Where once indie games existed on the fringes of the gaming world, they’ve now become bastions of creativity and a true powerhouse in the market. This is why I find it strange that Sony has been rather quiet about the indie games coming to the PS5.
Comparatively, Microsoft revealed a glut of indie and third-party games back in May for the Xbox Series X well before it took the covers off its big first-party games. Sony, in comparison, showed off a slew of first-party games and big-budget third-party titles at its June event. The lack of PS5-based indie games is an eyebrow-raiser.
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It used to be that indie games were very much the domain of the PC. But then, with the programes like Xbox Live Arcade, titles like Braid, Limbo and Peggle made their way into the console world. Sony played catchup on the PS3, but as the company's online elements expanded, it became easier to sell games from lesser-known developers.
Arguably, the PS4 was more indie-friendly than the Xbox One when the two consoles launched in 2013. But the Xbox One caught up with initiatives like Xbox Game Pass, providing an easy way to access indie titles for a monthly subscription, removing the worry of buying a game that you might not like.
Both Sony and Microsoft seem to know the welcome variety that indie and lower-budget third-party developers can bring to their gaming ecosystems. But it seems that Microsoft is keener to shout about its indie titles.
You could argue that the lack of big-hitting games, like Halo Infinite and Fable 4, within the Xbox Series X's launch window means that Microsoft needs to champion indie games. Comparatively, Sony has Spider-Man: Miles Morales and the Demon’s Souls remake confirmed as exclusive launch titles when the console goes on sale November 12. Games like Gran Turismo 7 and Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart are likely to follow shortly afterward, although there's no confirmed release date for those two titles yet.
Nevertheless, neither console has a stellar lineup packed with major titles at launch, which is where I think indies will prove to be very important. Indie games offer excellent stopgaps and bursts of creativity between triple-A games. Sometimes, they're even legitimate alternatives to big games, especially given the rote natures of some big-budget franchises.
The Xbox Series X is set to have a strong suite of indie games and titles from lesser-known studios, such as Call of the Sea, The Ascent, Scorn, Echo Generation and Orphan of the Machine, to name but a few.
We don’t know for sure if these games will arrive in time for the Xbox Series X's and Xbox Series S’ November 10 launch. But there should be enough to fill in the gap between the fall console launch and Spring 2021. We don’t know if these games will come to the PS5 or not, but either way, Sony hasn't let us know if they are.
That in itself is a little saddening. As my colleague Adam Ismail pointed out, the indie game Resogun was a bit of an oddball hit for the PS4, simply because it arrived as part of the PS4 launch library, when there weren't a lot of other games to play. This means a lot more people played the game, whereas had it launched in 2014, it may have been overshadowed by bigger PS4 games.
The success of indie games is very important to the games industry overall, as it lets ideas that might not translate into big bucks for major publishers get their spot in the limelight. And indie games are also good beacons of diversity, from the topics and themes they address, to the people who develop them. Such diversity is often lacking in many big-budget games and established franchises.
Again, it seems odd to me that the most we’ve heard from Sony on the indie game front is a post about nine games in its PlayStation Indies initiative, with only four of those confirmed to come to the PS5. This is despite Sony once seeming like an indie game champion, with the now-defunct PS Vita as a major indie platform.
Now, I’m not going to herald Microsoft or the Xbox Series X as bastions for indie games. But the subscription nature of Xbox Game Pass makes indie games a lot more appealing for casual players. I’ve given games like Observation and Tacoma a try, despite them not necessarily being games I’d buy, at least not on the Xbox One X.
Sony doesn't have a true equivalent to Xbox Game Pass. PS Plus has helped surface some smaller games, but it hasn’t got the scope, or arguably the appeal, of Microsoft’s service.
All that having been said, I think eventually Sony will have a strong indie game lineup, simply due to the PS5's forecasted popularity. The PS4 has a much larger audience than the Xbox One, and many PS4 players will naturally move over to the PS5. That means indie developers who want to score a big gaming hit may target the PS5, simply to pursue the largest audience.
Then again, we've seen how Microsoft seems to be rather good at cultivating indie studios. After it acquired Minecraft developer Mojang, it facilitated astronomical growth for the game, without too much micromanaging. That indie studio-friendly approach and Microsoft’s keenness to promote non-triple-A games could see the Xbox Series X court the most interesting indie games.
Ultimately, while both consoles will have some strong exclusive games, I think it's the initial burst of indie games that could steer me toward one console or the other. Right now, I’m looking favorably on the Xbox Series X, but I’m very keen for Sony to try to sway me.