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Is indie gaming Sony's secret weapon?

Think of the next-gen console wars as a chess match. There are many pieces to position--price, launch date, social media integration, and so forth. Given how enamored many gamers are with the newest epic experiences and prettiest graphics, it's safe to say that big-budget, triple-A titles are still the the impact pieces on each side--your rooks, knights, and bishops. But there's another game-changer waiting in the wings: indie exclusives. Courting indie developers with console exclusivity could turn the tides in the battle between the PS4 and Xbox One. And I think there's a clear distinction between the current strategies: Microsoft is treating indies like cannon-fodder pawns, while Sony sees them as a direct line to checkmate.

Only recently has Microsoft announced that self-publishing will, in fact, be possible on Xbox One--another take-back on the Xbox One's flip-flopping track record. The new service that facilitates self-publishing is dubbed Independent Developers @ Xbox, and while it's heartening to see Microsoft acknowledge smaller studios, the fine print is somewhat troubling. Certification is required for access to the program, and while there are no application fees, it's up to Microsoft what kind of content belongs on Xbox One.

According to the ID@Xbox FAQ, Microsoft says that developers will "submit a game information form so that we can understand what you are building and how we may be able to help with the development and discovery of your game." By relying on an application process to filter through the indie landscape, Microsoft is effectively nullifying any chance for a small team to be discovered by happenstance. It sends a message to small indie teams: Microsoft won't come to you. You have to go to them.

Compare this to the way Sony is actively seeking out indie games to add to their burgeoning library. I've spoken to a number of indie developers who recounted their first interactions with Sony, and they all share a similar tale. These stories usually start with two regular Joes trying out a game demo at a convention, before revealing their true identities: Sony employees who are scouting out potential partners. If they're excited about what they see, they'll tell the developer straight up: We're stoked about your game… what do we have to do to get it on our systems? "Sony has been super nice," Dennaton Games told me at E3. "They love games. They make you feel like they actually like your game, not just see it as a product they can use."

And when it comes to tradeshow exhibitions, Sony is positively murdering Microsoft's indie presence with a host of enticing PS4 and Vita exclusives. During its press conferences at both E3 and Gamescom, Sony rattled off console-exclusive indies as if it were Oprah Winfrey screaming that everyone in her audience will be getting a car. Let me take a deep breath, because here goes: Transistor, Mercenary Kings, Don't Starve, Octodad: Dadliest Catch, Abe's Oddysee: New 'n Tasty, Galak-Z, Outlast, Secret Ponchos, Ray's The Dead, Resogun, Helldivers, Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, N++, Wasteland Kings, Rogue Legacy, Hotline Miami 2, Volume, and Guns of Icarus all had the chance to shine on-stage. And that exhaustive list doesn't count indie games that were present either on the show floor or behind closed doors at said events: The Witness, Tiny Brains, Daylight, Blacklight: Retribution, Hohokum, Counter Spy, Luftrausers, 1001 Spikes, and others we're probably forgetting in a sea of indie goodness. From a sheer numbers perspective, Sony's indie lineup is dominating in every sense of the word.

Meanwhile, Microsoft's message of indie support runs out of gas when you tally up the games. At E3 2013, indies barely had any stage presence during the Microsoft press conference. Trailers for Max: The Curse of Brotherhood and Capybara's Below were brief but appreciated; Twisted Pixel's Lococycle seemed to get swept under the rug altogether. So besides Phil Spencer wearing a Capybara shirt, there seemed to be no indication that indies were a key component in the Xbox One gameplan. At Gamescom 2013, Microsoft announced ID@Xbox, but thus far has nothing to show for its existence. Microsoft's approach seems to be one of curation, drip-feeding indie games to their audience only after they've met a certain standard. More doesn't always mean better, but Microsoft doesn't even seem to be trying to keep up with Sony's ever-growing stable of indie racehorses.

Microsoft may be treating indies as pawns, but even a pawn can eventually become something more. Maybe Microsoft will realize how far behind they are, and scramble to create a console-exclusive indie dream team all their own. But Sony seems to have built the PS4 with indie studios in mind from the very start, treating them as the indispensable ying to all the big-budget yang. In some respects, it's as if Sony has already taken complete control of the board.

You know that kid at parties who talks too much? Drink in hand, way too enthusiastic, ponderously well-educated in topics no one in their right mind should know about? Loud? Well, that kid’s occasionally us. GR Editorials is a semi-regular feature where we share our informed insights on the news at hand. Sharp, funny, and finger-on-the-pulse, it’s the information you need to know even when you don’t know you need it.

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23 comments

  • db1331 - August 23, 2013 9:57 a.m.

    Meh. All these games will eventually make their way to Steam, and will cost less and probably have extra features. I'm not bashing the PS4. I'll get one someday. I just won't get any indie games on it.
  • Scoob - August 23, 2013 11:12 a.m.

    Pretty much my thoughts exactly. Some of the list, I already have. All but a few are actually exclusive. Don't Starve is on a weekend Steam sale right now for 50% off, and it is a Steam Workshop game too. Steam, with Greenlight, has been extremely good to indie developers, allowing you to buy games in Alpha even. I was into the indie thing several years ago when it was big on the Xbox 360 with XNA, Summer of Arcade, etc, but it was one of those things that I grew bored with after a while. The majority of time I play indie games these days are on my phone while sitting on the crapper.
  • Galgomite - August 23, 2013 8:07 a.m.

    I think Indie games are good for good will/ PR only. This isn't a commentary on the games themselves, just that gamers need to see some "big ticket" value to convince them to buy a new console. Right now, everything is coasting on the opinion of the hardcore gamer/ development community only. The Dreamcast had this kind of buzz, and if you'll recall, so did the Vita, which went to a lot of trouble to give developers what they wanted. We'll still need big, CoD-style "event" games to help people make the purchase.
  • mindfreak1235 - August 22, 2013 5:52 p.m.

    I am really disappointed that the chinese room announced their game on pc first and went exclusive for ps4. sigh.
  • duffer00 - August 21, 2013 11:14 p.m.

    While I am interested in Below it is only a timed exclusive. Sony is doing a great job at approaching these indie devs with a friendly outlook. Sony is like the guy who picked up your wallet when it fell out of your pocket while Microsoft is like the guy who found the wallet, swiped the cash, and when you figured out and yelled "Hey!" They reluctantly give you your money back but first they tear it all up. Very weird analogy but I think it works well enough.
  • duffer00 - August 21, 2013 11:15 p.m.

    Meant to say Sony's the guy who picked up the wallet and gave it back. Pretty important part.
  • Oliolioliooo - August 21, 2013 8:41 p.m.

    Not only that Sony comes to the developers saying they do like the game, but Xbox first impression did raise a middle finger to the media. Now trying to come back with, "Hey show us what you got and just maybe you can be one Xbox One.", I don't believe that's gonna fly at all.
  • everice - August 21, 2013 1:59 p.m.

    Its their only weapon.
  • ollyn - August 21, 2013 4:12 p.m.

    Yeah if you ignore, The cheaper price, The better Hardware, Playstation Plus, Streaming Back Catalogue, And their 1st Party Plus it will have it's own TV streaming services (which seem a better fit for console than through-putting cable). The controller seems much improved, as does the UI. Plus if Rime and Everybody's Gone to Rapture are as good as they look that 'only weapon' is like bringing a gun to knife fight.
  • BladedFalcon - August 21, 2013 5:20 p.m.

    Account was created just today, so chances are high that he's either a troll, or a teenage dickhead. Either way, you're probably wasting your breath even though you have a pretty good argument.
  • agentkuo - August 21, 2013 1:27 p.m.

    It's really exciting to see how dedicated and how welcoming Sony is to indie's. As a huge fan of indie games and developers, this is definitely a huge sway towards PS4 for me (but to be honest, Microsoft has yet to impress me with the XBox One). I truly believe that small studios, and indie games are the future of gaming, and I think this is definitely for the best for both consumers and developers. Smaller games means a smaller price tag, a smaller wait time for releases, more personal storytelling, and more innovation in ways to play. I'm not saying all big-budget games and studios are bad. They're not. But too often do big-budget studios end up spending thousand, even millions of dollars on what becomes a total flop. With smaller studios and smaller development fees, there is room for failure. TL/DR: I'm really excited about indie games/studios, and how welcoming Sony is to them.
  • GamesRadarCollanderCooper - August 21, 2013 12:59 p.m.

    Nope
  • shawksta - August 21, 2013 11:48 a.m.

    They are more open yes and letting indies through the door. Though Microsoft isn't letting Indies pay for Self Publishing so it can go either way But right now as far as Indie is concerned, Sony has a big lead, heck, their launch titles are filled with indies.
  • BladedFalcon - August 21, 2013 11:41 a.m.

    Question Lucas, is it right to call it a secret weapon when Sony itself is being so blatantly obvious about it? :P I mean, Sony's Gamescom showing could have very well be called Indie: The conference :P
  • GR_LucasSullivan - August 21, 2013 12:33 p.m.

    Semantics :)
  • rainn'sgaydar - August 21, 2013 10:45 a.m.

    Even more important than these indie publishers getting a chance to shine is the diversity a lineup like what Sony is amassing offers. Big budget games can scream focus testing and all the buzz words until their blue in the face, but the diversity offered by all these indie publishers really open the door for the industry to shine. Hopefully Microsoft will realize this and catch up, but if not, at least Sony appears to understand the value of indie. Also, cue more Microsoft fanboy accusations.
  • BDubs1085 - August 21, 2013 10:41 a.m.

    Maybe Microsoft learned from XBLIG and don't want a repeat of that mess. Sony announces all these indie games and people act like they are sure bets. Indie games are cool I like indie games but not every game is gong to be super meat boy, or Braid. I'd like to see how all these indies turn out before I would say it is a win for sony.
  • TokenGamesRadarFurry - August 21, 2013 10:53 a.m.

    I hear where you're coming from. Still, the way I see it, I'd rather have a shit ton of indie games, where a handful are real stinkers but the rest good-great, then have a handful of indies a distributor like microsoft thinks are 'suitable'. Variety is the spice of life, and all that.
  • rainn'sgaydar - August 21, 2013 2:59 p.m.

    I agree they can't all be great, but the more diverse product line that indies will produce is healthy for the industry. After all, if your products are diverse, your consumers will be diversified as well. Diversification leads to a greater amount of people in the gaming population. More people equals more money. More money is better for the industry.
  • TokenGamesRadarFurry - August 21, 2013 10:40 a.m.

    OMG having not read the artical Its clear from headline that sony paid for Gr reporting. Lucas Towell Antisa is CLEARLY on the take. GR IS BIAS.

Showing 1-20 of 23 comments

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