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Thomas Was Alone dev: PlayStation boosting indies as Steam importance fades

Monday, 24th March 2014 23:14 GMT By Brenna Hillier

Thomas Was Alone really hit its stride after it made it to PlayStation platforms, developer Mike Bithell has said, with Sony beginning to occupy the curation space once dominated by Valve.

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Speaking to Gamasutra, Bithell said that the openness of the PC means games won’t have the same credibility as a console release.

“Your average gamer who is not seeking out weird indie stuff – for them, me having a PC game coming out doesn’t impress them,” he said.

Meanwhile, securing a console launch is “a badge of honour”.

“Thomas Was Alone gained an incredible amount of ‘mindspace’ or whatever pretentious bullshit term a marketer would use, because it was out on console. And I saw a ridiculous sales boost just because, the second people saw it was coming to PlayStation, it became a ‘real game for a lot of people,” Bithell said.

“It demonstrates that curation is more powerful than getting people to see your game. Discoverability is an issue, but it’s not the issue. Being given the badge of honor by whoever is the person handing them out is actually crucial, and makes such a difference to how your game is perceived.”

Bithell said that getting a Steam release used to have a similar effect, but no longer.

“Steam meant you were going to be sorted, as long as your game was quite small, you’d be sorted for a year or two, bare minimum,” he said,

“I struggle to believe that Thomas Was Alone would have been successful were it to come out now on Steam. It was on the front page of Steam for a week. It was released right before that final moment where being on Steam meant Valve thought you made a great game. That used to be what that meant.

“I guess it’s not dissimilar to the Nintendo seal of approval they have on the boxed games,” he added.

Now, perhaps thanks to Greenlight, a Steam release doesn’t mean as much – but it also makes the platform open to anybody, which is laudable. Bithell expects Valve to make the jump to true, app store-like openness eventually.

“I think that’s what’s coming – something like the App Store, with very simple checks to make sure you’re not uploading a virus, and that’s it,” he said.

Unfortunately, this makes it harder for developers to draw attention to their games.

“Steam meant something at one point, and being on Steam said something to players that allowed a lot of people with weird, esoteric games to get an audience. That’s going to be harder to find now. You’ll require more traditional marketing and talking to press,” he said.

Bithell agreed that Sony has stepped up to fill this gap in some ways, but said he expects PlayStation to become an open platform, too.

“I think they’re working towards making it as easy as possible to make games for their platforms, which is a great plan. Same with Microsoft,” he said,

“But for now with those curated shops, you’ve got people like Shahid [Ahmad, Sony UK] saying ‘I like that game, I want it on the console.’ Which is going to benefit people in the short-term because it’s a badge of honour, and if you’re a PlayStation fan who likes the indie games that are out on PlayStation, you’re going to say ‘If Sony think this new game is good enough for their console, it’s good enough for me.’ And that’s very powerful.”

Bithell is currently working on his second release as an independent developer – Volume, a futuristic retelling of Robin Hood, with stealth mechanics focused on sound.

Thanks, Polygon.

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3 Comments

  1. Panthro

    This guy is delusional.

    The people who bought a PS3/PS4 will buy and enjoy the indies released on said platforms.
    Sony will not ‘take Valves place’…
    And I have literally no idea what he means when he says he thinks PlayStation will become an open platform… Will it? Will it really? It might have an “open” store with a bit of variety but that hardly makes it an ‘open’ platform, in that respect iOS is an open platform when in reality it is a locked down piece of crap with an over saturated app store. (I got an iPhone 4, shame on me)

    “PC means games don’t have the same credibility as a console release.”
    ^ I actually agree with this, but only on the basis that most console gamers are ignorant towards any games that don’t come out on there platforms.
    Developers shouldn’t feel the need to seek approval from the ignorant, if they get there game on the consoles and make some money hooray for them, congratulations but this guy is totally undermining the entirety of PC gamers and I’m actually offended since I bought one of his games and enjoyed it, it’s just too bad we aren’t “as good” as console gamers eh.

    #1 9 months ago
  2. ddtd

    @Panthro I think you misread the point he was trying to make.

    “I actually agree with this, but only on the basis that most console gamers are ignorant towards any games that don’t come out on there platforms.”

    What you said there is exactly what he was saying; having a game be “vetted” by a “trusted” source (I.e. Sony) gives it more credibility to the “average” consumer, thus their less cautious about buying it.

    Bithell was merely observing something that that everybody with a marketing or advertising background knows as fact. That it’s easier to sell something with good endorsements. That’s why companies love to attach celebrities to their products. That’s why politicians seek out the support of well-liked politicians when they campaign. That’s why authors want to get their books with well respected publishers, and directors and actors want to be well received by popular critics. That’s also why video games are considered failures if they score less than 80 on on Metacritic. Most people want some sort of reassurance that whatever product they get is going to be good and worthwhile in the eyes of everyone else.thats why endorsements work so well.

    That’s really all he was saying.

    #2 9 months ago
  3. optical

    No, he is out of his mind. And you don’t need to even understand the basic economics to see why.

    First of all, he had achieved a greater success on Playstation than he did on PC. That’s good, a sign that Sony has stepped up their Indie market and is doing well. Before that, PC and phones/tablets had 100% indie titles and then console manufacturers changed it. Of course there are going to be success stories. But thinking that every developer will soon experience the same thing just because he had it once is simply delusional, especially with his argumentation. Here’s why.

    Releasing a game on a console used to require much bigger budget – you have to pay those royalties and you develop a game on a system that requires knowledge of a non-x86 system architecture. You don’t approach developing a console game the same way as you do a PC game.

    At least you didn’t, but now Sony and Microsoft started promoting Indie games. The financial barriers required have been lowered by Sony, so more developers could come in and thrive. The prestige of releasing a Playstation game comes from the almost required AAA big-budget status. People assume that if the game is not good, then it must be at least decent, because the budget must have been high and Sony had approved it. And guess what will change it… Indie games :)

    The more small-time low-budget games will enter the market, the lower average game quality will be expected of future releases. All the 2D pixelated platformers will wear-down the “next-gen” “super-duper” awesomeness. Sure some of them are great games, they just don’t fit the profile.

    Having an open market means everyone can develop, which means more trash, but it means freedom of expression (also financial). This may breed a lot of low quality products, but this is exactly the indie sector! Saying that indie games will ultimately abandon the environment in which they thrive best (not an opinion, a simple market fact) in exchange for the corporation environment in which the main rule for the last decade was “triple A or GTFO” is delusional. It just won’t happen. Even if Sony had modified its environment to accomodate smaller developers, their proprietary based business model with evaluation system is the exact opposite of what created the indie boom in the first place.

    The guy in the interview obviously doesn’t even understand the idea behind an indie game and just sees small games as something potentially profitable these days. Which frankly doesn’t bode well for the future of the genre.

    Worst case scenario is that Indie games will start outselling PC titles 10 to 1 and big studios will pretend to dress small for the small games that are cool right now (we’re seeing many cases of this already), after which the mainstream will get bored with indie and move on towards some new hype (VR for example). After that, Indie will again go where it belongs to.

    Just like with musical genres like drum’n'bass – very popular in the underground, then becoming mainstream and attracting all kinds of vibes that are the exact opposite of what the music was all about, only to return underground after the hype is gone and slowly try to get its groove back on. Someone needs to explain this Bithell guy what an indie game is, because even though he just made one, he sure has no clue.

    #3 9 months ago

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