In a furious tirade on Twitter, independent games publisher Iain Garner of Neon Doctrine has unleashed his frustrations with trying to publish games on a major games console—one he says that isn’t made by Microsoft. During the spleen-venting, he suggests that getting prominent promotion for a game from the platform holder requires spending at least $25,000. According to financial figures we’ve had verified by another source, if it’s Sony he’s talking about, that can reach as high as $200,000.
Without naming either Sony or PlayStation (presumably allowing room for us to think he might mean the Atari VCS), British developer and publisher Garner details just how difficult he has found it to gain support, store presence, and even launch discounts, when releasing games on the platform.
“If Platform X doesn’t like your game, no fanfare no feature no love,” Garner claims, after stating that getting any attention at all requires he “jump through hoops.” Suggesting that developers have “no ability to manage their games,” he goes on to detail how a game’s presence is based on the platform holder’s own evaluation of the product. “How is this evaluation done? Dunno, they don’t share that, nor will they share the value they ascribe to my game.”
Garner claims that all games released on the store have to get through an “incredibly difficult [compliance check] spread over 3 generations of backend software,” then create a specific trailer for the platform, write a blog for their site, and then “Submit multiple forms for social media.” And that even getting assigned an account manager to help with this proves difficult.
After alleging that even being able to launch with a discounted price requires the console owner’s approval—and even then is “very limited”—Garner goes on to make the most notable claim. That all this can be bypassed by paying a minimum of $25,000. This is a figure we’ve since had verified by two sources.
Starting at that price, the The Legend of Tianding publisher says this company will feature a game on their store, ensuring it reaches players’ eyes. And of course that’s before the standard 30% of earnings that goes to the platform holder.
While Garner never mentions any names, we’ve independently verified that these deals are certainly in place with Sony for the PlayStation.
The numbers of indie games coming out each week on any platform is already untenable for the current systems. As Mike chronicles, the Switch has at least 30 games come out a week, while Steam currently sees around 50 new games a day. Getting noticed on any platform, when you don’t have the marketing spend and pre-hype of a AAA publisher, is nightmarishly difficult, with dozens of decent games going completely unnoticed every month.
This creates an opportunity for platform holders, who by necessity cannot prominently show every new game on their console stores. Where perhaps one might hope for solutions like improved human curation, or better displayed prominent sections devoted to promising indies, charging money for those top spots seems far more inevitable.
From official paperwork we’ve seen, those fees can reach six figures for just a weekend’s promotion. We’re also told that Microsoft runs similar payment schemes for the Xbox store. Of course, for big publishers this is just another number on a multi-million marketing spreadsheet, the costs of doing business. But for independent developers and publishers, working on total budgets more likely in five figures or less, it’s absolutely unaffordable. For so long as major platforms release both sorts of games on the same terms, having them directly compete against one another, Garner’s will be just one of thousands of frustrated stories of finding it impossible to get any attention at all.
We’ve reached out to Sony for comment, and will update should they respond.
Meanwhile, we asked Iain Garner why he felt the need to speak out after his recent call with “Platform X”.
“Platform X is letting down indies on a massive scale while using us as a key part of their marketing,” he told us, likely referencing the larger profile certain indie games were given at E3 this year. “The recent call I had showed that they had no regard for us, our opinions or our livelihoods. What’s worse is that it ensures that their customers get a worse deal and have less options. I don’t understand the logic but it seems to be bad for everyone including them.”