Are The Recent Ouya Kickstarter Successes Scams?

The Ouya $1 Million Free The Games FundThat is the question being asked around the media and on the Kickstarters themselves. You may recall back in July that Ouya announced its “Free The Games Fund”, a matching program for successful Kickstarters in exchange for six months of Ouya exclusivity. Since then, a number of Kickstarters have sprung up to join the program. Two of those projects, Gridiron Thunder and Elementary, My Dear Holmes, have reached their goals of $75,000 and $50,000, respectively, pretty quickly. This has raised some concerns among potential backers and Ouya critics that shady dealing have been going down.

While most of the criticisms have little corroborating evidence, there are some very peculiar events happening. The first major issue is with Gridiron Thunder mostly. It has only 129 backers at this time and total donations of over $78,000. A lot of people wonder where that money came from. When looking at the site Kicktraq for Gridiron Thunder, we see some very large donations in a short period of time. There are two separate days that saw over $10,000 raised, one day with over $5,000 and two more days with over $25,000. Those five days are well above the normal daily donation topping at $700 on a good day and under $300 most days. Those five donations put it at its funding goal and sealing Ouya matching funds.

In a comment on the Kickstarter, MogoTXT states that the high value donations come from some very generous backers.

As for our donors, we are fortunate to have some generous donors. But there is nothing wrong with having donors who believe in what we are doing. A lot of other games on KickStarter have had large donors too. And the funds that they and all other donors provide (big and small) enable us to build the best game possible. Again, this benefits everyone.

They later reiterate this claim of having high profile connections in a statement to Gamasutra.

We have had some generous donors but so have other KickStarter campaigns. In our case, we have very deep roots in Silicon Valley and great ties to fellow tech entrepreneurs in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. We also have friends in the professional sports world who want to see us succeed. I don’t think there is anything wrong with having generous supporters, and we make no apology for this. It does not violate any KickStarter or Ouya rule.

This claim is somewhat backed up by a video update in which former Kansas City linebacker Scott Fujita promotes the campaign. With this and MogoTXT’s claim to have a large number of professional NFL player contacts, it could be possible that 5 different players or other people with large amounts of disposable income donated to the campaign. But it is also equally possible that MogoTXT is trying to scam Ouya out of matching funds.

The other controversial Ouya Kickstarter success comes from an adventure game called Elementary, My Dear Holmes. This Kickstarter successfully raised its $50,000 and secured Ouya matching funds just a few days ago. At the time of this writing it has 723 backers and over $51,000 raised. Campaign creator Sam Chandola has been a lot more active in the comments section in defending the integrity of his campaign and has even made requests from Kickstarter and Amazon Payments on the validity of some backers.

The question of backer integrity stems from a list of first time backers who have names and profile pictures of various celebrities and other people easily found in a Google image search. These names make up a minority of total backers, many of whom have backed more than two projects, but do raise the question of who is behind the donations.

If we look at the Kicktraq report for this campaign, the only anomaly seen is a recent $12,000 day which doubled its previous best day. However, the math lays out that the majority of backers are on the up and up. When removing those backers in the higher tiers, we see average backing values in the $38-50 range, quite reasonable for something that was getting positive press up to this point.

The rumors that these campaigns are some kind of scam or fraud are being fanned by Ouya’s quiet attitude on the subject. When pressed for comment on Twitter, Ouya merely congratulates both campaigns for their success. After the many recent snafus in the public eye, one really can’t blame Ouya for not making any statements on the validity of these campaigns.

In the end, there is certainly some suspicious activity happening around these two campaigns, Gridiron Thunder more so than Elementary, and they should be watched. But while conspiracies have been raised about these two campaigns being scams perpetuated to get free money from Ouya or that Ouya itself is backing the campaigns to validate its funds, there other equally valid conspiracies that could be looked at. What if some of the more vocal critics of the Ouya are pledging these funds and propping up these campaigns in order to further vilify the Ouya and what it is trying to do? Sounds just as valid to me. But it is equally valid that other than a few fringe cases in regards to backers, everything is on the up and up and these are just two development houses making games that people want to see happen.

But really, the main concern to be had here is that Ouya is giving away money to potential developers and that potential fraudsters might take advantage of that. It happens in every instance where money is given way in such a manner. To maintain the integrity of this program, I hope that Ouya has clear and open means of ensuring that all Kickstarters which qualify for the funds have everything on the up and up. It would be bad for the program,  Ouya and its customers if fraud does happen.

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