PS4 vs Xbox One: why Sony’s console is more developer-friendly

PS4

PlayStation 4 and Xbox go head-to-head in the latest issue of Edge magazine, which is available now in printon iPadAndroid and Zinio. You can take a look at the latest subscriber offers here, which are discounted for a limited time. Here, we compare the ease of development on each console.

PlayStation 4

Lessons were learned. After eight years of memory management issues and Cell-related woe, PlayStation developers can look forward to a console more powerful on paper than Xbox One yet no more complicated than Microsoft’s own mini-PC. That extra overhead will give them greater room for manoeuvre when porting crossplatform games and more options when developing for PlayStation alone, but the consoles’ similarities are so numerous, developers’ only frustration is needing to port games at all.

“There’s no real difference between them,” Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami says. “We only need one console. Why do I have to make two versions of a game? And when Xbox One was first announced it had lower specs than PS4, but now they’re almost identical. So either will do.”

“I don’t think there’s a major difference between them,” Comcept’s Keiji Inafune agrees. “If you get down to the tiny details then maybe each is better at one thing than the other, but it doesn’t really impact the way you make a game. It’s not like PS4 or Xbox One are particularly hard to develop for. Quite the opposite: you can make whatever you want on either one, and that should be enough for anyone.”

So the difference will be made in policy and support, and on that front Sony has stolen a daunting lead over its competitor, allowing developers permission to patch their games as and when needed, opening servers to match PS4 players against PC players if required, and actively pursuing and supporting indie developers.

While Microsoft was busy buying Titanfall and Dead Rising 3, Sony was funding a hundred indie projects, including Metrico, Hohokum and Mike Bithell’s Volume. Microsoft will give developers two Xbox Ones just to get started, but Sony has been actively chasing independents for two years now and offering technical and financial support when needed. Whether a hundred arthouse games will sell a console better than a single Titanfall is doubtful, but there’s no denying which format is friendlier for the most developers so long as Sony is so firmly in the indies’ corner.

Xbox One

Policies, not hardware, will dictate the ease of development on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, and Microsoft’s policies were an off-the-record joke for the developers we met at E3 and Gamescom. Some of those policies changed or were clarified, but others seem a mystery even to Microsoft itself. Will Xbox One allow crossplatform play between PC and Xbox? Nobody knows. How will free-to-play games work on the console? That’s undecided beyond a few specific instances. Will developers be allowed to manage their own patching schedule – essential for running an up-to-the-minute crossplatform game – free from Microsoft’s lengthy certification checks? Again, nobody knows.

Get past the policies and, bar some complaints about drivers, Xbox One is no trickier to work with than 360. Like PlayStation 4, Xbox One mimics the architecture of a PC. But Microsoft’s 360 expertise has also been thrown at a console built for broader uses than Sony’s PC-in-a-box. The embedded memory is a throwback to 360 that offers Xbox One an edge in some operations, but would also make the console a marginally trickier development proposition had so many developers not spent so many years making 360 games. Snap Apps run in a Windows 8 environment, which again makes Xbox One a familiar place to bring software, and since switching is handled on the operating system side, developers don’t have to worry about implementing a form of Ctrl+Alt+Del support for a console.

Eight years of western dominance has given Microsoft a head start, but that same dominance has made it complacent. What worked in 2005 won’t work in 2013, where games like Minecraft and League Of Legends thrive because they can rapidly evolve. If PS4’s Minecraft can be patched alongside the PC version while 4J’s Xbox port lags months behind, what then? If Titanfall’s first patch hits PC three weeks before Xbox One, Microsoft’s flagship exclusive will be compromised. It isn’t beyond Microsoft’s ability to adapt its policies to reflect the changing environment, but for now Xbox One feels like a console built for 2020 on policies designed a decade ago.

Both offer a friendly environment, but only Sony has the policies to really encourage experimentation.

There’s more comprehensive analysis of the battle between PlayStation 4 and Xbox in the latest issue of Edge magazine, which is available now in printon iPadAndroid and Zinio. Subscription offers are discounted for a limited time here.