Dabe Alan

Surprise! The OUYA is filled with great games (that few people are buying)

Surprise! The OUYA is filled with great games (that few people are buying)

The OUYA is an interesting console, and I’ve been enjoying my time with the hardware, especially after hooking up wired 360 controllers, and a few wireless PlayStation 3 controllers. The problem is that the store feels like a buffet; there’s so much free content that’s it’s rare you feel like spending money on any one game, and there’s no unified structure for purchases. Some games do a good job of explaining what you get for free, and how to pay for the rest of the content, while others almost seem to hide their for-pay structure.

What’s left is a store with no easy way to purchase games, and this could be the bullet that kills the economic feasibility of releasing games on the OUYA.

First, the good news

OUYA CEO Julie Uhrman speaks highly of software sales on the console.

“OUYA's only been officially live for three weeks but early data is incredibly positive—better than our projections. We can share, anecdotally, that Nimble Quest has sold better on OUYA than it has on other platforms,” she told the Report. “And they are the not only one. Six months of exclusivity is in line with other deals we’ve made and is enough time for us to work closely with the developer to help them find their audience and grow it.”

“My conversion rate has been consistently above 3%, which I understand is pretty high for downloadable demo-to-full conversions,” TowerFall’s Matt Thorson told the Report. “Overall, sales have been higher and more consistent than expected and the $15 price point is paying off. TowerFall may be an outlier though.”

Those conversions and sales don’t come easily, however. Not only was TowerFall promoted heavily and shown to the press a number of times before release, Thorson spent a good amount of time perfecting what the game would give away for free, what to charge for, and making it easy for people to figure out how and why they’re paying that $15. It's also an amazing game.

Now, the bad news

“The barrier for entry to develop for Ouya is pretty low and amateur developers probably don't spend a lot of time planning how to monetize their games, it's not all that exciting to think about,” Thorson explained. “TowerFall's menus took a lot of time and revisions to get right, including the store page.”

E. McNeil released the wonderful Bombball on OUYA, and he’s struggled with monetization. The game released with 10 free rounds of multiplayer, and unlimited play for single player against the easy and medium levels of AI. The problem was that content satisfied most players.

“I only sold about 35 copies at a $4.99 price point with this scheme, and that’s after fixing an issue in which the option to buy the full game was unnecessarily hard to find,” he wrote in a post-mortem on Gamasutra. “I recently updated the game to put the medium level of AI behind the paywall (which felt bad to do retroactively, but also felt necessary) and simultaneously drop the price to $2.99; whether this will be any more successful remains to be seen, but I’m reluctant to go much further.”

This isn't hyperbole. I loved Bombball, and wanted to buy it, but literally couldn't figure out how. I had to e-mail McNeil to ask, and that's not an option for most gamers.

Other games have gotten clever. DubWars, a twin-stick shooter that’s out now on the OUYA, offers you a lower than normal price if you go to the purchase screen and then try to back out. You can then buy the game at the lower price, but you’ll only get that opportunity once. Wait until later, and the price goes back up to normal. It’s a clever bit of social engineering, and it has gotten more than a few people I know to buy the game.

Still, the numbers aren’t great.

“0.54% conversion rate is attributed to ‘One-Time-Only’ purchases, with an additional 0.34% conversion rate at the standard purchase price. Our total conversion rate is 0.88%,” MURA’s Sam Sawyer said when we talked about DubWars. They’re experimenting with how much content to give away for free, and they’re also in the midst of a Kickstarter to bring more content to the game and to launch on other platforms.

What does this mean?

It's hard to say. The OUYA is a new console, and developers are still learning what it does well, and how to design a monetization strategy that's effective. It's also worth noting that this is anecdotal evidence, but I've heard from many more sources that prefer anonymity that number of downloads for OUYA games is moderate, but the sales are low.

It's not enough for a console to get games, the console has to be able to provide those developers that bring games to the hardware a living wage. Discoverability, ease of purchase, and communication are all important. Right now the OUYA provides a platform from which to sell games, but without a unified method of purchasing the game from the OUYA's menu, every developer is on their own to pitch their game from within the title itself.

So you must download a game, launch it, and then find out how to buy before you can purchase it. If I know I want a game, why can't I simply pay for it through the main menu? Imagine if you had to download a demo for every Steam game you had to buy, and you begin to understand why this is so frustrating.

For now, developers need to pay careful attention to how they're monetizing their games, and how easy it is to find the option to buy. OUYA needs to work on a unified purchasing platform so that it's instantly clear what you get for free, what you pay for, and then allow us to pay without launching the game. Until then? Downloads are likely to remain high, with distressingly low conversions to the paid game.