“The more players you get yourself in front of, the better.”
One of the things that has marked this generation has been indie game developers favoring the PlayStation ecosystem over the Xbox one- there are probably many reasons for this. Between PS3, PS4, and PS Vita, developers get access to a far wider audience than they can on just Xbox One alone- and there is also the fact that Sony have been far more inviting of independent developers than Microsoft, at least at first.
Until recently, this manifested itself in indie games generally choosing to appear only on PlayStation- something that has gradually changed to now, where games appear on PlayStation first, followed then by Xbox. So when we got the chance to interview Psyonix, we decided to ask them the simple question- why? Why not target both the Xbox and PlayStation at once? Why did they, in the end, go with PlayStation first?
“We launched Rocket League for the PlayStation 4, on PS+, a very good strategy to get the game in front of as many people as we could, with the intent of selling it to other players and other platforms, once they’d have had the good word of mouth from the PlayStation version, which would help with the sales,” said Jeremy Dunham, VP, Marketing and Communications at Psyonix. “Plus simultaneously we would also use the audience we got on the PlayStation side to sell DLC, and to prove to them, and everyone else, what kind of community we wanted to build for the game. And so for us, it was all about creating a community around Rocket League, and not around a single system- and I think that is the right approach to take, because the biggest challenge for any game developer is whether or not they have the resources to run on that game platform. And you have to find similarities between each one to see which ones work best for you.”
It turns out that indie game developers not having much marketing resources is one of the reasons that they opt for PlayStation first- where the wider install base, and the visibility one gets thanks to programs like PS+, help get the word out.
“The reason we started our whole marketing campaign on PS+ was because Sony has a very large user base, and PS+ was a great avenue to solve the problem we had, which was, ‘how do we get this game in front of all these people without a large marketing campaign?’ So my challenge was to try and figure out how to market this game with no cost to us. Because we didn’t have any marketing money, we spent it all on development. So that strategy, it turned out it worked for us, and the reason it worked on a technical level was because we started development on PC, and the toolset available to us as developers on the PS4 is very similar to the tools we used to build Rocket League on the PC, so it was very easy for us to do simultaneous development on those two platforms.”
Another reason that Xbox is usually saved for later is that the PC and PS4 seem to be far closer to one another in terms of hardware architecture than the Xbox is- so by hitting one of those platforms, hitting the other simultaneously becomes easy. For smaller development teams wanting to hit as big an audience as possible, this leads to the PlayStation version being prioritized over the Xbox One version- at first. Psyonix definitely believes that they benefitted greatly from going to Xbox, and that development teams should, given the resources, strive for multiplatform game development, if they can.
“And that’s why you saw us hit those two platforms first, in the beginning, and then Xbox came later, because the Xbox tools, and the way the architecture of the system is built, is different than what we have for the PS4 and PC,” Dunham continued. “And so it’s very key that you go through the platforms in the right order, to do multiplatform development properly, but had we not put the game on Xbox for example, that would have been over 2 million less players than we have right now. And so by not going to Xbox, we would have cut our revenue by many tens of millions of dollars. Plus we’ve added new players into the ecosystem, and we have the opportunity to bridge the gap between the previously closed Xbox ecosystem, and the very soon to be open Xbox ecosystem, and these are all good reasons to do mulitplatform development from our perspective. From any development team’s perspective, the more players you put yourself in front of, the better- but you always have to weigh the time and resources that it costs to get there. And that’s always the challenge, that will always be the difficult decision: where do you draw that line? Because if you don’t draw that line, you’ll never focus on the easiest, fastest, most cost effective way to develop a product, and deliver it to your audience the way you want it to be.”
Rocket League is available now on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.