Why Indie Publishers Are Fed Up With PlayStation

Technology

IGN 01 July, 2021 - 03:03pm 44 views

"Platform X gives developers no ability to manage their games. In order to get promotion you must jump through hoops, beg and plead for any level of promotion. And a blog is not as good as they think it is," he wrote. "If Platform X doesn't like your game, no fanfare no feature no love."

Following Garner's thread, I spoke to four other indie publishers and two indie developers (one who self-published) about its contents, all of whom named Sony as the platform they specifically were criticizing, though they could not speak for Garner. Those I spoke to expressed frustration with various aspects of Sony's internal processes, communications, and restrictions that they said made it more challenging to release games on its platforms, especially smaller games. They also lamented the challenges of getting indie games seen anywhere, but many pointed out that Sony actively hampered or was at least indifferent to these struggles, making PlayStation an extremely challenging platform for indie game sales compared to its competitors.

In all subsequent communications, Garner declined to identify which console he was speaking of, but context clues from the thread (such as the mention of official blog posts and certain pricing details) can be used to tie his narrative in with the stories of others who spoke up.

In our follow-up conversation, Garner acknowledged that at least some of the issues he brings up are common across multiple platforms, not just "Platform X." For instance, he remarked in his Twitter thread that wishlists have "no effect," but he and others later told me that this is largely true on all console platforms — it's really only Steam where wishlists are critical to indie games' success. Similarly, those I spoke to confirmed "lot checks" (a term specifically used by Nintendo, but which was used referring to compliance checks across all three platforms) are frustrating everywhere, though two people pointed out to me that PlayStation's compliance checks were by far the most complex in terms of process, communication, and user feedback.

But Garner is adamant that what he calls Platform X is especially bad for indies, for a couple of reasons. The first, he said, is a challenging, frustrating amount of paperwork and bureaucracy involved with getting a game published on the platform. Multiple people I spoke to mentioned having to fill out numerous forms or go through various backend softwares to find the thing they were looking for, often without much help or support. Two said it was extremely challenging or even expensive to get a single dev kit, pointing out that Xbox had provided dev kits to either themselves or colleagues easily, and for free.

David Logan, CEO at Akupara Games, offered an explanation for at least some of the frustrating processes those I spoke to mentioned. He told me that the main reason Sony's processes for game submissions were more involved than others had to do with submitting products based on region, something the company had done throughout the PS4 era. So for worldwide launches, games had to go through separate submission processes for Sony America, Europe, Japan, and Asia, with Japan and Asia having their own portals and processes that required translation from Japanese to move through.

In 2020, he continued, Sony had begun working toward streamlining all this. But movement has been slow, and documentation is often an update or two behind.

"Parts of the process change on an almost weekly basis and it oftentimes needs to involve multiple reps, support tickets and parts of the backend (which is still split into two different pipelines) to make movement on specific issues," Logan said. "We’ve been blocked by Sony directly on things like updating ratings, terminology usage, trophy visibility and patch review all within the last few months. However, my team does recognize the active changes and streamlining Sony is heading towards. Though there are instances where we wish it was similar to the pipeline we had grown accustomed to over the past few years."

Slow or annoying paperwork is one thing, but the publishers I spoke with all confirmed that these issues were made worse for small companies working with Sony due to slow or non-existent communications processes. Logan said he'd had a support ticket open with Sony for nine months, which his company pings monthly trying to get assistance. Cristian Botea, project manager at Some Awesome Guys, said that while sometimes you might get a fast reply from Sony to help resolve an issue, "sometimes you might be waiting a month for a reply to something simple."

All of these process and communication pain points can be made a little more manageable, I was told by multiple people, with an account manager — basically a contact person for a publisher at the company who can help answer questions — getting their game in front of the right people and making sure the right paperwork is filled out. But as Garner pointed out in his thread, there was never a clear process for how to get an account manager assigned to him, adding that publishers without account managers have to go through a ticketing system. "We've all used one of those before, so you know what that's like."

Other publishers I spoke to confirmed similar difficulties. Sherveen Uduwana, who's currently working on Midautumn and previously designed We Are The Caretakers, told me about his experience with this process from several years ago, acknowledging it may have changed since that time. His account lined up with Garner's, with Uduwana pointing out that processing times for game submissions were often extremely long. And without an account manager to contact, there's often no one at all to check in with about where your game is at in the process.

"At a lot of larger or more established studios, they just have contacts at all the storefronts that they can reach out to with questions, or to ask for an update or to help troubleshoot things," he said. "But a lot of those are actually pretty informal and built through past relationships in my experience. So when you're just starting out, the process is super opaque, even in our case we leveraged an existing relationship to start up a convo."

One developer who self-publishes and wishes to remain anonymous said that in multiple years of working with Sony, their relationship had always felt like a "one-way partnership."

"I felt like if you weren’t the big names, you were just there, plugging away with minimal support until you eventually shipped your title," they said. "Best way I can put it is that I was thrown to the wolves… and told 'survive.’ Which I did, by trial and error. Everyday."

Somewhat related to communications problems is the separate issue of discounts. As Garner pointed out in his thread, discounts on Platform X are "invite-only and also 'very limited.'" Other publishers I spoke to, again referring specifically to Sony, confirmed that Sony is notoriously stingy with who it allows to hold discounts on its platform and when. Multiple people I spoke to confirmed this to be the case, saying that publishers can only run discounts when explicitly invited by Sony. Matthew White, CEO of Whitethorn Digital, told me that PlayStation sets the discount, with publishers able to agree or make a counteroffer, but timing and rate are ultimately dictated by the platform.

"You almost never get invited," he said. "Say two in a year."

White and others confirmed to me as well that no other platform runs its discounts like this, with most other storefronts allowing publishers to discount their games when and how they like with a handful of exceptions. It's a move they say not only frustrates consumers, but also harms small developers who frequently use sales as an easy way to get their games noticed and talked about more broadly.

The other reason why Garner said Platform X is so much worse for indies has to do with discoverability. Garner told me his game, Vigil, initially had interest from "a higher-up," but that didn't matter once his game started going through the company's processes.

"We were basically told that unless we had games that would push [next-gen] (super pretty) then they weren't interested in providing promotion," he said.

The final straw, Garner said, was a talk he attended recently where the company gave him and others a presentation about marketing. It was during this meeting that he was told the company could promote his game on its storefront — if he paid $25,000 on top of the cut he already pays the platform for being on it at all.

"Honestly felt like a F2P tactic," Garner said. "We slow you down and you can pay to speed up."

The $25,000 offer Garner received resulted in some head-scratching from the other publishers I spoke to. Many hadn't heard of it before the Twitter thread, though all of them confirmed it was too rich for their companies to manage. Logan suggested that for smaller developers, that price point could "amount to the entire lifetime sales of the title."

"This is an amount greater than or equal to some indie developers' entire marketing budget," he continued. "That price tag definitely excludes most smaller and mid-size developers and publishers from consideration."

A Kotaku report verified the figures Garner is referring to, saying that pricing for even more visibility on PlayStation can go as high as $200,000, though it's unclear how much visibility that gets a company. Kotaku also said that Microsoft "runs similar payment schemes for the Xbox store."

The anonymous developer I spoke to had heard of the $25,000, saying they could understand asking for payment for such a spot to a degree — it is, after all, advertising. But they added that such a high number for a small spot effectively guaranteed small games would never be seen.

"It's unreasonable, because you have no idea if that $25,000 advertisement will make you that money back," they said. "$25,000 was mentioned and talked about but [...]there are spots well over $100k for features. No smaller indie or small game is ever seeing that front page. So that’s why you will always see five to six major game studios on that front page. If an indie was to ever feature up there it would be monumental and celebrated to say the least."

Two publishers pointed out to me that Sony will sometimes feature games on its storefront of its own accord, based on an internal analysis of how well they think the game will do. However, both said the process was obscure and largely out of developer and publisher hands.

Aside from the storefront issues, those I spoke to expressed exasperation that there really weren't any other meaningful avenues to promote their games through PlayStation. When I asked publishers about the blog posts mentioned in the original thread and whether they were any help, Botea noted that his team had to proactively ask about it, and when they did, the deadlines made it unworkable. Logan said the blog process was "definitely one of the easiest processes among the partners" but also indicated that issues with deadlines and approvals for blogs could be challenging for developers on already-tight game release timelines. White told me that the blog was offered by Sony as "marketing support," but then said it was "an awful joke that does not convert to sales in ANY way."

"It took us more than eight months to get kits for PXs hardware, despite having numerous confirmed IPs on the title," he wrote. "We have a full-time employee who spends more than half of his time digging through sales reports for PX, as they are sent in excel-driven invoices that require manual invoicing like it's 1928. There is internal chaos with messages coming from random teams at random times.

"It's impossible to plan launch support, vouchers for Kickstarter backers take months to generate, nobody will answer support emails. We get no store ops opportunities, PS5 featuring and placement is a giant mystery.

"I know it seems like I'm jumping on a dogpile, but it's been really difficult to work with our developers telling them straight up not to expect sales on PX. I'd love to see that change."

I asked Garner if there was anything he thought that Platform X could do to better support indies, but his response was not an optimistic one. "Honestly, I don't know. They need to redo their whole system. It's so broken in so many ways and they've been slapping band-aids on it for years. If they don't fix it, by the end of the generation, [they] will be a rich boi toy with only the big boi titles and exclusives, everyone else will be elsewhere."

"History tends to repeat itself in video games, and we're definitely seeing that again now," said No More Robots founder Mike Rose in that interview. "Whenever a platform holder has arguably 'lost' a console cycle, they tend to then lean more heavily on indie developers for the next cycle."

And Sony is, at least on some level, trying. There's the aforementioned $10 million fund for indie developers that it announced last year, as well as Yoshida's initiative. And White made a point to tell me that head of PlayStation Creators and Double Fine veteran Greg Rice had been especially supportive and helpful behind the scenes in getting questions answered and games noticed. The anonymous developer I spoke to also affirmed that the recent indie push had made things a bit better for first-time developers. But it's clear from the discussion this week that these moves either aren't enough, or aren't being felt by a meaningful chunk of the indie scene. We reached out to Sony for comment for this article, but the company has not responded.

Ultimately, the publishers and developers I spoke to aren't asking for piles of free marketing, or instant approval for all their games. What they are looking for is a chance for their games to be seen in an overwhelming gaming ecosystem. When I asked what platform-holders could do to improve the ability of publishers and developers to get visibility for smaller games, Logan had a few suggestions:

"Being more transparent about the process to be considered for opportunities and what thresholds need to be reached, creating more opportunities for smaller titles to be featured in (right now many initiatives exist only for AAA titles), creating a more indie-focused branch of their platform, more financing for porting, and generally cleaner, better-documented pipelines."

In a separate response in which he talked about the efforts made by distributors to promote indies, Logan also pointed out that the best features, sales, promotions, and other opportunities are largely for games that are already successful.

"It often feels like the rich are getting richer, while the smaller titles struggle to survive," he said. "Distributors will say they’re supporting indie games, but what they often do is promote the successful indie games. 99.9% of indie games are not Hollow Knight or Binding of Isaac, and those games really are in their own tier. I feel we need to continue advocating for supporting indie games, and not just any indie games, but the low and mid-tier indie games that can benefit from the money the most."

There's no easy solution to the problem of discoverability industry-wide. But those I spoke to pointed out that some platforms certainly manage discoverability better than others, or at least don't directly interfere with indies giving themselves a boost with something as innocuous as a sale.

"We, the indies, ultimately just want PlayStation to be a more welcoming platform for us, listen to our concerns and feedback and allow for indies to thrive as well on the platform," Botea said. "Hoping that this grabs their attention in all the right ways and we can start on a constructive path to fixing this."

The anonymous developer I spoke to was less optimistic, pointing out that the struggles indies go through on one platform or another is a topic that comes up repeatedly, but never results in meaningful industry change.

"We have these same conversations every year around indies, when a developer gets fed up and can’t keep it in anymore," they said. "It gets talked about, improved just a bit, then thrown back into the same hole. I am not asking for us to be saved, just heard. Most devs already feel like they are fighting everyone including themselves, we aren’t looking for another enemy."

Read full article at IGN

Why Indie Publishers Are Fed Up With PlayStation - IGN

IGN 01 July, 2021 - 03:00pm

"Platform X gives developers no ability to manage their games. In order to get promotion you must jump through hoops, beg and plead for any level of promotion. And a blog is not as good as they think it is," he wrote. "If Platform X doesn't like your game, no fanfare no feature no love."

Following Garner's thread, I spoke to four other indie publishers and two indie developers (one who self-published) about its contents, all of whom named Sony as the platform they specifically were criticizing, though they could not speak for Garner. Those I spoke to expressed frustration with various aspects of Sony's internal processes, communications, and restrictions that they said made it more challenging to release games on its platforms, especially smaller games. They also lamented the challenges of getting indie games seen anywhere, but many pointed out that Sony actively hampered or was at least indifferent to these struggles, making PlayStation an extremely challenging platform for indie game sales compared to its competitors.

In all subsequent communications, Garner declined to identify which console he was speaking of, but context clues from the thread (such as the mention of official blog posts and certain pricing details) can be used to tie his narrative in with the stories of others who spoke up.

In our follow-up conversation, Garner acknowledged that at least some of the issues he brings up are common across multiple platforms, not just "Platform X." For instance, he remarked in his Twitter thread that wishlists have "no effect," but he and others later told me that this is largely true on all console platforms — it's really only Steam where wishlists are critical to indie games' success. Similarly, those I spoke to confirmed "lot checks" (a term specifically used by Nintendo, but which was used referring to compliance checks across all three platforms) are frustrating everywhere, though two people pointed out to me that PlayStation's compliance checks were by far the most complex in terms of process, communication, and user feedback.

But Garner is adamant that what he calls Platform X is especially bad for indies, for a couple of reasons. The first, he said, is a challenging, frustrating amount of paperwork and bureaucracy involved with getting a game published on the platform. Multiple people I spoke to mentioned having to fill out numerous forms or go through various backend softwares to find the thing they were looking for, often without much help or support. Two said it was extremely challenging or even expensive to get a single dev kit, pointing out that Xbox had provided dev kits to either themselves or colleagues easily, and for free.

David Logan, CEO at Akupara Games, offered an explanation for at least some of the frustrating processes those I spoke to mentioned. He told me that the main reason Sony's processes for game submissions were more involved than others had to do with submitting products based on region, something the company had done throughout the PS4 era. So for worldwide launches, games had to go through separate submission processes for Sony America, Europe, Japan, and Asia, with Japan and Asia having their own portals and processes that required translation from Japanese to move through.

In 2020, he continued, Sony had begun working toward streamlining all this. But movement has been slow, and documentation is often an update or two behind.

"Parts of the process change on an almost weekly basis and it oftentimes needs to involve multiple reps, support tickets and parts of the backend (which is still split into two different pipelines) to make movement on specific issues," Logan said. "We’ve been blocked by Sony directly on things like updating ratings, terminology usage, trophy visibility and patch review all within the last few months. However, my team does recognize the active changes and streamlining Sony is heading towards. Though there are instances where we wish it was similar to the pipeline we had grown accustomed to over the past few years."

Slow or annoying paperwork is one thing, but the publishers I spoke with all confirmed that these issues were made worse for small companies working with Sony due to slow or non-existent communications processes. Logan said he'd had a support ticket open with Sony for nine months, which his company pings monthly trying to get assistance. Cristian Botea, project manager at Some Awesome Guys, said that while sometimes you might get a fast reply from Sony to help resolve an issue, "sometimes you might be waiting a month for a reply to something simple."

All of these process and communication pain points can be made a little more manageable, I was told by multiple people, with an account manager — basically a contact person for a publisher at the company who can help answer questions — getting their game in front of the right people and making sure the right paperwork is filled out. But as Garner pointed out in his thread, there was never a clear process for how to get an account manager assigned to him, adding that publishers without account managers have to go through a ticketing system. "We've all used one of those before, so you know what that's like."

Other publishers I spoke to confirmed similar difficulties. Sherveen Uduwana, who's currently working on Midautumn and previously designed We Are The Caretakers, told me about his experience with this process from several years ago, acknowledging it may have changed since that time. His account lined up with Garner's, with Uduwana pointing out that processing times for game submissions were often extremely long. And without an account manager to contact, there's often no one at all to check in with about where your game is at in the process.

"At a lot of larger or more established studios, they just have contacts at all the storefronts that they can reach out to with questions, or to ask for an update or to help troubleshoot things," he said. "But a lot of those are actually pretty informal and built through past relationships in my experience. So when you're just starting out, the process is super opaque, even in our case we leveraged an existing relationship to start up a convo."

One developer who self-publishes and wishes to remain anonymous said that in multiple years of working with Sony, their relationship had always felt like a "one-way partnership."

"I felt like if you weren’t the big names, you were just there, plugging away with minimal support until you eventually shipped your title," they said. "Best way I can put it is that I was thrown to the wolves… and told 'survive.’ Which I did, by trial and error. Everyday."

Somewhat related to communications problems is the separate issue of discounts. As Garner pointed out in his thread, discounts on Platform X are "invite-only and also 'very limited.'" Other publishers I spoke to, again referring specifically to Sony, confirmed that Sony is notoriously stingy with who it allows to hold discounts on its platform and when. Multiple people I spoke to confirmed this to be the case, saying that publishers can only run discounts when explicitly invited by Sony. Matthew White, CEO of Whitethorn Digital, told me that PlayStation sets the discount, with publishers able to agree or make a counteroffer, but timing and rate are ultimately dictated by the platform.

"You almost never get invited," he said. "Say two in a year."

White and others confirmed to me as well that no other platform runs its discounts like this, with most other storefronts allowing publishers to discount their games when and how they like with a handful of exceptions. It's a move they say not only frustrates consumers, but also harms small developers who frequently use sales as an easy way to get their games noticed and talked about more broadly.

The other reason why Garner said Platform X is so much worse for indies has to do with discoverability. Garner told me his game, Vigil, initially had interest from "a higher-up," but that didn't matter once his game started going through the company's processes.

"We were basically told that unless we had games that would push [next-gen] (super pretty) then they weren't interested in providing promotion," he said.

The final straw, Garner said, was a talk he attended recently where the company gave him and others a presentation about marketing. It was during this meeting that he was told the company could promote his game on its storefront — if he paid $25,000 on top of the cut he already pays the platform for being on it at all.

"Honestly felt like a F2P tactic," Garner said. "We slow you down and you can pay to speed up."

The $25,000 offer Garner received resulted in some head-scratching from the other publishers I spoke to. Many hadn't heard of it before the Twitter thread, though all of them confirmed it was too rich for their companies to manage. Logan suggested that for smaller developers, that price point could "amount to the entire lifetime sales of the title."

"This is an amount greater than or equal to some indie developers' entire marketing budget," he continued. "That price tag definitely excludes most smaller and mid-size developers and publishers from consideration."

A Kotaku report verified the figures Garner is referring to, saying that pricing for even more visibility on PlayStation can go as high as $200,000, though it's unclear how much visibility that gets a company. Kotaku also said that Microsoft "runs similar payment schemes for the Xbox store."

The anonymous developer I spoke to had heard of the $25,000, saying they could understand asking for payment for such a spot to a degree — it is, after all, advertising. But they added that such a high number for a small spot effectively guaranteed small games would never be seen.

"It's unreasonable, because you have no idea if that $25,000 advertisement will make you that money back," they said. "$25,000 was mentioned and talked about but [...]there are spots well over $100k for features. No smaller indie or small game is ever seeing that front page. So that’s why you will always see five to six major game studios on that front page. If an indie was to ever feature up there it would be monumental and celebrated to say the least."

Two publishers pointed out to me that Sony will sometimes feature games on its storefront of its own accord, based on an internal analysis of how well they think the game will do. However, both said the process was obscure and largely out of developer and publisher hands.

Aside from the storefront issues, those I spoke to expressed exasperation that there really weren't any other meaningful avenues to promote their games through PlayStation. When I asked publishers about the blog posts mentioned in the original thread and whether they were any help, Botea noted that his team had to proactively ask about it, and when they did, the deadlines made it unworkable. Logan said the blog process was "definitely one of the easiest processes among the partners" but also indicated that issues with deadlines and approvals for blogs could be challenging for developers on already-tight game release timelines. White told me that the blog was offered by Sony as "marketing support," but then said it was "an awful joke that does not convert to sales in ANY way."

"It took us more than eight months to get kits for PXs hardware, despite having numerous confirmed IPs on the title," he wrote. "We have a full-time employee who spends more than half of his time digging through sales reports for PX, as they are sent in excel-driven invoices that require manual invoicing like it's 1928. There is internal chaos with messages coming from random teams at random times.

"It's impossible to plan launch support, vouchers for Kickstarter backers take months to generate, nobody will answer support emails. We get no store ops opportunities, PS5 featuring and placement is a giant mystery.

"I know it seems like I'm jumping on a dogpile, but it's been really difficult to work with our developers telling them straight up not to expect sales on PX. I'd love to see that change."

I asked Garner if there was anything he thought that Platform X could do to better support indies, but his response was not an optimistic one. "Honestly, I don't know. They need to redo their whole system. It's so broken in so many ways and they've been slapping band-aids on it for years. If they don't fix it, by the end of the generation, [they] will be a rich boi toy with only the big boi titles and exclusives, everyone else will be elsewhere."

"History tends to repeat itself in video games, and we're definitely seeing that again now," said No More Robots founder Mike Rose in that interview. "Whenever a platform holder has arguably 'lost' a console cycle, they tend to then lean more heavily on indie developers for the next cycle."

And Sony is, at least on some level, trying. There's the aforementioned $10 million fund for indie developers that it announced last year, as well as Yoshida's initiative. And White made a point to tell me that head of PlayStation Creators and Double Fine veteran Greg Rice had been especially supportive and helpful behind the scenes in getting questions answered and games noticed. The anonymous developer I spoke to also affirmed that the recent indie push had made things a bit better for first-time developers. But it's clear from the discussion this week that these moves either aren't enough, or aren't being felt by a meaningful chunk of the indie scene. We reached out to Sony for comment for this article, but the company has not responded.

Ultimately, the publishers and developers I spoke to aren't asking for piles of free marketing, or instant approval for all their games. What they are looking for is a chance for their games to be seen in an overwhelming gaming ecosystem. When I asked what platform-holders could do to improve the ability of publishers and developers to get visibility for smaller games, Logan had a few suggestions:

"Being more transparent about the process to be considered for opportunities and what thresholds need to be reached, creating more opportunities for smaller titles to be featured in (right now many initiatives exist only for AAA titles), creating a more indie-focused branch of their platform, more financing for porting, and generally cleaner, better-documented pipelines."

In a separate response in which he talked about the efforts made by distributors to promote indies, Logan also pointed out that the best features, sales, promotions, and other opportunities are largely for games that are already successful.

"It often feels like the rich are getting richer, while the smaller titles struggle to survive," he said. "Distributors will say they’re supporting indie games, but what they often do is promote the successful indie games. 99.9% of indie games are not Hollow Knight or Binding of Isaac, and those games really are in their own tier. I feel we need to continue advocating for supporting indie games, and not just any indie games, but the low and mid-tier indie games that can benefit from the money the most."

There's no easy solution to the problem of discoverability industry-wide. But those I spoke to pointed out that some platforms certainly manage discoverability better than others, or at least don't directly interfere with indies giving themselves a boost with something as innocuous as a sale.

"We, the indies, ultimately just want PlayStation to be a more welcoming platform for us, listen to our concerns and feedback and allow for indies to thrive as well on the platform," Botea said. "Hoping that this grabs their attention in all the right ways and we can start on a constructive path to fixing this."

The anonymous developer I spoke to was less optimistic, pointing out that the struggles indies go through on one platform or another is a topic that comes up repeatedly, but never results in meaningful industry change.

"We have these same conversations every year around indies, when a developer gets fed up and can’t keep it in anymore," they said. "It gets talked about, improved just a bit, then thrown back into the same hole. I am not asking for us to be saved, just heard. Most devs already feel like they are fighting everyone including themselves, we aren’t looking for another enemy."

PlayStation Is Hard To Work With, Devs Say

Kotaku 01 July, 2021 - 09:50am

There were two main responses to our article yesterday highlighting one independent developer’s frustrations with working with Sony to sell games on the PlayStation store. The first was a confusing number of people convinced that this was somehow part of an underground conspiracy to destroy Sony. The second was many indie game developers and publishers getting in touch to say that, yes, wow, Sony are far harder to work with and sell games through than anywhere else.

It’s not possible to rationalize with the former group. We had confirmed hard figures on Sony’s fees for getting any visibility on the PlayStation’s in-built store, so we reported them. The conspiracy, disappointingly, ends there. However, the information about just how much worse it is for indies to work with Sony than Microsoft or Nintendo keeps piling in.

“Oh yeah, so there’s Nintendo who supports you,” one such response begins. “[Then] Microsoft who supports you and [then] there is Sony who supports its own AAA machine and gives a fuck about everyone else.”

We’ve reached out to Sony to hear their side of all this, but at the time of publication they’ve chosen not to respond.

“Sony does not understand what indie means,” an independent publisher tells me under the condition of anonymity, via Twitter DMs. “Not at all. For them indie is something in the lower million budgets.”

“No platform is ‘great’, but Sony is particularly terrible,” says another publisher to me via Discord. “They know it too—they’ve had a problem for a long time, and they’ve been telling devs they have a problem for a long time, but they’ve just never fixed anything, so the problem persists.”

The issue isn’t simply that Sony charges a minimum of $25,000 to be featured in a visible position on the PlayStation Store—it’s that this is, for most indie games, the only way to be visible. Without paying, developers are reporting that games get completely lost, which many have told us is in stark contrast to both Microsoft and Nintendo’s stores. While both offer ways to pay for prominence (although we’ve as yet been unable to confirm exact figures), what we keep being told is that they also offer many other free options too.

“We get people every week saying, ‘Saw your game on the [Xbox] dashboard today!!’,” a publisher of smaller indie titles tells me. “The Xbox UI feels like a mess, but in reality, it’s actually kinda interesting that they just have so many different places and spaces to feature games.”

Meanwhile on Switch we’re told, “Without paying for featuring, there are spots on the eShop you will appear without paying. New releases, great deals, all those kinds of lists. And they will put new releases and decent discounts into the Discover tab too.”

In response to Iain Garner’s original thread about the mysterious Platform X, a few other indies stepped forward to speak out too, and a theme that emerged was just how few sales they see on PlayStation compared to other platforms.

Matthew Wright of WhiteThorn Games published a pie chart showing the percentage of sales across consoles, with Switch making up a good 60 percent, Xbox around 30%, then Steam around 7 percent and PlayStation down at 3 percent.

Cristian Botea of indie developer and publisher Those Awesome Guys did the same, showing a whopping 91.5 percent on Steam, 7.6 percent on Switch, with 0.6 on Xbox and 0.3 percent on PlayStation.

Another publisher who wished to remain anonymous told us some exact sales figures for one small indie release they named but asked us to withhold. The game sold around 20,000 copies on Xbox, compared to just 7,000 on PlayStation. However, when it came to releasing DLC, the Microsoft console saw 2,000 units shift, while, “On Sony, and [this is] not a fucking joke, until today, 7.”

“If your store doesn’t have a place where players can find new/interesting games,” an indie publisher vents to me, “and you have to literally use the search functionality to find a game, then why the fuck is anyone giving [them] 30%?”

In a now-deleted tweet, another independent developer wrote, “Yep, go try to find my game [on PlayStation] without typing it in...” This was a common refrain from those responding to Garner’s original thread, that the PlayStation just doesn’t have a sensible way of letting newly-released games prominently appear, while both Xbox and Switch have immediately obvious sections devoted to them.

Cristian Botea publically tweeted, explaining just how hard it is to be picked for a sale. He added, “Good luck fighting your way through copy pasted messages that tell you to wait for the invite that will never come.”

“It helps every part of the process,” one indie publisher tells me of Microsoft’s quick responses. Eric Freeman, independent developer of Deja Vu, tells me over Twitter, “Besides their cut for sales we’ve never been asked for money. And everyone on the ID@Xbox team have been incredibly nice and responsive.” He went on to detail how Microsoft have repeatedly invited them to be in sales, making the process simple.

“Heck, they invite you to shows,” another publisher tells me. “They not only invite you if you are already popular, they try to invite quality games no matter if you know them already. And Game Pass. Game Pass is a thing and it offers good value.”

Meanwhile, communication with Sony is reportedly extraordinarily difficult. Ragnar Tørnquist of indie developer Red Thread Games tweeted his frustrations. “We’re a pretty established developer with a proven track record, but I honestly have no idea who to even contact to make console sales happen. It’s like trying to be heard in the vacuum of space.”

“If I literally can’t speak to someone at a platform about an issue,” agrees a publisher over Discord, “and the issue goes on for weeks, it just creates problems.”

Of course, things aren’t all sunshine on the other platforms, but the central message was that things are significantly worse for indies with Sony. We learned some very odd details, like how Nintendo prevents developers from rolling out patches larger the 200MB without special permission, but in general, while no one thought anywhere was close to ideal, people are much happier with the experience and sales on Microsoft and Nintendo’s consoles.

He points out that on Switch there are many ways to be featured without paying. “New releases, great deals, all those kinds of lists, and they will put new releases and decent discounts into the Discover tab too. [I’m] not saying it’s amazing, but it’s at least discovery methods, and we end up selling decent numbers on Switch because people can find our games.”

“Now try going on the PlayStation Store and finding a specific game.”

The Platform X Interview: Neon Doctrine on Releasing Games on Steam, Xbox Game Pass, and PS5

IGN India 01 July, 2021 - 07:01am

IGN India reached out to Garner to gain clarity on his stance as an independent games publisher and what that means when dealing with Sony’s platform. First of, we had to wonder if there are standard rules in place on how publishers and developers are treated. Garner’s response suggested otherwise.

“It’s a mixed bag and there’s definitely not a one rule for all,” he says. “I know that we have been treated better than some and worse than other by Platform X.”

PlayStation has a long and sometimes weird history with indie developers, who they often like to partner up with for platform exclusivity. However, the alluring offer of PS4/PS5 exclusivity is mostly up to the platform holder, as are invites for sales and promotions on the PlayStation store.

Nonetheless, Sony’s indie efforts appear to have undergone a leadership shift in recent years. Previously, the company had the likes of Shahid Kamal championing creators with the PS Vita and PS4. Now those efforts are led by former SIE president Shuhei Yoshida. And yet, it’s surprising to hear that Garner has never met Yoshida or his team.

As far as any management shifts are concerned, Garner says he hasn’t noticed any since before Yoshida took over the indies initiative.

“Never spoke to him, never met him, there’s been no change since he took over as far as I can see,” he opines.

Garner mentions that Neon Doctrine never received any offer or communications regarding store exclusivity, which otherwise has worked well for his team considering Steam is the publisher’s preferred choice of platform.

“Steam gives me the tools I need to build my own success,” he says. “My community, my marketing build my presence on Steam and we get visibility based on that success. Steam should be a guideline for other large platforms.”

This is interesting as a major portion of the publisher’s audience is not from the West, and PC gaming isn’t as big in southeast Asian territories as something like mobile.

Without Steam reviews no one would know my games are good. Western media is incredibly miopic and 95% if my titles are from non-western regions. Steam reviews have made it possible for games and gamers in different regions to thrive. https://t.co/b00urN7IjE

So what about the other console platform then? While Neon Doctrine just has a handful of games listed on the Xbox store, the Microsoft-owned division's subscription-based platform seems to be a favorite of indie developers. Not only does making it into Xbox Game Pass secure funding that can be spent elsewhere, but it also boosts sales across all platforms.

"Games Pass definitely boosted our sales across all platforms and brought loads of new players to Sinner,” he says. “It was a really great experience and I would love to do it again.”

Of course, an entry into the Xbox ecosystem doesn't guarantee extra visibility as the game still needs to have strong legs to stand on its own, but it acts a great booster.

“Xbox is great at onboarding devs but it’s still a tough platform to thrive on,” he admits when probed further.

PlayStation is known for its top-quality exclusives, which are some of the best in the industry. However, that doesn't mean its efforts in the indie space commands an equal pedigree, particularly when its back-end support systems are stuck in the past. Neon Doctrine’s experience bears testament to this.

Indies criticize Sony over discount policies, poor communication, more

GamesIndustry.biz 30 June, 2021 - 09:27pm

Sign up to the GI Jobs board

Making the games industry a better place to work

This morning, Neon Doctrine co-founder Iain Garner posted a Twitter thread about Platform X, which he did not name but identified as "the operator of a very successful console and does not have Game Pass!"

In the thread, Garner criticized not just the lack of promotion it gave indie developers and publishers for their titles, but the choices it made that minimize their ability to move the needle on their own.

"Wishlists have no effect, so all your personal marketing means nothing to Platform X," Garner said. "All that matters is their evaluation. How is this evaluation done? Dunno, they don't share that, nor will they share the value they ascribe to my game."

Garner also criticized a lack of clarity on how a company is supposed to get an account manager (a prerequisite for submitting trailers and blog posts for promotion on the platform), an inability to control launch discounts, an invite-only policy to participate in sales, and a $25,000 minimum spend to have a game featured on the storefront.

"In conclusion, Platform X is super successful and awesome hardware but their backend and process [is] straight out of the early '00s," Garner said. "I have no idea how to succeed on this platform and they won't tell me. Even if I do succeed, they may screw me anyway..."

If there was any doubt that Sony was the platform in question, it was squashed by the numerous responses from independent developers and publishers echoing Garner's frustrations.

Whitethorn Games CEO Matthew White posted a "totally hypothetical definitely not real revenue breakdown" pie chart in a tweet thread noting that "less than 3% of sales as a company are on [Platform X]," which was labelled in the chart as "Nolan North," the voice actor behind Uncharted protagonist Nathan Drake.

White went on to say email communications with the platform are returned in months rather than days or weeks, the process of obtaining sales reports is unnecessarily time consuming and outdated, and it has no marketing, analytics, or advertising assessment tools for developers.

"[Platform X] is our worst performing platform, worse than other well-known plumber or super-soldier related video game systems, and also worse than DRM-free sales platforms like Itch, etc.," White said. "Last month we made more on Google Admob."

Ragnar Tørnquist of RedThread Games retweeted Garner's original post, saying, "This thread mirrors our experiences exactly. Draugen has been out for over a year on consoles. When was the last time it was discounted or featured in a sale? And it's definitely not for a lack of trying. It's disheartening.

"We're a pretty established developer with a proven track record, but I honestly have no idea who to even contact to make console sales happen. It's like trying to be heard in the vacuum of space."

Hypnospace Outlaw developer Jay Tholen went ahead and named names, saying, "Yeah PlayStation sucks for indie devs. We've sold like trash on there compared [to] the other big consoles. Also we make more sales on Itch alone than we do on [PlayStation] I'm pretty sure."

Tholen ended his tweet by saying, "Mike, I'll delete this if you want lol," presumably directed at Mike Rose, founder of HypnoSpace Outlaw publisher No More Robots.

Rose had already weighed in on Garner's thread more obliquely a little earlier, saying, "There's a thread going round today that lots of people are sharing. The reason you don't see more threads like it, is because devs are too worried to say it publicly. But trust me when I say that the vast majority of devs are reading that thread, and nodding their heads violently."

Sign up to the GI Jobs board

Making the games industry a better place to work

Sign up for The Publishing & Retail newsletter and get the best of GamesIndustry.biz in your inbox.

The former ID@Xbox director discusses his journey from PlayStation and Microsoft back into the realm of publishing

CtW's Michael Varner joins us on this week's episode to delve deeper into the world of executive compensation

Virtex

London

Big Planet

Barcelona

Breda University of Applied Sciences

Netherlands

There are no comments on this article yet. Why not be the first to post one?

Need an account? Register now.

8th July 2021

Digital

12th July 2021

Online

Sam Brown posted a comment in

Anton Qvarfordt posted a comment in

John Blythe posted a comment in

Indie developers say Sony makes it damn near impossible to succeed on PlayStation

Input 30 June, 2021 - 06:52pm

Independent developers say the fees make it hard to succeed, but... that's how marketing works.

Several industry insiders aired their grievances on Twitter on Wednesday. One disgruntled developer, Neon Doctrine co-founder Iain Garner, referred to the company not by its name but as “Platform X.” But he also hinted that Platform X is a “very successful console [maker that] does not have Game Pass.” Kotaku, citing two sources, wrote that Platform X is Sony.

“Platform X gives developers no ability to manage their games,” he adds. “In order to get promotion you must jump through hoops, beg and plead for any level of promotion. And a blog is not as good as they think it is.” Publishing a game requires submitting accompanying trailers and blog posts, Garner says, but doing so requires speaking with an account manager, and it’s often unclear how to reach such a person.

Garner also says that Sony only allows developers to offer discounts on their games by invitation, and he doesn’t know the steps required to receive a discount. “It's been literal years since we could put a title of ours in discount, and I spoke to some other VERY POPULAR devs today and they had the same experience.”

The other issues highlighted by Garner are things Sony should work on, and effectively boil down to a lack of consideration for developers trying to publish on its platform.

On top of the $25,000 optional fee for promotions, Sony takes a 30 percent of earnings on all sales in the PlayStation Store. Because players can only get their games through Sony’s storefront, it’s possible to liken this deal to the 30 percent cut that Apple takes in the iOS App Store, something that’s been heavily criticized of late. The difference between today’s consoles and the iPhone, however, is that console makers including Sony generally sell dedicated consoles at a loss with an expectation to make money from game sales. Apple makes a hefty profit on each iPhone it sells for general computing purposes.

Microsoft, like Sony, charges for promotions in its Xbox Store. 🤷

Sony Reportedly Charges $25,000 For PlayStation Store Visibility

GameSpot 30 June, 2021 - 02:53pm

Dark Souls Fan Sequel Nightfall Gets A Release Date And Trailer

Xbox Is The Official Console Of Battlefield 2042

Garner took to Twitter to air out his frustrations with "Platform X." Garner never identified the console maker but clarified that Game Pass doesn't exist on the manufacturer's platform, ruling out PC and Xbox consoles. Speculation has suggested the platform holder in question is Sony, and a subsequent tweet from Whitehorn Games CEO Matthew White laments the troubles his studio has encountered on this same platform. While not outright using Sony's name, White strongly suggests it's the PlayStation maker being referred to. White also notes that he used to work at "Platform X"; his LinkedIn profile shows him as having worked at PlayStation from August 2016-2017.

A Kotaku report, citing two sources, also corroborates that "Platform X" is Sony's PlayStation. Furthermore, some prominent indie developers specifically call Sony out by name as "Platform X."

In short, Garner alleged that "Platform X" makes things difficult for many indie developers. He said the console manufacturer "gives developers no ability to manage their games," including offering store discounts to customers. To even get a feature spot on the unidentified platform, according to Garner, indie developers "must jump through hoops, beg, and plead for any level of promotion."

There are several requirements an indie developer must complete before launching their game on "Platform X," including going through a rigorous certification process through "over [three] generations of backend software." Additionally, "Platform X" makes providing discounts on their games difficult. Receiving a promotion is not assured, though paying $25,000 USD to "Platform X" guarantees a sale. This lump sum is in on top to the 30% earnings the console maker already takes.

Neon Doctrine is an indie publisher working on The Legend of Tianding. Also an indie publisher, Pennsylvania-based Whitehorn Games' name is attached to "wholesome" titles like Calico, Lake, and Onsen Master. A bulk of both publishers' games don't appear on the PlayStation platform.

We're reached out to Sony for comment and will update this post should we hear back.

According to Kotaku's report, two independent sources verified the figure, saying the $25,000 USD price is in place for PlayStation consoles. Apparently, these "deals" can reach as high as $200,000 USD. However, Microsoft also reportedly runs similar schemes for Xbox and its online store.

Sony faces backlash from indie developers for high price of admission

Axios 30 June, 2021 - 02:43pm

Sony is under fire from indie developers who say it charges over $25,000 for prime placement on the PlayStation store and gives them "no ability to manage their games."

Why it matters: The process of getting listed, and then selling, games on the PlayStation store is a bureaucracy that small developers have no control over.

Iain Garner, who co-founded game publisher Neon Doctrine, said on Twitter that "in order to get promotion you must jump through hoops, beg and plead."

What they're saying:WhiteThorn Games CEO Matthew White cosigned Garner’s thread, saying that less than 3% of his company’s sales come from "Platform X," which he calls their "worst performing" platform.

Mike Rose of publisher No More Robots commented on the thread indirectly. "[D]evs are too worried to say it publicly," he said. "But trust me when I say that the vast majority of devs are reading that thread, and nodding their heads violently."

Sony did not respond to Axios’ request for comment.

The bottom line: Sony's current practices are a tough pill for some developers, many of which are often marginalized creators.

Sony's PlayStation division has purchased Finnish studio Housemarque, makers of the sensational PS5 game "Returnal."

Why it matters: Sony's recipe for PlayStation success centers on hot exclusive games, which are more easily had when you own top-caliber studios.

After months of testing, marketers are finally going to be able to start running video ads within console and PC games.

Why it matters: In-game advertising, a linchpin of mobile gaming, could be very lucrative for console and PC developers. But studios have been hesitant to adopt them, fearing that a clunky ad experience would mess with user engagement.

Game developers are speaking out about their fickle careers, which are rife with long hours, stagnation and the threat of layoffs.

Why it matters: Longtime designer Laralyn McWilliams calls this "one of the unspoken taxes of being in game dev," pointing in a Twitter thread to 10 moves in 27 years that span cities from Raleigh, North Carolina, and Ann Arbor, Michigan, to Seattle, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

Indie Publisher Shares Grievances About Working With A Specific Platform Holder, Heavily Hints At Sony - PlayStation Universe

PlayStation Universe 30 June, 2021 - 09:30am

Sony is generally considered to be quite a secretive company but details about its practices have seemingly been revealed by Iain Garner from indie publisher Neon Doctrine.

Sharing a number of issues he has with a platform-specific holder on Twitter, he heavily suggests that he is talking about Sony, although he doesn’t outright confirm it.

In his Twitter thread, he refers to the platform holder as Platform X and says that the platform gives developers no ability to manage their games or promote them easily without having to jump through hoops and plead and beg.

Other details include needing to write a blog post and upload a platform-specific trailer (which are two things Sony does), limited approvals for launch discounts on new games, which is an issue we have heard about Sony in the past.

In a follow-up tweet responding to someone, Garner basically confirms it as Sony by responding to someone saying “I’d be shocked if this wasn’t Nintendo” with “Be Shocked”.

The full thread can be found below:

It hasn’t been a secret that Sony’s practices aren’t favoured by a number of developers but it does beg the question about just what Sony might be missing out on by placing these barriers in place.

What are your thoughts on these new revelations?

Source – [@NeonIain]

More indie publishers and developers speak out to air their grievances with PlayStation as a bad platform for indie games and developers.

PlayStation Plus Free August 2021 PS4, PS5 Games – What are the free PlayStation Plus PS4, PS5 games for August 2021? Let’s take a look!

Nixxes Studio previously worked on PlayStation first-party titles like Killzone: Shadow Fall, Herman Hulst reveals on Twitter.

The Procession To Calvary (Nintendo Switch / PC / PS4 / Xbox One)

Sniper Elite VR (HTC Vive / Oculus Quest / Oculus Rift / PS VR / Valve Index)

Crash Drive 3 (Android / iOS / Nintendo Switch / PC / PS4 / PS5 / Xbox One / Xbox Series S/X)

Where The Heart Leads (PS4)

Lost At Sea (PC / PS5 / Xbox Series S/X)

F1 2021 (PC / PS4 / PS5 / Xbox One / Xbox Series S/X)

Cris Tales (Google Stadia / Nintendo Switch / PC / PS4 / PS5 / Xbox One / Xbox Series S/X)

Last Stop (Nintendo Switch / PC / PS4 / PS5 / Xbox One / Xbox Series S/X)

Sony Charging Devs At Least $25,000 For PlayStation Store Visibility

Kotaku 30 June, 2021 - 09:30am

Without naming either Sony or PlayStation (presumably allowing room for us to think he might mean the Atari VCS), British developer and publisher Garner details just how difficult he has found it to gain support, store presence, and even launch discounts, when releasing games on the platform.

“If Platform X doesn’t like your game, no fanfare no feature no love,” Garner claims, after stating that getting any attention at all requires he “jump through hoops.” Suggesting that developers have “no ability to manage their games,” he goes on to detail how a game’s presence is based on the platform holder’s own evaluation of the product. “How is this evaluation done? Dunno, they don’t share that, nor will they share the value they ascribe to my game.”

Garner claims that all games released on the store have to get through an “incredibly difficult [compliance check] spread over 3 generations of backend software,” then create a specific trailer for the platform, write a blog for their site, and then “Submit multiple forms for social media.” And that even getting assigned an account manager to help with this proves difficult.

After alleging that even being able to launch with a discounted price requires the console owner’s approval—and even then is “very limited”—Garner goes on to make the most notable claim. That all this can be bypassed by paying a minimum of $25,000. This is a figure we’ve since had verified by two sources.

Starting at that price, the The Legend of Tianding publisher says this company will feature a game on their store, ensuring it reaches players’ eyes. And of course that’s before the standard 30% of earnings that goes to the platform holder.

While Garner never mentions any names, we’ve independently verified that these deals are certainly in place with Sony for the PlayStation.

The numbers of indie games coming out each week on any platform is already untenable for the current systems. As Mike chronicles, the Switch has at least 30 games come out a week, while Steam currently sees around 50 new games a day. Getting noticed on any platform, when you don’t have the marketing spend and pre-hype of a AAA publisher, is nightmarishly difficult, with dozens of decent games going completely unnoticed every month.

This creates an opportunity for platform holders, who by necessity cannot prominently show every new game on their console stores. Where perhaps one might hope for solutions like improved human curation, or better displayed prominent sections devoted to promising indies, charging money for those top spots seems far more inevitable.

From official paperwork we’ve seen, those fees can reach six figures for just a weekend’s promotion. We’re also told that Microsoft runs similar payment schemes for the Xbox store. Of course, for big publishers this is just another number on a multi-million marketing spreadsheet, the costs of doing business. But for independent developers and publishers, working on total budgets more likely in five figures or less, it’s absolutely unaffordable. For so long as major platforms release both sorts of games on the same terms, having them directly compete against one another, Garner’s will be just one of thousands of frustrated stories of finding it impossible to get any attention at all.

We’ve reached out to Sony for comment, and will update should they respond.

Meanwhile, we asked Iain Garner why he felt the need to speak out after his recent call with “Platform X”.

“Platform X is letting down indies on a massive scale while using us as a key part of their marketing,” he told us, likely referencing the larger profile certain indie games were given at E3 this year. “The recent call I had showed that they had no regard for us, our opinions or our livelihoods. What’s worse is that it ensures that their customers get a worse deal and have less options. I don’t understand the logic but it seems to be bad for everyone including them.”

If you want to avoid that, your only hope is to make an amazing game that gets enough word of mouth to climb some kind of best sellers chart. Or hope to get noticed by a store’s editors. This part is like winning a lottery. It’s rare, but super helpful if it happens.

Those are your options. The same has they have been for generations in all forms of commerce. Get word of mouth through quality, or pay to advertise. Simple as that.

Technology Stories