Platform holders and indies: Handy tips from the developers
Peter Molyneux, Jenova Chen, Mike Bithell and more offer their advice to Sony and Microsoft
Today Microsoft made a massive U-turn on its policy regarding self-publishing on the Xbox One, a move that has huge significance for the indie development community. But what else matters to the people who make the games?
We spoke to 11 independent developers asking what tips they would give to Sony and Microsoft when it comes to working with indies.
Jenova Chen, thatgamecompany
When a publisher works with indies it can be a typical work for hire relationship. But a good management book will always say it's about helping them to grow and realising their true potential. For indie studios, it is very much about helping them to realise their unique vision.
Indies are becoming our own publishers. Publishers rock. They can be awesome. They help with boring stuff, they burn through crazy amounts of work. I've had some excellent experiences (my most recent, with Curve Studios for PSN Thomas, being one of them). But allow us the choice to self publish, or work with a publisher we choose for ourselves. Forcing us to go with a big name, or with first party publishing, limits us creatively. More importantly, it muddies our rights to our own games. If this choice is not open, I won't bring my game to a platform.
Jamie Cheng, Klei Entertainment
I'm not sure it's a "tip", as much as a request. Personally, I think it's extremely important for developers to be able to quickly and painlessly update their applications. The benefits of this are myriad and well-known, not the least of which is the ease of doing this encourages developers to interact with the community and improve the experience based on feedback. To do this, logistically, it's a requirement that games can't crash the operating system -- in essence the system needs to be more resilient to bugs and not use QA (important as that is) as the only line of defense.
Tom Francis, Suspicious Developments
For the really tiny guys like me, the most helpful thing is to set us up with a partner they can recommend for porting to their machine. I'm always going to develop for PC before consoles, and even if I was smart enough to port it myself, it's not really what I want to spend my time doing.
Alex Seropian, Industrial Toys
Without accessible development and distribution, indie developers have so little leverage on console platforms it isn't worth it. We've seen quite a bit of innovation on platforms that are super-accessible to develop for: PC and mobile specifically. You don't need a license, permission, publisher or expensive hardware to develop on those platforms. If Sony or Mr. Softy can figure out how to make it ok with their respective businesses for independents to develop on their own (commercial) console with freely downloaded tools and provide a non-ghetto channel for them to distribute their apps we'll see an indie scene on the TV. I'd venture to say we're going to see that whether they do it or not, because Apple and Google are likely to provide those things in the not-to-distant future.
Peter Molyneux, 22 Cans
Very often when a publisher signs a deal with a developer, the development time is defined at the contract negotiation; when the game is least defined and the developer is starved out of cash. This starts the relationship on the wrong footing. It's better to define a relationship that allows a developer to produce greatness rather than produce a game within a limited development time. You need to believe in the creativity of the talent that you're signing.
"You need to believe in the creativity of the talent that you're signing"
Barry Meade, Fireproof Studios
I would hope that MS and Sony are aware of the amount of control over their own destiny successful devs now have when publishing on PC or mobile. This new business freedom not only creates smarter developers with higher standards, it supports a release of pioneering creative energy that's not possible under the current model of console publishing. Home systems need a wide spread of game genres and niches to exist on their platforms, and smaller businesses have to be able to thrive in this system order to cater to this need. Players and developers deserve a lot more choice than they currently have.
John Baez, The Behemoth
I think one tip the hardware makers should keep in mind is that independent developers are willing to try new things on their own dime. With corporate run developers this isn't always the case. The true independents, the ones that don't ask for money but just want a slot in the line up, have risked so much to get where they are that they should get special handling and, above all, patience as the developer learns the ropes. Of course this comes with a complementary responsibility for the developer to respect the work and money that the hardware manufacturer has put into making the platform, and to put the necessary time and effort into learning to work in a corporate environment.
Sean Murray, Hello Games
With every platform now offering self-publishing we've got a lot of choices, which is amazing for indies like us, because with them comes the opportunity to release on many platforms. But if we need to do something completely different for PS4 than we do for Xbox One, for instance, it costs us to make it right for both platforms.
One thing that unites all indie developers, whatever we're making, is that we don't have the resources that large developers have. Every extra restriction and difference between platform policies puts pressure on us to expend resources on making it work. And that's resources we're not putting into making the games that we think players will love.
Robert Briscoe, Littlelostpoly
I'd like to see a more open and informative approach made to indie developers. It really should be as simple as visiting a webpage that details the processes and requirements of everything from registering to acquiring a devkit. Allowing registered developers to share techniques and experiences in a forum would bolster the accessibility and quality of the games being produced by indies.
From an outside view, developing for consoles seems like a mysterious and sometimes clumsy process. This could be remedied so easily by just opening up their process and removing some of the pointless hurdles in place and putting some trust back into the small developer.
Nathan Vella, Capy
Independent developers want control of their games even after they've launched - updates, pricing, store pages, information, promotion, community. Give them tools to do this and let them go. Great things will happen.
Rami Ismail, Vlambeer
Microsoft, please look at what Sony is doing and do that.