The Console Wars (PART II) – David’s Perspective

In a recent interview with Hookshot, Tim Schafer made a few direct comments about his feelings towards the nascent next gen:

I think that that was kind of a warning call. It’s not like ‘it would be nice to do this’ for developers – [if they don't] they’re going to lose out. Things change every generation and just because you’re on top and the 900 pound gorilla in one generation, as you’ve seen, it doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t mean it’ll be that way forever.

The referenced ‘that’ was new data that indie developers were slowly moving away from XBLA in favor of greener pastures.  Taken from 2D boy’s fantastic leg work, we can see a marked decline in small studios taking the plunge for Microsoft’s ambitious arcade offerings:

The point here is not to show PSN’s rising popularity, only that narratives within one generation can change VERY quickly.

Schafer’s was addressing the current and future atmosphere for indie developers working with big consoles, going on to note that a single patch for any given game released on these platforms can ring it at $40K.  He made it clear that freedom of not just creativity but pricing and distribution methods was tantamount – that openness can mean the difference between success stories and projects that never make it off the ground.  Apparently other developers share his thoughts: 2Dboy found that on average the top ranked consideration for developers was “Ease of Working with the Platform”.  Here’s a breakdown of how they ranked each of the competitors:

The clear winners are the hardware-less platforms. In this context is remarkable that XBLA has shown such strength given them formidable demands from developers.

More data reflecting the changing tides for indie developers:

It’s important to briefly point out that part of the iStore popularity is based on savvy publishers gaming the system: releases on the iPhone/iPad can be artificially manipulated to nail and maintain that coveted top 25 placement and hence virtually guarantee strong sales. Cheaters!

I’m simply using Microsoft here as a case in point: what does a new generation offer indie developers that they don’t already have on other platforms?  What about these beefy next-gen monstrosities will appeal to Double Fine, Skipmore, Bawsome, Team Meat, thatgamecompany, and the other gems out there?  What are they looking forward to?

What’s NOT on their radar: a) more powerful processors and GPU’s; b) silly motion devices or peripherals; c) fresh delivery mediums.  I imagine none of them are too thrilled about competing for online real estate with streaming media either.  Are these four categories not the most frequent bullet points offered by Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony on their new consoles?  What do they realistically stand to gain from any of those ‘advancements’?  What they WILL contend with are fresh dev kits that must be mastered, steeper development costs, tweaks to licensing deals that are overly complex, and (I’ll bet my last bell) higher initial price points forced on their content.  It’s hard to see how they win out in the new console landscape.

Boasting a large collection of downloadable games is a formidable selling point for any console, even if it doesn’t turn out to be a super lucrative venture.  Perhaps these difficulties are inherent for Sony and Microsoft – their consoles’ sophisticated architecture is intentionally designed to discourage random dudes from tinkering after all.  It’s also entirely plausible that The Big Three are working tirelessly to alleviate these problems, candid in their desire to see these small companies succeed here without trumpeting their efforts in the media.  I’m each console maker has a small team trying to make strides in this area, attempting to build off valuable experience gained this current gen.

Whatever.  I think The Big Three need some tough love from Yoda.

If courting indie developers is a priority The Big Three will make it happen, period.  Devote the necessary resources.  Think through your pricing options.  Listen to their woes and act accordingly – otherwise don’t complain when Steam swoops in FTW.


Author: Wu


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