OUYA’s message: We’re a platform, we want exclusives, and we’re willing to pay
The OUYA console made waves with its successful Kickstarter campaign, but the final hardware suffered from some rough edges. The controller lag can be annoying, although it can also mostly be fixed by using wired Xbox 360 controllers and, while the system has a variety of great games, those games don’t seem to be selling very well. There is almost too much given away for free; it’s easy to get lost in fun demos and early levels of these games without paying any money to own them.
What’s interesting is that, unlike many other Android consoles on the market or coming soon, OUYA is treating itself like a proper platform. The company isn’t just content to sit back and take advantage of Android titles, but they’re instead spending time and money to work on their own stable of timed exclusives.
Paying for the good stuff
“Towerfall was entirely a labor of love. I resisted working on it a lot at first because I didn't really see how it could support itself, but it's just too fun to make,” Matt Thorson, the game’s creator told the Report in an earlier interview. “I did contract work at the same time to cover my living costs, and the deal with Ouya has helped with funding a lot. I should be able to break even and keep making games even if it bombs.”
Thorson later told us that his conversion rate from downloads into paid copies of the game is above 3 percent, which is an impressive number, especially for a $15 game. He also said that the game could be an outlier, as its usually seen as the console’s best game.
We called Towerfall the OUYA’s “killer app,” and right now you have to buy an OUYA if you want to play it with friends. This is due to OUYA paying money for exclusivity, but it’s a good investment. Four-player Towerfall matches are really that good, making the $115 investment to buy the system and game worth it. Everything else is gravy.
But OUYA hasn’t stopped there. The company has pledged $1 million to match Kickstarter funding for games, dollar for dollar, with some surprisingly reasonable terms. [Update: According to this GiantBomb story, some developers disagree.] The game need only be a timed exclusive for at least six months. OUYA does not care how the teams spend the money.
“Developers know best what their needs are—so we don't tell them how to spend it. Maybe they use it to fund development,” OUYA CEO Julie Uhrman told the Report. “Maybe they use it to market the game. Maybe they allow gamers to purchase it for free for the six months.
“The point is, we want to support their efforts while trusting their judgment and believing in however they use the funds, it will make the game better, and gamers happier,” she continued.
This is an interesting idea, since the games need to be funded before they see any of OUYA’s money, meaning there is at least some interest in the game starting out. The campaign that raises the most money will also get an extra $100,000 from OUYA as a bonus. It’s a not bad system, and it provides a strong economic incentive to give the OUYA exclusive games while still leaving the door open for release on other platforms in the future.
The latest OUYA exclusive? That Dragon, Cancer. The hyper-personal, moving account of dealing with a fatal disease isn’t usually the stuff of blockbusters. OUYA is investing in development costs, according to the official blog, and the game will be released in 2014.
“At this point, you might think we’re stacking the deck against ourselves by launching on a console in its infancy. Perhaps. The road has been rocky so far for OUYA,” Ryan Green wrote in the post. “But we believe in what they’re trying to do, and we believe in the people doing it. Dealing with hard things, and building new things is not easy. Especially when the world is expecting failure but holding their breath for success. “
Will it pay off?
This is a good thing for everyone involved, as good, interesting, smaller games are getting the money they need to be completed. We're seeing many other Android consoles joining the fray, even if the question of whether there is a market for such a console has yet to have a clear answer, but OUYA is the only Android console that sees itself as a console, and is willing to put the time and money into building a stable of exclusive games.
This could move the needle when it comes to hardware sales, and it could make the OUYA the destination for higher-quality indie games as more well-known titles come to the service. Or people may just wait until the timed exclusivity is up, with developers learning that the upfront money isn't worth the lower sales offered by the console. Flip a coin.
For now, this seems like a smart move. If you expect others to invest in you, then you should be willing to invest in yourself, and OUYA has been getting out the wallet for some truly exceptional games.