The world’s first mass-market open source video game console is not going to turn the video game industry upside down any time soon. But in 20 years, it is going to turn every industry upside down. This cheap little box is going to have a profound effect on every kid that grows up with it, and they’ll go into business and politics wondering why the rest of the world doesn’t work like their good old little Ouya.
The Ouya isn’t the first piece of technology likely to imbue hacker culture into anybody that comes into contact with it. But it’s certainly the first to do it in such a polished, tightly-designed way. The price, the design, and the focus on games is what gives the Ouya the chance to break into the mainstream. It’ll have the biggest effect on kids.
At $99, the Ouya’s certainly more attractive to parents than any of the absurdly expensive behemoths from Microsoft or Sony. In South America, Africa, and Asia, that low price makes it exponentially more accessible. Even if older gamers end up rolling their eyes and dismissing it — just as their parents did to their NES — an entire generation of kids is going to grow up playing free and cheap Ouya games.
Then they’ll start making them. Then they’ll start tinkering with the console. Yesterday’s kids all played Mario. Tomorrow’s kids will all hack Mario.
Every educator knows that video games are a gateway drug to teaching kids how to program. That big word “Make” right on the Ouya’s start screen will draw curious, creative kids in by the droves, even before schools and summer camps inevitably jump on the console as a teaching tool. They’ll grow up writing code, sharing code, and participating in the open source culture already developing around the console. Many of them will go on to publish their games, and sell them at a low price or with a pay-what-you-want model.
None of them will be able to wrap their heads around why anyone would do it differently. Why would anyone refuse to share their code? Why would anyone try to stop people from enjoying their work for free? DRM and proprietary licenses will seem as quaint as a Betamax tape.
Think about that. An entire generation of kids, raised on the values of free games, open source, and the ability to do whatever you want with your own hardware. Not all of them will grow up to be programmers. Many of them will bring these values to manufacturing, to service, to agriculture, to energy, and even to politics.
Oh, and there’s one more thing they’ll bring with them; something especially relevant to a political career. They’ll bring with them the experience of game design.
If the world were an MMO, the levels of social and economic inequality it’s experiencing would be attributed to “poor game balance.” Imagine a whole generation of kids who learned to fix game balance issues when they were five years old. They’re going to grow up seeing the world as one big game, waiting to be patched and balanced so that it’s fun and fair for everyone. That’s what they’ll talk up when they run for office.
Maybe the Ouya will break through with older “core” gamers in the next year or so, maybe not. It’s not the gamers of today who matter; it’s the hackers of tomorrow. If you’ve bought an Ouya and aren’t impressed, consider donating it to a children’s charity instead of selling it on eBay. It could pay off in 20 years.