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OUYA Under Fire Over Free The Games Fund Controversy

Jonathan Lester
Controversy, Free The Games Fund, Indie Games, Kickstarter, Ouya

OUYA Under Fire Over Free The Games Fund Controversy

Development Community Up In Arms

The OUYA desperately needs more exclusives, so what better way to secure some than promising to match Kickstarter pledges for OUYA exclusives that attracted $50,000? Right?

Wrong. Unfortunately the Free The Games Fund scheme is taking flack from all sides now that its fundamental flaws are exposed: namely that unscrupulous studios can just set up numerous alternate Kickstarter accounts for themselves, friends and families, back their near-complete game and let OUYA automatically double their funding. More to the point, numerous more deserving projects are still flying under the radar. The development community is not best pleased, to the point of removing their games from the marketplace.

The controversy stemmed from the first two Free The Games Fund titles - Gridiron Thunder and Elementary My Dear Holmes - falling apart under scrutiny. The latter had its funding suspended due to suspicions of fraud, while the former somehow managed to raise its Kickstarter total from a tiny number of backers, averaging $600 each. This strongly suggests that friends, family and the developers themselves created multiple new accounts in an effort to double their existing war chest.

OUYA CEO Julie Uhrman released a statement last night, asking players to give them the benefit of the doubt. "This response surprised us - we thought this was going to be great - how could it not be?" she wrote on the official site [via Mike Bithell, who we'll get to presently]. "We launched the Free the Games Fund to find great games from the very platform that gave us life. We wanted to make magic happen and help developers bring their games to Ouya. We wanted to include gamers in the process of discovering great games. We aren't like everyone else. We don't decide what games you *should* play. We want to *open* game development.

"The truth is, openness is hard. Being open means everything is fair game, and it means sometimes things don't work out exactly as you hope. And when it doesn't work out, everyone knows. We're OK with all that, though, because being open is worth it. It's a value we stick to because it comes with so many benefits for us, and for you - the gamers and developers. For us, openness includes the benefit of your insight. We misstep, and we correct.

"We believe (still) that great games from great developers can be discovered this way - by you. If we can put aside the doubt and embrace the spirit of this fund as it is meant, and of Ouya as it is meant, we might just be surprised by what a little positivity can produce."

Unfortunately, what was probably intended as a conciliatory missive has sparked renewed anger within the independent development community. Thomas Was Alone developer Mike Bithell (who linked us to Uhrman's post in the first place via a tweet earlier today) described the statement as "a press release from a console company locked into a foolish policy and using aspirational language to shift the blame, weirdly, onto its critics," suggesting that OUYA is "marred by a complete lack of understanding of the space it is designed to serve."

Meanwhile, OUYA developer Sophie Holden also replied [via Eurogamer], stating that she's "no longer comfortable supporting the Ouya company." "It's their inability to admit that they have f***ed up," she wrote. "S*** 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." Since actions speak louder than words, she's since removed her OUYA-exclusive puzzle game Rose & Time from the marketplace in protest.

Other developers bemoan more interesting projects simply receiving no funding or exposure whatsoever, and urge OUYA to just support games on their own merits, not the amount of pledges they can attract. Several irate OUYA customers have also blamed the company for wasting their money.

Personally, I can see how a Kickstarter-centric campaign would be attractive to a company who bet their entire fortunes on the original OUYA crowd funding drive last year, but the implementation and subsequent PR mis-steps shows a major lack of foresight and basic insight. With luck, OUYA will decide to re-invest some of their spare capital into an incubator or pub fund.

This is just the latest piece of bad news for the OUYA console, following low software attach rates, disgusting adverts leaking onto the internet and a near-total lack of exposure. I'll be revisiting the Kickstarted console very soon - for now, why not check out our bittersweet OUYA hardware review?

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