Sony is helping to train the next generation by putting hardware in its hands
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.“
“WHAT BETTER CALLING CARD IS THERE THAN HAVING YOUR FIRST GAME PUBLISHED 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