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[Gamesbriefers] Crowdfund fumbling a sign of failure for Ouya?

By on September 19, 2013
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Question:

OUYA announced it would match-fund Kickstarted games that committed to OUYA exclusivity. Then some people thought some games (e.g. Gridiron Thunder, Elementary My Dear Watson) gamed the system by getting friends and family to complete their funding, in order to trigger the OUYA funding.

Is this a real issue? Is it just a bunch of purists disliking the pollution of their utopian crowdfunding platform (like the furore over established designers like Peter Molyneux or David Braben using Kickstarter) or is OUYA’s failure to address the problem a sign of real challenges for the microconsole?

Editorial note: After the Gamesbriefers sent in their answers, Ouya announced significant changes to the Free the Games fund. They are adapting the structure of the scheme by, for example, allowing smaller targets and requiring a minimum number of backers. The team behind Gridiron Thunder have rescinded their claim for Free The Games funding.

Answers:

pecorellaAnthony Pecorella Director of production for virtual goods games at Kongregate

Beyond using the ridiculously inaccurate title of “Free the Games” for their fund dedicated to making games locked exclusively to a single platform, their offer was unfortunately short-sighted.

While it’s wonderful to think that crowd-sourced validation would produce the best results, the fact that the system could be gamed is something they simply should have seen coming.  Unless they have some legalese buried somewhere in their terms that allows them to pull out of improperly-funded games it seems likely they’re going to lose some cash here on weak games.

That said, I do believe that funding (or securing) great exclusive games for your platform is not a bad plan at all and a great attempt to try to secure their place at the top of the microconsole war while they have a brief jump on the competition.  Halo arguably single-handedly kept the first Xbox alive, the Mario and Sonic series were obviously hugely influential for their respective console successes, and currently Towerfall is probably the only reason to buy an Ouya (though a great one if you play a lot of local multiplayer with friends!).

The vetting process for funding is certainly extremely challenging, and trying to use crowd-funding to help vet is a great idea, but they sadly structured it incorrectly.

I’m not convinced that this deserves the ire of developers and games as much as a bit of pity and sadness.  Either way, while it’s probably a costly misstep for Ouya, it seems somewhat overblown in the grand scheme of things, especially if Ouya can learn their lesson and recover gracefully.

tadhg kellyTadhg Kelly Creative Director at Jawfish Games

There’s plenty of game companies that have tried gimmicks and other eye-catching tricks in their day and had them not work out. Similarly there’s many that have launched partner-publishing efforts of one sort or another.

None of them attract anywhere near the level of instant-hostility that OUYA seems to get from the gaming press and blog sphere. It’s things like rushing to review early-stage hardware just to declare it “dead”. Or things like describing the joypad as “the worst joypad ever” (it’s not, it’s just not great). This is even before the E3 parking lot messup, the vomit ad and the fund-matching stuff. They’ve had a lot to deal with. As I keep reminding people, you try to completely fund, develop, launch and promote a platform in 12 months. See how many mistakes you make along the way.

The larger question is WHY has the climate become so negatively slanted? Why all the hate? For years the book press maintained that books could not be disrupted and many an article featured ye olde book reviewer trying an Iliad or something similar and declaring it could never work. With games I think it’s similar. The existing industry and its media have become very protective of what they consider “legitimate” vs “illegitimate” platforms. There’s real, often hard-won, tribal loyalty around Steam, Sony and so on that is not at all happy with some of the directions that games have taken in recent years and wants them to focus on the things that the tribe thinks are important.

I think many commenters feel that if this microconsole thing takes off then it has to match up to what they consider the “perfect” (console/Steam/etc) form of games. I also think it’ll be a cold day in Hell before they change their minds. It’s notable how many indie developers, for example, have immediately cleaved back to working with Sony and all the complication that that involves (plus, you know, the history) rather than want to strike out on new platforms like microconsoles. The attachment is very strong.

This is why, when I gave my “Microconsole Generation” talk at Casual Connect, I said that microconsole success will probably come from focusing on veteran-casual customers rather than the core. The core may get all heated up about indie vs big publisher from time to time, but it does so against a context. They are like arguments between different sects of the same church, but nobody wants to leave the faith entirely.

Ultimately all sides like the story that big-power game hardware tells and they self-identify through spending their money on their big experiences, supporting indie games and whatnot. Rather than trying to pitch at that power-focused group that wants to pay big, microconsoles need to tell a different story. While core console gamers number maybe 150m people worldwide, they are dwarfed by social/mobile/casual (choose your label) customers. Those people love to play games, but don’t want to buy into all the gamer-bullshit.

The trick, I reckon, is getting that so-mo-cas market to want to play on TV, like it did with Wii. And the trick to doing that is about low-cost easy-access hardware that quite happily plays the games that they like in the way that they like and the business model that they like. Whether it’s OUYA or one or more of the other providers, I believe that that’s where microconsoles will play big.

Mark SorrellMark Sorrell Development Director at Hide & Seek

“Social/mobile/casual (choose your label) customers love to play games, but don’t want to buy into all the gamer-bullshit.”

This cuts to the core of the problem with the Ouya as a proposition for me. These people won’t buy a device that’s just for playing games, only one that’s *also* for playing games. The reason for the success of Facebook, then mobile gaming is surely that it gave people the opportunity to play games without having to invest any thought or effort or time or money. It was just there. If you identify as a gamer, you’ll buy game hardware. If you aren’t, you won’t. I expect that no microconsole will ever make it. But I do expect that something that *also* plays games will make it. But only if games are both good enough and a secondary or tertiary function.

But that’s not really the question. Yes this is badly handled. If you’re engaging so directly with a customer base with the ferocious entitlement of gamers, then you better be ready for them to throw rocks at your head. Because they will. But as Anthony says it’s where they go from here that will make the real difference. Then after that, they will sink away to nothing because the concept itself is never going to work.

Stuart DredgeStuart Dredge Journalist at The Guardian

This may be a tangent, but I still struggle to see the convincing reasons for people to move from playing (e.g.) Candy Crush Saga on their phone and/or tablet, to playing it on the TV. Or, at least, nobody is really making those convincing arguments beyond the assumption that the hundreds of millions of people who’ve got into gaming through mobile devices will obviously want to play on TV too at some point. I’m not so sure that’s obvious.

And that’s the key challenge for microconsoles, I suspect: to succeed they either go niche/hardcore (and most of those gamers think they’re shit apart from the Steam Box if/when it comes), or they go casual (and most of those gamers are happily playing on other devices in the living room, and may not have an urge to hog the TV).

On the funding question (hauls self back on topic) I wonder if a smarter strategy might have been to identify the genres and developers they wanted to get on Ouya to appeal to specific kinds of people, and then sort the funding out one-to-one.

eric seufertEric Seufert Mentor at Gamefounders

I’m absolutely not convinced that TV will ever be more than a passing fad for casual / social games, and the chorus of non-product talking heads continually opining its inevitability is a giant red flag for me. I don’t see the TV upending the mobile device any time soon. I think the crazy focus on TV as the next medium for casual social games misses entirely the product mentality that goes into building them.

Mark Sorrell Development Director at Hide & Seek

If agree with that. The kind of experiences that will work for the audience on the device will by necessity be different from both current mobile games and current console games, and utilise different behaviour patterns and business models. But arguing that they can’t happen feels like a console dev in 2007 saying mobile will never happen.

Mind you, that said, I do to some degree question the longevity of large communal screens in the home. Or at least, I don’t take it as read that they will always be an entertainment source. I already basically use mine as wallpaper, I wonder if that might be their eventual literal use.

Andrew SmithAndrew Smith Founder of Spilt Milk Studios

I agree wholeheartedly with Mark, but want to balance that with my thoughts on TV and mobile games. I believe that the TV, as a screen, dominates any room it is in. Therefore the content a person chooses to display on that screen needs to be of sufficiently high quality in terms of visuals and more generally in terms of worth, to win out against all the other options available.

Infinity Blade 3 might get a look in, but a lot of mobile titles don’t have the production values (especially on Android) to compete with the other options, and I’d argue that all of them suffer from the value-label of “if it fits in my pocket, it can’t be worth much”. Not to mention “I only paid 99p/nothing to get it”.

I feel that these are psychological issues that will never be truly overcome by a dedicated gaming box. In fact, that sort of works with Mark’s comments about TV being wallpaper. Either the content has to be totally background, or totally foreground.

I know people have the TV on while using their iPads and split their attention, but neither of those things (the pad or the TV) are dedicated boxes. These microconsoles are, and that’s their problem.

tadhg kellyTadhg Kelly Creative Director at Jawfish Games

I think that’s a very fair point to raise. Two things that make me think otherwise, however, are the natural limitations of touch gaming and the enabling of multi/party games.

The lack of joypad-style control limits what games work on mobile and tablet. There’s plenty of simple game experiences, core or otherwise, that don’t work well. My supposition is that – in a couple of years – that audience will be veteran enough to realise that and be interested in doing things that don’t just involve tapping and swiping.

And the second is largely what sold the Wii to non-gamer players. Multiplayer is a considerably less social experience when everyone is staring at their own screen, unless they’re playing Space Team.

pecorellaAnthony Pecorella Producer for virtual goods games at Kongregate

Definitely interesting points about the viability of microconsoles, and certainly a natural and more essential extension of the original topic.

I agree with Tadhg’s two examples of competitive advantages for the TV, though the controller one may disappear very soon with iOS 7 now including controller support. Android tablet owners can already hook up controllers too, so OUYA shouldn’t rely too heavily on that.

The screen form factor is definitely a big difference for party and local multiplayer games, and until we get embedded projectors in our tablets (which we’re already seeing in camcorders) that will remain the strength of the microconsole. Big screens are also good for cinematic AAA experiences, but that’s the domain of…macroconsoles?

Unfortunately OUYA now competing with the Wii as the cheap party machine isn’t exactly a good place to be. We do have Towerfall in our office at Kongregate and it gets probably a tad too much play time. It’s amazingly fun, but has nothing to do with the OUYA itself. In fact, we’re actually using PS3 and 360 controllers to play it!

As an aside, I think Matt Thorson is making a mistake by targeting Steam next for Towerfall – this is a game made for living room play and I really hope he eventually moves over to PSN / XBLA / WiiU to see a lot more success that he deserves.

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Every week, we all ask our august panel of luminaries a burning question in the world of free-to-play and paymium game design. Or we ask a broader question on the future of the industry. We’re not going to announce who is a GAMESbriefer. You’ll just have to read the posts to see who is saying what to whom. We have CEOs and consultants, men and women, Brits, Germans, Americans, indies, company people and much more besides.
  • Sik

    “The lack of joypad-style control limits what games work on mobile and tablet.”

    Our view is skewed though. Games have traditionally used joypad-style controls because that was the only thing available, so all genres adapted around it. If touch came first and then now we got buttons we’d be saying exactly the same thing, because then games would have adapted for touch instead.

    “though the controller one may disappear very soon with iOS 7 now including controller support. Android tablet owners can already hook up controllers too”

    It’s cumbersome though, portable systems really aren’t the best place for add-ons for starters. The only way I can see this being more common is either by hooking up the device to the TV (in itself a hassle, though a wireless connection will help) or by having the controller integrated in the device itself (i.e. what handhelds have always done). Having a standard interface is nice, but don’t expect it to pick up much momentum, most will still focus on the inputs native to the device (touch, accelerometer, etc.).