Playstation’s hunt for the next big indie hit

Shahid Ahmad, senior business development manager at Sony Europe, has been one of the driving forces behind PlayStation’s thriving indie movement for the last two and a half years, having signed recent and upcoming hits including Thomas Was Alone, OlliOlli, Fez, Hotline Miami and No Man’s Sky. Matthew Jarvis sees what’s next…

You work with a lot of Vita developers. Japanese publishers Atlus and NISA recently told us that they would like to see Sony put more support behind the device in the West. What is the plan for the handheld in the UK?

As far as Vita’s concerned, we’ve got a truckload of content coming down the line.We have over 50 titles coming from independent developers. There are some titles where we talk to large entities where we can’t actually discuss details and so on, but they get announced as and when. So we’re very busy.

I’m not sure if you’d call Vita a massive success, but it’s certainly been doing good numbers, it’s been steady, and software is coming practically by the day. The catalogue is really healthy now.Software is no longer a problem on Vita, I would say. There are still people saying ‘I want this on Vita’. You can’t have everything; there are commercial realities. But we are seeing more and more, and I don’t think people are going to run out of Vita games anytime soon.

You must have many developers coming to you interested in developing for PS4. Do you go back to them and suggest they bring those titles to Vita too?

We’re actually hearing just as much interest from developers on Vita as we are on PS4. I really didn’t expect that – I expected all of the focus to be on PS4 and a really tiny minority on Vita, but it hasn’t worked out that way at all. It’s a healthy sign.There will be some developers who are very PC focused and won’t want to make a Vita version, but they are actually in the minority.

There arguably hasn’t been a definitive indie hit like Thomas Was Alone this year. What does that mean for the indie market?

I think we’ve had quite a few titles that have had a similar level of success to Thomas Was Alone.Velocity 2X was absolutely amazing; it’s done over a million downloads and has 91 and 87 Metacritic scores on Vita and PS4 respectively. It’s from a studio that had never made a PS4 game before. So I would say that’s been pretty special.

Thomas Was Alone was important, because it was the first clearly identifiable indie title that made it big on PlayStation. After that you had Hotline Miami, Spelunky and so on. That was all exciting, but once you have that first one it’s difficult to recreate the same amount of ‘Oh my God’ and media coverage.

PlayStation’s recently changed; it’s working with independent developers and this is now a thing. So after that we had just a stream of titles coming out. Last year, we had over 50 titleson Vita; we have a similar number this year and even more next year.

Of course, there is the little game you might have heard of called No Man’s Sky on PS4 next year, too.

When you look at an indie title that has been out for a while on another platform, how do you decide whether it’s worth bringing to PlayStation?

It’s really important that we think it will work well.Will it transfer at all? If it’s not going to do that, maybe we’re not so interested. But something that is perfectly suited, we then want to make it the best. That’s really important to us.

We’re also doing more and more exclusives. Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is not the original PC game – it’s completely rebuilt and remixed, with loads of new content; we look to do that kind of customisation.When people experience these games on PlayStation for the first time, we want the best experience they can have with this game to be on PlayStation. Whether or not they’ve played it before on another platform.

Shahid Ahmad, senior business development manager
at Sony Europe, picks out his most-anticipated
games of 2015


I’m hugely hyped on a personal level. Really, really
excited.When I saw the video, it brought tears to

my eyes and raised the hairs on the back of my neck.
I’ve never had that visceral reaction to a game before.

This is the game I’ve been waiting for. I grew up
with the sci-fi of the ‘70s and ‘80s, and those optimistic
visions of the future, and here was a game that promised
that hope and freedom – that seamlessness, that sense
of exploration and discovery of worlds that nobody has
ever seen before.”


I’m also really excited about what Mike [Bithell,
developer of Thomas Was Alone] is doing with Volume.
Mike has already been granted a well-earned place
amongst the best independentdevelopers, but I think
he’s one of the future greats of the industry. I’m
really looking forward to Volume, because I know he’s
putting a lot into that.”


I’m also really looking forward to Hellblade, because I think that
Ninja Theory has got the magic touch. Everything it has done
recently has been sensational, it has an eye for detail that very few
other developers have got and it has a sense of storytelling that
I think is really compelling.”


There’s loads of really cool stuff coming, but even the stuff that we
have talked about is going to be great. There’s a game called Flame
Over from Laughing Jackal – that’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s a dark
horse.There’s just such a long list, and there’s an even longer list of titles

in my head that we haven’t talked about yet.”

Velocity 2X and Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, among other games, came straight to (subscription service) PlayStation Plus, for free. What justifies that decision?

It’s not a decision that we make; it’s a discussion that we have with our partners.In some cases, there’s an argument to be made for ensuring that a game that otherwise wouldn’t get enough ofthe oxygen of publicity is given a huge amount of exposure.

It works really well with independent games. Suddenly, you’ve got the millions and millions of people who subscribe to Plus exposed to this game that they might not

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