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.
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.
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.
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:
If you’re interested in attaining your SDK outside of the Partners Program, follow these steps:
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.
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.
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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:
Special Note: Various online sources, including former Switch developers, have suggested that you must directly pitch your game to Nintendo prior to final development.
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.
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.