In which I attempt to answer a question I was asked several times by both journalists and gamers during our three-day showing of our new line-up at Rezzed this year.
My answer at the time was to point across a show floor dominated by Sony. The sheer size of Sony’s presence at the more ‘indie’ of Gamer Network’s two big UK events certainly helps demonstrate my point, but it’s a question that’s difficult to answer succinctly with a microphone in your face, the noise of everything from wayward children to Lord of the Rings pinball machines blasting around you.
It’s an area with glaring lights, agency staff with t-shirts in the correct corporate colour to match the pitch-perfect branding that only a company the size and scope of Sony can pull together. Someone has decided that Sony will bring and lay their own carpet for the event. There are two young girls whose primary job is to bring the developers food and drink from the nearby canteens so we don’t have to spend our time queuing for refreshment. Latte, Coke, sausage roll, cheers.
It’s a far cry from the nearby Leftfield collection, where indie developers are inviting players to scrawl their feedback on the walls, Sega’s somewhat hopeful sponsorship lost in a too-thin corridor of exciting new ideas, people shuffling to take a look at games that could become the Next Big Thing while Alan Zucconi eagerly shows off a homemade controller to a crowd of YouTube press not yet old enough to order a drink.
Despite that though, there’s a sense that Sony ‘gets it’ on a level that we’ve never seen before in the games industry, and it’s something that goes beyond programs and departments like ID@Xbox or the Strategic Development team at Sony.
The Sony area at Rezzed is loud and corporate in design, but of the twenty or so games on show, only a single one, Infamous, could be ruled out as ‘definitely not an indie game’. The ‘Playstation loves Indies’ logo proudly displayed amongst the Vita titles probably went through a long email thread where words like ‘sign off’ and ‘demographics’ were used liberally, but the fact it exists at all is evidence of a platform holder not just making policies but acting on them, too.
Of course, none of this answers why Curve, and other publishers, devs, journalists and gamers are more wary about other platform holders, and why ID@Xbox isn’t yet causing the same warm glow in the hearts of the gaming community that emanates from Shahid Kamal’s twitter account. What problems exist that stop Microsoft fully being embraced by the community?
Problem #1: Everyone focuses on the wrong thing
When we see conversations about indie and consoles, it’s often focused on that first step. The clever platform, the free development kit, the power of Unity. The gimmick of ‘Every Xbox is a dev kit’ and the exciting alluring of being given a Vita and told to ‘go create’.
It’s an important first step certainly, but we’re past the point we should turn into excited children because we’re offered a development kit. We’re the content creators, and for the first time, we’re starting to have a say.
It’s the wrong thing to focus on. Anyone can ‘open up’ development, all the big three platform holders act like making it easy for indies is a paradigm shift at the core of the industry, rather than a breakdown of their own internal politics and rules.
Cheaper or free Devkits and slightly relaxation on the strict rules required releasing a console title have allowed us to begin again the dialogue that was muted when XBLA fell apart, but let’s face it, we’re not talking about changing the face of gaming here, just rearranging some words in some contracts.
Sony’s key advantage has been moving first, and moving faster. Microsoft’s messaging about indie games certainly didn’t get off to a good start. Indie was after all a subset of a subset of ‘gamers’ that their launch marketing was doing its best to marginalise in favour of television integration, Flo Rida and strange American sports. Indies aren’t going to sell consoles after all. Unless they’re Minecraft.
In the last year, that attitude has changed. Policies have been reversed. ID@Xbox has been announced, a respectable amount of developers have been signed onto the program, the press eagerly printing out lists. Curve is one of those developers signed up. We’ve got shiny new Xbox development kits set-up on desks and we’d love to start using them. We’ll see more and more developers enter that program soon. There are minor flaws in the ID has been promoted and what ‘self publishing’ means at Microsoft, but overall, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that system.
Despite that though, I’m still on the show floor being asked by journalists why our new line-up is not finding its way to Xbox One, and why Microsoft remain the only platform holder Curve haven’t released a game for. In part 2, I’ll talk a little more about the other problems for both Microsoft and the industry, including, of course, the much maligned ‘parity clause’ policy and why it’s a big problem for some developers.
Rob Clarke – Marketing Manager