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PlayStation 4 Must Demolish The Walled Garden

Sony's next-gen strategy needs to rethink the business model, not the hardware specifications

Next week, Sony will start to take the wraps off its next-generation home console strategy. We already know, or at least think we know, a surprising amount about the hardware the company will unveil. Credible specifications for PlayStation 4, under the codename "Orbis", have been floating around for some time, while reports of a significantly redesigned Dual Shock controller with an integrated touchpad interface are well-established.

"We really know nothing about Sony's plans. We know what will be in the box, but never has that been so unimportant"

It's a testament to how much the games business has changed in the past decade, however, that despite having information about hardware specifications and controller design, we really know nothing about Sony's plans. We know what will be in the box, but never has that been so unimportant. Nobody sane doubts Sony's ability to competently construct a box that sits under a television and plays games that look nicer than the ones we've got now (and similarly nice to the ones that will be played on Microsoft's rival under-telly-box).

What many people do doubt - with good, if sometimes exaggerated, reasons - is Sony's ability to make that box relevant to a wide audience of consumers, to attract the very best of development talent to it and to turn it into a must-have device, if not for the mass market, then at least for the high-spending core consumers who make up the backbone of the games industry. In that regard, the PS4's specifications barely warrant a tick-box on the sheet headlined "Sony's Future". Controller design is more important, definitely, but still only a small part of the puzzle.

So what does Sony need to tell us next week in order to make that puzzle start to make sense? Firstly, it needs to demonstrate that it knows it won't build a successful new platform off the back of hardware specifications. Given the drastic changes in management and direction we've seen in the past half-decade, I very much doubt that we're going to get a repeat of the bombastic, hardware-focused announcement of the PS3 - the opening shots of a specification war that turned out to be an irrelevant sideshow, as PS3 and Xbox 360 ended up evenly matched for all intents and purposes, and Wii happily trounced the pair of them in sales anyway. If, however, next week's show really is all "look how shiny our polygons are!", it'll be cause to seriously worry about whether Sony has a future in this business at all.

Instead, next week needs to be about the rest of the puzzle. It needs to be about distribution, and platform, and pricing - not of the hardware, but of the software. Most of all, it needs to be about the business model. Sony needs to show the world that it's been paying attention as platforms like iOS, Android and Steam have torn up the rulebook and fundamentally shaken the relationship between developers, publishers and platform holders.

"Sony needs to show the world that it's been paying attention as platforms like iOS, Android and Steam have torn up the rulebook"

I'm not talking about turning PlayStation 4 into a great platform to play Angry Birds on, or stepping up to the pointless war against tablets and mobile phones that exists only in the heads of enraged internet comment posters. I'm talking about engaging with the fact that right now, as a developer working on a great new idea, you can go out and find hundreds of thousands of dollars to invest in bringing your game to market on a console - a process which will probably also strip you of ownership of your IP and of creative control of the game itself, let alone its marketing and so on - or you can release it on tablets, smartphones and PCs for a cost as close to zero as makes no odds. This isn't about Angry Birds any more; it's about Minecraft, or Thomas Was Alone, or The Room, or Dear Esther, or New Star Soccer, or Proteus, or FTL. The problem consoles face in the next generation isn't that people are playing simple casual games on phones - it's that developers of complex, interesting and engrossing games are bringing them to phones, tablets and PCs rather than jumping through the ludicrous hoops it takes to get a game onto a console.

This is, I believe, essentially the point which was being made by former Xbox engineer Nat Brown when he slammed Microsoft for its handling of the console over the past five years. The world has changed dramatically during that period of time, and consoles have, for the most part, stood still. Their hardware remains the same as it was seven years ago, during which time mobile phones, tablets and even laptops have undergone revolutions in design, power and connectivity - and if their hardware now looks dated, their business model looks nothing short of archaic.

I am not joining the crowds declaring that the $60 software era is over. It's not. That business model still works for certain titles - titles that carry a huge reputation and a huge marketing budget. I am a passionate advocate of the free-to-play business model (when it's done right - there's no question that in the wrong hands, it can be absolutely horrible and even abusive), and I think it must have a place on future consoles - but it's not the only model, nor can it be a panacea.

What Sony needs to do, rather than simply saying "yes we'll support free-to-play", is open up their business model and make it truly flexible. Put distribution and billing systems in place that allow developers to figure out the model that works best for them - whether that's free-to-play, subscription, episodic, a $10 download or a $60 download. Take a cut of all the revenue that flows through the system, but otherwise step back and allow the negotiation on pricing and business model to be one between creators and consumers, not one imposed rigidly by a corporate behemoth in the middle of it all.

"Consoles cannot just be a playground for publishers with millions to spend, because that's not where game development is headed"

I have some confidence that Sony might, against the odds, actually understand this. The firm has been more open than its rivals up until now - it has allowed some Steam integration on the PS3 (it's a pipe-dream, but imagine, for a moment, if PS4 were actually a target platform for Steam just as OSX and Linux are now?), and has allowed MMO developers to fiddle with the business model to their own ends. Moreover, the company fundamentally understands the importance of getting innovative, attention-grabbing games onto its platform - it's to Sony's great credit that in an era where the bulk of interesting indie development ends up on Steam or iOS, it accrued titles like Journey and The Unfinished Swan to its portfolio, but while occasional curated hits are important and fantastic, they aren't enough.

Consoles are, ultimately, the AAA platform. They're the platform where expensively developed games with high production values are sold at a high cost to consumers who care deeply about the pastime and are willing to devote significant disposable income to it. That's fine, and it's a lucrative corner of the industry - but it's not enough. Consoles cannot just be a playground for publishers with millions to spend, because that's not where game development is headed, as an industry. Where the indie developers have blazed a trail, more established firms are now following - recognising that, at long last, they have an option other than prostrating themselves at the gates of the platform holders' walled gardens. If Sony's announcements next week doesn't address that, its entire strategy for the next five years must be called into question.

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Latest comments (35)

Peter Dwyer Games Designer/Developer 8 years ago
Obvious but, Sony and Microsoft are not set up for fast moving change. Even so Microsoft at least had the indie games section, which (given they have now killed XNA) may actually not be here next time around.
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Rob Jessop R&D Programmer, Crytek8 years ago
Nice article Rob and I hope Sony go for it. I'd love to see more games like Thomas and FTL on consoles.
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John McCaul Web Developer, DevPhase.Net8 years ago
I kind of get the feeling this is how the console platforms need to go. Keep up the blockbuster business and its titles as well as provide thriving digital stores for mid range publishers and indie games. I think we will see a lot of diversity and flexibility within the next few years with regards to digital downloads. Yesterday Namco Bandi released Tank Tank Tank on the WiiU eShop as free to play charging for select packs to download. The game has been available since launch day in shops (at full retail price). This could lead to a very profitable alternative business model for publishers.
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Show all comments (35)
Had no interest in tank tank tank but now that it's feel to try... i downloaded it today and gave it a play. what is there is basically a demo... one multiplayer level no single player. Better than nothing though.
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John Bye Lead Designer, Freejam8 years ago
Maybe I'm wrong, but I've got the impression that Sony are much more open about this kind of thing than Microsoft and Nintendo.

PS3 was the first console to have free-to-play games AFAIK, they allowed Steam onto their platform in Portal 2, supported user generated content in games from Little Big Planet to Unreal Tournament (which Microsoft blocked), same day digital releases of retail titles are common (again, Microsoft actively forbids this on 360, while Nintendo are embracing it on Wii U and 3DS), digital pre-orders have recently been introduced, digital download pricing seems flexible and is largely left up to publishers AFAIK (with no fixed pricing tiers and everything priced in your local currency), they have Minis and PlayStation Mobile for budget games and apps (even if the implementation isn't ideal), there are regular sale events and individual discounts on the PSN store (not on the same scale as Steam sales yet, although the current fire sale of THQ digital titles is tempting), and they have a subscription offer (PS Plus) that blows its rivals out of the water.
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John McCaul Web Developer, DevPhase.Net8 years ago
@John I agree the platform has developed and improved greatly. Sony have experimented with Killzone 3 on psn making the multilayer component only £12 which I think is a great idea. If anything I'm kicking myself for buying a ps3 years ago building up a games library, when you can just pay for ps+ and get access to 45+ games. However I have always had the impression that it was designed with the previous generation very much in mind.
It'll be very interesting how sony tackle the ps4.
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I think it's worth noting that there currently is no properly open app store model on any non-mobile platform. Steam isn't open, ouya will likely not be open, as such it's impossible to predict what impact the ugly sides of the app store model will have on the backbone of the console business, full price games.
I think it's a bit premature to ask Sony to abolish any barriers and give up all price control mechanism on their own, subsidized platform, when they might as well wait how it turns out for ouya and steambox. They can always implement this model later if they decide it is an advantage to them.
Furthermore, I doubt it will widen the demographic enough to offset effectively killing off the full price market. I just don't see average Joes and soccer moms shelling out 400$ for a device to play 1$ games on, when that's really like they can do with it. You can't really compare it to mobile devices and draw conclusions from that.
For a $99 device like the ouya, an app store model makes sense. For a bespoke, high end gaming machines, not so much.
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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee8 years ago
@John Bye

Maybe so, but my worry (for Sony anyway not the customer) is that Microsoft are way ahead when it comes to the software technology platforms, tools and windows ecosystem. I don't think it would take quite as much for Microsoft to break down the barriers and offer something powerful and consistent on Xbox, they already have the groundwork in Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8.

I think basically what I'm saying is that Microsoft a closer to (or may already possess) a model that could potentially work well for a future console and offer some of the greater 'openness' and convergence we expect, without being completely open and free for all.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Adam Campbell on 15th February 2013 12:08pm

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Jakub Mikyska CEO, Grip Digital8 years ago
As a long-time PlayStation developer, I must say that a lot of information here is not correct. First, Sony does not dictate pricing or business model. Even as a very small publisher, we can have F2P, episodic content, IAP, we can pick the price, schedule sales. There is 100% freedom. The problem is that the customers are not that much into it. We have tried releasing a PSN game for a cheaper price than what is usual and support it with IAP. Players as well as reviewers hated it. And Sony knows that their customers are "conservative" (for a lack of better word).

Secondly, you write that "or you can release it on tablets, smartphones and PCs for a cost as close to zero as makes no odds". If we don't count the actual development costs (which are the same for mobile as well as consoles or PC), then there is no other financial barrier to entry. A DevKit costs less than a high-end MacBook Pro. On the other hand, in the world of mobile the current reality is that you need to "buy" customers in order to get to the top lists to have any shot at being commercially successful.

We have started our company as three guys with a budget that would be laughable even for a mobile game these days, but we were able to turn that into a good business on the PSN. The only thing that is actually preventing current indies from going to these platforms is that they either don't know they can, or because mobile and Steam is what's cool today.

You state Steam as a great example of where Sony needs to be headed, but the reality is that Steam has the tallest wall of all the current major digital stores. Sony, as well as all the other console manufacturers need to stay away from Steam-like way of dealing with indies as far as possible.
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Sandy Lobban Founder, Noise Me Up8 years ago
Good article Rob.

I worked at the company for the last 8 years, and up until the closure of Studio Liverpool. It'll be interesting to see the content of the announcement. Looking forward to it.
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Brian Smith Artist 8 years ago
My hope is that both consoles will open up more to Indie and games as a service. I also hope they'll steer clear of the questionable end of the free to play spectrum that spends most of it's effort trying to trick folk into paying.

It's all guessing just now though and I don't think anyone has their finger directly on the pulse yet. One thing I think a lot of the industry forgets though is the customers want for ease of use and simplicity. A hell of a lot of gamers want to turn on the machine and play a game. Anything more complex is a turn off.

This is one area consoles have covered much better than any other platform imo. Pc gaming might be much less painful than it used to be but check out most support boards and you'll always see huge amounts of users having difficulties installing,patching, dealing with hardware configs etc. Console market gamers don't want that. Even on smartphones and tablet it could be said it's simple but it's still not as simple as consoles. No installing (unless you want), no manual patching or config issues, or performance differences. Consoles still win on simplicity.

Another factor consoles have going strong for them is Multi-player. Personally there are a good few titles I'd like to play on PC but I don't. I don't because the platform is rife with hackers, modders , cheaters and uneven hardware. My experiences of MP on PC were terrible in comparison to the console experience. MP on smartphone or tablet has similar issues. Consoles are king in this area too. They still need to open their doors to services for MMO's and Free to play behemoths but in general, if you want a reasonably fair game of racing or football or FPS, consoles are the place to be.

I mention these two USP's as although articles like this point out the importance of the big console names changing in order to survive, they're fundamental pluses are being left ignored. My opinion is that these two factors alone create a huge plus for consoles thats still highly relevant to the consumer. The business models etc may well be important to get right but as far as I can see they still have things other platforms can't yet challenge.
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@Jakub: My experience with Nintendo was fairly similiar. The DevKit wasn't that expensive (for the Wii), and there were no other costs ... except for the one relating to the developer *requiring* a commercial office. We got the cheapest (reasonable) lease we could, which was around $400/w for 3 years - or $60k AU. IMO, this is the only real thing stopping developers from pursuing Nintendo more.

If this doesn't apply to Sony, that is great :)

It may not be obvious to non-developers, but there is a very important difference between developing for something like Android or iOS - and a console. And that is, the wrong code can seriously damage - if not completely brick a console.

Android has an entire OS/device driver layer sitting under it. This has both pros and cons: it limits the functionality any software can perform, and it also standardizes how to program for a device. However, it prevents "bare-metal" development, which is what consoles are all about - the potential performance increase from real bare-metal development can be as high as 10x (depending what the code is doing).

The day any console has a "true" open marketplace, is probably the day that console ceases to become a true console - and effectively becomes a "PC" (with a different OS). Might as well iterate the hardware every year as well.

Another issue is LotCheck (approval). It can take 2-4 weeks to get a game through the LotCheck queue, and properly tested. This is with a handful of games pending. I can only imagine what would happen if there were thousands of pending titles. Again, this more-or-less works with Android, as apps can do that much damage, apps will break on some devices at least (and always get updated anyway), and the userbase does most of the testing!
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Gregory Hommel writer 8 years ago
The key to this equation, the one always overlooked if not absolutely swept under the rug, is that Sony's consoles don't play game that "look similarly nice to Microsoft's under-telly-box." It plays games that look far better. Set in worlds that are more immersive, without loading every 5-10 minutes, without disappearing dead bodies. Look at the blogosphere. Every post erupts into an infantile argument about which console, of the two relevant consoles, is better. That is all that matters. No one cares about Free-To-Play. A carbon copy of Playstation Entertainment Network would suffice. This industry is about the games. The more people who have lost there passion try to put their all knowing slant on the economics of it all, the worse things get. Any lull in original games right now exists purely because everyone is trying to read the tea leaves. Game makers make games. The more capable the hardware the better the games they can make. Simple. So please, put the emphasis on whatever aspect of gaming you like, but don't assert that the technology is a given, much less equal among contenders. That is not and has never been the case.
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Paul Jace Merchandiser 8 years ago
I'm doubtful that this will make it into any part of Sony's announcement next week. That doesn't neccesarily mean they won't have these options in place around launch but for the short term I suspect they will be more focused on the consumer side of the PS4 business than the developer side, as far as next week's announcemnet is concerned.
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Andreia Quinta Photographer, Studio52 London8 years ago
Fahey's article is spot on regarding what (not only Sony) the next generation must give priority. But this upcoming Sony presentation in my opinion won't feature a lot of these details (if any), and instead will focus more on the 'bling' of the their next machine, how powerful it is, how shiny the new graphics are and how awesome the new features must be.

This show is about catching the consumer by surprise and make 'noise'. Remember they changed ad agency in America, of all places, for a reason.
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Nicholas Lovell Founder, Gamesbrief8 years ago
@Gregory, I love the way that you about the blogosphere erupting into "infantile" arguments about technology, and then say that is all that matters. Whereas I think it is infantile.
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Igor M D 8 years ago
"PCs rather than jumping through the ludicrous hoops it takes to get a game onto a console"
This is a factually wrong statement. Releasing a game on PlayStation Network is much easier than on Steam. I would recommend the author to do some research first. Of course it is harder to make a game for PSN, since it has to comply with TRC and pass QA, but this process is in place to make sure that all released games are up to high technical standards that console users expect.
PSN hasn't been a walled garden for almost 4 years now - I would expect know about that.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Igor M on 18th February 2013 3:25pm

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Gregory Hommel writer 8 years ago
The PS3 is currently at 77million units worldwide while the 360 is at 76million units. So despite releasing a year later and an initial failure rate of 48% for the 360(which has added greatly to sales numbers) the PS3 still caught up. So while you may very well be right, it is highly possible that the PS4 will outsell the 720 in every market. Including North America. I bet if you listed the games that move PS3's you would have a much bigger list.
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Gregory Hommel writer 8 years ago
The argument is not all that matters, the quality is all that matters.
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Nuttachai Tipprasert Programmer 8 years ago
Andrew. I don't see why the games on both PS4 and Xbox 720 (or whatever it will be called) can not have the same level of optimization, when, according to the rumor, both of them are now using the same architecture and PS4 has a little bit more raw power this time.

The only reasons why most of the multiplatform games on this gen look better on Xbox 360 because the developers developed on 360 first and then ported to PS3. And the reason why they did that because the unique architecture of PS3 makes it hard to optimize the code base of multiplatform engine, unless, you have very big tech team like the big studios.

And if the rumors were true, it would be very easy to develop games for both next-gen platforms. So, I don't see any reason why the PS4 games will look uglier than their Xbox 720 counterpart.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Nuttachai Tipprasert on 19th February 2013 12:46am

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Rob Fahey Columnist, GamesIndustry.biz8 years ago
To respond to some of the comments claiming that PSN is an easier platform to get on to than rivals; I'd be very interested to hear about the specifics of your experiences, because this doesn't tally with the experiences of small developers I've spoken to who have tried to get onto the platform. Between custom hardware costs, the opaque process for developer registration, the high TRC and QA requirements (which also vary from region to region) and the somewhat capricious nature of a gatekeeper who controls release schedules etc., the barriers to entry seem to me to be quite high - although they do also seem to be lower for established developers with a track record.

Steam is also unquestionably a pain in the backside for developers to get their content onto - but there's a backup option, in that software developed with Steam in mind can be released in other ways (direct download, Mac App Store, etc.) and start to build up revenues and momentum while you're still trying to get onto Steam. That's a route a lot of indies use to build up a niche title into something that's relevant and worthy of Steam release, but no such route exists on PS3, where a game that's rejected by Sony (for whatever reason) has no secondary route to market and is therefore a completely lost investment.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating - if PSN is really such a great platform for indie development, why isn't PSN teeming with great indie titles? If you take out the Sony-funded games (Journey, The Unfinished Swan, etc.) and the major publisher backed games, PSN's a bit barren looking. If the barriers to entry really have come tumbling down, as some commenters here imply, then it's the best-kept secret in the industry.

(I do accept, by the way, that some kind of TRC / QA compromise needs to be reached, because console players are consciously buying into an ecosystem that's not going to have broken software in it, and opening up to an Android-style free-for-all breaks that contract. As such, publishing on console will never be quite as easy as publishing on Android - but I don't see that it needs to be all that much more difficult than publishing on, say, iOS.)
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Istvan Fabian Principal Engineer, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe8 years ago
There is no investment at all until the concept has been approved (discounting a few days with creating the concept pitch) - it's not like you develop a game, then it gets rejected or removed from the app store.
If you first develop a game, then pitch it for release that might be a different story, but people trying to get published in the console space should really understand the proper process first to avoid potential problems.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Istvan Fabian on 19th February 2013 2:22pm

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Tom Keresztes Programmer 8 years ago
There is no investment at all until the concept has been approved (discounting a few days with creating the concept pitch) - it's not like you develop a game, then it gets rejected or removed from the app store.
Until that concept is approved, the developer can only guess about the technical limitations of the platform, while with iOS the development tools are available immediately, and signing keys right after 'signing' the agreement. Plus these are available to anyone, either to an individual or to a company. As far as i know, an indie need a non-residental office, a fixed ip address as the base requirements to purchase a developer kit. These are all require substantial investment.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Tom Keresztes on 19th February 2013 2:50pm

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Jakub Mikyska CEO, Grip Digital8 years ago
@Rob: I think that the problem is the definition of "indie". If an "indie" studio means a team of let's say five to fifteen people, working all together in an office, with reasonable budget (either by founders or simply by previously released games' revenue) who have some abilities in contract negotiation and "selling themselves", then these people have absolutely no trouble in getting to PSN or Nintendo, moderate trouble with Microsoft and zero chance of Valve even looking at their games. I think that someone called these teams "commercial indies". And there are A LOT of them on the PSN.

If "indie" means a team of people who first and foremost want to make the game of their dreams, mostly with minimal budget, only investing their time, quite often each one of them sitting at their own home, who start to look at where could their game actually get released only after they are done with it, then yes, these people will have trouble with getting to the PSN. These are the "hobbyists".

I will be the first one to defend the hobbyists' relevance and importance of their existence - they are quite often the harbingers of innovation. But I will also be the first to point out that 99% of hobbyists' games are crap. Copycats, rip-offs, sub-par games. For every treasure, there is 100 really bad games. Just look at iOS. There are hundreds of thousands of games, but only a few dozens are actually relevant. If Apple created the same gate-keeping rules as let's say Sony, the customers wouldn't even notice, because all the Angry Birds and CSR Racings and Clashes of Clans would make it through anyway... What is the point in opening the flood-gates? It only creates large problems with content discovery and the customers don't really care about having abundance of content, while they only want their Angry Birds.

Every now and then, there is a fantastic new game from the hobbyists and it is the job of the journalists to find them and give them the spotlight, not the console manufacturers.

So, to answer the question why does the publishing on PSN is so much more difficult and costly than publishing on iOS - it is not. If you actually develop your games as a business with the prospect of making money on it, then releasing an iOS game (with complicated marketing, the need to be featured, various monetization processes, etc...) is just as complicated as releasing a PSN game.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Jakub Mikyska on 19th February 2013 3:15pm

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Jakub Mikyska CEO, Grip Digital8 years ago
@Tom: The concept is never rejected because of technical limitations, unless you propose something completely crazy.
Quite frankly, if you don't have the budget to get an office space and fixed IP address, you probably don't have the budget to create a game that can compete with what's available at the consoles' digital stores. There are exceptions, but that's one in a hundred.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jakub Mikyska on 19th February 2013 3:02pm

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Tom Keresztes Programmer 8 years ago

That is not what I meant. A developer cannot have access to the development hardware until the concept is approved which requires considerable investment.
I perfectly agree with you on the budget - but I still think this arrangement stops potential developers from experimenting ideas which are tailored to the platform.
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Istvan Fabian Principal Engineer, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe8 years ago
You can actually get access to initial development information by signing an NDA.
In fact, you don't have to spend any money until you feel you are ready to purchase devkits or debug units. The only thing that costs money is buying development hardware; the rest of the process is completely free.
Your assigned Account Manager at SCE would be happy to discuss your exact circumstances and give you feedback throughout the entire process.
You can register your office to your home address if you want to, and registering as a sole trader costs nothing, as a limited company costs really minimum money at least in the UK. We are talking about hundreds of pounds at most. Of course this could be more costly in other countries, I can't comment on that.
Yes, you will need a fixed IP address, but surely that's not a huge investment either...
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Tom Keresztes Programmer 8 years ago
In fact, you don't have to spend any money until you feel you are ready to purchase devkits or debug units
Money is not as much as an issue as complex processes. As far as i know the PS3 test station costs less than a high-end workstation. Last time we've worked with Sony, they were not even willing to talk until we got a prototype- but it was in 2007.
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Istvan Fabian Principal Engineer, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe8 years ago
Test and debug units are cheap, compared to say contract-free smartphones...
SCE might need to promote more how easy it is to develop for the various platforms these days...
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Tom Keresztes Programmer 8 years ago
how easy it is to develop
Development is only the first step, publishing it is the 2nd. Which is not free either....
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Istvan Fabian Principal Engineer, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe8 years ago
You'd find it's very similar to other platforms (non-console), if you are talking about PSN - I can't vouch for the digital distribution networks and royalties of Wii or Xbox. Someone might chime in, and comment on those.
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Igor M D 8 years ago
@Rob Thanks for taking time to respond.
@Jakub, Tom, Istvan: you started discussing the concept approval, although there is a way to publish a game on PSN without it.

First, PSN isn't a walled garden and everyone who can afford a MacBook and an iPhone can afford a devkit. Sony has no say over the content of the game if it's a PSN Minis game, and there is some creative input (concept approval) if you are developing a larger PS3/Vita game. But most of the input is advice.

Indie games on PSN (until recently including minis too) haven't been second class citizens as XNA games on 360. Whilst all XBLA releases are backed by publishers, many PSN games are self funded/published. Thus PSN is less barren than XBLA or eShop.

Rob, you are right to highlight that if PSN was great there would be more titles. PSN isn't great even though it's open. The statement “there aren't that many games on PSN, thus it's a walled garden” is incorrect. Linux doesn't have that many games either, but you wouldn't say that it's a closed platform.

Why PSN isn't great? This is mostly due to lack of vision/ strategy at Sony.
To illustrate this let's look at different ways of getting the game out to PSN store:

a) Platform specific build - game is developed in native code (C++) with PSP/Vita/PS3 SDK. Available only on one target platform. For example, "Flower" is PS3 only game, that runs only on PS3. LocoRoco is PSP only, and Escape Plan is Vita only.
b) PSN "mini" game - game is developed in native code (C++) with PSP SDK without using Networking functionality. Game is available on all three PS platforms: PSP/Vita/PS3 (Purchase once - play on all devices).
c) PS Mobile - game is developed in managed language (C#). Runs on Vita and a few Xperia phones.

Now, let's look at pros/cons of each approach:

a) Pros: the game may use networking functionality and special features of a given platform (PS3: PS move, camera; Vita: rear/front touch controls; PSP: may use PSP's CPU at 333Mhz which normally operates at 222Mhz). Can release DLCs later.
Cons: requires concept approval from Sony, otherwise known as IPA Stage 1/2. Sony is abolishing stage 2 now. The game will be sold only on a given platform it was developed for. Age ratings required (PEGI/ESRB). Middleware (e.g. Unreal Engine for PS3) is expensive for indie devs.

b) Pros: no concept approval from Sony; make once, sell on PS3/PSP/Vita.
Cons: No networking functionality. No DLCs. Age ratings required (PEGI/ESRB).

c) Pros: There is no age rating requirement.
Cons: Runs only on Vita and PS certified devices (which there are not many). No networking functionality. No DLCs. SDK requires developing in C#, thus the code can't be reused easily on other platforms. Install base is an issue. 2m Vitas and not that many Android certified phones.

Let's see how these compare to what other platform holders offer:
a) This is an industry standard. Every console manufacturer provides native SDKs that allow to use all features of the console. You don't have to be an established publisher to release PS3 games. One—man companies have done so without publisher backing. Nintendo eShop is becoming like that now.
b) What other platform holder allows developers to create the game once that will run on three different hardware architectures?
c) Since XNA is officially dead now, and PS Mobile is dead on arrival, there is nothing to compare.

This is quite confusing for a new developer. To make things worse, people at Sony would advise to go the route that is “fashionable” at the moment. E.g. I'm quite sure if a small indie dev will approach Sony now they will be told to use PS Mobile, even though there is 0% chance of breaking even.

At this point the reader might wonder why does Sony provide overlapping services: e.g. One can release a game on Vita through “minis” or PS Mobile program.
To clarify things a short history reference is required:
“Minis” launched in 2009, which was great. As mentioned above it allows developers to publish pretty much anything on PSN. Originally minis were running only on PSP, and then PS3 support was added (and later Vita). Although, a great initiative, minis didn't get support required to be more successful:
- PEGI/ESRB rating wasn't abolished, thus developer has to pay those organisations to get a game rated. This is not required on iOS/Android/PC.
- Trophies and leader boards support wasn't implemented, whilst all iOS/Android titles have this functionality.
- HW specific functionality wasn't implemented. E.g. you can not check whether game runs on Vita and use touch controls.
- no easy to use engines/middleware available: everyone has to develop their own tech. Version of PSP PhyreEngine that Sony provides is useless. On the other hand, there are plenty of tools available on iOS/Android/PC.
It is important to understand that minis wasn't SCEI's initiative, but most of the important decisions are made there (in Japan), hence the lack of proper support. That's the reason why minis can only be released in EU/NA regions, but not Japan.

To summarise:
— PSN is the most open out of all three console digital distribution services (although Nintendo is doing a good job with eShop now)
— It is i) hard for an average indie developer to port a game to PSN (native/minis) or ii) not financially viable (PS Mobile)
— Plenty of small rudimentary requirements make the process worse: fixed IP address, limited company, PEGI/ESRB ratings (none of those requirements are present on iOS/android and, frankly, none of them are needed).
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Jakub Mikyska CEO, Grip Digital8 years ago
@Igor: Very comprehensive and very true. There is just one thing I would add to it. The way I understand it, minis were a "kindergarten" for small devs. To let them know the platforms, the processes, the people and let the best ones to naturally progress to PS3 and Vita games. I think that Sony was never interested in the games, but rather in the teams behind the games.

And it has worked. After making several minis, we have progressed to PS3 and Vita and I know several other developers who did the same.
As far as I remember, there has never really been such a great initiative from a major player in the industry to cultivate small indies into relevant game studios.
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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee8 years ago
The conclusion I draw from all the talk in this thread is that it ultimately is a walled garden. The debatable bit is whether or not its walled to an extent that it hurts the potential for great games to be on PSN.

I guess when it look at it, the selection from "indies" is limited compared to other platforms and services outside consoles from what I've seen and it would take a considerble challenge to get games there in the first place - if you don't have much in the way of funds...

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Adam Campbell on 20th February 2013 9:41am

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Gregory Hommel writer 8 years ago
Why would you "take out" the Sony funded games? They are from start-up no-name developers and went on to define the PSN. So not only is Sony's platform easy to get your indie titles on, Sony will fund your vision. You can't just "take out" examples that don't support your argument. Just like so many critics "take out" all the Sony published titles when they compare the two consoles. "Well you take away the first party titles and what does Sony have left?" Drives me batty! If you took the fuel pump, battery and transmission out of a car you wouldn't be left with much would you?
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