Mar 02 2009
A recent CNET article has much of the blog-o-sphere commenting away like crazy. The article contains a quote from Kaz Hirai from SCE that the PS3 is hard to develop for. In reading the article, the author does not appear to have thought much about why Kaz might have said that.
As a note, these are only my views and do not represent my current employer, SCE, EA, or any past employers. These views are also not based on any “inside” information, but instead are based on many years in the video games industry.
It is absolutely true that of the current consoles (PS3, XBox360, and Wii), the PS3 is the most complicated. However, there are two aspects to developing on a console. 1) The hardware and 2) the development environment. The thing that the author of the CNET article seemed to forget is that (excluding Nintendo), selling software is what makes the money, not selling the hardware.
The games industry makes most of its money from sequels and yearly franchises. The Madden’s, the Guitar Hero’s, etc. These publishers need to have consumers buy their games every year. If there isn’t something which makes the game better each year, then why would consumers purchase it? This concept extends to franchises such as Halo and God of War. While I would love it if new stories and gameplay drove game sales, it is not not borne out by the sales numbers each month.
For the XBox360, there is a very easy to understand hardware and a great development environment. This means that the games made today are not going to be much different from the XBox360 games of “tomorrow.”
For the PS3, it is a complicated hardware and historically is not a great development environment. This means that games towards the end of the console will look much better than those at the start as developers learn how to take advantage of the hardware. Keep in mind that currently, many hardcore consumers are looking for the better shiny object and realistically do not care about “story” and “gameplay innovation.”
Between the hardware and development environment, one of these can change over the course of a console’s lifecycle (and it isn’t the hardware…). While the PS3 is still difficult to develop for, it has gotten much better over the past couple of years. This means that developers are able to use more of the hardware and make their games better looking. On the XBox360, how different is Gears of War 1 from Gears of War 2? On the PS3, it will be interesting to compare Uncharted 1 to Uncharted 2 this next holiday season.
So put Kaz’s comments into perspective. If the software looks the same every year, then why would consumers buy the next version of something? If the software gets better every year, then consumers are likely to purchase it to be on the best and brightest. This philosophy served Sony very well on the PS2. The question is if it will work on the PS3…especially when it does not have the same market share.
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