where they go".

Luke Schneider also believe it's likely Ouya will provide a fairer shake for developers than XBLIG, but, "Whether it provides the same overall opportunities is up in the air.

"I don't think anyone expects the success of top tier XBLA games to be replicated, but whether games are more or less successful than those on XBLIG won't be known for a little while."

The game in a one-console town

Looking at the scenarios, while Ouya is still regarded with skepticism, it's the one console that's going to enable indie developers to be on a level field with industry giants, and with all the flexibility that mobile offers.

Meanwhile, the other consoles are in a state of flux; no one knows what's going to come next, and their support for the developers who will provide the next big thing is severely lacking.

They may just plain not get it. It seems like the whole 'console side of things' just does not get it.

As PopCap's Giordano Contestabile tweeted during the DICE 2013 conference: "Striking how 'my' game industry differs from most AAA devs here. Everything that's presented as a threat, I see as opportunity".

Where should the skepticism about the future of gaming really be placed?

Carter is a senior writer over at recent Steel Media acquisition 148Apps.com.

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