Sony reportedly charges indies $25K for PlayStation Store visibility, limits participation in sales

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Sony reportedly charges at least $25,000 of developers and publishers to get any kind of public recognition or promotion, while also limiting a developer’s ability to discount their game on the PlayStation Store. The claim comes from Iain Garner, co-founder of independent game publisher Neon Doctrine, who spoke out about his frustrations in dealing with PlayStation, but has been backed up by a number of other indie publishers on Twitter.

While Garner referred to PlayStation as ‘Platform X’, we can very easily infer that it is PlayStation as they are “the operator of a very successful console and does not have Games Pass!” and responded to speculation that this might be Nintendo to rule that out as well.

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He details a number of frustrations with getting access to the platform and its storefront, including that developers have “no ability to manage their games” and that user “wishlists have no effect” in helping to get Sony to notice an upcoming game.

Prior to launch developers hoping to have some kind of exposure from Sony must:

  1. Develop the game for Platform X
  2. Get through their incredibly difficult lotcheck spread over 3 generations of backend software
  3. Submit a Platform X specific trailer
  4. Write a Platform X Blog which
  5. Submit multiple forms for social media

However, this is also dependent on having an account manager, which is “assigned by resources”. Also, developers or publishers cannot set a launch discount or participate in Sony’s endless stream of PlayStation Store sales without approval or being invited – this impacts a developer’s ability to go it alone and try to sync up their promotional events across multiple platforms, like with a Steam discount.

The way around this? To spend $25,000 USD to Sony in order to get featured, though Kotaku reports that this can go as high as $200,000. This is before the standard 30% cut of all game revenue comes into effect as well.

Garner concludes: “I have no idea how to succeed on this platform and they wont tell me. Even if I do succeed, they may screw me anyway…”

Taipei-based Neon Doctrine has a catalogue of published games is currently heavily reliant on PC and Steam, seemingly because of these difficulties. Their appearance during the Guerrilla Collective streams at E3 2021 showcased The Legend of Tianding, My Lovely Wife, Retrograde Arena, Tamarindo’s Freaking Dinner, and Lamentum. All are coming to Nintendo Switch, all bar one to Steam, and just two to PlayStation and Xbox One. Some of that will be down to focussing development on one or two platforms, but where PlayStation was the defacto indie platform half a decade ago, that’s not necessarily the case anymore.

It’s an account that is vaguely backed up by other publishers and developers, including Mike Rose of No More Robots and Christian Botea of Some Awesome Guys, who calls the PS Store backend “a mighty maze that’ll take you a while to figure out.”

Matthew White of Whitethorn games has a particularly illuminating breakdown of revenues, while also complaining that “It’s impossible to plan launch support, vouchers for Kickstarter backers take months to generate, nobody will answer support emails. We get no store ops opportunities, PS5 featuring and placement is a giant mystery.”

It’s not really clear where other platforms fit into this, but Garner followed up with the following advice:

Steam provides the most control over games to developers, while you can see clearly that developers and publishers are able to set their own sale pricing on Switch – a common tactic to increase exposure is to slash prices by 80% or 90% to get the maximum number of eyeballs during sales. Kotaku reports that Microsoft has similar paid promotional placement for games on the Xbox Wire blog, though the company’s [email protected] program

Obviously, visibility on digital storefronts is an incredibly difficult thing to get as more developers creating more games than ever before. While major publishers can throw money at marketing and easily stomach the cost of getting prominent placement on the PlayStation Store, that’s not as easy for smaller developers.

There’s a potential argument for more involved curation of storefronts, though that causes its own problems when Garner asserts that there aren’t account managers being readily assigned to publishers, and doesn’t necessarily get rid of the ‘pay to win’ aspect of getting promotion.

The real problems, it seems, is that Sony’s PlayStation Store backend for smaller companies is too convoluted and too restrictive when it comes to trying to self-promote through sales and coordinated efforts around launch and with other platforms.

Hopefully, if there’s enough of a fuss made following this and enough people speaking out about it, Sony will look at their policies and processes and make changes for the better.

Source: Iain Garner

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1 Comment

  1. Paying 25k to be featured seems extortionate.

    Kind of glad Sony limits discounts though, Nintendo failing to do that turned navigating their eShop into a sea of mobile apps, it’s awful

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