Sony and Nintendo court indie games at Game Developers Conference

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The Game Developer's Conference is happening in San Francisco this week. It's an opportunity both for developers to share info amongst themselves, but also for publishers to come courting.

There's a lot of talk these days about how much the gaming industry, in particular the console gaming industry, is struggling. Whether that's because gamers have fled to mobile and Facebook, or whether it's just that gamers are ready for a 'new generation' of consoles to re-ignite their passion, is a source of constant debate.

It's hard to argue that the industry is changing when you see headlines like this one: Square Enix restructuring as Tomb Raider and Hitman sales fall short. In spite of shipping three highly rated games (Sleeping Dogs is the third), Square Enix has changed its financial forecast for the fiscal year ending March 31st from a profit of $37 million to a loss of $138 million. Sales of all three titles fell short of expectations. Company president Yoichi Wada will step down, pending shareholder approval, and the company is in the process of restructuring. Sad news for Square Enix and its fans.

But there's one segment of the gaming industry that seems to be flourishing: "Indies." This has not gone unnoticed by Sony and to a lesser extent, Nintendo. To get you up to speed on what's going on with Nintendo I'll point you at an article on Gamasutra. The Cliff Notes version is that several guidelines have been relaxed or eliminated (you no longer have to have a physical office to become a Nintendo developer, for example).

It's nice to see Nintendo making an effort but Sony is going after the indie market in full force (at least at GDC...we'll see how this translates into 'real life'). This new initiative seemed to start by having Braid developer Jonathon Blow reveal that his next title, The Witness, would be on the Playstation 4. This was done at the PS4 introduction last month.

After that came the announcement that Unity (a cross-platform game engine popular with small development shops) is coming to Playstation Mobile, the Vita, the PS3 and the PS4. That's going to make porting games a lot easier.

Sony sponsored a GameJam for Playstation Mobile developers in New York last month. From the games created, four semi-finalists were chosen. Those teams continued to work on their games and were invited to GDC, at which point a winner was chosen. That winner (Hermit Crab in Space) will be shown off at E3 this year. The Playstation Blog has more details, or you can check out this video from the GameJam itself:

Sony isn't forgetting the indies that are a bit 'bigger' than Playstation Mobile though. They've announced that Primal Carnage: Genesis and Blacklight: Retribution are both headed for the PS4, and in another blog post they list another 14 indie games headed to PSN, including well-known titles from other platforms like Limbo and Spelunky.

To finish out what is quickly turning into a Sony/Indie lovefest post, I'll send you back to Gamasutra again to learn how Sony is making it easier than ever for indie devs to get their games onto Sony hardware. They streamlined their concept submission process and are expanding their "Pub Fund" program (which is a program that helps fund indie projects in exchange for getting them on Sony platforms). In fact Sony is now open to letting developers put unfinished games onto Sony platforms in order to start raising funds early. This is a concept that's becoming popular on the PC (buy early, get access to beta or even alpha builds) but as far as I know it's a first for consoles.

So overall, Sony is really rolling out the red carpet for indie developers. Microsoft has yet to reveal their next console, but I think it's a pretty safe bet that they're not going to leave this new Sony initiative unanswered. Expect them to do similar levels of outreach once they get their PR train rolling.

This is all good news for gamers, I think. Since indie developers have less at stake they tend to do more experimental design, which leads to cool new genres that the 'big' developers can eventually capitalize on.

Though I do hope the "AAA" game market turns around fast. As much as I love games like Journey I still want massive budget, AAA games like Skyrim or this week's Bioshock Infinite in my gaming library!

Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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