Score Dev Kits for Xbox, Playstation, and Nintendo
March 9, 2020

Game development has never been a more exciting venture, for both hobbyists and career creators. Hardware is growing more powerful with every iteration, and these advancements have taken software along for the ride. You can harness this great innovation to develop immersive gaming experiences.

Each company’s software development kit (SDK) powers the development process. SDKs provide you with a collection of tools and frameworks in one convenient package. These resources are essential since they’re tailored to specific hardware-software combinations. Microsoft provides its own SDK for the Xbox platform, Sony for the PlayStation, and so on. The Xbox runs a modified version of Windows 10, while PlayStation runs on Orbis OS (Free BSD), and Nintendo uses a version of FreeBSD. 

Each company’s offerings are uniquely configured, meaning you’ll need to access the appropriate toolset for your game. Your console preferences will steer this decision. The gaming world is wide open for independent developers. We’ll walk through the development process for the industry’s household names below. 

Getting an Xbox Developer Kit

Image courtesy of Engadget.

Xbox development offers a largely unfragmented experience across a trio of consoles: the Xbox One S, One X, and more recent Series X. Microsoft gives indie developers two main registration pathways: The ID@Xbox Program and the Xbox Live Creators Program. You may opt into the ID@Xbox Program to obtain the SDK for all devices, but individual developers will likely enroll in the Creators Program—it presents fewer barriers compared to ID@Xbox, and its relaxed requirements make the process friendlier.

As a bonus, you can also access the Xbox Live SDK – a supplementary kit for integrating online gameplay. Below are detailed tutorials for each method. We’ll also provide instructions for receiving testing hardware.

Obtaining Your SDK through ID@Xbox

  1. Navigate to Microsoft’s ID@Xbox Program (Independent Developer Program) website here.
  2. Register by clicking the green button labeled “Apply to the Program Now”. This takes you to an application form where you can enter your studio’s details, contact information, and legal signatories.
  3. Reach out to Microsoft to discuss your game. Prior to downloading your SDK, you must choose which platform you’ll release your title on.
  4. After approval, you move to the Build stage. Here is where you gain access to your Xbox SDK! These tools include plenty of documentation.
  5. You can publish and update your game after building for your preferred platform.

Obtaining Your SDK through the Xbox Live Creators Program

  1. Navigate to the Xbox Live Creators Program website here.
  2. Create a developer account. This incurs a single charge of $19 for individuals, or $99 for corporations.
  3. Now you may access your SDK! The Creators Program nixes the concept approval process, allowing you to immediately develop and integrate Xbox Live.
  4. You can publish your game on Xbox One or Windows 10 after testing.

Obtaining Your Xbox Live Developer Platform SDK

  1. Navigate to the Xbox Live Developer Platform website here. You must be registered with one of Microsoft’s developer programs before accessing the Live Developer Platform’s resources.
  2. Enter the Build stage to access the Xbox Live SDK and related kits, as well as their corresponding documentation.

Obtaining Testing Hardware

Approved Xbox One developers receive two hardware development kits free of charge, according to Microsoft’s notes. This is the preferred route for Managed Partners or ID@Xbox developers. Partnered developers test using the Xbox One, but may also order customized hardware for “more in-depth performance testing and console management.” Developers who need more than two units must purchase additional kits through Microsoft.

To cut through the red tape, Xbox Live Creators Program members can also use retail Xbox One consoles to test their games. Developers must remember that this method is tailored to Universal Windows Platform (UWP) titles. Games made using the traditional SDK are not available for testing on retail devices. Those without an account must create a Dev Center account for $19. No other add-ons are required.

Getting a PlayStation Developer Kit

Image courtesy of PlayStation

Should you wish to develop for PlayStation, you have your choice of two consoles: the PS4 and PS4 Pro. Individual developers, small startups, and large studios can join the PlayStation Partners Program. This is the preferred method for getting your hands on a PlayStation SDK.

You may gain special SDK access if you’re a university student. PlayStation extends academic partnerships to eligible schools, giving budding developers access to essential tools.

This detailed tutorial will get you started:

Obtaining Your SDK through the PlayStation Partners Program (PPP)

  1. Navigate to the PlayStation Partners Program website here.
  2. Click the “Join PlayStation” button at the top of the page, or one of the two identical buttons further down the page.
  1. Under the “Game Developers and Publishers” section, select the option that applies to you. Follow the application completely and submit all the required information.
  2. Following approval, you’re ready to begin developing with PlayStation! This enables SDK access for both consoles.
  3. You can market and self-publish on the PlayStation Store after finalizing your game.

Obtaining Your SDK Under “Other Business Types”

If you’re interested in attaining your SDK outside of the Partners Program, follow these steps:

  1. Navigate to the PlayStation Partners Program website here.
  2. Click the “Join PlayStation” button at the top of the page, or one of the two identical buttons further down the page.
  3. Choose the link corresponding to your location under the “Other Business Types” section. 
  4. Should you choose to develop on PlayStation Mobile, select that option and follow the instructions. This uses separate tools from the console SDK.

Choosing the Academia Option

  1. Choose “University/Academia Programs” if you’d like to secure an SDK through PlayStation’s special programs.
  2. Select your preferred platform, distribution method, and enter pertinent information.
  3. Fill out all applicable forms and click “Submit”.
  4. Following acceptance to the program, you may start building using PlayStation’s SDK.

Obtaining Testing Hardware

By virtue of being a PlayStation partner, developers have access to customized development hardware for their titles. This requires developers to follow the steps included in the SDK tutorials above. Creators must submit appropriate forms and sign an NDA through the PlayStation Partners Program portal to secure these dev kits. University partners may also secure hardware through the same channel.

  • You must be an authorized developer – with official testing hardware – to test games on the PlayStation platform. PlayStation owners with retail consoles cannot test games, unlike with Xbox.

Development kits aren’t approved for resale, leaving eBay and other pre-owned sales platforms out of the equation. These consoles are covered by NDA and are IP-locked. This means developers must access hardware through official channels. PlayStation kits also expire at a predetermined date, after which they must be renewed or decommissioned.

Various online sources suggest each PlayStation 4 dev kit costs around $2,500, this price increasing with add-ons and different configuration options. Sony has also started releasing PS5 dev kits ahead of its Winter 2020 release. Pricing for that remains unclear.

Getting a Nintendo Developer Kit

Image courtesy of TechPope.

If you want to develop for Nintendo, you’ll predominantly create games for the Nintendo Switch. The company provides a centralized location for all developers, no matter the device. Nintendo is indie and newcomer-friendly, requiring no prior development experience or payment upon registration. You’ll only pay to secure testing hardware. These costs are covered within the developer portal.

Nintendo’s guidelines for Switch development aren’t 100% clear, but online sources can point us in the right direction. Here’s our tutorial:

Obtaining Your SDK through the Nintendo Developer Portal

  1. Navigate to the Nintendo Developer Portal website here.
  2. Click the Register button at the top of the page, or select from two additional links further down the page.
  3. Create a new Nintendo account.
  4. After choosing either “Organization” or “Individual”, fill out the forms and click “Review Application”. Confirm your details and submit.
  5. Sign in to the Nintendo Developer Portal using your new account details here.
  6. After signing an NDA and accepting Nintendo’s terms of service, you can access your SDK!
  7. Nintendo is hands-off until your game nears completion. Submit your game to Nintendo when finished, prepare your marketing materials, then launch.

Special Note: Various online sources, including former Switch developers, have suggested that you must directly pitch your game to Nintendo prior to final development.

Obtaining Testing Hardware

You must be a registered developer and have an active agreement with Nintendo to receive a dev kit. For this reason, retail Switch owners cannot use their devices for game development.

You can order dev kits through the Nintendo Developer Portal. However, for the Switch, you must contact Nintendo to request a kit. Developers can do so by sending a form or calling the company directly.

During the Game Creators Conference of 2017, Nintendo announced the price of a Switch dev kit to be approximately $450. This is significantly less than the Wii U’s $2,500 price tag. However, quite some time has passed since that announcement, and the current price of a Switch dev kit is unconfirmed.

Becoming a Game Developer is now easier than ever

Obtaining development materials from the Big Three is encouragingly straightforward. You don’t have to jump through numerous hoops as a developer, nor must you contend with pay-to-play systems. Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo have democratized SDK retrieval by making their programs accessible. Building a top-notch game on your own terms is easy.

It is necessary to obtain hardware through official channels only — via Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo. Consulting resellers like eBay isn’t a reliable way to secure testing hardware. While some costs are expensive, game development for individuals and small studios is certainly within reach. These opportunities will pave the way for an exciting new wave of indie titles. 

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