With the news that Gamemaker will soon be available to all Sony registered developers to use there's naturally been a flurry of interest from kids and hobbyists with no prior experience of console dev and with smaller games in their hands. One of the most asked questions is "how do I take this game I've made in Gamemaker and get it onto Playstation if I'm just a hobbyist?"
Hey, I'm doing just that! I think I can help here. Let's talk about that.
(as Gamemaker doesn't support the Xbox One currently, if you're interested in Xbox One dev you might want to start here instead)
"Hey there, how do I go about getting this videogame I've spent the last few months writing in Gamemaker onto the PS4? I have no previous console experience, I write my games at home in my pants and I've got just enough money to buy some pie."
The simple answer is "you probably can't right now".
That's not to discourage anyone, it's just sort of better than messing around and not being up front and giving anyone false hopes. I don't mean you won't ever get to put your game onto the PS4, just not right now with it being brand new and releases being tightly controlled. The beginning of a console cycle is weird like that. Platform holders need to make sure their devkits are super more safe than they'd normally want them and they normally want them super safe, they want to pick and choose a select bunch of releases to show off the system and oh, you know, you get the drill. You've seen a console, you know how this works.
Unless, of course, you're willing to stump up all the associated fees, get some secure premises to stash the devkit in and whatever else requirements they have, spend an age working on a port and blah blah blah. As a hobbyist wanting to go pro-ish, that's probably not worth your time and effort unless you've got something tremendously special that you can guarantee will get your money back or you've got some console dev experience and you're a vaguely known quantity. Getting your money back on smaller games is not easy so it's probably best to put that out of your mind for a bit. Not forever, just a bit.
Of course, maybe you're writing the next killer game for the platform and Sony want to throw money at you in which case forget any of that, you're going to be fine. As most of us aren't, let's assume you're not and you've just got a.cool.gameTM.
THE LONG WAY ROUND
"OK Rob, but I still want to get my game on the PS4. What can I do?"
Forget the PS4 for now if you've got no track record or you're not sitting on the.best.game.everTM. Not forever, just for now. In the meantime lower your sights, go for the Vita or the PS3. I'm assuming you don't just want to see your game running on a television because if you do there's always OUYA for that.
Anyway, the PS3 and Vita is your smartest bet right now from Sony hardware. There's already a market there (and by market I mean humans buying videogames), they're not end of life yet and they'll be chugging along for quite the while longer. Both machines have an audience who expect to see a variety of things from weird art games to big budget blockbusters, perfect for taking your first step on the ladder.
Consider that you'll be going in with no track record and think of it like a series of tests to prove your worth if you have to. If we weren't talking solely about Gamemaker here, I'd suggest going off and writing a few things for PlaystationMobile (PSM) to start yourself off but as Gamemaker doesn't support PSM (yet?), let's put that to one side for now. Unlike the PS4 currently, there's a reasonable chance that with the right game you'll be let loose on the PS3 or the Vita or both and luckily for us, Gamemaker builds to them if you've got the right equipment.
"Wait, did you just say equipment? I've already got a PS3 and a Vita, can't I just use those?"
I'm afraid not, no. No matter what platform you develop for from the big 3 you will need a devkit to do so. A devkit is a special variation on the hardware that let's you run unfinished games on it and test them out as you go. Not that GM supports them right now but the WiiU needs a devkit, the Xbox One needs a devkit. Sony dev also requires dev kits. The OUYA doesn't because it's Android in a fancy box so you can dev on the console you bought from the shops.
I'm hoping that everyone will offer the ability to punt your game straight to a retail box this console life cycle but we're a way away from any of that. Even MS who've announced the plans to allow everyone to develop on a retail kit can't commit to a date on that and they're only just rolling out the first titles signed to their indie program and still haven't worked their way right down their list of people to send devkits to. We're quite the way of from this then.
How do you get a devkit, then? Well, you can always dig deep into your own pocket and get yourself one in the same way that a studio would but as with all platform holders, Sony have a little stack of what we call "loaner" kits on hand which they use to send out to developers to give them a leg up. You'll still need to take care of them, you'll still need to send it back at some point and you'll still need to make sure that you keep all the stuff secret that Sony ask you to keep secret but there's a reasonable chance that with the right game (or the right person), they'll help you bring your stuff to them and you won't have to worry about throwing out a few grand there.
"Alright Rob, I get you now. I need a devkit and I'd love to see my game on the PS3 or Vita or something, anything right now. But there's just one thing. You haven't told me how!"
Ideally you want to be speaking to someone from Sony about bringing your game to their platform. Both SCEE (Sony in Europe) and SCEA (Sony in America) have fairly visible representatives that you can speak to. If you're from somewhere else, don't worry, they'll be able to point you in the right direction. But before you do that, you need to have something to show, right?
This is the part where you make sure that what you've got is the very best it can be for now and that means being honest with yourself. You need to ask "is my game going to be up to scratch with everything else that is out there for the platform?" before you do anything else.
Again, I'm not trying to discourage you here. There's a fair quality bar that you're going to need to reach if you want to be accepted and you're going to need to reach it sooner or later so you need to be prepared.
So polish your game up. Make it every bit as amazing as you can. Spend a few months polishing it up and doing nothing but polishing if you really want to make an impression. Like, Vlambeer's stuff is simple but they're POLISHED within an inch of their life.
You might be able to get by if you've got a stellar and different prototype that no-one can ignore but most people don't have those. If your game isn't polished go back and work on your game a bit more before showing it to them. Polish it up, get it looking and playing the best you can, yeah? The more you polish it up enough to make sure the people you're showing it to will be excited by it, the more chance you've got of them wanting it.
"But Rob, Rob, Rob. I've already told you that I've only got two quid for a pie. I can't afford to spend money on art or music or whatever else the big boys do. I don't know what they do anyway but my game isn't going to be looking like that any time soon"
When I say quality bar I don't necessarily mean that your game will need to look as beautiful as Journey or whatever, your game can have a great look without having thousands or millions of dollars thrown at it. It will need to be consistent, it'll need to make sense, it'll need to be played by more people than you.
No-one expects anyone to go in with all the art, music and what have you up front on a new concept but you'll need to be able to show off promise and that means making it play great. If you have an existing game you want to bring across? Make sure it sells itself well. If you can't do best graphics for it or best art, have a plan on what you can do if you might need to improve it. Hey, maybe it's fine as it is and we're all good, right?
Polish isn't so much about making amazing art or amazing noises which is what people first assume when they hear the word mentioned, it's about making your game as slick and understandable as possible. People can see past rough edges but badly explained gameplay systems? Brrrh hrrr. If your concept is strong enough, you'll even get away with coder's art and bloopy noises so pick where to spend your time so it puts you in the best position.
Let me put this another way:
Make your game the absolute best you can with the skills and resources available to you.
TIME IS MONEY
"OK, I've got my game up, running and I've polished it now Mr Rob. I'm ready to go for this. Ready as anything. Ready as the readiest thing. Is there anything else you think I should know?"
Console development is hard.
I can't say too much about the process of how Gamemaker and your Playstation hardware plays together (sekrit) but it's fair to say that it's what you'd hope it'd be even at this early stage. Gamemaker makes the making and the building and testing and all that jazz easy.
GM will take a lot of the heavy lifting from you but it won't polish your game, it won't get you through the processes you need to go through to release a game by magic, it won't let you push a button and all the requirements of a platform holder magically get fulfilled and all this takes time and effort and it's hard. Like, especially if you've never done it before daunting kind of hard. And there's costs involved down the line as well and forms. Oh god, forms. There's a fantastic push going on right now to get this stuff stripped down for you but still, there's stuff you'll need to do. There's lots of things you'll need to get to grips with. Lots of things.
So be prepared to have a lot of extra stuff to do that's not making a videogame. Like getting your game rated, wrestling with getting your game to play nice with the store, getting achievements and stuff working alright. You won't be able to hit a switch, build, run, play and publish, tadaaaa.
Don't fret too much as you'll get some help and won't be left in a ditch to flounder but still, it's worth knowing about up front. Gamemaker is amazing but it's not magic.
WRAPPING IT UP
"OK, I think I've got that. Can we just do a quick recap so we're clear?"
Yeah, let's do that.
1. Forget the PS4 *for now* unless you've got an amazing mega game that Sony just wouldn't be able to turn down ever ever ever and you've got a track record.
2. Polish your game up. Make it every bit as amazing as you can. Spend a few months polishing it up and doing nothing but polishing if you really want to make the best impression.
3. Once you've done that, try and get it under the nose of someone from Sony if you're a lone dev/tiny bedroom team.
4. Don't be a nob to anyone on the way.
5. Be prepared for them to say "no". If they do, go away, don't give up, come back in a bit with something they definitely can't turn down.
6. If they say "yes" be prepared for a long haul in getting it onto a console once you're signed.
WAIT A MINUTE
"Hang on, where did number 4 come from? You never mentioned that before!"
Look, along the way you're going to have to deal with a lot of people. You're going to have to deal with other developers who can help you through the process, you're going to have to deal with lots of people who work for the platform holder, you're going to have to deal with the press and the public as you bring your game closer to release and especially after you've launched. If things go well, you might find your Twitter feed that as you're reading this is you and your mates chatting to each other explode out there into the public arena.
That's a lot of people you're going to be chatting to, right? And that's a lot of people whose help you're going to rely on to help you get your game to the finishing line. Being nice to people generally means they'll be more likely to help you. Be nice to people. Think about what you're saying and what you're doing before you say or do it. The nicer a human being you are, the more people will be inclined to help you.
The world of videogames is a small one and word travels around about who is and isn't considerate. I mean, really, being considerate to other humans should be a default setting but if it isn't, perhaps now is the time to consider making it so.
"OK, are we done? Can I go and make an amazing videogame now?"
Yes! Go and make something amazing that people will want on their platform. Make it yours and make it good. Everyone I know who is signed to Sony right now has this in common. They all make and have made fantastic games. That's something anyone can do with enough time and enough effort. Not everyone is the best at art or the best at music but they're all good at making their work, making their games fantastic. You can be that too. Be nice whilst you're doing it and you've got most of the hard work done.