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PS4 ‘gets’ indies: your move Microsoft

Monday, 8th April 2013 08:22 GMT By Dave Cook

Sony’s recent approach to the indie scene suggests a real sea change on the horizon. VG247′s Dave Cook argues that the competition now needs to keep up or risk death.

The balance of power in the games industry is shifting.

I don’t think the future of the games industry has ever looked so unclear as it does right now, and part of this uncertainty stems from the resurgence of the indie developer on big-name consoles.

This isn’t a new trend of course, and I’ve seen many people suggest that it received widespread notoriety thanks to the success of Jonathan Blow’s XBLA hit Braid. I’d have to agree.

Things quickly picked up speed from there, and here we are today in an industry where indie developers no longer need the backing of big entities to release products and make money. It’d be crazy to propose a future where publishers are suddenly irrelevant but a change in attitude is required to adapt to whatever comes next.

It’s refreshing to see that most of the big stables have taken a positive view to supporting new talent lately, and several top-flight execs have spoken about the need to approach indies as equals, instead of a threat or irrelevancy. It seems everyone’s slowly coming around to the idea.

I can see both sides of the coin here. Why would indies pay a lot of their own money to a platform holder or publisher when they could follow Mojang’s example and fund their game through an iterative paid-alpha model? Similarly, why not take the project to Kickstarter and try to fund it there?

You would own 100% of the IP rights and keep the profits for yourself. Best of all you wouldn’t have publishers leaning over your shoulder telling you that what you’re doing is wrong because some focus-testing group said so.

It all sounds very lovely doesn’t it? The harsh reality is that Kickstarters can fail, submitting games on iTunes without featured placement is like entering a lottery, and paid alphas take months of work without any guaranteed income. In the end big publishers or format holders really can give indies a leg-up. They can be a useful asset.

This isn’t always about the big corporate guy pissing on the little players, because any success enjoyed is mutually beneficial. If an indie game does well on a digital platform like XBLA, both Microsoft and the indie team benefit. Both sides can happily co-exist and reap great rewards, and Sony has recognised this full-well with PS4.


Jonathan Blow’s next game The Witness is a PS4-timed exclusive. No money changed hands. He just prefers the way Sony is treating him and his vision. Case and point.

The signs are all around you. I keep using this example, but when Square-Enix calls the high-selling, critically-acclaimed Tomb Raider a failure then it’s not a stretch to say that these large-scale operations are staring down a crisis waiting to happen.

If I were a Crystal Dynamics employee I’d take having my hard work being branded a “failure” as a slap in the face with a heavy chain-mail glove. The game hasn’t been out long, clearly had a high production cost and will most likely enjoy long-tail sales for many months to come.

What’s really happening is that production costs are rising to meet expectations. You needn’t be a maths whizz to understand that if a game costs a lot to make, it will need to sell exceptionally well to recoup the spend. Veteran game analyst Bill Pidgeon recently estimated that games with production cost of around $100 million need to sell between five and ten million units to break even.

That is poor economics if ever I saw it and some have also called out Pidgeon’s equations on the matter, but the sentiment stands that triple-a game budgets are through the roof. When you factor in marketing budgets, staff salaries, raw development cost, engine licensing, shipping, needlessly extravagant press events and showing face at expos like E3, TGS and gamescom, you may start to ask yourself if much of this is fat just begging to be trimmed.

After Braid showed the world that indies could succeed on big publishing platforms we started to see something of a gold rush. The amount of independently-created, low cost-high return games appearing on Xbox Live and PSN began to swell. Did every indie game released on both formats see the same success? No, of course not.

These platforms were – depending on who you ask – monstrously expensive to publish on. Some teams have claimed they were charged thousands of dollars to re-submit their game every time an update was required. I spoke with Prison Architect dev Introversion about this last year and they were more than happy to put Microsoft’s practice to the sword.

I realise that one studio can’t speak for every developer on Xbox Live Arcade, but in this one instance I was a little taken aback. If this really is true across the board then it seems like Microsoft is charging these teams a lot for the privilege of being tucked away, several button presses under the dashboard.


Introversion’s QA bill for Darwinia+ under Microsoft was $30,000. It was a financial flop compared to Prison Architect’s paid alpha model.

The team’s experience of Xbox Live with Darwinia+ showed them just how financially unsound Microsoft’s marketplace could be. Sure Braid sold well, but that was before the rush to make your millions through digital channels became a widespread wind-pissing contest. Everyone got very wet and only a handful of lucky teams saw success while staying relatively dry.

Now, I’m sorry to have to do this again but I’ll type this next bit in big bold letters so you understand me clearly:

I am neither a fanboy of PS3 or Xbox 360. I own both formats and think they are both superb. I’m focusing on PS4 here because – obviously – the next Xbox hasn’t been announced yet. For all I know Microsoft has made the best indie platform ever seen, but I can’t say that because I haven’t seen it yet.

Sony has really impressed me lately. Someone high up the executive food chain has realised that PS4 needed to embrace the indie community with open arms or it risked being the last console the company ever produced. Give that person a raise Sony, seriously they’ve earned it.

They seem to be doing everything correctly so far, and I think unless Microsoft can match or surpass Sony’s efforts then there’s a very real danger that the new Xbox could struggle to meet the lofty financials it needs to survive. Again, I’m talking theoretically as I haven’t seen the new Xbox yet.

Sony created the PS4 in close collaboration with developers and asked them what they wanted it to do, rather than creating it internally with blinkers on. This extended to indie developers like Double Fine, who were asked to play around with dev kits to see how they might use it in future. That is positively refreshing.


The end result of collaboration, open dialogue and frank discussion between developer and platform holder. Such an open forum is surely the future.

We heard recently that PS4, PS3 and PS Vita will support Unity, which is fast becoming the ‘go-to’ engine of choice for cash-poor indies or teams looking for a flexible, open and relatively easy-to-use engine.

Compare that to the Sony of old, which released a console so restrictively punishing to code for at the outset, that Square-Enix had to develop its own set of programming tools for its then-PS3 exclusive Final Fantasy 13. That is absolutely insane and should never have happened in the first place.

But much like the indie scene, this is an iterative process and PS4 has been tweaked, refined and made better because of Sony’s transparent approach to the console’s creation. One of the PS4′s designers Mark Cerny has called the process “developer-centric”.

Now, that might seem obvious to say, but consider this: selling consoles is one thing but what sells hardware? Games. How do you get more games? You make the platform easier to publish on and offer the best potential return on investment to the developer.

You may then ask yourself why it has taken Sony and Microsoft so long to reach this conclusion, but in reality this has always been the case. They’re not stupid, it’s just that the nature of games has changed.

The indie scene wasn’t as lucrative back ten years ago as it is now, Kickstarter didn’t exist, among other factors. Now seems like the perfect time to grab the bull by the horns and it’s smart that Sony is using the coming of the next cycle to change tact.

Not a minute too soon either it seems, as things were looking pretty hairy for a while out there in triple-a land. THQ collapsed, many big players posted negative figures this financial year and several multi-million releases failed to break even. The change has to happen now for some companies. It really is do or die time.

Sony made clear that it was supporting the indie scene at GDC last month, along with an initial list of titles on the release slate. The response from the development scene and from readers here seems to suggest that this is the correct answer to many difficult questions.

Console indie games are going to explode even further in the next five years. If you don’t believe that then you need to start looking closer at the way the industry is going. This cannot be escaped or denied and in the end we, the gamers, will become richer for the experience.

The question is: which of today’s big players will still be around by then to reap the rewards?

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40 Comments

  1. CyberMarco

    Nice read Dave.

    #1 1 year ago
  2. woe

    Havent Microsoft been supporting Indie devs a lot longer than Sony?

    #2 1 year ago
  3. Joe Musashi

    No.

    JM

    #3 1 year ago
  4. Lengendaryboss

    @2 Really? they were but i think their focus went elsewhere.

    #4 1 year ago
  5. noamlol2

    cause crappy 5$ games are the future
    really smooth…

    sony if you want my $$$ you gotta pack some awesome features and cut with the bullshit gimicks of motion control bullshit

    #5 1 year ago
  6. melonbuster1

    Bullshit! Sony had to. They are broke. The stock is junk stock. This is the last ride. Fail and done hell they could do well and be done. Microsoft will have the indies win or lose. If Sony loses you will see the same damn indies with Microsoft

    #6 1 year ago
  7. lubu

    there were XBLIG (Xbox Live Indie Games) from 2010 till now and more than 3000 titles & apps.
    P.S: some of them like “CastleMiner” or “The Impossible Game” sold even more than 1 million copies

    #7 1 year ago
  8. Francis O

    @6 Holy crap, somebody who actually understands Sony’s situation. There credit is “Junk” Status. They’ve laid off numerous development teams: SuperBot, Lightbox (PS All Stars, StarHawk).

    There gaming division does not make money. That’s why they had to sell their US and Japanese headquarters. There first party games cost 2-4X the amount of Nintendo’s games, yet sell far less.

    The PS Vita is doing worse than the Wii U worldwide. And everybody says the Wii U is dead. Well if Wii U is dead, the PS Vita is dead, buried, and never coming back.

    Sony needed to shake things up this generation. And I think it will work. I’m really interested in the PS4. I like the features and tech specs. If the price is right, and the games are there. I will pick up the system at some point, no doubt.

    MS on the other hand… why should I buy a 720 after the RROD incident, the massive amounts of Kinect BS, charging for online play, ads on my dashboard even though I pay for Xbox Live.

    MS might end up last in the next generation race. We still haven’t even mentioned Steambox yet, which can throw a major wrench into all 3 console makers hands.

    Either way, good read, but it’s impossible to tell who’s going to win now.

    #8 1 year ago
  9. Belmont

    A nice read Dave.But I don’t think indie games manage to be that other big thing. Indies will remain indies. Games with unique feel and style that will appeal to some. Yet they will hardly become something that defines the course of industry or anything in a similar scale (Like those movies in Hollywood that win 20 awards from every single festival and are truly great but they will never generate as much move as that Avengers thing).So in contrary to what you mention I doubt that ignoring indies beats Microsoft or Sony too hard.In the end their financial reports and stability will boil down to that DLC pack for Halo 5 or Call of Duty: Whatever.

    #9 1 year ago
  10. polygem

    good read and i agree. i think it is a very clever move from sony. they also make themselves look like the good guys with this one. it gives them the opportunity to counter ms as the greedy multibillion corp, while they REALLY care about the games, you know, clever, creates a positive image. especially now with the always on debate for nextbox. this message has a huge impact. if true or not, doesn´t matter, the image is there already. i am actually impressed by sonys timing and foresight. they made the job to counter pretty tough for ms, but we´ll soon find out. this aint over is it? i also think remote play will become a huge thing if it will finally work. if sony can combine it with an improved ps+ service, some kind of subbased games rental system, it will become a game changer indeed. i am very very curious how ms will counter this, i cannot wait, will be interesting. i am sure they know that the idea of remote play has a huge potential. i bet they will make your nextbox controller connect to your ms branded tablet so you can use remote play like that. they have to do that, or they are finally bringing a dedicated xbox branded handheld? i can´t see that though, i think they will use ms branded tablets for that.

    #10 1 year ago
  11. Belmont

    @10

    The idea about creating that image of themselves is really genius and makes perfect sense. I think they have done really well so far. And we haven’t seen what Naughty Dog is doing with PS4.Uncharted games turned the tide for PS3 quite a bit.

    There aren’t that many Microsoft branded tablets out there. The best of them(Surface) has moved 1.5 million. Unless they want to make it available across he board with i0S and Android. But here is a problem eitherway: Tablets don’t have physical controls like thumbsticks and so on. But Vita…

    #11 1 year ago
  12. polygem

    @11: yea but they could make the nextbox controller work with the tablet via blutooth or something. shouldn´t be too much of a problem to make that work for a software corp like ms.

    edit: still not great for playing games on the train but for a hotel room it would work…on the train you could play the more casual touchpad based games – i mean who wants to play cod ffa mp on the metro? i definitley don´t want to sit close to a maniac who´s freaking out cause he just lost the match – it would change inner city life forever:)

    #12 1 year ago
  13. Diingo

    There will come a day when software develops so greatly that making games will be extremely simple. Imagine a day where you put on a headband that recognizes your thoughts, and from there you construct your game based around your ideas. I know this sounds insane, but imagine telling someone before Minority Report came out that in less than 10 years people will be using their hands & body to maneuver through user interfaces.

    #13 1 year ago
  14. viralshag

    Maybe I’m being completely blind (which is possible as I don’t really like indies) but XBLA and indies seem to do really well on Live. I mean, people seem happy to pay for Live and happy to pay for the indie games. I don’t see why this wouldn’t continue into the next gen or why the average consumer would care about how MS or Sony treats the devs?

    I think so many people care about the end product, not the journey it took before they buy it.

    #14 1 year ago
  15. Belmont

    @12
    Not as sleek. Yet it is a very good idea.

    @14
    Correct about average consumer. But the idea is that if developers are treated poorly, one dev will tell the other ones and more of them will go with the other publisher.Reducing the number of releases.

    #15 1 year ago
  16. mistermogul

    Tbh even Nintendo have been embracing indy’s as shown in their deal with Unity (pre-sony) and relaxing their requirements for approval.

    I’m sure MS are attempting at least as much as Sony to attract indy’s.

    #16 1 year ago
  17. viralshag

    @15, Yeah I agree with you there. The thing is, I don’t think indie games will really shift consoles and if someone doesn’t own the console, will they really care about the indie game they can’t get or don’t know about?

    Really the way I see it, picking one console for exclusivity is only going to impact one thing and that’s how many copies of the game they will sell. Regardless of which console manufacturer lets them lick the mixing bowl more during development, I think ultimately they want to sell as many cookies as they can… if you get what I’m saying.

    #17 1 year ago
  18. redwood

    good read Dave :D

    #18 1 year ago
  19. xxJPRACERxx

    @2 Ok, what about the Net Yaroze? ;)

    #19 1 year ago
  20. dizzygear

    “How do you get more games? You make the platform easier to publish on and offer the best potential return on investment to the developer.”

    So does that also mean Sony will also drop all the bullshit publishers have to go through to get their shit on the European PSN stores? Like translating metadata into 12 languages even if the games themselves are 100% English? Or even for shit like avatars?

    No? Still not buying any new Sony consoles than.

    Also i dont get this whole hype with indie games on consoles when indie devs can simply stay on the PC and be done with it.

    #20 1 year ago
  21. Dave Cook

    @20 “Also i dont get this whole hype with indie games on consoles when indie devs can simply stay on the PC and be done with it.”

    That’s a very archaic view right there. I’m all for opinions so you’re entitled to yours of course, but this is a view I see often, as if people are afraid of what they don’t understand. There are some superb indie games out there, truly superb. What’s the harm in them co-existing on big-name formats?

    I’m not having a go, just trying to understand. Shoot me a reply if you can as I’m sincerely intrigued :)

    #21 1 year ago
  22. Lengendaryboss

    @20 My favourite quote (A mission title from GTA Vice City) can help with this “supply and demand”. If Indie developers see a demand for their games on other platforms PlayStation, Nintendo and Xbox platforms then their is no wrong in supplying that demand. Its all about expanding their wonderful talent on as many platforms as possible. Staying on PC when there is console owners wanting to get in on this indie talent is inadvertently neglectful and indie developers are starting to become much more vital with all the Indie games announced for PS Vita, PS3 and PS4.
    At usual Dave good read.

    #22 1 year ago
  23. Erthazus

    “PS4 ‘gets’ indies”

    Every system out there gets them. I don’t see a point here. Of course MS will have indies. In fact they like to pay for the exclusivity like Minecraft and etc.
    Steam for example is full of indies. PS3, Xbox 360 combined are not even close for example in indie stuff on Steam.

    #23 1 year ago
  24. DrDamn

    @23
    In this context ‘gets’ means understands, not has.

    #24 1 year ago
  25. dizzygear

    @21 The PC is an completely open platform. On the PC indie dev’s dont have to deal with age ratings, expensive devkits, territory crap, paid patches and all the other crap publishers have to deal with on consoles.

    Unless their games sell really big ala braid or minecraft consoles dont seem worth the headache.

    To quote SpaceDrake: “I haven’t had us at Carpe Fulgur bother much with consoles to date – we’d reach fewer people and have to go through ten times the bureaucracy? Yeah, sure, sign me the hell up.”

    #25 1 year ago
  26. DrDamn

    @20
    “So does that also mean Sony will also drop all the bullshit publishers have to go through to get their shit on the European PSN stores?”

    They appear to be listening and making a lot of changes yes …

    http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/189271/Sony_kills_concept_approval_makes_moves_to_get_indies_onto_PS4.php

    #26 1 year ago
  27. dizzygear

    @26 I don’t see Sony Computer Entertainment Europe and its moronic policy’s mentioned specifically so i remain skeptical.

    #27 1 year ago
  28. Lengendaryboss

    @27
    I really don’t understand all the hate SCEE get: first its the singstar free game icon on the XMB which doesn’t bother me, then they complain they don’t get the same sales as US (Sound Shapes), then they complain about games getting delayed (It would only affect me if i was buying the game), then they complain about game prices blaming SCEE failing to understand it is third party publishers in charge of it, they are ungrateful for the sales they have and my favourite they bitch about the store, i mean come on i get that it is slow but it does what its supposes to.

    #28 1 year ago
  29. polygem

    @28: gamers just love to complain :)

    http://www.vg247.com/2012/06/23/reggie-fils-aime-feels-gamers-are-insatiable-hard-to-satisfy/

    that said: I HATE THAT SINGSTAR ICON TOO!!! :)

    #29 1 year ago
  30. Djoenz

    Oh lmao guys is there any way I can get rid of that Singstar icon?
    I mean I never clicked on it cause I dont have the mics etc. but I cant delete it if Im not mistaken…hmmm..

    #30 1 year ago
  31. polygem

    nah i think you just can´t get rid of it. those stupid faces on my ps3! OUTRAAAAAAAAAGE!!!
    (i can live with it i guess but serioulsy, i just hate stuff like that:)

    #31 1 year ago
  32. ps3fanboy

    This is the return of Sony and the competition needs to keep up or risk death… or it is actually to late. nintendo killed them self by releasing under powered last year gen as this gen. microsoft killed them self with always on drm and no support for used games…. it can only be one and Sony’s back!

    #32 1 year ago
  33. Lengendaryboss

    @Polygem
    Of course i hate it too, but i am not going to spend time bitching and getting the same generic PR response. I hate how gamers feel they must be so entitled to everything.

    #33 1 year ago
  34. ActionGameKing

    Kaz Hirai was destined to be the CEO of Sony. Turning the company back into a behemoth one step at a time. PS4 vs Nextbox will go down in history.

    #34 1 year ago
  35. The_Red

    I think this is related:

    “RCR Developer says Microsoft cancelled his game and then released it at wrong price”
    http://www.destructoid.com/retro-city-rampage-dev-s-microsoft-horror-story-251105.phtml

    #35 1 year ago
  36. dizzygear

    @27 The reason people are pissed off with the singstar icon is that SCEA gave users an option to remove it while SCEE just ignores its users. And yes i hate getting the singstar splash screen in my face as well if i boot my PS3 without a disk.

    And for the rest of the complaints; delayed games are more often than not *ONLY* delayed on the PS3 in the SCEE region.
    Another SCEE favorite is when individual countries get shafted because SCEE rolls out a translated store and suddenly demands from publishers to translate the metadata for them. And if the publisher cant find a translator in time? Than that country wont get their content while the rest of Europe does. Can you guess how the people in the affected countries feel about getting singled out due to SCEE’s bureaucracy?

    By the way. Counterstrike: GO is still MIA without explanation from SCEE.

    #36 1 year ago
  37. Lengendaryboss

    @36 Yes i get all that, but complaining is really not helping unless they like receiving the same PR answer. I know how neglected countries feel but seriously it is up to other developers and publishers to find a translator not SCEE, they cannot hold their hands. You can blame SCEE all you want, but i honestly think all the hate is unjustified.
    For Counterstrike: GO surely the publisher owes you an explanation not SCEE, doesn’t matter if SCEE are holding it up, the publisher owes you an explanation.

    #37 1 year ago
  38. dizzygear

    @37 SCEE could stop annoying their publishers and users and drop the translated metadata requirement and translate the metadata themselves if translated storefronts are that important for them.

    Neither STEAM or XBLM have 100% translated store fronts and noone gives a crap. People just want their games and DLC without delays.
    But try telling that to SCEE. People (and publishers i imagine) have been complaining about it since the launch of the PSN store but SCEE never ever did anything to improve the situation.

    I think the hate is justified until they finally start listening to the complaints.

    #38 1 year ago
  39. Lengendaryboss

    @38 Oh i give up.

    #39 1 year ago
  40. sebastien rivas

    Hi,

    first or last, it does not matter. I am just glad Sony opened their eyes to the indy community.

    There have been articles here and there about ps4 Dev kit for some time now.

    One thing I cannot decipher or understand is:
    How much Ps4 Dev Kit Orbis or latter version will cost?
    When the release date is supposed to be?
    Can one build a PC architecture to pertain exact PS4 dev kit architecture (build around APU A10 OR Bulldozer or any specified dev kit required architecture + download/install Sony softs from Sony to the machine)?

    I sound impatient and I sound like a child, I just do not like to stay in the blur when I like something.

    Thanks in advance,
    Seb

    #40 1 year ago

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