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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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Brendan Sinclair avatar

Brendan Sinclair

Managing Editor

Brendan joined in 2012. Based in Toronto, Ontario, he was previously senior news editor at GameSpot in the US.