Sony Failing Indie Devs May be Just the Tip of the Iceberg

“Playstation for its exclusives and Xbox for its services.” You have probably heard this if you searched online for which console to buy. Sony’s quality control is something out of this world, and their games are usually critically acclaimed titles. On the other hand, Xbox offers the best and cheapest services in the game industry with their Game Pass and Cloud Gaming. But, could one of these competitors be too eager with their identity as to become arrogant and too ambitious? Well, Sony may be facing new and troubling times with the recent indie devs backlash and even Kojima’s talks with Xbox, all of which suggests that this may soon be the case.

The Backlash from Indie Devs

Last week, the independent developer Iain Garner, the co-founder of the indie studio Neon Doctrine, criticized Sony via his Twitter account pointing out that:

  1. Sony lacks effort in promoting indie developers and their games – such as lack of basic discoverability features;
  2. The company minimizes the devs’ ability to take proper action on their own and
  3. The company has a lack of adequate support on bureaucratic and straightforward tasks.

He was then quickly followed by tons of other independent developers and publishers who started to speak up about their frustrations with Sony.

As we can see on Iain’s Twitter thread, smaller teams are struggling to work out how to put their own titles on the PS Store, leaving them debating whether they should keep working on ports to Sony consoles at all. That is all so bizarre that it made me think that the recent Playstation blog post about pitching your game to Sony was just a marketing piece, and nothing more. There seems to be a chasm between the theory and the real world here, and people are getting extremely frustrated.

Diving deeper

Hold it right there, and let’s go back in time a little to April 2021. What happened that month? Sony’s JAPANStudio was “restructured” – it was closed. Most of the employees were fired or didn’t manage to get their annual contracts renewed. Only a few were left to work on the Team ASOBI – originally a team within JAPANStudio, but now a “new” studio themselves. You might ask what does JAPANStudio and Iain Garner have to do with each other. They are all part of the business piece Sony seems to pretend does not to exist.

JAPANStudio was the studio responsible for Ape Escape, Gravity Rush 2, Knack, to name a few. If you check their game portfolio, you can see bold titles with tons of originality. Some of those are full of a certain Japanese creativity, some experimental arcade titles, and others are emotionally focused story-driven games. All of which lacks what Sony considers to be a global appeal. In this case, by global, you can assume “Western” – where we find the main gaming markets. The message was clear; Sony wants to invest time and money only on blockbuster hits and try their best to get as much money as possible from big hit franchises.

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The most recent example of Sony’s greed was the Ghost of Tsushima Director’s Cut’s announcement. Right after the video went online, the regular game was removed from the PS Store. It means that now you can only buy the Director’s Cut edition, which costs U$ 59.99 (PS4) and U$ 69.99 (PS5). A one-year-old game at full price due to a few tweaks here and there. And guess what, according to Hermen Hulst, Head of PlayStation Studios, they will not stop there. He said, “Our Director’s Cut releases will all offer new content, and on PS5, will leverage the hardware’s advanced features.”

Some people argued that we had remastered versions of PS3 games when the PS4 was launched, but there is a very important difference now; current Director’s Cut version are cross-gen. So regardless of PS4 or PS5, you will only be able to buy the remastered version of those titles.

The pieces are coming together, right?

If in April Sony closed one of its own studios that focused more on the eastern audience to restructure it to develop games focused on a “wider audience,” what does the company think of independent game devs? Well, we can all agree that Sony’s excellence in quality may be considered priceless, but at what creative cost? It seems like they are following a path to standardize their games to the extent that it can become dangerous to the future of game development – especially AAA games.

The Kojima case and the future

Recent rumors pointed out that Hideo Kojima (the brain behind Metal Gear and Death Stranding) is in talks with Xbox for Kojima Studio’s new game. Kojima is responsible for many of the industry’s mainstream innovations, and I bet he would not want to be chained down to corporate standardization. You may say that Sony gave him enough freedom to work on Death Stranding, and I agree they did. But Sony didn’t seem to have enjoyed it much, mainly because although Death Stranding seemed to have sold ok, it is not part of Sony’s greatest hits – yet. It suggests that the game did not sell as much as they expected when they signed a deal with a celebrity such as Kojima. Therefore, it is not hard to imagine what is currently bugging Kojima’s mind: Sony’s corporate people.

What is Sony’s intent for the future?

Are they planning to take full advantage of their lead in sales to maximize their profits as much as possible in the years to come? I ask again, at what cost? Many Sony fans are already complaining about Sony’s high prices on their consoles, accessories, and game titles – indies included. Independent developers are furious about Sony’s lack of support and partnership. And now, a big player such as Hideo Kojima may be negotiating with Sony’s most significant competitor for a possible Xbox exclusive title.

Will Sony keep its focus on standardization of AAA titles? Only time will tell if we are about to get more of the same mechanics, plots, and language over and over. Let’s hope this is only a minor step back. Let’s especially hope Sony reassess their negations with indie devs (and non-AAA hits). After all, these are some of the most creative minds in the industry and responsible for some of the greatest innovations in modern gaming history.

On the right Death Stranding's protagonist Sam and Fragile, one of the game's main characters, on the right. They are touching foreheads.
Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding

Ricardo Carvalho (Kadiko)

Brazilian cat lover and game journalist. Writing novels, screenplays and games just for fun. Feel free to reach out to me on my social media.

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