Interview: What the PS4 offers developers

Michael Denny talks indies, dev support, cloud gaming and social
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Shortly after the PS4 reveal, Develop caught up with Sony Worldwide Studios senior vice president Michael Denny to discuss some of the big announcements and what they mean for developers.

He talked to us about how Sony will cater for indies, what opportunities cloud gaming will offer, the importance of social features and why developers should consider making games for the PS4.

It seems that, from what you said on stage at the launch event, involving developers in designing the PS4’s architecture was key. How exactly were they involved?
Working with developers so closely started with a clear vision about what we wanted to do with PlayStation. As we expressed on stage, PlayStation 4 is about the best place to play for gamers, and to make it we know we need the best games possible. We need those creators on board.

So from the outset it was important that we had their input into what this device should be, and that includes what goes on in the box, on what the controller inputs should be, and so on. That process is always going to be a two-way street, and it’s an interesting process because it’s not about somebody having to come forward with a clear view of what they want from us; it was more about talk around concepts, and then some make it in the system, and some don’t.

It’s a healthy process, and I think the feedback we’ve got from the development community - from both internal studios and external studios - is fantastic, because they understand then what they are going to get, and hopefully it does throw off a lot of the shackles, whether they’re technical limitations or whatever.

And ultimately that’s where we want to end up; with a system that gives the creators that unfettered ability to make games. It’s been a great process, and we started as early as four or five years ago, and so it’s great to see it come to fruition now. And it’s great to see the reaction to things like having 8GB of high-speed onboard system memory. Those things do make a massive difference to the games that can be made and the ease of that creation.

Previously, many have accused PlayStation platforms as being as tough to develop for as they are powerful. How have you addressed that issue with the PS4?
We’ve absolutely addressed that. It goes back to listening to the development community, and as Mark Cerny said, we’ve built an informed system, and it’s informed because of our relationship with developers.

Indies were only mentioned briefly on stage. How important are they to PlayStation 4?
At PlayStation we want the broadest content we can possible have, so of course we want the best big triple-A games, and the biggest genres out there. But we also want other content as well. We want broader content and interesting content, and often that comes from smaller indie communities.

We’ve always been open to indies. Teams like Media Molecule - while they aren’t an indie now, as we signed them up as a first-party developer - were just four people with a great idea when they came to us. So we’ve always been open to indies, and supporting them on a first-party basis.

And there’s lots of small teams out there that have lots of innovative ideas. In terms of true indies - and you’ve already seen we’re working with Jonathan Blow for the PS4 - we absolutely want to get that kind of content on our platform. We want to make it rich and varied, so we absolutely support indies.

What about collaboration with tools providers? Was that as intense as the process you went through with developers in designing the PS4?
Absolutely. Those guys get disclosed really early, because they’re really important to the platform. In particular, having them on board, and considering what they mean to the developers and the games they can make is really important. Collaboration with those tool companies is hugely important.

But you’ve also got to think of the consumer, and what PlayStation 4 offers is really quite broad and complex. And yet ‘simplicity’ is meant to be part of the core philosophy of the machine’s design. How have you balanced giving developers what they want with giving the consumer a complete, unified system that really is simple?
While all of this has been developer inspired, and whilst, when you drill down into the tech and the new feature set it can appear that it has a lot going on, from a consumer perspective, I think it was key that the experience we were going to provide would be simple and immediate. So most things should be a one button ‘click’ away, and it should be immediate in the way you can resume gameplay, and immediate in the sense that, not only is there background downloading, but play as you’re downloading.

So, all those aspects have to come into our thinking of what the consumer experience will be. We really have made it simple and immediate for them through lots of careful thought.

And the team has introduced the share button to the controller. Why is that something especially significant in a modern console?
What’s important is giving all our gamers and those consumers lots of choice in doing things that lots of people like to do. Since we launched the PlayStation 3 the landscape out there has changed unbelievably. Now people are playing games on many different devices and interacting with social networks at the same time, and they’re using connectivity in so many different ways.

We do know people love to share; gamers love to show off. That meant the ‘share’ button seemed a natural thing, and again, in collaboration with developers as well. It was something that came up many times.

What about the impact of the cloud? What’s the opportunity for game developers there?
Well, I see it more as an opportunity for the consumers. Again, there we have an extra aspect in terms of how consumers can enjoy the experience of PlayStation 4 and its content. Cloud gaming is an exciting technology. One application of it David Perry talked about on stage was remote play, and the long-term vision for that. I think it’s incumbent on us that we have the technology in the right place so gamers can enjoy the PlayStation 4 to the full, and that includes the cloud.

And the PlayStation 4 can learn about the player. That’s pretty fascinating, but why is it important?
Again, this is about how things have moved on, and what gamers and people that consume entertainment are becoming used to - recommendations and so on. So to have built into the system the idea of personalisation that can predict what sort of games you want, and can serve to you in the future more of what you want and make it feel like it knows your preferences; I just think it’s something that is going to become – if not an expectation – then certainly a very cool feature.

Finally, do you have a message for developers interested in the PS4?
Yes. PlayStation 4 will be the ultimate platform to develop on. If you want to throw off the shackle that technology has sometimes placed on you in the past and just get into creative freedom, this is the platform for you.