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For Ouya Increasing Choice For Devs Means Decreasing Choice For Gamers

Ouya Console ControllerI have been a very happy Ouya supporter since the beginning. I love the concept of a low cost, purely digital console. It got a lot of its wind from the idea that every game will have some sort of free to try content. This has set the Ouya apart from nearly every video game console on the market.

So it really comes as a surprise to me to see Ouya abandoning one of its key selling points. In a recent blog post, Ouya’s Bob Mills announced that they would be removing that point from the game submission requirements. From April on, it will now be up to the developer if they want to include a free to try component.

Why did they make this change? Because a bunch of developers were complaining about it.

In the coming weeks, we’re going to let devs choose if they want to charge up front for their games. Now they’ll be able to choose between a free-to-try or paid model.

We kept hearing the same things:

· It’s about choice. Give devs the freedom to choose. That’s openness.
· It doesn’t make sense, creatively, to put a demo in my game.
· Implementing demo content is not within our studio’s budget.
· I don’t really know how to implement a good demo.

All these things convinced us.

Giving devs the freedom to choose gives our gamers access to the best games available. We’re clearing another roadblock in the pathway to publishing on the TV, and that means more great games will make it to OUYA.

I am all about empowering people and providing choice, but it seems odd to me that Ouya would value game developer choice over that of the people buying the games. The free to try component has always been about giving greater purchasing power to game consumers. But now, Ouya has stripped that from the gamer completely.

While Ouya states that this will be a choice for game developers, we all know what the vast a majority of them will choose to do. They will stop making any part of their games free to try. There has been a very anti-demo mentality going through the minds of developers for many years. The main belief being that the presence of demos decreases sales.

But to respond to this change, let’s look at the individual arguments listed above.

It’s about choice. Give devs the freedom to choose. That’s openness. Yes, let’s give devs a choice at the expense of the gamer. Let’s continue the practice of withholding valuable information from the gamer so we can make a few extra bucks off of hype. By granting this choice to developers, it reduces the number of tools available for gamers to make educated choices on which games to buy.

It doesn’t make sense, creatively, to put a demo in my game. How does releasing the first few levels or first few minutes not work in any game? Square easily added a free to try portion to a JRPG. If they can figure that out, how can any other developers not do the same?

Implementing demo content is not within our studio’s budget. Again, this does not have to be a stand alone demo. This is as simple as putting in a check to see if the game has been bought and then prompting the player to buy if it hasn’t been. The most difficult part of this process is deciding when to put the nag.

I don’t really know how to implement a good demo. Then why are you making games? If the first 30 minutes or first few levels of your game are not enough fun to keep the player excited and engaged for the rest of the game, then you have failed. As I have said repeatedly, that is all that is required to make a good free to try component for the Ouya.

It really is a shame that the people behind the Ouya fell for these lame excuses from these devs. It frustrates me that developers would want to remove choice from their fans in this way. With this great consumer tool gone there is little that can be done to protect gamers from wasting their money on games they do not like.

That is what will happen. Then as people complain and spend less money, devs will be forced to lower the prices of their games in order to convince people to give them a try. That is what I see happening. As the Ouya gets more games, we will have a race to the bottom in pricing. Since people will be unwilling to spend money on a game sight unseen, the price will have to be lowered to capture as many potential sales as possible. So by empowering devs, Ouya will weaken them.

I hope that this will work out for Ouya and the devs who do bring their games to it. Unfortunately, I see myself and many other people  buying far fewer games going forward if they do not have a demo.

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    • #4170

      No point in having crappy demo versions, and developing great demos is on par with adding more levels, i.e. lots of work. Multiplayer demos have design considerations. Single player demos have to be a mix of tutorial with knock your socks off, sometimes out of order with the story in that sense.

    • #4171

      I agree with you when it comes to standalone demos. But the Ouya does not require the use of a standalone demo, but merely a “paywall” of sorts. As I mentioned in the article, this can simply be placed after the first few levels or after a certain period of time. Many games were successful using those methods.

      The hit Towerfall let players play just the first multiplayer arena and the first challenge level in each training arena. This allowed for enough exposure to get people excited about buying the full game.

      Another popular game, Bombsquad, used a 1 hour time limit. You could play all you wanted for one hour and then you had to buy it to keep playing.

      Another game, Ice Rage, gave you a handful of play sessions each day. If you wanted to play more than that, you had to pay.

      These are just three examples of ways developers have implemented the free to try aspect fairly well. It seems odd that other developers were complaining about this requirement.

    • #4172
      Jack Kinsey

      There may be a silver lining to this however. Devs that don’t release demos and just make crap games still won’t really make any money. Just a few people buying a crappy game is enough to ruin the game’s sales, simply through word of mouth.

      Honestly a Dev that doesn’t release a demo gives me a big red flag about a game. I think the more accomplished and experienced devs will continue to release quality games and demos alike. I’m really hoping this will just filter out a lot of the garbage.

      I do agree that none of those excuses for not including a demo are really valid. If you only let me make a purchase solely based on reviews, then you better make damn sure that you game is kick ass.

    • #4173
      Chuck Smith

      I think you’re really underestimating how much time it takes to add a paywall into a game. Some games can be easy (first level is free), but others can be incredibly difficult. Also, this adds additional time researching and making a compelling buy screen, since the purchase happens within the game instead of in the store. Then, there’s the additional consideration that you have to keep the freemium OUYA version codebase somehow separate from the other platforms you’re maintaining.

      As a game developer, when you see these obstacles for a platform with the [small] market that OUYA has, you decide just not to support it. And that’s sad for app developers and gamers. If the OUYA market were bigger, they could demand that all devs make freemium games, but while I like the required free-to-try element on the OUYA, I think this decision is actually better for the OUYA game ecosystem.

    • #4174

      Perhaps it is my background using Haxe that leads me to believe that creating a single codebase for multiple platforms is simple. In Haxe, you can add platform based blocks of code that are only compiled when targeting that platform. So for an Ouya game, you would add an “if target platform is Ouya execute this paywall code, if not ignore it,” statement at that point. That is how Haxe handles a lot of platform specific functionality.

      As for finding the right place to put it, I do know that some developers have had trouble finding that right point. It wasn’t so much as “my game just cannot have any kind of interruption at any point” issue, just a “I can’t find what I feel is a right balance of free content to paid content.” For example the developer behind Bombball. He expressed some difficulty, not in implementing the paywall, but finding the right amount of free content to have. That I understand, but he found the solution through experimentation, something other devs can do as well.

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