In a four-person panel held Wednesday at GDC 09, the majority of independent developers attending said that making independent games and getting them to market for Microsoft was easier than Sony because the company was more organized.
“I’ve worked with both systems and from an ease factor, as far as getting the game out there, Sony has been helpful, but Microsoft is more organized,” said Vlad Ceraldi, president and CEO, Hothead Games, speaking at the GDC 09 session, “Braving the Stormy Waters of Xbox Live Arcade and PSN: Smaller is NOT Easier.
“Microsoft wins in that argument,” said Mike Mika, creative director, Backbone Entertainment. “Sony, however, is better about exploring new ideas and exploiting the platform, but they weren’t as organized as Microsoft.”
Other attendees included Jonathan Blow, creator of Braid, and Kraig Kujawa, director of Design, PD, Capcom USA. Very little was mentioned about developing indie games for Nintendo’s Wii. Indie developers, such as Telltale Games’ Strong Bad or 2D Boy’s World of Goo, and European indie developers, weren’t represented.
Instead of those, iPhone games were mentioned multiple times.
“With Apple, you don’t get much interaction with them, but they have a 97% pass-through rate, so if you put a concept or a game through, and you’re likely to get it out there,” said Mika. “That’s how games like iFart gets out there. So in that regard, getting a game out there and into the store and making money, it’s so much faster on the iPhone than on these other two platforms. And if we can get those other two platforms to that space, you’ll see a much more interesting market and more variety than you do today on PSN and XBLA.
Blow, the creator of the successful DLC XBLA game, Braid, runs his own business and has only published one game to date. His efforts were also self-funded; he spent approximately $200 over three years to make Braid with a staff of two people, he said at the show. Known for his outspoken opinions on matters of game quality, Blow added this lengthy comment on the XBLA experience.
“My only game release has been Xbox Live Arcade, so I would say that, as I have detailed in my blog posts stuff, any time you have a platform like that, they have a priority structure,” Blow said. “The problem comes in, with any publisher anywhere who sees their role as gatekeeper doesn’t understand what a good game or a bad game is in the first place. So what they green light and what they turn down is not actually necessarily in their best interest even though they think it might be, right? And the processes have been put in place that they hope establish quality can in many cases result in lower quality games because you spend all your time working on things that don’t impact the player experience that much, like, ‘oh, what happens when the user does this or that?’ Whereas meanwhile while I’m fixing that, I can’t fix this twitch in the animation where the player climbs a ladder or whatever, which by the way, they don’t test for in their process. And that’s a fundamental piece of gameplay. So there are all these processes in place and they help you meet a minimum quality bar, for a certain definition of quality, but they don’t actually help you make a good game. So you have to keep that mind.
Added Ceraldi, “There is one other aspect. These are large companies and as far as companies go, you might get the luck of the draw, but what happens is there is a lot of churn in personnel. So I’m working with all new people now then when I started working with Microsoft three years ago. So if you get good people, and it’s a big enough organization where it’s not just one guy that can sway opinion toward your camp. I have heard some good stories with Nintendo, but I haven’t worked with them, so I can’t say any more than that.”
“From a design standpoint, Xbox Live’s strengths are shoveled around in the same way, so you know how to create multiplayer and you know how to do this and that, but it’s a little more rigid and you kind of what to push the boundaries and see what you can do,” added Kraig Kujawa, Capcom. “So that can create a lot of work hurdles and workarounds, things that may or may not be the best thing for the designer, or for the publisher. But they have been really good about working with us on our last two titles without being difficult. Sony is so much more open. It’s an open architecture, that’s a strength and a weakness as well. So it gives you more latitude as a developer.”