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The Case for Investing $20 Million into PlayStation Network

Sony explains why they're investing so much money into exclusive games.

Xbox Live Arcade has been defined by its staple of exclusives. Sony wants the same for PSN.
Xbox Live Arcade has been defined by its staple of exclusives. Sony wants the same for PSN.

No doubt, PlayStation Network is home to some great digital experiences you won't find anywhere else, from Flower to PixelJunk Shooter. But Sony's found trouble generating the same level of attention for its platform as Microsoft, currently in the midst of its fourth Summer of Arcade.

Sony's hoping to move the needle with a $20 million dollar infusion into PSN over several years.

"Our strategy here is simple," explained PSN director of marketing Brandon Stander in a recent email. "We’re doubling down on PlayStation Network exclusive software, and under this investment over the next three years, we anticipate a steady flow of high-quality titles that can’t be found anywhere else."

The money will be spread across multiple avenues designed to bolster PSN's library, including budgets for internal projects and exclusivity from third-parties, some of which goes towards Sony's "Pub Fund," allocating money to small developers in exchange for exclusivity. Okabu, Eufloria and Papo & Yo are three games coming out of Sony's Pub Fund. Papo & Yo generated discussion at E3 for its noteworthy design influence: the designer's alcoholic father.

Sony Online Entertainment's Payday: The Heist directly comes from this investment but not Pub Fund specifically.

Pub Fund isn't an officially publicized branding of Sony's (you won't see a Pub Fund logo on a splash screen--something I think should change), but it's responsible for some great PSN games in the past, including Joe Danger.

When asked how Sony determines which games the company goes after with this sack of cash, Stander outlined three avenues of research.

You probably don't remember PlayStation-edu. I didn't, either, until Stander brought it up. Started in 2008, it's Sony's initiative to supply universities with PlayStation 2 and PSP development kits, encouraging students to become familiar with hardware they may be working on after graduating. Within PlayStation-edu is the SCEA Developer Support program, which works with various universities in the US, Canada and Latin America to connect students with internships and jobs.

It's not hard to imagine how Sony employees would find projects worth investing in while speaking with students.

It's unclear whether Papo & Yo will end up being a truly great game, but it's something you won't find anywhere else.
It's unclear whether Papo & Yo will end up being a truly great game, but it's something you won't find anywhere else.

The other ways Sony sniffs out possible games for PSN are a little more well known, such as recommendations from its already existing developers, communicating with local groups, and attending events focused on independent development, like Culver City's IndieFest, the Independent Games Festival pavilion featured during the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

"These things have allowed us to find awesome talent and have given us the opportunity to reach out to more people about the potential for PSN exclusive development," said Stander.

Sony's PlayStation Blog has done a respectable job of increasing awareness of PlayStation content in general, PSN or not, but more could be done. While Xbox Live subscribers may decry the advertisements, it's much harder to avoid alerts to new content on XBL than on PSN. You actually have to boot into the PlayStation Store itself, an additional step in the process.

PSN didn't get Playdead's first game, Limbo, until a year after XBLA. But what about their next one?
PSN didn't get Playdead's first game, Limbo, until a year after XBLA. But what about their next one?

And no, that weird scrolling bar in the corner doesn't count. When's the last time you actually read that?

What does more than advertisements or scrolling bars, however, is word of mouth, and a hungry playerbase eager for more good games.

"We’re putting a major stake in the ground with this investment to show our dedication to providing PSN users with unique game experiences that can’t be found on any other game platform," said Stander. "Our goal is to work with developers, both established and independent, to bring great games to our users."

$20 million should do well to bring more content to PSN, but Stander denied it's a response to criticisms that PSN is full of interesting experiments, but lacking the bread 'n butter of games like Shadow Complex or Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet. Limbo, for example, just hit PSN--a year later.

"With PSN, it’s not about filling holes as much as it’s about bringing truly innovative storylines, visual styles and game mechanics to the platform," he said.

Patrick Klepek on Google+