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Ouya's Uhrman defends Free the Games Fund

CEO says exclusivity drive was misinterpreted

Ouya CEO Julie Uhrman has defended the company's Free the Games Fund initiative after two games were investigated following suspicions of funding irregularities.

The drive was intended to build Ouya's catalogue of exclusive titles by offering to match up to $250,000 of the Kickstarter funding of any game which pledged Ouya exclusivity. However, Elementary, My Dear Holmes had its Kickstarter project suspended after it was alleged that the developers had pledged money to their own fund, essentially securing a matching amount from Ouya for free.

The fund for Holmes was riddled with pledges from donors which shared the names of celebrities and notorious figures, as well as staff and students from the team's university. An image of a missing woman was also used for a profile picture by one account. Victory Square, which is developing Holmes, denies the accusations and says it's looking into the details of the accounts.

"Kickstarter did not provide a reason for the suspension of the campaign, instead stating that they do not comment on suspensions," Victory Square's Sam Chandola told Kotaku.

"Victory Square Games definitely denies setting up a Kickstarter account or accounts to fund its own projects, or asking any other person or organization to do so on its behalf."

Nonetheless, many remain unconvinced of Victory Square's innocence and the furore has built to the point where Uhrman felt it necessary to make a public statement defending the fund's aims despite this gaping exploit.

"Recently, the intention behind our Free the Games Fund - to provide additional funding to crowd-funded games bound for OUYA, and enable developers to make more of them - seems to have been lost," Uhrman opens.

"This response surprised us - we thought this was going to be great - how could it not be? We launched the Free the Games Fund to find great games from the very platform that gave us life. We wanted to make magic happen and help developers bring their games to OUYA. We wanted to include gamers in the process of discovering great games. We aren't like everyone else. We don't decide what games you should play. We want to open game development.

"The truth is, openness is hard. Being open means everything is fair game, and it means sometimes things don't work out exactly as you hope. And when it doesn't work out, everyone knows.

"We're OK with all that, though, because being open is worth it. It's a value we stick to because it comes with so many benefits for us, and for you - the gamers and developers. For us, openness includes the benefit of your insight. We misstep, and we correct.

"In launching this campaign, we've been called everything from naive and foolish to crazy and idealistic. This is not the first time we've been called any of that. Maybe we're naive ... and YES we're definitely idealistic. It's gotten us this far. We believe (still) that great games from great developers can be discovered this way - by you. If we can put aside the doubt and embrace the spirit of this fund as it is meant, and of OUYA as it is meant, we might just be surprised by what a little positivity can produce.

"The Free the Games Fund is for you - the developer with a great idea and the community of gamers who would do anything to see a game on the TV. Today, more than 40 developers have contacted us with their game ideas, and we are honored."

Uhrman's pleas to focus on the intentions of the plan rather than the unfortunate exploitation have fallen largely on deaf ears, however. Comments on her blog post range from incensed to bewildered, with users questioning the fact that campaigns also need to be able to raise $50,000 in capital in the first place, a target well beyond the means of many developers who'd hoped to work on the system.

"This isn't even a response, let alone a decent one," says prolific Ouya developer Sophie Houlden. "You don't get to keep my game, you don't get to have any of the games I was looking forward to (or even started) porting to OUYA. But hey you get Gridiron Thunder.

"Treat developers better, listen to us, be more honest, admit when you have fucked up (without all the wishy-washy handwaving here that amounts to nothing), and be prepared to change course. you really could make a difference to developers with the kind of money you have and you are burning it with FTG which isn't helping developers and just seems to be a really bad PR move at this point, and it's not putting your console in a good light.

"I love the OUYA dearly, it actually has a couple of my favourite games of all time on it, and I had a good time developing for it myself. but I'm not prepared to support bullshit like this, you've lost me. There's a tiny chance you could get me back, but honestly I don't think you have it in you at this point."

[CORRECTION]: This article originally inaccurately stated that another criticized Free the Games Fund project, Gridiron Thunder, had its Kickstarter project suspended as well. That project ended its funding campaign successfully over the weekend, raising a total of just over $171,000, well in excess of the original $75,000 goal.

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Dan Pearson