…OK, so I finally managed to throw something up the pipe. Just a quick scrappy little thing in the shape of a port of War Twat now called WAR DADDY. And y’know, I’m fairly happy with how it’s all gone all told. However, it’s also helped cement some thoughts on my concerns about the store so let’s talk about the experience so far.
First up, the submissions process is very quick, very clear and very straightforward. This is good, obviously. You fill in the form, provide the assets needed and you upload for review. I’ve heard that review can take a few days for some but I was reviewed fairly promptly after uploading. I suspect the speed also has something to do with you being able to review everything War Daddy is within about 5 minutes at a push so prepare to wait accordingly, right?
You do have control over when you launch. This is good. It’s up to you to flick the switch to make your game go live on the store. The time from hitting the switch to propagating to the store seemed fairly prompt. I can’t say I actually timed it but I went and made a hot chocolate, came back and War Daddy was available for sale. Nothing to complain about there.
PREPARING YOUR SUBMISSION
So what do you need before you upload? Well, obviously you’re going to need an .APK but I’m going to assume you’ve already worked that out. You’ll obviously need to have sorted out your icons in various sizes but I’m also going to assume you’ve already worked that out.
You’ll need to prepare an image for the store front to display. Here’s the one I eventually went with for War Daddy, aiming to keep its scrappy nature intact:
That’s 732px x 412px btw and should be embedded in the apk as res/drawable-xhdpi/ouya_icon.png. Nice and easy.
You’ll need a minimum of 5 screenshots in .jpeg format. As ever these should be of the highest resolution and quality as possible because otherwise, what exactly are you trying to sell?
Taking good screenshots is an art form but also one that can be brute forced and yes, I totally brute force it. I take an absolute multitude of screengrabs, hundreds of the buggers, then manually sort through them to weed out the best ones then go with them.
I do not EVER go with a screenshot of a menu and nor should you. No-one gives a toss about looking at pictures of menus. Always remember these are the things you’re trying to attract people to try your game with and as much effort as you might have put into your menu, no-one in the history of anyone has ever thought “that’s a really nice menu, I’ll buy that game”. So don’t do that.
OUYA also ask for a 1280×720 HD video uploaded to Vimeo. You should have one of these ready. Because I’m a nob, I didn’t and I had to wing it. Fortunately, I’m quite adept at winging it. This is super important now considering that the videos are the first thing on the OUYA store people will see when they browse to your page.
Slightly concerning to me is that the videos have to be uploaded to Vimeo. Vimeo have a history of not being too keen on people uploading game footage to their service. However, this is tempered by me thinking that were I building a store now that relied on other people uploading videos, I’d be wary of using YouTube given how Google are handling it in recent times. Looking at the recent changes to YouTube, I’d be wary of relying on it for anything anymore.
Here’s the “banged up in the time it takes to film the footage, add 4 captions and throw it up the pipe” video I knocked up:
I got kicked back from review first time. I don’t know how this system would scale but right now, you get as useful feedback as they’re able to provide. Being kicked back was -entirely- my fault. Somewhere, a few screens deep into the titles, I’d left a swear in there. Now, I’m fairly sure that having read OUYA’s guidelines, I’d actually be OK having a swear in there but not when I’m going for an all ages category. So having spotted it, I pulled the initial build from review. Unfortunately, I got cocky, rushed the edit through and sent the game back up into review. Except I’d managed to add a – to the start of a line and uncomment a piece of code that screwed the entire thing up. Silly! In my defence I was uploading it to the glorious tune of “A Teething Child Screams”, my current most listened to song.
Unfortunately we can’t yet distribute War Daddy: War Harder (1.0.9) on OUYA.
Here is our team’s feedback. Please consider it. We’d be thrilled if you resubmitted. Game looks super cool! Unfortunately we weren’t able to test it as we were getting a Fatal Error and crash when on the Main Menu and within Gameplay. If the user presses Y or O on the Main Menu the crash will occur. If they press U or A the game will start but then in game O, U, Y and A all cause the crash. We’ve attached a screenshot and a couple of logs of the issue. Hope the info can be of some help!
Please see the following for assistance in correcting issues noted above:
*massive list of error logs here*
Please refer to the Interface Guidelines and Technical Info of the Content Review for further information. (https://devs.ouya.tv/developers/docs/content-review-guidelines)
A stupid mistake but one made incredibly easy to trace by OUYA just throwing the error logs in there for me. Greatly appreciated even if it is the kind of mistake where I’d have discovered it in about 10 seconds had I actually had the sense to test the thing one last time before going up the pipe.
So yeah, fixed that, sent it up the pipe again and it cleared review in less than a day. Huzzah and all as smooth as it could be for a review process.
LAUNCHING ON THE STORE
OK, this is where things get weird. Here’s how you get to War Daddy on the OUYA store just after the game launches.
OUCH! I’m taking my hand off the record button there on the second video because otherwise, it wouldn’t cram into the few seconds limit of Vine.
When you launch on the OUYA store, you don’t get even so much as a brief moment in the sun. You get thrown straight into their Sandbox, a place you only escape from with enough votes. It’s every bit as grim as it sounds.
On launch, the OUYA store throws you into a pile of games buried at the bottom of the store and challenges you to escape from that to prove yourself. So no-one launching on OUYA gets their brief moment in the sun. All the excitement of launching a game onto a store is tempered by no-one actually being able to see and find that game when they load up the store. Massive disappointment ahoy!
We’ve all heard the theories for sandboxes like this before and in one rather perverse way, I’m sort of glad that OUYA have gone ahead and done this if only to prove that it’s every bit as shit a system as I’d suspected so that everyone can look and go “you know, maybe not, eh?”. It’s certainly something to bear in mind next time someone has a bright idea along the lines of “hey, Valve should provide a sandbox area where…”. No, they really shouldn’t. (Obviously, this is weighted against the fact that I also wish OUYA hadn’t done this because it’s a terrible system that does little to encourage or help smaller developers. Still, at least now we definitely know not to do it this way, right? I’ll just keep repeating that to myself anyway.)
It’s hard to understate how discouraging it is to immediately launch you game and have not a single solitary shot at a space on the store and how much that puts the smaller dev in a worse position. What you want to do is be able to shout to all your friends and family that yes, you are on the store. You want to be able to tell people to switch on their console RIGHT NOW and go and download your game. Instead, you have to sit there and explain that either they search for it manually or they scroll through an enormous list of videogames to get to your videogame.
There are a number of excellent small games -still- in the OUYA sandbox from when I first plugged the OUYA in months and months ago. Whatever the intentions behind the feature, the end result is that games languish in there for many, many reasons. The more games that languish in the sandbox, the worse the problem gets as more games get added to the sandbox. Which leads us to where we are right now, games being dumped into an enormous hole at the bottom of the store.
ESCAPING THE SANDBOX
There’s a number of ways you can “escape” from the sandbox. Either by having your game added to one of the limited feature slots (either by a chap from OUYA or by whichever fellow OUYA dev currently has a spotlighted slot on the store) or by having enough users vote your game out of the sandbox.
Clearly, it’s wise that everyone should promote your game outside of any store if they want any sort of success but we also have to understand that smaller developers, the sort who will likely be drawn to something along the lines of the OUYA, the sort of people who OUYA needs to support and indeed, in pitching themselves as a more open alternative to the usual console fare will attract, these people face an uphill struggle in getting press.
Getting votes is also reliant on getting people to look at your game in the first place. Creating an attractive banner, uploading a great video and some attractive screenshots obviously go a great deal of the way to maximizing your chances with what you’ve got but when the freshly launched game is unceremoniously dumped at the end of a large queue that’s growing by the day, this is a steep challenge.
OUYA provide tools for people browsing the store to whittle down the list. You can choose to “bury” titles so they’re not seen again whilst you browse. All this puts the onus on people browsing the store to do the work for visibility.
Assuming a developer has too small a voice to get noticed, allowing for a limited number of featured slots for titles still inside the sandbox, this means that you’re entirely reliant on people working to increase your chances. The best case scenario, the folks browsing the store are voting titles up so that they become visible to everyone. The worst case, they’re simply clearing the queue leaving the games visible to only them. It’s not hard to see where this falls over, right?
TIPPING THE SCALES
For all its many failures (and oh, there are many) there’s still enough users on Valve’s Greenlight service to support niche titles. Or rather there’s still enough people running Steam who you can bring to Greenlight to support your title. Not that it makes many odds in the end as that’s just one of a myriad of things that Valve look at but at least it’s a thing. The OUYA doesn’t have the install base and doesn’t have the external site support to make something like this work.
At the very least, the store needs a new releases section. At the least. But I suspect there’s a deeper consideration at the heart of all this though and that’s a confusion as to what the OUYA is and who it is for. It still feels like there’s a console here that pitches itself at the smaller developers, invites them in but has systems set up that simply do not favour them and in some cases, as with the push for exclusive content, puts them in unintentionally disadvantaged positions. How is beginner developer X supposed to stand a chance against Double Fine or Gameloft? I know, I know, just make a good game, right? Let’s leave that one at the door, it’s never that simple and the scales need tipping in the favour of the little guy because they just cannot compete on the same scale.
OUYA could be a place where developers have the freedom to try out all these crazy ideas they have, to explore all this different things, to be free enough to toy with small ideas. And in some ways it is that, the seeds of it are there. It needs a more concerted push and a more considered approach to make it all that it can be. I suspect that somewhere, this involves courting/trying to be like (delete as applicable) the big boys a whole lot less but I’m not sure how that flies in the selling consoles stakes, y’know? Either way, the balance right now is way out of whack and in desperate need of correction.
I’m genuinely hopeful that it can and will be corrected too. Let’s keep those fingers crossed.