Expect Sony’s Big Indie Push to Poach from PC
A new generation of consoles usually means a big leap forward in technology, but arguably the centerpiece of Sony’s strategy in 2014 and its new hardware cycle isn’t flashy new games that push the technological envelope — it’s smaller, more focused indie titles that often are introducing different kinds of innovation into the medium of video games.
We’ve seen Sony push hard on the indie front ever since its new console was announced, with more new indie titles shown off at E3 2013 and Gamescom 2013. Where Microsoft brought on stage executives from Electronic Arts and Ubisoft, Sony has had auteur developers such as Jonathan Blow as presenters at its convention showcases.
First and foremost, this is a great thing. A force as big as Sony recognizing value in the indie arena (while perhaps fundamentally straining what the definition of “indie” actually is) brings new voices to the fore in games, as well as new ideas that might not be circulating through the core of game development as most of us know it. Interesting, artistic games are being made by small teams and are growing in fan following and attention because of the Internet, and meanwhile, Triple-A design has largely parroted itself in the seventh generation, with focus on how to make the next billion-dollar franchise, rather than on how to make games that redefine what we know of interactive experiences.
So of course, Sony’s attention on people who haven’t gotten this level of attention before is an awesome thing. Games such as Transistor, Outlast, Rain and Contrast wouldn’t otherwise have an audience nearly as big as they will on the Playstation 4. Diversity is good for everyone. Attention paid to interesting, great games spreads their ideas and can inspire others to make more great games, and bringing those experiences to players only helps gaming.
All that said, there’s going to be a loser for all this positive indie attention: the PC player.
Though the consoles in the last hardware generation had a share of the indie market with titles such as Journey, The Unfinished Swan, Super Meat Boy and Fez, by and large, if you were looking for exciting games in the indie arena, you played them on PC. We’ve seen tons of new methods of discovery pop up to bring great, unknown games to more players in the PC arena — from Steam’s focus on indies through Greenlight, to the Humble Indie Bundle’s raucous success, to portals like GoG.com and Desura, to pay-what-you-want endeavors like Indie Royale and Indie Game Stand. You can find great indies on PC, and there are a ton of them; after all, when a person sits down to make a game from nothing in their spare time, they’re doing so on a PC.
But while there are some big audiences on PC for these games, it’s just a simple fact that the console audience is generally bigger and less disjointed. On PC, you might pick up a great title you found on Desura, but it’s missed and ignored by the Steam audience. A game might do well on Steam Greenlight, but doesn’t really hit its stride until months later when it’s featured in a Steam Sale. Meanwhile, when Sony backs an indie game, it has the benefit of a captive audience it can plug the game to whenever it wants — on the Playstation Network, through Playstation Plus, with its Twitter and Facebook feeds, and wherever else. And a huge number of Playstation players — in some cases, all Playstation players — see the game. That’s a lot of selling power.