As in my previous discussion topics, the goal of this topic is to inspire engaging back and forth about what these events mean within the industry. So I hope this topic can do that as well.
At Gamescom, like E3, one of the pivotal take aways has been that Sony is genuinely in love with the indie community. Why does Sony keep highlighting a minimal amount of their 'first year exclusive 20 titles' when they have massive AAA titles within that pipeline that can further their strategic advantage over Microsoft? "Why," the argument goes, "doesn't Sony just put the final nail in the coffin?"
famousmortimer has several times throughout the course of Gamescom offered an extremely logical and rational argument for why it continues to make no sense to just blow their load on announcements when Sony continues to maintain a massive advantage in mindshare and when so many games are already there for the guaranteed sell out first few months. You can read those arguments right here.
But this is only part of the equation.
First off, it must be said at this point that it's rather confusing to keep track of what constitutes one of the first year exclusives anymore for either Xbox One or PS4, these companies aren't as clear on the subject as one might hope, so there's a bit of conjecture about what counts and what doesn't. That said, they announced some projects at Gamescom that may count:
● Shadow of the Beast
● Everybody's Gone to the Rapture
(thanks satam55 for the Helldivers reminded)
So, as an optional side discussion, if people want to chime in on what the current list of 20 first year Sony WWS exclusives are given the Gamescom announcements, be my guest. I'm starting to have difficulty tracking what counts anymore lol.
Before the discussion to follow, it is worth noting that Sony's strategy continues to be a mixture of what it has always been and something new - their wildly diverse first party offerings intertwined with sound partnerships that continue to remain unmatched in terms of sheer variety. This is an important quality to Sony platforms and we continue to see this play out on PS4. What has changed over the course of the PS3 gen til now is that with PS4 these first party experiences are being integrally linked up with a likewise trend that also focuses on such variety and risk taking: the indie development community. Within this community are the people who often have grand ideas that a publisher would NEVER take the risk on, and yet because they exist, the gaming ecosystem is certainly healthier due to it.
The reason this is important for us will be explained in an argument I intend to further here. Many are obvious, but there will be points I'm sure people disagree with and that's why I feel this is a good place to discuss them. Is Sony's indie strategy appropriate when so much is on the line versus Xbox One? Is it right that indie games keep being treated like second class citizens in terms of how 'excited' the overall community seems to get about them versus those big budget AAA games? Why is this the case?
A LOW BARRIER ECOSYSTEM
One of the key advantages of having such a huge and diverse indie lineup, apart from the already noted enhancement of variety, is price.
Complaining about prices in the gaming community is so common place it's practically a joke at this point. "Oh my God, they're going to try to charge $69.99 for that!? It's only 8 hours long! It doesn't even have multiplayer!" "Oh bloody hell, I gotta pay $60 for this game and then there's day one DLC I also have to pay for?" And so on and so forth. The take away is that consumers in this industry, just like any other, are seeking out deals and are sensitive to prices that seem unfair given competitor's offerings.
In a world where indies are released on a gaming ecosystem that doesn't distinguish between AAA releases and indie games in the traditional sense, prices run the entire gamut. Indie games almost never cost as much as a retail game. They vary wildly in terms of content for the price you pay, but you can find things for 99 cents and you can find things for $60 and every range in between. In short, it's a range that is accommodating for the widest potential range of economic situations. But there is something else that indie games accommodate that is also music to the ears of many gamers in this community.
IDIOSYNCRATIC IDEAS FOR IDIOSYNCRATIC TASTES
One of the consequences of the "AAA" game environment is the expectations game. AAA games are often expected to go through a veritable checklist of "dos" before you can even try to be competitive. Are the visuals featuring the most cutting edge technical effects? Is there an online multiplayer mode? Is the single player game length 6-8 hours?
As a result, there becomes a homogenization of the game design process. The top selling games frequently feature similar gameplay or ideas, offer similar modes and level of content, and the level of variety amongst the top sellers is, overall, significantly smaller than the overall potential variety allowed by the creativity of game designers and the desires of game players.
Indie games do not share these expectations. In fact, there are virtually no expectations at all. Indie games can be absolutely anything, feature the widest potential range of visual ideas and experiments and gameplay so distinctive that the niche it fills is only a couple tens of thousands of people large. And yet, due to the smaller budgets, some indie devs are able to make a small profit selling even that amount.
Take a look at Sony's PS4 indie announcements at Gamescom, which you can see here:
● Assault Android Cactus (Witch Beam)
● Fez (Polytron Corporation, also on PS3)
● Final Horizon (Eiconic Games)
● Guns of Icarus Online (Muse Games)
● Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number (Dennaton Games and Devolver Digital)
● N++ (Metanet)
● Rogue Legacy (Cellar Door Games)
● Samurai Gunn (Teknopants)
● Starbound (Chucklefish)
● Switch Galaxy Ultra (Atomicom)
● The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth (Nicalis)
● Velocity 2X (FuturLab)
● Volume (Mike Bithell)
● Wasteland Kings (Vlambeer)
Go ahead and click on any of these links. I specifically went out and scoured the web for a special link for each game that explains elements that are contained within and usually have media. These games - announced at one single show - demonstrate a shocking level of variety. There are games which have extremely gorgeous visuals - check out Switch Galaxy Ultra, very smooth looking - and games which have far more simplistic and low fidelity sprite work. There are games which are in genres that haven't been popular for years, decades even!
It goes without saying no two people share exactly the same tastes. Even for two people who share mostly everything in common, you will still find occasionally there is something you like that the other person doesn't. Because AAA games are so focused on netting the widest possible group of people, their modes are made to suit the widest arena of possible tastes. But what about the many people who don't fall within those walls? What about a market that increasingly marginalizes niche titles in the physical retail space? Indie games allow idiosyncratic tastes to be met by similarly idiosyncratic ideas.
Why many of these offerings - if not all of them - will be available for under $20. Do they demonstrate the ABSOLUTE FULL TILT of your PS4? No. There are 20 first year exclusives for that, 30 total PS4 games in development amongst which are huge hitters some which will be unveiled at the VGAs this year. We are an impatient lot, I understand we want to know them all now. But to what end? Along with the obvious argument made by famousmortimer earlier, which you should read, there is another reason this strategy is smart. And it's not necessarily the one which impacts us the most.
GET ON STAGE AND TAKE A BOW
There was an amazing post I was reading from our very own Paz, a gamer who is currently hard at work with a very small team making Assault Android Cactus. I will quote the relevant part:
Paz said:Shahid contacted us a short time after we had started the process (well before we were licensed devs) and made time in his personal time to skype with me and talk about the game, he and his team played and loved it and wanted to help us however they could! I was kind of taken aback when he was like "Oh lets just send you guys some dev hardware, I'll get Lorenzo to do that" when we weren't even real PlayStation developers yet, and then they offered to feature footage of us at Gamescom and include is in their PR/Blog even though we had no exclusive arrangements!
There is another important element behind the scenes in all this that people who are insatiable, like we gamers are, find it difficult to grasp at times.
AAA developers really don't need the stage time. Indie developers do. Sony can set up a potential reveal at any time for its major products and it'd be big news. Indie developers have to struggle to have their voices heard, have to hope their good ideas rise above the crop and justify their efforts. I cannot imagine a more worthwhile effort, as a member of one of the greatest gaming message boards on the internet, than to try to get the names of our fellow gamers with big ideas out in the big lights.
I'm sure everyone has heard at one time or another the debates about the health of the industry. Is the increasingly limited variety of the most major AAA titles suffocating the market? Where have all the jRPGs gone on consoles (to the 3DS, duh!)? Highlighting the impressive efforts of smaller indie developers allows the industry to display the endless potential gaming has to offer with their left hand while simultaneously catering to the AAA markets with their right. In short, forcing the market to at least observe the wild variety that is out there leads to a market that in time may find they have a taste for that variety. Who could have ever predicted a game like Minecraft would sell 20 million copies?
But more than that, on a simple emotional level, isn't this a wonderful thing? Shouldn't we as gamers be extremely happy that these major corporations like Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony (and PC places like Steam) are reaching out to these indie developers and lifting them up, providing them platforms, giving them support, helping them achieve their dreams? Shouldn't we as GAFers be proud that people like Paz, who work so hard to share their wonderful ideas with likeminded gamers, have a place to take the stage and bow?
TODAY'S INDIE DEV IS TOMORROW'S AAA DEV
Another point to make is that indie devs don't always stay indie devs. Sometimes they make a great hit, they expand, and they bring with them their ideals that brought them that success in the first place. Other times individuals within those indie devs take their experience, are hired in AAA teams, and also bring their fresh takes to the table. In a way, you can say that allowing this indie ecosystem to thrive provides a potential road to broadening the AAA market.
As I've already gone over why I personally believe this is a good thing, I won't repeat the ideas here. But it is important to note for those that tend to think indie games are all black and white and sketchy art styles and SNES sprite work and that they'd never appeal to them that indie developers may indeed have an idea that DOES appeal to them, and the only way this potential can ever be realizes is if there is a market that can first support their unique and personalized gaming ideas.
The gaming market is incredibly self-destructive, as anyone who has seen the endless array of company closures this past gen can attest to. There are countless examples of bad ideas, bad management and even worse market readings. To counter this corrosive environment, new ideas and fresh approaches to running game teams are required. The only way we can have a game industry that allows such people to realistically have a shot at entering into our space and entertaining us (even if you're one of those people who -only- play AAA games) is if we give them a lower barrier of entry. This is why Microsoft's "every Xbox One is a dev kit" is a brilliant idea, and why the low-to-no cost barrier of One and PS4 dev kits is a step in the right direction.
Now, it's going to take a while before the market fully develops into this potential. But it has to start somewhere, and Sony and Microsoft and Nintendo being so opening to these fellow gamers is a great place to start.
More than anything, I feel as if lately I've come across a rather disturbing mood amongst some posts - like Monumental's post I linked in one of my opening paragraphs - that somehow indie games are "lesser" than AAA products, that they shouldn't be given the same attention and that somehow these can't be held up as reasons to own a platform. A far more sound argument to me is that so many of these products are also on PC, but why should that matter? If you want to play the games on PC, play them on PC! We should be celebrating the expansion of platforms, no denouncing them. But certainly, I can understand that type of game not being a SYSTEM SELLER if you have a PC that plays them. That said, there are indie products that are now PS4 or XBO only, and yet I've still seen the same types of arguments against them. Why does Everybody's Gone to the Rapture not deserve the same attention as Battlefield 4? Sure, it's not going to sell five trillion units, but who cares? Isn't it about the quality of the games in the end?
Anyway, I've posed many questions throughout this discussion, and I've made some points of my own as to why I think this focus is great. But what do you think?