Interview: FuturLab on How to Become a Licensed PSP Mini Developer
With the announcement of Coconut Dodge from FuturLab, I became aware that this studio was experienced Flash game makers. Being in the process of making my first Flash game myself I was very interested in how they made the jump from Flash to becoming licensed PSP mini developers.
Luckily James Marsden, FuturLab’s managing director, was just as interested in talking about their experience.
For a budding indie game developer planning to take the journey to becoming a published minis developer, what are the steps they need to take, and is there anything that can be done to increase the chances of a successful application?
James Marsden: Well, I can only speak from our experience, and we were licensed with Sony before minis were announced. However, I can give advice on how someone inexperienced can become licensed, not just for minis, but for regular PSP, PS3 and PS Home. However, the advice I can give only really applies to studios or individuals with new IP to offer, as Sony loves to foster new talent – LittleBigPlanet and Flower being recent examples.
To answer your question there is a way to radically improve your chances of a successful application. It’s not easy, but it is very simple: show your game to Sony in person.
If the ideas are good, Sony will listen, no matter how inexperienced you are. You do have to shout quite loudly to get their attention though – we had to dazzle them with an innovative pitch to capture their imagination. We felt it was essential to go the extra mile in presenting something in person, as it’s very hard to make an impact on a piece of paper when you have very few credentials. We had no game industry experience, and just one game demo built in Flash. It may not work for everyone, but if you have nothing in terms of a game industry CV, it’s by far the most effective way to be taken seriously.
Of course, if you do have some experience, then the submission process will likely be fine for you. My advice is to spend a couple of weeks preparing it – show it to friends to get their feedback, and then contact a local and established games company and politely ask for their advice on your proposal. All you’re asking for is advice, and most people will find that flattering, and be happy to help. If they think it’s particularly good they may even help you further.
This is how we got started in fact – a client we’d done some Flash work for knew Relentless Software (makers of Buzz! and Blue Toad Murder Files), and sent them the pitch on our behalf. The next thing we know we’re being given pitch advice from one of the most successful studios in the world, and the name and number of the right person to call at Sony.
Some people may call that luck, but it’s about looking for opportunities, and acting on them with confidence.
That’s quite a long answer, but it boils down to just two simple ingredients: having a good idea and a professional attitude. If you present yourself professionally, Sony will respond positively.
What sort of costs should an indie developer plan to incur from the very start of the journey to the end result of having a game live on the PSN.
JM: I can only speak from our experience in the UK, but indirect costs (those that are incurred separately to the cost of actually making the game), are probably around £1,400 (roughly £1100 for the development kit and £250 for the PEGI license). You can promote the game freely by being nice to people and asking politely for help
What programming language, development tools or engines should they be familiar with or consider learning.
JM: C or C++ definitely. I consider myself a heavyweight Flash programmer – I’ve been working with ActionScript for 7 years now, but I couldn’t touch what Robin (Jubber) does with C on the PSP. That’s just my experience – but programming and scripting are worlds apart.
However, if you have a good idea, and the professional attitude to be serious about making a game, then you can find a programmer to work with. I found Robin by chance encounters, and was lucky. It’s important to note that I only met Robin after we’d become licensed with SCE. They didn’t care that we were Flash developers with no prior C/C++ experience – they just liked our ideas.
Having almost completed this journey yourself is there any other advice or words of wisdom you would want to say to someone considering taking this journey?
JM: Start with something simple and relatively easy. I remember hearing those words a few years ago and thinking ‘pah’, I’m going to make my dream game straight away! – but after a couple of years slowly realising what’s actually involved in making a dream game, I now acknowledge the wisdom of going through the process on a small scale. We’ve learned so much doing Coconut Dodge, and it’s a really simple game – it could have been built in Flash in a couple of weeks, but on PSP it took several months.
To illustrate this point, you might be wondering how come this is our first game yet we’ve been licensed for PS3 and PSP for a while? The simple answer is that we’ve been too ambitious over the last couple of years – we have some awesome games in development, but they’re either too big or too original (yes, that is a problem unfortunately) for publishers to back them.
So, we’re starting small, with the plan to put all revenue we generate from Coconut Dodge back into our other game projects. Here’s hoping people like it! We still do and we’ve been playing it for years – it was our very first, very poorly produced Flash game