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LOS ANGELES — Julie Uhrman is a fighter. The chief executive of Android game console maker Ouya is happy to duel with the big box publishers for the hearts of gamers. But she also had to battle with the group that runs the game industry’s biggest trade show as well.
Ouya had a run-in with the Entertainment Software Association, the trade group that puts on the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). It seems that the ESA didn’t like that Ouya set up its exhibit in a parking lot across the street from E3 rather than inside the exhibit hall. So the ESA reportedly sent the cops over Monday to shut down the exhibit (Update: The ESA declined comment) and even hauled in a huge white semi-truck trailer to block the view of the Ouya exhibit from the convention center.
Ouya simply put its signs in front of the trailer.
But the scrappy Uhrman soldiered on and said the publicity about the flap helped the company more than being inisde the convention center would’ve. The incident highlighted the company’s alternative origins, as it raised more than $8 million for its Android game console on Kickstarter by appealing to the indie crowd. Ouya, which also raised $15 million from prominent venture capitalists, launches June 25. Here’s an edited transcript of our interview with Uhrman.
Julie Uhrman: It’s been a good show. We’ve had developers demoing their games to gamers. We’ve had a steady flow of traffic. It’s just a lot of fun, great content. It’s great to see people engage with it and watch them react.
GamesBeat: Are you guys at war with the ESA here?
Uhrman: That might be a bit of an exaggeration. It’s unfortunate, the way it went down. Ouya is all about being open, and we want to have any gamer be able to come and experience Ouya, meet developers, and play great games. Being outside the convention center was the only way that we could be open to everybody.
GamesBeat: I always see people displaying along this row here, every year, so I don’t really know what the problem is.
Uhrman: We’re not the only ones here, no, so I’m not sure why we caused the most fuss. It’s unfortunate. We look forward to working with them next year. But it’s important that everybody who wants to experience the Ouya can do that. We need to be open to everybody.
It was a distraction on the first day, but really, it’s been great. It’s almost rallied people behind us even more. They love our open nature. They love that we’re accessible to gamers because of our price point. We’re open to developers because anyone can publish. It just brought more interest and more traffic. A lot more people, thanks to them, know about Ouya now.
GamesBeat: It’s all about trying to stand up above the noise here at E3.
Uhrman: Yeah. This wasn’t an easy year. A lot of next-gen consoles were shown off. There’s a lot of talk about processing power and graphics and polygons on a screen and the games that are leveraging those and how much longer it’s going to take before you can play those games. What keeps coming back to me from our gamers is that they just want to play fun games again. Ouya offers a lot of fun games.
We have a lot of exclusive content that keeps coming through the door. ChronoBlade is exclusive to Ouya. We have a demo today, and the game is coming in December. Tripwire Interactive announced Killing Floor, the sequel, coming exclusively to Ouya. We’ve been showing Kim Swift’s Soul Fjord. You Don’t Know Jack is here demonstrating the gamepad that they created for Ouya so you can play it not only with the Ouya controller but also with any iOS device. It’s great to see developers, both new and established, starting to embrace the platform.
GamesBeat: So you guys didn’t direct them to do that? They just did it on their own?
Uhrman: Absolutely. Ouya is built for Bluetooth, so the whole idea was that you could pair any peripheral or accessory. They’re the first ones to do it and launch something on Ouya.
GamesBeat: Are you all set for launch, then?
Uhrman: All set. June 25. We’re launching in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. with Amazon, GameStop, Best Buy, Target, and Game. Units have been shipped and delivered. Retail boxes have been created. We’re excited.
GamesBeat: Is it in the final stage, then? Hardware and the software that goes with it?
Uhrman: Yep. Hardware and software are ready for launch. Ouya is never going to be final. We’re always going to ask for feedback from gamers and developers and use it to continue to make Ouya better. But we’re really excited about the product we’re delivering. The controller feels great. The content is wonderful. It’s a lot of fun to play.
GamesBeat: How many games are you at now?
Uhrman: We have more than 135 games and more than 16,000 developers that have an intention to bring games to Ouya. When we talked back at the unveiling, it was 8,000 developers. Developers are really beginning to embrace this. Everything from triple-A developers – we just announced Sega bringing some of the Sonic series to Ouya – to newcomers. We have a father and son team demoing a game. The 8-year-old son built a game for Ouya, and they’re showing it off. We’re the only platform that allows that to happen.
GamesBeat: Are there some more alliances like that coming as well?
Uhrman: We’ll be making more announcements as it relates to the applications side of Ouya as well as the content side. We’re excited about some of the exclusive content that’s coming closer to the end of the year. We’ll be making announcements soon.
If you saw the old UI, you can tell now that we present a lot more content at a glance. We can be much more descriptive about the category names. We have our first third-party curator today, our friend Brian Fargo [of InXile Entertainment], but we’ll have more before launch. If you create your list of the top 10 games on Ouya, you can be on Ouya as a curator. This is one of the ways we’re supporting the early backers of the Kickstarter. We have a special channel for them.
One thing that’s been really surprising: We have games from all different genres, but the genre that’s really blowing up is local multiplayer. We call it couch gaming. The fact that we don’t tell them the type of game to build, or if they have to have a single-player tutorial, or how the multiplayer has to be built, has really inspired developers to not only bring games back to the living room, but also bring their friends back to the living room. We have a ton of games – TowerFall, BombSquad, ChronoBlade – that are local multiplayer games, and most of them are exclusive to Ouya.
GamesBeat: Any observations about the other new consoles? They’ve all showed their cards now.
Uhrman: I think they look like incredibly powerful devices. They’re incredibly expensive. The games will look amazing. But it’s more than processing power and graphics. Great games are about having fun. Great games are about getting people into them as soon as possible. Great games can come from anyone. We allow any developer to bring games to the big screen. I think we’ll have some of the most innovative, creative exclusive games compared to any console on the market.
GamesBeat: The used games flap was telling in some ways, as far as where they stand on consumer rights.
Uhrman: Yeah. Every game on Ouya is free to try. That’s only rule for developers, that the game must be free to try. Then they can monetize it any way they want. We completely lower the barrier of entry for a trial.
GamesBeat: The BlueStacks guys did something interesting, getting iOS games ported over to their Android platform and then putting them on TV. That’s an interesting hack.
Uhrman: Ouya’s not about putting mobile ports on the television, though. We want exclusive games, purpose-built for the television, purpose-built for Ouya. We already know that games that play wonderfully on the television don’t translate to mobile. Games that are exceptional on mobile don’t translate to the television, either. For Ouya, it’s about bringing great television games to the television, games that rely on the precise movements and accuracy that a controller gives you.
GamesBeat: Is there a particular strategy not only to compete with the big console guys but also to compete with the other Android options out there right now?
Uhrman: It’s about providing a great community for gamers and developers to interact with each other, where Ouya as a company is built to listen to our audience and continue to improve and develop based on the feedback we get. They are involved in Ouya. We’re not a team of 30. We’re a team of more than 70,000 or 100,000, because we constantly seek their feedback. They feel like they’re a part of this and we’re doing this together. We started with an idea and they caused a revolution. They believed that there was room in the market for something new. They believe that we’re doing this together. We’re always going to listen to their feedback and incorporate it.
GamesBeat: Did you get all your preorders filled?
Uhrman: Yeah. Preorders are selling exceptionally well. Since E3 started, we rose to the top 25 preorders on Amazon. Regardless of whatever’s going on inside, Ouya is being heard and people are excited about it. We’re hoping to satisfy all the demand we’re seeing for launch. We’ll be ready to refresh units as quickly as we can.
GamesBeat: It’s good to have revenue coming in the door.
Uhrman: Yeah. Hardware revenue, software revenue. We’re confident in our business model. Things are looking good.