New Developments: Ouya revises fund-matching rules, solving some issues but raising others

After being at the center of Ouya's Free the Games Fund controversy, "Gridiron Thunder" developer MogoTXT declined to accept matching funds from Ouya. The game will be released on October 30. Image from the "Gridiron Thunder" Kickstarter page.
After being at the center of Ouya’s Free the Games Fund controversy, “Gridiron Thunder” developer MogoTXT declined to accept matching funds from Ouya. The game will be released on October 30. Image from the “Gridiron Thunder” Kickstarter page.

After coming under fire for the questionable funding of some projects, Ouya has revised the rules of its Free the Games Fund.

Under the fund’s original rules, Ouya would match the pledges raised by any developer who raised at least $50,000 for its game project through Kickstarter, as long as the game was sold exclusively on the Ouya console for six months following its release.

Two games, Gridiron Thunder and Elementary, My Dear Holmes!, caused controversy after facing allegations that the creators “pledged” money to themselves to gain funds Ouya would match.

Kickstarter investigated Gridiron Thunder and found its funding legitimate, but suspended the campaign for Elementary.

Ouya decided to go through with funding Gridiron Thunder, but developer MogoTXT declined to accept the matching contribution, saying it had the money it needed to release the game without Ouya matching the funds.

In a video statement, Ouya CEO Julie Uhrman said MogoTXT wanted other developers to have the money since it was able to fund its game on its own.

Lessening the impact of controversy certainly doesn’t hurt either. I don’t want to insinuate that MogoTXT was just trying to save face, but the good public relations aspect of this move is hard to ignore, especially with the game’s release on October 30.

The revised rules contain a few important changes.

First, Ouya will only match the amount of the Kickstarter goal, not any funds raised beyond the goal. This rule helps money go to a greater number of developers.

In the interest of lowering barriers of entry, Ouya has lowered the minimum campaign goal from $50,000 to $10,000.

Ouya also requires campaigns to have at least 100 backers for every $10,000 raised. The purpose of this change is to ensure there is support from a substantial fanbase and not just a handful of people close to the creators.

Finally, developers will be allowed to release their games on Ouya and PC at the same time. In her video statement, Uhrman said this move was made at the request of participating developers, who said PC is where most of their market is.

Under the revisions, Ouya removed one projectDungeons: The Eye of Draconus by developer SuckerFree Games, from the fund.
"Dungeons: The Eye of Draconus" was disqualified from the Free the Games Fund after the rules were revised. Image from Joystiq.
“Dungeons: The Eye of Draconus” was disqualified from the Free the Games Fund after the rules were revised. Image from Joystiq.

Project creator William McDonald disclosed that his father spent a large retirement check to help bring the game above the $50,000 level needed to receive matching funds from Ouya.

In light of its disqualification, SuckerFree Games canceled its Kickstarter campaign one day before it was scheduled to end.

In a statement on the game’s Kickstarter page, McDonald criticized Ouya for deciding to “change the rules on us.”

“OUYA gets their fall guy and Grid Iron keeps their money,” McDonald said. “So while a bunch of ex-EA employees with rich friends can apparently receive $171,000 in match funds for a game they, allegedly, already finished, a person whose father was willing to make a large sacrifice so his son’s team could qualify for the fund and actually develop their game properly is disallowed.”

McDonald explained that without the matching funds from Ouya, the project would have experienced a net loss of $11,000.

McDonald’s argument raises some interesting points. The image of questionably funded games is usually one of crafty developers trying to game the system, but SuckerFree Games appears to be more earnest.

Was it wrong for one person, especially a developer’s immediate family member, to make a large contribution to a loved one’s project? Since Ouya did not say up front that this practice was against the rules, was it unfair for the developer to get a substantial portion of its funds from one backer?

Ultimately, Ouya had to follow the demands of its supporters, most of whom “voted” for changes to the contest rules with criticisms on blogs and social media platforms.

The threat of developers leaving the platform in the wake of the controversy could have easily become a reality, and developers are going to drive the progress of the console, so it was in Ouya’s best interest to go with the majority rule.

Many developers will benefit from the Free the Games Fund. Ouya should remember, though, that those who are negatively affected by the rule changes might not be unethical. After all, some were playing by the rules Ouya set out, but the rules were destined to fail.

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