Dislaimer: Always know your source, I’m an indie currently working on Volume, a game which is timed exclusive to playstation platforms (one month) before coming across to PC/Mac .. there will likely be other platforms after that, but I’ve not got any firm plans yet. Anyways, I have a horse in this race :) factor that in
So, Total Biscuit did a pretty solid analysis of the Tomb Raider exclusivity thing. I watched it and nodded along, I think it’s a pretty solid consumer led analysis of timed and proper exclusives. I’m going to hold judgement on TR specifically for now, but I think his points are generally sound.
It did make me think about indie games, and the timed exclusivity that a lot of us have chosen to do with our upcoming games. Fan assumption is often that it’s for ‘a big bag of money’, and while that’s sometimes true (although, it’s never really that big for folk like us) in most cases, we’ve done it for much more mundane reasons. These reasons are certainly there to make our lives easier, and I wouldn’t try to frame this as better for the customer per se, but as someone who (self servingly) feels like happier devs = better games = happier players, I thought it might be useful to see what we get out of these kinds of arrangements at the lower end of the scale.
BULLET POINT LIST TIME
- Marketing: You saw me on stage at gamescom in the sony press conference, right? That kind of thing is dependent on great relationships, and the platform holder seeing a specific business case for putting you up there. I think that’s fair enough, if I go to a party, I’m taking a bottle of wine with me for the hosts. Money cannot buy the kind of clout that comes relatively easy to platform holders, so those of us who are doing timed exclusives and can make a business case to one of the big three to put us up there certainly benefit. That’s far harder to do if your game is coming out everywhere, simultaneously. There is obviously also a lot that platform holders can do to help with marketing beyond big events.. be it blog posts, online advertising or just general endorsement from the company.
- Production bandwidth: This is the primary cause for Volume’s timed exclusive. Porting games is slow, it’s incredibly technically challenging, and it is utterly boring. Engine marketing often says that export is as easy as a button press, but anyone who’s released a cross platform game will tell you just how silly a claim that is. On top of technicality, there are platform specific hoops to jump through, be it Steam API, TRCs and TCRs on consoles (making sure the X button is always just the right size on screen).. all of which take time and or money. Releasing all at once, before your game has had any income, is both super risky (big upfront spend) and very challenging time wise (lots of plate spinning). Staggered releases are sort of vital for one or two person teams, and a massive help to those at the larger end. A cost that can be factored in on a big game can sink an indie team before their game’s even launched. It’s for this reason that we need to continue to challenge any kind of requirement for parity of release, it’s entirely out of step with how small games are made.
- Relationships: I really love the guys at Sony. They believed in Thomas Was Alone long before many others did, and offered me a ton of help and support asking for little in return. When I came to start on Volume, they were the first people I sat down to talk with, because on a basic human level, I like ‘em. That of course had a small influence on my dealings with them.
- Additional services: There are lots of boring jobs that indies often don’t think about, but are important on PC, and utterly vital on consoles. Solid QA, localisation, stuff that big companies again take for granted, but are like magic to those of us at the smaller end. Platform holders can help with this stuff.
- Small bags of money: I’ve not needed financial support to develop Volume, but all three consoles have certainly invested in bringing indie games out, games often made by first time teams that would have struggled otherwise. Like TB’s Bayonetta example, I find it hard to get angry at devs for making cool games that wouldn’t have existed without a little help.
So, I hope that doesn’t read as an apology or an excuse.. but more of a primer in why your favourite indie devs may be staggering their releases, or going all out exclusive. Hope it’s of interest, and I look forward to hearing what you think of Volume, on whichever cool box of microchips you play it on.