Indie Games Play Starring Role at Gamescom 2013

Indie games and release dates for next-generation console games are among the big announcements that have dominated at the Gamescom conference in Cologne, Germany, this week.

While the upcoming consoles, slated to be released this holiday season, have been discussed in detail, however — including the games for each system — Microsoft stopped short of revealing the release date for its Xbox One. Sony, meanwhile, offered a Nov. 15 date for the U.S. launch of its PlayStation 4.

Microsoft did announce a slate of launch titles, including Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag from Ubisoft, Call of Duty: Ghosts from Activision and both Madden NFL 25 and Need for Speed: Rivals from Electronic Arts. The list of over 20 games will be released on the same day as the Xbox One or soon afterwards to support the launch of the console.

Sony spent some time discussing its older platforms, including the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita — both of which are getting price cuts — but the upcoming PlayStation 4 saw plenty of time on stage as well at the Sony press conference, including a number of launch titles.

The list of 15 titles coming out on the day of launch or soon after include Call of Duty: Ghosts and Skylanders Swap Force from Activision; Need for Speed: Rivals, Battlefield 4 and Madden 25 from EA; Assasin’s Creed I: Black Flag, Watch Dogs and Just Dance 2014 from Ubisoft; and Killzone: Shadow Fall, #DRIVECLUB and Knack from Sony.

Indie Spotlight

Both Microsoft and Sony discussed the possibilities for independent game developers and support on both consoles.

Microsoft’s discussion was further reinforcement after the console manufacturer set up new policies for indie developers.

Sony also made concessions to indie games on all of its platforms.

“At Gamescom, we’ve just underlined our commitment to bringing PlayStation fans the creative work of the some of the best indie talent in the world,” said Shahid Ahmad, senior business development manager at Sony Computer Entertainment Europe.

‘They’ve Removed the Barriers’

In the past, indie games were typically published for the PC and didn’t get picked up by consoles due to development, production costs and licensing fees. While the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 have had a number of indie games released for download, developers will see more support for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

“An important aspect that’s going on with game development is that the framework that you develop games in is much more PC-like,” IDC Research Manager for Gaming Lewis Ward told TechNewsWorld. “The incremental cost of porting [a game] over to that platform has been reduced. They’ve also removed the barriers.”

Developers are now able to publish titles for the PlayStation Network, Wii U e-shop and Xbox Live easily. In fact, the console manufacturers seem to be taking a page from the Apple iOS playbook of streamlining and making publishing available on more of a self-service platform, Ward said.

‘A Big Deal’

Increased support for indie developers could pave the way for more rising stars in the game development community.

“Sony making a huge effort to promote indie games is a big deal,” said game industry consultant Paul Semel. “Some of the things being done for indie games are as interesting as things being done in indie games.”

Indie publishing is gaining more power in games, much the way it has in book publishing and other media.

“I think you’re going to see some indie developer that proves himself time and time again get more recognition,” Semel told TechNewsWorld. An indie developer might gain recognition, “and they’re going to be given a bigger budget, and they’re going to start making mainstream games.”

‘Doubling Down on Handhelds’

The PlayStation 3 will get some new games later this year to extend the life of the console. Among those are Little Big Planet – Hub and Grand Theft Auto 5 from Rockstar Games. Sony also announced seven titles coming out for the PS Vita, including a macabre-looking game titled Murasaka Baby and Big Fest, a music festival sim game.

“Some of these consoles can have pretty long life spans after the release of new consoles,” said Ward. “Both Microsoft and Sony, and probably to a lesser extent Nintendo, are going to want to squeeze as much money as they can out of the systems.”

Sony announced a price reduction for the PlayStation 3, which will be packaged as a 12GB system for US$199.99. The new price will appeal to budget-sensitive consumers in the U.S. and Europe, as well as consumers in developing countries.

The PlayStation Vita, meanwhile, is being positioned as a link to the PlayStation 4. Many games have cross-platform play that makes the handheld platform a desirable accessory. Sony also announced a price reduction for the PS Vita, which will begin selling for $199.99 this week.

“I do think that the $50 price cut will make a difference in the amount of Vitas that will sell in the next year,” said Ward. “It shows that Sony is committed to the platform. I view that as Sony doubling down on handhelds.”

Launch Titles

While several titles will be released on both platforms, a number of games are system exclusives and will drive interest for gamers.

“Historically, titles have been a primary driver for game console adoption,” said Brett Sappington, director of research at Parks Associates. “Even with all of the feature announcements, anticipation of the games available on the new platform will be crucial for market success.”

The momentum for the next-generation of consoles is stronger than when compared to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, he added: “Preorders for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are outpacing preorders during the launch of current generation consoles. So the buzz appears to be legit.”

One launch title making news is EA’s Battlefield 4. EA announced at Gamescom that players will be able to import their experience points and ranks from previous Battlefield titles, meaning that they won’t have to start over as a private in the field.

“EA could potentially be a disruptor in this regard, though it certainly depends on the game,” Sappington told TechNewsWorld. “For first-person shooters and RPGs, this could be an extremely valuable component, though maybe geared more toward retention than anything else.”

Some players will love going into the new game with their existing rank, while other players will want to start the game fresh and build their rank all over again.

“For people that are really into the game, it’s going to be a big deal,” said Semel.

In fact, if the feature is accepted, it may be picked up in other games as well.

“Halo fans are going to want this,” Semel predicted. “Gears of War fans and fans of other similar kinds of games are going to want this.”

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