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The Vita needs indie games: how smaller developers could be Sony’s salvation

The Vita needs indie games: how smaller developers could be Sony’s salvation

The PlayStation Vita is in a rough spot. There are few big games on the horizon, it suffers from a high price and little hope of a North American price drop, and gamers have to put up with expensive, proprietary memory if they want to download their games.

It’s hard to excite developers without higher sales, but it’s hard to excite gamers without games. What’s the best course of action in this situation? Woo the indies, of course.

An untapped source of content

The Vita’s largest strength has always been its beautiful screen, dual analog sticks, and full suite of buttons. You can purchase a game like Super Crate Box on your iPhone, but that sort of high concept, twitch-based title comes to life when you play with actual buttons.

Retro City Rampage is another game from a smaller developer that is best played on the Vita. More big-name indies are coming to the hardware as well. Hotline Miami was recently announced for the Vita, and that ultra-violent and beautifully made game has already found large-scale success on the PC. The Vita is the best portable device for that game as well; allowing you to play on a large, bright screen complete with physical buttons and analog controls.

The Vita hardware offers an experience no other portable, from the 3DS to smart phones and tablets, can match. Indie games that were aimed at the PC are a natural fit.“We think that the Vita is an interesting handheld. It's definitely a powerful device and we love playing with it, but the problem has always been content,” Vlambeer’s Rami Ismail told the Report.

Vlambeer is the creator of Super Crate Box, a game that’s stapled to my face every time I travel with my Vita. “We think PlayStation Mobile, on which we released Super Crate Box, is going to be an interesting force in the Vita market. Obviously, Sony is trying to reposition the Vita with the PlayStation 4 announcement last night - so we're expecting the device to get a lot more fun in the near future.” Ismail said that sales of Super Crate Box on the Vita have been “reasonable,” but it’s also a new system.

It’s also a place where indies can price their game slightly higher than the ecosystem on smart phones will allow. Dowloadable games for the Vita and 3DS look pretty good at $5 or so, but on the iPhone anything above $1 may seem expensive.

“It's definitely a worthwhile platform for indie developers that are starting out,” Ismail continued. “Working with Sony, however, has been great. Their team has been extremely friendly and has always been happy to talk, listen or help out. Just yesterday after the Sony event, we ended up hanging out with Nick Suttner from Sony, playing some Spelunky, eating terrible deli food and chatting about what is next. We can't wait to work with these people again in the future.”

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard this about Sony. The company has been one of the most welcoming to indies in the console space, and everyone who has worked with Sony on smaller projects tends to speak of the experience in glowing terms. The Sportsfriends release, complete with Kickstarter, was an interesting look at how flexible Sony has become with regards to its platforms.

A good platform to support

Jonathan Blow, the creator of Braid and the upcoming timed PlayStation 4 exclusive The Witness, likewise spoke highly of working with Sony. “To launch a high-spec version of the game on a console, it came down to a choice between the next Microsoft console or the next Sony console. There were people at Sony who really liked the game and were keeping in touch with us about it, and so we naturally started going to their PS4 developer events, got a dev kit, and started playing with it,” Blow wrote on this blog.

“I don’t have good communication with anyone at Microsoft right now, but all our technical people like the PS4 specs a lot more than the leaked Durango specs, and we like the positioning of the PS4 (it’s about games) more than what we perceive Microsoft’s positioning is going to be.”

Sony wanted to lock down a timed exclusive, and since Blow’s team didn’t have time to work on other console ports and he was already content with the upcoming PlayStation 4 release, it seemed like a good deal.

“We like the PS4 and we like the people at Sony we are working with, so it was an easy choice to make the agreement,” he stated. This is the sort of attitude and friendliness that endears Sony to indies, and the ability to self-publish your games doesn’t hurt.

There is a new version of Frozen Synapse coming to the Vita as well, but the list of independent games that would be a good fit for the hardware is nearly endless. If you have the know-how to develop for the Vita, and your game is already doing well on the PC, why not bring it over and extend your reach? If you’re Sony, why not try to lock down a few high-profile indie games? It takes less money than traditional releases, and these games bring their own buzz and fanbase.

The Vita already has a strong library of indie games, and it's growing as more developers realize the possibilities of bringing their already-popular independent PC games to the portable. Sony's open attitude towards smaller games is also welcome in an industry where consoles can often seem like gardens with very thick walls. There is much possibility here for beefing up the Vita's library, and we'd love to see both sides of the equation take advantage of the situation.