My friends and I have a running in-joke about Infinium Labs’ cancelled “Phantom” console. I don’t mean to be cruel about a failed business model. It’s just that the whole story about a cancelled console that doesn’t exist, being called “Phantom”? You can’t really make that up.
But if Infinium had used Kickstarter in 2004, would we have funded the Phantom back then ourselves? How would things be different?
Gamers did fund a very different experimental console this year: the Ouya. Funding was over eight million dollars for the hackable, open-source console that promised to be friendly to gamers and indie devs alike. I personally took a “wait and see” approach to Ouya. But it passed an initial smell-test. Verifiable people are working on the product, they were approachable about information and interviews, and their Kickstarter reports that dev consoles are scheduled to be mailed by Christmas. It is definitely possible to believe that this console will be made and that it might live up to some if not all of the expectations.
Nevertheless, the Ouya was met with enough skepticism that a site-wide change in Kickstarter policies was announced this September, not long after Ouya’s fundraiser ended. Simulations and renderings to show off hardware are no longer permitted on Kickstarter. In addition, projects must be clear about the challenges they might face getting their product to market. These changes, designed to keep people from paying for products that would never be completed, weren’t necessarily entirely inspired by the Ouya fundraiser. But it was likely a factor.
That brings me to yesterday on Twitter… when I saw this:
Oton, made by EnGeniux, claims to be a prototype console that can create its own games, from scratch. That’s right: the “Make Game” button that my young students have always dreamed of has finally arrived. And best of all, all these games are free! You can easily develop your own game without coding! The console also offers not one, but two optional projectors so you can skip the TV or monitor and project your games anywhere you want.
EnGeniux is crowdfunding their new project. Much like Ouya, they are asking for at least a hundred dollars per console, and claim to need one million dollars to bring the Oton to market. But they aren’t going through Kickstarter. Rather, they’ve set up their own crowdfunding site. Check out this line from the FAQ:
3. Why are you charging my credit card before the unit ships?
We have to charge your card in advance because all payments are immediately sent to the manufacturer after the 30 days to speed up the process. This is a very expensive project, and the quicker we can get suppliers paid the sooner we can get OTON into your hands.
In other words, EnGeniux is just going to go ahead and charge your credit card in advance, before the console ships. They hope that will not be a problem.
Some other things about this project made me (and the rest of the internet) skeptical. One of the only press articles describing its features is on the site Video Game Madness, which also appears to be an advertiser for the console at first glance. The article itself is full of typos and does not seem to reflect the standards of professional work. And it has some pretty outrageous information about announced console features:
Another amazing aspect about OTON is it can take classic licensed games or characters and build new gameplay, levels and power-ups around these assets. The OTON creation can turn a 30 level standard 2D/3D game and create 100 plus new levels bringing unprecedented new value for gamers.
Since the final comment there invited direct mails to the company, I contacted Oton’s direct press line with some questions. They directed me to the personal e-mail of Derrick Samuels. Derrick Samuels is not the guy in the Oton pitch video, but he is the man who says he has the years of industry experience that make him qualified to lead this development project. Zach A on Twitter was following me down this rabbit hole earlier, and sent me this article, an interview with Derrick about the now-cancelled EVO 2 console.
“We got a bad rap because people didn’t realize the original EVO was not intended to be mass distributed,” he said. “It was a stepping stone to the new machine.”
Here’s another interview about EVO 2:
“There was rumor back in 2004 that the Phase-1 was heavily inspired by one of the biggest vaporware schemes in recent history, Infinium Labs’ Phantom. Did the Phantom serve in any way as inspiration for the Phase-1 concept?
From an “I can do it” sort of inspiration…yes! I must have been out of my mind at the time…but for some reason it popped into my head that I could build such a game console.
I told you, you can’t make it up.
It’s worth noting that while the original EVO does appear to exist, in small amounts, it’s hard to verify much information about it. The interview that mentions it only indicates that it was not intended for wide distribution, and all sources mentioning the EVO 2 now list it as “upcoming.” What is supposedly the official site for the Envisions EVO now looks like some sort of ARG (I suppose I could invite three of my friends, but I think I’d probably just get a pitch for the Oton).
So after all of this, I was extremely curious to find out if this Oton console was a real project or some kind of elaborate crowdfunding hoax. I e-mailed Samuels with a few questions I had – things I would want to know as a member of the press or a backer on the project. That interview with my e-mailed questions and his exact replies follows. From here on, decide for yourself. That’s what EnGeniux would want us to do, after all.
AJ: The Oton seems to be making a lot of pretty big promises. What would your response be to those who are skeptical about this?
Samuels: We understand the some of the mix reviews but OTON is real. This is like any other project seeking the community to fund. I have worked on this concept for 3 years. We finally started coding mid summer. It was tough but we did it and our guys are currently trying to get a simple demo ready for our backers. We have track record to back-up our efforts.
AJ: What’s your affiliation with the Video Games Madness site? Are they advertisers for you? I’m curious why choose to give them rather than a major known site your exclusive previews.
Samuels: Video Game Madness is awesome. They reached out to us first. We spoke with several big sites but still no story about OTON. I think if bigger sites would have got in front about the project it would explain the OTON idea better and let people know us better. We are nice folks…I think We have a few indie sites that are working on stories which one or two will break tomorrow. I’m a simple man. If you respect us and support us I’m obligated to give that back no questions asked. So VGM was out front pushing the idea with just a release. I love those guys.
AJ: I saw you mention on Twitter that you are refunding money if the funding doesn’t meet its goal. Are credit cards being immediately charged? The FAQ seems to indicate that they are. Some clarification on where the money is going and when it is paid would be great.
You said something about technical difficulties with the crowdfunding platform. Are you making more money than the current progress bar would indicate, then?
Samuels: Yes, we fixed those issue. One issue was a freak thing with the server that was hosting the site. That wasn’t us? (Lol). Now being a new project WePay require a few days before you are approve and verified as a project. Thank god that process is over and we are open for business.Side note: We were scheduled for 35 days but we may ending doing this crowdfunding in 30.
AJ: If developers don’t pay to develop, and players don’t pay for games, what’s the overall business model for the Oton?
Samuels: The OTON model is so awesome we can do that with ease. You see I have over 10 years in the industry and I learned and studied to design OTON business model to be so amazing. Okay, here we go. We know for a fact that most players will play a free demo all day, every day. So all our single level demo games will be ad supported. So ask a developer to make 3 games a year on our platform. When the developer use OTON to develop those games and once complete OTON software will automatically create a demo level to promote and share. The developer demo level goes in our demo box if you want to call it that and when a gamer wish to explore the game more they must purchase from developer the entire game. I’m not a greedy person. So we kill two birds with one stone. We get free demo levels and the developers get game sells using our hardware. We have a console that makes games all day, and all night so it want [sic] hurt us. We will content forever. We also have storage, license fees for other devices and services like TV or cable providers. We have our first party games and a long list of other ways we make money. We sell upgrade OTON Asset Modules. We also make money when developers, musicians, and developers upload game assets into the system. Not to mention OTON will create and host websites. We don’t have to play the game the same way as the big 3. We control this ECO system and this is just the tip of the iceberg. A regular Joe can do OTON as part time job!
AJ: In your FAQ, you mention the Evo 2. Was it the Ouya announcement that spoiled your plans for Evo 2? Did that inspire your idea to choose crowdfunding for this recent project?
Samuels: Ouya. first, I want to say we respect Ouya and we think these guys the best luck. It did too a degree. I was working on the OTON framework on the side but nothing too serious because everybody thought i was crazy until I produced code. Our issue with Ouya is that people think we copied them and trying to reproduce their effort. What a lot of people don’t know is that we have successful ship EVO open source console and have 17 school system with EVO that we support. I realize Android as a platform for gaming in 2010. But OTON kept calling me. Long story short we have been through hell. And I apologize for my language but we have…we get bashed for innovation in the media and Ouya is the console everybody said we copied? I receive tons of email that Ouya is doing EVO 2? Kickstarter would not let us do EVO 2 on Kickstarter when we were ready so I funded EVO 2 out of my pocket. We wanted to do the crowdsource for promotion and to showcase what we feel is the next step for the console. My project is small but OTON gives us a chance to fight back. The little guys throwing punches with the big 3 and still alive…we should get bashed we should be applauded for making it this far. But we will stay humble and just hope the media tell our story and get excited about the next evolution of evolution.
P.S. Get ready OTON X is the beginning and we have two more surprise if we reach our goal. I believe in excitement to give people a reason to wake up in the morning for cool tech stuff. OTON has so many things we couldn’t list them in one 4 min video.
AJ: Thanks a lot for your reply. If you don’t mind a quick follow-up: the EVO was sold and reports are that it sold out, but how many units were there? There’s a quote that it wasn’t widely distributed, and the only report I could find said there were about 3,000 units.
Samuels: Those reports are not correct because we never released that data based on the request from our Envizions investors not to release the numbers. But I can say the numbers were in the low hundreds. I have attached a EVO image for the record.
So now we have the official answers.
I want to mention that I also asked about the nature of the games that the console creates, but apparently there isn’t any more information than is already available in the crowdfunding pitch video.
I guess overall that just makes us one of those independent little sites that’s breaking the story. I hope you feel informed, or, at least, entertained!
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