PlayStation minis is an interesting platform. From the start it didn’t look destined for success; launched in 2009 alongside Sony’s doomed download-only handheld the PSP Go, the minis platform was Sony’s response to the success of Apple’s app store. A nice idea, but the first wave of minis titles lacked quality, and retailed at a significantly higher price-point than similar titles on iOS and Android. Minis were either derided or, more commonly, simply ignored by the gaming public and press alike.
Four years on, minis releases have all but dried up and the platform has largely been superseded by the Vita-compatible PlayStation Mobile program. However, in it’s troubled lifetime the platform became an unlikely home to some fantastic independent titles. I invited some of the most prolific and talented minis developers to share their experiences of PlayStation development with me, and to retrospectively assess the platform’s strengths and weaknesses.
Firstly I contacted Ross Brierley of Laughing Jackal, the studio responsible for minis such as Hungry Giraffe and Ace Armstrong, and the in-development Vita title OMG HD Zombies! You can read the interview below.
IGM: Having released 10 games for the platform, you are by far one of the most prolific minis developers out there. Was the bitesized nature of the platform, and the fact that you could develop games in a relatively short amount of time, part of minis’ appeal for you?
Ross Brierley: Definitely. The ability for a small team to be able to create games in a short period of time was a big attraction to us, as being able to put the game together quickly meant that we could focus more on polish and balancing.
IGM: In your experience, was the minis platform a gateway into wider console development? After starting out on minis, you have since developed for PlayStation 3 and PS Vita. Do you feel that your work on minis allowed you to forge a working relationship with Sony that would not have otherwise developed?
RB: Sony have been incredibly supportive since our very first mini Cubixx was released and certainly without their help and support we wouldn’t have been able to move onto PS3 and now Vita. From here, who knows!
IGM: Since your work on minis, you have brought Hungry Giraffe to the iOS AppStore. What are the key differences for an indie developer between working with Sony and working with Apple?
RB: I think Apple are much more hands off than Sony, which has its issues. While Sony are always really interested in what we are doing and how they can help us, Apple just leave you to it. This attitude also shows itself with post release support. Sony’s policy of only releasing a limited number of games each week means that they can highlight them all. Sony have also frequently helped provide us with banner support and comments in their official blogs which as really drawn attention to our releases. Whereas with the iOS platform, due to its huge success, there are so many iOS games released every day that it becomes very easy for your games to become lost in the shuffle. While I’m sure we’ll return to iOS a little further down the line, at this point in time I think we feel much more comfortable working with Sony.
IGM: Furthermore, you have also worked with PlayStation Mobile, which in many ways feels like a spiritual successor to the minis platform. Have you found the PlayStation Mobile development experience to be more streamlined than minis, and do you feel that Sony have learnt from their missteps with minis?
RB: Development for the PlayStation Mobile platform has been very smooth and I believe it’s one of the best ways into console development for new developers, in the same way that the minis programme was initially for us. I wouldn’t say that Sony really had made any missteps with minis as it was a huge success for them and helped a fair number of new developers get that all-important first foot on the console ladder, while others used the platform to build their portfolios. Personally speaking, the only issue with minis was that we wish we could’ve added trophies and some social gaming features.
IGM: Your PS Vita title OMG HD Zombies!, a follow-up to one of your most successful minis titles, releases in Europe on the 19th of June. Congratulations! Do you feel that you would be in this position right now if it were not for your involvement in minis development?
RB: No I don’t. The relationship we’ve built with Sony through minis has been massively important to our development as a company. I think it’s fair to say that without Sony’s support over the last few years, we would not have been able to release many of our most recent games. We wanted to honour that support by creating the ultimate version of our most critically acclaimed game, OMG-Z! but this time for the Vita. So we’ve thrown everything, including the kitchen sink, at OMG HD Zombies! to make sure it improves on the original in every respect, and have also thrown in a ton of new features to make old fans happy and give the game a huge lifespan for everyone.
IGM: Aside from your own, what are your personal favourite titles on the minis platform?
RB: There are a lot of great minis but I have to say that my favourite is Futurlab’s Velocity which is a really interesting shooter. Like us, they’re also making the move to Vita and it’s great to see our peers in the industry building on their success on the minis platform.
Many thanks go to Ross of Laughing Jackal for sharing his development insight with us. You can follow @Laughing_Jackal on Twitter to keep up with what they’re up to, and make sure you come back for the second part in which more developers will be sharing their reflections![UPDATE: Read part 2, with Twisted Dragon Media, here!]