In July, Ouya announced its Free The Games Fund, whose stated goal is to help indie developers that are willing to bring their games to the Ouya platform. The fund is $1 million in total, offering to match the funding on Kickstarted titles in exchange for six months of Ouya exclusivity. Indie developers pointed out that if Ouya really wanted to support indies, there are better ways to do it instead of giving more money to successfully-backed games.
The second problem came up when the only two sucessful Kickstarters in the Free The Games program, Gridiron Thunder and Elementary, My Dear Holmes, were accused of simply using their funding drives to gain access to additional Ouya funding. Suspicious accounts under pseudonyms were backing both Kickstarters with high funding amounts. As of this writing, the Kickstarter for Elementary, My Dear Holmes has been suspended and Gridiron Thunder is still in the clear. Neither studio has been officially accused of wrongdoing, but the perception isn't helping Ouya's case. Again, indies pointed out that the FTG system could be gamed in this way: a developer with $50,000 could fund their own Kickstarter to get Ouya's additional backing.
In a response to those criticisms yesterday, Ouya CEO Julie Uhrman said that the company is just being open and the Free the Games Fund will not be changing. Now indie developers are lashing out because of what they perceive to be a non-answer from Ouya's management. One developer, Sophie Houlden, has gone so far as to remove her game, Rose and Time, from the Ouya marketplace.
Responses like the one I read last night (weeks after the problem became apparent) feel entirely empty and dishonest to me.Rose and Time creator Sophie Houlden
"I'll be withdrawing Rose and Time from the Ouya marketplace, " Houlden wrote in a personal blog post. "The reason is because I am no longer comfortable supporting the Ouya company. It's their inability to admit that they have fucked up. Shit is blowing up on all sides, every single piece of PR that is put out damages OUYA's reputation more, and the plastic-marketing-smile never seems to come off. They never change course when things are going down the toilet. Responses like the one I read last night (weeks after the problem became apparent) feel entirely empty and dishonest to me."
"This isn't even a response, let alone a decent one," she commented within Ouya's posted response. "You don't get to keep my game, you don't get to have any of the games I was looking forward to porting to Ouya."
Rob Fearon of Retro Remakes pointed out that a number of small developers don't need as much as $50,000 to fund their games, and Ouya would be better off choosing worthy developers itself.
"How many people making a game for Ouya, how many people outside of this absurd scheme you're running that want to make games for your system have access to 50k spends?" asked Fearon. "Did Amazing Frog have a 50k spend? Did any of Sophie's games have 50k spends? What are you thinking? Why are those words still there if you're listening?"
"You talk about correcting, you talk about taking feedback, but on the evidence you're presenting here, it's a fiction. This post is nothing but a deflection and a distraction that refuses to address anyone's concerns. Concerns that are coming from respected developers."
This reads like a press release from a console company locked into a foolish policy and using aspirational language to shift the blame, weirdly, onto its criticsThomas Was Alone creator Mike Bithell
Thomas Was Alone developer Mike Bithell, who has his latest game, Volume, coming to PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita, had the most scathing words for Ouya's management.
"This reads like a press release from a console company locked into a foolish policy and using aspirational language to shift the blame, weirdly, onto its critics," wrote Bithell. "And that, that is the old way you're so eager to push away from. You can do better. To use kickstarter, and a cap of $50k, is probably the silliest possible way of doing it. It'd be impossible for a legitimate project with a recognisable indie name to raise that money, let alone the kind of new talent Ouya as a platform should be nourishing."
"I am saddened by this process. A couple of rich people gaming the system to get slightly richer, and a number of amazingly talented indies (Terry, Sophie etc) angered to the point of leaving the platform," he added.
It's not good for the Android-powered platform at a time when Sony and Nintendo are making grand strides towards indie developers and Microsoft is making its first steps. A time when online marketplaces from Valve, Apple, Google, and Amazon offer developers a signifcant amount of choices. At a time when Sony has just announced its own microconsole.
All is not completely dark for Ouya. Houlden said on Twitter that she had a Skype conversation with Uhrman about the program and some of her faith has been restored.
"I think we both got a lot out of it and my faith in OUYA's intentions has been restored a lot," she tweeted. "I'll have to see what happens in the future, but she was super receptive to what I had to say. Genuinely believe she wants to do what's right for indie developers."
Will those intentions ever go from idea to action?