PSP Minis – The Developers Speak Out

Sony have to be applauded, they’ve managed to turn the PSP around from its year long lull into one hell of a platform in the second half of this year. There are some brilliant games out there right now – Loco Roco, Motorstorm, GTA: Chinatown Wars, LittleBigPlanet – and most major studios are right behind the machine, invigorated by the PSPgo and Sony’s new found fondness for digital distribution.


One of the PSN Store highlights for me each week are the PSP minis, download-only games from a number of studios designed to be smaller in size but no less potent in playability, and clearly aimed at a slice of the massive pie Apple have created with the iPhone.  There was even a proper launch, and although we’ve covered most of the minis in our two round-ups [1, 2] they continue to trickle out each Thursday.

Before the annoyingly lowercase typed minis launched we spoke to Icon Games Entertainment’s Rich Hill-Whittall, who said that at that point Sony were actively seeking out developers to create games for the platform.  “Sony emailed us with information and it went from there,” he said, speaking to TheSixthAxis.  There was talk of free development kits but even the ‘full price’ SDK is just a thousand Euro, so affordable for even the smallest studio.

Whilst I’ve blogged about the desire to get back into games development before, it would probably be minis that I’d aim at, because with the buzz around the PSP at the moment and the fact that it’s apparently a relatively accessible device to develop for, sports a nice high resolution screen, plenty of RAM, consistent CPU and offers a full array of buttons and control inputs, it would seem like the easiest target to aim at.

The ‘cap’ for minis is 100MB, which should be plenty big enough for most downloadable titles.

“Coming from developing 40MB WiiWare titles, 100MB is more than enough for us, so this isn’t an issue right now,” said Rich, who’s also incredibly positive about the whole digitial download market. “It is absolutely amazing – right now it is the most exciting time to be an indie developer I’ve known since I started 14 years ago; by a long way. I imagine it is similar to how it felt in the early days of C64 / Spectrum development,” he told us.

It seems the PSP userbase is also rather bouyant about minis.  I spoke with Impressionware’s Luigi Fumero today too, the mastermind behind popular puzzler Vempire, who claims his game is “doing quite well.”  Developers are reluctant to go into specifics, contractually or otherwise, but Luigi told me that despite not seeing any solid sales statistics from the USA yet, European sales were initially “not too bad.”

Just like the iPhone’s Appstore, developers and publishers can tweak the pricing if required.  Luigi told me that his team modified the price a couple of weeks after the game came out and “sales have picked up quite a lot,” following that up with the notion that Impressionware are “definitely going to develop another game if the sales in the USA mirror the ones in Europe.”  Looks like it’s in your hands, American readers.

And speaking of the States, I also got the chance to have a quick chat with Creat Studio’s Scott Hyman, a name you might recognise from the PlayStation Blog and the man at the head of the team behind two minis on the Store: Alien Havoc and Bubble Trubble.  He echoed Luigi’s sentiments, saying that “overall, we’ve been quite happy, since the Mini program has opened a new business opportunity.”

The difference with Creat Studios is that they’ve worked hard on the PS3 side of the PlayStation Store, not just the PSP aspect.

Notching up an impressive seven titles this year, PSP minis allowed Creat Studios a couple of diversions. “Our first two Mini titles,” Scott told me, “were made for very small budgets and were pet projects of Creat’s employees. This program allowed them to develop their creative inspirations and get them to market quickly and efficiently.”  I like this way of working – letting developers go off on a tangent creatively and then get it onto the Store.

“The Mini program is also a good incubator for a company like Creat Studios,” said Hyman. “We have a good number of other Mini titles in the works, and many of them might be worthy of developing as full-blown PSN titles. By releasing them in the Mini format, we can get feedback on the games in many ways. Sales numbers certainly help, but we value the feedback on gameplay, style, features and enjoyment just as much.”

Refreshingly, support for Sony themselves is universally positive amongst the developers I’ve spoken with.  “They’ve provided marketing on the PSN Store, their blog and elsewhere, and they’re always responsive to any issues or questions we have,” said Scott. “Their devotion to their developers was the most significant reason we’ve chosen to be part of the Mini program, and why we are continuing.”

“It is good that the PSP is now a viable platform again,” said Icon’s Rich.  Couldn’t agree more.