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Developers speak: The Ouya, four months later Exclusive
Developers speak: The Ouya, four months later
October 24, 2013 | By Mike Rose

October 24, 2013 | By Mike Rose
More: Console/PC, Indie, Business/Marketing, Exclusive

The Ouya microconsole has been available to the public for around four months now, and in that time the device's own online marketplace has slowly but surely filled up with indie titles for download.

Gamasutra talked to a range of Ouya developers back at launch, to gauge how they felt about the console, whether sales were looking up, and how they saw the future for the microconsole.

Four months later, we've revisited a handful of these developers, while also talking to some studios that have since released games on the Ouya, to get a feel for how the Ouya now stands after the launch hype has died down.

Adam Spragg, Hidden in Plain Sight

"I'll be completely honest - I haven't used the Ouya really at all since launch and getting my game out," Adam Spragg, the dev behind Hidden in Plain Sight, tells me.

"Sales of Hidden in Plain Sight have tailed off drastically since the initial [Ouya] Kickstarter units all shipped en masse, which isn't surprising," he continues. "But the initial burst of sales have netted me a few thousand dollars, which has exceeded my expectations."

Notably, Spragg used the pay-what-you-want model for the game, with a minimum price of $1, and was really pleased with how this turned out.

"A very significant portion of the sales were at $3 and $5," he notes. "In fact, most of my money came from $3 sales (even though there were more $1 sales)."

His game, which was originally written for the Xbox Live Indie Game platform, is a local-multiplayer only title that is perfect as a living room experience -- hence the focus on XBLIG and Ouya.

hidden.jpg"It wasn't too difficult to port my game to Ouya, and I'm happy I did," Spragg adds. "I'm less about making a bunch of money, and more about trying to make it available to as wide an audience as possible."

As for his future games and the possibly of more Ouya releases, there's a definite "thumbs up" involved.

"I'm not sure what my future game development plans are, but I'm certainly interested in including Ouya in those plans, as well as any other microconsoles that come out," he says. " Really, anyone who makes it easy for me to publish my crummy games on their system will get my attention."

The Men Who Wear Many Hats, Organ Trail

Ryan Wiemeyer and his team weren't going to bring their game Organ Trail over to the Ouya, until a friend offered to help out with the port. The game ended up selling just over 500 copies on Ouya in the first few weeks -- "about half of what my low-end predictions were," Wiemeyer said at the time.

"Sales are still really low," he tells me now. "Organ Trail: Director's Cut has 953 sales after what... four months? 263 (27 percent) of those being in the last two months."

"It's not our worst platform," he continues, "but it pales in comparison to the others as you can see in our 1 year postmortem we released 2 months ago. Due to the ease of releasing on the Ouya though... there is little reason to avoid it as a platform if you plan on having both Android and controller support. Which we do for out next game, Max Gentlemen.

Wiemeyer has found that it is mostly the forced free-to-play model that is putting him off using the microconsole himself.

"I want the Ouya to be more than it is, but I find myself using it less and less because I don't like the pay model," he explains. "I want to find a game I like and pay for it. I don't like being forced to play it up to the pay wall or demo end to find out what they are asking for it.

Essentially, he wishes that the money side of the Ouya marketplace was divorced from the game as much as possible, rather than being something you always have to deal with in-game.

"I wish I could just look through the titles with a price on them and just buy them," he adds. "What the hell kind of marketplace doesn't have any prices?"

So if other microconsoles come along that offer a better marketplace, will he jump ship? "I think trying to find other microconsoles to support is a pain in the ass for developers who have to deal with another company, make new builds and maintain new bug databases," he says. "I'll be sticking with the Ouya unless someone comes along and undeniably destroys the Ouya."

Santa Ragione, MirrorMoon EP

The Santa Ragione team was not involved in the Ouya launch. Rather, the studio just released its first-person puzzler MirrorMoon EP on Ouya a few weeks ago, having already brought the game to PC months before.

"Our Ouya launch went a little below our expectations, because we overestimated how many people were aware what MirrorMoon EP was and that it was coming out," admits developer Pietro Righi Riva.

"On top of that, our Ouya demo is not entirely representative of the full game," he continues. "The open world exploration nature of MirrorMoon EP does not adapt well to a demo."

Despite all this, Riva is excited to bring more games to the microconsole, and definitely plans to do so in the future.

"I like the Ouya marketplace and how quirky it is," he notes. "I also still very much enjoy the fact that I can make a tiny game that is tailored to a console experience and have it up in weeks, something that macro-consoles still cannot offer."

"There is something intrinsically beautiful in this little box that just starts running games as soon as I switch it on," the dev muses. "Like a Super Nintendo, or an iPad if you will, but with the controls of a console."

He just wishes that there were more local multiplayer games like TowerFall for the console, as he says the Ouya is the best platform for these types of experiences. In fact, Santa Ragione's next game, which will be made available for Ouya, is going to have a local four-player mode.

mirrormoon.jpgAnd what of other microconsoles? "I haven't seen any microconsoles that have more potential than Ouya so far," Riva answers. "I am, of course, open to bringing content to any exciting hardware that comes out, and it doesn't really need to be a knockout success to get me interested. It just needs to provide something new that I think would be meaningful in the gaming space."

If anything, the Ouya has spoiled Riva, as he now believes he'll be looking at other microconsoles with certain expectations, "in terms of interest for our games, willingness to reach out and listen to developers, and more than anything: (minimal) amount of red tape, agility in contracts, and streamlined greenlighting of projects."

Nooskewl, Monster RPG 2

For Trent Gamblin of Nooskewl, the Ouya has matched all his expectations. It's sufficent for everything that his studio wanted to achieve with the microconsole, and he's pleased that his games are running well on the hardware.

"Sales are basically as expected for me," he notes. "We have only released games that were previously available on other systems on Ouya. What I expected was decent sales at the beginning and that to fall off very quickly, and that's been the case - but I think that the very rapid falloff is mostly because they are old games."

Now that he's dabbled with the Ouya, releasing a handful of games for the system, Gamblin plans to focus on releasing future titles across PC, Mac, Linux and Ouya first, before looking at other platforms.

Once these platforms are provided for, "we'll look at what's available and port to the systems we like, unless a microconsole pops up before release that is game-changer like an Apple TV with gaming," he tells me. "Then we might have to include it in our initial release."

E McNeill, Bombball

E McNeill released his Ouya game Bombball at the microconsole's launch. At the time, the game was making around $30 a day, and he felt a little disappointed with how things were going, despite how great the Ouya team were treating developers.

"For me, the story hasn't changed over the past few months," he tells me now. "The Ouya team is still a joy to work with; they ran a tournament for my game at IndieCade, and they took the time to review the game's current marketing and give some helpful advice."

bombball.jpg"But the sales are still low, and they've continued to slow down over time," he continues. "That's partially my fault, since I haven't done much to promote the game, but I don't see any great ways to turn it around."

Instead, he's now moved on to a different piece of Kickstarted hardware instead -- the Oculus Rift.

"And, yet again, I got into it through a sponsored game jam, just like I did with the Ouya CREATE jam," he notes. "Right now, I don't have any plans to make another microconsole game. I'm curious to see if any of the others will find more success than Ouya, but I kinda doubt it. I expect that I could move my game to another platform if any seem promising, but I'm not holding my breath."

Eric Froemling, BombSquad

Eric Froemling is another developer who released a game during the Ouya launch window, and since then, he says there haven't really been too many surprises with regards to the microconsole -- which is a-ok with him.

"I feel like I'm seeing fewer complaints about hardware imperfections, which I'm happy about," he says. "Not that the hardware is perfect, but I think they were getting a bit of a bum rap in reviews such as when someone would see a sloppily ported game running choppy at 1080p and conclude that the Ouya is underpowered, when it actually could have been silky smooth had the developer locked their rendering to 720p."

Having said that, he still sees that there are numerous issues with the hardware, such at the wi-fi connectivity problems. He hopes the Ouya team is using its headstart in the microconsole race to really knock it out of the park with Ouya mark 2.

"For me, sales were good right after launch (150-ish copies/day) and slowly dropped over the course of the next few months; pretty similar to the curve I saw on Mac," he continues. "The good news is that they seem to have leveled off in the past month or two and may even be rising a bit. Hopefully this is a sign of momentum on Ouya's end. The pessimist in me was worried they’d drop to zero."

With Ouya out of the gate early, is Froemling now interested in looking at everything else the microconsole space has to offer, or will he be sticking with the Ouya hardware for his future games?

"I'm definitely still interested in the space, especially since it should be relatively low-friction to port between the various microconsoles that will be hitting," he tells me. "I think it'll be interesting to see how the different microconsoles differentiate themselves due to that; if it'll just come down to exclusives or horsepower or just advertising muscle or what. Regardless, I think it'll be an exciting market to watch unfold."

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James Coote
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OUYA sets the gold standard for ease of development when it comes to consoles.

With the whole free-to-try thing, it is putting off many developers I've spoken to. Part of that comes down to it just being a difficult message to communicate. Those developers, when you explain exactly what it'll mean for their game or how they can work around it, it often becomes clear just by having that conversation, that they were getting confused as to what the exact rules were.

Otherwise, the only thing that is missing from this console is the sales. I'm definitely with Eric in the view that things really rest on OUYA 2 being the fully realised product, (where OUYA 1 was more the experimental initial iteration that had to happen first).

Robert Fearon
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I wouldn't say that it's because it's difficult to communicate, I'd say it's because it's a pretty terrible system.

The Ouya is the only console I own, the only system I've *ever* owned where I'm reticent to download stuff and make a purchase and that's pretty much entirely based around their everything is free to try but we're not telling you any other information up front model.

Kujel s
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@Robert: the lack of info on pricing is more of an issue with those who've released games on Ouya and less of an issue with the marketplace, though Ouya could do more to encourage devs to be clearer on that for players.

Robert Fearon
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There's nowhere for the store to display pricing and no way to buy from the store, that's on Ouya to sort, not the developers.

Kujel s
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@Robert: a dev can put in the game's description what the full price is very easily, as for buying from the store without downloading that really is a non-issue. If you know what the full version will cost you can download and hit buy full version upon starting up so it's not a big deal and easily dealt with.

Robert Fearon
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Please don't tell me that something I find actually stopping me purchasing games is "a non-issue". Every step between the customer and a purchase is an issue.

I appreciate you're fine with the set up and I respect that. As someone who'll soon be punting something onto the Ouya, I want the store to serve me as best it can as well as serving customers as best it can.

At the moment, it falls far short of that in my book.

Lex Allen
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Kujel s is right. Devs could easily put a price on the front page in a number of ways, but I agree that universal price tags across products seem standard and should be implemented. The problem is that a lot of games are based on microtransactions so they don't have "full" prices.

Robert Fearon
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There's absolutely no reason why Ouya can't provide an area on the storefront to list microtransaction costs for f2p/premium with IAP titles also.

It's all very well tucking the price tag into the description but that's not going to help me browse the store by price also or any of the other things I can do in pretty much every other store apart from the Ouya one. This needs a store-side solution from Ouya, anything else is just an attempt at patching problems with the store.

As an aside, given the current OFT investigation into freemium/f2p and their concerns over a lack of up front pricing being presented to consumers across the board, it'd probably be wiser to implement this sort of thing sooner rather than risk regulation, I imagine.

James Coote
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There is no technical reason why OUYA can't put prices on the store.

The reason they don't do it is because the idea is to create a system where players to judge a game on how it plays (before they buy), rather than just a few potentially misleading screenshots and videos.

Now, whether that has worked as OUYA intended is an interesting debate, but the fact we've had to spend time explaining it just goes to prove my original point.

Thomas Baltzer
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"The reason they don't [put prices in the store] is to create a system where players judge the game on it's gameplay rather than a few shots and vids."

I paraphrased you a bit, but same difference otherwise. My point being the idea you're putting forth makes absolutely no sense. Where is the correlation between making a price clear and visible to the consumer versus providing a f2p portion, i.e. a demo? One certainly doesn't preclude the other and it seems like you've put an awful lot of effort into polishing this turd.

Also, "Now, whether that has worked as OUYA intended is an interesting debate". I'm not sure where you're seeing the debate. The OUYA is a pretty clear failure as virtually no systems nor games are selling.

James Coote
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@Thomas and @Robert

The idea is to create a system where people judge a game on how it plays. If you have a price on the store, people will judge based on if the screenshots / video correspond to the price, before ever playing it.

A good example is Towerfall, which has been one of the most successful games on the OUYA so far. It's also one of the most expensive at $15. Most people would look at the retro-style pixel art screenshots and probably conclude that this game was in no way worth $15. Maybe $1 or at a stretch, $3. Especially since shiny 3D graphics laden Shadowgun sat next to it on the store is going for $5.

As it stands at the moment, if everyone is raving about this Towerfall game, but you're like "Is it really worth $15? Is it really as great as everyone says?" You can find out. You can play it for free and be like "Holy ****! I'm not a fan of retro-style normally, but this thing rocks!"


But neither of you got that straight away, which goes towards proving my original point that it's too complex

Robert Fearon
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Hang on. We didn't have to take time to explain it. You just sort of... explained it anyway?

I'm befuddled. It's obvious *why* OUYA are doing this and it's also obvious that there's been enough research over the years to know why no-one else does this outside of premium brands who run on the "if you have to ask the price, you can't afford it" and bizarrely the Lego stores. Which I'm sure they have a good reason but it also means I buy my Lego elsewhere where they put prices on things also!

If someone asks "why are they doing that?" I'd guess they don't mean that in a "please explain it to me" manner, they mean that in a "for the love of all the elder gods, why is this a thing that is happening, it is a madness", y'know?

As it stands, the OUYA can't shift consoles in any substantial number and it's struggling to shift games. That's not debatable, that's a thing that's actually happened. Still, I can now get a few £20 cheaper in my local CEX so that's something.

So, yeah. At the moment, putting some effort into reducing buy friction can't possibly hurt and certainly can't make the situation worse.

E Zachary Knight
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"Which I'm sure they have a good reason but it also means I buy my Lego elsewhere where they put prices on things also!"

What Lego Store do you go to? My local Lego Store puts a price tag on every box.

Kris Steele
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The problem is that you don't set a price on a game, you add microtransaction (or transactions) and allow them to unlock features of your game (which could be the entire game). There isn't a standard pay $X to buy game.

I think there should be, but there isn't. It's currently not a clean cut system to say this game costs this much.

Massimo Villa
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I agree. There is no standard, so the only way to go is an "enriched" description. @Thomas and @Robert no price tag is the price to pay for openness.

Shahab Babakhani
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There is no reason they can't put a price up front, allow customers to buy without playing, but still retain the "there must be a demo/free section" clause. It is a win-win.
Right now OUYA is a great concept with a lot of big problems in execution and unless a lot of things change on the fast track to irrelevance.

Chris Morrison
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Some of Dieter Rams' ten commandments of good design:
2. Makes a product useful
6. Is honest
7. Is thorough down to the last detail

Is concealing prices useful, honest or thorough (toward the customer)? I don't think so, and tend to agree with Robert that it was a bizarre decision.

Despite that, I'm really impressed with what Ouya has pulled off and wish them the best. Everyone makes a few mistakes at the first attempt.

Harry Fields
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When there's a compelling business case, I'll support it. Until then, no thanks.

Kujel s
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I haven't released any games for Ouya so I can't speak about that aspect of it but as a user I'm quite happy with mine. I would like to see more RPGs and strategy games as those are my two favorite genres but that is up our fellow developers to deal with.

As for the pricing system I would like it if devs would make it easier to know what the full version costs when you first start up (or maybe add that to the game discriptions) and I'd prefer less of the microtransactions kind of stuff as I don't support microtransactions.

Kris Graft
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"I want the Ouya to be more than it is, but I find myself using it less and less because I don't like the pay model," he explains. "I want to find a game I like and pay for it. I don't like being forced to play it up to the pay wall or demo end to find out what they are asking for it."

This really needs to be fixed...I know it's a nice marketing bullet point, to say all games are free-to-try, but there needs to be some way to actually buy the game right from the storefront in order to encourage fast purchases. Finding the game on a storefront is already a barrier to buying, but then making the (potential) customer download a game, install it, load it up, then buy from within the game is just way too much friction, and is likely hurting developers' sales.

Kujel s
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I've always found my greatest reluctence when buying games is how's the gameplay, having a demo to try and decide before buying is a huge deal for me. I wont just buy a game because it looks interesting, I've been burned that way too many times (ex: bioshock 1).

Justin Kovac
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If a friend recommends a game or I played their copy, I want to be able to click buy now, install and play.

Here I have to download, install, start, buy, then actually play.

I think the "Full" and "Free/Lite" version on mobile marketplaces works since it gives you the choice. Integrate it in the store where you have a "Buy it Now for $$$" and "Try for Free" button side by side.

Lex Allen
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The developer can offer a buy now option on the initial game screen if they want.

Kris Graft
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Still, that doesn't fix the whole download/install process that I'm sure turns people away from impulse purchases.

Joseph Elliott
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I don't see why all games can't be free-to-try and still have an option to buy it directly from the store front should you choose to do so. There are several games I would have bought before downloading if I had the option, and it would almost certainly improve sales. One doesn't mean the other has to disappear; it's all about convenience and lowering barriers for the consumer.

Kris Graft
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Agreed on peoples' points about having both the option to buy from the storefront, as well as offer a demo. Giving players and developers the option seems like a good way to go.

E Zachary Knight
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As an Ouya user, who has bought roughly a dozen games so far, I want to pipe in on the buying discussion. I agree that there is a lack of an "impulse" option for the Ouya. It can be quite frustrating, especially if you know at the start that you want to buy. I also agree that many developers implement the pay options extremely poorly which reduces the player's willingness to buy.

I don't see any problem with Ouya implementing a "Buy Now" option in the store along side a "Free Download" option. There is nothing wrong with that. Let the developer decide if that is something they want to utilize. But that is not what we have and so we need to work within the current system.

For one, developers need to stop hiding the buy option. Too many developers do not have the buy option in the main menu. This is precisely where it needs to be. Put all the nags you want in the game, but if the buy option is not in menu, I probably won't buy it.

Second, developers need to be clear about what it is you are buying. I recently played a game which had a 3 tiered buy option, each with increasing amount of content. The lowest priced option was touted as "The Full Game" while the others had additional content and included the "Full Game". The purchase screen was not clear on what happens with the other tiers if I pay for the lowest option to get the full game. Would the other options drop in price or would i have to pay for the full game again to get the additional content. Not all all clear. That, along with other issues with the game, turned me off from buying.

Third, it would be great if the developers would put their prices in the game's description. It would be better if Ouya provided that space for them. But for now, there is absolutely nothing stopping the devs from putting "Price $X" in the description.

I applaud the Ouya for the focus on free to try. It is something that can certainly help many devs get noticed when they might not otherwise be considered. It has gotten me to buy a number of games I would not have otherwise bought. But I see no reason why free to try cannot coexist with a buy now option in the store.

Caleb Garner
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yea i agree with all of your points and like you, I have paid for a number number of games. I do really think that everyone here have great points about the buying system.

In fact i've probably spent as much or more than iOS on the Ouya and I've had iOS devices for years now.

The thing about this article is I didn't care for any of these games except in plain sight and really it was only an interesting game mechanic that i liked but i didn't like it enough to buy, i just keep the demo around.

So when i see these guys expressing disappointment, i'm less inclined to blame the platform..

Also as mentioned before, I too have seen games that almost seem to go out of their way to make it tough to buy or know where to go to buy. Knightmare tower was one of the best buys.. they even gave me a certificate for my effort.. lol. Creative expressions of gratitude help make a purchase even more enjoyable.

games i enjoyed and bought were:

knightmare tower
mega worm
ascent of kings
pizza boy
retro racing
nyan cat
a few others..

there are other games that i think make the mistake of giving away too much game.. some games i've played i still play and haven't hit an seeable limit.. i've already hit some difficulty thresholds already and haven't seen a chance to buy the game yet.. i think most games should give you a taste and if that doesn't convince them.. playing for another 30min probably won't improve your odds

Most games I've played, i know in the first minute if its something i like.. and if i don't i uninstall.. and i'm sure i'm not alone in that. Some games have confusing controls. some require accounts to be created.. etc..

So yea bottom line:

The platform is fine and valid, but it needs to improve and hopefully sooner than later. why there isn't a buy it now option is beyond me. honestly.. that seems like a no brainer.

Curtiss Murphy
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Ouya should allow straight up purchases. The gimmick of MUST-HAVE-A-FREE version has worn out its welcome. And of course, they need to sell more units.

E Zachary Knight
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See my conclusion above, but I see no reason why free to try cannot coexist with a buy now option.

Wes Jurica
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It's not like the Windows 8 Store is this massive money maker for devs, but they at least prove that having a "Try" button right next to a "Buy" button is good for users. I see no reason why Ouya can't do this as well.

Pawel Miechowski
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As a developer with pretty strong Android games portfolio (with some of them having controller support made for other platforms), we potentially could be interested in Ouya but we won't be definitely spending time on creating free-to-try demos. Like someone here said, it's adding extra thing to the pipeline that would need to go thru debugging. It always costs a lot of time if you want your games to be well cooked.

Ujn Hunter
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Glad I didn't bite on the Ouya back when it launched... that store model would have caused me to return the console. I'd only be interested in buying games up front, not unlocking games from a paywall within the game. Ugh.

Frank Moolah
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Suprised to see that the Ouya caught some traction. That's good to know

Wes Jurica
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How do Ouya developers have sales? On Steam there will be sales and people with start clicking the buy button on everyone of them creating a backlog of games that they have to work through. This works very well but Ouya developers can't do this kind of thing easily. I give credit to Ouya for trying something different here, but was there really a need for something different? They should have aped the Steam system and then added a Try button to all the games.

Robert Fearon
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A few of them just slap a banner across the thumbnail as far as I can tell. It's not the most effective method, to be fair.

Quentin Preik
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Everyone can always use more Bomb Squad!

Kujel s
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A thought occured to me this moring reading comments here. With microtransactions you can't really "know" what a game costs upfront so would that prevent one from downloading the game because they don't know the price? Would making all games on the Ouya store require listing a price or noting that they are microtransaction based really effect how many "buy" games or would it make no difference.

Let's not forget that XBLA (and PSN if I'm not mistaken) uses a similar system to Ouya in that all games have a demo and you can't just buy before you try and no one seems to mind it when MS (or sony) does it that way so why is it a problem when Ouya does it?

Jeremy Alessi
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The big problem here is that console players don't really like free to play games. It's a mismatch of philosophies.

Dave Hoskins
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But they've always loved playing demos, haven't they?