Ouya is overhauling a matching grant for game developers with successful Kickstarter campaigns, attempting to close loopholes that have led to a series of alleged scams. Today, Ouya CEO Julie Uhrman posted an update to the guidelines of the Free the Games Fund, making some major changes. While developers once had to raise at least $50,000 with a Kickstarter campaign, they now only need to set a goal of $10,000. Along with cutting that baseline, Ouya has said that the games no longer have to be exclusive for six months. Instead, developers will pledge one month of Ouya console-exclusivity for every $10,000 it receives from the console maker, up to six months; the agreement also doesn't stop developers from releasing a PC version right away.
The changes, Ouya hopes, will open the contest up to more people with smaller goals. But they're geared much more heavily towards rebuilding trust. The Free the Games Fund saw a couple of early successes, but people quickly became suspicious of games that raised tens of thousands of dollars from only a few backers. Gridiron Thunder, a runaway success that closed with over $170,000, had only 183 backers, averaging about $1,000 a head and receiving huge $10,000 and $25,000 pledges from some. Another game, Elementary, My Dear Holmes, was suspended by Kickstarter after receiving a flurry of suspiciously large donations from first-time Kickstarter users.
Though developers denied anything fishy, some suspected that people were breaking the spirit of the rules by essentially funding their own campaigns, then collecting free money meant for people who had received strong community support. And while Ouya responded to criticism, it did so only indirectly, leading at least one developer to pull her game off the console in protest.
"This should be a measurement of community interest, not a push for more funding."
The last straw, it seems, was a project called Dungeons the Eye of Draconus, whose developer openly admitted that he had gamed the system and funded a $50,000 Kickstarter mostly with money from his father to receive matching funds. Soon after, he revealed that Ouya had retracted its commitment to funding, but he complained that he was being thrown under the bus while campaigns like Gridiron Thunder remained funded. That, however, also wouldn't last long. The Gridiron Thunder developers posted an update of their own today, saying that the runaway success of their campaign made extra funding unnecessary. "After considering the generous support we received from our donors and speaking with our friends at Ouya, we have decided to withdraw our entry," the team wrote.
While it may have been a voluntary decision, Gridiron Thunder wouldn't have lasted under Ouya's new guidelines. To stop a few people from fixing a campaign, Ouya now requires a minimum of 100 backers for every $10,000 raised on Kickstarter, a number neither it nor Dungeons could have touched. Even if it had stayed up, it would have only received the $75,000 it set as a goal, not the much larger amount it raised. "We match what you need," writes Uhrman. "This should be a measurement of community interest, not a push for more funding."
As long as someone is offering money, someone will try to get around the rules for it, but Uhrman now pledges to look over potentially suspicious projects much more carefully. "You need to play by the spirit of the fund as much as the rules," she writes. "We can't account for every loophole. So, if we, or our community, feel you are gaming the system, we will review your project (and consult with our developer friends for their advice) and determine whether to fund it or not." As of now, no game has yet successfully hit its goal and received matching funds from Ouya.