Tales of the Rampant Coyote

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The Ouya Needs Exclusives – And How They Might Succeed in Getting Them

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 19, 2013

OuyaBrownI love my Ouya. I’m the eternal optimist about it, and I definitely intend to release Frayed Knights 2 on the little cube.  Assuming I can get it to run well on the box, I don’t expect it to make much money, but I’m doing it because it’s cool. And because I’m building my game in Unity, which makes porting a lot less of a pain in the backside.

But the Ouya is facing real problems, none of which were unexpected.

The big deal of course is the need for exclusive content. In a world where most of their customers already have a tablet or smartphone, and a PC, and probably a few consoles, there’s a problem selling games that are already available everywhere else.  And while 60,000 units shipped to early backers of the project may sound like a lot to indie ears, it’s a very small install base. As of now, I don’t know how many more have sold in retail… but the reports are, unsurprisingly, that sales have been “light” for a console.

The game sales numbers are pretty much as predicted.  Towerfall, which has evolved to be the marquee title for the Ouya at launch, has sold about $30,000 so far (minus about 30% for the Ouya’s fees). That’s pretty decent for a small, 2D indie title, but even that is kind of an outlier. Overall, indies are making money on the console, but not a lot. Not enough to justify any exclusive “big games.” Yet that’s what it really needs. I know a few people who have bought an Ouya just for Towerfall. That’s a lot of money to spend on a $15 indie game. 🙂

But… Towerfall is definitely the kind of game the platform needs. It’s a “couch gaming” multiplayer game, designed for several people in the living room to play together. That’s the Ouya’s focus.

To that end, Ouya is doing something interestingbasically matching Kickstarter funds for Ouya exclusives, with an extra $100,000 prize kicked in.  This immediately drew some criticism, much of it along the lines of what a big risk it might be to indies, or how unfair it was that they were only rewarding Kickstarter projects that were already successful and thus didn’t really need the money.

I dunno – I  think it’s a decent idea, and it has nothing to do with fairness. For it to make sense, you have to look at it for what it is – a bribe. If you’ve been able to generate enough “buzz” on Kickstarter necessary to fund a game to a certain level – and that’s no small feat! – then you’ve got something that has the potential to sell consoles. They will bribe you to give them six months exclusivity.  This is a cash bonus to keep your team in pizza and ramen noodles for six months while you port to other platforms or whatnot.

I think this it’s a clever idea. But then, I’m one of those folks who bought Towerfall. My family loves it. It’s not particularly awesome to look at – it looks like a console title from twenty years ago – but it looks good enough to do its job and its very fun to play. I’d love to see more games like this, and it makes sense that the Ouya team would go back to Kickstarter and start mining it for killer games.

I like the box. I’d like to see them succeed. And while I’m no expert,  from my mouse-eye-view, if I was Kickstarter-inclined this would be pretty tempting. As a small indie, it wouldn’t be a home run all by itself, but it would be a reasonable incentive.

But will it be enough?

Filed Under: Biz, Indie Evangelism - Comments: 7 Comments to Read

  • Jeff Tunnell said,

    I think this seems like a pretty desperate and silly move. First of all, I think they should have used some of their Kickstarter overage and some of their VC$ to lock up at least a couple first party, console selling titles. Investing something like $2MM spread over several titles to help bring good games to market would have been a huge help for the platform.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Do you know that they didn’t?

    I think one of the things they didn’t handle well was making sure developers had hardware with enough lead time to launch. Sure, it was possible to export to a Nexus 7 or something and get a good idea for the target, but without much fostering of third-party relations and clarifications on their plans (and of course, massive risk), anybody developing for the Ouya would do so as a port rather than an exclusive.

    Maybe once they did get Kellee Santiago on board they started cultivating those relationships with certain devs — I don’t know. If so, it was a little late in the game.

    I don’t think this fund is a bad idea, but I don’t have much of the bigger-picture view that you would, Jeff.

    Another concern on the timing… this is something that should have been put in place months ago. I mean, this is a program for games that will only begin their Kickstarter campaigns in a month… for a year. So assuming even a “fast” project that takes a month of KS campaign followed by five months of development, we’re talking games that won’t come out until early next year.

    Hopefully they’ve got something else in the pipe between now and then.

  • Michael A. said,

    Hmm… I remain unconvinced. I don’t have Kickstarter experience myself, but everything I’ve read and observed suggests that a successful Kickstarter is a numbers game. And that would seem to make this deal a perfect recipe for a failed Kickstarter.

    You can’t change the terms of the Kickstarter after funding, and suddenly announce that it is Ouya-exclusive for a period – if anyone tried that one, the community would cry fraud (and rightly so). Which means that you are forced to announce up front that your Kickstarter is Ouya-exclusive early on – essentially limiting your potential Kickstarter backers to the small number of Ouya owners, because only the most die-hard fan is going to back a game where they’re being treated as a secondary platform.

    That seems to me to be the perfect recipe for a failed Kickstarter. And even if anyone carries out a successful Kickstarter under these terms, they would have to ask themselves: could they have made more money if they had not gone exclusive? For most successful Kickstaters, I suspect the answer to that would be “yes”.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Good point on it possibly poisoning a Kickstarter launch. That could be mitigated by some kind of “early access” to unreleased versions of the game, but that would get kinda… weird.

  • Michael A. said,

    Yeah… I can’t see any sensible way in which early access would fly.

    I can see how this fund might be useful for small teams looking for limited funds (~$50K?) That sort of money is presumably possible to raise, if they can mobilize the Ouya community behind the effort. However, I don’t think it is very likely that any project made on that kind of minimal budget is going to be the kind of exclusive the Ouya needs.

    The saga is not over yet, though. We live in interesting times (at least as indie devs).

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I think very small teams can do pretty well. I don’t know the team size for Towerfall, but they suggest in the one article that it beat expectations.

    The real key is that you’d have to feel that the Ouya “fund” will match (or more) what you’d have made during those 6 months if you were non-exclusive. For a $50k Kickstarter game, I can maybe see it, assuming the Ouya continues to grow its installed base (big assumption). That’d be $50k Ouya bonus plus … let’s assume right now you do Towerfall-well (which is hopefully not such an outlier six months from now) and make another $30k in six months. So if your burn rate is less than around $80k (including taxes) during those six months… and then you have your launch for other platforms with hopefully a marketing push from Ouya… I could see this making sense as a small developer.

    As your initial budget goes up – while the Ouya bonus goes up as well – things scale in the wrong direction. The projected revenue as a ratio of your budget or burn rate will drop.

    So it might work out for a pretty small team on a short schedule, and that’s not a really huge title. Would that kind of title be enough to bring more consumers to the Ouya?

  • Michael A. said,

    I think you’re overlooking that Kickstarter is – at heart – a preorder system. If you’re able to fund a $50K Kickstarter, then in essence simply via your Kickstarter you’re already doing as well as Towerfall and – presumably – you’ll have sold in to pretty much everyone on the platform who would be interested in buying it.

    If I were budgetting in this way, I would budget minimal sales after the Kickstarter during the exclusive period. Doable – certainly – but as you say, it really only makes sense for small team with short release cycles.