Is Sony’s Indie Agenda Their Biggest Advantage?

As we're about to take our steps into the next generation, where does it leave the indie developers?


Since Microsoft changed their mind about used game blocking DRM and an always-online requirement, they seem to be closing the gap on Sony’s head start. While Sony still have a few other factors coming into it – such as the £349 price point, the exclusive games and the fact that they didn’t completely misjudge what consumers would accept at first – it’s their plans for and support of indie developers that is really keeping them ahead.

Firstly, unless Microsoft backtrack on this too, the Xbox One is the only next generation console to not support self-publishing for indie developers “as of right now”. This is a huge blow, meaning devs have to jump through hoops and sign deals with publishers – losing some of the money they worked for – in order to release their game on Xbox Live.

We haven’t heard anything from Microsoft on this front, aside from a few vague statements about working with developers to get their games published. Now, presumably this means it’s up to Microsoft if they want to publish the game, which they made clear when they showcased Below at their E3 conference, seeming as though they were announcing it out of necessity to get a popular indie name out there.

Sony, on the other hand, focused heavily on the PS4’s support for indie titles in their E3 conference, dedicating an entire section of their show to these smaller development studios and showing off Transistor, Don’t Starve and Octodad amongst others, which will have their console debut on Sony’s platforms.

This part of the show felt much more like a praising of these indie developers, highlighting how important they are for the future of PlayStation, rather than ticking a box and getting it over with.

It seems as though Sony love indie developers, perhaps coming to the smart realisation that they can create some of the most brilliant and original ideas. They’re even sending out PS4 development kits to Universities, realising that that’s where the next generation of indies are right now.

What this means is that smaller developers can place their trust in Sony, knowing that they’ll be supported every step of the way. And with people such as Shahid Ahmad reaching out to developers, there’s little reason for developers to go elsewhere to publish their games.

Shahid’s the man who’s helped the Vita become something of an indie machine, with games such as Thomas Was Alone and Hotline Miami at the forefront of the Vita’s line-up thanks to deals he’s managed to sign. The console has definitely put AAA games on the backburner, however – there isn’t enough money in it for third parties to support the system and even Sony only have two first party titles, Killzone: Mercenary and Tearaway, in the foreseeable future.

That’s not a worry for Sony though, thanks to smaller developers who can afford to spend time making a game for quite a niche handheld. The shift towards indie means that there is still a constant flow of games to the system, with titles such as PixelJunk Monsters HD, Still Time, Proteus and many more on the way.

The future of Sony’s handheld lies with these indie titles. With a stunning and colourful OLED display and actual buttons rather than just a touch screen, there’s no denying that colourful, 2D games feel right at home on the system. Sony have found the ground between console titles and mobile games with Thomas Was Alone et al – and these are Vita games, not boxed titles or simple AppStore-esque games.

There’s no denying that the PC – Steam in particular with its Greenlight system – is the first stop for these smaller developers, but in terms of consoles with larger install bases, PlayStation may be their only choice. DayZ creator Dean Hall has been quite vocal about this, particularly with the way Microsoft have charged for updating games (though this has since been dropped) and the lack of self-publishing, citing these as essential for his games to appear on a platform.

So, it looks like Sony have the now important indie sector in the bag. They’ll thrive on PS3, PS4 and most of all on the PS Vita. It’s arguably this that keeps them ahead as we go into a new generation of consoles, showing that their heart lies with the games rather than anything else.

12 Comments

  1. Good article. Indie games do give Sony an advantage in terms of the amount of games they have on their system. They can build an early library quicker and if that attracts more gamers (and sales) then we should see more games being developed for it earlier. I still want the Vita to be more than an indie platform though.

    • I’m fairly sure indie games are all the Vita has left now, going forward.

      For me, that’s great. For others wanting so-called AAA games on there? Not so much.

  2. Having bought the Vita on Day One I knew what I was getting in to.
    The first wind was good, some nice launch games and the lovely tech (although I hate those pesky bubbles)
    The second wind was PlayStation Plus – seriously – the catalogue of AAA and indie games that they have given us for the subscription really makes you question why you wouldn’t have a Vita.
    The third wind will be PS4, with remote play and streaming games. I’ve been a fan of the potential of remote play since the PSP and Lair. I saw the potential – and if the PS4 can truly deliver on this promise then the Vita will be a whole different handheld offering.

    The indie provision, cross-buy, cross-save and cross-play have been elements that I just can’t imagine not existing now on Vita (or any console/handheld), so I really feel that Sony knew what the potential of the Vita would be throughout the PS3/PS4 cycle, and only now are we starting to see this realised.

    • I think Vita has been great so far and will satisfy me if we continue in the indie vein. One or two Sony biggies each year won’t hurt either.

      It seems both on 3DS and on Vita big third party games have a limited role.

  3. Maybe they need to Sony need to create Indie game compilations on card to give it more presence in shops.

  4. I love Sony’s take on indies. I want the PS4 to be the go-to platform for indies next gen. I’m hoping to get lots of great indie games out of PS+ when I finally dip into it with the PS4.

  5. I don’t mind the Vita being an Indie machine, some of them are absolutely fantastic. I just got the plat for Guacamelee, loved it, such a fun game. Looking forward to seeing more.

  6. Really the Vita is a perfect stepping stone from mobile phone game development through to Vita & then, hopefully, onto the PS4 itself. We could & should see some great little games appear, alongside those we already have, can only be good for us & Sony.

  7. I have no problem with Sony showing love for Indies, Vita has bombed and Indies are the only ones supporting it right now, but I still want assurances that Sony will push to get exclusives (especially for the PS4) in the same way MS did with Respawn’s Titan Fall. I’m not saying they have to throw $$$, but with MS on the back foot I can see them trying to claw back some fans by targeting big franchises.

  8. For me, I’m very much enjoying their attitude towards the consumer and the next generation of consoles (and games). It’s done something that I’ve noticed a few people commenting on. It’s rekindled that childhood wonder and excitement about the simple things. The opportunity brought with new hardware and the fact that I want to share it with good friends. This, for me, is where “it’s” at.

    • It’s the closest I’ve been to games on tape/self coding BASIC games ever. There is a real magic about ‘games’ and less about ‘epic cinematic experience’.

  9. If it turns out to make significant money for Sony without detriment, I would expect Microsoft to allow self publishing sometime next year.

    The only thing stopping them is a belief that it would create a bloated app store with loads of low-quality low priced apps, which I don’t agree will happen as long as there is quality control and its not TOO easy to develop for.

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