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Ouya's Free the Games debacle comes to a head
Ouya's Free the Games debacle comes to a head
September 11, 2013 | By Mike Rose

September 11, 2013 | By Mike Rose
Comments
    36 comments
More: Console/PC, Indie, Business/Marketing



Although the team behind the Ouya microconsole attempted to address recent issues with its $1 million Free the Games initiative this week, the response has left many developers feeling cold.

The Free the Games initiative is designed to match funds from successfully crowdfunded games in exchange for short-term exclusivity on the Ouya platform. It's an interesting proposal, but one that has caused quite a stir, as a couple of Kickstarter campaigns have been widely accused of gaming the system.

Weeks after the initial outburst from devs over the scheme's issues, Ouya boss Julie Uhrman has finally responded -- although her short blog post doesn't appear to be going down very well with developers.

Uhrman said that the intention behind the funding plan "seems to have been lost" on some people. "The truth is, openness is hard," she added. "Being open means everything is fair game, and it means sometimes things donít work out exactly as you hope. And when it doesnít work out, everyone knows."

Notably, however, the blog post doesn't appear to address many of the concerns that developers originally had with the Free the Games initiative -- for example, it doesn't mention the two Kickstarter campaigns Gridiron Thunder and Elementary, My Dear Holmes that have fallen under much scrutiny.

The response from developers has been overwhelmingly negative, with notable devs such as Sophie Houlden, Rob Fearon, Mike Bithell, Richard Perrin and Wes Paugh putting forth their distaste for the way in which the Ouya team is handling the fallout.

Houlden has even taken it a step further and decided to pull her game Rose and Time from the Ouya marketplace, stating that, "every single piece of PR that is put out damages Ouya's reputation more, and the plastic-marketing-smile never seems to come off. They never get serious to deal with stuff."


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Comments


Isaiah Taylor
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Dang. I had such high hopes. Not sure how the Ouya can adjust it's message to both developers and the gaming community. Two different mountains to climb.

Andrew Pellerano
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I do not get this. We have a new indie friendly platform that openly funds indie games and gives people an opportunity to break into the games industry. Yet gamers and game industry professionals alike will stop at nothing until the Ouya is dead. Why? So that some internet prediction you made on a whim a year ago can become true?

Ouya has a fund that funds games. The fund is not depleted. Maybe some people are abusing the fund, maybe not, this currently does not impact your funding chances. If the fund was depleted and some good clearly legit games were getting bumped for questionably exploitative games, then there would be a news article worth running. This is neither art nor business of games, it's drama.

Lex Allen
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Thank you. Just... thank you! I'm still in shock over how all of those people were/are acting on the OUYA blog post. I just... I'm still in shock. I hope Julie ignores all of those negative nancies.

Wesley Paugh
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There are certainly some who are overreacting, I think. But, it is a real shame to see a games with very suspicious Kickstarter numbers getting financial support from Ouya in this way. If Ouya said from the start "Gridiron Thunder is the kind of game we want to invest in", I wouldn't have a problem.

And yes, other developers are free to compete for the money Ouya are offering, for the time being, until and unless scammers succeed and dry up the $1m. "Elementary, My Dear Holmes" was suspended due to suspicious activity. It is possible to game this system, and that is what people have tried and will continue trying to do unless something changes.

Ouya gave me a chance to release a console game. I didn't have that chance before, because it was a privilege reserved for those with money. The Free The Games Fund is now becoming another privilege to those with money, and that is a shame.

Tyler King
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The sad fact of life is that those with money will ALWAYS have an advantage over those who don't.

Ian Fisch
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First of all, the game that raises the most money gets an extra $100,000 from Ouya. By gaming the system, Gridiron Thunder has pretty much ensured that the money will go to them.

Ouya has the power to give the money to any number of worthy developers. Instead they've decided to support this obvious scam.

Kujel s
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@Andrew I think the reason for the negivity from press and game players is sadly brand loyalty. Sony and MS have put a lot of money into cultivating cult fallowings and these loyalists will attack anything they think may threaten their platform of choice, and even sadder is the fact negativity speads far quicker on the internet then positivity.

I will continue to support and encourage others to support Ouya because open platforms are better for everyone involved.

Dane MacMahon
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@ Kujel

Lot of truth here. I don't want to make a lot of accusations about enjoying the benefits of Microsoft PR, but at the end of the day I think most journalists have an obvious interest in preserving the status quo.

Also cynicism.

Wes Jurica
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@Kujel and Dane

That makes no sense as just this year there was an even bigger shitstorm over the Xbox One being bad for indies. Did we already forget about that? Also, Ouya was being hailed as some kind of savior by the press and indie game fans/devs before a series of snafus. I just don't see it.

Dane MacMahon
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@ Wes

There's a definite cynical air to platform coverage outside the norm on most game sites. Like I said, I wasn't trying to draw direct parallels to Microsoft PR benefits, I was trying to say there is a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

I think the Ouya disappointed a lot of people and has no good games on it that aren't elsewhere, there's logical reason to report negatively on it right now. The vibe seems almost gleeful though, which is what I think we're talking about. Could be perception, could be legit, hard to say.

And like I said, also: cynicism.

Kujel s
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I think you're misunderstanding me, Ouya is getting an unfair amount of criticism and I think it is in part do to pre-existing brand loyalty and as Dane put it maintaining the status quo.

I'm not saying the people at Ouya haven't made mistakes and that all criticims are unfounded but few in the press are willing to even give them a chance :(

Michael Kelley
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The fact that it isn't depleted doesn't mean that it won't be depleted by games like Gridiron and Elementary. This is a zero sum game.

Maybe you haven't encountered corruption yet. Maybe you haven't run up against a Zynga or 6waves or a MogoTXT. But you will. And if you're not standing up for those being cheated, don't expect anyone to stand up for you.

Kim Pallister
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@Andrew, Lex: I think you are justified in pointing out that there's a lot of unjustified hate out there.

However, I think in this case the criticism is justified. People (indie devs in particular) are upset because they see an opportunity to get funding via the games fund/matching program, and they see some people are exploiting a flaw in the rules to compete unfairly.

Uhrman's blog post throws blame at the critics, and spouts a lot of stuff about openness. All it needed to say is "we recognize some people are gaming the rules of the program, and here's what we're doing to make sure that doesn't happen...". It didn't say that, so criticism is fair game.

Lex Allen
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I definitely understand why there is criticism, but I don't really agree with it for a number of reasons.

They aren't in a position to say that Gridiron is "gaming the rules". Not only is it slanderous, but as far as I know, there is no evidence to suggest that the project was self-funded nor violated kickstarter rules in any way.

If they renege on what they initially stated about the fund, people would complain about that instead. To what extent should the change the rules in the middle of the game? Require a specific number of backers? Make sure that project owners don't have any rich friends nor family members? Require that 50% of funds come from complete strangers?

(I saw that people were complaining that Gridiron was funded by friends and family, but most kickstarters get a large part of funding from people they know and kickstarter recommends asking your friends and family, so...). If they were self-funding, that's another story.

Maybe OUYA could have gone about the fund in a completely different way, but they didn't. No indie developer has been squashed. People need to take a step back and think about how they are acting.

Developers need to spend more time making their games and less time ranting on whatever sites decline moderating their posts. I'm still shocked by how obnoxious and petty the comments were on their blog. No wonder nobody wants to help indie devs. Look at what happens when they try.

Robin Clarke
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http://www.kicktraq.com/projects/1997247042/gridiron-thunder-awes
ome-indie-football-game-for-o/#chart-daily

If it's unfair for developers to call Ouya out for seemingly having no problem with giving over $100k to an obvious scam, while pretending to be open and transparent, what would be a fair thing to criticise them for, in your opinion?

Michael Kelley
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"To reach its goal, it received more than $10,000 apiece from a limited number of funders, as revealed by Kicktraq... for a rate of $934.48 per person... The results of 84 projects in the past three months revealed a mean average of $50.59 pledged per person..."

http://www.joystiq.com/2013/09/09/gridiron-thunder-ouya-kickstart
er-concludes-with-171k-many-que/

Amir Barak
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Yes, but showing off statistics isn't the same as drawing final conclusions from those statistics (that's the difference between actual journalism and what 99% of game journalism seems to be) and calling something a scam can't be done so easily.

The numbers are, I grant you, highly suspicious but the OUYA team can't go back on their own terms without even heavier legal repercussions. What should happen is that the OUYA team should have a clause in the fund's contract that says that in order to be funded there must be full transparency of each donations's origin (ie. some way to verify payers' identities).

Robin Clarke
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"The numbers are, I grant you, highly suspicious but the OUYA team can't go back on their own terms without even heavier legal repercussions."

Not really. As with any legally operated competition the organisers have the right to disqualify participants at their own discretion.

Peter Christiansen
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I agree with Kim. In fact, it's not simply that there is a tiny loophole that is being exploited. Rather, the rules of the program are inherently flawed. Despite the fact that OUYA is an ideal platform for developers with small games that require small budgets, the Free the Games fund only targets those projects that bring in over $50,000. For most small devs, ESPECIALLY those who are just trying to break in, this is a very unrealistic goal. This is why the only two games that have made it thus far have been scams. No one backed Gridiron. It had less than 200 people contribute to its kickstarter (and many of them were the developers themselves). It never would have made its goal under normal circumstances, because nobody cared. The developers, on the other hand, could pledge whatever they wanted, because they knew that they would get 200% back (minus Kickstarters' cut). The problem is that the rules of the FTG project reward this kind of behavior but don't reward the kind of development process that represents the struggling indie developer that really needs the help.

It's true that the fund isn't depleted, but it's unlikely that any of the money will get into the hands of those it could actually help. Not only has the OUYA team failed to give a satisfactory explanation for these decisions, they have been very dismissive of small devs, telling them to take the game "you can't afford to make" elsewhere.

I really had some high hopes for the OUYA, so it's sad to see them alienating the developers who were the most enthusiastic about the system in order to try and court some "big budget" (or more realistically, medium budget) games for their system. If they drive off a dozen talented developers for every big(ish) game they're able to attract, they're going to burn through the massive amounts of goodwill they generated early on and run the system into the ground.

Andrew Pellerano
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I understand your point of view a little better now, thanks for posting. I still can't follow all the logic though.

Ouya may have set a minimum in order to keep the quality of the submitted games at a certain level. $50k is roughly 6 man-months of development going by the 2012 career survey results. For an indie team of 1, 2, or 3 people that will dry up very quickly. $50k is a high enough bar to exclude the xbox live indie games style of indie games. Pardon the contradiction, but the fund appears to be for AAA indie titles -- the exact titles you would expect to be system sellers.

The contest rules already do discourage exploitation. You only get 25% of the money if your kickstarter qualifies. The other 75% doesn't come until your game is already released on Ouya. And at that point, was the game not a legitimate endeavor? Ouya wants exclusives, this campaign was designed to get them exclusives. It has no other purpose. It may or may not generate the next IGF winner, or a founderwork, but it will generate exclusives.

Goodhart's law states that "when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure." So which measurement, if added to the rules, would have 'fixed' this campaign? It makes no sense to add a minimum backers quota given the modest number of Ouyas that have been sold. I'm at a loss for other measurements.

Nothing in the official blog response is "dismissive of small devs" but I admit I haven't been following this contest drama on twitter or anywhere else Julie is making appearances. If they are indeed telling indies to take their game elsewhere then that would not be in the spirit of Ouya and worthy of public exposure.

Peter Christiansen
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I think you have very accurately assessed their thinking behind the $50k limit. Small devs are clearly not the target of the FTG campaign. The goal is not to help small indies break into the scene, but rather to try and nab the next big hit before it goes to another system. While I personally think that this might not have been the best way to go about it, you can clearly see the logic that went into their decision.

Where this falls apart, however, is when it gets to the qualifications. Technically speaking, I could start a kickstarter project, give $50k to my friends to pledge in my behalf, spend an afternoon making "OUYA Pong Deluxe" and earn tens of thousands of dollars for my trouble.

It's unclear how much effort has gone into Gridiron's development and rumors are flying wildly. The prevailing thought seems to be that the game was nearly complete before they launched the kickstarter. It would appear that they didn't need the money, per se, but saw an easy way to dip in and make a cool $150 Grand with almost no additional effort.

The problem is not that the game is breaking the rules, the problem is that the rules are clearly not supporting the supposed goal of the project. Fortunately, OUYA built in a safety measure for such an occasion, stating that they can suspend a project if it doesn't follow proper conduct. For some reason, however, they don't seem to be exercising this option and instead are saying that if we stick with it, this whole thing will surely turn out awesome in the end.

Sadly, I see that as a very unlikely outcome.

James Yee
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Don't forget most Kickstarter game projects don't hit 50K. Looking at their stats: http://www.kickstarter.com/help/stats?ref=footer

1985 games projects (which includes board and card games) earned less than $100,000. 580 of those earned somewhere between $20k-$100k which taking half that number just because we'll take another 290 off that list for a grand total of 1695 total game projects funding for $50k or less that would NOT qualify for "Free the Games." So yeah... not really aimed for the first time newbie kind of dev.

Sharon Hoosein
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What would be a better alternative than Free the Games fund to get quality indie games on Ouya?

Sean Kiley
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They should have come up with a perfect system where they thought of every single way it could be exploited ahead of time. But no, they were thinking with their stupid stupid hearts.

Patrick Miller
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You'd think that they'd know how important it is to QA and balance-test a competitive game before releasing it, especially one with such high stakes.

Wes Jurica
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I think basing their decision to match funds based on the number of backers and not on the amount of money raised makes a lot of sense to me. It would make scams a lot more obvious too as shown in the Holmes campaign.

Kim Pallister
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Couldn't that be gamed in a similar way? Creation of a lot of $10-backer-accounts?

Not sure I know the better answer. I like the idea of Ouya providing further funding to projects the community is excited about.

Maybe rather than a baiting context, just having Ouya come in and offer up extra funding to projects that have community support? (In a way, this is just a different flavor of what happens when Sony, Microsoft, etc, show up at IGF to try and woo all the finalists.)

James Yee
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I'd suggest it more like a film festival or writing competition. Entries and selections of successful Kickstarter projects to get matching funds based on similar numbers but only after being vetted.

James Coote
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@kim

I think they are doing that already (such as with Soul Fjord and That Dragon Cancer).

The problem is really that, as already mentioned above, this fund is aimed at those devs one step up size wise from the one-man band indie operations. Since the one-man indies are naturally gravitating towards the platform anyway. But it's those devs, who are now looking at the fund and feeling passed over on

Kujel s
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@james: Perhaps they will hear these grumbles and do a smaller fund to help promote some of the smaller devs. A lot of us couldn't hope to get $50k in funding for our projects, exclusive to Ouya or not, and that is a bit of a shame.

Maybe the indie community should do an email campign requesting they setup a much smaller fund where they'll provide a small cash incentive if you agree to six months exclusivity when you release on their platform.

James Yee
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I'm with ya Kujel. Especially as a Kickstarter watcher seeing $50k games is rare enough, let alone ones that limit themselves to a single platform! o.O!

Mike Kasprzak
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Intel, way back, had a simple web form you could fill out to "pitch" you game/app to their Accelerator fund. Essentially, "how much money do I want to port/develop my app to your App Platform". You'd then get a yes or no from them. $5k, $10k, $20k, etc. Makes me wonder if that sort of system would be a better use for that $1M.

Ryan Carson
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That solution sounds a lot simpler and more effective than going for kickstarter matching, and would allow lots of different sizes of games to be assisted with getting out there.

If some people who work at OUYA are reading this post, I would urge them to try this approach, maybe try to get some more successful indies on a review panel, that would really boost their credibility with some indie developers at a time like this.

Andy Lundell
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Some people seem to have resorted to outright fraud to scam money out of Ouya?

Ok, let's all get angry at Ouya about it!

Harry Fields
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Instead of a KS funds match, it should've been a player-voting meritocracy Greenlight-esque system. The games actual Ouya users want to see get funded, well, get funded.

Andy Lundell
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As opposed to Kickstarter where people put down cash on games they don't want to see funded?


Fraud can happen on any platform. Especially if Ouya had to start a platform from scratch.


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