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Curve Digital’s Guide to Console Development and Publishing: Part 1 - Choosing Consoles

In this series of blog posts, I’ll be talking the last frontier of indie gaming: developing and publishing on consoles from the perspective of a well-known indie publisher.

In this series of blog posts, I’ll be talking the last frontier of indie gaming: developing and publishing on consoles. I’ll be comparing the advantages and challenges of releasing on last and current-gen consoles with the more well-known world of PC development self-publishing, drawing on our experience in the market. In the interests of fairness, we’ll be talking about the console world in general rather than focusing on any specific platform.

Who are you?

My name is Jason Perkins. I’m the managing director of Curve Digital. We’re one of the largest console publishers for indie titles in the world, responsible for bringing games like Lone Survivor, Thomas Was Alone and The Swapper to consoles.

One of the unique things about what we do at Curve is how we manage console releases. We work with developers all the way through the process, from coding and optimisation through to submission, QA and ultimately launch marketing and beyond. We publish worldwide, including Japan, and we have a game out on every major console on the market today. 

Choosing to launch a console game

The first and most obvious decision you need to make is if console is right for you. The number one question the press always ask us as a publisher is “How do you pick what games you bring to console?” The boring reality is that we see so many amazing games we usually end up choosing titles based on our own development resources and timelines for release more than anything else, and there are very few games that pass across our desks that we don't believe could work on console in some capacity.

In the last two years of playing hundreds of indie titles, there’s only been three I can remember that we’ve turned down purely because turning them into console titles would have involved too much work. The important thing is not to disregard consoles just because you have a certain theme or genre you think isn’t very ‘console’. We had a meeting with someone  a few years ago who told us that their audience would not enjoy roguelikes because they don’t like the concept of permanent death. Years later, games like Spelunky and Rogue Legacy are two of the most popular indie titles to be released on consoles. 

Other developers have questioned if their game would work because it has a 'serious' theme, or it’s simply an under-represented genre. It’s easy to look through message boards and blogs for consoles and see people moaning about ‘another indie game’ or ‘more pixel art graphics’. In our experience, these are a vocal minority, and the console audience is every bit as open and interested in new experiences as PC gamers, with the added bonus of there being far less competition consoles right now.

Which console should you release on?

This is the question that developers ask the most, and the most difficult to answer. The reality for us is that we’ve had successful, profitable launches on every single platform. We started out working largely with PlayStation, but we’ve since expanded to release games with Nintendo, including a platform exclusive, and last year marked the launch of our first Xbox One title. We have both Vita and 3DS games in development and plan to launch most of our new titles on all major systems.

Of course, that’s easy for us to say, with an in-house QA team larger than some indie development studios. We’ll get into some of the details in later posts, but as a small team attempting to launch on multiple consoles at the same time as PC will be a significant drain on your resources, and most developers are going to be in the position where they want to pick one console to launch with alongside the PC, or perhaps look at launching a console version after the PC released is finished.

In this case, my best advice is not to listen to anyone’s advice. It’s very easy to over-simplify and say ‘this console has more units sold’ or ‘this console gives me this many development kits’. In reality, there are  many different routes to the console market now and so many different options available to developers. Perhaps one might offer you exclusivity, perhaps another might not have sold as many units but is able to offer you additional marketing support, perhaps one has funding available for a specific type of game.

The decision to release on a certain console is something you should only make after you reach out to every major platform holder and get them to take a look at your game. While some programs like [email protected] are more visible and marketed than others, all three major platform holders have a system for getting indie games onto their platforms. The list of requirements for each is different, but it always helps if you can pitch to them with a working, polished demo and have an idea of things like development time, release date and budget, especially if you’re interested in securing any kind of funding or advance.

If you do get stuck where to start in terms of contacts, get in touch with other indie developers in your country who have published on console already. The contacts and process is something that can change considerably country by country, so it’s worth talking to local developers first. Be polite and patient when dealing with platform holders; there have been literally thousands of requests to develop console games on the main platforms in 2014, and even the most well-known platform holders are still relatively new at dealing with these requests.

Next time we’ll be talking about the initial planning you can do to prepare for a multi-format release, and some of the challenges of developing on consoles.

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