PC playing fans of Dear Esther got some bad news today, as Rock Paper Scissors confirmed that thechineseroom's next game, Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, is now a PlayStation 4 exclusive.
As the studio's Dan Pinchbeck told RPS, "So the thinking went like this: We don't have enough money or production expertise to make this game without help. We don't think we can raise enough through Kickstarter or public alpha to make this happen. We could do with production support on a game this scale. We've always wanted to make a console game. Publishers have bad reputations all too often. Hey, Sony Santa Monica are great though. We've met them a few times and really like them and their attitude. Also, PS4 is starting to look very cool as a platform. All eggs thrown into singular basket, Sony Santa Monica contacted, everybody likes each other, lots of love for the project. Long dark night of the soul mulling over implications of shifting across to console. Mix of pragmatism and excitement about the possibilities win out."
The news was met with a fair amount of anger from PC players, if the RPS comments section is anything to go by. One poster hopes the game fails, calling it a "complete betrayal in my books." Another criticizes their "indie spirit." Still another chalks it up as one more developer to boycott. While the posters displaying animosity are outnumbered by those merely expressing understandable disappointment, the general reaction is clearly an unhappy one.
While the studio has tweeted that the game could at some point come to PC, "it's not planned right now." It basically sounds like another one of those slightly gross timed exclusivity deals where the people involved aren't allowed to acknowledge the deal, right? But putting that speculation aside for a minute, looking at this as if the game will be a PS4 exclusive for an extended period of time, I'm all in favor of what thechineseroom is doing, specifically because so many of their fans disapprove.
Some people might have you believe that there's no difference between indies and AAA developers. Perhaps counterintuitively, thechineseroom hooking up with Sony for Everybody's Gone to the Rapture underscores exactly what the difference is. Independent developers can do what they think is right for their game. They can make whatever deals they need or work on whatever platform they want in order to realize their vision for a project. They can risk alienating their fans.
AAA developers can't do that. Once there's enough money riding on a project, and enough other people devoting their lives to its success, they become largely paralyzed by their own success. In order to make their scale of development profitable, they need to carry over as many of their previous fans as possible. And in most cases, the one thing guaranteed to appeal to the largest number of those fans will be more of the same thing they liked last time.
Independent developers can do what they think is right for their game. They can risk alienating their fans.
For an example on the grandest scale possible, look at Microsoft's Xbox One unveiling. The company clearly had a vision for a natively digital, constantly connected console. But people rejected that vision, and Microsoft has spent the time since dismantling the vision and bringing everything in line either with the status quo or the PS4. As hideous as we might have thought the original Xbox One vision was, we'll never know if it would have worked now. For all we know, it might have been another Steam, an idea that drew plenty of initial skepticism but in practice evolved into a beloved cornerstone of the industry.
I don't want to waste time debating definitions of AAA or indie, because they are both arbitrarily assigned labels. I'll just say that I want every developer to be independent in the sense that they are free to make what they want to make. I would rather trust them to make decisions on what the game should be and wind up being let down in the end than have them so afraid to alienate their fan bases that they wind up producing the same thing every time out.