Ouya game console, as envisioned by product designer Yves Behar. (Ouya Inc. )
It's not often that a brand new company would attempt to take on giants such as Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo, and rarer still that it would succeed.
But that's what Ouya (pronounced ooh-ya) proposes to do. The Los Angeles start-up wants to develop a game console that features the type of "free" games that are popular on smartphones and tablets but have been largely absent from living room televisions.
But Ouya needs more money to get its concept off the ground -- $950,000, to be exact. Its investors already include Jay Adelson, the founder of Digg; Joe Greenstein, who founded Flixster; and Hosain Rahman,founder of Jawbone.
Now, Ouya will try to raise more through Kickstarter, a site that lets people pledge as little as $1 to various projects. For example, Neal Stephenson, the prolific science-fiction author, on Monday kickstarted his video game career by raising more than half a million dollars for a sword-fighting game called "Clang."
"We've had a successful round of funding by angels, and now we're looking to Kickstarter to take us the rest of the way," said Julie Uhrman, Ouya's chief executive.
Designed in a chic industrial minimalist style by Yves Behar, who also helped develop the Jawbone headset, the XO laptop for One Laptop Per Child and the Leaf lamp for Herman Miller, Ouya would cost less than $100 and come with a wireless controller that would have a small touchpad. The console itself would have eight gigabytes of flash storage, sport a quad-core processor made by Nvidia and connect to the TV via an HDMI connection.
So far, so standard. What sets Ouya apart is its business model. Only games with a free component would be featured, though players can be chargedfor virtual goods or additional content. Similar to Apple's iTunes App Store, developers would get 70% of the revenue for anything they sell on the platform. Any developer can launch a game on the device.
This is a common enough arrangement on mobile platforms, but not so on home consoles. There, players typically purchase a game disc or pay for downloads. Some variations exist -- Sony, for example, lets PlayStation 3 players pay $5 a month to access a library of a dozen or so new games. But the money is generally paid upfront before the goods are delivered.
For now, the project is what Silicon Valley pundits call "vapor-ware" -- meaning the console doesn't yet exist.
"We know that raising money for hardware is a challenge," Uhrman said. "But we don't think consoles are in trouble. We just think that the price of console games are too high. We want to find a way to bring back games to the TV, because it's still the best screen to play games. And we're challenging the status quo with a free-to-play model. We want this to be the people's console."
Let's see if the people agree. Ouya will have 30 days to cross the $950,000 finish line. According to Kickstarter's rules, the company receives the money only if it meets or exceeds that amount.
Nintendo: Wii are sinking
Amazon's Kindle Fire: The next gaming console?