Reposted from my blog at http://www.crystallinegreen.com
Previous to my attending the Indie Collective day a few weeks back, I applied for the Microsoft and Nintendo developer programs. However, I didn't apply to the Sony Developer program, because I was given the distinct impression that it was essentially pointless to apply cold, and that it was better to get yourself known first, put your face out there in the community of developers and build up "credibility"
So to further that, I headed down on Monday to the Sony Developer Open Day at Sony's London HQ. I spent most of the time furiously taking notes, and in the spirit of indie openness, here is my take on the day:
Self-Publishing the PlayStation Way
First up, myself and the assembled other indies were treated to a broad overview of Sony's self-publishing philosophy. There was a brief history emphasising how Sony had, in some form or other, run various schemes or programs to allow homebrew or self-publishing. From things like Net Yaroze, something that I wasn't aware ever existed, to more recently, PS mini's and the move into the digital (distribution) era.
An interesting aside, they quoted 500 digital games from 160 studios had now been published digitally on Sony. Which works out at ~3 games per studio. In that context, it sounds a little less open and more like a small number of studios producing lots of mini-games.
But still pointing out that some of their favourite games, like "Retro-city Rampage", were produced by one-man studios, and that they recognised that size doesn't necessarily matter in that regard. Though from where I was sitting, I think most people there, just judging by their mere presence, probably didn't need persuading of Sony's Indie credentials
The real meat of the talk though, was Sony's "Four Pillars of Self-Publishing", which by my reckoning and note taking, somewhat mysteriously, translated into five key points:
The point about support was again something mentioned throughout the day. Essentially that there is a reasonable limit to how much support they can provide, and I suspect anyone who wastes their time or is frivolous with them, they'll give you short shrift.
Another sound bite, "Not just a policy", was expanded as taking a proactive approach across the company to the work people do, and that extended to their interactions with indies. A few examples of that from other areas of the company were cited. Things such as Sony's taking a chance with Eve-Online's Dust 12345 [sic], and introducing free-2-play payment options.
Finally, there was a quick breakdown of the process of getting a game onto Sony's platforms:
Finally, and another thing that came up repeatedly throughout the day, that right now, Sony are very busy with PS4 launch. So the above is really applicable "under normal circumstances", and while they aim to still hit that, things are liable to slip right now
Global Product Proposal
If you want to get on Sony's platforms, this step is mandatory, so pay attention! Indeed the GPP talk started with a call to use it as a way to "Bring your game to [Sony's] attention", and "Focus attention on your game". I think it's actually slightly misleading to imply it's your one big shot. It is, but not quite in the straight forward way it appears on the surface. Hopefully it'll become clear what I mean by the end.
There is a single submission process (for each game idea, and implied that you're only going to be working on one at a time). This is not a 70 page, old-fashioned style game design document, but equally, it's something more detailed than one or two sides of A4.
A number of people asked basically the same question at the end of the talk about ports or existing games, and as far as I could tell, there was no satisfactory answer about where this fits in to the GPP (where (or whether) you put in screenshots or concept art, or a link to a build).
Later on, it was mentioned by Sony (in their talk about Strategic Content (again, see later)), that they were looking more for original content and were less interested in ports or games that had prior release on other platforms. Or alternatively, the point came up multiple times that they were looking to see what things the PlayStation version would have that made it better than versions on other platforms (read exclusive content or use of unique-to-PS hardware)
Meanwhile, the submission process has "transparent criteria" - in the sense that you don't get told what they are, but the rest of the talk was basically massive hints. From talking to one of the Sony reps afterwards, it sounds like there are actually a limited number of tick boxes that if not filled, will fail you, but the rest is more about where you end up in the rankings of games/devs.
In fact, they rank all the games by importance, and some then get flagged as "Strategic Content". Which basically means it's something special. Something they think will shift boxes or maybe highlight some unique hardware capability
Moreover, if you're not flagged or top of the priority list, that doesn't necessarily mean you're ignored, nor have no chance of progressing. So it's not a total bust if you're not top of the pile.
You can also ask to get feedback on your game design, above and beyond just getting a simple accepted or not. It's optional, but honestly, just the opportunity to get that sort of quality feedback from experienced developers is as worth applying it in itself in my opinion.
As for what to include and cover, there were a number of points for consideration:
From a practical point of view, the advice was to submit early. Some time after pre-production, having completed game design documents and considered what platform-specific features the proposal would include (again, this same point popping up), but before actual development begins (so again, by implication downplaying ports).
Aside: How many indies produce game design documents or have a concept of pre-production anyway?
Technical & PSN Services
The technical talk was the only one Sony requested we didn't take pictures of (though apparently, taking notes and talking about it afterwards were both fine). However, I intend to use middleware (Unity&Monogame), so I'm going to largely skim over it and just pick out a few key points:
I mentioned these guys before, because they seem to be what I was missing prior to going to the event. In short, Strategic Content is a small team (literally 3 or 4 guys) that go through the games being developed for Sony platforms by indies and self-publishers, and pick out those of particular importance in terms of the wider context of what Sony are trying to do with the platform. Literally, the games of a larger, strategic importance.
They also look outside just those developers already signed up with Sony, to the wider community of indie developers, seeing what other indies that they trust are recommending, and actively seeking out games that are generally made of win.
These guys are very much the public facing part of Sony's dev relations team. Those active in the indie and gamedev community, going to events, talking to people, finding out what's out there. Previously, I had been given the impression that these guys were the gatekeepers of the platform, and that unless you built up your credibility and a relationship with them, then it probably wasn't worth applying to the Sony developer program.
The biggest take-home message from the day for me was that actually, they are just one arm of the dev relations, or one route onto Sony's developer program. In fact, applying cold through the Sony website was another, and the third being to sign up as first-party with XDev (see later).
In terms of what they were actually saying, it was nice fuzzy things about why they liked this or that developer (case study was Velocity by FuturLab). Or "growing the medium" (as an art form presumably?). They explicitly stated that their preference is for exclusives or at least new IP, rather than ports.
And as for what they do, I don't think they were quite willing to come out and say it publicly, but the long and short that they will, on a case-by-case basis, provide help and support that developers may need. That probably means getting extra attention from marketing, but as well, hinted that in the past, it had included financial assistance. The fact they were so cagey on the subject I can understand though, since by the nature of what they're doing, it has to be discreet and measured
This is Sony's "all inclusive" deal. They provide (complete) financing, marketing, veteran producers to help you, can take you to global events such as E3, Gamescom. They will ensure you're game is put through the full, rigorous QA, localisation, and can provide those things usually reserved for AAA studios such as time in testing suits, motion capture and even merchandising.
Equally, your title will be Sony/PS exclusive, and they will take ownership of the IP. There are some caveats to that, such as having first refusal when it comes to producing a sequel.
In terms of applying, the advice was that if you think it's the right path for you, all things considered, then to contact XDev in the first instance. Then later on apply for the regular developer program if you were rejected. Though Sony gave no details of the exact application process or criteria they would judge you against, they mentioned they are working on roughly twenty games. That indicates to me it's probably reasonably competitive and/or potentially aimed at more established or experienced developers than your typical straight-outta-uni solo indie dev.
The process is intimidatingly long enough that non-serious developers will give up and spurious applications easily filtered out. Assuming you're serious about developing for Sony, seems that it's almost worth applying to their Developer program just to get in a GPP and corresponding feedback on your game design, marketing strategy etc.
Sony seem keen on building up more personable relationships with their devs, so useful if you can do that by attending events or participating in the indie dev community on twitter, but if you're not one of the "chosen ones" picked by Strategic Content, there are other routes to getting on their platforms, so still worth going through the process.
However, don't expect quick results, and with PS4 launch imminent, Unity support not till next year, this is about the long game, not quick ports.