One of the highlights of Sony’s PS4 announcement was the whimsical, Myst-like trailer for Jonathan Blow’s upcoming puzzler The Witness. The developer has since expanded on its unveiling to Kotaku, and confirmed what other platforms it will appear on.
“Our deal with Sony is a limited-time exclusivity that applies only to competing console platforms. Basically it is that you will see the game on the PlayStation 4 before you will see it on the Wii U or the next Microsoft console, if the game ever appears on either of those.”
In other words, he is free to launch it on the PC and iOS regardless of his deal with Sony. In fact, Blow states that if he and his team were able to develop those versions in time for the PS4 launch, “The ideal situation for us is to release everything simultaneously or close to simultaneously.” The outspoken developer was very forthcoming when discussing why he had chosen the Playstation 4 as the right console for The Witness, and revealed that Sony did not give him money for the exclusivity.
“The real situation is that, because we are a small developer, we only have the ability to launch on a small number of platforms at once. We liked the idea of being on a console, and originally we thought we might be on the PS3 or Xbox 360, but eventually we decided not to target either of those due to the relatively low system specs… The Wii U still has pretty low system specs, so it came down to a choice between the next Microsoft console or the next Sony console.”
In typical Jonathan Blow fashion, he had a lot more to say about The Witness.
“There were people at Sony who really liked the game and were keeping in touch with us about it, and so we naturally started going to their PS4 developer events, got a dev kit, and started playing with it. I don’t have good communication with anyone at Microsoft right now, and haven’t been disclosed on their next console, but all our technical people like the PS4 specs a lot more than the leaked Durango specs, and we like the positioning of the PS4 (it’s about games) a lot more than what we perceive Microsoft’s positioning is going to be.”
In short, it seems that Microsoft dropped the ball, while Sony, knowing the value of high quality indie exclusives such as Journey, went out of their way to court Blow to their side, especially if it means exclusivity.
“There are people at Sony who are very interested in The Witness, so they somehow percolated up through the ranks the idea of showing the game in the launch show… Of course, Sony wants that show to point out things that are going to be exclusive or special to their console. So to be in the show we signed a timed exclusivity for competing consoles. But this was just a formalization of something that was already de facto. We like the PS4 and we like the people at Sony we are working with, so it was an easy choice to make the agreement.”
While Nintendo’s Wii U was judged as having “pretty low system specs,” they are still managing to court a number of indie developers to their new console. With Sony having Blow’s first next-generation title as a launch game, we are left wondering what Microsoft can bring to the table.