Ouya’s game-funding controversy may deter developers

Video game company Ouya had a very idealistic plan with its program to help finance independent game developers using its console. But it only took a month for important questions to be raised.

The Ouya, a game console built on the Android operating system, was funded through a Kickstarter campaign that raised nearly $8.6 million. The consoles were released for sale to the general public in June, at a price of $99.

The console includes the tools one needs to develop a game of his or her own on the Ouya. With this open source development, anyone can make a game.

To encourage game development, Ouya launched the Free the Games Fund in July. Under its provisions, Ouya will match the pledges of anyone who successfully gets a game project with a minimum funding goal of $50,000 funded on Kickstarter, as long as the game remains exclusive to the Ouya console for six months following its release. After that, the developer is free to take the game to other platforms.

Ouya will match funds up to $250,000. The fund ends after Ouya has contributed $1 million total. Participating project creators had to start their campaigns on or after August 9, and the campaigns must end by August 10, 2014.

Since the contest began, two games have come under scrutiny for allegedly trying to game the system.

Gridiron Thunder by MogoTXT and Elementary, My Dear Holmes! By Victory Square Games face allegations that the game developers “pledged” money to themselves to raise more funds for Ouya to match.

A Kickstarter representative investigated Gridiron Thunder’s campaign and found nothing objectionable, but Elementary’s Kickstarter page has been suspended.

Gridiron Thunder may receive a matching contribution from Ouya, but Elementary, My Dear Holmes! has had its campaign suspended by Kickstarter. Images from Ouya.
“Gridiron Thunder” may receive a matching contribution from Ouya, but “Elementary, My Dear Holmes!” has had its campaign suspended by Kickstarter. Images from Ouya.

Ouya CEO Julie Uhrman released a statement through the company’s blog Tuesday in response to the controversy, but her statement did not address the games directly, saying only that the intention of the program “seems to have been lost.”

The rest of Uhrman’s statement reiterated the purpose of the contest and the company’s goals of opening game design to anyone who wants to develop a great game.

The Ouya community was appropriately upset. Developers commenting on Uhrman’s blog post said they would not be releasing their games on Ouya, and they believed others would do the same if Ouya followed through on matching MogoTXT’s Kickstarter funds.

Other commenters said even if Gridiron Thunder were funded legitimately, the situation highlighted the contest’s potential for abuse. The contest’s terms of service allow Ouya to disqualify, at its sole discretion, entrants who tamper with the entry process, but the controversy could still keep developers away from the platform.

The question-dodging feel of Uhrman’s blog response won’t be winning over many developers either, though Ouya will likely make further statements as the situation progresses, and those statements may be more substantive.

Uhrman said of the controversy, “I wouldn’t do it differently. We’re not going to let bad apples ruin the whole bunch.”

That’s a fair point. Many developers will practice good faith when getting their campaigns financed.

However, the potential damage to Ouya’s company image might not be worth the benefits of holding the contest. If enough abuse comes to light, Ouya could get a reputation of being unstable. For a brand new platform, attracting developers is crucial.

I love the idea that anyone can develop a game using this console and admire Ouya for wanting to accept the risks of open source development. But unfortunately, not everything can work on an honor system, so restrictions might be necessary to keep developers confident in Ouya’s goals.

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