Last month, popular gaming peripheral and gadget company Razer quietly scooped up a significant portion of Ouya, the company behind the Kickstarted $99 Android console. Today, Razer is explaining why and what that means to both its fans and Ouya owners.
Razer's June 12 purchase only included the content catalog, software assets, online store and name of Ouya; it didn't include the now-dated console or poorly received controller.
Razer co-founder and CEO Min-Liang Tan tells Polygon that the purchase was fueled by Razer's long-term plans for Android TV and its own Android-based console, Forge TV. The purchase floods Razer's device with about 1,500 games optimized for Android TV, but also allows Razer to introduce those games to other Android TV platforms, specifically those in China's lucrative, yet mostly untapped Android marketplace.
"Android TV was already something we were interested in, or rather Android gaming in the living room," Tan said. "It's something we've been hyper focused on. When this opportunity came about to bring the entire suite of content from Ouya to Android TV it seemed like a phenomenal opportunity."
Alibaba's Tmall Box
Where Ouya's games were locked to the system, Tan has plans to greatly expand their availability.
"We're going to amp it up," he said, "open all Ouya games to Google Play and the boxes in China."
While some Ouya games are already available in China through the Xiaomi Mi Box and Alibaba's Tmall Box, Tan said that with Razer's broad connections in China the company will be able to greatly expand the reach of developers publishing games through Ouya. He also plans to open all of Ouya's games to both the Mi Box and Tmall Box.
The Ouya store will eventually be relaunched as Cortex for Android TV, a online store for Razer Forge TV games and other content, he said. The company will also publish Android TV content and Android-based TV console games under the Ouya name.
Razer's interest in creating an Android TV console was announced in June 2014 and the Razer Forge TV unveiled in January. The console currently sells for $99.99, or $149.99 with a controller. The console currently gets its content from the Google Play store.
Tan said the focus for Forge TV and the Ouya purchase wasn't as much about expanding Razer's footprint in China (Tan says they already have a massive business in that market), but rather allowing developers to reach a much broader audience with their games.
Tan is making sure that Ouya's current supports, the people who own the microconsole, aren't left out in the cold — at least not immediately.
"If you already own the hardware, we're going to be keeping the lights on for at least a year," he said. "And we're going to be working to transition those people to Forge TV."
The plan, which will be better detailed in the future, will include offering "deep discounts," freebies and giveaways for Ouya owners who want to purchase a Forge TV, and for Razer to allow Ouya users to bring their games, controllers and accounts to the new system.
The purchase of Ouya is just the latest sign, Tan said, of how committed Razer is to Android TV gaming.
While the company promises to continue development of the Forge TV, Tan said the current iteration will likely be in place for awhile.
The company is also still working on two promised additions to Forge TV: the Turret living room gaming mouse and lapboard and the ability to stream PC games to your television through Forge TV.
"We're still working on streaming," he said." We still think it will hit by the [end of the year]."
The Turret, he added, is meant to launch alongside that service.
Matt Gilgenbach, whose game Neverending Nightmares launched simultaneously on the Ouya and PC, sees the acquisition as a good thing for gamers and developers.
"Ouya is an amazing platform and everyone working there is super passionate and dedicated to seeing indie games thrive," he said. "The one weakness is the hardware. The original Ouya hardware wasn't ideal, and the hardware is really dated now. By joining forces with Razer, a company known for their quality hardware, they can create an outstanding microconsole and platform."
While Devastated Dreams, Gilgenbach's next game, wasn't planned for an Ouya release, that could now change.
"The original Ouya hardware wasn't ideal."
"Our current game Devastated Dreams (which is on Kickstarter now) is PC exclusive because the improved graphics couldn't run on the original Ouya," he said. "Razer's Android hardware is technically impressive, so we will definitely investigate bringing Devastated Dreams and future projects to it."
The developers at Cowboy Color, currently working on ChargeShot, seem most excited about the opportunity to target a Chinese audience.
"Ouya had a great idea going for it."
"Ouya had a great idea going for it, before the acquisition, that was a little bit ahead of its time, and perhaps misunderstood," the studio team said. "All of a sudden, there was a home console that new developers could, almost at the press of a button, release games on. As marketplaces like Steam and mobile become more saturated, I've watched developers move to less popular, less saturated platforms (the Wii U especially, as of late) in order to make their games known. Android consoles and TVs seem to be picking up as of late which opens an entire new market of people playing video games, and if Razer pushes forward with OUYA's agenda of targeting Chinese audiences, it opens a bridge to an untapped audience as well.
"It is very exciting for once to speculate not what people already like, but what they are about to like."
Along with the acquisition of the software, store and name, Razer is also bringing on a number of the core people at Ouya responsible for developer outreach, Tan said.
About 15 Ouya employees will be working at Razer under this new deal. Among those employees is Ouya's head of developer relations, and former president of thatgamecompany, Kellee Santiago.
One of the jobs that team is currently focusing on is ensuring that there is a smooth transition for developers both in terms of technology and contracts.
"We've always had a great relationship with indies," Tan said.
Gilgenbach confirmed that he's been talking closely with the new team about contracts and said he has a "fundamentally similar deal" to what he had with Ouya.
The team at Cowboy Color said they feel the acquisition puts them on more solid ground.
"We are full-fledged indie, so we don't have a contract per se, but since its inception, we've been planning to release our upcoming game, ChargeShot, on the Ouya because of how awesome the idea of the little console was from the beginning," they said. "Our biggest worry before the acquisition was that the Ouya marketplace would no longer exist, and we wouldn't have a way to ship the game to the Ouya audience. The acquisition, at the very least, guarantees to us the ability to continue working on the Ouya version.
"My hope is that Razer will push for Ouya to become more and more relevant, so that more people than before will be able to access the hidden gems that lurk in the catalog."
Julie Uhrman, CEO of Ouya, won't be joining Razer, Tan said, when asked.
"She is actively helping us with the transition," he said.
Reached Friday, Uhrman seemed proud of what the Ouya was able to accomplish since its inception.
The Ouya became the fifth highest-earning project in Kickstarter's history when it was funded for $8.5 million in 2012. The first units began shipping in March 2013 and the microconsole went on sale to the public in June of that year.
Much of the support for the console was fueled by the idea of an open-platform gaming system that was inexpensive and designed for televisions.
"OUYA was created with the goal to give developers more freedom," Uhrman said. " In doing this, we created the first open platform for television. And, with more than 1,000 games, we offered more content — and a broader variety — than any other platform. We are excited that Razer will expand our vision.
"While this was a hard trail to blaze, we proved that we could bring new thinking to how the games industry operates and we hope we have paved the way for others, allowing all game developers to bring his or her game to the big screen."