A little earlier today it transpired that Sony was flexing its marketing muscles in a way that made executives gush, shareholders applaud and consumers a wee bit pissed off.
Many PS4 owners who turned on their PS4 console and prepared for a Knack session (isn’t everyone still beasting that game?) were greeted by a strange anomaly: Destiny: The Taken King.
Yes, the latest add-on for Bungie’s big-arse shooter had firmly planted itself on the console of anyone who had dared to not buy what Activision was pushing. Cheeky. Of course, the usual eruption from disgruntled gamers spilled out onto the internet and the complaints have come pouring in. It’s not a new thing as it’s happened in the past, but players have gotten upset a little bit more than usual this time around. So much so that many a silly comment has been made towards the feature. It can be turned off, you know that, right?
Ok, we’re not defending it by any means, in fact it’s pretty damn crappy. You get on the bus in the morning and you’re pretty much guaranteed to see a Destiny poster on the journey. You walk into town with dreams of bacon butties, you’re gonna have your appetite ruined by some giant Destiny billboard. You go into your local video-game specialist to see if they’re stocking the amazing Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified for the Vita, but you instead get a marketing pitch from a spotty teenager/40-year old man dressed as a 23-year-old hipster. You turn on the telly to catch up on the latest episodes of Corrination Street, but you’re rudely interrupted by yet another TV advert for Destiny: The Taken King.
You get the idea; the game is being marketed from here to hell and it doesn’t really need the extra few pixels on your telly. Not really. It’s a waste of space.
Ok, granted, it may encourage a few people to try the demo and then that may lead to a sale, in which case – kudos. But that’s it. It’s not going to be a huge percentage of players that follow through and get those conversion numbers up. It’s never easy to predict digital sales numbers, but our guess is that not a great many people will see the advert and think “by golly, what a clump I’ve been for not buying this game yet. I think I’ll do it now.”
So, it’s a bit of a waste. Probably. But again, we can’t begin to guess how many sales are made due to the somewhat sneaky tactic.
So why don’t people like it?
That’s not a question that can be answered for everyone, but one of the big issues people seem to have is that it’s Destiny. Everyone’s heard of Destiny and by this point you probably know if you’re going to bother with it or not. It’s also the small feeling of violation; something has happened on your console without your permission. It’s a bit like ordering a burger and finding a pube mixed in with the chips. Ew.
There is a way to disable seeing such things, but for some that doesn’t seem to have worked post-PS4 3.00 update. The good news is that the Destiny icon is at least deletable. We can only imagine the uproar if it was locked to the homescreen for a pre-determined time, or until you bought the damn thing. (Oi, Sony and every other company – do not do this, it was a joke. If you do it, we want a cut. Ta.)
How can it be a good thing?
Quick, name an indie company that you feel has wronged you in some way.
It’s hard, isn’t it? Indie game developers don’t really get put in the spotlight that often for screwing over their audience. Yes, it happens from time to time, but nowhere near as often as it does with the AAA boardroom-driven publishers. In recent weeks we’ve seen Activision cock it up with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5, Konami has put a gun to every limb it has and blown them all off and Warner Bros has still got a lot of trust building for its fan-base after the crappy PC port of Arkham Knight.
Every time a big scandal comes along we as gamers love nothing more than to jump on the bandwagon, honk up a slimy greeny and project it square on the publishers. It’s not always the right thing to do, but it’s done all the same. Why? Because it’s always good to stick it to the bloody man, that’s why. Big companies, big businesses, men in suits, men dressed slight better than yourself – we as humans despise them. If you don’t, bad news – you’re one of them. You swine.
Yet, take a look at the indie space and you’ll have a hard time clearing the aforementioned throat phlegm simply because there isn’t all that much. Indie developers are always talking to the fans, getting involved with community events, hell, they’re even a lot nicer to us here at The Games Cabin than the big publishers are. We have common ground, you see, as we’re a small operation and so are most indie studios. Some of them are actually smaller teams than we are!
That’s not the point though, the point is that these incredibly talented people are also struggling to make a big impact in the crowded game industry. They’re competing against AAA studios and massive budgets, they’re battling against running crappy computers to build a game that probably won’t run on their own machine – some are even working out of a hotel lobby.
Yet, despite everyone knowing that these games are cobbled together by some dudes in their undies, we still admire them. It’s the classic underdog scenario. Gamers love nothing more than to support the smaller guys – in fact, it’s quite a common thing and it’s the basis for practically every adventure game/movie/book ever made. (Don’t quote us on that one.)
In short: people admire the efforts of indie developers.
So, the question is: why not give this extra exposure to the little guys? Why does it only have to be big-name releases that a console manufacturer has a deal with? We’ve already seen on Steam that indie games are very much thrust into the spotlight. If you go to the home page right now and you’ll find more than a handful of smaller titles from tiny teams as well as the regular traditional projects.
To be fair, both Sony and Microsoft have done a lot for indie developers over the past few years. PlayStation fans are probably a bit more familiar with some indie games as they’re constantly being offered as freebies on PS Plus. Of course, some aren’t too happy with that, but that’s something for another day.
We also see quite a lot of sales that include games from the up-and-coming studios, so the exposure is there, but it’s often overshadowed by a bigger sale that includes bigger names from bigger companies.
There are some exceptions, though. We can’t forget about No Man’s Sky which is being produced in Guildford by a small team within Hello Games. We’ve also seen the likes of Hotline Miami get incredible coverage, as have a few other not-so-massive games. Unfortunately it’s a rarity, and it’s the kind of exposure most indie developers can only dream of.
Our proposition would be this: every week, or maybe every few days, get a smaller game that may not be selling all that great due to a lack of marketing (which costs a lot of money) and give it that little bit of extra exposure. This doesn’t just go for Sony and the PS4, but all other platforms that sell small games alongside the mighty blockbusters.
That little boost that places thousands, if not millions of extra eyes on a game, even if it’s just for a fleeting few seconds before the icon is deleted, could really help a small company that may or may not get a second chance. Yes, it sounds like soppy crap (we’re working on a romance novel next), but it’d go a long way to give indie games and their creators that much more credibility and extra sales. What’s the worst that can happen? It’s a win-win, actually. The developers get a bit of extra cash in their pockets that will allow them to feed themselves, which in turn allows them to keep living, which in turn means they can make another game that can be sold. Remember, digital game distributors take a small slice of the earnings from a game’s sale, so it’s in their interests to help make sure game makers can continue to chow down Pot Noodles (or the Tesco value equivalent) every night.
It wouldn’t be a ground-breaking strategy, but perhaps it would change attitudes in such a way that instead of groaning because another AAA is being forced into one’s retinas, players would look at this small indie game and think: “What’s this? Hm, I’ll have a look, maybe I’ll give it a go. That’s nice of Sony/Microsoft/Nintendo to support the little guys a bit.”
Of course, it’s not a perfect solution and it’s actually a rudimentary idea that occurred on the loo, but it’s still some food for thought.
Do you think it’s a good idea to give indie games and their developers some extra exposure, or would you be equally as pissed if you saw a smaller game being pushed on your beloved homescreen?
If you would like to contact the author, you can tweet him at @chrishardingtgc. He may still be on the toilet and he’s armed with a camera phone – you’ve been warned.