Interview: FuturLab on How to Become a Licensed PSP Mini Developer

coconut-dodge-bannerWith 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 :)

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Comments

11 Responses to “Interview: FuturLab on How to Become a Licensed PSP Mini Developer”
  1. prince caro 19 says:

    wow,
    thanks for that, really nice interview,
    youre learning flash chris? nice.
    i actually made a couple (psp compatible) flash games awhile ago with a trial of flash 5 a couple years ago.
    one day i just decided to make a video game, then i did,
    which is very much unlike me, being a procrastinator.
    the main point of me doing this was to see if i’d like making games (video games being my passion), turns out it was very enjoyable, occasionally frustrating, but that just made it better when i succeeded.
    so anyway i promised myself i would do this for a living when i was old enough (i just recently started trying to learn a introductory programming language called Turing),
    so hearing a story like this is really inspiring. :)

    i really am a sucker for developers who come over here and talk about what they do, and how they got to where they are,
    so me buying this game when (if?) it comes out in Canada is inevitable (i’ll have to hope they can afford to get it rated by ESRB shortly after its release).

    i wish you the best of luck, FuturLabs. :)

  2. Hiya,

    I just realised I forgot to mention that we paid £250 for the PEGI license because Coconut Dodge is in the 3+ category. If the game has adult themes then PEGI spend more time rating it and subsequently it costs more. I’ll post back with the maximum cost when I’m back in the office.

    @prince caro 19
    Thanks very much! :) To answer your question about releasing in Canada, we have just this week been assigned a SCEA account manager who is able to help us release the game over there, so hopefully soon!

  3. Takao says:

    Very cool to hear this story. As someone who has some experience in Flash (admitedly only in the animation portions), and always wanted to get in the video game industry, this interview gives me some hope. You’re right though James, starting simple is key. When I first started to use Flash I invisioned making an animated web-series that could be produced on a weekly basis. Soon after that idea was scrapped after realizing I got way too deep for a person who just learned how to swim.

    Do you guys have to be mindful of what you put on the Minis? Considering the platform is cross-compatible with the PS3 and PSP with the prospect of even more platforms in the future, have you guys seen yourselves scrapping ideas because they wouldn’t mesh well with both platforms, or have you guys decided to focus gameplay ideas on one platform? Does SCE even require that games be playable on PSP and PS3 (we’ve seen plenty of SCE’s own Minis incompatible with the PS3)? Also, is SCE leniant on the 100MB rule? Or is that simply a guideline?

    It’s also interesting to read how motherly SCEE seems to be. It appears to be in a stark contrast to SCEA, who seems some what unsupportive of the Minis program. The lack of North American indie support on the Minis platform seems to support that notion. For SCEJ, I can’t really blame them, as Minis are available solely through digital distribution via the PlayStation Store, and digital distribution doesn’t fly over there too well.

  4. somedude2008 says:

    Good luck with your flash game Chris :P
    I’m looking forward to playing coconut dodge.

  5. Zack says:

    From my own experience, I find SCEA perfectly supportive for our minis development efforts, ready to help with any problem that arises, actually even more than SCEE.

  6. Hiya,

    As promised, the maximum cost to rate a minis game with PEGI is 500 EUR.

    Cheers,

    James

  7. volcane says:

    Thanks for an excellent interview – this was a very interesting read!

    I’m fascinated about the game development process and I’m particularly keen to hear about the smaller and/or indie teams. We all want great innovative games to play and I think we all want to support the talented people working to create wonderful content. I think it adds a huge amount to our enjoyment & appreciation to learn about the folks behind the games we play.

    There has been some superb support & contributions to this site so far by some of best Minis development teams, in interviews, giveaway codes and (importantly) forum participation and willingness to answer player questions and take feedback. This is awesome as it ultimately brings us closer to the game and helps us feel involved and part of the process.

    In terms of the game Coconut Dodge, from the gameplay video it looks quite fun and additive! I shall definitely be picking up a copy :-)

  8. Hiya,

    Thanks for the support! Happy to hear you liked the interview.

    I’m doing a series of articles on PlayStation Blog over the next three weeks which you might find interesting. I’m going to be going into a lot of detail about how we became licensed with Sony, and how we evolved Coconut Dodge from a very poor Flash game to a level worthy of publishing on PlayStation Store :)

    You can have a look here:

    http://blog.eu.playstation.com/2010/04/28/introducing-coconut-dodge/

    We’ve also just launched the Facebook page: http://bit.ly/amzlVS

    Thanks again!

    James

  9. FuturLab says:

    Hello again,

    Here’s our second PlayStation Blog post, which goes into detail about how we became licensed with Sony:

    http://blog.eu.playstation.com/2010/05/06/futurlab-pitch-to-sony/

    Hope you enjoy it!

    James

  10. richard says:

    Hi,

    We would like to become licensed developers for PSP minis. Having looked at the licensing website the requirements (mandatory fields) seem a little strange e.g. VAT reg requirement – we dont make enough to be VAT registered, IP range – we are not big enough for an IP range to be allocated. We have a number of propositions for games we would like to bring to market. From reading your posts. Is there another way rather than going through the SCEE website to register as it seems this process is meant for the big boys rather than small independents (which I thought minis were aimed at)? We dont have a Sony account manager, but happy to make a pitch on our plans etc. Can you offer any guidance?

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  1. [...] Answers Erick Robertson You have to put money down. Call Sony and ask them about it. They’ll tell you how to hook yourself up with the official developer’s kit. It will cost money. But of course, you’ll make that money in the back end. So the question really is, how confident are you that you can make something that will end up on PSN for sale? July 26, 2010 3:41 am coderanger Note that when he says “will cost money” he means $10k (~?7k I think). You also need to pay a yearly fee with Nintendo, not sure if Sony does something similar. July 26, 2010 4:29 am MrValdez I was afraid of that. I guess PSN is out for poor me. July 26, 2010 4:46 am coderanger As mentioned above, getting a real devkit and being setup as a licensed studio can take quite a bit of cash. A better bet might be to learn Unity since Unity3 (which is supposed to be out Real Soon Now) will support PS3. That said, Unity Pro is still not cheap, though they haven’t said if the free version will support targeting the PS3 last I looked. July 26, 2010 4:33 am Noctrine More than likely, like with the Wii, you will need the pro version in addition to a special secondary license. as well as the devkit. July 27, 2010 1:38 am Andrew Brockert Yes, this will be the case for both 360 and PS3, according to Tom Higgins. July 28, 2010 11:29 am Olly Here is an interesting article on becoming a developer of the “mini” titles that have recently come onto PSN. http://www.pspminis.com/2068/interview-futurlab-on-how-to-become-a-licensed-psp-mini-developer/ [...]



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