GDC 2011: More About PlayStation Suite

PlayStation_Suite_Logo

Right now, if you want to make a game for the PlayStation3, you need to spend tens of thousands of dollars on an expensive development kit. That same thing holds true, even if you just want to make some casual titles or PlayStation Minis! It’s a different story for making PSP games as the devkit is quite a bit cheaper at $1500, but you’re still out of luck if you’re short on cash. Luckily, Sony has seen the light (and the money signs), and is going to open the PS Vita as well as a few other platforms for use by the casual and low-budget indie developer. I suppose I could have titled this “Garage Development Comes to the Masses,” but that’s already been done by the likes of XBox Live Indie Games, the PC and (last but not least) the short list of Apple iOS devices. We heard about this new “hardware neutral” development environment in January of this year, but what does Sony plan to do with PlayStation Suite?

Make development easy across multiple platforms.

Shigeru “Shiggy” Sugimoto (SCEI) alongside Chris Norden (SCEA) gave a quick presentation at GDC Online 2011 in Austin to provide details about the upcoming semi-platform-agnostic SDK (Software Development Kit): PlayStation Suite. An IDE (Integrated Development Environment) is included, and looks a bit like Unity’s MonoDevelop. It’s a bit spartan, but who needs unnecessary complexity when it comes to a development environment? Only one language will be supported to begin with (C#), and Sony is open to adding more if the need arises from the community. A selection of PlayStation-specific APIs will be tucked under the hood alongside the Base Class Library, providing the services you’ll need when programming for a PlayStation “approved” device. What exactly does “approved” mean? Basically, Sony can pick and choose which devices will be available to use with their SDK. Right now, that means the Sony-Ericsson Xperia Play (runs a version of Android), the Sony Tablet S (running Android as well), or the PS Vita (running a custom OS designed by Sony, which is not based on Android). A necessary list of software and documentation will also be provided alongside the SDK: a debugger, a project template, the PS Suite UI Composer (easily toss together UI elements), the C# toolchain (compiler, linker, etc.), a decent selection of libraries including one providing 2D-physics, and API documents and code samples. Also of note is the inclusion of a simulator, or emulator, depending on how you look at it. This will allow programmers without a device on the approved list to develop software and run it. It’s an exceptionally familiar setup to those who have developed for Android already.

Most importantly, however, is that
a single project can be compiled and run on any of the devices on the list without modification. That’s a big step towards getting your application/game out to the masses, and is a smart move by Sony. It’s a move that has been made before (see Unity3D, Unreal Development Kit, or iOS), but you can’t really fault them for purloining what works well.

Target devices include primarily smart phones and tablets, with a chance for the PlayStation 3 to be added into the mix in the future. That last bit is sure to raise a few eyebrows. It should be a point of focus for Sony, in my opinion, if they want to be competitive with Microsoft or Apple in this space.

“Okay, okay! I’m sold! Lemme develop for the PlayStation line already!”
Not so fast there, bucko. The PS Suite won’t be out until November, and that’s only if you get in on the tech beta. Not to mention there will be what Sony is referring to as a “nominal fee to cover some platform operational costs ... inline with [other available development kits’ costs].” When I asked when this fee would be charged (i.e., up-front vs. at the time your application/game is submitted to Sony), the answer was that Sony is still discussing that, but it will likely will be up-front. While charging for the SDK prior to application submission will keep out a vast majority of developers who might never do anything aside from download the software, it will also keep those same developers from just toying around with the kit. Ostensibly, this could mean a slower learning curve but definitely means we’ll see a lower amount of community interaction when the PS Suite forums come online later this year.

This is a bit of mixed bag for me. Microsoft beat Sony to the punch. By a lot. It’s great to finally see Sony working to get independent and garage developers involved on their platforms, and they’re going about it the right way (aside from the “fee up front” shenanigans), but is it too late for this generation of home systems? Also, Sony’s plan is to make a separate portion of the PlayStation store where these products will be sold. Does Android need yet another marketplace? There are a couple of questionable decisions on the business side here, but the tech looks solid enough and seems to be headed in the right direction. Let’s hope the business-side comes up with something inspired to integrate the Sony-approved devices into the current landscape.

-Roddy