People gamed the ‘Free the Games’ Kickstarter fund. Here’s how Ouya fixed it

Ouya modified its $1 million "Free the Games" fund in response to widespread criticism

Above: Ouya modified its $1 million "Free the Games" fund in response to widespread criticism

Image Credit: Photo Illustration: Eric Blattberg
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Ouya’s $1 million “Free the Games” fund didn’t work as planned.

Through the Free the Games program, developers raising money for their projects on Kickstarter could nab between $50,000 and $250,000 in matching funds from Ouya if they agreed to make their game a timed exclusive for the Android microconsole. The only other requirement was “play by the spirit of the fund.”

Turns out spirit isn’t always enough.

“The reality was we didn’t put enough controls in it [the fund],” Ouya CEO Julie Uhrman told VentureBeat in an interview Wednesday. “We allowed people to game the system.”

After Ouya launched Free the Games, attentive crowd members started to notice weird pledge patterns for a few of the program’s participants. Shoddy-looking football game Gridiron Thunder raised $171,000 from only 183 backers — nearly $1,000 per backer. Adventure game Elementary, My Dear Holmes was prematurely suspended after receiving suspicious pledges from a horde of first-time Kickstarter users.

Both cases prompted accusations of manipulation from developers and fans, who turned to Ouya for answers. But Uhrman stuck by the fund.

“I naively and idealistically still held my ground and said, ‘Give it time, it’s really going to work!'” Uhrman said.

But that didn’t satisfy the Ouya community, which began pushing back harder against Free the Games. Developers loudly proclaimed the program wasn’t working, and prominent indie developer Sophie Houlden pulled her game Rose and Time from the Ouya Discover store in protest.

“That’s when we knew we had to change the rules,” said Uhrman. “The whole point of Free the Games was to benefit developers.”

After a week of talks with Ouya developers, Uhrman and her team were ready to implement some changes.

“We lowered the goal to $10,000 and said we wouldn’t fund you above and beyond your goal, because it was disincentivizing the spirit of our fund. We wouldn’t do the $100,000 bonus at the end … We tied the exclusivity specifically to the amount of dollars we gave you.”

Ouya developers, who felt like the company was finally receptive to their feedback, responded positively to the changes. And earlier this week, Sophie Houlden announced the return of Rose and Time to the Ouya marketplace.

“I think that’s a great testament to what we’re trying to do [with Ouya],” said Uhrman. “We may not get it right the first time, but we are going to keep at it until we do.”

More information:

OUYA was created in 2012 by Julie Uhrman, a video game industry veteran who saw an opportunity to open up the last closed game platform — the TV. Julie and an initial team of game developers and advisors brought the concept to life, ... read more »

Julie Uhrman is the founder of OUYA and serves as its Chief Executive Officer. Julie Uhrman serves as the General Manager of Digital Distribution at IGN Entertainment, Inc. Julie Uhrman serves as a Director of OUYA, Inc. Julie holds MB... read more »

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