Indie games: The new console killer app?

Indie games: The new console killer app?
Michael French

By Michael French

September 9th 2013 at 10:30AM

Sony certainly thinks so. Shudei Yoshida tells us more about its indie vision

[This feature was published in the September 2013 edition of Develop magazine, which is available through your browser and on iPad.]

Indie games, not big budget triple-A games, could be the deciding factor on whether consumers buy a PS4 or Xbox One this Christmas.

According to PlayStation, which has signed up and funded multiple games from small studios for its platforms, a growing range of teams from small studios are helping differentiate the competing consoles.

Speaking to Develop at Gamescom and GDC Europe last month, senior figures from the firm said the format-holder had changed its strategy to keep up with prolific indie explosion in games development.

“It’s refreshing to work with these small guys – they come up with some great ideas,” said Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide studios head Shuhei Yoshida.

“They are typically small teams – some of them are just one person. They don’t have to go through all the approvals or presentations we do. They just make things. That’s the difference between us and them. The immediacy and that quickness. We are trying to make our platform more accessible. Because they have choices, right? If we make things difficult they can go elsewhere and find another place to put their content.”

PLATFORM ENHANCING

PS3 and Vita already has a wide portfolio of games in niche genres or with alliterative ideas not found in triple-A games – and that’s growing, with 15 more signings announced at Gamescom for PS4.

The firm is banking on an overall halo effect that diverse content can bring to a console – especially in the face of Xbox’s opposition. Sony’s rival Microsoft announced its own indie developer scheme at Gamescom, and although running on a later timeline than PlayStation, is promising developers support, two free dev kits and claims that enabling self-publishing on its platform is one of its long-term goals.

Yoshida pointed to previous successes such as 2010’s Journey, by Thatgamecompany, as proof that consoles can cultivate off-beat ideas – and that that in turn they can grow the audience for video games.

He told Develop: “I think Journey is a system seller in terms of the impact it makes. It may not be that people buy a PS3 to play Journey – but they hear about other people playing it. It proves the breadth of the platform, and I think it proves to non-gamers how broad games can be. That’s a wonderful thing.”

PlayStation Europe president Jim Ryan was more pointed when talking to our sister title MCV: “Those games have definitely been platform enhancing. If two or three [make the impact Journey has], you have got something that will definitely be an asset to our platform, and we are in the business of exploiting assets like that.”

THE FUTURE’S INDIE

Indie games are a requirement on console in the modern age – and not just because so many developers could potentially defect to other platforms, said Yoshida.

“Development has polarised now – our internal bigger teams are getting bigger and we are not doing many mid-sized games any more. But if we are just doing big budget triple-A sequels the industry doesn’t have a bright future.

“We need new ideas to be tried out. And of course the big teams are trying new ideas too, but the amount of resources needed and the financial risk is so large that they have to set a certain limit. That’s where the indies come in,” he said.

“In that sense I think there are some relations between the larger triple-A games and the indie boom, because consumers are always wanting something new.

“It’s a great way for people to learn too. Some of these studios have release ten or 12 small games in a year – and our teams can spend three years making one game. Indie games have not just been fast; they have quickly learned and got feedback and then gone again.”