My name is Slawa Deisling and I'm Co-Founder and programmer at Behind The Stone, a really small indie-studio from Hamburg, Germany. We're so indie, you probably never heard of us, and that's ok. Maybe you're asking yourself now: "Alright. No-Name indie. What's the story?"
Besides working on our game I'm active in my local indie-dev-community as one of the organizers of our regular local meetup (if you should ever be in or around Hamburg at the right time, come around:
www.indietreff.de) and at the last one I did a talk: "How to get on consoles as an indie"
Though we develop a PS Vita-exclusive title we're also licensed developers for the XONE and the WiiU.
Now you might say: "Well, developing for consoles is nothing exceptional anymore, isn't it?" Right, it is not. A lot of indie studios develop for consoles nowadays. It's way easier to get on the respective platforms then it was some years ago. Some of the developers I knew already were licensed developers, others just had no interest in consoles at all, which is fine of course. But after we got our developer-licenses a lot of indies across Germany asked us: "How did you do that?"
I talked with lots of people and there was still kind of a blockade in the heads like: "Indies and Consoles? Is that even allowed?"
It is. You can do it. After presenting and talking with different devs I decided to write a post about this topic, so here we go:
The Big Three
When I talk about consoles, I'm talking about the WiiU (Nintendo), the XBOX ONE (Microsoft) and the PS4/PS Vita (SONY). We won't focus on micro-consoles in this post ;)
As mentioned above getting on consoles is easier today. But you should have in mind that consoles are still closed platforms. It is self-explaining that these platforms demand quality over quantity. That means for you that you have to be serious about this. And you do prove your seriousness by two things:
- registering/owning a company
- having a track record
"Owning a company" may sound overwhelming, but it isn't. I'm not that familiar with the costs of registering as a sole trader or maybe a limited company in other countries, but It would surprise me if the fees would be astronomically large.
In Germany we have something called "Gesellschaft bürgerlichen Rechts" which one can translate to "company constituted under civil law", which we chose back then as our legal form for our studio. Registration at our local trade office did cost us around 50 €. But beware, as a "company" you will have...let's call it business-overhead: You have to deal with revenue, taxes etc. But it's manageable as a sole person or a very small team, believe me.
Fun Fact: registering the company is the easier part. Having a track record is not. When applying you can list your released games. If you haven't any, that doesn't mean automatically that you're out of the game. If you do have one or more released games it will increase your chances, though.
The good thing is that all three platforms have a streamlined process for registerubg as a developer. At some point it looks like they almost copy&pasted each other. It doesn't matter if Microsoft, Nintendo or SONY. All of them demand that you fill out a form.
They ask for your name, adress, your website and the games you already released.
Of all platforms the XBOX ONE is the easiest to jump in (get it?) Applying for the so called [email protected] program is very straight-forward. It's a really cool program, too. If you become a part of it, you will get two XBOX ONE DevKits and a Unity License. Best part, you get all of this for free!
So the process is really straight-forward, nothing much to talk about. The interesting thing comes when you finished filling out this form.
After sending/applying you'll get an automated mail that you'll have to wait around 1-2 weeks. Now after this timeframe there's a high probability that you will get an email stating that you joined the [email protected] program, but you won't get a DevKit for now, since there are a lot...not five, not fifteen...but really a lot of other developers waiting for there kits. And new devs join the program, too. So prepare to get in line. But! Microsoft is fair. They reach out on a monthly basis to developers. And so should you. If you're in the program and want to get your hands on these two devkits and the Unity license as fast as possible, show them what you got. Send them gameplay-videos or a PC Build of your game.
Microsoft may reach out to selected devs, but that doesn't mean they run after every dev who made a Flappy Bird-Clone once.
- Nintendo Web Framework
You can choose both. That being said, you can't develop in a native way with C++ for example, you have to use these pre-existing tools.
If you do want to develop from the ground up, you have to go to this site: http://www.warioworld.com/ and apply there, but in order to register that way you have to fulfil more difficult requirements (copied from the website):
"An Authorized Developer will have demonstrated to Nintendo's satisfaction the ability to develop and program excellent software for Nintendo video game systems or for other game platforms. In addition, an Authorized Developer will have demonstrated to Nintendo's satisfaction that it has (a) a stable business organization, (b) a secure, lockable area within its workspace to ensure the security of all Nintendo confidential information (including, without limitation, all development tools provided to Authorized Developer by Nintendo), and (c) an effective environment for working with Nintendo and/or its Publishers."
If you're able to meet these conditions, go for it, if not, stick to the Indie-Self-Publishing program with Unity and/or the Web Framework.
When you fill out the form and answer the very same questions you could have to wait up to a month till you get a response. Maybe you won't get any at all. Some fellow devs who really do have experience and want to work on a WiiU title had to apply three times till they got an answer. I'm afraid I can't give an answer why that is. Be patient and if you don't get a response: in this case, no answer is really no anser - just try again.
Given that you're a licensed developer, you will get a WiiU-Unity License for free. In order to get DevKits Nintendo gives you the chance to loan them. This is actually a cool offer: You can basically order it for some months and test it. Within this time you're free to sent it back at no cost, if you decide to keep it beyond the loan-time you have to pay for it.
As a side note: Participating at this program won't get you on development for the Nintendo 3DS. In order to register for 3DS development you have to go through the registration at WarioWorld.
To become a Playstation-Developer you have to do slightly more. The process is basically the same. It's a similar form to fill out, but SONY is the only platform who does actually demand
- an attached file proving that you are indeed a registered company
- an attached file describing the game you want to develop for the Playstation-platforms (for example a GDD)
At Microsoft and Nintendo you just have to fill out the form. Whereas SONY does ask for the documents (.PDFs are preferred)
In order to get access to the Developer-Forums you have to get a static IP, too. If your provider can give you a static IP, that's great, if not, you can get one through VPN. There are lots of cheap VPN services out there.
Waiting-Time to get a response from SONY takes also around 1-2 weeks. As you might already know, SONY is really generous when it comes to DevKits. If you have the money, you're free to buy the kits, but SONY does also loan them. I'm afraid I can't get into much detail on this one, but that loan-program is even more indie-friendly than the one at Nintendo.
Becoming a licensed developer for consoles isn't that difficult. If you decide to develop for consoles, you should prepare to handle business/company-related stuff. Beyond that you should have a game in the bag you want to develop for the respective platform.
I hope this brief overview will give you a better idea what to expect when trying to get on consoles.
I did link to the programs at the sections, but just for the sake of completeness:
If you have further questions, you can reach me at: [email protected]