The PS3 Devkit Story

I am extremely lucky that I get to make videogames for a living. On good days, game development is one of the few things that I can confidently say I do well. But it's still a field beholden to the vagaries of technological infrastructure, and everyone has a few horror stories. I've told this one a couple of times on Facebook, and I figure enough time has passed that I can now share it publicly without causing anyone any undue stress.

My first job in the game industry was editing TV spots and gameplay trailers for a minor-league publisher. This company was "struggling" at the time - which is code for "almost but not quite literally on fire" - but they took a chance on me nonetheless, which was pretty cool.

So one day I'm at the office and a request comes in to capture a few minutes of footage from the latest in a series of identical-looking anime fighting games for some PlayStation-affiliated website. Up to this point, I'd been getting all my footage from Xbox test kits because that's what we had around the office, but those builds had Xbox button prompts all over the screen, which would have been catastrophically off-brand for the website in question. It had to be the PS3 build, or nothing.

I get up from my desk and walk the floor, scanning for a PS3 test kit that I can borrow for a few hours. No dice; the biz dev guys have a couple of retail units lying around, but that's no help to me with a pre-alpha build of the game. So I guess it's off to the IT department.

"Hey, we got any spare PS3 kits I can use?"

Raised eyebrows, hands on hips, a half-hearted rummage through some dusty cardboard boxes. Someone looks up from behind a stack of gutted Dell workstations.

"I know we've got at least one of those fuckers around somewhere. Have you checked the basement?"

This is a fourteen-story office building in midtown Manhattan.

A few hours later, I emerge from a dank corner behind some freight pallets holding a PS3 Reference Tool, an aluminum monstrosity that looks like a VCR choked to death on a space heater. Onto my desk it goes, and I begin the arduous process of updating the firmware.

On the final update, using the latest version of Sony's developer software, this unholy silicon deathtrap just fuckin' bricks right there on my desk. Nothing but a feeble yellow light taunting me from behind an injection-molded faceplate that only a mother could love.

"Sony Developer Support, this is (mumble), how can I help?"

"Uh, hi. I was wondering if you could help me resolve a firmware issue with a PS3 reference tool."

"Sure thing, can you read me the product code please?"

I tell him. He asks me to repeat it, then he asks if I'm absolutely sure. I say yes, I'm looking right at the sticker. He asks me for the serial number. I tell him that too. An excruciatingly awkward silence follows.

"What company did you say you worked for again?"

I tell him.

"Sir, that machine is so old that it's not even final hardware. It's not compatible with the latest firmware at all."

"Ahh."

"Also, it was due to be shipped back to us almost two years ago. It says here no one responded to the reminder letters and it was reported stolen."

"Huh."

"Yeeeaahh."

So there I am at my desk, staring slack-jawed at an angry metal paperweight more valuable than every game console I've ever owned combined, and there's a guy on the phone telling me this bastard thing shouldn't even be in my goddamn zip code. I am now deep in the unmapped heart of Facepalm Country.

"Should I, uh, go ahead and ship it to you now?"

"Probably, yeah. How did you even find it?"

"In the basement. Some rocket scientist must have tossed it down there with a bunch of old IT junk."

Silence. My left eye twitches.

"Well, apparently your coworkers and my coworkers went to the same school for rocket science."

The bemused chuckle stops me from having a fucking stroke.

Later that week, I shipped the reference tool back to Sony in a crate, which I like to imagine was immediately locked away in some warehouse, unopened, like a wooden sled or the Ark of the Covenant. If there's a moral to this story, please let me know, because eight years later I'm still coming up blank.