Are companies like Sony PlayStation really nickel and diming indie developers and small-time folks for all of their worth just for visibility? According to one such third-party publisher, they are.
A Twitter thread by Neon Doctrine’s Iain Garner talks about the frustration of publishing games on a major games console, specifically one that doesn’t feature a Game Pass. He stated that the only way to guarantee a game to get featured on the platform holder’s storefront, which may be the PS Store, is to “spend a very reasonable minimum of US$25,000” along with 30% of the game’s subsequent earnings.
He went on to state the following issues regarding the platform holder’s lack of support, store presences, and launch discounts when releasing titles on the platform.
“Platform X gives developers no ability to manage their games. In order to get promotion, you must jump through hoops, beg and plead for any level of promotion. And a blog is not as good as they think it is. If Platform X doesn’t like your game, no fanfare no feature, no love.
Wishlists have no effect, so all your personal marketing means nothing to Platform X. All that matters is their evaluation. How is this evaluation done? Dunno, they don’t share that, nor will they share the value they ascribe to my game.
So before you launch, you need to:
1. Develop the game for Platform X.
2. Get through their incredibly difficult lotcheck spread over 3 generations of backend software.
3. Submit a Platform X specific trailer.
4. Write a Platform X Blog [.]
5. Submit multiple forms for social media.
Oh for 3 and 4 you need to go through an account manager, when asked how to get an account manager, we were told “I’m not sure, they are assigned by resources”. And as we now know, there’s no way to know what resource level you have been assigned.”
OK. I am mad enough to burn some bridges. Because honestly, what's the point of a bridge that I am not allowed to cross.
So here is a thread about Platform X. I will not be defining Platform X but it's the operator of a very successful console and does not have Games Pass! pic.twitter.com/OJ2ZJz9BNy
— Iain Garner (@NeonIain) June 30, 2021
He also alleged that even launching the game with a discounted price requires the console owner’s approval, which is “very limited”. All of this can be bypassed with just spending a minimum of US$25,000 (via Kotaku), with this amount possibly going as high as US$200,000 according to sources close to us. While Iain did not mention the platform names, all signs seem to point that these deals are Sony PlayStation-related.
Business As Usual?
This does explain why the indie scene on PlayStation is less celebrated when compared to Nintendo Switch and Xbox, but some extra context is pretty important.
Platforms like Nintendo Switch features 30 games per week while Steam sees about 50 games per day. Getting eyeballs for a new launch is tough for game publishers with tons of decent games going unnoticed every week or month. This also means that platform holders like Xbox and PlayStation offer a choice to give an upcoming game more attention than usual with a fee; in this case the US$25,000 and 30% of earnings.
Naturally, marketing expenditure is inevitable -it’s just business for big platform holders- although to be fair some alternate solutions like improved non-AI curation or prominent display of certain genres would help in the long run. Still, it doesn’t change the fact that many independent developers and publishers cannot afford this payment scheme.
These problems also hint that Sony’s indie developer support team is severely understaffed. Sony has made it clear before that it will be prioritizing big blockbuster games, which usually come at the expense of smaller dev teams, which is the clear opposite of how the PS4 was positioned prior to the next-gen upgrade. After all, the PS4 was the market leader partly because it was wooing indie devs off rival competitors and smartphones.
This won’t be the end of the many stories from developers and publishers like Iain Garner on how frustrating it is to get their game(s) noticed at launch.