In A Total Reversal, Sony Designed PS4 With Developer Needs Put First

When the Xbox 360 and PS3 first debuted, one of the major differences between them was how easy it was to access the underlying hardware. Kaz Hirai, then President of Sony Computer Entertainment, confirmed that the PS3 was far more difficult to program -- and that this was intentional. "We don't provide the 'easy to program for' console that (developers) want, because 'easy to program for' means that anybody will be able to take advantage of pretty much what the hardware can do, so then the question is, what do you do for the rest of the nine-and-a-half years?"

In other words: "We made developers miserable because it suited our long-term strategy."

With the PS4, Sony has decided to go in the opposite direction. What's surprising is that the company began talking to developers about what they wanted from a future console as early as 2007. None of the discussions were hardware-centric; the focus was on the tools and capabilities programmers needed to make a future PlayStation 4 a preferred development platform. The man heading up that effort, Mark Cerny, is the PS4's lead architect. What began as a software discussion expanded into hardware, in an interview with Gamasutra, Cerny has stated that certain characteristics, like the 8GB unified memory and eight-core CPU, were locked in based on developer feedback.

Sony's first effort at putting software development first was with the Vita. While the Vita's sales have been terrible and the handheld's future seems dim, Cerny stressed that Sony learned a great deal about developing toolchains and porting capabilities with the PSV. It's an indication that the company has learned just how much the market has changed. Hirai's remarks from 2009 are indicative of a corporate mindset that assumed Sony was powerful enough to use the Cell's unique characteristics as a form of vendor lock-in. It makes sense if you think about: If the PS3 had been the only console that mattered, and games had to be on the PS3 to be successful, forcing programmers to learn a difficult and esoteric product would diminish the amount of time they'd have to spend optimizing for other platforms.

That's not the case anymore. There are more platforms to develop for than ever, and every attempt Sony and Nintendo have made to create walled gardens around new products have either failed or are under siege. Sony's decision to make the PS3 more difficult to program was partly responsible for the console's disastrous performance in its early years (attach rates for the PS3 were initially significantly lower than the Xbox 360 or Wii, partly due to development problems). If Cerny's work bears fruit, all gamers could benefit when the next-gen Xbox and PS4 drop.