Sony's PlayStation Indies Initiative is Great. Now It Needs to Follow Through

Sony's PlayStation Indies Initiative is Great. Now It Needs to Follow Through

It feels like Sony abandoned indies this generation, so hopefully this is a course correction for PS5.

Sony forgot about indie games this generation. Or at least, it's felt that way for some time. The console dominated when it came to profitable, triple-A exclusives. It understandably, from a business perspective, couldn't lend the oxygen to smaller third-party releases. For its very last E3 showing, it showed just three of its three big-budget games in lieu of a typical E3 conference where indies would usually get at least some spotlight. And then for two years in a row—counting this year's announcement, before E3 was canceled wholesale—Sony Interactive Entertainment skipped the big games expo altogether.

Meanwhile, in 2014, Microsoft formed its ID@Xbox self-publishing initiative, which paved the way for some of the most renowned timed-exclusive games on the platform like Cuphead and Inside. Nintendo, in an unexpected shift, picked up the baton as well, leading the charge in using its platform to shine a spotlight on independently developed games of all shapes, sizes, and genres with exclusive "Nindie"-focused Nintendo Directs. Somewhere along the way, despite indie games continuing to bel released on the PS4, Sony stopped giving them a voice on its platform.

With the PlayStation 5 only a few months away though, Sony has seemingly seen the error of its ways. Today, Sony announced its new PlayStation Indies initiative. "With PlayStation Indies, we hope to spotlight and support the best of the best indie games being published on PlayStation and the entire indie community as a whole. Our goal is to make PlayStation the best place to develop, find, and play great indie games," Shuhei Yoshida, Head of PlayStation Indies, wrote in a blog announcing the new course of action. To celebrate the day, Sony Interactive Entertainment's detailed nine upcoming games that are coming to both PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 on the PlayStation Blog.

I remember the launch of PlayStation 4 being underwhelming, like all launch windows typically are. It managed to have a few standouts though: Octodad: Dadliest Catch and Doki-Doki Universe. While not defining the hardware really in any way, both games were silly and nice reprises. It gave me an excuse to leave my PS4 plugged in for a time even though I was mostly still playing PlayStation 3. Without Octodad and Doki-Doki Universe, I probably would have kept my PS4 in a drawer for a rainy day mid-generation, when things started finally picking up.

In 2014, Sony Interactive Entertainment tried to push its own indie game roster in a big way. It lined up console exclusives like Nidhogg, which was at once just on PC. It even announced Chasm as a PS4 and PlayStation Vita platform exclusive, set to release that same year (it eventually saw release in 2018). But after 2014, Sony's loud, public rallying cry for indie games seemed to dissipate as first-party exclusives took precedence, leaving the proverbial gate wide open for Microsoft and Nintendo to take hold.

Since then, I've found myself mainly turning to my Switch and PC primarily for indie games. Of course, PC will always be the primary home for indie games; some of my favorite games of the past few years, like Disco Elysium and the recent Umurangi Generation, are currently only available there. In looking at what sorts of games sap the attention on major platforms, it's always the triple-A blockbuster. It's what dazzles in game trailers with sad covers of familiar songs; it's what gets the marketing budget. That said, I don't think big platforms have given enough credit to gamers. They want more than just big budget, story driven adventures that are banking on being adjacent to movies. Just ask my friend who exclusively plays The Sims and, of all things, Rust.

I hope that in initiatives like ID@Xbox, Nindies, and now PlayStation Indies, more marketing share is further given to indie developers in the next console generation. Thousands of games release every year on Steam alone, and it's only getting more crowded—and that's not even considering the console exclusives and storefronts like Epic Games Store and itch.io. With that crowd, comes the harder ability to stand out. On the other hand, lumping like-minded games together for one big blowout runs the risk of having them all bleed together—as was the case with the Wholesome Direct earlier this year. I could not name one game that was shown amidst the sea of low-poly, pastel. In major platforms lending space to indies in a different fashion, however, the opportunity is given to shine beyond a trending GIF, and in most cases, break through the monotonous noise of dour triple-A blockbusters. It's the rare platform for indies to actually stand out.

Just last month during PlayStation's big games showcase, Sony showed that it was undergoing some major course correction in regards to its approach. The afternoon was stuffed with an enticing mixture of games big and small; graphically impressive and quaint in equal measure. Of the whole showcase, the game to make the most noise was an indie: Bugsnax, which is also fittingly the follow-up to Octodad.

Today on the PlayStation Blog, Sony Interactive Entertainment debuted some games (Worms Rumble, Creaks from Amanita Design), and shined additional spotlight on others we've already known about (Carto, Haven). It's been nice. Sony really lost sight of double-A and indie games this generation, but with PlayStation Indies, hopefully it can stay the course and uplift the games that need those extra eyeballs.

After all, when I look back at the launch of PlayStation 4, I don't think of how shallow Killzone: Shadowfall was, nor do I ever dare let my mind drift to Knack. Instead, I think about the indies I played. Octodad's flailing limbs. Doki-Doki Universe's goofy adventure. I even recall Contrast, a game I didn't like, but nevertheless paved the way for Compulsion's intriguing and flawed follow-up We Happy Few. I hope that heading into the PlayStation 5 generation, that the platform holder will put an even greater emphasis on the indie games that already populate consoles—because in reality, they're by and large the most innovative and memorable games out there. It's the indie game experiences that I'll remember most about PlayStation 4, from the many evenings spent yelling with friends playing Nidhogg to my partner and I playing Firewatch together and being floored by it. It's the indie games I'll remember for years to come, and I hope the PlayStation Indies initiative will facilitate those more for the next generation.

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Caty McCarthy

Senior Editor

Caty McCarthy is a former freelance writer whose work has appeared in Kill Screen, VICE, The AV Club, Kotaku, Polygon, and IGN. When she's not blathering into a podcast mic, reading a book, or playing a billion video games at once, she's probably watching Terrace House or something. She is currently USgamer's Senior Editor.

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