Sony: PS3 is hard to develop for--on purpose

The Japanese electronics powerhouse is making it hard on developers to create games for the PlayStation 3, and believe it or not, the company is fine with that.

Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
4 min read
Sony PlayStation 3
Sorry, but you're too hard to develop for. Sony

Earlier this week, Shaun Himmerick, executive producer for "Wheelman" and employee at Midway, told the hosts of the "This Xbox Life" podcast that developing for the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 couldn't be any different.

"The politically incorrect answer is that the PS3 is a huge pain in the ass," Himmerick told the hosts.

"Anyone making a game, if you're going to make it for both, just lead on the PS3 because if it works on the PS3, it'll work on 360," he said. "We had to play catch-up on the PS3 because of the memory constraints and how it renders; how it processes is just different. And it's harder on the PS3," Himmerick continued.

A slew of well-known developers have spoken out against Sony's high-power console.

Valve's Gabe Newell said in 2007--long before Sony's decline started--that the PlayStation 3 is a "waste of everyone's time." He went on to tell Edge Magazine that "investing in the Cell...gives you no long-term benefits. There's nothing there that you're going to apply to anything else. You're not going to gain anything except a hatred of the architecture they've created. I don't think it's a good solution."

A report in the Dr. Dobb's Journal tested the development process of the PlayStation 3 and found that Sony's console is "difficult to program for." The report's authors went on to explain that "software that exploits the Cell's potential requires a development effort significantly greater than traditional platforms."

"We don't provide the 'easy to program for' console that (developers) want, because 'easy to program for' means that anybody will be able to take advantage of pretty much what the hardware can do, so then the question is, what do you do for the rest of the nine-and-a-half years?"
--Kaz Hirai, CEO, Sony Computer Entertainment

I looked for some Sony supporters and found the best source of them all: Kaz Hirai, CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment. He can explain this and settle this once and for all, right? Think again.

In one of the most shocking and bizarre comments ever made by a company chief, Hirai, the brains behind the entire PlayStation empire, explained to the Official PlayStation Magazine in its February issue that Sony didn't want to make it easy on developers.

"We don't provide the 'easy to program for' console that (developers) want, because 'easy to program for' means that anybody will be able to take advantage of pretty much what the hardware can do, so then the question is, what do you do for the rest of the nine-and-a-half years?" explained Hirai.

Huh? But his explanation didn't end there.

"So it's a kind of--I wouldn't say a double-edged sword--but it's hard to program for," Hirai continued, "and a lot of people see the negatives of it, but if you flip that around, it means the hardware has a lot more to offer."

I won't debate that the PS3 may have "a lot more to offer," but I do take issue with Sony's justification for it. What good is a powerful console, if developers don't know how to get the most out of it? I simply don't see anything positive about making things too difficult on developers.

The video game industry is unique because hardware makers rely on third parties to be successful. The more games a console has, the more likely people will want it. But if development is too challenging for third parties, I'm hard-pressed to see how that will benefit Sony at all, even though developers can do more with the console.

Developers are looking at the installed bases of consoles. realizing that Microsoft has more units in the wild. Developers want to make their games as appealing as possible to those extra 8 million people. So spending extra time (a luxury most developers don't have) on PS3 development just plain doesn't make sense.

That's precisely why I haven't seen much difference in the games offered on both consoles. Sure, some look better on the PS3, but the difference is minor, and that's the only improvement I can see. I don't think developers are taking the Sony bait and working harder at harnessing the power of Sony's console. The incremental benefit of doing so, at least if we judge by what we've seen so far, simply isn't high enough for developers to follow Sony's plan.

I'm all for powerful consoles and getting the most out of gaming machines, but I don't understand Sony's strategy. Third-party developers are key to a successful gaming generation, and Sony makes it hard on them. And in Hirai's own words, people (ostensibly, developers) are seeing "negatives in it."

That's not good.

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