The PlayStation 4 will rekindle the diversity of games last seen during the PSone era, Sony has said.
During his keynote presentation at the Develop Conference in Brighton this morning, PS4 chief architect Mark Cerny predicted a "renaissance of gaming", fuelled by indie titles, that will echo the early years of PlayStation.
"With PSone there was no way to make an indie title," he said. "The hardware didn't support digital downloads and all games were distributed on CD-ROMS. There was no way for creators to directly reach their audience.
"But triple-A game development was very different than it was today. Crash Bandicoot, which sold six million units, was created by just seven people. A typical individual would contribute broadly in the creation of a game.
"Due to small team sizes the barriers to creating new types of experiences were quite low, and consequently the diversity of games available at retail was quite high. As a result, there was a certain fun factor that was an intrinsic part of the PlayStation DNA in those years.
"Concept-driven titles like PaRappa the Rapper, Devil Dice and Intelligent Cube were well received by the game playing audience and each went on to sell over a million units."
This diversity was lost on PlayStation 2, Cerny explained, because development teams had to get bigger to realise the power of the console. And the problem only accelerated with the arrival of PlayStation 3.
Now, after breaking down a number of barriers to indie development on PlayStation, Sony has made steps to help the sector thrive.
It's streamlined its processes, made game development easier on its raft of platforms and boosted the discoverability of indie titles to ensure they can be found on the PlayStation Store. Much of these Eurogamer discussed in an investigation into Sony's indie push published earlier this year.
"The console audience has woken up to the potential of indie games," Cerny said, pointing to the success of Telltale Games' The Walking Dead series.
"With the release of PlayStation 4, we understand we have an opportunity to fundamentally alter the landscape of gaming."
The PS4's PC-like architecture makes it easier to develop original titles directly on the platform, he said. "Even if the games use simpler graphics engines, the increased system memory means it's trivial to support larger animation sets or more detailed virtual worlds.
"On PS4, I believe the indie paradigm will have the hardware as enabler, not as the central player, which is to say that Octodad isn't about the triangle count, it's about keeping your cephalopod nature a secret from your human family."
Cerny praised Sony Computer Entertainment's publisher and relations specialist Adam Boyes for spearheading the company's drive to increase the number of indie titles on PlayStation.
"On the business side, we've had a bit of an epiphany," Cerny said. "Since Adam Boyes joined SCE, pretty much the whole process has been overturned. He wanted us to look at the day in the life of an indie developer, and challenged us to explain whether our processes were helping or hindering the creation of the diverse titles we were looking for.
"We ended up radically simplifying concept approval. We fully support self-publishing across all platforms, so it's now possible for developers to maintain complete creative and financial control. We now pretty much support any business model, whether it be buy-to-play, free-to-play, episodic or micro-transactions. And we're doing what we can to support indie development financially as well, whether that be through loaner dev kits or our incubation program or direct support from the Pub Fund.
"We also understand that accessibility is paramount. So we've gone from putting our process out front to putting people out front, which is to say your indie journey on PS4 as a developer begins by tweeting Shahid Ahmad, not by filling out a form."
And with PS4, expected to launch this November, improvements to the user interface should help, too. Cerny noted the Share button, which will allow gamers to "easily elevate" the experiences they enjoy, before revealing digital distribution is getting increased prominence, with buying games on the PlayStation Store "radically simplified".
"So, as a result of these technical, business and platform factors, we believe that a renaissance of gaming is coming on PS4," Cerny concluded. "Heavy content will thrive on the platform, but in many ways we will also be returning to the creative freedom and broad content that made the early years of PlayStation so unforgettable."