One of the biggest surprises of Sony's Wednesday evening press conference was the appearance of Braid lead designer Jonathan Blow. The outspoken indie game creator revealed this his team's next game, The Witness, would make its console debut on the PS4.
That's led to some confusion that the enchanting puzzle game might only come out on PS4. Or only launch on the PS4 first. Not quite, Blow told me today, though he seems to have all but written off any other console releases.
"Our deal with Sony is a limited-time exclusivity that applies only to competing console platforms," Blow said. "Basically it is that you will see the game on the PlayStation 4 before you will see it on the Wii U or the next Microsoft console, if the game ever appears on either of those (whether it appears on those consoles eventually is purely up to whatever future arrangements might happen between us and Nintendo/Microsoft/Random Publishers/Whoever)."
He said that the Sony deal doesn't keep him from also launching the The Witness on PC or iOS at launch, but such matters are more contingent on whether his team can get it prepped for numerous platforms at once. "The ideal situation for us is to release everything simultaneously or close to simultaneously."
So what did Sony pay for this? What did Sony do to get a guy whose last game debuted on the Xbox 360? It wasn't money, Blow said. "People have been speculating that I got a money hat for this agreement with Sony, or that we needed to do this in order to fund development of The Witness. Actually, no money was involved at all.
"The real situation is that, because we are a small developer, we only have the ability to launch on a small number of platforms at once. We liked the idea of being on a console, and originally we thought we might be on the PS3 or Xbox 360, but eventually we decided not to target either of those due to the relatively low system specs. After some more time went by, and our release date drifted further into the future, we realized that the next-generation console launch time might be a good time to release the game. (For a while we were hoping to be out substantially earlier than the next consoles, e.g. right now, so we didn't start thinking seriously about this until recently)."
"The Wii U still has pretty low system specs, so 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. I don't have good communication with anyone at Microsoft right now, and haven't been disclosed on their next console, 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) a lot more than what we perceive Microsoft's positioning is going to be."
"So we just found ourselves doing a PS4 port. And once we are doing that, it is not practical for us also to think about another console port. We were going to be a de facto console exclusive for Sony no matter what. As I mentioned, there are people at Sony who are very interested in The Witness, so they somehow percolated up through the ranks the idea of showing the game in the launch show. "
"Of course, Sony wants that show to point out things that are going to be exclusive or special to their console. So to be in the show we signed a timed exclusivity for competing consoles. But this was just a formalization of something that was already de facto. 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."