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Since you're on this website, I'm going to go ahead and assume you've heard about the PS4, Sony's newest console that's just been released in North America (and coming soon to the rest of the world). It's fast, it's sleek, and for those who enjoy console gaming it's just about the most exciting thing ever. There's no doubt that Sony's new machine is going to be a great product for gamers, but how will it fare as a development platform? More specifically, what does it offer you as an indie developer?
Sony has been very vocal about their intent to support indie development in this upcoming generation. They have promised to make things easier and more accessible for smaller development teams and have made it clear that smaller games will be a cornerstone of their platform.
However, at the time of this writing, the PS4 has yet to launch, and there is obviously no way to know for sure to what degree Sony will act on this promise. In order to get a better idea of what might happen this generation, let's first take a look at what Sony has done in the past.
Sony's Last-Gen Indie Presence
When the PS3 first launched back in 2006, there was almost no talk of independent developers. The video game industry was still singularly focused on huge AAA titles backed by huge publishers and massive development teams.
At this time the barrier of entry to the PS3 was rather high, despite self-publishing being rapidly implemented. Dev kits for the system initially cost $20,000 and the certification process to get your game released on the system was rather intensive. Any potential release needed to pass two separate approval processes, first a concept approval was required and later on a playable alpha of your game needed to be approved.
Unfortunately this meant the risk for developers on PS3 was rather high, as it was entirely possible to get very far in development only for your game to get caught up in certification and never get released. Unfortunately, the difficulties didn't stop upon release; there was a heavy fee for patching games on the system that many small developers couldn't afford. These hurdles, compounded by the fact that the PS3 was notoriously difficult to develop for, meant that the independent scene on the system was muted for quite a while.
However, as smaller indie games gained steam on the much more open PC and mobile marketplaces, Sony started to adjust their strategy on the PS3. Patches are now free on the system, and the PS3 development kit can be licensed for a paltry $2,000. Even more importantly, the two-step certification process has been replaced by a single stage, where developers submit their game concept and Sony promises to give them a response within a week.
This all serves to show that Sony has taken an active effort throughout the last generation to improve ease of use for indie developers. This is encouraging, and makes Sony's promises of continued and improved indie support going into next-gen all the more believable and exciting. Let's take a look at some of what Sony is doing to encourage development on the new system.
Sony's Active Push Towards Supporting Indies
In addition to specific policies and tools, which we will discuss later, the most encouraging part of the potential indie scene on PS4 is how proactive Sony has been about the whole thing. Sony has been pushing independent development in a big way, and this is great in all kinds of ways.
This huge push started back in 2009 with the creation of the Pub Fund, a program where Sony gives an advance payment against future royalties as well as marketing support to developers whose games they want on their systems. The Pub Fund is a huge deal, with Sony pledging back in 2011 that they would lend out $20 million to independent developers in the next three years. Some great games have come out of this program, like Spelunky on PS3 and Vita, as well as the upcoming Blacklight Retribution on PS4.
Perhaps even more impactful then all the money Sony is passing around, is the massive visibility the company is providing for independent developers. Developers from small and mostly unknown teams were present on stage during their PS4 announcement event as well as their E3 press conference. This kind of treatment is usually only reserved for the biggest of big games and it's telling of Sony's new shift in direction that these smaller developers were given the chance to show off at these high profile events.
So we've established that Sony are fans of indies, and they plan on supporting them to find success. The only thing left is for people to actually make games. Let us then take a look at some of the details we know about development on the PS4.
What Will It Be Like to Develop on PS4?
Everything we've heard about PS4 development so far has centred around one principal tenet: lower the barrier of entry for developers. First and foremost, the PS4 is now basically just a Sony-branded PC. With similar architecture and components to modern PCs, development on PS4 should be straightforward for any developer who's ever worked with a PC (also known as every developer). This is a drastic and welcome change to the weird architecture found in the PS3, which was renowned for being particularly difficult to work with.
This change should make things much easier for developers, and everything we've heard from them so far has proven that this is the case. In addition, one of the most popular development tools among independent developers, Unity, has partnered with Sony and announced it will support publishing on PS4, PS Mobile and PS Vita, in addition to its current support for PS3 publishing.
Another way the barrier of entry has been lowered is in the distribution of dev kits. Currently PS4 dev kits are priced at $2,500, but a number of developers have revealed that Sony is currently loaning the systems out for free for a year in order to encourage PS4 development. The only issue right now is actually getting a PS4 dev kit, as demand is very high. Sony is also continuing to embrace free-to-play and other games requiring frequent updates due to the ability for developers to patch their games for free.
Unfortunately, for all that we do know about PS4 development, there are a lot of specifics that are still locked behind non-disclosure agreements. What will the PS4 storefront look like, and will it do a good job featuring indie games? What percentage of royalties does Sony take on games downloaded through this storefront? What, if any, file size limitations will Sony implement on patches, DLC, and games? How difficult is it to actually pass the certification process? These are just a few of the questions those not in the know are probably asking themselves right now.
Unknowns aside, Sony's vocal stance towards supporting indies, the low barrier of entry to development and the company's great track record last generation do nothing but inspire confidence in a healthy indie scene on PS4. Why not check out their page on becoming a registered developer and see what you think?