Any publicity is good publicity. That’s the nice way to spin $99 console maker Ouya’s latest video ad, which shows a gamer vomiting because he has to pay $60 for a video game.
The gamer proceeds to pull his own spinal cord out through his throat and then collapse in a sea of vomit. The ad is clearly distasteful and Ouya pulled it off of its official YouTube channel. But a Neogaf user, WarioSixFour, captured it it and uploaded it to his personal YouTube account, where it now has 148,552 views.
Now the question is whether the ad is good or not. Developers may not want to be associated with a platform owner that has such a big lapse in judgement about tastefulness. Gamers may not want to buy games from a console maker that views them as hairy-legged cartoon slobs who sit in their living rooms in their underwear. If you’re an Ouya gamer, you’re probably feeling insulted. If you’re not, you may be wondering why Ouya is emphasizing the fact that it’s so cheap.
But people are talking about the ad from the Android micro game console maker. Julie Uhrman, chief executive of Ouya, took to the streets with her message of creating an open, disruptive, inexpensive console for indie game developers who have the most creativity in the industry. In the ad, a gamer barfs after playing “Medal of Duty XII,” a $60 game that is essentially the same game as its predecessor. Ouya’s games are all free-to-try and sell for around $10 or so. Let’s ignore the fact that the consoles have a lot of inexpensive content on their own digital channels.
Ouya said the ad was an example of “experimenting to get feedback from the community.” That doesn’t explain why Ouya didn’t experiment offline with the ad, rather than run it on its video channel for all the Internet to see.
Rick Marazzani, a game industry vet and founder of Ownshelf, said, “People have wanted to give Ouya grief without looking like jerks. No one wants to pick on the plucky underdog. But they do deserve to get called out for lots of things. the vomit cartoon is the proxy for Ouya disappointment.”
He thinks the publicity is bad for Ouya because their target market consists of early adopters who sponsored the company on Kickstarter (Ouya raised $8.2 million in a crowdfunding campaign). Soon, Ouya will have a lot more mass market competition from the likes of Amazon (rumored), BlueStacks, Google (possibly), and a bunch of other micro-console makers.
“Pissing off the indie and core gamers was not clever,” Marazzani said.
Console makers have run tasteless ads before. They’ve pulled them down, apologized, and gone on to do more of the same. Sometimes they invoke the value of “shock” marketing that breaks through the malaise of commercial messages and has a chance to sink in with the audience. But the more edgy the commercials, the more they’re likely to be flagged as inappropriate. And that, in the age of the Internet, can backfire in a big way.
This might not be such a big deal if Ouya hadn’t had other missteps, like delivering more consoles to retail before it fulfilled shipments to the core audience that funded the company on Kickstarter. It apologize and sent players a voucher for $13.37 in free games.
Game journalist Leigh Alexander wrote in Gamasutra, “At best, this messy angling for a dated definition of the “core gamer” does a disservice to developers flocking to its platform in the hopes it will offer something different. At worst, Ouya’s miscommunications border on the disrespectful.” She said that “out-of-touch” marketing for game platforms can be lethal.
Meanwhile, Microsoft and Sony are more than willing to co-opt Ouya’s message by embracing indie gamers on their own platforms with more liberal rules about self-publishing and big checks.