Ahead of his Develop:Brighton talk, the developer of SkyScrappers shares some thoughts on the seemingly daunting console market
Most developers seem to be focused on either mobile or VR. Are consoles being forgotten?
Whereas mobile and VR development can be done on consumer hardware, there are still barriers to entry in console development in terms of platform approval, getting access to dev hardware, and going through certification processes.
I think there’s still a perception carried over from previous console generations that it’s difficult and expensive, but Sony and Microsoft have done a huge amount to reduce the practical cost and the cost in terms of time and effort required to get games up and running on their platforms.
Most mobile developers will already be using middleware which allows them to move over to console pretty effortlessly, and the size and scope of a lot of mobile teams is now more than enough to consider console releases if the desire is there.
And if people are concentrating on VR, then with PlayStation VR just around the corner, having knowledge of console development is going to be a boon in hitting what might end up being a significant part of the consumer VR market.
Why should devs consider porting to console?
There are a bunch of reasons. The most obvious and attractive one is that it’s a big, significant, and potentially lucrative part of the games market.
Console gamers are committed to their platforms and to finding new games, and they embrace (and in most cases prefer) the premium pricing model that mobile gamers largely don’t.
For developers with titles on Steam and other PC storefronts, a console port – particularly for the right sorts of game – means a significant increase in visibility and alternative or additional revenue streams.
Also, maybe it’s just me being an old console romantic, but there’s something about it which makes it incredibly special to see a game that you’ve developed released and running on your home console.
There’s still a perception carried over from previous console generations that it’s difficult and expensive, but Sony and Microsoft have done a huge amount to reduce costs
What success have you had with SkyScrappers and your other games on console?
SkyScrappers was always designed for console, so the results might be skewed, but had I released the game solely on Steam I strongly suspect that instead of answering these questions, I would be featuring in another talking-heads round-up about “the Indiepoclypse”.
The additional knowledge and experience gained in releasing a title like SkyScrappers on PS4 has meant that Ground Shatter has been able to do work-for-hire projects with console development as a focus, we have expanded our reach into developing for Xbox One as well, where many of the lessons learned on PS4 also apply; and now we are in a position to help out and work with other indie developers keen to bring their games to console.
For instance I’m currently working with Ant Workshop to port over the fiendish puzzle-platformer Binaries to PS4 and Xbox One because I think it’s a game that is ideally suited to that big screen, controller-driven, console experience, and because it deserves to be put in front of that large, games savvy audience.
What’s the biggest challenge of porting to console, in terms of the technical/development side of things?
Engines like Unity and Unreal and the improved architecture of the current generation of consoles have meant that it's easier than ever to get games up and running on the hardware. So most of the specific challenges come in the implementation of platform specific features and to fulfil certification requirements.
If you’re developing from scratch then you have nice fixed platforms to deal with (at the moment!), and if you’re doing a port from PC, then most things should just work, but it goes without saying that the more complex your original title, the more road bumps there might be.
Had I released SkyScrappers solely on Steam, I strongly suspect I would be featuring in another talking-heads round-up about the 'Indiepoclypse'.
What’s the biggest challenge in terms of dealing with the platform holders, certification, etc?
There is no single big challenge. But there is a learning curve when it comes to understanding the idiosyncrasies of the systems that are in place. It's easy to underestimate the administration overhead of ensuring everything is in place throughout the myriad processes that are involved in taking a title through to release.
Ultimately you are dealing with big companies that have historically dealt with other big companies, so a lot of the processes can be slightly geared towards that approach, so particularly as an indie it can be quite intimidating. But just because they are big companies doesn’t mean that they aren’t full of great people, and there are helpful, passionate people around who can help you out with those things because ultimately they want the same thing as you do – your game out on their hardware, and your players buying it.
Is there demand for indie games on console, or do the triple-A blockbusters take up too much of gamers’ time?
Of course there is going to be a focus on the big name titles, just as there is on any platform. In fact, if you look at the Steam stats, then I would argue that PC players are perhaps more guilty of devoting even larger swathes of time to a small number of hugely successful titles.
Sony has been amazing in promoting its indie offerings since the PS4 came along, and the ID@Xbox program is doing great work into bringing more and more indie developers into the fold, and as a consequence most console gamers don’t actually care too much about the provenance of their games – and they are always on the look out for new and interesting games to play.
The console audience is vast and varied, and you don't have to look very far to see plenty of indie console success stories.
James Parker is founder and director of indie studio Ground Shatter. He will be talking more about why indies might want releasing their titles on console on Thursday 14th July as part of Develop:Brighton’s Indie track. Find out more at www.developconference.com.