With the launch of a new console generation come fresh opportunities for indie developers to take advantage of greener pastures. Now both Microsoft and Sony have their new systems out in the wild, players are beginning to see what kind of a games lineup they can expect. Off the back of Nintendo’s strong lean into indie support with the launch of the Switch, there’s no doubt the console titans will want more than the triple-A stars demonstrating what their new platforms are capable of. 

This presents some excellent opportunities for indie developers to take advantage of Microsoft and Sony’s massive marketing cycles and explore the chance to bring their games to a new audience of players.

Letting off some Steam

For most indie developers Steam is the first port of call when it comes to considering what platforms to release on, unless they’re working on a mobile game. At this stage, it’s well established why Steam is the first option for indie devs. It’s accessible, well supported and by far has the biggest audience on PC – although Epic is not giving up yet.

But, there are a few reasons to consider other options. As any marketer will tell you, Steam has been oversaturated with indie games for some time now. The huge influx of games on the platform in recent years (8,290 games launched on Steam in 2019) has created discoverability issues for smaller developers who can’t afford to compete with the larger marketing budgets of their rivals. This saturation has driven indies to look elsewhere to find their audiences – and consoles, as has been proven with the Nintendo Switch, are ripe for the picking.

What’s next for next gen?

Consoles have more widely opened their doors to indies over the last generation and it’s safe to assume that will continue, especially off the back of Nintendo’s huge support for the industry. Now coined ‘Nindies’ the Switch has brought games to the console many thought Nintendo wouldn’t even consider given the high bar they’ve set in the past. Clearly things are changing, though, and even the big companies know that players want more from gaming than triple-A.

On the Microsoft side of things, ID@Xbox will be back bigger than ever supporting indies to launch across the platform including Xbox Live on PC and mobile as well as the Series X. Already launching a huge spotlight on its indie game lineup, it’s clear Microsoft have indie games in mind when bringing their new console to the market.

Further opportunities do exist on the Series X beyond ID@Xbox with the Game Pass program being at the forefront of the console’s launch. The nature of Game Pass means it isn’t going to be triple-A focussed, you only need to look at its current iteration on the Xbox One to see that. That presents great possibilities for indie developers to get their games on the service and benefit from Microsoft’s audience and marketing presence.

PlayStation spoke about their indie initiative back in 2019 and have delivered on that promise with Shuhei Yoshida, Head of PlayStation Indies saying their aim is to make “PlayStation the best place to develop, find, and play great indie games.”

So far, they’ve committed to adding at least one new indie game to their PlayStation Now service, which is similar to Xbox Game Pass, every month. They’ve also shown a range of indie games releasing on the console to coincide with the launch of the new hardware much like Microsoft showing a commitment to supporting smaller developers.

Do what Nintendon’t

Getting on consoles might be easier than ever but the recent influx of indie games on the Nintendo Switch has proven that doesn’t solve all the problems of discoverability. As Steam continues to try and tackle the problem in its own way, Nintendo has been criticised for not promoting indie games well on the Switch platform since its launch. 

Interestingly, this next gen wave of consoles plan to tackle the problem of discoverability for small developers in a new way – and that is through their subscription services. There’s been a big push by Microsoft and Xbox Game Pass more so, but Sony are not far behind in making their streaming and subscription services PlayStation Now more desirable to players. One of the key ways they’ve done that is by filling out their libraries with indie games.

Having their own space separate to their respective online stores gives games on these services more room to be promoted and played by a wider audience. This circumvents the issues of discoverability seen on the Switch over the last few years and gives indies that may have flown under the radar on PC a new space in which to shine.

Many indie devs have expressed concerns about subscription services cutting the bottom line when it comes to sales in an industry already struggling with profitability. Despite this, indie publishers such as No More Robots reported increased sales on all platforms following their inclusion in the Xbox Game Pass program, with No More Robots founder Mike Rose saying: “Since we went into Game Pass, our total Xbox sales have tripled.”

Overall, there seems to be a continued commitment from the console market to support and promote indie games which can only be a good thing for the developers. Much like with the Nintendo Switch, no doubt this next generation will bring with it a range of new marketing opportunities for indie games which, if navigated correctly, could work out great for the industry and those working within it.