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Q&A with OUYA’s Kellee Santiago

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Tech-Gaming: Before we delve into OUYA discussion, let’s talk your impact on the industry. Following your graduation from University of Southern California’s interactive media program, you went onto help form thatgamecompany- the studio responsible for innovative titles such as flOwFlower, andJourney. After a prodigious trifecta of titles, you left to direct development for OUYA. What was the impetus for the change?

Kellee Santiago: After six years with thatgamecompany and the completion of our three-game deal with Sony, I wanted to explore different avenues of video game development. One avenue was trying to have a bigger impact on the business development side of the industry, through my work as an investor in Indie Fund, and as an advisor to a number of independent studios, including Robin Hunicke’s new company, Funonema. In January of last year, I finally got to meet Julie Uhrman, who I thought was going to talk to me about working with OUYA as a content curator. What she presented was something entirely different – the opportunity to redefine the publishing model with the recognition that “indies” aren’t a niche group of developers anymore – it’s just the way of doing business now. What does it mean to be a developer-friendly console? That was the question she gave me to answer, and I couldn’t resist taking up the challenge.

T-G: Obviously, you must really believe in OUYA’s approach to gaming.

KS: What I love about OUYA’s process is that it’s very responsive and iterative – much like game development itself. I’ve never been a part of so many publisher or console manufacturer conversations that begin with, “what will be best for our developers?” On the other side of that question… we haven’t always gotten the answer right, but our goal is to continually improve

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T-G: Can you give readers an idea of what a typical day is like? What kinds of things do you do to court talent?

KS: Working with OUYA is an opportunity to bring a game to the living room with very few constraints – there are no fees, the submission process is simple, we don’t attempt to control your IP or tell you how to interface with your players – and there are a lot of developers who want to support that ecosystem either because they’ve been shut out from the console world before, or because they see the opportunities OUYA can lead to.

My workday is spent finding developers OUYA can most benefit, working with the incredible team here to support developers on the platform, and making it easy for anyone to make a game for OUYA. From what I’ve seen, that’s the approach that leads to the most interesting experiences.

T-G: While OUYA is great at giving developers access to the hardware, what about lowering the barrier to entry further. Does the company have any plans for a game creation suite for those with big ideas buy limited programming experience?

KS: Not at the moment, but I am looking to incorporate additional tools that lower the barrier further, like Twine or Stencyl. Really, there’s awesome stuff happening in the world of game making tools now. And if you have any recommendations, please send them my way (Kellee@ouya.tv)!

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T-G: Let’s talk about maintaining the momentum from OUYA’s successful $8.5 million dollar Kickstarter campaign. On the software side of things, what are the company’s current strategies?

KS: OUYA is a place where anyone can bring their idea for a game – whatever that means to them – and share it with an audience. Iteration is critical to creating great games, and OUYA is built to support that process.  Not only does it allow developers to iterate on their designs with a live audience, but it also allows them to prove their talent, which catapults them into the next level of their career. Take Matt Thorson, for example. At the beginning of last year it was unheard of for a local-multiplayer-only experience to launch on an existing living room console, but he had already proven the game was great at various conferences. OUYA allowed him to prove that TowerFall was commercially viable. In a few months he went from making a decent living off of his games to being on stage at the PlayStation 4 press conference. For developers, OUYA is a reputation maker. We want it to be the platform that launches lifelong careers.

T-G: Can you give us an update on the Free the Games Fund? How is the promotion doing?

KS: Ever since we changed the rules after the initial launch of the campaign, and based on the feedback from developers and players, our participating developers have gotten a lot of great support! 10 games have been funded, with almost half of the funds allocated! Matt Gilgenbach recently launched the Alpha of his FTG project, Neverending Nightmares on OUYA – the first of the FTG games to go live on DISCOVER.

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T-G: While indies are a big selling point for the system, a number of high-profile publishers such as Square-Enix and Telltale have committed to the console. Can OUYA owners expect to see efforts from larger firms?  

KS: Yes. I think especially the flexibility to release early on the platform and iterate will also prove valuable to large and small studios alike. And plenty of the big studios have inked bad deals within the previous paradigm of living room consoles, so a number of them are eager to help evolve a new developer-friendly ecosystem.

T-G: As evidenced by the app category in the OUYA store, the console adept at handling more than just games? What other types of applications would you like to see come to the system?

KS: OUYA is an open platform, and we welcome creative developers that are eager to build something awesome. XBMC is an incredibly great example of this. Who wouldn’t want a simple and seamless home theater solution that can play all your media on any TV in the house?

We’d literally like to see anything that takes advantage of the OUYA hardware in creative and interesting ways. Be the peanut butter to our jelly.

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T-G: Like many, I have a growing library of Android games across Google Play and the Amazon Marketplace. Unfortunately, many of these don’t natively support the OUYA Controller. Are there any efforts to reach out to developer to retroactively adapt their apps?

KS: Yes, definitely!

About Robert Allen

With over 35 years of gaming experience, Robert 'DesertEagle' Allen is Tech-Gaming's resident worrier/warrior who spends his days teaching at three colleges and his nights devoted to JRPGs.

17 comments

  1. Keep those interviews coming. Save for Patrick Klepec, you’re one of the better interviewers, Robert.

  2. It’ll be interesting to see if the OUYA can make it. Right now, it seems like it has a bit of a cult following, but most people don’t seem to know or care about it.

  3. Every time I see a TowerFall pic, I really want to try the game, but I can’t justify $99+$15 for the game.

  4. The game press seems to ignore the Ouya after launch. No one reviews the games or talks about. That can’t be good. for the system.

  5. Good work, Robert. I always like reading this interviews. One question, the end seems cut short with just a quick “yes!”. No elaboration?

  6. Hopefully, Kellee can create an environment that developers will want to form in. I’d like to see the OUYA become a competitor and establish a low-priced console market.

  7. Never understood the Ouya concept. Give me a phone with TV output. Much easier.

  8. I haven’t played van Ouya yet.

  9. I’ve been debating whether to pick up an OUYA or Gamestick. I like the idea of a console I can carry around and not worry that it’s going to break at the slightest nudge.

  10. Sounds like the Ouya is trying. I looked at the games and I’m sure they’re fun, but its not for me.

  11. Its kind of a shane when a promising developer learns PR speak.

    I loved Flower abd Journey. Truly great experiences.

    • Yeah I didnt read anything that got me any more interested in the OUYA. Seemed like sunshine with any substance.

  12. I love my Ouya. The system is pretty underrated IMO.

  13. Bought an Ouya. Couldnt connect it to my internet, so it sits there unplayed. Worst consumer product experience ever.