It seems that a day can’t go by without an independent developer announcing support for the PlayStation Vita. Not just as Kickstarter stretch goals, but as definite homes for their upcoming software. That support doesn’t stop at newly announced projects, either. Folks like Nicalis and Curve Studios are porting recent indie hits to the Vita as well. It’s clear that Sony’s latest handheld has earned a reputation as a profitable venture for up and coming development houses, a boon for a handheld stereotyped as lacking games to play.
Brian Provinciano was the first to clue me in on this success; earlier this year he confirmed his game, Retro City Rampage, sold best on Vita. He encouraged fellow developers to give the Vita another look, and whether his advice played a role or not, the indies came.
So what does this mean for the 3DS? Does the future contain titles as wonderful as Mutant Mudds, Mighty Switch Force!, and Gunman Clive? The coming months will bring along some interesting fare, certainly, but what of 2014 and beyond? The thought of industry folk moving onto greener pastures lingers in my head. The reasons are clear; Sony has an account based system (meaning a police report isn’t required to get back your games is a Vita goes missing), the hardware is strong enough to run most current software without drastic cuts, and developers are able to sell one game to three separate markets (Vita, PS3, and PS4).
So I’m left asking what sets the 3DS apart? When presented with the benefits of Vita development, why support the 3DS?
I spoke with a few developers familiar with the 3DS eShop, posing that very question.
In October of 2012, Image & Form Games sided with the 3DS as the home of their acclaimed action platform SteamWorld Dig. In an interview with Nintendo World Report, studio co-founder Brjann Sigurgeirsson explained his reasoning, noting the 3DS’s dual screen layout, D-Pad and buttons, and the market being made up of people looking for a “gamer’s game”. While valid, I asked for further detail, as aside from the dual screens, the Vita matches those criteria as well.
“When weighing only the technical reasons, your assessment is correct,” Sigurgeirsson explains, “there is really only the dual screen that speaks in favor of the 3DS if you consider the things I mentioned. Other technical comparisons don’t really favor the 3DS – the CPU and the resolution are ‘worse’.”
In those early stages of planning, the Vita wasn’t as favourable as it is now. The memory cards were expensive, and the install base wasn’t where Image & Form wanted it to be.
“Obviously it is a chicken/egg proposition,” Sigurgeirsson explains, “a console cannot prosper if games are not developed for it, but a small developer with an overhead doesn’t dare to be the pioneer. Also, at the time the 3DS was showing signs of picking up. We got lucky that way – if Animal Crossing hadn’t been such a locomotive in the spring of 2013, we don’t really know where the 3DS would have been at today.”
Gunman Clive‘s creator, Bertil Hörberg, saw the Vita in that same light when it came to porting his game from iOS and Android devices. “The 3DS…seemed like the easiest platform to get in to at the time,” Hörberg tells me. “I think Sony’s application process is still a bit cumbersome than Nintendo’s, at least in Europe. After the release of the 3DS version I considered doing a Vita version and possibly a Wii U version as well but I felt that I needed to get started on a new game rather than get stuck in a perpetual porting loop. Since the 3DS market has been very good to me it was the obvious choice for my next game.”
For Image & Form, history played its part as well, Sigurgeirsson tells me. The company had been successful on the DSiWare Shop with SteamWorld Tower Defense.
“That store was an awful shopping experience,” he admits, “the game was near-impossible to find, but SWTD surprised us and paid for itself. That gave us a sense of (false?) security – with the much larger install base for the 3DS (compared to that of the DSi), we thought we’d definitely stand a good chance with SteamWorld Dig on the 3DS, especially if we spent more PR efforts than we had for SWTD (for which we did close to nothing).”
Jools Watsham of Renegade Kid can speak for past successes, too. Starting on the DS, he and the studio had earned a fan base with retail releases like Dementium and Moon. That success brought Mutant Mudds to the 3DS, as well as the upcoming Treasurenauts.
“We love the 3DS as gamers and as developers,” Watsham tells me. “We have a great history with Nintendo handhelds – also as both gamers and developers.”
That continued support has its benefits of course, as Renegade Kid has become knowledgeable with the hardware and its market.
“There is a certain degree of comfort we have now in regards to the 3DS…which makes things a little less random, unknown, and risky. However, we know as an independent developer and publisher we must release our games on more than just one platform in order to generate enough money to fund our continued independent development efforts.”
Watsham raises an interesting point. My concern for the 3DS isn’t necessarily about exclusives, I just worry that the development community has shifted all of its focus towards the Vita. The more people that can play a great game the better.
As Sigurgeirsson describes it, “…the industry needs successes, not failures. We need positive spirals everywhere, so that customers are confident that they can pick up any console and have fun with it. It will eventually lead to a more gaming-friendly world – and better games for everyone.”
Watsham echoed those feelings, saying that Renegade Kid aims to support the 3DS, Wii U, PS3, and Vita. You may find Watsham’s games on the Xbox 360 too, “if the barrier for independent publishing the Xbox 360 is removed.”
As far as comparisons, this doesn’t have to be a heaven or hell scenario. While Sony has done much to talk up the Vita’s indie scene, the 3DS is no slouch. Based on what these developers have to say, the 3DS eShop is just as promising as ever. In many cases, developers wish to release their work on both, which is the best I could ask for.