We love “indie” games and enjoy them on the PS Vita. So we spoke to a few developers about it.

E3 showed us many things for the Vita. We were told that 85 titles will be released this year. We were told about God of War remakes, we saw a lot of new footage and screens for over 30 other titles coming up this year – including the heavily anticipated Killzone Mercenary and Tearaway – and we also know that Ubisoft are working on unannounced titles. A lot of what was shown is very impressive and seemingly well received. But one thing that has be evident – not just at E3 but since the turn of the year – is the increasing support from the indie studios.

Both SCEE and SCEA have been working hard to attract many talented developers and studios into either working on new titles or porting over existing hits for the PS Vita and the PS3, often with the benefit of cross buy for those that own both platforms. But is this now becoming the main focus point for the platform? That’s certainly what the above image, found on the official PlayStation site by Elluin and posted on PS Vita Forum seems to be suggesting.

We see this as a good thing – and are all for these developers coming onto the PlayStation platform. If you actually try some of the games, you will often find very rich and rewarding experiences and generally oodles of charm. And to be honest, with the absence of third party titles, they have been very welcome indeed. Many of these titles have been released on other platforms, and in my ignorance I didn’t play them – either because of the simplistic nature or because I was dismissive – so I can totally understand some gamers and their point of view.  But now I am hooked and some of my favourites include Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath, Men’s Room Mayhem and Big Sky Infinity, Guacamelee! and more recently Total Recoil, so we asked the developers of these games a few questions.

With the large influx on indie developers and publishers to PlayStation, what is it that appealed to you to put your games on there?

Dave Pollard (Eiconic Games) – A lot of it is down to Sony’s attitude towards indies and developers in general.  Of the ‘big 3’, Sony has done far more to make devs feel welcome on their platforms and over the years they’ve gradually made it easier and easier to work with their hardware.  You can also tell that the people who work at Sony really are passionate about games of all shapes and sizes.

Phil Gaskell (Co-Founder/Creative Director Ripstone Games) – Two big reasons. I started my career in games working for Sony on the first PlayStation, so they are close to my heart.  I’m also a Trophy Whore so any way to improve my level and number of platinums works for me!

Graham Smith (Drinkbox Studios) – We gained a lot of console development working at other game companies, and really tried to leverage that when starting DrinkBox. We’ve always been open to releasing on all of the console platforms, but have had trouble getting onto Microsoft platforms due to their requirement to involve a publisher.

Stewart Gilray (Just Add Water) – There’s nothing magical about it, it’s the simple fact that Sony welcome third-party self-publishing from anyone, NOT just bit AAA publishers. Something that means that small companies like us are able to publish on these types of systems.

What advice would you give to those that haven’t yet considered PSN as a home for their titles?

DP – Go for it! Coming recently from working in the mobile market where you struggle to get noticed in a sea of apps (somebody told me 700 new games get released on the app store every day!), we’ve been overwhelmed by the positive response we’ve had so far from the PSN community and sometimes it really feels like we’ve come in from the cold.

PG – Come and speak to us at Ripstone and let’s see if we can help!

GS – If you’re willing to put in the extra work to get your game concept approved by Sony, and go through their certification process, it’s definitely a great place to release games. The Vita has been doing particularly well for us, even with its install base being smaller than PS3, it seems that the people who own Vita’s are hungry for new games.

SG – I think they need to contact Sony immediately. If you are publishing on PC and would like to publish on any of the PlayStation formats, Sony are extremely welcoming.

Cross buy/cross save is being used for many titles and seems to be being used to good effect with a greater combined audience, but do you think that the indie scene would be more beneficial to the Vita if these titles were only on the Handheld? Or do you think the combined presence of the parent console makes the greater difference?

DP – I don’t really believe having indie games restricted to Vita would be particularly beneficial to the platform.  Sure, there’s an argument that says you don’t need a Vita to play these games if they’re also on PS3, but equally the experience (and convenience) of playing a game on a handheld is very different to playing on a console so it’s not really as simple as that. Personally I think the cross buy/cross save feature can only be a good thing for the Vita.

PG – It’s still pretty early in the PS Vita’s lifecycle, and I think by the end of the year the PS4 will be looked at as the parent console. Supporting things like cross-buy is a way of showing gamers respect by not asking them to pay twice to enjoy a game over multiple devices. I don’t see limiting the games to just one platform benefiting anyone in the long run, particularly when you start to think about all the cool things you can achieve if your game is both a static and mobile experience.

GS – I think that if you plan to release on both PS3 and PSVita, cross buy and cross save are really nice way to reward people who purchase your game. I think as a consumer I would be a bit annoyed if I wanted to play the game on both systems, and had to purchase it twice in order to do so. I personally have played multiple games in this way (Guacamelee, Retro City Rampage, Knytt Underground, Soundshapes) and have really enjoyed the ability to play on TV at home, and on Vita while I’m commuting.

SG – Well Cross Buy/Save are entirely unrelated to which platform you’re on, they are simply ways to let the 2 platforms interact, be it a cheaper RRP if you want to own PS3 and VITA, or to allow you to play your game on the move, from PS3 to VITA and back. I think having more outlets for your title is the best solution as it opens you up to even more potential customers.

There are a small (but vocal) minority that are very dismissive of games perceived as “indie”. What do you think could be done to get these people to take a chance on the games?

DP – “Indie” is a bit of a strange term – we’ve been going for over 6 years and when we started we didn’t really think of ourselves as indie, we just wanted to make games!  The term has gained traction in games over the years and I don’t think some of the more outspoken indie names do themselves a favour sometimes.  But some of the most exciting and inventive games are being made by indies and there’s a lot of talent hard at work on Vita as we speak. Anyone who is dismissive of indie games is missing out, but hey, that’s ok people have different tastes – there’s probably just as many people who love indies but deride the big AAA games like CoD, but wouldn’t life be dull if we were all the same?

PG – It’s a matter of taste. Not everyone likes art house movies, or autobiographical novels. So I completely understand why some gamers want to see and play more big franchise games, and don’t find indie games a turn on. For me indie games embrace risk and bravely take chances, they remind me of the games I played growing up in the early days of computer games before budgets went skyward. You can get the same emotional kick out of big game masterpieces like The Last of Us as with Journey. I think all us fans of indie games just need to gently encourage the FIFA and COD players to take their first step into the touching world of The Unfinished Swan or the eerie swamps of Limbo.

GS – I think that if people are open minded, all they need to do is try a couple of these games out to find something that resonates with them. Indie games are so different from each other, and not every indie game is for everyone. If they are not open minded, then I think it’s just a case of “Haters gonna hate”.

SG – I think there should be a better description of what “Indie” is, at the heart it simply means “an independently owned developer and/or publisher” IE NOT EA, Activision, Ubisoft etc etc. However there are some that look at “indie” as always “art house” game development, for want of a better phrase. Something that is interesting, but at the same time can alienate the buying public. I think some public look at ALL “indie” like that, which just isn’t the case at all. E.G. Our titles are “indie” but not in the “art house” definition. We take great pride and care of our titles, as such we think there more a-kin to traditional AAA titles.

The retail performance of the Vita has been very well documented, but the list of titles on the PlayStation Store is forever growing, at E3 Jack Tretton mentioned the fact that the vast majority of Vita software is digital. What more could be done at a retail level to get this out to customers?

PG – Well, I think another thing that has been well documented is how retail is changing. Sony have always done a good job when it comes to demo pods at retail, and showing gamers the experience they will get from buying a device like the Vita, but remember digital downloads don’t make a retailer any money and if I were a shop owner I wouldn’t advertise my competitors products! In the short term it’s more about finding a way digital game makers can work with retail, ensuring there is something in it for the retailer, while they work out what their role will be in the future. I’d like to see more bundles of indie games on Vita carts, and a wider access to download cards at the bigger retail outlets. They’re a lot more shelf friendly than boxes right?

GS – It seems like things are slowly shifting more and more towards digital, and that retail games are slowly dying. It’s still nice for those who like to trade and re-sell their games, but I personally find the convenience of buying online and downloading right away causes me to almost always buy digital copies of my games. I’m also hoping that going forward, this digital library will continue to be available to me on future versions of the Sony consoles (although I’m not sure this will be the case).

SG – Dropping the price a little… retail will NOT market a device if they feel they won’t be selling software for it. As they’ll believe that it’s taking business away from them, if it’s all selling Digitally. So perhaps making the price extremely attractive will resolve that, I’m not sure.

Is the Vita still very much part of your plans for the future?

DP – Yes, absolutely!  In fact we have already started work on our next title which is going to target the Vita as lead platform. Can’t say much more than that right now, but we’ll be sure to let you know when we can.

PG – As a gamer, as a PS4 pre-orderer, and as a publisher…it’s a big yes!

GS – We’re still working out what’s next for us after the (Guacamelee) DLC, but I think that we would love to continue to support the PlayStation and Vita. Sony and these platforms have been very good to us as a studio!

SG – At this time there isn’t (plans), but that’s because we don’t actually know what is after those projects (Munch’s Oddyssey, New ‘n’ Tasty) anyway, but we will keep supporting the VITA as best we can.

We would like to thank Dave Pollard, Phil Gaskell, Graham Smith and Stewart Gilray for taking the time to speak to us, it really means a lot that you took the time to give your thoughts.

  • Terramax

    Great read. I will admit that I’m one of the dirty few that often lumps ‘Indie’ titles as the same as ‘Art House’ games, therefore I rarely download indie titles. But having been pleasantly surprised with the odd download title for the Vita, I do know my opinions are slowly shifting.

    My only request is that more indie devs allow demos of their games. I know many titles are super cheap, but pennies add up. Spending £3 here, and £2 there can amount to a small fortune in time (as anyone that’s a regular Steam user).

    From a distance, I also feel that too many Indie titles seem to lack depth. I understand that, traditionally, handheld games, especially on mobiles, are deliberately shallow due to being touch controls only, and designed in small bursts, but Vita owners like to spend much more time on their treasured console, and I’d like to see more Indie titles reflect that.

    Can’t wait to see what independent companies bring to the table in the upcoming years for Vita. Looking forward to the next Worms installment.

  • Kyle Wakeling

    I agree with Terra, this is a great read. It’s interesting to see the take of indie developers on some of the situations regarding the Vita, especially the indies-are-bad pidgeon-hole that has been created by the media and the uninformed.

    Great article.

  • Phedran

    I just bought a Vita specifically to play indie games (roguelike and platformer games in particular). Looking forward to seeing more indies on the Vita!

  • JonofPDX

    Great read–I love that the Vita seems to be held in such high esteem by indie content creators.

  • Jonathan Harding-Rathbone

    Really interesting insight. Indie games are slated too often…I mean, the creativity they give to the industry as a whole a much wider scope and it’s great that developers don’t need millions to reach their audience anymore. Sony and kickstarter programs are helping shape the future of games and while I love my big budget titles, the indie games on Vita are all high quality and worth a look.

  • Kurisu Makise

    Very nice interview Paul, there was some good insight to be gained about the status quo from the other side of the fence. I’m also glad I’m not the only one who thinks bundling a ton of the great “indie” games on one Vita card is a good idea.

  • Buckybuckster

    Excellent read Murphy, and indeed a very insightful look at what makes the Vita such an attractive platform for indie development. Hopefully those readers who have so far shuned the movement will give these more than deserving games a chance.

    Big budgets do not determine the quality and validity of the games we play. Talented developers who foster creativity and passion within their game creators do. A big budget can never take the place of that!

  • Yannick Decorte

    I don’t think the “problem” is truly indie games, it’s that, to be “open-minded” about them – as Graham Smith put it, you have to be open-minded enough to accept Sony’s outrageous proprietary memory card pricing. I’m pretty confident many more people would give indie titles a chance if it weren’t for that tiny little detail. No one is complaining about indie titles on the PS3, because you’ve got a massive hard drive in there. You don’t even have to think about your purchase, you just go to the store and click a button and that’s all the open-mindedness there needs to be. It’s a different scenario when you have to fork $99 for a 32GB card that could be filled really quickly with Sony’s increasingly big digital stance with the Vita.

    Personally, I reject the memory card pricing. I didn’t pay for my 4GB card and I’ll never pay for another. I can’t do anything with that memory card other than using it for the Vita, so I would need a massive price cut to feel like my money is better spent on one rather than on the countless other games that are higher on my priority list – $99 covers my last three major game purchases.

    • I’m not going to stand here and justify the pricing of the memory cards. But for a system that is predominantly a digital platform and has very few retail titles to be viable for a retailer, they will have to make their profit margins on accessories as is increasingly the norm these days. In the absence on real accessories, the only real option is the cards.

      Once you have bought the card, it’s there. It’s a one off price. If you have PS+ then you can pump the savings you make into the card. Like I said, it’s only something you have to buy once, and nobody is forcing you to go for the biggest one.

      • Terramax

        I agree with Yannick on this one.

        Just because retailers need to make a profit, doesn’t mean it should come at the expense of the customer.

        With consoles such as the Vita is increasingly shifting towards digital sales, it’s evil that Sony are selling bundles with 8GB, knowing full well that buyers will later have to invest in yet a another, more expensive memory card.

        Bottom line is, if Sony puts their profits, and the profits of the retailer, before the needs of the consumer, then the Vita deserves to sell poorly. The moment we accept ‘a retailer needs to make a profit’ is the day we accept games at £100 a cartridge. Because, hey, a company needs to make a profit, right?
        It’s a company’s job to find a creative way to make a profit whilst not inconveniencing the consumer. That’s rule #1 of being a good business/ a good business man.

        Also, if people are expected to buy a great deal of games digitally over a course of a few years, consumers will have to delete and re-download games on several occasions. If someone finds it incredibly inconvenient to do as such, because they have several games on rotation at any given time, then investing in an expensive 32GB is still a tough pill to swallow.

        This may not be an issue with indie games now, but if the Vita continues to be the home of indie gaming in the future, it could very well be, if cards need to be bigger AND Sony refuse to lower the price tag.

        Of course, with the PS4 on the horizon, streaming could be Sony’s solution. But even then, this means buying a freakin’ home console, and a good internet, in order for that to work.

        P.S. I’m sorry this reads as something as a rant, as you did say that you didn’t want to justify the price, but this is something that really has to be addressed. Also, I think it does open some food for thought. Shame there isn’t an open forum on here, right?

        • There will be a forum soon. 😉

          • Terramax

            Awesome sauce! BTW Murphy, I don’t supposed you received an email from me recently regarding Worms Vita?

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  • Anthony Brinklow

    Brilliant article! TVL is getting better and better as it’s getting recognised across all aspects of the Vita community as the best Vita site on the net.

    Cards are expensive, my 32gb was very worth it though. Sadly not big enough though.

    I expect Sony will release a new Vita model next year with a 128gb/256gb/512gb SSD drive built in. They know more than anyone that the space concerns are costing them a huge amount of revenue as people don’t buy as many games as they would if they had the space to store them all.

    The 100 games installed limit would need to be lifted at the same time though as I am juggling 100 installs more than 32gb at the moment. :-

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