What's the Next-Gen Console for Indies?

What's the Next-Gen Console for Indies?

What's the Next-Gen Console for Indies?

By Dan Toose

With the development landscape now radically different compared to the last time Sony and Microsoft announced their consoles, independent game developers now make up a much greater slice of the industry. Many AIE students will be forging the early parts of their careers as indie developers, and thus the recent series of announcements and revelations for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One may actually have a significant impact on which system they first make games for.

"TV is great but what would be awesome is getting those Incubator teams developing on our console..."

On the 21st of May, Microsoft unveiled the Xbox One, the latest iteration of the tech-giant’s home gaming console system. It was an announcement that was arguably one of the more poorly received by the gaming community for a major upcoming system in some time – This is due to many factors such as the lack of games announced for the system, a huge focus on television-centric feature and what the system won’t allow people to do, rather than what it will.

However, arguably the single most important piece of news for the independent game development industry was that Microsoft is not going to allow self-publishing on the Xbox One. Their announcements suggest that they will maintain their policy that revolves around insisting on being the publisher of any independently developed game that is released on Xbox. This is exactly what happened with critically acclaimed games such as Fez and Braid, indie developed, but published by Microsoft. In effect, unless there is a policy update, if you’re an indie and you want to be on Xbox, you have to ‘sell out’ to Microsoft.

By contrast, the PlayStation has historically been the least ‘indie-friendly’ platform of the big console systems, but Sony have made serious moves to change this situation in recent months. Previous PlayStations had unusual hardware architecture and dev-kits were extremely expensive, but all of this is changing in a big way. The PS4 hardware architecture looking very ‘PC standard’ to work with, and with Unity working with SCE to develop tools to support deploying to PS4, suddenly, developing indie games for a Sony console is finally looking like a very simple and inexpensive option for all developers to consider.

"If only we could get Orbitor as a launch title for PS4..."

For any game development student, this could be a rather serious factor in terms of which games console they may be able to develop for. With the AAA games publishers and studios reducing in number and lowering head-counts, most people entering the games industry today will be doing so as indie developers.

In the past, being picked up by a publisher was often considered an assumed goal for development studios that started up independently on their own. This made a lot of sense because the majority of the games industry worked on physical distribution, which costs a fortune in marketing, shipping and other things that are basically prohibitive for most start-up companies. Now however, the games market is radically different – With mobile and tablet gaming dwarfing console gaming in terms of install base and money spent. This has led to digital distribution becoming the norm, and this has made self-publishing not only possible, but highly attractive for a studio that does something awesome. Self-publishing means keeping way more of the profits.

Naturally, things can change, and there is absolutely nothing stopping Microsoft from revising their policies to make developing for the Xbox One more open for indie developers. At present though, if you’re dead keen on developing games for the next-gen consoles, and you want to maintain ownership of what you make, you’re going to be developing for PlayStation 4.