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Doubts cast on funding for Ouya's Free the Games recipients
Doubts cast on funding for Ouya's Free the Games recipients
August 27, 2013 | By Kris Ligman

Ouya's $1 million Free the Games initiative is designed to match funds from successfully crowdfunded games in exchange for short-term exclusivity on the Ouya platform. It's an interesting proposal that may suit some games better than others, but that hasn't prevented several developers from embracing the initiative and coming onboard.

Two Free the Games projects have so far reached their funding target: Gridiron Thunder and Elementary, My Dear Holmes (hereafter EMDH). Each met their goal with plenty of time left on the clock: Gridiron stands at $78,000 with 11 days remaining, while EMDH has surpassed $50,000 with 16 days left to its campaign.

Now, Kickstarter campaigns have rapidly met their funding targets in the past, due to surges of enthusiasm, smart advertising and strong press coverage. EMDH in particular you may have noticed getting press attention in such publications as Rock, Paper, Shotgun.

However, several backers and Ouya owners have begun to cry foul, calling out the two games -- and particularly Gridiron Thunder -- for the speed at which they were funded, the amount raised versus their number of backers, the number of new and duplicate accounts present among the list of backers, and other alleged discrepancies.

(Anyone is allowed to fund a Kickstarter for any amount of money, but using special funders to bump up the crowdfunding, in order to receive matching funds from Ouya, is likely not an intended result for the microconsole manufacturer.)

EMDH project lead Sam Chandola has been open on the forums regarding the speculation, announcing he was seeking verification from Kickstarter and Amazon Payments -- which handles most Kickstarter donor transactions -- over any dubious pledges. At time of writing, Chandola tells Gamasutra he has not yet received word back from either Kickstarter or Amazon.

The story isn't the same for Gridiron Thunder developer MogoTXT. Several backers have the same surname as company CEO Andrew Won -- including two identical accounts as noted by NeoGAF -- and the average pledge per backer was as high as $626 at one point. Won responded to Gamasutra's query with a long statement which addressed few of our specific questions, while referring to plenty we had not yet inquired about.

Here are some longform excerpts from Won's statement to Gamasutra:

We are not trying to do something improper with Ouya's Free the Games promotion, and we are in full compliance with both KickStarter's and Ouya's rules.

[...] We have had some generous donors but so have other KickStarter campaigns. In our case, we have very deep roots in Silicon Valley and great ties to fellow tech entrepreneurs in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. We also have friends in the professional sports world who want to see us succeed. I don't think there is anything wrong with having generous supporters, and we make no apology for this. It does not violate any KickStarter or Ouya rule.

Gamasutra did not suggest MogoTXT had violated Ouya or Kickstarter's rules. We asked for MogoTXT to respond to speculation regarding the average donation per backer and the speed at which the funding target was met.

Some people, who are not lawyers and who have no knowledge of the facts, also said that we lack the intellectual property rights to build our game. They have no idea what they are talking about.

Gamasutra did not ask about intellectual property rights. However, that's a good question.

Some of the same people who initially accused us of being scam later said, when we showed that we are working on the game, that our game is not very good. So far as we can tell, these criticisms were made by people who have not developed a game of any note. As seasoned developers know, very few games look good until they are actually complete and we took pains to try to explain this.

What is really unfortunate is that some people, while being so cynical about our motives, repeatedly choose to disregard KickStarter's standard for behavior which is set forth in its community guidelines

[...] If people do not want to support a project, they really should just move on. If they think that they can do better, they can start their own project for the Ouya which is what Ouya would want.

We have a great relationship with Ouya, and we want very much for Ouya to succeed.

Gamasutra has also reached out to representatives for Ouya and Kickstarter.

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E Zachary Knight
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The Gridiron guys have been getting flak for a while now. What you received is probably a prepared statement written several days ago which they just sent to you. Many other media outlets have probably received the same thing.

But if hitting your funding goal with time to spare is evidence of foul play, than I can point to nearly every successful Kickstarter to date.

But I do agree, there have been some very generous backers for these two projects. It will be interesting to see how the other confirmed Kickstarters do.

E Zachary Knight
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I did some simple calculations for EMDH and what the average backing price was at various levels. The reduction of funds on each level is just subtracting out the reward teir price times the number of backers for it. This assumes that the backers paid the price and nothing more for the tier.

Backers Funds Average Backing
All 710 50777 71.5169014085
Up to $250 708 39777 56.1822033898
Up to $150 788 34777 44.133248731
Up to $100 778 33277 42.7724935733
up to $85 729 28377 38.9259259259

With the idea of some generous backers, I find the average $value backed to be fairly realistic for something that jumped that high real fast.

If we assume that the $10,000 backer paid quite a bit more than the $10,000 than that average drops to an even more realistic average.

Simon Carless
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There seems to have been some weird automated backers, per NeoGAF, for EDMH - - but it doesn't seem to have affected the average backer. Maybe whoever did it was smart and set up a bunch of email addresses to each contribute $50 or something?

(Gridiron is much more obvious because they have a surprising amount of big backers.)

E Zachary Knight
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Ah. That explains what they are looking into. If that is the case, I would have to question just who is behind that.

Kevin Clough
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Why does it matter to us or to Kickstarter if the two groups used some of their own money to fund the project? Ouya seems to be the only one losing out and they are getting an exclusive game on their console so they are probably making out fine. If the Ouya small print doesn't prevent this behavior then I don't see it as a problem.

E Zachary Knight
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It does in a way. They will only get 25% of the matching funds when the Kickstarter is completed. The next 50% when the game launches on the Ouya. The final 25% at the end of the 6 month exclusive period. So if the game fails to ship, Ouya is only out 25% rather than all of it.

Josh Fairhurst
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It's bad because it is basically scamming OUYA. The point of the $50k bar is to prove the concept is desired. What good is a $50,000 exclusive if no one wants it? Also, I'm pretty sure Kickstarter has rules against funding your own projects.

I definitely smell something fishy going on here and I hope it gets figured out. Really don't want to see the awesome people at OUYA get burned.

Michael Kelley
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It matters, obviously, because this is a zero-sum game. The "Free the Games Fund" money scamming kickstarters get is money legitimate kickstarters don't.

E Zachary Knight
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I agree. It does matter if Ouya is getting scammed. And I hope that Ouya does its due diligence in ensuring that everything is on the up and up.

Tyler King
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Kickstarter may have rules against self funding, but I have seen WAY too many games get the last 25-50% they needed within the last couple of hours. I guess I haven't been actively following kickstarter campaigns recently, but last year I would see it all the time.

Justin Sawchuk
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Because they are stealing the fund from legitimate kickstarters.

Ian Fisch
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There's a LOT of questionable stuff going on with the Gridiron Thunder kickstarter.

1. They claim that the game will be finished Sept 2013 (next month), yet the only footage they've released indicates that they're many, many months away from being finished.

2. Their video is chock full of images from NFL teams, despite the fact that EA has an exclusive contract with the NFL for all console games. The kickstarter vid never explicitly claims that the game will have real NFL teams, but the video was clearly aimed to convince backers that this would be the case.

3. They do explicitly claim that they'll have real NFL players, and that you can play the game with players from your fantasy football team. EA also has an exclusive license with the NFL player's association, so I don't see how these players could appear in Gridiron Thunder.

4. Virtually ALL of their kickstarter money came from a handful of backers. I'm dubious that this money will actually used to be make a game. More likely, the transactions will be cancelled after the campaign or the money will simply be handed back to the donors.

Josh Fairhurst
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Or they'll just take all the money and run - I'd imagine the bigger pledges are just them laundering their own money into the campaign. In reality they'll probably finish a game and launch it on OUYA, it just won't resemble the pitched product. There's no stipulation it needs to be good - or even what they pitched. They could launch a static shot of jar of mayonnaise, slap "Gridiron Thunder" on it and technically still qualify for that other 75%. Why leave it on the table?

Ian Fisch
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Agree. I think they'll release SOMETHING on the Ouya, but it won't be worth the $50k+ that Ouya will end up giving to these guys.

David Mills
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Well at one point on Holmes' there was about 20 something backers in a very short space of time with names alphabetically ordered and remarkably similar who had backed no other projects for 2 months, when someone else called them up on the kickstarter comments about it suddenly after 2 months of no other backing half back another project in one day. I dunno how dodgy you can get!

E Zachary Knight
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Elementary creators have heard back from Kickstarter. They are apparently not ocncerned but do suggest that they keep up the promotion in case any of those backers' pledges don't go through.