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PS4 & Xbox One vs indies: the studios speak – part one

Monday, 24 June 2013 08:03 GMT By Dave Cook

Gaijin Games, Introversion, Hello Games and Brian Provinciano discuss Sony’s approach to the PS4 indie scene with VG247′s Dave Cook. Get an insight into next-gen independence here.

Since Sony unveiled PlayStation 4 back in February the company has made it abundantly clear that it fully supports the indie development scene.

The rising cost of triple-a development is like quicksand slowly ascending to the necks of platform holders and their publishers, and it’s clear the market simply cannot continue down this path alone if it hopes to remain sustainable.

An open-door approach to low-risk, high return projects is the smartest move Sony could have made going into the next generation, although it seems to be a road Microsoft doesn’t want to take. Its focus now lies elsewhere.

Pat recently summed up Xbox One’s indie blockade in a recent post, and in the article he highlighted one particularly foolish move that could prove fatal to Microsoft down the line.

Namely, Microsoft demands that all developers hoping to release games on Xbox formats do so through publishers first. This is non-negotiable and it can only serve to push indie studios to Steam and PS4, where there is less red tape, a greater share of profits, and less spend required to bring a game to market.

From the outside looking in, PS4 clearly appears to be the console format of choice for small studios. To get an insider’s view on Sony’s indie strategy so far, I decided to speak with a group of prominent independent developers that are enjoying considerable success today.


What do indies actually need from platform holders?

Rather than kick off with what developers hope to see from Sony down the line, I asked my interviewees what they actually need in order for both PS4 and Xbox One publishing to make sense.

It became clear pretty quickly that at present, Sony and Microsoft are guilty of making studios jump through unnecessary hoops and signing redundant paperwork on current-gen formats. While filling out forms and examining clauses might be a cakewalk for large developers with an in-house legal team, it’s incredibly taxing to a one-coder studio.

Retro City Rampage developer Brian Provinciano told me that while the Steam and Xbox 360 versions of his debut game are identical, the certification channels on both platforms represented a canyon of difference. “In the past, most games were developed by sizeable studios and brought to market by a sizeable publisher,” he began.

Sony and Nintendo have taken notice and are actively streamlining their processes and policies to make everything easier. I think it’s only a matter of time before Microsoft does as well. They really have to.

“The platforms were set up to work hand in hand with this structure. Today, mass market games can be done from start to finish with just one or two developers, so the old structure was a burden to many. With that structure, when one person handles all of the business, production, finance and marketing, they end up having to fill out four times the paperwork themselves and are left with very little sleep and even less time to work on the game itself.

“Steam demonstrates the new way of doing things perfectly. In three man days of work, everything from the initial discussions to signing the contract, programming leaderboard and achievement code and authoring store banners and assets were done, and the game was ready to be in players’ hands.

“On the opposite side of the spectrum, the Xbox version took over a year of time just on the business side and who knows how many man months of head-down work. In the end, the Steam version is 100% feature identical to the XBLA version, even supporting Xbox 360 controllers. It demonstrates what’s possible and what every platform must strive for moving forward in the new age of digital distribution and smaller studios.”

Provinciano added that he has experience of both Sony and Nintendo taking steps to streamline this process to make everything easier, but he did stress that he believes Microsoft will follow suit in time, and added, “They really have to. They’re the only one left which is not set up to support self-publishing.”

Gaijin Games co-founders Mike Roush & Alex Neuse – of Runner2 fame – came back with a similar response to Provinciano, but repeatedly stressed that when it comes to the indie approach, no one comes close to Valve. In a joint response they said, “What the big boys need to realize is that so-called ‘indies’ don’t have a whole lot of money or time to deal with the often bloated business requirements and absurd technical requirements that are imposed upon them.

“They need to start turning stuff around faster and have it cost much less. For instance, on certain platforms our most recent release, Runner2, was completely done for over a month before it was churned through the first party machines and brought to market. Delays like that can positively ruin some smaller developers. 

“And once the game has been released, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult for consumers to find the products that we all know they want to play. Of course, if you’re one of the giant developers who can afford to pay for prime placement up front and center, great. But those opportunities aren’t always realistic for smaller developers.

“If the big three actually want to woo indies, they need to start accepting the fact that most indies aren’t huge business conglomerates that A: understand or B: have the time to play their reindeer games. If they don’t, all indies will just stop trying and will decide to do business solely with Valve”.

As a counter-argument it could be suggested that quality will always rise to the top, and that well-received games like Runner2 will sell regardless of where they are placed. Perhaps this is true in some cases – hello Minecraft – but by and large it really does seem to matter where a game ends up. Again, rather than simply assume this to be true, I asked each of the developers how much placement has meant to them over the years.


Giving indies a boost

But first, the importance of placement was underlined brilliantly in a telling blog post by Waking Mars developer Tiger Style in May of last year. The studio posted lifetime iOS sale stats for its games Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor and Waking Mars, and the graphs for both titles represents a sheer cliff face after just a few weeks on sale, with spikes whenever the game is featured or on sale.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this from an indie studio either, I’ve seen it often, so there is a clear trend at play. With so many games launching digitally each month it’s clear that platformer holders will ultimately have to pick and choose to feature those that best sell the format, or games by studios willing to secure visibility through other means – be it a publisher deal or cold, hard cash. But is that right? No, not necessarily.

“To us, the next generation is about quality, not quantity. You could take a game you’ve built in Unity and hit export for PS4, and that’s great. But just imagine what more you can do. It’s not just another platform to ship on, it’s a huge opportunity.

Don’t forget; as Sony lowers its barriers to publishing on PS4, the volume of indie games appearing on the format will rise, potentially having an adverse effect on a game’s store visibility. With that in mind, might indie success on PS4 and Xbox One be dictated largely by placement and sales in the next-generation, or will quality continue to shine through a sea of submissions each week?

Sean Murray of Joe Danger developer Hello Games described his brush with next-gen formats so far, and his view on the ‘quality versus quantity’ issue. “When we got next-generation dev kits, we had our hands on something that no one has seen before. With that hardware sitting in our studio, smelling new and looking shiny, what would you do?

“Sure, we could have started to make Joe Danger 3, and maybe that’s the best business decision. But you don’t need a next-gen console to play the best Joe Danger game we can possibly make. We wanted to do something new, something really ambitious, that really uses the hardware. We wanted to make something that’s defining for us.

“To us, the next generation is about quality, not quantity. You could take a game you’ve built in Unity and hit export for PS4, and that’s great. But just imagine what more you can do. It’s not just another platform to ship on, it’s a huge opportunity. We see next-gen as a massive, brilliant challenge.

“The codename is Project Skyscraper and it’s giving us a real buzz. It’s like going back to the early days of the studio, when it was the four of us doing completely new things. We’ve got empty folders and blank documents, and we’re staying up until 2 am coding – this is what everyone gets into games to do.”

Sean’s last point is interesting. An indie developer can be anyone; it could be you or I, a person who has broken off from the corporate, triple-A market, or even a graduate fresh from four years of learning how to code. These people go solo or start small teams in an attempt to realise their dreams and it’s soul-destroying to see many of them beaten down by the very arena they tried to flee in the first place.

Unless you side solely with Steam it seems.

Either way it’s a complex issue, and one we conclude in part two of this article, in which Mark Morris of Introversion recalls his rough time with Microsoft, Gaijin discusses future challenges facing indies and we weigh up Sony’s efforts to democratise the development process in PS4.

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6 Comments

  1. killzone64

    my opinion is sony will be more succesful

    #1 2 years ago
  2. Gigabomber

    Because Sony was so much more successful in publishing thousands of indie games last gen, they will be this gen too, right.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. zme-ul

    what now? Gaijin consider themselves “idie”?! tha’ fuq!

    #3 2 years ago
  4. machy

    ^same thought

    #4 2 years ago
  5. TheWulf

    This doesn’t surprise me at all.

    I’ve always spoken of the virtues of Steam, and Newell himself has always spoken of the importance of indies and why it’s important to treat them right. It’s like only now Sony is beginning to realise why indies deserve respect, and Microsoft still has their head up their arse.

    Here’s how it’s been, to date:

    XBox: You’ll never get top-billing and front page advertising, that’s for triple-A titles.

    Playstation: You may get a tiny front page advertisement if Sony’s marketing division decides you’re worth it. Usually you have to be exclusive to them though or a bigger name indie.

    Steam: You will always get top-billing and front page advertising, no matter what.

    What this means is that people are being driven away from console storefronts to Steam, because Steam is doing what indies want. It seems like Sony might be becoming more Steam-like, but how much? Steam is like the Google of the gaming world, they have a lot of good ideas, they’re fair, and they do a lot of things right.

    If Sony can become enough like Valve and Steam, then they’re going to get a lot of favour from indies. And the XBO will be bereft of them.

    Still, this is hardly surprising that Steam is held in high regard.

    #5 2 years ago
  6. noamlol2

    @5 you’re very wrong
    remember FEZ? xbox live featured it if you don’t know

    #6 2 years ago

Comments are now closed on this article.

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    The opening minutes of Bloodborne really do set the stage for what’s to come. They’ll also help you decide if this game is for you. Arekkz Gaming has captured the first 40 minutes of Bloodborne. Complete with the opening cutscene, and the first few obstacles you’ll face. The video is commentary free, so wear headphones […]

  • YouTube will relaunch livestreaming service with focus on eSports and gaming – report

    According to industry sources, Google is preparing to relaunch YouTube’s livestreaming service with a focus on eSports and gaming. According to anonymous sources speaking to TheDailyDot, Google is planning to bring back YouTube’s livestreaming service. The company is said to have started recruiting around 50 engineers with experience in the field, “a pretty big statement […]

  • I think I’m too old for Final Fantasy 15

    Final Fantasy 15 was nine years in the making – and counting. Are we the same people we were in 2006? Final Fantasy 15: Episode Duscae A demo available for PS4 and Xbox One. Offers a couple of hours of gameplay. More if you jump over the borders. Bundled with Final Fantasy 15 Type-0 and […]

  • New multiplayer mode for Splatoon announced

    Nintendo has sent over three screenshots for Splatoon along with information on the Wii U another of the title’s multiplayer modes. Called Ranked Battle, it keeps track of each player’s online ranking. Splat Zones is one of the additional ways to play online in this mode. It differs from Turf War, which is the main […]

  • 2015 WoW Arena World Championship has a $250,000 prize pool

    Blizzard has announced the WoW Arena World Championship will culminate at BlizzCon 2015. World of Warcraft 3v3 Arena teams from around the globe will compete for spot at the 2015 WoW Arena World Championship and for a share in the $250,000 prize pool. Online qualifiers will be held for North America, Southeast Asia, Australia, New […]

  • The Crew two-hour demo now available in US, tomorrow in the UK

    Ubisoft has announced a free trial of its driving MMO The Crew will be available tomorrow, March 25 in the UK. It’s live today in North America. For current players, the Vintage Car Pack and Vintage Live Update, including a new PvP mode, are now available. The Vintage Car Pack included the Chevrolet Corvette C2 […]

  • Minecraft Mass Effect Mash-Up and Pattern Texture Pack out from today

    A Mass Effect Mash-up pack and the Pattern Texture Pack will release on PlayStation 3, PS4 and Vita today in North America and tomorrow in Europe. The Pattern Texture Pack is also available for Xbox consoles today. The Mass Effect Mash-Up pack contains the Mars Facility from Mass Effect 3 plus textures and craftable items […]

  • The Talos Principle expansion pack Road to Gehenna announced

    An expansion for The Talos Principle has been announced titled Road to Gehenna. The expansion follows the narrative of Uriel, Elohim’s messenger, as he explores a “strange, hidden part of the simulation” on a mission of “mercy and redemption.” Uriel is attempting to free the souls of the damned “at all costs.” Road to Gehenna […]

  • Twitch Plays Pokemon finally catches ‘em all – even the rare Mewtwo

    Twitch Plays Pokemon players have captured all 151 original Pokemon which were included in a modified version of Pokemon Red, and this includes the rare Mewtwo. It took 39 days for Twitch players to catch ‘em all. Have a look at the impressive feat for yourself below. Thanks, Polygon.

  • GameStop will have limited units of Majora’s Mask New 3DS XL back in stock

    Those who missed out on the Limited Edition Majora’s Mask New 3DS XL will have another opportunity to purchase it outside of eBay. Tomorrow only, GameStop stores in the United States will have four units in stock, according to and internal memo sent to Kotaku. This is every store in the country, and again, only […]

  • Second phase of Fortnite closed Alpha launches today

    Fortnite’s second closed Alpha test will go live this afternoon, according to the official website. Those currently participating will have until April 14 to test the online aspects for 12 hours per day (noon -12am EDT). All progress from the previous Alpha test will be wiped, and other changes are listed in the patch notes. […]

  • Dragon Age: Inquisition: Jaws of Hakkon out now on PC, Xbox One

    As promised yesterday, the single-player DLC for Dragon Age: Inquisition, Jaws of Hakkon, is now available on PC and Xbox One. It will run you or £11.99 or your regional equivalent. The new content expands the land of Thedas with mountainous regions and forests, and it is full of “vicious enemies.” Players will also be […]

  • Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare trailer shows Ascendance gameplay

    Activision has released a new gamepay trailer for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare to support the Ascendance DLC which releases next week. Ascendance, will release first on Xbox consoles March 31 and includes the next chapter of the Exo Zombies Saga, Infected, along with four new multiplayer maps: Perplex, Site 244, Climate and Chop Shop. […]

  • Batman: Arkham Knight will be a digital only release on PC – report

    It appears Batman: Arkham Knight will not see a physical release on PC, according to ShopTo. The retailer was told by its buyer the Rocksteady game will only be released on PC in digital form. ShopTo is currently double checking the information. If accurate, it is unknown if this will be case in North America […]

  • Bloodborne patch focusing on load times, performance optimizations in the works

    A patch for Bloodborne which will address load times is in the works, Sony has said The load times were one of the issues noted in Digital Foundry’s report on the From Software title. Sony told Eurogamer the patch would also explore other issues as well. “The development team is currently exploring another patch for […]

  • Gearbox would “love” to have entire Borderlands collection on current-gen

    An Xbox One and PlayStation 4 version of the original Borderlands game is something Gearbox Software is interested in, according to studio boss Randy Pitchford. Speaking in the latest Major Nelson podcast, Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford said should Borderlands: The Handsome Collection prove successful, 2K Games might consider a current-gen version. “The fact that The […]

  • Wolfenstein: The Old Blood artwork shows the catacombs, dock, more

    Over the weekend we posted Wolfenstein: The Old Blood artwork along with news of a retail release in Europe. Today, we have better quality images of said artwork to share with you. Enjoy. The standalone prequel will be released digitally on May 5 on PC, PS4 and Xbox One in North America, and digitally on […]

  • Slender: The Arrival terrorizes PS4 and Xbox One this week

    In case you forgot, what with Bloodborne out today and other high profile releases of late, Slender: The Arrival is out today on PlayStation 4 in North America. The scary game will arrive on Xbox One tomorrow, March 25, and in Europe on PS4. Slender: The Arrival is an expansion on the original Slender game […]

  • World of Warcraft’s WoW Token rollout slated after launch of patch 6.1.2

    Blizzard has announced it will start rollout its WoW Token option in the weeks following the launch of patch 6.1.2 on March 24. WoW Token allows players to exchange in-game gold for game time and vice versa. Blizzard will release WoW Token first in realms serving North America, Oceania, and Latin America and will expand […]

  • The Evil Within: The Consequence dated for April, teaser video released

    Part 2 of Juli Kidman’s adventure in The Evil Within will arrive next month with the release of The Consequence. Above is a brief teaser showing some of the “madness” Kidman will encounter. The Consequence will arrive on Tuesday, April 21 on PC, PlayStation 3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One. European PlayStation players will […]

  • Bloodborne sometimes “struggles to run at a smooth frame-rate” per performance analysis

    Bloodborne has been analyzed by Digital Foundry and according to the report, even with a 30fps cap the game sometimes “struggles to run at a smooth frame-rate.” The game’s day-one 2.69GB update 1.01 is “essential” as it contains improvements to game performance and stability and the frame-rate tests run by Digital Foundry were in single-player […]

  • Borderlands: The Handsome Collection reviews round-up

    Borderlands: The Handsome Collection reviews are out in the wild so we decided to catch a few of them for you. Borderlands: The Handsome Collection is out today on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The collection packages Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel along with each game’s DLC content on one disc. Better graphics and […]

  • Evolve, Forza Horizon 2, WWE 2K15 are this week’s Deals with Gold

    Evolve, Forza 2 Horizon and WWE 2K15 are just some of the games which are part of this week’s Xbox Deals with Gold. You can also pick up the Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Pro Edition for 20% off as well as the standard edition for 33% off. For the Xbox 360 crowd, there’s also […]

  • Xbox 360 2015 Spring Value bundles now available starting at $250

    Microsoft is offering a discount on three Xbox 360 bundles with prices starting at $250. The Xbox 360 2015 Spring Value bundles feature various content such as a Kinect, 500GB console bundle and one month of Xbox Live Gold. Xbox 360 500GB Spring Value Bundle: comes with Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare download and Fable […]

  • Rainbow Six Siege beta sign ups now open

    Ubisoft is letting everyone register for the upcoming Rainbow Six Siege closed beta. Rainbow Six Siege is due for a closed beta sometime this year. Ubisoft has opened registration to everyone. All you need to do is enter your preferred platform and log in using your Uplay account. You will be entered into a waiting […]

  • Advanced Warfare: Exo Zombies map Infection is creepy

    The upcoming chapter in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare’s Exo Zombies mode is called ‘Infection’ and Activision has been slowly revealing bits and pieces about it. A few teasers have been dropping ahead of Ascendance launch this month. The teasers are about the second episode in the Exo Zombie story, Infection. First off, the map. […]

  • This is the Bloodborne press kit in all its glory

    Bloodborne is a gorgeous game so it’s only fitting that the press kit it came in is a reflection of that. The pictures capture the many amazing bits of the Bloodborne press kit. A press kit is what’s usually sent to the reviewers alongside the review copy. They’re usually very ornate and almost all of […]

  • This Hearthstone turn is taking over 40 hours and you can watch it happen

    A very smart Hearthstone player has rigged his game to make one turn take over 40 hours, and it has been going for over 22 already. Hearthstone player Mamytwink set up a game against his friend to try and achieve the record for the longest turn in Hearthstone ever. Basically, Mamytwink set the game up […]

  • The Witcher 3: Geralt’s beard grows over time, but not Gandalf-long

    The beard of The Witcher 3 protagonist Geralt will grow over time, but you can trim it if you choose to. As part of a recently published impressions piece by German magazine Gamestar (translated by NeoGAF), The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt developers revealed that Geralt’s beard will in fact grow over time. Not content with […]

  • Sony mistakenly abandons Bloodborne trademark in the US

    The administration side of Sony Computer Entertainment has not been in the best of shapes recently. Sony has abandoned four game trademarks yesterday, one of which is for Bloodborne. The trademarks were all registered with US Patent and Trademark Office. All of the games trademarks pertain to unreleased games and Sony would’ve had to either […]

  • Payday 2 will be supported until 2017

    Payday 2 developer has announced that it will continue to support the game for the next two years. Payday 2 developer Overkill has revealed today that it’s planning to support the game until 2017. What this means is that more free content as well as paid DLC are in the works for release later. Payday […]

  • These are the top Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare weapons, according to the developer

    Based on their overall kill-to-death ratio, what are the best guns in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare? Developer Sledgehammer reveals the top 5. Sledgehammer’s Michael Condrey has revealed on Twitter the top 5 weapons in Advanced Warfare based on their overall kill-to-death ratio. Here’s the list: ARX-160 – Hole Puncher Ameli – Heavy HBRa3 – […]

  • H1Z1 has sold more than 1 million copies

    H1Z1 has already sold over 1 million copies on Steam. H1Z1 may still be in Early Access on Steam, but it has already sold more than 1 million copies. Daybreak president John Smedley announced on Twitter earlier. H1Z1 launched in January and instantly became a hit. The game has consistently been on Steam’s top 10 […]