In 2013, Ouya set aside $US1 million to help fund a bunch of games on Kickstarter, so long as the games showed up on Ouya first. Some games have already come out, but many have not. For those still in development, Ouya has reportedly informed them the funds no longer exist.
This story originally broke on VICE last night, but I've independently talked with a number of developers who have provided similar information. This news comes just after the announcement that PC hardware maker Razer has decided to outright purchase Ouya.
Ouya had called this promotion "Free The Games," a name roundly mocked because it required games to be exclusive to the Ouya for six months. (This was later changed to allow releases on PC.) Here's how the money part worked: Ouya matched your Kickstarter funds, so long as you'd raised at least $US50,000. 50% of the money would be delivered when a working beta was ready, the next 25% when the game shipped, and the final 25% after the exclusivity period had ended.
Several developers told me they were contacted by Ouya in June, and the company told them "things had changed." It wasn't clear what this meant, but more information was forthcoming.
More recently, Ouya scheduled time with developers to discuss the promotion, and all communication happened via Skype calls. Some asked for the meeting to happen over email to ensure a paper trail with Ouya, but the company reportedly insisted it take place over Skype.
Ouya told them the deal was off, which meant losing anything from $US7,500 to $US30,000, based on the developers I talked to. That's not a lot for the new Gears of War, but for these tiny developers, it's huge.
Developers were asked to avoid talking with the press about what was happening, which is why many have chosen to remain anonymous.
Razer has not responded to my requests for comment, and few of the developers I've spoken to have heard anything official from the company, either. None have received financial commitments, but some were told Razer may offer Android publishing deals to some games.
Ouya founder Julie Uhrman, who left the company as part of the sale to Razer, hasn't said anything publicly yet. In the past day, she's been thanking people for their support on Twitter.
— Julie Uhrman (@juhrman) July 27, 2015
In the meantime, many developers are left angry and confused about the future.
"We were going to release soon," said one developer. "We had great contact with Ouya, a demo out on the platform, and many pre-orders by Ouya owners ready to go. Then, out of nowhere, we recently received word that Razer was acquiring Ouya, that our contract for the remaining [money] was being cancelled. [...] Razer also gave vague promises that they wanted to make things easier for us and see that our game had a smooth launch, but have not put anything on the table yet."
The contracts signed by developers didn't guarantee Ouya had to pay the money, but several developers had already integrated the promised funds into their budgets.
Fire With Fire: Online Tower Attack and Defence developer Theory Georgiou is out $US5,000 because of this move. He also has to explain to his family why he doesn't have the money to pay back a small loan he took out from them to keep a graphic artist working on the game full-time.
"The developers that are really hurt by the cancellation of the fund are the developers that are taking their time to create a real product for Ouya," said Georgiou. "We believed in Ouya and that it would be around for a long time to come. We wanted to support it with the best game possible. We aren't looking for quick cash, we saw this fund as an opportunity to make a much better experience than we could have otherwise and we're the ones who get thrown under the bus."
Another developer to is having to drastically scale back audio for the game, resulting in a fractured relationship with his contracted musician.
"It's affecting my business relationships," said the developer.
Obviously, this has left a bad taste in the mouths of many folks who'd trusted Ouya to deliver.
"I initially had budgeted without the Free The Games fund," continued the developer, "but once that was attached, rather than just pocket the fund, the game's scope increased to make the game better. [...] I did receive the first payment, which made it all very real to me."
For this developer and others, though, that money is very much not real anymore.