E3 2014: Sony Looks to Strike Indie Gaming Gold
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E3 2014: Sony Looks to Strike Indie Gaming Gold

REUTERS/Gus Ruelas

Any gamer worth his or her salt will remember the early days of the PlayStation 3, when every console war conversation eventually came down to the punchline “The PS3 has no games.” Now, one generation later, it looks like history is repeating itself.

While new consoles are often beset by a dearth of exclusive titles, the PS4’s list pales in comparison to that of its chief peer, the Xbox One. At this year’s E3, the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo happening this week in Los Angeles, Microsoft announced the next version of its blockbuster Halo series, and remastered versions of Halos 1-4 for the Xbox One.

Even though, by most accounts, the PS4 has been winning the “console war,” Sony doesn’t quite have a title to match. Microsoft has bungled so many aspects of the Xbox One console and launch that the PS4 has been able to coast into the lead without offering titles that generate genuine excitement. That can’t last, though, and Sony knows it. It simply can’t ignore the chief issue that threatens the long-term success of its platform: that distinct lack of interesting exclusive titles.

Related: Video Game Changers: 21 Titles That Rocked the Industry

To address that, Sony announced blockbusters, or potential blockbusters, like Bungie’s Destiny or Uncharted 4. But even as corporate chieftains wrinkle their foreheads and brainstorm new, uninspired AAA titles, the PS4 team is also trying to draw gamers from the PC market and buff up its library of games by cozying up to indie developers behind more whimsical, creative, artistic and even experimental titles. The PS4 team loaned out dev kits, which usually come with a $2,500 price tag, to independent developers for free last May. More recently, Sony paid the bill for indie exhibitors at this year’s Tokyo Game Show.

Those titles can really matter. Gamers are being increasingly entranced by the slew of imaginative, challenging games that are quickly flooding the market, thanks in part to programs like the Humble Indie Bundle and Steam’s Greenlight, a talent contest for indie games with the prize being promotion on the Steam platform. And going off the PS4’s launch calendar, which just announced 12 new indie games in development, with plenty more waiting in the wings, it seems that this strategy is finally starting to pay off.

Indie game developer The Chinese Room released its surreal hit Dear Esther in 2012. Heavily praised for its expansive scenery, abstract storyline, and quality writing, it has quickly become one of the go-to points of evidence for the argument that video games are art.

The Chinese Room’s spiritual successor to Dear Esther, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, will sadly be a little less accessible. Bankrolled by Sony Computer Entertainment’s Santa Monica studio, this sequel will be limited to the PS4, with no intention of being released for the PC or any other platforms.

Related: Why Microsoft’s Xbox One Has Already Lost to Sony’s PS4

The Chinese Room isn’t the only indie developer on Sony’s dance card, though. Jonathan Blow, the one-man creator of the award-winning Braid is releasing his next game on the PS4 and PC, but not the Xbox One. The same goes with the 8-bit reboot of The Binding of Isaac, a twisted, dark, action game from Edmund McMillan.

Most notable, perhaps, is the indie game Rime, which was initially designed with the Xbox in mind. The developers ran into a conflict between their vision of a single player story-driven adventure, and Microsoft’s publishing policies, which focused heavily on multiplayer gaming. Sony, naturally, swooped in, and Rime is now set for release as a PS4 exclusive in the near future.

While this strategy has certainly given Sony a leg up on the Xbox in the indie sector, it still remains to be seen if it’s enough to lure dedicated gamers away from the hallowed mecca of indie gaming: the PC.  

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