You remember the Ouya, don’t you? Of course you do. It caused quite a commotion just a few years ago. Following the success of Ouya, it was only a matter of time before some copycat came along and tried to follow in its drunken footsteps. Enter the OTON X, a new console you can back on Kickstarter. You’ve got just a few days, so you’d better get to it.
Or, well, maybe you’d better not. Between the numerous grammatical errors and the oddly professional-looking-yet-off videos, there are some fishy things with this Kickstarter. Could it be a scam, or is it simply an impassioned but otherwise terrible pitch? I decided to jump down into this rabbit hole so that you wouldn’t have to.
What is the OTON X?
First, let’s talk about the console itself. The OTON X is a “next-generation console that pushes the limits of procedural content generation in ways never seen before.” What does all of that mean? Basically, the system has a unique built-in “AI” that can generate procedural content for you. It basically makes a rogue-like out of every game you own on the console, creating unlimited new levels for you. Using this feature, the pitch claims, you’ll have unlimited access to new games.
Several pitch videos showcase this feature. As of now, it only works with platformer levels, but OTON X’s creators claim it’ll be able to generate levels for any genre. What I find odd is that they don’t showcase this feature more. They show off three different levels made with a very basic looking platformer called Kid Destiny, but they only show a few seconds of each stage.
The built-in AI can also chat with you, similar to Apple’s Siri or Microsoft’s Cortana. The main pitch video showcases a conversation with OTON, and it is clearly faked, or at least staged. In the video, OTON claims she can play your music for you, build games for you, and pass the Turing Test (or as the Kickstarter calls it multiple times, the “Turning Test”).
The OTON X can also play your movies and stream YouTube, a feature that they seem to think is unique to their console. In fact, a lot of the features they claim are exclusive to OTON X are available on all consoles. Take a look at this image:
What exactly are they trying to pull, here? Are they seriously trying to suggest that the Xbox One and PS4 do not offer privacy or social gaming features? What do they mean, exactly, by “Unlimited Storage”? The specs listed on the page claim it has up to 128 GB of Solid State Storage. Are they talking about cloud storage? Because later in the campaign, they claim that all of the OTON X’s features work offline. They claim there is no downloading, streaming, or discs involved with their content. How do you get unlimited games and storage on it, then? Magic?
They aren’t just talking about their own games, here. They claim you will be able to add new, generated levels for classic games, too. The “New Games Daily” feature is in regards to making new games out of existing assets, but they do not showcase this feature. Also, while we’re splitting hairs, by that definition every console has “New Games Daily” in the form of rogue-likes.
Can you see why this whole thing smells fishy? Not only are these claims outrageous, they’re flat-out impossible. And the rabbit hole only gets deeper from here.
The EVO Smart Console
Let’s take a quick step back into history. The mastermind behind the OTON X is none other than Derrick Samuels, and if you read the Kickstarter (as well as some of the “news” stories it links to, more on that in a bit), you’ll see he has a lot of experience with designing and releasing consoles. If you dig a bit deeper, you’ll see he’s only released one, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find any record of it ever existing. I’m referring to the EVO Smart Console.
The EVO Smart Console was originally pitched as a device that would serve as your media center as well as your gaming hub. The device sported many features, including voice activation, online cloud storage, HD output and biometric security. Derrick Samuels, and some of the articles he links to in the Kickstarter, claims that the EVO was revolutionary; that it changed things up and was the first console to feature many of these ideas. This is a bit strange considering it released to the public in 2008, several years after the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 released with many of the same features. By the way, did I mention it runs Windows and Amiga-based games? Impressive, right?
Even stranger is the fact that I can’t seem to find any record of this thing actually existing. It did seem to garner a small following, but outside of a few suspect sources, I have found no claim that it ever made it into the general public’s hands. One such source links to a site called Video Game Console Library, which notes an exchange between the sites owner and a man called Marco. Marco claimed to own BrainFusion Video Games, an Italian store, and that he had received 10 EVO devices to sell. He links to BrainFusion.org, where a launch day event was announced for the device. However, that link is mysteriously broken now.
Okay, maybe that’s just a fluke, right? After all, someone posted this unboxing video that seems totally legit. However, there is still something weird, here. That YouTube account has only ever uploaded that video, and it appears they’ve never so much as commented on or viewed any other videos. The comments on that video are loaded with people asking him to upload footage of the software, or anything else, to no response. You would think someone so excited to hook up their new console would be more active, right?
Shortly after the “success” (and yes, they do claim it to be a success despite the fact that it all but disappeared into the internet ether) of the EVO Smart Console, the EVO 2 was announced. This was to be an Android-based device that allowed you to play Android games and apps on your television. The EVO 2 was cancelled shortly before the announcement of OTON X, which launched its first (failed) crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo in 2013. The pitch videos there were of considerably lower quality the ones being showcased now. Perhaps in those days it was just a crazy idea, though? Who knows.
The Campaign Itself
Derrick Samuels has come a long way in the last ten years. I’ve looked at all of his other pitches (he tried to Kickstart a card game called Qquip a few years ago) and the more recent ones seem to have a lot of effort put into them. Seriously, just compare the original Indiegogo pitch for the OTON X to this one. We’ve gone from pre-rendered footage of a box to a video with actual, breathing humans interacting with his product. It certainly suggests that he and his team are indeed building the device.
It still feels off somehow, doesn’t it? A lot of the videos showcase Minecraft, for instance, as something that will run on the console. Yet there are no videos of the device itself running anything other than Kid Destiny and some kind of FPS game. It also doesn’t show us, in any meaningful way, the actual process the AI uses to generate the so-called games. Sure, it shows the software-side of things, where a user selects the option to “make a new game” (are we really going to act like these are “new games” being generated instead of just levels for the same game? Really?) and the device fills up a progress bar, makes a fun sound, and then shows the new level off. But that can be simulated, very easily. What’s happening in the background? Why not show more?
Then there’s the press section. The campaign links to a Huffington Post article that reads like Derrick Samuels hired a freelance writer to try to advertise his console. That isn’t even a real HuffPost article; it’s on their Contributor’s Blog. Anyone can post there. The campaign also links to a few less-known websites that do seem to be genuine news articles.
The videos themselves feel off, too, because they look like infomercials. A lot of them play out like the live-action equivalent of pitch videos you find on Dahir Insaat. I’m not faulting the campaign for hiring advertisers or video production companies to put this stuff together for them, but it does make everything come off as less genuine, doesn’t it? I feel like they are trying to pitch this idea to a businessman, not a consumer. It feels like a product, but not the dream of an everyman who wants to share his ideas with the world.
The biggest, most obvious flaw here—the thing that really leads me to believe this is a scam—are the inconsistencies. I’ve mentioned a few already, but take the OTON X’s service plans as another example. There’s a free version, where you’ll get unlimited access to new games every few months, play online with friends, and never worry about buying new games again. The Gold tier costs money, and mentions that you can earn discounts on new titles. So are the games 100% free as the campaign claims, or not? The Platinum Tier will allow you to share demos on social media, use DVR to capture footage, send and receive messages with text or voice, but the campaign claims that these features are free.
Even if these are just honest mistakes, it comes off as incredibly lazy, like they just put this campaign together as quickly as possible in one sitting without thinking any of it through.
In the end, I can’t say for sure if the OTON X is some kind of elaborate scheme or not. Derrick Samuels does seem legitimately invested in it, and while I don’t think he’s as big of a success or visionary as he seems to think, I believe that he wants the OTON X to be real. But there is just too much to ignore. The whole campaign just feels wrong, but maybe that’s just me.
I’ll link to the Kickstarter one last time so that you can decide for yourself. Is it a scam, or just a really bad but passionate pitch? I don’t know for sure, but if you believe the world needs the OTON X, then don’t let me stop you.