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Ouya tests 'all-you-can-eat' subscription program
Ouya tests 'all-you-can-eat' subscription program
June 30, 2014 | By Christian Nutt

Since its microconsole launched last year, Ouya has been experimenting with different ways of working with developers -- and presenting their games to consumers, including ditching the "free-to-try" requirement and improving purchase options.

Now, word comes to Gamasutra that the company is testing a much bigger, more fundamental change to its ecosystem: an "all-can-eat" subscription service.

A developer has provided Gamasutra with an email from Ouya's developer relations team that explains the new pilot program -- a which it calls a "very limited test" of "an all-you-can-eat, everything-is-free, 12-month game subscription." Another Ouya developer confirmed to us that they got the same email.

According to the email, developers will be compensated as normal when these "all-you-can-eat" users "purchase" their games; the wording suggests that in-app purchases of consumable items are not included as free "purchases" during this test-run. There is no information in the email about the price of the subscription to the Ouya owners who take part in it, nor how widespread the test will be.

Developers whose games are offered in the test are asked to not attempt to change the price of their games to take advantage of the promotion -- and if they wish to do so, are required discuss this with Ouya staff directly.

It is unclear if all Ouya owners or just a subset will be invited to test the subscription service, how much it will cost them, or whether it will be limited to Ouya's own console or span its games service, which has moved to other Android microconsole devices.

Gamasutra has reached out to Ouya for comment on this new test initiative.

Here's the text of the email sent to its developer in full:
We have a new program we’re about to test that we want to share with you. In our efforts to to continue to learn more about our gamers and their purchase habits, we are going to run a very limited test on a new pricing model -- an all-you-can-eat, everything-is-free, 12-month game subscription.

The subscription will apply to all entitlements (one time purchases) in the Marketplace under $30. Consumables (in-game, multiple purchasable items) will NOT be included. Please note, during this test, there will be NO change to how you get paid -- in other words, if anyone with the pass “purchases” your game, you still get your 70 percent. We ask that you please respect this test, and not try to “game” the program by raising the price of your entitlement. We know that you would never do this -- but the lawyers made us write this ;). If you would like to change your price, please send an email to [private email address reacted] so that you can discuss it with your trusted Dev Relations team. We do reserve the right to remove any game from the Marketplace that we feel is abusing the system during this test.

To reiterate, this is just a test that will help us understand our gamers better and provide valuable insight on whether some sort of an OUYA subscription, in this form or another, makes sense in the future.

Thanks again for all your support and please do send any questions or concerns to [private email address reacted].

The bestselling Ouya game under its traditional buy-and-play model was Matt Thorson's Towerfall, which as of April had sold 7,000 copies and grossed the developer roughly $105,000 on that platform.

UPDATE: A link for the "All Access Pass" is live on Ouya's web store. The pass costs $59.99 and offers 12 months of free access to any Ouya game that costs less than $30 as well as downloadable and unlockable content. As reported previously, in-app purchases of consumable items are excluded.

The webpage instructs purchasers of the pass to "Start 'buying' games and unlocks that you want. Anything covered by the pass will show up as a whopping $0.00!" The page also notes that the offer is limited both in time and in quantity.

Here's the small print:
The OUYA All-Access pass applies to one-time purchases under $30, such as full game unlocks and level-pack add-ons. In-game purchases that enhance gameplay, and that can be done more than once, such as extra lives, potions, power-ups, etc, are not included. OUYA reserves the right to remove from the Marketplace any game or gamer that we feel is abusing the system during the duration of this program. Non-refundable.

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Andy Gainey
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"...developers will be compensated as normal when these 'all-you-can-eat' users 'purchase' their games but not in-app purchases of consumable items..."

My reading of the email was that games will appear free to subscribers, but behind the scenes, Ouya will pay the developers as if the game had been purchased. But consumables will still cost the same as they always did for players, even subscribers of this new program. So in effect, the developer will see no negative change monetarily, and perhaps a boost as subscribers play their game without giving a second thought to purchasing it, since they already paid the subscription fee and might as well play whatever sounds interesting.

Though even if that is an accurate reading, it could've been worded better in the email.

Christian Nutt
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Upon reflection, you are probably right.

I've tweaked it. If we can get a response from Ouya, we'll provide authoritative clarity.

Andy Gainey
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For clarification, it was this line that led me to the above reading:

"The subscription will apply to all entitlements (one time purchases) in the Marketplace under $30. Consumables (in-game, multiple purchasable items) will NOT be included."

That sounds like it is talking about how the subscription will affect players, not developers. Subscription grants the subscriber access to everything, minus consumables. By implication, consumables would still need to be purchased as usual.

Christian Nutt
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Right, and that's also much more logical, really.

James Margaris
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So what happens if I download $200 worth of games with my $60 sub? Ouya pays the devs of those games that $200, and ends up paying $140 of that out of pocket?

(Edit: a little less give the developer cut is not 100%, but the point stands)

Aaron Oostdijk
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That's what it sounds like to me. It's the same thing that happens with all-you-can-eat places. Some people who can eat way more get a better deal, but there's only so much you can "consume" at any one time.

What happens with content that was "purchased" during the subscription period once that period ends? I assume this wouldn't carry over, since then you could just buy everything (ergo play it once for 5 seconds), and once the subscription ends you'll have bought the entire store. Makes more sense if it's a "use only" and not a "keep forever" type situation, otherwise it would be too abusable.

Robert Green
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So if I'm reading this right, if someone were to buy this subscription and then, over the course of the year, 'purchased' games/non-consumable-items worth more than $86, then Ouya would be losing money, because they'd have paid out more than they received?
And logically, if you had an all-you-can-eat service, then you probably would get over $86 worth of content, because why not? Just a couple of bucks a week would easily take you over that limit.

John Flush
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for $60 makes any paid game equivalent to a F2P... Interesting.

EDIT: and @Robert, exactly. If they don't limit the number of downloads somehow I would see everyone downloading just about anything interesting just for the sake of it. I do the same thing now with Xlive's Gold free game. Even if I don't plan on playing it I download it just to add it to the catalog of games I 'could' play... I expect most people to download as much as possible while it lasts.

Robert Green
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That's certainly my impression. We see something similar with pirates in our games with IAP's - once you're not paying for each item, you might as well just get all the available items immediately.
There's also the issue of how much developers are going to price their games/items at. Perhaps a dev with an Ouya game is seeing very small sales at $9.99. If enough people were to use this subscription option, even if they can't bump the price up to $29.99 (the fine print above shows they thought of this), they might want to introduce new IAP's at that price, or perhaps make their next app that price.

James Coote
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OUYA has limited storage and you have to actually download and open up a game's IAP storefront to purchase stuff. So it'd be quite a lot of effort to buy a bunch of stuff just because or to screw with OUYA.

I guess OUYA have calculated that the average user is spending something considerably below that $60 over the course of a year, and that taking a hit in some cases is worth it to increase overall player engagement

Alan Barton
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I think the point is, once players can download more without it costing more, a major barrier currently limiting downloads (i.e. the cost) will have been removed ... resulting in increased downloads.

If OUYA has to pay for the difference between subscription income and the real cost of total games downloaded, then the total downloaded games can easily exceed the money OUYA earns from subscriptions, so where will OUYA earn the money to pay developers and keep going themselves?

This change in download behaviour could quickly eat into and exceed any other income OUYA is earning, at which point its no longer viable for OUYA to have a subscription service, or developers will have to take lower income. Something would have to give somewhere, as there will only be finite income with which to share around?