[this is an updated version of a piece I published to Gama last year aiming to help let new or small developers know what they need to do to begin approaching developing for consoles. It should be noted that to the best of my knowledge, all answers are still correct but due to busy schedules, both respondants answered months apart.]
Do you want to write a videogame for a console? Don't know where to start? Don't worry, you're certainly not alone.
Whereas the last generation saw platform holders land a number of great indie successes in their laps, they also fumbled slightly with baby steps and missteps when it came to encouraging small (or no) team lower budget developers to share their works on their platforms. Wiiware, Playstation Minis and XBLIG offered a glimpse at potential futures but all fell short in different ways and were often too limiting or difficult to access for many developers.
We're at the beginning of what promises to be a substantial change in how people are able to develop for consoles. More accessible tools are becoming readily available but also who can access console development is shifting too. The requirements for entry becoming more useful to a wider spread of developers. Console development is no longer just in the hands of indies with capital and as we head further into this generation, platform holders are already making clear their intentions to be able to bring more people into the development fold. This generation of consoles will be marked by a vastly more accepting approach to small devs and their work. In many ways, it already is.
At the time of writing, all 3 platform holders have indie friendly advocates in prominent positions within the respective companies. It's a great time to be writing videogames and a great time to be trying to take your work to different formats and I can't recall a time where console dev has ever been this accessible.
Yet for many, there's still very much the belief that maybe as much as they'd love to give console development a go at some point, maybe there just isn't a route for them to get their work on a console. It's easy for many of us to assume that because we know who to approach, because we have a vague idea of what we may need or are able to talk to other developers to find out the where, why and hows or because we're able to attend events and talks, it's easy to assume that everyone will have access to this sort of information. This just isn't the case.
With that in mind, I decided to try and help remedy this by approaching all 3 of the major console players with a series of small but important questions pitched from the perspective of someone who has absolutely no idea what they'd need to know in order to get their games onto a console. I'm not interested in the ins and outs of technical details (that's the sort of stuff you're not going to find out until after you've got an NDA in your lap anyway) but in how accessible console development is for indies with or without capital. Unfortunately, despite my attempts I was unable to get past the Official Nintendo Brick WallTM but I did grab a hold of Shahid Ahmad of Playstation and Chris Charla of Xbox to throw a light on things from their respective corners.
Which of your devices are currently accessible to indies to develop for? Of these, are any restricted to office development or can they be developed for from home?
Shahid Ahmad (Playstation): All of them are accessible to indies. We'd prefer it if the devkits were in a secure location, but we have developers who work from home and that's fine.
Chris Charla (Xbox): Independent developers can develop on many Microsoft devices, and the ID@Xbox program is designed to ensure developers of all levels can bring their creations to life on Xbox One. We require developers to keep Microsoft hardware secure, of course, but there are Xbox One dev kits in garages and bedrooms; we understand the modern nature of game development!
Assume I have a game and I think it'd be a wonderful fit for one of these devices. Could you describe your preferred route for me to contact you with regards to this?
Shahid Ahmad (Playstation): If you want to eventually self-publish for release on the PS Store, you can just register here: https://companyregistration.playstation.com
In the old days, there were all kinds of restrictions on who could or couldn't develop for PlayStation. That's changed now. If you're serious about developing for PlayStation devices and have any specific questions, email me at [email protected]
Chris Charla (Xbox): Developers interested in ID@Xbox should go to www.xbox.com/id to apply to the program and get answers to questions for Xbox One development.
Is there anything I should consider before contacting you about my game?
Shahid Ahmad (Playstation): First, if you want to eventually release a game on the PS Store, then start with registration. If you would like us to support your game, then get in touch. It's easier than ever to make a game for a PlayStation device, so the standards are getting higher all the time. If you think your game is up there with the likes of OlliOlli, Volume, Velocity 2X or even Hellblade, then we're going to be very interested to find a way of supporting you.
Chris Charla (Xbox): Put simply, we’re looking for great games that the developers are passionate about. Of course we’re always excited to see games that take advantage of Xbox One features such as Kinect, Smartglass, 8-player local play, cloud compute services, etc. but we’re ultimately looking to ensure our players have access to the broadest and most diverse ranges of games anywhere. And that is driven by the passion and creativity of the creators! Also, when applying, we want to hear what excites you about your studio, whether it’s successful crowd funding efforts, contests entered or won, etc. Don’t be shy about touting your accomplishments!
Is there any content approval or are there any other processes I should be aware of when contacting you?
Shahid Ahmad (Playstation): There isn't a formal content approval process anymore. There is a basic form you have to fill in that tells us very roughly what you're working on, and you can even ask us for feedback and our Content Group will give you a really detailed report on your concept, but no, you don't have to pass through a formal process for content approval like you used to.
Chris Charla (Xbox): Yes. Every game needs to go through concept approval. This isn’t a formal greenlight process, but something we have in place to make sure inappropriate or offensive content doesn’t ship on Xbox One. We’re not looking to be censors; if you look at the wide variety of games available on Xbox 360, you get an idea of the wide variety of content we expect to see on Xbox One. Also, every game needs to go through certification. Certification ensures the delivery of high-quality game experiences to Xbox players that won’t break or behave inappropriately. Our release managers will be able to help developers navigate the certification process. There’s no fee to submit a game for certification, or for updates.
Are you open to pitches from people who've never made a console game prior?
Shahid Ahmad (Playstation): Definitely. We're always excited about that.
Chris Charla (Xbox): With ID@Xbox, for initial phase of the program, priority will be given to independent game developers who have a proven track record of shipping games on console, PC, mobile or tablet. Longer term, our plan is to enable any Xbox One console to be used as a development kit for self-publishing purposes. This means that any hobbyist with a great game idea can make it come to life on Xbox One.
Would you consider a pitch from a lone indie developer working from home? If yes and assuming you'd then want the game on your platform, is there anything you can publicly discuss about how you would be able to ease them into working on your platform, bearing in mind that many will feel that the more traditional routes may be out of financial reach?
Shahid Ahmad (Playstation): Yes. We've been fine with this for a while. If you have a cool prototype running on a PC, Mac or other device, let's have a look at it! Email me at [email protected] with a really short overview. A private video often helps, but a playable prototype speaks louder than a movie! If we like what we see, we will loan you development hardware. If it's really something special and you think you're going to need some other support, be it marketing, production assistance or even funding, then we're happy to have that conversation.
Chris Charla (Xbox): Yes. We need to make sure our dev kits are secure, but beyond that we’re not too worried about where the developers work. In terms of development support, every developer in ID@Xbox gets two dev kit at no charge, as well as access to all of the Xbox developer documentation. We also invite developers to our ID@Xbox developer summits to interact directly with the creators of Xbox One in technical presentations. Financially, one thing we’re really proud of is that we offer the Unity add-on at no charge for all Microsoft devices: Xbox One, Windows 8 and Windows Phone. For Xbox One, developers also get access to free Unity Pro seat licenses for Xbox One. We’re also happy to introduce developers looking for financing to Microsoft Studios.