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.