Super Crate Box isn't the only game that Shahid has helped bring over to PlayStation. Thomas Was Alone launched recently, a game that it’s almost impossible to think about without thinking about its creator, Mike Bithell. Legendary oddball Jeff Minter's games are on the way, each with his own unique visual style and consistently inventive, brilliant mechanics. Then there's Jasper Byrne’s Lone Survivor, and Hotline Miami, a game that could only ever come from the borderline insane mind of Jonatan Soderstrom, better known as Cactus.
If there was ever a game that could stand testament to the strengths of indie optimism, it’s Mike Bithell’s Thomas Was Alone. Landing Danny Wallace as the narrator just by asking nicely, and garnering critical and commercial acclaim through word of mouth and a whole bunch of heart, it’s one of the first big indie names to be published as a result of this new focus from Sony.
The indie gaming scene has historically always had its heart in the PC space, but apart from a few wild success stories, there haven’t been that many games that made the jump from PC to console. Instead they either started as console exclusives, or launched on both simultaneously. That's changing now, and Sony's efforts in particular are a driving force behind that change.
“We are certainly more open than at any time before,” says Shahid. The attitude seems to be putting the games first, setting aside the overbearing pride and desperate desire to retain and cultivate exclusives that has characterised both Sony and Microsoft’s behaviour over the past decade. “Experience is very much shaped by the medium through which you engage,” he continues. “A PlayStation experience is qualitatively different and our customers tell us that. Then there is the form: some of these games were experienced on devices that weren’t mobile. Being able to enjoy an intimate game experience with something like Lone Survivor on PS Vita cannot be replicated on another device. The screen just pops out at you.”
“Sony seems to care,” Vlambeer's Rami Ismail observes. He's seen the proof of that – he tells me that when the Vita he was using to demo Super Crate Box on an expo floor last year was stolen, Shahid gave him his own personal console so he could keep showing it around. “That’s really all – in the end, we’re not Vlambeer interacting with Sony, we’re two guys making games talking to a human being that tries to bring games to Sony. If we get a feeling that the people we work with care about what we do, and are capable of making things happen, we’ll be way more interested in working with their company.”
“We think the main thing that changed is really Sony becoming more open to experiment in bringing new content to their systems.” Rami continues. “The old ways of doing business – pushing for exclusivity, strict deadlines, paid patches – those days are gone.
“The new way of doing business isn’t based on necessity, where indies ‘need’ a platform and platforms ‘need’ content, it’s based on convenience. If any platform wants to offer the full spectrum of gaming on their devices – from indie to AAA – they need to be a convenience. They need to care about games, not about policy and rules. Sony seems to get that nowadays.”
This is going to be a significant battleground for the next next Xbox and PlayStation. Xbox Live Arcade gave the Xbox 360 a unique selling point in its early days and remained one of its strengths for years, and though many independent developers haveexpressed dissatisfaction with the way Microsoft has handled their games, Xbox has so far been the destination for indie games on console. Sony's concerted efforts to change that show a company that's thinking forward.