That Dragon, Cancer leads a tide of change for Ouya

That Dragon, Cancer strikes quite a note of difference from most games. Gamasutra speaks with the developers and Ouya brand manager Kellee Santiago on why the game will evolve the Ouya storefront.
This morning, developers Ryan Green and Josh Larson announced that they would be bringing their much-discussed title That Dragon, Cancer to console as an Ouya exclusive. The game is quite a ways from the standard fare to grace the Ouya marketplace. An autobiographical title, That Dragon, Cancer centers around developer Ryan Green and his family coping with his young son's terminal illness. To say the subject matter is heavier than video games' normal slice of human experience is an understatement, but Green is adamant that the game is not about imparting despair or hopelessness in the player. It's more -- to use a term from Green's recent essay about the project posted on Game Church -- about finding "grace." "Even in the midst of the hardest times you'd be surprised at the kind of humor you can find in the middle of it," Green tells Gamasutra. "We want to give [players] permission to talk about these things, to joke about these things. There are certainly moments you can't really joke about, but there are times when humor is a very real lifeline for us." Games for Health director Ben Sawyer refers to the title -- which also featured at this year's Games for Health conference -- as a game to inspire empathy and patient advocacy. Green and Larson maintain that was not the intention when they set out to develop the game; rather, they wanted to create something to spark dialogue. "It's an experience we feel should be shared and talked about," says Larson. "One of the things about mobile -- and we love mobile -- is that it's primarily individual experiences. Whereas for us, in the last six months when we've been showing this around at conferences, what we're finding is that there's something special that happens in the conversations afterwards." "We noticed a lot of couples playing it," Green continues. "Friends, spouses. I saw a father and a son who played it together. And that is definitely a unique experience that is tailored to console." The developers met with Kellee Santiago, formerly of thatgamecompany and now engaged as brand evangelist for Ouya, when the two were showing the game to industry professionals at San Francisco's Game Developers Conference this past March. "I knew that the game they were making really had to exist," Santiago tells Gamasutra. After GDC concluded, the developers kept in touch with Santiago about That Dragon, Cancer's progress, and when the early prototype she had seen was starting into evolve into a more definite concept, "I realized that Ouya was also in a position to help them make that experience." In exchange for limited exclusivity, Ouya is providing the That Dragon, Cancer duo with investment funding to complete development. Both Santiago and the development team see the project as a way to mature the Ouya storefront. "I do think That Dragon, Cancer speaks to what I hope is an evolution of content on the platform," Santiago confirms. "That's especially why I'm excited to be announcing the collaboration with Josh and Ryan." Still up in the air at this point is how a game like That Dragon, Cancer -- which is due out in 2014 -- will address Ouya's mandatory free component for games. The team says it is still exploring its options. Definitely not on the table are any sort of crass in-app purchases, the team assures Gamasutra. "We have a chance to influence how the platform develops," Larson says, speaking not just for his team but independent developers as a whole, which he sees as still the primary factor in driving the Ouya forward. "The ecosystem that we create on this platform is really what we make of it," Green agrees. "There is this 'chicken or the egg' thing, [a sentiment of] 'well I'm not going to come to the platform unless I see really big returns,' but that changes depending on what we do." "We can create something really special," he concludes.

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