Q&A: Sony on PSP Minis

Q&A: Sony on PSP Minis

By Rob Crossley

September 7th 2009 at 7:29AM

Sony Europe's head of developer relations discusses the firm's grand Mini plans


Apple’s approach to gaming cannot go unnoticed. The company continues to flaunt some remarkable statistics which show, beyond anything else, that there is a vast potential in mobile gaming for the ‘digital lifestyle’.

Yet questions remain unanswered surrounding the long-term sustainability of App Store games.

Developers are finding it increasingly difficult to get discovered in what is now an ocean of over 13,000 iPhone games, and, while many of those games can be sold for as little as 59p/99¢, many consumers looking for a rich play experience remain unsatisfied by what’s on offer.

With these flaws there lies an opportunity for a rival to step in and exploit them. That’s precisely what Sony is doing with its new PSP Minis initiative.

Launching in a matter of weeks on the PlayStation Store, Minis are micro-sized digital games available at App Store prices.

In the first half of a two-part interview, Sony Europe's head of developer relations – Zeno Colaco – explains how Minis will offer developers a better chance to succeed, and consumers a better play experience.

There’s a wealth of developers creating games for the iPhone. What reasons do you think they have to turn their efforts to PSP Minis?
Colaco:
  Well there’s certainly opportunity for them. PSP Minis is a different approach altogether in that we still have a professional environment – if you want to call it that.

I’m not suggesting that iPhone developers are unprofessional, but I think that the App Store has attracted a number of hobbyist developers.

Clearly, the PSP is designed for gaming.

We’ll of course get some transition. In fact I think we already have; we’ve already got on board some developers who have had much success in the iPhone sector; developers such as Subatomic Studios, who of course had much success with [portable tower defence title] Fieldrunners.

Subatomic will be bringing that game to the PSP, but rather than just port it across, the functionality is going to be specific to the PSP version.

That’s the key element for Minis. There’s new opportunities that come with the greater functionality that the PSP hardware provides.

Going back to the question, what would you cite as the key reasons why developers – especially iPhone developers – should consider developing PSP titles?
One of the first things we tried to do with our new approach is lower the barrier to entry by bringing down the kit prices to about 80 per cent.

The second thing we’ve done is take an approach on how people applied to be part of the PSP development program – it’s a very open approach, definitely, but there’s still a [selection] process because you do need a dev kit.

We’ve already seen an uptake in companies approaching us since we announced Minis at Gamescom, making their game proposals at tpr.scee.net, and that process is pretty simple.

On that website, all developers really have to do is explain their game and their company and very quickly we give them accessibility to the platform. That includes access to technology sites before they even commit to buying a development kit, so they can spec what they want to do.

So, incentive-wise, this is more a case of Sony reducing the barriers to entry more than anything else.

You’ve seen the first wave of proposals from these developers. From what you’ve witnessed so far, how much of these game proposals seem suited to the PSP Minis’ direction? How many of these games are as innovative as is implied with the smaller independent studios?
Obviously we targeted a number of developers before making our PSP Minis announcement at Gamescom. We contacted developers not only from a mobile gaming background, but also a traditional PSP development background, and even a PS2 development background.

But also we’ve also targeted a number of newer developers who’ve made interesting PC games and casual games on the net.

We’ve contacted these developers about porting their games over to the PSP, but when you do that, you also need to think about how they got that innovative idea in the first place.

The positive thing that I’m seeing is that we’re seeing multiple applications of product. There is a fair amount of the brand-new in the Minis product mix, and with our new development partners, there’s less risk in actually developing a new title for us. We’ll see more of that.

At the front end, we have a nice mix of both the innovative and the brand new, as well as recognisable franchises such as Sudoku and Tetris from EA.

So while we’re pushing for innovation, we do want people to come to the PSP Minis store and see some recognisable franchises in there.

Though Sony’s demonstratively lowered the barriers for entry with PSP Minis, what’s Sony’s position on ‘hobbyist developers’? Do you encourage them to develop PSP Minis?
Absolutely. We were at Gamescom with Honeyslug; their team started with three people, so it’s not exactly what I would call a company of the corporate structure of publishers like Electronic Arts.

It shows that we’re very much encouraging these kinds of developers to work with us. In some ways it’s much easier to work with smaller developers to get content through.

For them, there’s no hidden costs from our side. We’re actually running a QA cycle on these games; we’re essentially giving them a helping hand throughout the development process up until they’re published on the Minis store.

Sony has of course attained much praise for how it supports the smaller developers, yet $1500 dev kit costs likely remain the biggest barrier, especially with an iPhone SDK being free to use. Are there plans in place to bridge the gap to the smaller developers that cannot afford a $1500 development kit?
Further down the line, we may investigate a totally free model or supported model.

Right now, we’re looking for a good portfolio of games. Unlike with the App Store, we’re looking to support everyone that develops for us, instead of leaving developers out in the wilderness. We’re not immediately interested in giving developers free access and no help.

There are dangers in having total open access; having six thousand applications where probably only thirty are discovered by the consumer. Some of the developers working on the App Store and PSP Minis tell us that they prefer our approach because they get more visibility.

Our focus isn’t directed straight towards the App Store. We acknowledge that we’ll be competing in that space, and I think at some point we’ll give developers access that allows things to move down that route.

First and foremost, we at Sony need to develop Minis as its own category.

We’re not short of product. Right now we’re working with about 60 developers with about 50 games coming out before Christmas. I think we’re going to launch with about 15 titles.

How will Minis appear on the PlayStation Store? How will they be promoted?
At Gamescom we simply stated that the PS Store would have its own Minis section, but I can assure that the Minis section will definitely have its own unique presence in the Store. We will push it very hard.