Sony has earned praise from the gaming community for its steady backing of indie developers working on projects for the PlayStation 3, PS Vita, and upcoming PlayStation 4, but the company's interest in independent designers goes back further than the current generation. USGamer has taken a look back at the indie development platform for the original PlayStation which offered a launching platform for aspiring designers.
Over 15 years ago the seeds were sown by a strange and brilliant enterprise on the original PlayStation with Net Yaroze. The offbeat, rough-around-the-edges and weirdly compelling games that resulted represented the first time Sony fostered a community of emerging talent and helped launch a generation of game development careers.
Sony launched the Net Yaroze project in 1997. It made available to hobbyist coders a basic version of the PlayStation dev kit housed in an attractive black casing for the princely sum of £550 (about $836 at today's exchange rate), though this was later cut in half. Around a thousand units were sold in Europe, which effectively created a ready-made community of budding developers working independently on the PlayStation platform.
Sony has a love/hate relationship with letting people tinker with its hardware. Products like Net Yaroze show a dedication to the craft and customers are welcome to poke around within the established walled garden, but as soon as there's a security risk to the full power of the platform... well, I'm sure you remember how the PS3 once included a built-in method to run low-power Linux development tools. Once hackers found a way to use the OtherOS capability to break into the core PS3 functions, the feature was removed via a firmware update. Sony knows there's value in supporting the indie community, but offering that support as a built-in part of every console sold isn't necessarily the best idea. Net Yaroze was on to something since users had to buy a special PS1 in order to develop software. Perhaps the best way to encourage indie development is to keep development tools away from stock consoles. It stifles widespread development, but I bet that there's more of an interest out there in piracy and cheating than there is in legitimate indie development amongst console owners. Then again, I'm a cold-hearted cynic when it comes to trusting people to behave properly.