Guacamelee developer Drinkbox Studios today announced its next game, Severed, a fantasy role-playing game with touch-based combat controls. And while the company hasn't committed to platforms just yet, the PlayStation Vita seems a likely candidate, given the game's interface and the studio's experience.
Drinkbox was one of the earliest supporters of the Vita. The studio's Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack!!! launched alongside the system in 2012, the first indie game on the handheld that wasn't published by Sony. They followed that up last year with the critically acclaimed Guacamelee on Vita, PS3, and (several months later) the PC. Speaking with GamesIndustry International earlier this month, Drinkbox's Chris McQuinn explained his affinity for Sony's portable platform.
"Honestly, Vita owners are the ****ing best," McQuinn said. "People rag on the Vita so much, and I think people who rag on the Vita don't understand, at least from a business perspective, the purchasing power of Vita owners. Vita owners are serious purchasers of games. It's an amazing system."
"People rag on the Vita so much, and I think people who rag on the Vita don't understand...the purchasing power of Vita owners."
That sentiment falls in line with Sony's own pitch to developers from last year. And Guacamelee gave McQuinn all the evidence of that he needed.
"The split in sales for Guacamelee between the Vita and the PS3 wasn't quite even, but it wasn't far off," McQuinn said. "I think that speaks to the strength of the Vita as a console to sell your game on because there are so many more PS3s than Vitas. For us, the sales on the Vita were really, really strong. It was a great SKU for us."
As for why the system is perceived as an unattractive platform, McQuinn suggested it was more an issue of hardware numbers than software sales.
"If people don't see the Vita doing the same number of sales as the 3DS, then it's automatically a failure," McQuinn said. "But I think what people fail to understand is the purchasers of Vitas are very, very engaged game consumers. For them, the attach rate with games is very high. There might not be a lot of Vitas out there, but the people who do own Vitas are very serious consumers; they buy a lot of games."
While the touch-based combat of Drinkbox's next title might lend itself well to tablets and smartphones, those platforms aren't a priority for the studio.
"For us, I think we're still going to be a bit hesitant about that market until we can see the market to be a bit safer with regards to you making a good game, putting it out, and people buying it," McQuinn said. "That's not necessarily true in that market. We've seen great games come out in that market that just don't get picked up, and that's scary. Whereas I feel if you put out a really good game on the Vita, people will buy it. So until we see that stabilize a bit, we'll probably be a bit hesitant."
The idea of selling games for $0.99 instead of $14.99 was another daunting aspect of dealing with the mobile market. Price deterioration and discoverability are two oft-lamented concerns with the almost non-existent barriers to entry in the mobile market, but while some indie developers see pushing the barriers down as an absolute good, McQuinn suggested they should probably only be lowered to a certain point.
"I think there being some barrier to entry is probably a good thing."
"I think there being some barrier to entry is probably a good thing," McQuinn said. "And I'm not saying a very high one, but something to at least ensure there's some quality to the game, with regards to it even working. I'm not saying you want to go as far as consoles still have it set up. Consoles are getting better, it's easier to put your game out on a console, but there's still a ton of work that's involved. I think there's a happy middle ground we could find."
McQuinn noted technical requirement checklists (TRCs) that ensure the product functions properly as one barrier probably worth retaining in some form.
"I think that's good for the customer, and when you have that, the customers will be more confident, so they'll be purchasing more."
Looking at the future of the indie scene, McQuinn was optimistic, saying there's plenty of room for small developers to steal a larger piece of the industry's pie. However, he predicted the big challenge for indies in the near future will be breaking out of the indie fanbase to get on the radar of the mainstream AAA gaming crowd.
"There's a huge number of those gamers who would like indie games but just aren't exposed to them," McQuinn said.
While growing the audience is a priority for the indie development scene, McQuinn has no similar interest in growing Drinkbox itself.
"It sounds kind of stupid, but I think it's really easy for our team to grow, but we don't want to do that," McQuinn said. "We don't want a big company. We just want a small team. We all know each other really well, and I think we're happy with the size we're at...We're at 14 now, which is monstrous for us. And I don't see us going any bigger. That's enough for us to always be working on two projects simultaneously, and I think we're pretty happy with that."