Ouya Autopsy: Free The Games failure, Kickstarter controversy, deserting devs and Vita TV Chris Higgins September 11, 2013 Opinion For the new kid on the block, Ouya has certainly been making some racket. Fraud allegations and conspiracy theories have bookended a very shaky start for the tiny android console. The volume at which it entered the scene is even more impressive given the dirge of next gen news and rumours it’s gone head-to-head with this summer. But does the adage of ‘no press is bad press’ hold up, or should it remain the last refuge of corrupt politicians and failed marketeers? Now, as the dust settles on the formative period of Ouya’s infancy, it seems the perfect time to look back on a summer littered with scandal, ‘scams’ and scatological marketing practices. Two days ago, MogoTXT’s NFL-licensed “fantasy football experience” Gridiron Thunder cruised over the Kickstarter finish line with $171,009 in the bank. An impressive feat for any Ouya-exclusive project on the crowdfunding site, but Gridiron went the extra mile by achieving this figure with only 183 backers. Averaging a pledge of $934 per backer will naturally raise a few eyebrows, especially considering Ouya’s insistence on making games cheaper. But it struck me, and many others, long before the final tally that these were suspicious circumstances given the terms of Ouya’s ‘revolutionary’ Free The Games Fund. Ouya’s Response Yesterday, Ouya CEO Julie Uhrman finally addressed concerns over this project, and the FTG fund, by completely failing to address concerns over this project or the FTG fund. In fact, in the blog post she managed to avoid even mentioning the name of Gridiron Thunder, despite rambling on for three paragraphs about “openness.” In the first extended comment from the company since questions were raised over the legitimacy of Gridiron (and another project, Elementary My Dear Holmes!, which has since been suspended) Uhrman frankly ignores community opinion, saying: “We’re OK with all that, though, because being open is worth it.” Ouya made the announcement a month ago that any developer seeking funding who agreed to six-month exclusivity on its platform would have their money doubled if they raised over $50,000. In the month since, no game has come close to reaching that target other than these two highly suspicious projects, with the average pledge across 84 projects (including non-Ouya exclusives) reaching only as high as $50 per backer. But even before the recent controversy, the Free The Games Fund itself had already baffled many in the industry, and continues to draw ire now. Sixty Bucks?! Initial predictions were that while exclusivity would definitely provide a marketing advantage, it would not do the same for an indie Kickstarter project. For an indie developer attempting to attract as much capital as possible, limiting your pool to only those who own an Ouya is simply counter-intuitive. Especially when Ouya owners themselves are well-known for not wanting to pay much for games, with only 27% of them buying a single game on the microconsole within two months of launch. A point reinforced by Ouya’s own marketing team in a bizarre advert they ‘mistakenly’ commissioned later that month. In the aftermath of these shady kickstarters, Ouya’s lack of appropriate action or even communication has resulted in developers who strongly believed in the system to jump ship. On the very blogpost in which Uhrman waxed lyrical about being open with creators and consumers alike, developers Rob Fearon (@retroremakes), Wesley Paugh (@wespaugh) and Sophie Houlden (@S0phieH) announced their disgust with Ouya’s treatment of the situation. “I’m not prepared to support bullshit like this, you’ve lost me.” Making good on a long-running public threat to the company, Ms Houlden withdrew her support and all games she was developing for the microconsole (including the already published Rose + Time) after she said she was “not prepared to support bullshit like this, you’ve lost me.” In a separate blog post, she expanded on her views saying: “After reading Julie Uhrman’s blog post last night it became very apparent to me that the company does not support indie developers who need the support most, and that they are incapable of ever correcting their mistakes.” An ‘Exploitable Disaster’ Mr Fearon also expressed his confusion over Ouya’s decision to handle venture capital in the way it has rather than finding solid projects and funding them directly. In his response, he said: “It’s an easily exploitable disaster and one that so far has done little for developers or for Ouya, it’s asking things of developers the big players would never ask.” Comparisons of Ouya to the big players of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo come at a crucial juncture in the microconsole arms race, with the announcement of the Vita TV yesterday. Less than four months ago, Ouya would have been seen to have a leg up on ‘the big three,’ offering direct developer relations and a cheaper alternative to consumers. But after a launch window characterised by bad investment decisions, poor customer service and worse communication, the outlook is decidedly less rosy. Add in the superlative work of Shahid Kamal bringing all sorts of high class talent to Sony with very reasonable exclusivity restrictions and no absurd crowdsourcing hoops, and the tide appears to have changed. If Microsoft and Nintendo are also seeking to emulate these successes, Ouya is looking like a smaller fish in an expanding ocean more and more every day. With a competitive price mark, vastly superior library and incredible attitudes to both developer and customer relations, only time will tell if Sony proves to be the latest bump in the road for Ouya, or the final nail in its tiny coffin.