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Ouya Devs: Don't Make Your Game a Hit!
by Wesley Paugh on 12/07/12 06:36:00 pm   Expert 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.


First things first: I'm biased. I make a modest software developer's living, and am buried in school debt. As excited as I was to know I was about to own my first console devkit, tossing $700 into the ring for a pre-release Ouya devkit hurt. It hurt a lot. So, not only was I a proponent of this console before I started writing this article, but I'm deeply invested in seeing it succeed. I don't think I'm alone.

There's over a thousand pre-release devkits shipping out later this month, behind each of which is a person that thought the extra $600 was worth a 3-month head start, but none know for certain. I suspect many will not release games at launch, despite their developer's best efforts. As often happens with console launches, I assume ports ( 100 Rogues, for a completely random example ) will comprise that lineup in no small part. While that may not be ideal, it would be far worse for developers and, I would argue, players, if one or two new games strike gold in a big, system-selling way.

There was recently an article on Gamasutra about the Ouya needing a killer app. I am inclined to disagree, not because I don't think a Halo for Ouya would guarantee its success like nothing else. I disagree on the grounds that this awfully cynical view for the future of independent game development may actually just be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Most consoles have launched at price tags 3-4 times higher than Ouya's, and players are accustomed to trusting gut instincts about a killer app, because the investment has always been so high. A $99 console could be, probably even should be, a chance for gamers to start spending the hundreds of dollars saved by taking risks on a wide range of games they never have even seen on a mobile market, for example. All the same, the dozens of hours a gamer might spend practicing headshots in a supposed Killer App because it got the most advertising, could instead be given as handfuls of hours with a variety of titles, learning more about why he likes games and which ones he really likes. 

I recognize the idealism and, perhaps, naiveté of the viewpoint; even a small investment in terms of time or money is still an investment, and customers invest in sure things rather than exploratory gambles. Even if that approach achieves a measure of success, it would probably be only a fraction of what its potential might be with more tried-and-true methods and marketing. Still, Ouya's 'all games free to play' approach just might give idealism a fighting chance.

Could this be an opportunity for gamers to appreciate well-crafted games in untamed, sometimes even hideous, unfamiliar forms? Maybe, *sniff*, maybe.

Ouya has come as far as it has while advertising itself as an independent-friendly platform. Most independent developers I've talked to (at least, the ones that have shipped games before) have a subdued resentment towards the celebrity culture of Indie gaming. There's more to us than Jon Blow and Notch.

However, an Indie hive-mind mentality exists much more fiercely outside that circle. Minecraft basked in ovation as it took award after award in the IGF two years ago but, when Desktop Dungeons clinched Best Design against it, applause was far outweighed by confused stares of nonrecognition. This is a serious problem for 1,000+ Ouya developers that might want to start a community where their work actually receives recognition (and, dare I say, financial success?) based on its unique quality, rather than its mass appeal.  No matter how good the competition, not everyone can have a slice of pie as big as Minecraft's.

Do I think Minecraft, or Angry Birds, or Farmville, were developed specifically for mass appeal, hoping to achieve the fame and fortune it did? Probably not entirely.  (ok, Farmville probably was). You've got to give the game credit for being well-designed, and having equally great timing. But, it ought to be the responsibility of the Ouya community and its Market's moderators to not let a success like that drastically change the playing field for the market as a whole, lest we be flooded with clones, knock-offs and cash-ins.

If Ouya gets branded a console of new ideas, and if the 1,000 developers actually are making games for it in ways that don't specifically strive for mass appeal, then the indie community just might be able to eek out a self-sustaining space to find support for all ideas. Good games, bad games, as long as they're interesting, Ouya could be the place for genuine artistic expression through game design to be nurtured and appreciated.

But all of this would be undone if one, or even two, truly headlining games attract a disproportionately huge audience. Even if these games are groundbreaking, well-designed games, the resulting influx of imitating gold-diggers would turn the platform into exactly what the Android, iOS and Facebook markets have become: places where developing as fast, cheap and often as possible can undercut those that strive to make interesting games with unique, if niche, appeal. Cashing in on the success of the first one or two big hits is standard practice for everyone, big and small. Who could even blame anyone, at this point?

Ouya is a lush, secluded hollow of creativity, at dangerous risk of being paved over to make way for marketable tourist traps. I'm genuinely curious whether Ouya's developers feel similarly, or if they'd let their sales slump to preserve such a hollow, say by handpicking games to publish or bury, or ensuring an equal distribution of promotion time (no "App of the Week" that recurs with each version / IAP / spinoff, or interminably self-sustaining status as 'best-selling' game).

Ouya's survival is what's important to the people behind Ouya, and achieving that end by any means ought to come first. But game development doesn't need another PS3 or Halo right now, because we all know those aren't going anywhere. What we need is a space for people who have new ideas to feel able to showcase those ideas before an audience that is open to appreciating them.

I strongly believe this would be the best use Ouya could be to gamers and game developers alike. However, I suspect the reality could best be described by quoting Douglas Adams. "This, many claim, is not merely impossible but clearly insane".

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Keith Burgun
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>places where developing as fast, cheap and often as possible can undercut those that strive to make interesting games with unique, if niche, appeal.

This is kind of a central assumption to your article. I'm not totally convinced that it's wrong, but I'm also definitely not convinced that it's correct, either...

Why do you think that this is the case? I mean, obviously Angry Birds and Farmville make more money than, I don't know, Outwitters and... (I couldn't think of a good original Facebook game but they surely exist), but so what?

Hits always make more money than niche games. Is there evidence to support the claim that niche games on a niche system make more money than niche games on a "hit" system?

Wesley Paugh
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> Is there evidence to support the claim that niche games on a niche system make more money than niche games on a "hit" system?

If I had evidence, this wouldn't be a blog post, but my opinion has been formed by reading about and talking with developers that have released on PSN, XBLA, and iOS, and those that have been IGF competitors. I know, recently, Derek Yu insinuated that Spelunky didn't do nearly as well on XBLA as he had anticipated. Somehow, though, I suspect Minecraft did pretty well on the platform, despite what I've actually heard about the port's quality in comparison to the PC build.

Hits are going to happen, and they should. But what I've seen on mobile and facebook are communities that cultivate hits, making them ultra-famous for no other reason than because they were already sortof famous and not completely broken. If Ouya starts helping promote games that are already hits, and developers reinforce that notion by turning hits into trends, niche titles suffer, and the diversity of games available suffers.

> but so what?

The "so what" is that the distribution of profit between games like Farmville and Minecraft is grossly out of proportion compared to what the majority of good, independent games bring in. From all the independent developers I've talked to, it's a hobbyists world, and it doesn't even make for a good side-business.

Ouya is in the position to change that, if only on one platform, to where a hard-working, talented indie can at least make a decent supporting salary.

Chris Dunson
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I didn't pay for the three month head start, but I'm eager to release games on the Ouya none the less. I'm developing a local co-cop game similar to Zelda: Four Swords.
It's not exactly original, but no other game out there has that same feel to me. I really want to see more local co-op dungeon crawlers that promote true cooperation, more then just defeating the same enemies. This is a game I'm passionate about and it's what I want to make for Ouya.

James Coote
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The problem is that come March, there will be 1000 devs chasing 63,000 OUYA owners.

The OUYA console is probably being sold at a loss or at best break even (minus development costs). The makers of the OUYA will be hoping that is more than made up for with their 30% cut of IAP. If it isn't, the whole project will crash and burn

Being an OUYA developer means we got access to the console at a fraction of the normal price. That means we don't get the big marketing power that is going to drive console sales. I'd argue it is actually our responsibility to spend the money that might otherwise have been spent on buying an expensive dev kit on actively promoting the OUYA, getting as many people as possible to pre-order. Making a killer app is the best way an indie with already limited to zero budget can do that

There is already a lot of skepticism around the OUYA. Telling gamers they are going to get a 2nd rate mobile experience on a TV wrapped in a bubble of pretentious hipster elitism is a recipe for disaster.

Rob Solomon
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As one of the ~1,000 who ponied up the extra bills for the Ouya first mover advantage, I don't think killer apps would have the chilling effect you think they might.

The main reason challenging Mobile/Facebook games don't break through the Top 25 is because the platform doesn't lend itself well to long, sustained gameplay experiences. Nor does it lend itself well to real time multiplayer gameplay. These are both things the Ouya can do very well.

Looking at Steam, for instance, you can have games like Far Cry 3 and Call of Duty XIII selling very well alongside independent games like Hotline Miami. The Ouya marketplace should be no different, if the storefront is designed well.