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Inside an $8.6 Million Kickstarter Project

Julie Uhrman, founder of the Ouya game console, tells South by Southwest the challenges--and power--that come with having 63,000 backers.
Founder of OUYA Julie Uhrman and journalist Joshua Topolsky speak onstage at the Julie Uhrman + Josh Topolsky Keynote during the 2013 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival at Austin Convention Center on March 11, 2013 in Austin, Texas.
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In the age of Angry Birds and cell phone gaming, "if you ask someone today if there's a gamer, if they're being honest, they're going to say, 'yes.'"

Those are the words of Julie Uhrman, the creator and founder of the Ouya, an Android gaming console that launches this month. With her product, Uhrman pinpointed a problem with gaming's ubiquity: the types of games being produced today--especially for a classic television-based playing experience--are big-budget endeavors. To create a hit game, a company needs about two years and 200 employees, Uhrman estimates.

With aim to solve that game-production conundrum (essentially, to re-open the game-design experience to amateurs), Uhrman launched a Kickstarter campaign for an open-source console for which any Android programmer could create games. Indeed, if you've heard of the Ouya, that's probably because it's among a handful of the most outstanding Kickstarter super-smash-success stories. It far exceeded its goal--which Uhrman had set at less than $1 million--raising a total of $8.6 million in 29 days from more than 63,000 backers. In fact, it exceeded its goal in just 8 hours and 22 minutes, the fastest $1 million had ever been raised on the crowdfunding platform.

Today, the Ouya hardware and debut games are in production, and the console is in the early stages of distribution to its first buyers; by summer it will be on store shelves. It's designed to feel accessible to the casual gamer (you know, everyone): small, well-designed to be wedged into an already-full living room, and cost just $99. 

"I want to open up the world to TV gaming again," Uhrman told the South by Southwest audience on Monday.  

This rapid and viral success on Kickstarter wasn't something Uhrman--whose Ouya product didn't even have a website at the project's funding launch on July 10, 2012--anticipated. "I had no idea," she says. When posting the project, she says, "I was scared shitless."

The other scary thing: actually designing, prototyping, and producing thousands of gaming consoles. Uhrman said it's been a long and complex process--and that she and her team have spent lots of time in Asia getting the console and controllers produced. She would not disclose the exact number of Ouya orders that have come from a combination of Kickstarter and other online sales, but said she never had doubt her company could fill the orders--at least the initial ones.

"Eight-point-six million dollars is enough to deliver on our promises we've made through Kickstarter," she said, having noted that the campaign itself felt like the opposite of Field of Dreams. "It was, 'if you come, we will build it.'"

Gamers in the audience seemed to salivate when Uhrman said while Android game designers would not re-create Call of Duty, Ouya would soon "have a first-person shooter single-map game that you will want to play for hours on end." 

"There's going to be a game you have to play that's only going to be on Ouya," she promised.  

Last updated: Mar 12, 2013

CHRISTINE LAGORIO-CHAFKIN | Staff Writer | Senior Writer

Christine Lagorio-Chafkin is a writer, editor, and reporter whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Village Voice, and The Believer, among other publications. She is a senior writer at Inc.




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