The independent developers spearheading Sony’s push on the indie games front talk to Niall Gosker on why PlayStation is the place to be

It would be difficult for even the most diehard fan not to concede that Sony lost a lot of ground throughout this past console generation. While they did manage to salvage the situation eventually, so much time was needlessly wasted playing catch up. This is an error they can’t afford to repeat.

At recent press events, the company has appeared revitalised, with the wave of arrogance the PlayStation 3 rode in on replaced by much more humble approach. Many of the big studios have already praised the change in philosophy and manner, but the real war for hearts and minds in the next generation may be won or lost on the indie battlefield.

At Gamescom this year, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe (SCEE) CEO Jim Ryan expressed a desire to return to the whacky, unpredictable Sony of old, which was responsible for the likes of PaRappa the Rapper, Vib Ribbon, and other oddities. Their big play for indies, viewed in this context, makes a whole lot of sense.

Why are so many independent developers flocking to Sony specifically? It surely leads back to their recently instated PlayStation Developer program, which, above all else, seems to be grounded in common sense. It allows for self-publishing and all the benefits one would expect to come with this, such as the price and release date being decided by the developer.

These might seem like no-brainers, but such things never existed with Microsoft who were, for much of the generation, the go-to platform for indie developers until one horror story too many.

Only very recently, when they unveiled their ID@Xbox initiative, did Microsoft begin to regain credibility. For now though, the spotlight is Sony’s, with their transparency and willingness to trust indies as important pieces of the whole entity paying off, with unanimous praise being sent in their direction.

Supergiant Games, creators of the award-winning Bastion, are hard at work on their next title, Transistor, which will make its console debut on the PlayStation 4. Greg Kasavin, designer and writer, explains, “We announced the game at PAX East earlier this year, and the guys from Sony came and played it there along with many other people. They really liked the game.”

He adds, “These are guys who go home and play games for fun still and aren’t just a bunch of suits so their enthusiasm came off as genuine, and they wanted to talk to us after the show.

“The more we learned about the PS4 and Sony’s open stance about letting us self-publish on the platform and not forcing us to be exclusive or anything like that, the more it made a lot of sense for us to make it happen.”

To solidify the relationship, Sony put them centre stage at gaming’s biggest press event. “Sony made their faith in us very apparent by having us up there as part of their E3 press conference along with a number of other small studios.”

They did something similar at Gamescom too, giving The Chinese Room’s new PS4 exclusive, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, a grand unveiling. Creative Director on the project, Dan Pinchbeck, echoes Kasavin’s positivity saying, “They are incredibly protective of the creative vision of the developers they work with, and very much driven by similar ideas to us.

“Immersion, emotional journey, player experience; we really share these values, and they place a great emphasis on enabling us to explore and pursue that, so it’s been terrific.”

Speaking about the exclusive status of the game, Pinchbeck explains, “To make a game like Rapture, you need a team of a certain size and that costs a lot of money. You also need production expertise, and we felt we needed more support there.

“Sony Santa Monica was the only logical choice in terms of protecting that vision. I still definitely hope we will get the title onto PC at some point, but I have to say, PS4 is a hugely exciting platform to be working on so we’re very happy with that decision.”

Phil Tibitoski, President and Community Manager at Young Horses, the team behind the surreal Octodad, which is currently in development, believes Sony’s thinking lies in a desire for diversity.

Tibitoski explains, “I think what they’re looking to do is bring variety to their platforms and, as far as I can tell, the best way to do that is with the independent community where there’s little fear of creating something far off the beaten path.”

If there were any doubts that the Sony seen in public recently is contrary to the image behind the scenes, Kasavin dispels this notion. “The attitude Sony has cultivated publicly, that they love smaller development teams and their original games, and really want to work with those teams and get their games featured on their platforms, is very much consistent with the way they’ve conducted themselves with us directly.”

It isn’t just the PlayStation 4 that will benefit from this new direction. PS Vita is already feeling its effects, being kept relevant in large part thanks to these smaller releases, ideally suited to the handheld device.

If Sony really do intend on reclaiming the glory of their heritage, they seem to be going about in the best way possible way by providing a reasonably priced console that is easy to develop for, catering for the good will of the larger community, and of course, prime indie support. Taking all this into account, it’s hard to imagine them ending up in third place again.