So there has been a lot of disappointment over the Ouya Free The Games Fund. I am a little disappointed in how Ouya has responded to the controversies that plague the program as well. I won’t hide that. However, I think some of the complaints are not warranted.
Specifically, I think the complaint that it is impossible to sell an Ouya exclusive Kickstarter is kind of baseless. While the complaint that it is difficult to raise $50k in any Kickstarter is sound, it is not impossible. So it is with the Ouya exclusive nature of the Kickstarter, if it is sold correctly.
The first problem with the argument that you cannot sell an Ouya exclusive Kickstarter is that the argument bases itself on the idea that the Kickstarter must be advertised solely as an Ouya exclusive game. I honestly don’t understand why people are saying this, or at least implying it. That is not how you have to sell it. You can advertise that the game will be available for PC, Mac, Linux, Android, iPhone and any other target platform as well as the Ouya. You simply state that if $50k is reached, Ouya owners will get 6 months of early access to the game. That is a far cry from selling it as “Ouya Exclusive.” There is nothing in the rules of the fund against this.
The next argument against the fund is that existing paying Ouya customers are a minority on the system and wouldn’t come out in enough numbers to reach $50k. With the knowledge that only 27% of Ouya owners are spending money and that even the best selling game, Towerfall, only sold around 2000 copies, that argument seems valid. However, Ouya owners are not your only target demographic. You still have potential customers from all those other target platforms you are creating your game for.
So how do you sell your game to both sets of potential customers? That is the trick. One thing that I see happen a lot with video game Kickstarter campaigns is the selling access to exclusive betas of the game. Early access that some users get that others won’t. Which pretty much means that you have two separate release dates. One release date is closed access to a certain set of backers and the other is the open access to the game. You can do this with the exclusive period for the Ouya.
I would do it this way. Say I want to charge $15 for access to the basic game. So I will have my general $15 tier. However, I should create two tiers priced at $15. One will be for the purchase of the Ouya early beta (the 6 months exclusive period) plus a version for the other platforms upon release. The second $15 tier would be just access to the final release on all platforms excluding Ouya.
How this would work is that the Ouya tier will be billed as a Beta period for the other tier. Those who buy it will be helping in the debugging and balancing process of the final release of the game. They will get early access to the game in exchange for making the whole game better for all backers.
This process also has the benefit of being able to sell a better experience for backers who just want the game on the PC or some other supported other platform. If they can be assured that the game they get will be made better by having a few hundred or more Ouya users make it better for them, it would be easier to back the project.
Additionally, by pricing both tiers the same, you get Ouya users who feel they are getting a great deal by getting one more platform than the other backers and the other platform backers don’t have to feel compelled to back it under the false impression that they want the game for the Ouya.
I think this is probably the best way to address the concern that there are just not enough people interested in backing an Ouya Kickstarter. No one ever said there were.
$50k Is A Lot
But what about the $50k deal? How are you going to reach that $50k minimum? That is a far trickier goal than just selling the game to both Ouya and PC gamers. You don’t want to price yourself out of reach of full funding. I think that the main goal here is to fully vet what you are capable of doing, what your minimum target for release is and how additional funds can benefit not you the developer but the backers who want to play the game.
The primary argument made against this goal is that not a lot of game projects raise $50k let alone more than that. Many projects are only seeking a few thousand or maybe up to $20k. I honestly don’t think that many of those projects are the right fit for what Ouya is looking for, but for some, that goal is attainable. This is where the idea of preplanned stretch goals come into play.
I am not a huge fan of stretch goals as many campaigns currently use them, but for this I can set that aside. What I would do is look at my potential game project. Look at what I could do for $20k and base my target and ask myself, what is the base game I would be willing to release. Then I would look at what it would take to build that game.
So let’s say that the very basics of the game, what I would feel comfortable releasing as a finished product, would take $20k to make. That would be my minimum target.
Now I would look at what I could add to that game if I reached $30k, $40k and so on. Then I would look at what I could do if I got that $50k plus the Ouya matching funds. Keep in mind that you will only get $12.5k upon completion of the Kickstarter, $25k upon Ouya release, and $12.5k at the end of the exclusivity period.
So how would I handle that in the campaign? How would I sell the $20k game in such a way that people would want to back it? Just like I would any other campaign. Except, I would announce the latter date from above, the second release date for the PC/Other platforms release, as my target ship date for this base game. I would then note that with the stretch goals that if $50k is reached, the Ouya backers would get their copy 6 months earlier as part of the semi-open beta.
I would also emphasize that with the extra $30k raised to reach that point will go into adding some additional features that may or may not be ready for the Ouya release, but will be added as they are completed. So additional levels, characters, abilities etc, would be added as they come during that 6 month period. The Ouya backers would be part of the testing of those new features for the final release on PC.
If I don’t get the $50k but still go beyond the initial $20k goal, I have still finished a successful campaign and will still be creating a game. The Ouya backers will still get their copy, but it will be at the later date rather than the early Ouya date which was only valid upon reaching the $50k goal.
In The End
After all that is said, it is possible to run a successful campaign that still targets Ouya matching funds. You just have to rethink your strategy. I think that is the problem of most complaints regarding those two issues. Most people are thinking of how Kickstarter campaigns are currently run and not how they need to be run to get the matching funds.
I do think that Ouya does have some issues with the funds that need worked out, but that is primarily in the way that the funds can be exploited by those who just want the money rather than make a great game. If you want to make a great game and think that the funds can help you make a better one, I think that this approach could certainly help.
While I have never run a Kickstarter campaign, I have read plenty about it. I don’t see how anything here could possible be a negative on the potential success of a well run campaign. I also don’t have any plans as of right now to seek the Ouya matching funds. It would be ideal and if I did it would be in the first half of 2014, but I do feel that the potential for success is there.