Sony is help­ing to train the next gen­er­a­tion by putting hard­ware in its hands

EDGE - - TIME EXTEND - DR MARIA STUKOFF Head of aca­demic de­vel­op­ment, XDev Stu­dio­widestu­ LUKE SAV­AGE­ MARK SAM­PLE­widestu­ Aca­demic de­vel­op­ment man­ager, SCEE R&D PlayS­ta­tion First pro­ducer, XDev Stu­dio

Sony’s PlayS­ta­tion First ini­tia­tive builds on the spirit of Net Yaroze with its mis­sion to make PlayS­ta­tion de­vel­op­ment ac­ces­si­ble to all. Well, al­most all: PlayS­ta­tion First puts PS3, Vita and now PS4 de­vel­op­ment kits into the hands of stu­dents at a se­lect but grow­ing num­ber of uni­ver­si­ties that meet Sony’s high stan­dards. Now in its fifth year, PlayS­ta­tion First is ex­pand­ing its team and its remit.

“Al­low­ing the next gen­er­a­tion of game cre­ators to de­velop on the PlayS­ta­tion plat­form while study­ing is a great ad­van­tage,” ex­plains Dr Maria Stukoff, head of aca­demic de­vel­op­ment at Sony’s Liver­pool-based XDev stu­dio and the per­son re­spon­si­ble for launch­ing PlayS­ta­tion First in 2010. “From day one, stu­dents are ex­posed to the ac­tual hard­ware they will use when fin­ish­ing their course and en­ter­ing the job mar­ket. This re­ally does al­low them to hit the ground run­ning.” It’s a mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial re­la­tion­ship, of course, since it grants Sony a di­rect line to waves of newly trained, PlayS­ta­tion-savvy de­vel­op­ers. Mark Sam­ple, whose de­vel­op­ment cred­its in­clude Prey, Driver: San Fran­cisco and a stint as game di­rec­tor on the re­cently an­nounced Hit­man game, joined PlayS­ta­tion First ear­lier this year as pro­ducer. Along­side all this, he’s been heav­ily in­volved in teach­ing for the past five years, and now works closely with univer­sity teams to find talent and help stu­dents learn a va­ri­ety of skills, in­clud­ing de­sign tech­niques and PlayS­ta­tion best prac­tice.

“It’s im­por­tant to us that we are there and work­ing with talent to share our ex­per­tise in mak­ing games,” Sam­ple tells us. “I have over 20 years of in­dus­try ex­pe­ri­ence, which al­lows me to steer young talent away from some com­mon pit­falls and ac­cel­er­ate their learn­ing and progress. I wish I had that kind of sup­port when I started out! It’s def­i­nitely a win-win sit­u­a­tion for all in­volved.”

In­deed, one of PlayS­ta­tion First’s goals is to raise the rel­e­vancy of game ed­u­ca­tion by di­rectly ad­dress­ing the short­falls iden­ti­fied in the Liv­ing­stone-Hope Skills Re­view. “For years the in­dus­try has com­plained that grad­u­ates aren’t skilled enough,” says Stukoff. “PlayS­ta­tion First is ad­dress­ing this head on, mak­ing a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact for stu­dio-ready grads on our plat­form, and help­ing to pro­mote our UK game in­dus­try as a cre­ative and ex­cit­ing ca­reer op­tion.”

This means look­ing be­yond univer­sity level, so PlayS­ta­tion First also main­tains close links with govern­ment agencies and in­dus­try bod­ies such as Cre­ative Skillset, UKIE and TIGA. Since ef­fec­tive ed­u­ca­tion starts early, it looks to sup­port pri­mary and sec­ondary school teach­ers as well.

“The aim is to get young kids to un­leash their cre­ativ­ity us­ing PlayS­ta­tion in the class­room,” says Stukoff. “This talent will ul­ti­mately be the gen­er­a­tion who will shape the fu­ture of the UK videogame in­dus­try, and en­gag­ing with schools means we have a hand in ac­tively shap­ing the fu­ture of game de­vel­op­ment ed­u­ca­tion.”

The ini­tia­tive also works with game groups at BAFTA and spon­sors the Young

Game De­signer awards. And it re­cently part­nered with the Prince’s Trust to host a se­ries of Get Started With Game De­sign pro­grammes across Liver­pool and Lon­don.

“We con­tin­u­ally strive to pro­vide a unique in­sight into the UK game in­dus­try, and to in­spire young people to con­sider game de­vel­op­ment as a fu­ture ca­reer path,” Stukoff continues. “And pro­grammes like the Prince’s Trust one make it pos­si­ble for the youngest and new­est of cre­ators to have a di­a­logue with PlayS­ta­tion.”

At an un­der­grad­u­ate level, PlayS­ta­tion First re­flects a grow­ing trend of uni­ver­si­ties try­ing to sim­u­late the re­al­i­ties of work­ing in a de­vel­op­ment stu­dio dur­ing a de­gree. Flick through the univer­sity profiles in the pages ahead and you’ll find lec­tur­ers talk­ing up the need to ex­pose stu­dents to pro­fes­sional work­ing en­vi­ron­ments at the ear­li­est pos­si­ble op­por­tu­nity, of­ten with an in­creased work­load as a re­sult. And this in turn has catal­ysed an in­crease in on­site busi­ness in­cu­ba­tors and cour­ses that in­stil the pre­cepts of en­trepreneuri­al­ism as well as teach­ing stu­dents to code – all ar­eas Sony’s ini­tia­tive strives to cover, with the added twist that grad­u­ates will emerge armed with ex­pe­ri­ence of its hard­ware.

“What bet­ter call­ing card to prospec­tive em­ploy­ers is there than hav­ing your first game pub­lished on PlayS­ta­tion?” asks SCEE R&D aca­demic de­vel­op­ment man­ager Luke Sav­age, who be­came part of the PlayS­ta­tion First team last year. “As an in­dus­try, we need new talent [with] fresh ideas. PlayS­ta­tion First en­gages talent and teaches the skills to make games on PlayS­ta­tion, which has an in­cred­i­ble ad­van­tage when they grad­u­ate.”

This ex­pe­ri­ence is all the more rel­e­vant given Sony’s sup­port for in­die de­vel­op­ers with PS4 and Vita. While grad­u­ates from uni­ver­si­ties work­ing with PlayS­ta­tion First will be well equipped to ap­ply for roles at es­tab­lished first- and third­party stu­dios, they might equally form part of the next Den­na­ton Games or Vlam­beer. Those PlayS­ta­tion Plus give­aways don’t just make them­selves, af­ter all.

“Whether they choose to set up their own com­pany or join an es­tab­lished stu­dio, by hav­ing hands-on ex­pe­ri­ence of the hard­ware, they can prove that they have the chops to get out there,” Stukoff says.

And it’s a two-way learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence that can help Sony di­rect the evo­lu­tion of both its hard­ware, and its tools, as Sav­age ex­plains. “For me, it comes down to one word: in­spi­ra­tion. We want to in­spire stu­dents to cre­ate new games and ex­pe­ri­ences on PlayS­ta­tion, to learn their craft on our plat­forms, and ul­ti­mately to thrive in our in­dus­try. But equally, we want to be in­spired by these stu­dents as well, to see what they can come up with on PS Vita and PS4. And that’s al­ways the best part of my job – get­ting to ex­pe­ri­ence what they’ve cre­ated on PlayS­ta­tion.“


Along­side her role at Sony’s XDev Stu­dio, Dr Stukoff also sits on the Game Coun­cil at Cre­ative Skillset and is a mem­ber of both UKIE’s Next Gen In­dus­try Ad­vi­sory Board and the BAFTA Women Ad­vi­sory Board

PS4 has al­ready proven its in­die cre­den­tials, and PlayS­ta­tion First pro­vides greater ac­cess by of­fer­ing dis­counted dev kits to all the uni­ver­si­ties in­volved

The group trav­els ex­ten­sively to en­sure that ev­ery stu­dent work­ing with PlayS­ta­tion First gets the chance to meet them and ben­e­fit from one-to-one time to dis­cuss project ideas

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