KYOTO – Shuhei Yoshida, the bespectacled president of Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios, didn’t attend the BitSummit independent game festival in Kyoto on July 11 simply to deliver a speech and reaffirm Sony’s commitment to indie developers — he wanted to try out some games.
And so, before and after his speech, Yoshida darted around the event hall at Miyako Messe, interacting with developers, taking pictures, playing games and tweeting up a storm.
“There are a lot of games to play,” Yoshida says. “It’s amazing. There are so many games that I have heard about but never seen.”
“PlayStation Loves Indies” is the message the gaming giant has been pushing hard in recent years. The tagline is one of the first things you will see on the indie section of Sony’s jp.playstation.com website. It was also emblazoned on the back of the blue T-shirts worn by staffers in the Sony area at BitSummit.
Embracing indie games is more than a love affair for Sony, Yoshida says. It’s becoming a necessity, one the company is embracing in Japan more enthusiastically than either Microsoft, which has been at the last two BitSummits, or Nintendo.
“Indie games are super important for the industry — not just for us,” Yoshida says. “Large publishers — ourselves included — are now spending a lot more money to make a single game because of the technology involved. As a result, publishers are making a smaller number of games than before.
“As each title requires a large development, it’s becoming more difficult to take risks in order to recoup our investment. However, someone has to invest in new ideas in order for the industry to grow. Someone has to try something that no one has ever tried.”
The rising cost of development has created a landscape in which many big-budget releases are sequels, new games in existing franchises or games that don’t stray far from the beaten path.
Indie titles aren’t bound to the will of executives or the whim of focus groups. There’s less — often much less — to work with financially, but the trade-off is more freedom to think outside the box.
“Many new concepts fail, but the industry cannot sustain itself without new concepts coming out and creating exciting new trends,” Yoshida says. “Mid-size publishers have disappeared, and so now it’s indie developers that are generating new ideas and new excitement. One great example is ‘No Man’s Sky’ (a science fiction action game set in a procedurally generated galaxy), which is made by Hello Games in the U.K. It’s a small developer, less than 10 people, but it’s doing something unique that major publishers are not doing. Developments such as these are key to the industry’s growth and that’s why it’s important to support indie developers.”
Yoshida sees indie developers as a continuing part of Sony’s future. However, making it easier for more Japanese indie developers to get their games on Sony platforms is just one part of the plan. Yoshida also wants to see domestic publishers bring more Western titles to Japan.
“We are working with a series of publishers in Japan who specialize in bringing quality Western indie games to the Japanese market,” he said. “We want Japanese people to realize that high-quality titles come out on the digital store every week, so that they start making it a habit to visit the PSN store.”
Sony’s indie initiative may also extend to Project Morpheus, the company’s upcoming virtual reality headset, which is slated to hit the market sometime in 2016.
“The hardware development (of Project Morpheus) is going very, very well,” Yoshida says. “We are now focused on working on finalizing the system software and giving technical support to developers.”
Project Morpheus won’t want for games if the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles is any indication. A number of titles were on display during the June 16-18 convention, and many more are in the pipeline. “We prepared 20-plus kiosks for the E3 booth, but we had more submissions from developers than we could display,” Yoshida says. “We had to turn down some of the games that had already been completed for E3 and we are now asking them to target either TGS (Tokyo Games Show) or Paris Games Week.”
Yoshida also expresses optimism about the future of PlayStation 4 (PS4).
“People have regained confidence in console games because of the success of PS4,” he says. “Console investment by consumers is typically long term. People don’t buy game consoles every year, they buy every five or six years. Once they buy a game console, they want to know that decent content will continually be available in the future so they can enjoy it for a long time.
“People feel more comfortable investing in a PS4 after we announced PS4 games during E3 and they know Project Morpheus is coming out next year,” Yoshida says. “They know that they can enjoy using PS4 for a long time in the future.”