What’s the Reason for Sony’s Indie Game Push?

With a brand new set of consoles preparing to launch in a matter of weeks, we’ve seen all manner of oddball developments that has made this transition to the next generation one of the most interesting in gaming history. Companies are taking jabs at each other onstage, Microsoft has pulled back on its original vision by changing several system requirements, and both companies are trying for different approaches when attempting to sway the market in their favor.

But it’s the treatment of indie games and indie developers that I’ve found to be the most interesting facet of this console launch, particularly the efforts of Sony and its strong emphasis on the importance of indie gaming to the success of the PlayStation 4. At every single one of their major conferences this year, not only were indie games present, they were featured equally alongside the system’s upcoming triple AAA titles. Add to that the fact that the company has changed the publishing process by allowing for self-publishing on the PlayStation 4, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that Sony is embracing the indie community in a way we’ve only seen previously on the PC.

But what’s the reason for their indie game focus? Where the conversation has historically been focused on which system will have the ultimate “killer app”, why has Sony come out swinging for the smaller developer this time around?

Indie developers have really risen to prominence this generation. With the likes of Journey, Telltale’s The Walking Dead, Fez, Gone Home, Super Meat Boy, and Limbo, we’ve seen more than a few games prove that there’s enough value in an indie title to give them parity with traditional retail counterparts. And even more than that, in a world where we constantly find ourselves waiting for the familiar, indie games are able to come out of left field and change virtually everything we thought we knew about gaming.

Sony Worldwide Studios President Shuhei Yoshida spoke about this very fact recently, saying that “They want to focus on making great games, and that’s really healthy. It’s very natural for us to be very conservative with the games we make, especially at larger studios. So we need these small guys to come up with something unique.”

He goes on to mention that the traditional method of game development is often guilty of pandering to the same people, while indies are able to broaden the appeal to parties outside of the norm: “Usually just looking at the big titles, maybe we are just chasing the same people. Which is why the smaller developers are so important and will bring new ideas to the platform. I think we will see more great things come out in a few years that will again reach out to a broader market.”

And it’s true. When we live in a world where internet comments sections are overrun with Call of Duty bashing and people grow more and more wary of sequels and lack of innovation, indie developers are able to come in and fill in the gaps where the major teams simply cannot fit. A wider appeal most likely means wider success, and Sony is turning to the smaller development teams to foster this.

The ever-advancing idea of digital publishing is also a major factor in Sony’s obsession with the indie game market. Being that we’ve already seen the day where games release digitally day-and-date with their retail siblings, it only makes sense to bet on a portion of the market that finds 100% of its sales from online distribution services. Sony’s done this by allowing for self-publishing on the PlayStation 4, effectively cutting out the waning mid-tier publisher and allowing indies to have better access and opportunity on the system’s online space. Doing so not only encourages the teams to bring their games to the PS4, resulting in more experiences for a wider audience and thus, more revenue, it also helps to organically build the stable of games for which the system will be built upon.

One can’t help but think that their indie game push has also been a sort of attempt to make amends for the PlayStation 3’s difficult-to-develop-for hardware and a marketplace that hasn’t always been so welcoming to the burgeoning indie community. With the PlayStation 4, Sony’s built a console that is both easy to develop for and easy to use for purposes of self-promotion. It’s a stark contrast to the messy hoops necessary to jump through for developers to be successful on the PlayStation 3, and one that will likely draw in more development teams than it already has.

On the surface, it seems like a strange strategy for Sony to so heavily focus on indies to carry them into the next generation. But when taken under consideration, it makes perfect sense; after all, paving the way for strong independent support on the PlayStation 4 will not only bring in more revenue opportunities, but will also help to drive home Sony’s consistent message of gamer-centric focus. Players consistently want something new, and if Sony’s approach proves to be successful, that’s exactly what they’ll get.