There are nearly 30 new games on the PlayStation Store this week. Among these titles are juggernauts like NBA 2K18, standalone expansions such as Dishonored: Death of the Outsider, and remasters like Baja: Edge of Control. Amid the madness is Time Recoil, a new top-down shooter from one of PlayStation’s most prolific indie supporters, 10tons. But as the wealth of software on Sony’s digital storefront increases, PR coordinator Jaakko Maaniemi notes that it’s getting harder and harder for titles to get noticed.
“We're superbly aware this is the worst time of the year for indies to launch games, and we’d certainly pick another time of the year if we could,” he tells us. “Quite often it just so happens that we, like many indies, find that we don't have the financial luxury of postponing a release three to six months to be in a less competitive time window. Competition isn't exactly weak at any time of the year. It's important to realise this isn't meant as a complaint per se. I'm just depicting how it is.”
As if competing with almost 30 new releases wasn’t bad enough, Maaniemi points out that many products have multiple SKUs – all of which eat up valuable PlayStation Store real estate. It’s true, too: a quick glance at the plaza reveals that there are three versions of NBA 2K18, three versions of NHL 18, two versions of PES 2018: Pro Evolution Soccer, and even three versions of Dishonored: Death of the Outsider. “For a small indie game like Time Recoil, it means that the title is found only on the 13th row of the new releases list in North America,” Maaniemi sighs, though things are a little better in Europe.
But what can be done? There have been calls for heavier curation on the PlayStation Store from some more vocal industry pundits, with the intention being to eliminate lower quality releases – but it’s unclear how such a process would be policed properly at the platform holder’s level. Maaniemi thinks that taking steps to accommodate more titles could be the solution.
“Visibility is the first step in getting towards the chance of taking that bite out of the revenue stream,” he says. “Pretty much everyone has added storefront real estate; in other words, more categories and more feature slot types. It's great: more slots means there's more to share on any given week or day. But of course the returns on this start to diminish pretty fast. If there's only ten games on display, each one of them gets a lot of attention. With 20 games, some start to get no more than a glance. With 50 games...”
Maaniemi believes that algorithms could be used on the PlayStation Store to look at players’ buying habits and promote content based on their tastes and interests. “Steam is probably the most progressive and hard working on this,” he admits, “as they clearly do make an effort to guarantee some visibility to everyone, and nowadays they even try to show games to the customers who they believe would be interested in the game.”
But for now, developers like 10tons are using different tactics to keep their titles in the PlayStation Store promo reel for longer: discounts. “It's better than nothing for sure, but unfortunately it also pretty much educates the active games store customer to never buy anything at full price,” Maaniemi adds, “which, of course, could very well throw off a flawed recommendation algorithm about the desirability of a game.” Clearly, this is an incredibly difficult problem for all parties to solve.
It’s an interesting challenge because, as PlayStation Store consumers, we demand to see a vibrant storefront filled with a variety of different products to purchase. And it’s that kind of environment that drives virtual foot traffic to the plaza in the first place. But with such intense competition, it’s extremely difficult for any one product to stand out, and Maaniemi is clear about the consequences: “The rule of thumb a decade ago was that 90 per cent of games fail financially, and it's the 10 per cent that fund their development. Now it seems like 99 per cent of games fail financially, so the chances of getting that 1 per cent game […] are not great.”
Do you think the abundance of content on the PlayStation Store is starting to become a problem – and what can be done to ensure every game gets the necessary attention it deserves? Try not to get lost among the cavalcade of comments below.