It’s not all about snapping quotes for headlines and ranting about Trophies; there’s a serious issue bubbling here that – mostly thanks to the actions of Velocity developer Futurlab – is just starting to get some mainstream attention. The more sites that pick up on the quality of some of the minis the better, but I personally think that the real issue is that we, as an industry, need to get Sony themselves to change their way of thinking a bit.
Pitchforks away, this isn’t a case of camping outside each region’s offices with placards and weak tea. The answer’s actually fairly straightforward: get everyone involved together, united, and the platform holder will have to listen. This started this morning with the brief survey about minis – a single survey that’s getting distributed as widely as possible by as many people that care.
The results won’t be surprising – gamers want trophies and they want multiplayer – two things that minis don’t provide. The restrictions set in place by SCE back when the service was originally coined were heavy and remain so, presumably as a result of the rampant piracy on the PSP which the minis were originally designed for but also to ensure that development was as simple, swift and – hopefully – bug free as possible.
Developers, generally, like dealing with Sony. That’s not insider sources or whispered secrets, it’s public knowledge. But at the other end of the spectrum the buying public seem to be either unaware of what minis are or – perhaps worse – unwilling to give them a fair shot because the other purchases they make on PS3 and PS Vita come with far more flexibility in terms of multiplayer and virtual silverware – the things that give the games added life.
Think about it: had MotorStorm RC released as a minis game, who would have bought it? There’d be no DLC (so no new level packs), no online leaderboards to battle your mates, none of the super cool live lap updates, no trophies. And this is a game that retails at about a pound over the price of the more expensive minis. There’s an almost generational leap, somewhere, that’s not obvious to me and it’s not obvious to the gaming public.
For the sake of argument, here are the basics:
- The first minis launched alongside the PSP go at the beginning of October 2009
- They’re all bought digitally from the PlayStation Store
- They work on PSP, PSP go, PS3 and PS Vita, in most cases
- They range from less than a pound to nearer a fiver in cost
- They have no PSN trophies (although some minis have their own similar trinkets)
- They have no online functionality (multiplayer, leaderboards)
- They have no ability to get DLC
- They can be updated
A few developers have really focused on the platform. Halfbrick have four games, Beatshapers have five games out, Creat have five, EA have published Monopoly and Tetris, Laughing Jackal have ten out there, and Gameshastra have eleven. The idea was that developers could pass less stringent approval processes and get rather their more ‘indie’ titles onto a platform with buttons in the same way they could get them onto iOS.
For some, it’s fair to assume that there has been some success. But for the most part the games are lumped in with whatever else Sony has as part of their weekly Store updates, overshadowed by a pound off whichever AAA shooter a publisher wants to punt and sandwiched in between DLC and the usual raft of sixty avatars and XMB backgrounds. In short, the marketing of minis by Sony has been generally poor.
It’s not that there’s an issue with the quality of the games, either. Sure, some are rather throwaway but some – like the ones I listed recently – are brilliant games regardless of the price points. These aren’t developers short on talent: Velocity has been scoring 9s and 10s with abandon (and that includes from the likes of Edge magazine, notoriously hard to please) but even with such critical acclaim the guys at Futurlab are hardly driving around in supercars.
Reviews no longer translate automatically into the psyche of gamers – they just don’t, and probably never did. All you can hope for when writing a thousand words on a game is that you attempt to explain how it works and generally try to connect with those already interested. As the internet became more prevalent the desire for knowledge and information meant that services like YouTube became ever more important. I wouldn’t dream of buying a game based on a review – I take a sample of them, glance at Metacritic then pour over videos before even thinking about making a choice.
This may not surprise you, but it’s not rocket science to get a gameplay video up onto the PSN Store. In some territories this seems like some kind of bizarre, ridiculous suggestion – try browsing the SCEA Store for gameplay previews of minis games – it’s just not happening, and this means that many gamers simply won’t have any idea what the game is like (hell, some don’t even have screenshots) and that only means one thing: chances are they won’t buy it.
For minis devs, with limited budget for development let alone marketing and advertising, this means that games appear on the Store – often without even a few lines of text describing it from the PS Blog – and die without a trace. Velocity took Futurlab two years to develop – and whilst they were fortunately enough to be able to advantage of the PlayStation Plus promotion imagine seeing your game vanish after all that time if sales don’t perform.
The process has to be two way. Minis, like all games Sony sell on their Stores, make money for everyone. I don’t know what the cut is, of course, but why wouldn’t Sony push the platform harder? Why are the minis games constantly glossed over? The EU Blog at least used to highlight a few key titles at a time in round-up articles (which were great) but that seems to have ceased for the main part unless something is really getting pushed. Developers should be invited to comment, to raise awareness of their games, to engage with an info-hungry ready made readership like the Blogs enjoy.
There are sites dedicated to reviewing minis and they do them very well. PSP Minis is the key site, but I can only assume that the readership figures don’t compare with the likes of IGN or Eurogamer, two sites that seem to rarely cover minis unless the developer is persistent enough to continue pushing their new game to those responsible for editorial coverage. Awareness of the games need ramping up, and they need to treated with the same emphasis (or scaled appropriately) as everything else.
Some random thoughts:
- Why don’t the various PS Blogs list what’s new each week in a permanent slot on the sites? The weekly main post disappears quick, and who’s going to trawl the Store looking for games without direction?
- Why don’t we see more things like this?
- Why don’t the various PS Blogs actually link out to the sites that do review the minis? The EU Blog continues to pass traffic to the Official PlayStation Magazine site alone, two sites that surely share an almost identical readership.
- Why don’t the minis on the Store all have a video, screenshots, a list of review scores and quotes? Consider this an open invitation for any developer or publisher to take quotes from my reviews here on TSA – you shouldn’t need to ask.
- A quick search on the EU Blog shows that – Velocity aside – there wasn’t a blog post dedicated to minis or a minis game (ignoring the Store updates) since the end of January.
But there are other factors here that could transform sales almost instantly. How about demos? Not demos that need already stretched developers to have to resubmit a cut-down version but a time-limited sample, just like XBLA Indie Games do. Let people download the game for nothing, play it for five minutes then ask for a couple of quid to keep playing? Simple to do at an OS level and won’t task the studios any more.
Can we attract more top level publishers and titles? EA are on there, Angry Birds is on there, but we want to see more.
What else can I direct at Sony? A greater emphasis on the official channels for those willing to work with you rather than splurge their time on iOS or elsewhere. A weekly or monthly round-up would suffice, I’m sure, and whilst I know that Call Of Duty makes infinitely more money for everyone I personally don’t care – and I’ll wager that the more people know about the better minis games the more developers will be interested, and it’ll grow from there.
And PlayStation Mobile bothers me. What’s it going to turn into? Will that suddenly feature online multiplayer and Trophies, leaving minis even further behind? Sony need to court the developers and come up with something that lets them get the most out of the PlayStation platforms without being hamstrung by the limitations set in place when the PSP hardware was the sole target of minis, which it no longer is.
Could minis feature Vita and PS3 specific elements? I know at least one developer has managed to get high res art out of their game when played on the console rather than portable, could this be replicated on Vita so games can run at 960×544? I’m sure that the online portions will forever remain off limits, but could trophies be activated on the machines that allow them? Questions that only constant pushing will see answered, and hopefully solutions will start to emerge.
And there’s the obvious one: a web store. Let us buy and download PSN games via a browser, away from our consoles (like you can with the Xbox 360) and we’ll be able to give links to products, publishers will be able to buy advertising with direct links rather than the vague “find us on PlayStation Store” and sites like ours will be able to point you in exactly the right direction when we see something cool.
That’s got to happen. All this has got to happen. Whether that’s tomorrow, next month or next generation I don’t know, but I do know that more and more people are starting to take notice right now. We’ve got plans here at TSA that are forming to assist where we can given our limited resources – but support needs to come from everywhere.