Sony Levels PS3 Playing Field for Small Devs

Trying to bring more independent and small developers into the PlayStation 3 (PS3) fold, Sony announced Monday that it has lowered the price of the PS3 Software Developers Kit (SDK) by some 50 percent.

The console maker has also given the SDK a boost and integrated programming tools developed by SN Systems to help make designing games for the PS3 easier.

Making Room for the Little Guy

Following the rollout of every new console, developers play a game of catch-up, programming games to take advantage of the new technologies hardware makers have incorporated into their newest platform. With its Blu-ray high-definition drive and cutting-edge Cell microprocessor, the PS3 has been more difficult for game makers — and also more expensive.

Adding to the game developers’ reluctance is the PS3’s relatively small user base of fewer than 6 million consoles. The price of the PS3’s SDK made it even more difficult for small independent studios to get in on the game. With the price cut, game makers will pay US$10,250 in North America, 950,000 yen ($8,600) in Japan and 7,500 euros ($11,250) in Europe.

“This move is mainly geared towards smaller, independent developers. Major developers are already developing for the PS3 and they are unlikely to care about $5,000 dollars in cost differential,” said Michael Cai, research director for broadband and gaming at Parks Associates.

Minor Difference

As Sony reduces the PS3 price and rolls out more online and digitally distributed content, it will need more support from small developers who are both innovative and good at developing games for the digital channel, Cai told TechNewsWorld.

“Combining the cost reduction with more efficient development tools will definitely help the community of smaller developers and provide Sony with more content,” he continued.

“This is not very significant as the large developers don’t see the SDK price as a barrier,” echoed Van Baker, a Gartner analyst.

However, while Baker believes that smaller developers may find the less expensive SDK interesting “they don’t make the market for gaming,” he pointed out.

“It may drive some small amount of innovation from the smaller developers,” Baker added. “The real cost is the royalties that get paid to the console makers for the games sold on the platform. The SDK is minor compared to this.”

Playing Catch Up

Since its debut one year ago, sales for the PS3 have trailed behind those of Nintendo’s Wii, which was also released last November, and Microsoft’s Xbox 360, which was launched back in November 2006.

The release of a new 40 GB model last month, along with a price cut for the 80 GB version from $599 to $499, has led to a pick-up in sales in Europe, Japan and the U.S. During the first week ending Nov. 10, the PS3 beat out the Wii in sales in Japan for the first time. Japanese consumers purchased almost twice as many PS3s — 63,037 — than the 32,783 Wiis that were sold, according to statistic from sales tracking firm VG Chartz.

Since their respective launches, the Wii leads its competitors with 42.3 percent of the market and total worldwide sales of 13.87 million consoles. The Xbox 360 comes in second with 13.19 million units, and the PS3 trails with just 5.75 million PS3s in gamers’ hands. Sony’s PlayStation 2, by contrast, had sold more than 7 million units after one year on the market.

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