PlayStation minis launched at the same time as the PSPgo, and were Sony’s answer to the onslaught of titles that were quickly filling up Apple’s App Store. Priced at sensible, cut-down rates and aimed at bolstering up the PSN’s otherwise full-priced range of PSP titles, minis offered a quick to download range of games with plenty of developer support.
Going forward, the maturity of some of the titles became clear, and although the collection has still to break into the real mainstream a few studios are happy to sing the praises of Sony’s diminutive pocket-sized army of games.
One such developer, Futurlab, spoke to TheSixthAxis yesterday about everything minis, from the way developers are supported from day one through to the conceptions that gamers have of the label and the problems that result from the restrictions in place.
Early minis artwork focused on the link between the games and the PSPgo, which is digital download only.
James Marsden, head of Futurlab, agrees.
“Lack of trophies in minis is probably the single biggest turn-off for most gamers. At least that’s the impression we get from feedback on our games.” he admitted when we interviewed him, suggesting that he’s well aware of the frustrations that some gamers experience.
His thoughts are echoed elsewhere, too, without having to look too far.
He’s confident though that the games themselves stand up to scrutiny – indeed, his own Velocity has been receiving some fantastic review scores since its release last month.
“The second most asked for feature of minis is high scores and the ability to use the system’s networking functions,” he added.
Minis don’t have any online leaderboards, a feature that’s common in some of the most addictive games because they keep people coming back. “In my opinion,” adds James, “MotorStorm:RC is the first example of what a PS Vita game should be in this respect, as it suits a portable device and is able to use the connected features to its advantage.”
“If there were any developments made to the minis platform, it should be toward the mold of what MotorStorm:RC achieved,” he says, pointing to Evolution’s clever use of online mechanics to hook gamers in. Sadly, minis don’t allow these features and it’s been a long term bugbear of ours.
Futurlab would also love to see demos made available – free, time limited samples of minis that in some cases would really help sales. ”If trophies, online and demos were included in minis, it would make sales rocket, as there are some gems on minis, and perfect for the PlayStation Vita.”
In terms of rocketing sales (no pun intended), Futurlab’s Velocity has shot past 80,000 downloads in 3 weeks, of which the team is incredibly proud given the self publishing model and limited marketing spend the studio had to work with.
That said, James is happy to sing Sony’s praises. “As an indie, One of the major benefits of creating a minis game is being able to build a relationship with Sony,” he said. “We get an account manager to talk to, who can help find suitable promotions for our game. Coconut Dodge was included in the Mega Minis UMD bundle for example, and Sony have given Velocity XMB PS3 support for two weeks because they recognise it’s a great game.”
Angry Birds is probably the platform's biggest name, and no doubt biggest seller.
We’ve been behind Velocity since it was announced (along with a handful of other sites) but Futurlab admits that a lot of the awareness was due to PlayStation’s promotion of the game on the official channels, and via PlayStation Plus, which saw the game release early and, for subscribers – completely free for a couple of weeks.
“Perhaps the best platform though has been PlayStation Blog,” he told us. “We’ve written a total of eight blog posts covering our original pitch to Sony, introducing Coconut Dodge and its journey from Flash to PSP, and the Mystery Puzzle teaser campaign for Velocity, which was cool of Sony to support as it was quite disruptive.”
“It seems as though if you’ve got a good idea for a blog post, Sony are receptive to it, which is awesome as an indie because we tend to have lots of them!”
James still thinks that minis are overlooked by most gamers though. We did start to cover minis as they were released until the number outstripped the time we had available, but some of the older titles still hold up extremely well. And remember that most of them run just fine on the Vita.
“I’ve recently been replaying a load of the early minis like Aero Racers, Arctic Adventures: Polar’s Puzzles and Cubixx,” said James. “These are great, addictive games, and just what the PS Vita needs.”
Heck, even Angry Birds is on there.