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That Scapegoat, [insert people group here]
by Ryan Green on 09/19/13 02:36:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

[This post was originally published on the That Dragon, Cancer blog.]

I don’t want to talk about our game today.  

I want to talk about the way we treat each other.  I want to talk about the ways in which we’re able to stamp others with labels so that we can dismiss them.  I want to talk about bruises, and pride, and unforgiveness, and bitterness, and distrust, and the unfathomable abuse that occurs in this world to cause it.  I want to talk about the unimaginable priceless value of a soul.

But I’m not sure if it’d do any good, unless I see everyone as valuable.

I’d love to talk about rumor weeds.  The ones that feed on sub tweets, suspicion, speculation and very little first-hand information.

But I may grow one of my own in the process.

I’d like to talk about monolith organizations that eat people, print money and poop product.

But that’d be too easy a target.

I want to talk about easy targets.  And why we eagerly rip them to shreds on the Internet.

I’d like to talk about OUYA.  I’d like to talk about an industry full of souls with value. I’d like to talk about you and me.

 

This affects us too.

But first, I must disclose something.  I’m a father of four who decided to make a game about our family’s journey fighting terminal cancer in my 4 year old son, and took corporate money from OUYA (In a direct deal with OUYA, and NOT through the Free the Games Fund) so that I, and my 3 other teammates with a total of 3 spouses and 5 more children could continue to work full-time, pouring in our love, passions, faith, and tears into something we believe in. Oh, and our fifth member, with a spouse and three children, he donates his time because he loves us.

I recognize this might make me a corporate puppet, maybe a sellout, maybe entitled, certainly desperate, hopefully adequately “indie.”  I recognize that when I go to bat for the people of OUYA, that the conflict of interest is readily apparent.  We jumped in the boat with OUYA, we want OUYA to succeed, we want developers to jump in the boat with us.  There’s no hiding that.

 

Target practice with OUYA, GET SOME.

A popular target dummy in my circles on twitter over the past few months has been our friends over at @playouya. Unfortunately due to one poorly worded tweet, our game got to be the ammo:

@playouya: The Powerfully Moving That Dragon, Cancer Is Now A OUYA Exclusive http://bit.ly/17mD6om  GET SOME.

What started as an exciting day for us, quickly devolved into mudslinging at our fine faceless corporate sponsors.  I mean obviously, on the day we announce that we’ll be able to finish the game thanks to a healthy investment in a project that they found worthy of existing, the soulless money grubbing corporation that cared nothing for me or you or anyone else, tweeted poorly.  See?!  SEEEEEE! I told you they’d change once they were legally incorporated and got some money…

Unfortunately, reality didn’t matter.  A person innocently tweeted GET SOME to promote us, in good faith. The Internet smelled blood, and pounced.  It didn’t matter what we thought about it, or that the community manager didn’t mean it that way.  It didn’t matter that the head of developer relations, who brought us to OUYA, immediately proved to us that our best interest was her first priority. It didn’t matter that a founder fought for our deal even when OUYA’s profitability wasn’t guaranteed, or that the head of OUYA thinks about charity and the value of developers before profit.

None of that mattered.  What mattered is that we, the nameless mob GOT SOME.

 

Let he without sin, throw the first stone.

The truth is, criticism is important. In order for it to be helpful though, it should be done the right way.  If we have an issue with each other, we live in a world where corporation or not, we can talk directly to people.  We can ask them why, we can offer ideas on how, but when we don’t talk to each other directly, things can fall apart.

And frankly, there’s really no way around it, OUYA PR has been a field of exploded mines. But that usually happens when you’re the first one through the minefield.  They’ve made mistakes, sometimes they haven’t fully owned up to them.  Sometimes they believed that they could spin the explosion away from them.  

  • OUYA units didn’t go to backers before retail.  Gigantic failure of confidence and trust.  Did they give up, take the money and run? It seems to me they doubled down in effort to try and make it right and still aim to make it right.
     
  • The commercial didn’t work, it was tasteless and out of touch with the intended target audience, acknowledged, removed, apologized (poorly spun), back to the drawing board.
     
  • Developers exploited fund loopholes to get extra funding for their football game.  But they still would have had to deliver an actual product to get 75% of it.  I say “would have” because they voluntarily took themselves out of the fund.  Let’s see what they produce.  Maybe it will be rad.

The difference between the folks at OUYA and most everybody else, is that they got to live through their failures in public, while we got to lob stones. Imagine for a moment, how that would feel.  And suddenly you’re not lobbing rocks to knock out the funny-named faceless corporation, you’re lobbing rocks and hitting people.

You’re hitting Julie, and Bob, and Kellee and every person in that 30-odd member OUYA “cooperation” (See what I did there?) who wants to see a dream come true. Who wants to help the industry. Who wants to succeed.  Who had the guts to step out on the field.

I hope that Julie’s latest display of deference, humility, and grace in revising the FTG fund again and soliciting feed back from the developer community (including reaching out to our team this last week) as a gesture to a community she loves will grant OUYA one day of reprieve and hopefully some trust can be earned back.

The game industry is a community that needs each other.  We have families, We have bills, We have dreams, and skills that don’t yet match our taste.  We’re trying and we’re doing. All of us; you and me; we’re making games and writing about games, and playing games and pouring everything we have into it because it’s a language we understand, it’s one that speaks to our heart.

Maybe that’s why we have a problem trusting.  We’ve become an industry that will as quickly elevate someone for disrupting the status quo as we’ll fight over the scraps of what’s left of them when the mob is through.  We’re an industry of individuals that are starting to speak with our own voices, and not those of the corporation. And so we’re exposed; and we’ve been abused; and we shouldn’t have to tolerate such unnecessary suffering, but we’re told it’s the price of admission; “get a thicker skin.” This is because the cost of the opposite, the cost of being fair, of seeing others as valuable, of trading in assumptions that make us feel safe, is in a currency of intimacy.  

I’m choosing to trade in intimacy.  Not the kind that exploits, not the kind that takes advantage of, not the kind that abuses, but the kind that invites you to share in my suffering, and share in my comfort.  The kind that gives life.

And so I’m asking you, before you sling another arrow over the twitter wall after hearing that OUYA is exploiting a poor dying child, ask his father why a picture of he and his son sits next to a box of tissues on the show floor of a booth we decided to create, paid for with the funds we control, that came from OUYA.  And you might hear that I actually placed it there and you would hear how much I adore him, and that we didn’t start with tissues, they were given to us, because people needed them. And if you still take issue with what I’m doing, then you can tell me so and we can talk about it.  

Like Lana, who despite picking up a stone, dropped it and listened and apologized for spreading something that wasn’t true.  I really admire what she did. Because what started out as well meaning outrage directed at someone she thought took advantage of us, may have turned into respect for someone who was supporting us.

If we’ll pause, and talk to each other, we’ll find beauty in each one of us.  And a soul that’s worth treasuring.  

Twitter conversation between @LanaTheGun and @ryangreen8


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Comments


Thomas Happ
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It seems like things blow out of proportion really quickly now that social media is entrenched everywhere. You can watch people have their lives destroyed in a twitter firestorm as they sleep, and when they wake up in the morning they're like, "Wow, I had no idea that 140 characters could cost me so much." Anyway I still hope Ouya goes out and kicks butt.

Christian Nutt
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So many people on social media participate in a free-for-all like this just simply to entertain themselves, not because they care about the issues involved.

At the same time, that doesn't mean there aren't legitimate questions around things Ouya has done.

E Zachary Knight
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Yes there are legitimate questions. However, they have done nothing that, at least in my eyes, deserves the vitriol they have received from day one.

Ian Fisch
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When you ask for public money to fund your console, you're going to be under much higher scrutiny from the public.

E Zachary Knight
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Ian,

There is a big difference between scrutiny and vitriol.

Ian Fisch
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Zachary,

I think a lot of people, myself included, saw people donating hard-earned money to something whose basic premise was flawed from the start.

I personally felt like donors were being taken advantage of, and I still do.

E Zachary Knight
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Ian,

Sad you feel that way. I certainly don't. I spent $130 to buy my Ouya and an extra controller. I have bought about a dozen games I never heard of before and probably never would have bought otherwise. I liked it so much, I bought one off another backer who didn't like it as much as he had hoped and gave it to my brother.

As a developer, I find the idea of making games for it more appealing than making games for one of the big 3 consoles. Can't really explain why, it is just how I feel currently. It could be the ease of developing for it, the variety of tools that are compatible with it or something else. I don't know for sure.

I certainly don't feel like I was taken advantaged of. Far from it. I feel like I bought something that I believed in and which I currently enjoy.

James Coote
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How is it flawed?

Jess Groennebech
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They do not have enough moneys to reach out to the majority of the gaming public resulting in small sales for everyone involved.

Kevin Fishburne
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Ryan, that post was way to human for...humans. You successfully appeal to our better nature, but that pesky other part of our nature persists and always will. The Internet's a wall over which it's easy to throw stones and imagine you're hitting your target. Once direct communication is initiated the wall becomes translucent and casting barbs suddenly seems of greater consequence. When your target's picture is painted with words about their family, intentions and fears suddenly you find yourself sitting with them in a coffee shop and making eye contact.

I've noticed that in RL the closer you are physically to a person (especially without others around) the more conciliatory you feel, regardless of how you felt previously about them. If you take that to heart and change your "distant" opinion you've moved forward; if not you're what people call "two-faced". Those in the latter camp have a character flaw rooted in their own personal experiences and failings.

Great read, anyhow. It speaks to Internet bullying, mob mentality, and how anonymity seems to bring out the worst in people; all topical and important subjects. Best of luck to you and your family.

Ian Fisch
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While I certainly take issue with people making false or just plain ridiculous statements, I don't think there's anything wrong with being extremely critical of something that deserves it.

Amir Barak
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There's being critical and then there's being a dick... I suggest digging through the gamers with jobs site for the difference...

Marvin Hawkins
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Its sad. People love a good pile on. I think that currently works both ways. If the internet approves of something. It's shared and deemed worthy of praise. If not, then its trash. While several people may not have even read, played, researched, or otherwise tried the thing in question for themselves. It is group think in its purist form. While Ouya's missteps have been public, the out right hate over it seems out of place. It really does seem like an opinion was formed before it was out. I do think they can work to change their messaging. (Free games = an audience trained to not spend money) but overall, at least they are trying something different.

Kujel s
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Really good write up and I'm sorry to hear some have attacked you because of their own issues.
While I'm not really interested in playing your game I've never tried to prevent it's creation or release because it has a right to exist, same as any other creative work.

I have no respect for the homosapian species because of the kind of people who attack someone like you because they for what ever reason disapprove of the people you're working with. You're not the Ouya team nor do you work for them so you do not diserve the BS you recieved for any of the mistakes Ouya has made.

I encourage you to carry on and finsih your game so that your son's struggle will not be in vain.

Ryan Watterson
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I think it's true that people need to take a closer look at how their words affect other people. Audiences in America and across the world need to be educated not to treat the human beings who work in the art and culture industries so demandingly and rudely. This, the Skyler White thing, the death threats to the Call of Duty people. We are sensitive artists. We don't need this. Still the whole thing is a bit of blaming the sheep for what the sheepdog's done. Small or not the folks at Ouya made some questionable marketing decisions. Why, for instance, did they spend so much time, energy and money in fostering a presence on engadget, a place where their basic response was, rightfully and over and over again, 'we don't get how this is a tech specialty interest product, it's not technologically impressive'.

They have two developer bases: one, the energetic, ludic games folks making things like Towerfall, and two the art-house style productions like That Dragon, Cancer -- and they need to appeal these two offerings to these different audiences: gamers interested in indie games, non-gamers willing to buy a roku-like device that offered games, and the hobbyist/semi-professional developer base as a consumer body.

Instead of a kind of tried and true, measured strategy, they employed a number of strange experimental marketing gimmicks that, while they got their name out there, got it out there as tied to a sort of obnoxiousness.

My worthless free advice after this whole stage is this: they should have advertised That Dragon, Cancer heavily as a launch title in somewhat unexpected, slightly sophisticated non-gamer media (such as, perhaps The Atlantic, something like that) outlets as a way to attract the 'It has the features of a roku and some new kinds of games for adults?' crowd. They should have picked a litany of frenetic, currently in-vogue indie type games (I mean the commercial ones, like zelda clones) to constantly add to a narrative of a growing library of games to put out through kotaku, rps and other specialty games outlets. They should have, instead of the strange kickstarter plan, which was a somewhat gimmicky way to try to outsource their audience building challenge to indie devs themselves, done what they did with you folks working on That Dragon, Cancer on a larger scale -- they should have reached out to other successful indie devs and along with them created a series of high profile funds/microfunds that received applications and used to fund serious developers directly anyone with a strong enough demo to prove a product would come out, across the budget scale from $10k-$100k, asking exclusivity for direct funding without other strings, guaranteeing a library of exclusive titles. They should have gotten high profile, successful indie devs on board publicly to provide this fund for the win-win PR boon for everyone involved. This way, even if the funding pool was small, the narrative would have been 'We support indies' and not 'Dearest indies please do a bunch of stuff for us'

Sony swept the wind out of their sails by taking away their key marketing point, which is the no-barrier to entry development model, but they weren't capitalizing on it anyway. Here's who I think would develop games: creative gamers; creative people who use different media and want to try a new medium; programming hobbyists. You could make a venn diagram out of that if you want. But the point is Ouya's thrust on that point was only toward established indie game devs and even on that front was muddled by asking too much of them, not creating a strong portfolio-based brand. On top of that, the approach itself, represented by exactly the story told here (they gave an established developer direct funding but everyone else has to crowdfund), creates a narrative of a closed kingdom, exactly the opposite of the narrative they want to put out there, especially since Sony's narrative now of being an open platform is growing (we'll see how they actually implement it)

Finally, the sort of personality they tied themselves to, and I want to say that in life, y'know, your personalities are whatever, you can't really control it and just try to get along without breaking pots. But in terms of a corporate personality Ouya came off as kind of obnoxious, not sure what it was, having fun when it was time to be serious, in-groupy gamery, and a little juvenile. The "$13.37" rebate. Obnoxious, in-jokey, exclusionary, not taking it seriously. The guerilla E3 stunt. Obnoxious, juvenile, not in control. The kickstarter backing thing. Following trends, in-groupy, not well thought out.

Serious people seriously wanted the vision of a cheap console that can play NES-PS1/maybe PS2 production quality games made by the full spectrum of hobbyist to semi-professional to professional indie devs, emulators and roku stuff. In all of their efforts in marketing with all that kickstarter money, they didn't put that message or that vision out almost anywhere. It was about them personally, or about OUYA, or about the tech or about some scandal or about some quid pro quo for high profile devs. Every ounce of the marketing budget should have been spent finding the audience for that vision, promising that vision specifically to the people it resonated with, and promoting concrete steps and achievements they were taking towards achieving that vision.

They could have hired crazy Eddie to post up commercials like 'Come on down to try an Ouya! We got hobbyist games, we got award winning indie games. Don't play games? It's like a roku, but you could try the games they're totally different than you'd expect. Want to make a game? It's easy on Ouya! For hobbyists to professionals you can get the game you've been dreaming of onto Ouya". They could have chosen to do any kind of marketing campaign they wanted. They went a really strange and experimental direction with it. Shrug. But self-inflicted image wounds aren't the only challenge Ouya faces. If it was poker they got to the high stakes game and went all in with a pair of twos thinking it's a sure win, then Sony showed QQ.

Even the people who should have been sure locks for Ouya like the hobbyist developers, art house devs and the indie developers didn't get reliable messaging that appealed to them. For instance a lot of the hobbyist developers and indie devs, I'm sure Ouya is aware by now, are against the status quo of gamers and gaming and weird arbitrary aspects of 'gaming culture' like mountain dew and L337 jokes and this stuff -- so their attempts to pull a gamer audience to Ouya to play Towerfall turned off these folks who saw Ouya as a way to escape that strange consumeristic materialistic boyism. Obviously though Ouya needed to/wanted to capture at least a portion of that market, but the execution was bad. It lacked diplomatic awareness. What I mean to say is I'm not sure they were entirely aware of the attitudes, opinions and political interplay between these groups it was trying to market to as it attempted to form a coalition of developers and an audience. The commercial indie devs looking for fame and fortune got split and mostly peeled off by Sony because the promise of fame and fortune is so much higher, the audience base is established.

Now, that's all really moot, as at this moment in time, Ouya faces a completely different set of challenges. Sony and to a lesser extend Microsoft have usurped them as an indie publishing platform. I think if they wanted to succeed they would need to improve their image, be serious, find their audience and refocus as well as polish their marketing. If they can offer devs an alternative audience, and an offer an alternative audience uninterested in the existing games an alternative breed of games they want to play, Ouya will have a niche.

Still, I hate to say it but my outlook is not particularly optimistic on this endeavor: to me it looks like the Ouya folks got played by the chess players on a higher level -- the idea, expenses and legwork of this thing was outsourced to them as SV funders watched and then Amazon will come in with its little box and execute whatever they think Ouya failed to execute. Still, I think Ouya could have a somewhat long lifetime if it operated itself less like Sony and more like GameStop -- a distribution channel for a network of game creators, except a totally different network. That doesn't involve ren and stimpy or l337 jokes in any way. Bonus points if they can make it not embarrassing to talk about to another adult.

Have they at Ouya thought of partnering with Barnes and Noble? If they allowed Barnes and Noble to use their exclusives catalog on Nooks, Barnes and Noble may allow them to set up Ouya kiosks at their physical stores and host in store events such those Barnes and Noble is comfortable producing for authors i.e. 'signings' 'readings' maybe even an introductory game dev workshop or two. Get Ryan Green out there talking about his son's cancer and this journey to make this game, the Barnes and Noble crowd would love that. Get Jonathan Blow out there touring B&N's talking about The Witness and all his artistic philosophies. Get Jenova Chen out there to do some signings. Maybe they would even meet some of these devs out there they want to help support and you start seeing some sense of mentorship develop instead of this bizarre online twitter faux mentorship game of associations. Like when Usher 'found' Justin Bieber. Dr. Dre and Eminem. The public loves that stuff. Let me clarify this though in case y'all take this idea but change it to gamestops: NOT GAMESTOP. This is about fostering a new audience that is yours, siphon off some of the gamestop people sure but this paragraph is not about that it's about discovery and frontier.

Luke Quinn
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Thanks for writing this.
I believe in the OUYA and am still working on a game for the system despite the slow take off.
The unbridled hatred and vitriol is just astounding, even from developers who should know why we need another successful platform that's more open to indies better than anyone.
Even if the OUYA fades into the abyss of microconsoles and tablets, I still really enjoy using mine and love how very portable and simple the design is.

E Zachary Knight
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The thing that really excites me about the Ouya is that even if it fails at some point, the hardware is still available for me to use and create new games for. It makes a great tool for quickly prototyping out local multiplayer games that you can't do as easily with other consoles.

Mike Jenkins
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Fantastic Ryan. I supported Ouya's kickstarter for reasons other than buying games on it, and I've been happy with it so far. Your game will almost definitely be the first I buy from the marketplace and I can't wait.

When I saw the title "That Scapegoat, [insert people group here]," I had no idea where this was going. The only group that I could think of regularly demonized here are 'bros.' I was wrong, there really has been an overwhelming amount of hate for the Ouya that I had been tuning out. In the incredibly, comically cynical world we live in, schadenfreude is far more chic than cheering for an underdog.

James Coote
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While I'm a big fan of OUYA, I do criticise their marketing. I really feel that there is a case for just ditching the entire online gaming community and building our own island some place else

Especially leaving behind the "hardcore" gamers, a group that most game journalists, indie developers fall into themselves.

Is it worth trying to change gaming from within, or pick up the ball and go play somewhere else?

Eric McQuiggan
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I am I the only one who liked the ad?

E Zachary Knight
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I didn't particularly enjoy the ad, but I wasn't completely repulsed by it either. It was just "Meh" to me.

Kujel s
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I got a chuckle out of it.

James Coote
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It's who the ad is targeted at - male, 12-24 year olds

Here is a list of why OUYA should NOT be targeting this demographic:

* They like shiny graphics and hardcore violence. Neither of which the OUYA can supply

* They like to troll on the internets, and OUYA is an easy target for that

* Sony and Microsoft are busy pumping vast sums of money into attracting these people to their new system

* Existing loyalties to those aforementioned platform holders

* Shrinking in size/importance proportionally / relative to the overall market

* Are the old-guard. The traditional hardcore "gamer", and OUYA is supposedly the alternative to that

There is similarly a list of great reasons for pitching the OUYA as a kid/family friendly console, a casual, social, console 'lite'

The ad is also negative, and attacking gaming culture and bigger rivals, rather than focusing on what it offers as an alternative

Finally, it flies in the face of the current trend, on this site and others and generally within the industry, to change gaming culture away from sexism, homophobia etc. While the ad doesn't address any of those issues directly, the idea is to get away from immature toilet-humour, where this ad perpetuates it.


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