In 2013, Ouya set aside $1 million to help fund a bunch of games on Kickstarter, so long as the games showed up on Ouya first. Some games have already come out, but many have not. For those still in development, Ouya has reportedly informed them the funds no longer exist.
Update (5:22 pm): Razer has told Polygon it will make good on (most of) Ouya’s previous commitments to developers, though it’s still working out the details. The exclusivity clause is being dropped, but the payout connected to exclusivity is being transformed into copies to be given away on Razer’s own storefront. If a developer was promised $10,000 for exclusivity and plans to sell the game for $10, for example, they’ll have to give away 1,000 copies of the game. That part’s a little strange, but it sounds like all the other will be honored, no questions asked.
Update (3:41 p.m.): Razer released a brief statement to a few outlets, including Polygon:
“The Free the Games initiative was put forth by the original OUYA and that program was NOT part of the acquisition by Razer (the main asset acquired by Razer was the Android store while many of the other original OUYA assets such as the hardware and other programs were not part of the acquisition). That said, the ‘new OUYA’ —which is what Razer is calling its nascent Android publishing arm —will be working with developers to continue publishing and distributing their games. The new OUYA will be reaching out to developers shortly and we encourage any of the developers who are interested in publishing with the new OUYA to contact them.”
This story originally broke on VICE last night, but I’ve independently talked with a number of developers who have provided similar information. This news comes just after the announcement that PC hardware maker Razer has decided to outright purchase Ouya.
Ouya had called this promotion “Free The Games,” a name roundly mocked because it required games to be exclusive to the Ouya for six months. (This was later changed to allow releases on PC.) Here’s how the money part worked: Ouya matched your Kickstarter funds, so long as you’d raised at least $50,000. 50% of the money would be delivered when a working beta was ready, the next 25% when the game shipped, and the final 25% after the exclusivity period had ended.
Several developers told me they were contacted by Ouya in June, and the company told them “things had changed.” It wasn’t clear what this meant, but more information was forthcoming.
More recently, Ouya scheduled time with developers to discuss the promotion, and all communication happened via Skype calls. Some asked for the meeting to happen over email to ensure a paper trail with Ouya, but the company reportedly insisted it take place over Skype.
Ouya told them the deal was off, which meant losing anything from $7,500 to $30,000, based on the developers I talked to. That’s not a lot for the new Gears of War, but for these tiny developers, it’s huge.
This move was justified by a clause in the contract related to Ouya being bought out.
Developers were asked to avoid talking with the press about what was happening, which is why many have chosen to remain anonymous.
Razer has not responded to my requests for comment, and few of the developers I’ve spoken to have heard anything official from the company, either. None have received financial commitments, but some were told Razer may offer Android publishing deals to some games.
Ouya founder Julie Uhrman, who left the company as part of the sale to Razer, hasn’t said anything publicly yet. In the past day, she’s been thanking people for their support on Twitter.
In the meantime, many developers are left angry and confused about the future.
“We were going to release soon,” said one developer. “We had great contact with Ouya, a demo out on the platform, and many pre-orders by Ouya owners ready to go. Then, out of nowhere, we recently received word that Razer was acquiring Ouya, that our contract for the remaining [money] was being cancelled. [...] Razer also gave vague promises that they wanted to make things easier for us and see that our game had a smooth launch, but have not put anything on the table yet.”
The contracts signed by developers didn’t guarantee Ouya had to pay the money, but several developers had already integrated the promised funds into their budgets.
Fire With Fire: Online Tower Attack and Defense developer Theory Georgiou is out $5,000 because of this move. He also has to explain to his family why he doesn’t have the money to pay back a small loan he took out from them to keep a graphic artist working on the game full-time.
“The developers that are really hurt by the cancellation of the fund are the developers that are taking their time to create a real product for Ouya,” said Georgiou. “We believed in Ouya and that it would be around for a long time to come. We wanted to support it with the best game possible. We aren’t looking for quick cash, we saw this fund as an opportunity to make a much better experience than we could have otherwise and we’re the ones who get thrown under the bus.”
Another developer to is having to drastically scale back audio for the game, resulting in a fractured relationship with his contracted musician.
“It’s affecting my business relationships,” said the developer.
Obviously, this has left a bad taste in the mouths of many folks who’d trusted Ouya to deliver.
“I initially had budgeted without the Free The Games fund,” continued the developer, “but once that was attached, rather than just pocket the fund, the game’s scope increased to make the game better. [...] I did receive the first payment, which made it all very real to me.”
For this developer and others, though, that money is very much not real anymore.