I had to scan over Ouya's new "Free the Games Fund"
several times to fully understand what exactly it was all about -- and by that point, it was obvious that someone hadn't completely thought this through.
In a nutshell, if a developer chooses to run a Kickstarter for an upcoming game, and states that the game will be an Ouya-exclusive for at least six months after release, then the Ouya team will double the total pledged dollar amount (as long as you're successful). Ouya has laid out a total of $1 million to go towards this cause.
The Ouya desperately needs more exclusive games since, as the main console manufacturers learned many years ago, exclusives work wonders when selling a games console. With this offer, Ouya is hoping to entice more developers to make Ouya-exclusive games.
But there's one huge, massive problem with the scheme that the Ouya team doesn't appear to have considered properly: Exclusivity isn't always a great idea for indie developers, but in comparison, it's utterly terrible for Kickstarter campaigns.
Sure, being able to ask for half of what you need on Kickstarter and then getting Ouya to fork out the other half is great. But let's be realistic here: It's hard enough to get your Kickstarter funded, without only being able to target Ouya owners.
And it's not like Ouya owners are massive spenders either. The Ouya is currently one of the cheapest game consoles on the market, and from the figures I've seen bouncing around on Twitter and blogs, games aren't exactly selling like hotcakes.
Hence, if you target only Ouya owners with your Kickstarter, you're destined to fail from the get-go. How it's going to look when, months down the line, there are dozens of failed Ouya game Kickstarters scattered across the boneyard of the crowd-funding website?
Read more about the campaign, and you'll notice even more oddities which suggest that the Ouya team is clutching at straws to get exclusives on the console. You receive 75 percent of that additional funding from Ouya after
the game launches, which means most of the cash from Ouya is going to go on marketing your game. Hence, asking for half of what you need probably wouldn't work out very well.
And then there's this: "We're giving an additional $100,000 to the qualifying campaign that raises the most money during the Free the Games Fund period." Why would the team with the most money need another $100,000?
That sort of cash is enough to fund multiple smaller studios - why waste it so flippantly? Sure, Ouya and its investors can do whatever the heck they like with their money, but why not actually help a bunch of smaller indies bring their games to your console? I bet a good portion of them would be happy to claim Ouya-exclusivity for a short while if you helped them out in this way.
And this is the core issue: I bet there are plenty of indie devs out there would who be happy to be exclusive to Ouya for a while, with just a little bit of additional funding and marketing. Instead of trying to tie them down to weird Kickstarter deals, why not just approach them, and offer some of that $1 million pie?
But there's more to the story as well. Scroll down on the official page, and you'll read this:
Double Our Fun(ds)!
We're participating in OUYA's #FreeTheGames Fund, created by OUYA to support developers making new and creative console games. OUYA will match your pledge dollar-for-dollar if we raise a minimum of $50,000, so help us get there and make a great game for everyone! To be eligible for this match, we commit that this game will be an OUYA exclusive for six months—no matter what.
That last bit is very much worth noting: "no matter what." Here's the thing: When Gamasutra EIC Kris Graft first spoke to Ouya about this initiative, the original FAQ for the fund said that if the participating game's Kickstarter missed the fund's criteria, the project would still be required to be an Ouya exclusive for six months, even though Ouya would not be giving any funding to the developer at all.
However, after he emailed them saying that developers likely would not be happy with this, Ouya appeared to do a 180 on that idea, and changed the FAQ... well, all except that "no matter what" bit, which may or may not be an oversight.
It's good that Ouya "fixed" that caveat, but it makes me skittish -- and it should give game developers pause -- about the kinds of strategies that Ouya's bosses are willing to implement, now that management realizes that the crowdfunding honeymoon is over, and that Ouya needs to transition into a long-term, viable video game business.
I bring all of this to your attention not so much to have a dig at the Ouya team, but rather, I just worry that smaller indie teams will see the scheme, jump on it without a second thought, and ultimately come away hugely disappointed.
The straight-forward approach of offering developers funding in return for exclusivity might sound boring, but it has at least one thing going for it: It makes sense.