I had the privilege of being part of an OUYA event in Austin this past Friday with OUYA founder Julie Uhrman. She graciously took the time to answer questions from Austin developers about everything from the reported yearly hardware updates to parental control guidelines. Most notably, the issue of storefront curation came up.
Her response was in line with this Michael McWhertor article on Polygon from Friday. I believe Julie Uhrman cares about curation, so let’s get that out of the way. My issue with their plan as a whole is the focus on what is referred to as “real metrics of engagement..” She posits that sales charts and download numbers don’t properly curate -- something on which she and I agree.
Her granular plan right now, as I understand it, is to take metrics like how often a game is played among its download base and whether a certain game is played first when the player turns on the OUYA and use them to create “engagement” charts that will serve to curate games on this incredibly open platform. Those metrics, to me, are a couple of versions of a curation story most players I know could tell.
Games are becoming so diverse -- often indescribable -- that the idea of taking quantitative measures of engagement seems like only part of an equation. Let’s lay out a very specific scenario that shows the importance of tweaking OUYA’s current curation strategy.
A few weeks ago, I bought all five episodes of Kentucky Route Zero at once for $25 instead of $7 for each individual episode. That’s not really an important detail aside from telling you what a good deal I think that is and you should jump on that train. I played the first episode in one afternoon. Without spoiling anything, I could easily play it again and make different choices to see how they play out, but I’m not going to. Do you know why? It’s not because I didn’t like the game. On the contrary, I loved it. I’m not going to replay it because the choices I made felt personal and going back to undo them seems like a disservice to how I imagine the remaining four episodes will play out for my personal protagonist.
That’s a special feeling and a special game. I imagine many who play it will feel as I do regarding staying true to choices.
I won’t speak for Cardboard Computer (developers of KRZ), but as the head of another independent studio making games that don’t necessarily fit the mold of “high engagement metrics” as Julie Uhrman describes them, the current plan scares me. If KRZ or a similar title comes to OUYA and the only curation on display is informed by the engagement metrics, lots and lots of people are going to miss out on something important.
That drives me nuts.
I know Uhrman says they’re kicking around additions to the current curation plan, which may be totally true and will fix everything and this will be a non-issue. My hunch, though, is that they’re attracted to Valve’s current model of not paying for any kind of curation whatsoever and letting the public decide the fate of what makes it, what doesn’t make it, what gets promoted, what gets buried, etc. I see the attractiveness there for a company trying to stay lean. I wish I had their restraint in terms of lean operation, but that’s another blog entry.
Might I suggest a quasi-free alternative? Another Austin developer and I were discussing things on Friday and he mentioned that having 3rd party critics (note: a critic and a reviewer are not necessarily the same) create lists either weekly or monthly and having OUYA promote them along with the engagement metric lists. An easy candidate would be Austin’s own Brandon Boyer, founder of the brilliant Venus Patrol. He already creates lists of awesome, often-easy-to-miss gems that even people like me (someone super plugged-in to industry goings on) see slip through the cracks. Recruit him (or people like him) and cross-promote their lists. Lots of very smart people are already curating online, so just make it an official OUYA curation squad and drive traffic to their causes.
That’s how they can stay lean and tweak the metrics system in one fell swoop. I just wish Steam Greenlight would add that functionality. When OUYA adds more curation than engagement metrics, they can consider me a total believer. Until then, I remain a healthy skeptic.