Mark Cerny explains how PS3′s launch problems shaped PS4′s open philosophy

mark cerny

Speaking at this year’s Develop, PS4 system architect Mark Cerny has explained how the problems that arose leading up to PS3′s launch shaped Sony’s attitude when they began working on PS4.

How PS3′s launch problems shaped PS4

The issues Sony encountered, by Cerny’s own admission, created a “weak” launch line up and made it hard for third party developers to master the system quickly. Here’s an excerpt from his Develop keynote where he explains what happened in the year leading up to PS3′s launch as game development stepped up:

We had to come face to face with a very tough fact: it was going to be quite difficult to create those [launch] titles. One problem that surfaced was that the emphasis, up until this point, was 99% hardware and 1% software. PlayStation 3 hardware was close to a reality but the teams lacked many of the tools necessary for the task.

As an example Cerny cites a lack of basic development tools before the PS3 launched:

resistance 1The development environment was in a very primitive state. The first party teams were having a difficult time of it but the third party teams, without the luxury of being able to focus just on PS3, and without the benefit of our (Sony’s) head start, were having an even more troubling time. The teams that I’d worked with, first party, needed basically a whole year to create usable graphic engines. The sky high expectations for game titles could only be met with clever use of the SPUs, but both the unique nature of the Cell and the primitive state of the development environment meant that game creation on PlayStation 3 was more time consuming than any previous product.

“Game creation on PlayStation 3 was more time consuming than any previous product”

Fortuitously, due to the overall nature of PS3, in it’s development process, the various technology teams were already fully briefed on the hardware. And had in fact quite a bit of experience with it That mean these teams had the knowledge and resources to independently start creating various tools and technology to make PlayStation 3 game development easier. We’d also finally figured out that third parties were essential for the platform’s success. In late 2005 the various game teams in Japan, US and Europe were merged to form the Worldwide Studio. And one of our first tasks was to figure out which first party tech teams had the strongest tools and technologies, and how best to share these formerly proprietary tools with the Worldwide Studios.

The PlayStation 3 did ultimately launch in late 2006 and though we couldn’t address all of these issues in time for launch, which resulted in a rather weak initial software line up, we came out of these difficult times with some strengths. Those three years around launch – 2005, 2006, 2007 – were a unifying experience. Anyone who lived through those times at Sony Computer Entertainment understands the need for international collaboration, the value of open and frank conversation. We’re all in this together. The importance, not just of hardware, but also of software and tools. And the value of third parties in the success of the platform.”

It’s those realisations that have apparently made the PS4 a more open and easier to develop for platform, with a current line up of some 70 odd confirmed games and around 160 in the works. At one point Cerny says an enhanced version of PS3′s Cell processor was considered for PS4 but ditched in favour of a more accessible PC architecture to avoid the “steep learning curve”  that previously held back developers.