Ouya CEO explains why free-to-try is mandatory

Julie Uhrman on the one big exception to company's hands-off approach to devs, says engagement will dictate curation

Ouya's pitch to developers centers on the console as an open platform, allowing them to release their games to a television-bound audience however they see fit, without restriction on the types of games they make or how they monetize their efforts. There is one notable exception to that, as Ouya mandates that all games on its eponymous platform support a free-to-try option.

Speaking with GamesIndustry International at the DICE Summit in Las Vegas last week, Ouya CEO Julie Uhrman explained the limitation. Uhrman said the idea was attractive to consumers, as it puts the onus on developers to make an engaging experience that convinces players to invest their time and money with the title. However, she also expects it to handle some of the curation duties that come with running an online storefront. "It cleans up the app store," Uhrman said. "It removes the confusion between a paid app store and a free app store. We also think it cuts down on the copycat games, where you have games that look like each other and one is paid but the other is free and you don't know what to do. So we thought the easiest way to remove that and create a great experience for gamers and developers that was rewarding in their own right was to adopt this free-to-try model."

Beyond that, Ouya will handle some basic gatekeeping, making sure people aren't infringing on others' IP or releasing games with malware and pornography. However, the company won't be screening games out for quality.

"That's really up to the gamers and how often they play the game," Uhrman said. "What's really important to us in games on Ouya is engagement, and that's what's going to dictate to us what a great game is and what's going to lead our curation and merchandising plan."

Another part of Ouya's plan calls for periodic refreshes of the hardware. Uhrman said the company hopes to release new versions of the console every year that will take advantage of better and cheaper hardware. She also said each iteration of the hardware will be backward compatible. However, Ouya's open approach to hardware and reliance on standard components means the company has fewer protections against a better funded competitor muscling into the market and trying to offer essentially the same experience to consumers.

"From a hardware perspective, there's nothing defendable," Uhrman said. "We didn't build a custom chip, we took off the shelf components and just combined them in a different way. What's unique about Ouya is the business model, the fact that every single game is free to try, that it's open for every single creator, the fact that we're bringing games back to the television. But most importantly, we will win if we're able to develop a great relationship with developers and gamers where the best, newest, and most creative games are on Ouya."

At the DICE Summit, Uhrman announced two games she hoped would serve as examples of that. During her talk, she confirmed that Ouya will be the first television-based platform to play host to Double Fine Productions' Kickstarted adventure game REDS, and that Words With Friends co-creator Paul Bettner is bringing his upstart studio's first game to the console as well.

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Latest comments (13)

Maarten De Jong Marketing / Research partner, Strategy Guide8 years ago
I don't think there is much confusion around paid or free apps. There is more confusion in what is defined as free-to-play, free-to-try, lite and demo. Is she saying every game will have demo time which is the developer's momentum to engage its player? Also, copycats will just copy a successful IP. Offering it for free is not the driving factor. I don't see how free-to-try changes that.
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Hugo Trepanier Senior Game Designer, Ludia8 years ago
@Maarten, presumably it puts both the original game and its clone on the same level as both will be free to try. The player can then decide which of the two they prefer and make an informed purchase decision at that point.

What turns me off from the information in this article is the idea of having to replace my console every year to stay current. This is a waste of time, money, and material. The main reason I still love my Xbox 360 is that I never have to upgrade it and it still plays all the games exactly as they were developed. No finicky settings and driver upgrades to mess with. When I buy a new game, I don't have to worry that it's compatible with my "version" of the machine. I would at least hope for something that's good enough to last a few years without having to throw it away.
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[...], the fact that we're bringing games back to the television.
Uh... what?

Edited 4 times. Last edit by Laurens Bruins on 12th February 2013 11:30pm

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Show all comments (13)
Steve Nicholls Programmer 8 years ago
These guys need to calm it down, they are being far too mouthy lately... just leave it else people will turn. Fact is they have an android system.... nothing amazing.
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Brian Smith Artist 8 years ago
Like everything else it's only gonna catch on if there's something good on it that people want to play. To really fly it almost needs something original and exclusive even if it's not technologically cutting edge. I doubt whether it will get anything in that department within its first year and expect it to be mostly ports to begin with. I would like to see it being a success but it still looks like a long long long shot.

An alternative route could be to stick an Apple logo on it and multiply the price by 4 or 5. That's likely to sell regardless of whats on it.
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Luis Morales Public relations, Med Mercs8 years ago
Can we just keep nice and simple. I rather stay with my PS3 and XBOX. This is a new little company that has momentum and they are trying to dictate things around like if they had a trajectory like Nintendo, Sony, and MS. Only time will tell. OUYA is not for me
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Andres Bordeu Game Designer / Cofounder, ACE Team8 years ago
I'm curious what they would have to say about Jesse Schell's DICE presentation, where he says that releasing a demo harms your game sales. (

Free-to-try isn't necessarily the same than a pre-released demo, but perhaps consumer behavior is also similar in this case. Makes you wonder about mandatory trial experiences on other platforms too.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Andres Bordeu on 13th February 2013 12:42pm

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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 8 years ago
Well a bad demo or bad game thats pay as you go can drive sales down as well. The Resident Evil 6 and Asuras Wrath demo did little to make me want to buy the game. The kingdoms of Amalur and Battlefield 4 demos were very buggy. Both very good games, but the Demo didnt help sell them. And if its a game thats "Pay as you go" "F2P" or free to try... the game has to be engaging enough to keep me paying till completion, which is truly not likely. I like a game where progress is dictated by actual gameplay and not by how much you pay. And as a heavy gamer... I find console expiriences to be the best... very few free to play games have the production value of AAA console games and lots of "Pay as you go" "F2P" or free to try games require you to be online all the time, have a credit card and multiple payments that may end up exceeding the value of a game that is usually $30-$60. So how much would I end up paying to play each game... upward of 60$... NO THANK YOU.

Plus development on these games is also expensive and requirs periodicle updates and maintenance and a staff working round the clock for network, customer service and server maintenance purposes. Retail and offline single player games have other benefits for the developers and publishers. And I dont think one form of game is better than another. I think its more about game design and if the free to play, online or single player, retail or online sale... it should be relevant to the game design.

But i really hate it when people say... "This way is the future" or "This A is going to replace B"... I for one have never been interested in MMO's they bore me to death game play is usually flat and story wise they are uninteresting. They rely heavily on player interaction and customization. They are exciting for a half hour run. World of war craft being the only one I find engaging. But most of these games are the same... you hack n slash your way through the game to get more abilities, weapons and items and the "ending" of the game comes when your character is so bad ass he practically cant die and you complete all the "quests" which are usually "fetch quests" or "kill something" quests. the only games I probably enjoy online are one that have an arcade like feel, like a racing game, puzzle game, or fighting game. Or games that have hi-scores or time limits and you got a score board to see how good you are. And again, no reason to pay more once I played them a few times.

So the free to play model isnt always relevant to the way a game is designed. And not every game should have a demo. The Resident Evil 6 demo really killed any interest I had for the game and the franchise.

However Wildstar MMO looks pretty good... and I agree that current home consoles closed development enviroment isnt best suited for alot of developers. And i do wish the industry adopted a standard video game development format, much like CD, DVD, BluRay. A format open to all to develope and publish as they like. So I think OUYA is good for that.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Rick Lopez on 13th February 2013 2:53pm

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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee8 years ago
@Laurens Bruins

I think I agree with her given that its so difficult to develop games for the dominant TV based consoles (Playstation, Xbox Wii). A lot of indie developers with innovative ideas are flooding towards mobile platforms or PC thanks to their openness.

Maybe in the past they would have had the ability to program consoles in their living room but thanks to the endless restrictions thats not so possible anymore with consoles. Ouya is trying to bring some of that to the TV in the modern day, so its not a completely unusual statement in my opinion.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Adam Campbell on 13th February 2013 2:26pm

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Maarten De Jong Marketing / Research partner, Strategy Guide8 years ago
Exactly. Like Schell says: a demo / free-to-try can seriously harm your sales because players get the initial experience they wanted and that is enough for them. Without a offering a demo they will probably buy the game to fulfil that need.
On the other hand a free-to-try can be a good way to engage a player. It is a developers / publisher's decision and therefore free-to-try shouldn't be made mandatory by the platform holder.

Also I think big IP's that launch on new platforms like Football Manager and Sim City are probably better off without a demo. I wouldn't have bought Sim City for mobile if I had the possibility of free-to-try. It's a bad game, but just the idea playing it on my phone made me buy it.

Uhrman also had a talk at DICE where she explains the TV part a bit more:

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Maarten De Jong on 13th February 2013 4:04pm

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Craig Page El Presidente, Awesome Enterprises8 years ago
I like the Free to Try requirement, Xbox and Windows Phone games almost all have it, and I've bought a lot more of those games than I have Android, iPad, and PS Vita games which don't.

I also like that they'll have a new Ouya every year, because the Tegra 3 chip in the original might be obsolete by the time the Ouya is actually on store shelves.
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Android game specs are defined by the OS/API level, not the hardware. So as long as they stick with 4.1 (or whatever they are using), it makes no difference that the hardware improves. Best case, you'll get a better frame rate.

This is not a "normal" console, where you write the game for specific hardware. This is a TV based Android device, where games written should work on every Android device (with the same or higher API level).


As for the requirement, I like the sound of it as it makes managing releases simpler. You write the game, upload it, and thats it. No specific demos, light versions or anything else. Of course if your game sucks, or just doesn't have enough real content - then no one will buy it. If the game is free (and relies on in-game purchases like most F2P games) it makes zero difference.
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James Barnard Founder / Developer, Springloaded8 years ago
On windows phone having free to try trials vs a free to play distinction has still left free to try games dead. I am expecting either the store will need a listing explaining what element is free ie "Full experience" vs "Trial" or they will end up with pages and pages of 2 star reviews on paid products..."** Don't download this game only let's you play one level...before you have to pay..." Which is understandable for a consumer to say when they are downloading trails next to full games and they can't tell the's a shame I think it means microtransactions will be a big driver....

Unless they allow microtransactions of less that.$0.99...maybe it would work - if people allowed you to buy levels for $0.05 or something, so nothing feels like an investment....however that would mean a mess of UI
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