Ouya has pulled the Free the Games funding won by the developers of Dungeons the Eye of Draconus, leading to the cancellation of its Kickstarter.
Ouya’s Free the Games fund has been a mess pretty much from the word “go.” It’s a simple idea – achieve a set funding goal on Kickstarter and Ouya will match those funds, effectively doubling the development budget – but it’s plagued by two major problems. One, the target goal of $50,000 is unreasonably high for just about any indie developer, and two, it’s an easy system to game for anyone with reasonably deep pockets.
Consider the case of Dungeons the Eye of Dracous (for the record, that’s the “official” colon-free spelling), which acknowledged last week that it took an end-run around the system. With the clock ticking down on the Kickstarter deadline and the funding goal of $10,000 not even close to completion, project founder William McDonald revealed that his father had ponied up 50 large to get the job done (and, apparently, to keep Billy from moving back home with mom and dad). That sum also meant that Free the Games funding would kick in.
“We are going to make an excellent video game series for $65,000! Ouya match funds come in 3 disbursements, 1st $12,500 at the end of the KS, 2nd $25,000 when the game is released and finally $12,500 after six months of Ouya exclusivity,” McDonald wrote in a backers-only update that was re-posted on NeoGAF. “Thanks to Ouya funds, we will be able to afford marketing, have a booth at PAX, and finally finish all of Dungeons feature complete.”
Alas, the wheels came off today. In a Kickstarter update that went up this morning, McDonald revealed that the Free the Games money has been pulled. “Well apparently Ouya has decided to change the rules on us. With less than two days to go they have removed our #Freethegames link from the Ouya homepage and delisted us from www.Freethegamesfund.com website,” he wrote. “The timing aligns with winning back of some devs that threatened to pull their games through conversations on twitter.”
“It appears we were thrown under the FTG bus. Ouya gets their fall guy and Grid Iron keeps their money. So while a bunch of ex-EA employees with rich friends can apparently receive $171,000 in match funds for a game they, allegedly, already finished. A person whose father was willing to make a large sacrifice so his son’s team could qualify for the fund and actually develop their game properly is disallowed,” he continued. “If we had remained silent we very likely would have received the funds, our transparency and honesty apparently was our undoing.”
McDonald said that without the Free the Games money and only $4055 from backers, the team would end up in the hole for about $11,000 once rewards, taxes and fees had been covered. “Further, being essentially told Ouya doesn’t want us, makes us not want Ouya,” he wrote. “Sadly, we were early adopters, we got our Ouya on launch day and had been one of its strongest supporters. We have no plans to develop for Ouya further.”
The whole thing is sketchy as hell. McDonald’s statement that the project had only received $4055 from backers strongly implies that his father’s money was never meant to support development, but rather to capture the Free the Games cash. In his defense, however, his easy willingness to go public with his activities suggests that he honestly didn’t think that he was doing anything wrong – that he was abiding by the letter of the law, if not the spirit.
The fact that Gridiron Thunder retains its Free the Games support, despite bringing in $171,009 from just 183 backers on Kickstarter, further suggests that Dungeons the Eye of Draconus fell afoul of a PR campaign rather than actual rule-breaking. There’s no question that McDonald and company gamed the system, but if he followed the rules, what’s the justification for pulling his funding? No matter how you look at it, it’s hard to see this as anything but another black eye for Ouya.