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OUYA vs. Steam Greenlight: Clash of the Indies

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By Nelson Schneider - 07/26/13 at 06:21 PM CT

As my first impressions showed, after all the hype, I was not actually impressed with the OUYA Indie console – or its games – once I actually got some hands-on time with it. On the other hand, my love of Valve’s Steam gaming platform only continues to grow. Yet, when it comes to the distribution of independently developed games, both platforms seem to want to wear the crown.

While OUYA went the Kickstarter route of so many Indie games, turning itself into THE Indie Console, Steam’s endeavors to court Indie developers mainly revolve around a new section of their web services called “Greenlight,” which was launched in August 2012. After a scant year of existence, Steam Greenlight has found itself home to hundreds of candidate games and, at the time of writing, has ‘greenlit’ 125 of them for inclusion in Steam’s library once they are finished. Of those greenlit games, 47 have already been made available for sale.

Both OUYA and Steam Greenlight remove most of the impediments of developing and releasing games by small teams or individuals. While it requires a $100 donation to Child’s Play to submit an item to Steam Greenlight, the only fee paid by potential OUYA developers is the cost of a console itself… which is also $100. Steam Greenlight allows developers to target the three major PC operating systems – Windows, Mac OSX, and Linux – while OUYA is all Android.

Based on my past observations into the light and darkness behind the Indie games movement, it seems that OUYA is, right from the start, fighting an uphill battle against Steam, which is so entrenched in the hearts and minds of anyone who currently plays or makes PC games, that it will be difficult for OUYA to come up with any exclusives that won’t also be available on Steam. For example, in my cruise through the slums of the OUYA shop, I found one game that I almost, almost bought: “Ittle Dew.” Yet not a week later I found that game had been added to Steam’s library of games… and not even through Greenlight! Steam Greenlight serves as both a buffer and a democratizing force in Indie gaming, as it requires that Indie developers put enough effort into their projects that Steam’s huge userbase will vote for their release. While the occasional reeking turd slips through (I really hope “Surgeon Simulator 2013” was released as the result of a successful collective trolling effort), the small number of Steam Greenlight games shows that the platform doesn’t want to become a completely uncurated free-for-all filled with garbage, like so many smarphone marketplaces have become.

I have a large number of Indie games sitting in my Steam Wish List. All of them look far more interesting than the stuff available in the OUYA shop, yet I haven’t purchased any of them yet. It’s not that I’m dubious about purchasing these games from Steam, but that I know Steam will put them on sale at a deep discount if I have but a little patience, and I can replenish the enormity of my backlog just as quickly as I clear it out. But the OUYA shop leaves prices a complete mystery. One thing I didn’t touch on in my first impressions of the OUYA is that it doesn’t actually share the prices of its games on their individual shop pages. Instead, the prices of OUYA games are only revealed by clicking an in-game “buy” button, which leaves the user one step away from accidentally paying too much money for a crappy game. Even worse, while Steam Greenlight has options for “Yes, I would buy this game,” “No, I wouldn’t buy this game,” and “I don’t know, ask me later” in its voting options, the OUYA shop merely has a “Thumbs Up!” that users can click if they like a game, with no options to express displeasure outside of not expressing any opinions at all.

Then there’s the question of migration capabilities and DRM. If I buy an Indie game through Steam, I will be able to play it for as long as Steam exists as a service, and in many cases for a long as I can keep the data intact (since many Indie games on Steam don’t even require the Steam client to be running and are, effectively, DRM-free). There is no hardware lock-in with Steam. I don’t really know how OUYA handles this kind of situation. If I buy an OUYA2 (which may or may not release next year), will I be able to redownload all of my theoretical OUYA shop purchases on it? I assume that would be the case, but what happens if/when the Ouya Company fails? Can I get these games as .apk files to sideload onto a non-OUYA Android device? Since the OUYA shop isn’t intertwined with or compatible with the Google Play store, I’m incredibly dubious about those prospects.

In the clash between the Goliath Steam and the David OUYA, I don’t think a slingstone is going to be enough. Steam is the established player, and between Greenlight and Indie games spontaneously appearing in the Steam library, OUYA needs a lot of killer exclusives to gain traction as a place to go for Indie goodness – and these exclusives will have to stay that way.

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Nelson Schneider

Wrote on08/03/13 at 03:26 PM CT

Nick, I'm guessing that these non-Greenlight games have been in the queue since before Greenlight was a thing. There used to be a submission process (, but currently Valve wants everything submitted through Greenlight.

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Wrote on07/28/13 at 06:51 PM CT

So, as an indie game developer, do you HAVE to use Stream Greenlight to get your game on Steam? Or is it just an optional stepping stone to see if there is interest out there before you put all the time in finishing the game?

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Nelson Schneider

Wrote on07/28/13 at 03:48 PM CT

This week I discovered another new addition to the OUYA library that deserves a WIN rating: "Freedom Fall": A 2D platformer with a focus on downward vertical scrolling and trap avoidance. It also has a quirky story revealed via graffiti scrawled on the walls of the stages by the villain. The only problem is that "Freedom Fall" has been available for PC (not on Steam, though) since April 2013

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Wrote on07/27/13 at 03:25 PM CT

I'm pretty sure Surgeon Simulator 2013 was designed to be bad (the game description said the original version was made in 48 hours) and overall terrible to control. But I think the asking price of $9.99 is a bit much. That being said, the Greenlight service seems like it's doing a great service to indie developers and the community feedback is there to make sure that quality (hopefully) comes through. OUYA is still up in the air - the idea is sound but it just matters if anyone is going to care.

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