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Tracing PlayStation's brief 'indie heaven' back to the humble PSP Go

Tracing PlayStation's brief 'indie heaven' back to the humble PSP Go

October 4, 2017 | By Alex Wawro

"Between 2013 and 2014 it was indie heaven at PlayStation."

- Former Sony exec Shahid Ahmad, reminiscing about his efforts to bring more indie devs' work to Sony platforms.

Indie games weren't a big part of the PlayStation sales pitch at E3 this summer.

That's a sharp departure from that brief period in 2013 and 2014 when Sony presented PlayStation as a platform where indies could shine as bright as any big-budget studio production. Now, a nice new Zam feature offers a bit more insight into why Sony made a big show of propelling indie devs to center stage.

Moreover, it sheds light on how the company came to lower its guard and allow a broader variety of games onto its platforms. According to Sony staffers, the story starts after the iPhone got its App Store (in 2008) and game devs started to see major success selling bite-sized games.

"The initial plan was to get us involved in doing something that was a little bit more fluid from a development point of view with the indies, to get those guys on board," onetime Sony Europe account manager Neil Soane told Zam. "It was generally felt that there wasn't enough input from the smaller devs, and that there was this huge void between what was coming out on the larger PlayStation platforms and everything else." 

From there Sony would launch the "Minis" program for small digitally-distributed games on the PSP Go. Former Minis account manager Shahid Kamal Ahmad recalls it as the first step in realizing a long-held goal: relaxing Sony's requirements for getting games onto its platforms. 

This brought developers like Honeyslug (Hohokum) to PlayStation, and it reportedly put Ahmad in a good position to advocate for indies when Sony became concerned about the success (or lack thereof) of its Vita handheld.

"I worked to create a plan for how we could refocus Vita and, in the process, get a lot of software onto it," Ahmad said, explaining that it involved an "ambitious plan" to provide better support and funding to indies who would be interested in supporting the Vita. It evidently went well enough that Ahmad was also able to get some indies working on games for the PlayStation 4, and that in turn helped give Sony something to talk about at press events around the console's launch in late 2013.

"Between 2013 and 2014 it was indie heaven at PlayStation," Ahmad added. "I found myself at the center of just about everything, having been on the extreme fringes to begin with."

Of course, Ahmad eventually left Sony in 2015 and has continued to work as an indie developer and advocate ever since. You can (and should) read the rest of his recollections about PlayStation's indie program (alongside more from Soane and some of the devs who were involved) in the full Zam feature

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