Ouya Circles Back with $1 Million in Kickstarter Funds to “Free the Games”

As much as $250,000 per project is up for grabs.

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Welcome back to Kickstarter, Ouya: The little $100 gaming cube-sole that made its bones on Kickstarter last summer and sold out at launch a few weeks ago is returning to the crowdfunding platform by way of $1 million in matching funds it says it’ll offer as a cash incentive to developers who manage to raise money for Ouya-related projects via Kickstarter.

Promoting the campaign with an orange-silhouetted Ouya gamepad sporting angelic wings, Ouya’s calling the pile of cash its “Free the Games Fund.” Also a “first-of-its-kind” program, which sounds right. I don’t believe anyone else has offered matching funds to incentivize other Kickstarter projects — a significant first that’s sure to spur copycats.

Ouya says it has more than 20,000 registered Ouya game developers at present, any of whom could have access to the matching funds. The catch: the games have to launch on Kickstarter between Aug. 9, 2013 and Aug. 10, 2014.

“Developers, we’ve set aside one million bucks to turn your ideas into reality,” teases Ouya on its promotional site. “It’s our way of giving back to the platform that helped us make Ouya a reality and to rewrite the ‘rules’ of how a game console is brought to market. Kickstarter was our beginning — here’s hoping it’s yours, too.”

Ouya’s being rather shrewd here (in a good way). Without content, a games console is nothing. The Wii U’s been struggling since launch to cough up games worth spending $350 (that’s for the system alone) to play. Had Nintendo launched with a new Zelda, say, and followed up with a smorgasbord of triple-A first- and third-party titles, we’d be having a very different conversation about the Wii U right now. Quality content is air, especially for a startup — without it, you suffocate.

It’s too early to say how well Ouya’s doing post-launch, incidentally. Reports had the console sold out, day one, which sounds like a good problem to have, save for the fact that Ouya goofed getting systems into the hands of all of its Kickstarter supporters first, stoking a minor PR kerfuffle that had Ouya’s CEO uttering expletives. At present, Ouya is in stock everywhere I checked, and user reviews at sites like Amazon, many of them quite detailed, are mixed-to-positive.

“There are two reasons why OUYA is on retail store shelves today: we had an innovative idea to build an affordable and open game console for the television, and we found fans who supported our idea and provided the funds to make it happen,” said Ouya CEO Julie Uhrman in a statement about the matching funds maneuver. “Since then, we’ve seen dozens of great games launch on Kickstarter, and now we are in the enviable position of being able to give back AND secure the best, exclusive games for OUYA.”

When I see a company offering incentives to drive development, I wonder whether it was planned all along or occurring because of worries that quality content isn’t moving down the pipe quickly enough. It’s hard to say, though surely the console lacks an abundance of Ouya-unique content — most of its library of 230 free-to-try games and media apps are shoe-in products available elsewhere.

In any case, if you want to drink from Ouya’s cup, in addition to launching and concluding your Kickstarter between the dates mentioned above, you’ll need to raise $50,000 minimum to be eligible, agree to make your game exclusive on Ouya for a minimum of six months and adhere to Ouya’s “light” submission guidelines. Ouya will match up to $250,000 per project, and the company’s throwing in a “Rock Star” bonus of an additional $100,000 to whosoever raises the most dough overall on Kickstarter by the program’s close.

One million dollars may seem like a lot, and it would be for most indie developers, but it’ll evaporate if just four projects hit the $250,000 cap (it’s not clear what happens if more than four do — presumably the first four, chronologically speaking, would qualify). Plenty of games have made radically more: Project Eternity, Obsidian’s Entertainment’s upcoming isometric-throwback roleplaying game, made nearly $4 million in its 30-day run. So I’m glad to see Ouya’s capping the amount it’ll pay out at $250,000 per project, say someone has the kind of multimillions success Obsidian did, so the money can go to projects that arguably need it more.