Global Game Industry News Blog

Monday, April 23, 2007

Sony, Homebrew, and the PSP/PS3 - A Dose of REALITY CALL

Everyone seems to be picking up on some of Phil Harrison's comments on Slashdot the other day. Oddly he comments on precisely the issue that I pitched to "The Escapist Magazine" a few months back, which they declined...

Anyway, hopefully he doesn't regret the comment, which was relatively brief, but has spurred a firestorm of media reaction. Most of it has been positive, but picked up on the differentiation of "Homebrew is sometimes a misused term and so for the purposes of this answer I will exclude pirates and hackers with illegal intentions from the definition." This was exactly what I was getting at when I pitched to The Escapist that emulation and the frequent homebrew emphasis of getting emulators up and running on homebrew systems as a process that tends to hinder rather then enable the homebrew scene.

I think one important difference that should be made and seems to be getting conflated in the coverage of this is that Sony has yet to actually announce anything here. The comparison to Microsoft and XNA has been made, but XNA Express is actually available to developers right now. Today. Not some vague plan in the future. We hear rumblings like this all the time from Sony and Nintendo, but as of now we haven't seen a single indicator that something will be released even in the next six months. By that time XNA Express will have been available for nearly a year.

That being said, Nintendo and Sony could benefit from releasing tools that don't require developers to be locked into a proprietary language like C#, which Microsoft has done. It would also be nice if they were interested in supporting open standards like OpenGL, Cg, or any of the other various standards, in favor of Microsoft's DX10 thrust.

All in all it is nice to hear executives at Sony thinking about this.

I'll actually be giving a talk at MiT5 (Media in Transition) at MIT this weekend in Boston on this very topic.

Slashdot - Phil Harrison Answers Your Questions
4.) 'Homebrew Gaming' by Anonymous Coward, maynard, and flitty
If someone manages to get homebrew games running on the PS3, will there be firmware updates to stop this kind of development, to protect your software developers, or is homebrew something you are planning on and even encouraging? Is there a chance that the policy of restricting access to PS3 graphics hardware (via the hypervisor) could be revised to encourage us homebrew developers? How does this strategy differ from your strategy with PSP homebrew? Has Sony considered offering kernel patches and an RSX optimized OpenGL library for PS3/Linux?

Phil Harrison: Now, let me first say that Homebrew is sometimes a misused term and so for the purposes of this answer I will exclude pirates and hackers with illegal intentions from the definition.

I fully support the notion of game development at home using powerful tools available to anyone. We were one of the first companies to recognize this in 1996 with Net Yaroze on PS1. It's a vital, crucial aspect of the future growth of our industry and links well to the subtext of my earlier answers. When I started making games on the Commodore 64 in the 1980's, the way I learned to make games was by re-writing games that appeared in magazines. Really the best bit about a C64 was when you turned it on it said "Ready?" with a flashing cursor - inviting you to experiment. You'd spend hours typing in the code, line-by-line, and then countless hours debugging it to make it work and then you'd realise the game was rubbish after all that effort! The next step was to re-write aspects of the game to change the graphics, the sound, the control system or the speed of the gameplay until you'd created something completely new. I might share this with a few friends but not for commercial gain at that time. But the process itself was invaluable in helping me learn to program, to design graphics, animations or sounds and was really the way I opened doors to get into the industry. Now, those industry doors are largely closed by the nature of the video game systems themselves being closed. So, if we can make certain aspects of PS3 open to the independent game development community, we will do our industry a service by providing opportunities for the next generation of creative and technical talent. Now having said all that, we still have to protect the investment and intellectual property rights of the industry so we will always seek the best ways to secure and protect our devices from piracy and unauthorized hacking that damages the business.

Gamasutra - Sony's Harrison Embraces Homebrew Development
Harrison prefaced his answer to the question of whether firmware updates would prevent the running of homebrew software by stating that he would “exclude pirates and hackers with illegal intentions” from the definition of homebrew.

Although the phrase homebrew has never commonly been understood to include such activities, Harrison’s implication that it might could explain Sony’s continual aggressive attempts to lock out unlicensed software from use on the PSP.

In regards to the PlayStation 3, Harrison appears more sympathetic, saying, "I fully support the notion of game development at home using powerful tools available to anyone. We were one of the first companies to recognize this in 1996 with Net Yaroze on PS one. It's a vital, crucial aspect of the future growth of our industry."
...
"The process itself was invaluable in helping me learn to program, to design graphics, animations or sounds and was really the way I opened doors to get into the industry. Now, those industry doors are largely closed by the nature of the video game systems themselves being closed", he admitted.

"So, if we can make certain aspects of PS3 open to the independent game development community, we will do our industry a service by providing opportunities for the next generation of creative and technical talent", stated Harrison.

GameDaily.BIZ - Harrison: Homebrew Development Vital to Future Growth of Industry
Harrison also talked a bit about his own vision for the future of the industry. "I want to see the audience of people who play videogames, of any type, on any device, include practically anyone on the planet. Whether it be an immersive action game that appeals primarily to young adults, or a casual game that is enjoyed by the entire family, I hope that videogames and electronic forms of interactive entertainment continue to expand to new audiences, all the time. Linked to that, I want to see videogames given more credibility as a mainstream form of entertainment through appropriate cultural commentary and criticism," he said.

"What I hope is that 20 years from now... videogames as a pastime will be given the same cultural and social currency as a book, a film, a TV show or a piece of architecture," he added. "After all, the popular culture creators of 20 years from now will all, largely, have grown up playing, or at least being intimately aware of, videogames. The writers and commentators on those same popular culture creators will all have had the same experience playing videogames growing up - at which point the circle is complete. I don't think there is a culmination to this overall vision - it will be a constant process. Each successive platform brings new technology to the experience of games and helps expand the audience still further. I hope PS3 will be seen 20 years from now as a crucial influence in the growth of our industry."

GamesIndustry.BIZ - Harrison hints at PlayStation 3 homebrew plans
"I fully support the notion of game development at home using powerful tools available to anyone," Harrison said in an interview with Slashdot.

"We were one of the first companies to recognise this in 1996 with Net Yaroze on PS1. It's a vital, crucial aspect of the future growth of our industry."
...
But he admits that these days the doors into the industry that might be opened by going through that process "are largely closed by the nature of the videogame systems themselves being closed".

"So, if we can make certain aspects of PS3 open to the independent game development community, we will do our industry a service by providing opportunities for the next generation of creative and technical talent," he added.

While Sony has encouraged legitimate independent development in some areas - notably with Net Yaroze with, in this generation, Beyond Playstation - it has been accused of adopting a heavy-handed strategy in its dealings with PSP developers, with legitimate or at least non-threatening projects often struck down by firmware updates designed to lock out pirates and the hackers who facilitate piracy.

Harrison's interest in allowing for homebrew development puts Sony on a similar path to Microsoft, which recently launched its XNA package of tools. XNA offers the ability to develop games on both PC and Xbox 360, with a complementary educational focus that will plug game development modules into a number of university courses.

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