March 10, 2008 8:00 AM | Simon Carless
[Over the next few days on GameSetWatch, we're going to be reprinting some of the more interesting GDC lectures which might have potentially got 'lost in the shuffle' of the show. This time, Brandon Boyer has a detailed write-up on an interesting PSN pitch, ahead of a GameSetWatch editorial on PSN I'll publish pretty soon.]
At his Game Developers Conference session, senior developer relations account manager Chris Eden revealed much of the inner workings of the PlayStation Network, including audience makeup, top PSN downloads, marketing opportunities, and how to become a fully-fledged PSN developer for just $1200.
"With the PlayStation Network, a lot of the land is still up for grabs," said Eden, promising that developers would be able to retain creative control, own their own IP, and see larger royalties than on competitive services. "Sony want to manage, but not own the platform," he added.
Eden said the PSN was open to distributing a number of different types of content: downloadable games, demos, add-ons, trailers, original videos (coming this summer), digital strategy guides, soundtracks, comics, and psOne games.
On that latter platform, especially, Eden advised that developers "go back and check your contracts. There may be cases where rights have reverted back to you... It's a great opportunity to make use of that old content."
PSN By The Numbers
Giving a little statistical background to the service, Eden said there are currently 2.8 million registered PSN users, and, since Christmas, 100,000 more have joined every week.
The service has seen 46 million downloads total, with 50 percent of PS3 owners going online, 82 percent downloading at least one piece of content, and 65 percent downloading something the first day they connect. As for the audience makeup, 92 percent are male, and 79 percent are between 18 and 34.
Eden also provided some lists of downloaded content. For the U.S., the top ten purchased games are, in order: Fl0w, Mortal Kombat 2, Tekken 5, Pain, Warhawk, Bowling, Super Stardust, Calling All Cars, Aquatopia, and Everyday Shooter.
The list differs slightly for the UK: Tekken 5, Warhawk, Fl0w, Loco Roco, Mortal Kombat 2, Super Rubadub, Calling All Cars, Gripshift, Lemmings, and Super Stardust.
The Cost Of Entry
After a quick rundown of the actual application process to become a PSN developer, Eden revealed that the cost of entry was actually considerably lower than one might think.
Sony have released a free to use graphics engine called PhyreEngine, which comes complete with a run time, art pipeline, more than 70 documented code samples and game templates, and is cross-platform optimized for multi-core PCs -- OpenGL and Direct3D simply need to be re-compiled for PS3.
The engine supports Maya and 3ds Max, Collada, Bullet, Havok, Ageia Physics on the development systems, with Eden noting that simply for the $1200 cost of a debug PS3 (a step down from the significantly more costly full development kit) and the free PhyreEngine, anyone could become a licensed PSN developer following the certification process.
The engine has already proven itself out as well -- Codemaster's DiRT, thatgamecompany's Fl0w and Sidhe's Gripshift we all developed using the PhyreEngine.
PSN Versus The Others
Eden added that what differentiates PSN from the competition was pricing, as well. "We don't set or recommend prices, or have price slots," he said. "Sony just acts as a digital reseller, you're free to set your own prices."
Unlike competing services, he continued, Sony doesn't slot releases into a schedule. Once a game has passed its final QA check, the content is uploaded to the network the following Thursday.
He then highlighted some of the marketing opportunities Sony provides its developers: in-store banner ads, weekly emails, monthly email to PS3 owners and likely owners, weekly updates on playstation.com, the PS3's browser home page, weekly PR media bulletins, the PlayStation Blog, and its XMB ticker.
660,000 PS3 owners receive the weekly email, he said, with an average open rate of 26 percent. Its PlayStation Blog, too, he noted had seen 1.8 million uniques, 4.5 million visits, 7.6 million page views, and an average of 14 viewed links by the end of January.
The Blog team was "always keen for content," too, he noted. "Send it in to us, we'll take a look over it and post it up there" -- anything ranging from game announcements, developer diaries, interviews with staff, and previews.
Why Does Sony Hate 2D?
Finally, he covered some frequently asked PSN questions. Royalty payments were made quarterly, with a statement coming from Sony every month. PS3 downloads have no size restrictions, while PSP downloads are restricted at 1.8 gigs.
Developers aren't required to provide a demo, "but we think it's a really good idea," he said. "A good demo can add 30 percent to sales." Developers "don't have to do a one level demo," either. "Consider a video demo, or look at other business models... View your demo as a starter pack and sell additional content later."
He also noted that SCE doesn't restrict the number of games per year or per genre across the board, and, more importantly, does not "hate 2D."
"We love good 2D just as much as we love good 3D games, said Eden. "If you have a 2D game you absolutely can bring it to us."
Games don't have to be exclusive to PSN either, he noted, saying Sony was always interested in high quality games that show off the platform. "We can always make it worth your while," he added, smiling.
Finally, in response to a frequent question wondering if developers would be rejected if they had an idea similar to that of a first party game, he said, "quite simply, show them how it's done. We don't reject games because of that." The history of PlayStation has shown, he added, that "our third parties frequently do things better."