As this generation of consoles edges towards the next, it’s amazing to see how far the indie development scene has grown. Although most healthy on PC and mobile devices, indie games have flourished on Xbox Live, PSN and Nintendo e-shop.
The ‘big three’ have given plenty of encourage and support for small developers in funding and promoting their games in their respective digital stores, and there have been some wonderful success stories. Sony’s Playstation Network has been integral in several of those success stories, hosting the likes of the critically acclaimed Journey, Flower and The Unfinished Swan.
The Playstation 3, as part of its mantra of providing exclusive, original and creative games, has provided support for the development of these games. But, will Sony’s next generation console, the Playstation 4, maintain and build on its support of independent gaming?
It’s fair to say that Microsoft have been the leader in championing independent gaming on the Xbox 360. In the Xbox Live Arcade store, there is a greater variety of games to download and many of the most innovative and popular indie games, including Braid, Fez, Minecraft and Limbo, debuted on Sony’s rival console. Microsoft also, until they dropped the XNA project, had a dedicated indie store and provided a platform and tools for young, ambitious developers to sell themselves and their projects. Sony was a little behind with the times, allowing several great games to slip through the net until it was too late to lap up any praise.
However, it would seem the Playstation 4 right from the word go will be supporting game development. In their press conference at the unveiling of the PS4 in February, Mark Cerny, lead system architect on the PS4, promised the console would be “by game creators, for game creators.” His comments were backed up by a plethora of notable game developers speaking at the conference, including one Jonathan Blow, the creator of Braid.
Blow unveiled details of his new game The Witness, a puzzle game with exploration elements, at the conference. The developer, famous for being outspoken about creativity in gaming, said, “In the release window, the Playstation 4 will be the only console The Witness is on.” This represents a firm signal of intent on behalf of the Playstation 4 in the commitment to indie games. By gaining exclusive early rights to the work of one of the most respected and talented developers in the indie scene, it sends a clear message that the PS4 is a console that values indie games and not just big budget titles.
In an interview with Gamasutra, Playstation executive Shuhei Yoshida, elaborated on Sony’s vision for indie games. “We believe in smaller developers,” he said. “They are very creative and they go out of the norm to do something really amazing. So we want to make it easier for them to come to our platform and publish.” His comments may encourage fans and developers of indie games, but do they represent empty promises? After all, many technology executives are prone to blowing smoke up consumer’s asses.
More concrete proof of Sony’s commitment was revealed when they attended the Games Developer Conference in San Francisco. They announced several new indie games, including Blacklight: Retribution and Divekick, made possible by Sony’s new Pub Fund, whereby developers will receive advance royalties in exchange for exclusivity rights. This comes in light of plans to make it easier for developers to get their work published by Sony by streamlining the submission and rating process.
Adam Boyes, vice president of publisher and developer relations at Sony Computer Entertainment America, told Gamasutra, “We’ve just changed our whole concept submission process. It used to be two stages and all this feedback, and now it’s just one, and its optional feedback so there’s no greenlighting process, no voting, no weird stuff.”
This cutting of bureaucracy could help small developers get their work out there more easily and it shows Sony realise how important it is to co-operate with developers. Although there may still prove to be a barrier between publisher and developer, where finances and content control are involved and is short of the freedom offered by open-sourced content providers such as the Android store or the previously mentioned Xbox Live Indie store.
Sony looks set to support indie games then, and perhaps, especially with new rival consoles such as the Ouya, Valve’s SteamBox and Microsoft’s new machine all likely to champion small developers, they’ll need to make it a strong selling point of the Playstation 4.
Indie games are no longer the little extra, but should be a valid concern for game publishers. As long as Sony understands this, and it seemingly does, the Playstation 4 might bring us plenty of exciting and original experiences from creative small developers across the entirety of the next generation.