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Game development kits (GDK) are specialized hardware used to create commercial videogames. They may be partnered with game development tools, special game engine licenses, and other middleware to aid video game development. GDKs are typically not available to the public, and require game developers to enter an agreement, partnership, or program with the hardware manufacturer to gain access to the hardware. As game console generations pass, development kits often get sold through websites like eBay without repercussions. This is often because the console manufacturers discontinue certain development programs as time passes.
In the 1980s, computing did not involve 3D modelling or any complex programming due to the limitations of hardware. This, combined with the hobbyist nature of early computer game programming, meant that not many individuals or smaller companies would develop for consoles. Even when consoles became mainstream (such as the Nintendo Entertainment System), there was no official or publicly available GDK since most console manufacturers would develop their games in-house. For example, Nintendo had internal development teams for both hardware and software.
By the fifth generation of consoles, game development kits were developed to encourage more developers to make console games and grow the videogame industry. Game development kits began as a simple way for developers to connect their computers to console hardware, allowing them to compile software on their PC and see it play directly on a console. Once most GDKs started becoming bundled with hardware-specific software, hobbyists or anyone not directly affiliated with a console manufacturer would have to write their games without the specialized software to access unique features such as the Xbox One's Kinect or the Wii U GamePad.
Modern game development kits often come bundled with the specialized software, and are much more formalized compared to previous-generation GDKs. In older generations of console gaming, developers had to make their own hardware and write games at various levels of programming (such as assembly). Today, programs such as Unity 3D provide a complete software environment and console manufacturers such as Nintendo provide polished & powerful development hardware through their developer programs. Other console manufacturers even allow the retail consoles to be used as development kits, provided that the development software is being used by the developer.
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