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Friday, March 02, 2007

Indies, Consoles and Resources

To combat this problem, both Sony and Microsoft are dramatically increasing their investment in exclusive content for their consoles, and offering third-party developers financial incentives to keep games on one platform. While neither Sony nor Microsoft will admit to offering such incentives, Barton feels that this is the only explanation for keeping titles such as Gears of War on one console. "Third parties are not so concerned with using their treble-A IP to drive sales of someone else's hardware," he explained, "unless there is a very good, almost invariably financial, reason to do so."

As for the development houses that aren't purchased outright by Sony or Microsoft and can't get these aforementioned financial incentives, things look rough in the years ahead. Barton calls the next-gen game industry an "unforgiving environment for independents at the moment" as costs continue to ramp up without a proportionate increase in revenues.

However, there is a silver lining to this dark cloud, and it comes in an unlikely form: last-gen hardware. Barton says that the PlayStation 2 in particular offers a "huge potential user base to release games into" and feels that the platform will hang on into the next generation "longer than any other console in history." The continued strong sales of PS2s would tend to reinforce this prediction.
-- Rising game costs hurt indie developers, help last-gen consoles: analyst

I'm not sure I agree with the analysis. The PS2 might appeal to small, but well funded, studios for at least the coming year or so. Anything that can be ported to the platform seems like it would be a no-brainer to do so with it's massive consumer base. When it comes to low-cost independent development, though, the DS seems like a better option than the PS2. The expectation level for graphics is low, it's got a mature online component and also enjoys a huge audience.

All that said - I think things are getting ready to pop for indie and hobbyist development. Not right away, perhaps, but soon enough. XNA is one piece - but it will be curious to see what Nintendo and Sony do. I'd love to see Sony release (or even sell cheaply) a Linux SDK for the PS3 that would run ... on the PS3. It would be incredibly ideal to buy a console and be able to dev right up against it.

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