The lights are on
Over the course of this console generation, Sony has made finding
and securing creative indie games for PlayStation 3 and Vita a growing
priority. From indie-oriented programs like Pub Fund and PlayStation C.A.M.P.
to Santa Monica Studio's work with developers like Thatgamecompany and Giant
Sparrow, the company has amassed an impressive library of critically acclaimed
indie games for its systems. With the release of the PlayStation 4 on the
horizon, Sony is working harder than ever to ensure its newest console is an appealing
platform for indie developers.
As vice president of publisher and developer relations, Adam
Boyes helps Sony find interesting projects and talented developers to pursue,
and works to keep them happy when they sign on. We spoke with Boyes to find out
what lessons Sony has learned over the years, how the company measures the
success of indie titles, and what advantages the PlayStation 4 will offer
What is Sony doing to
secure indie games on its systems, and where are you finding these indie games?
Our team's in charge of Pub Fund, and so what developer
relations does is we go out to a variety of different shows, consumer-oriented
shows, internal ones as well, and we look around at what the cool stuff is. It's
also going on Steam, downloading mobile games on iOS and Android, and seeing
what developers are up to. So we have a team in our region of about nine people
that are full time, dedicated to scouring the earth for cool stuff.
We've heard Sony
reached out to a number of developers for their feedback while designing the
PS4. Did you speak with indie developers as well?
Yeah, absolutely. It was a big focus. Once we started
talking to different developers, what we did is we would bring a bunch of indie
developers together and we would meet with them in a group to get their
feedback. We prioritized them as highly as larger publishers because we knew
that a lot of innovation and creativity is born out of the independent studios.
So their feedback absolutely went into a lot of the key decisions as we built
It seems like the
attention of indie developers has been gradually shifting from the Xbox 360 to
the PS3. Are there any lessons you learned from Microsoft's handling of indie
developers that helped you facilitate that shift?
I think it was mostly what we learned about ourselves during
the PS3 era and from meeting with developers. The Vita was a great place for us
to evolve some of our processes, but the most important thing was sitting down
with developers over lunch, or over a soda at PAX, and just saying, "Hey, why
aren't you on the platform? What's working for you and what isn't?" You know,
getting out of our cave. We didn't do a lot of traveling five to eight years
ago, and so that was important to us. And then sitting down, working with them,
and then saying, "Okay, you might not believe us, but we're going to show you
how we're going to improve and evolve." And then coming back to them on a very
Minority's Papo & Yo is one of the many indie games supported by Sony's Pub Fund
Sony has invested
heavily in Pub Fund. What kind of return have you seen from that investment so
We've seen great returns. We've been extraordinarily happy
with the results. We are a business at the end of the day, so if a certain
program isn't working then it's not like something that we maintain, but it's
been very successful for us.
How do you measure
Pub Fund's success?
We judge it in multiple ways. Revenue is obviously critical
to the business. It's also about the awareness of these titles. We also do
customer satisfaction with the gamers and users, and then we talk to partners.
The bottom line is no program can be successful if people don't want to come
back to it or if they publically speak out that it didn't work for them. And
that's where I think accountability is such a critical part of it.
Are you planning to
continue Pub Fund?
Absolutely. There's no end in sight for us. It's been very
exciting for us. I've only been with the company less than a year and it's a
big focus of our department. We're investing heavily like I said, growing the
team and developer relations, and then both globally, and finding any way we
can to continue to grow and improve the Pub Fund process, and the funding
around independent content.
Drinkbox Studios' Tales from Space: About a Blob and Guacamelee are both Pub Fund titles
What else besides Pub
Fund does Sony do to help indie developers get their games on your platforms?
A lot of it comes around education. The first big thing is
obviously self-publishing. And I think allowing anyone to publish on the
platform is a key one; that's the first big barrier of entry. The funding
options – we talked about the Pub Fund, whether they want to team that up with
Kickstarter or some government funding, which some people have done in the past.
Allowing the developer to set their own price, and set their launch timing is
really critical. Being open to the business model – so if it's a free-to-play
title or microtransaction-based, or subscription, or episodic – all that stuff
I think is key. If we don't support a breadth of those things then we won't
And then also working to relieve the barriers of entry. So
whether it's supplying dev kits free of charge or waiving patch fees, that's a
really important part for us to work with them. And just understanding what
their challenges are. Once we understand what their challenges are – we had one
developer call us up recently and they said, "Hey, listen. We'd love to have
another Vita dev kit." And we said, "Okay, we'll put the request in." And
little did they know we had already shipped it out and they got it by 10:00
A.M. the next day. So being able to just really be there for them, being a
phone call away to be able to support them.
You mentioned waiving
fees for some indie developers and providing extra assistance. How do you
decide who gets that extra help?
We haven't charged a patch fee to any independent developer
in the last three years, so that sort of defines our process quite well. It's
really about what the makeup of the team is, right? Obviously for a big
project, when it's a big huge patch that's going to involve a ton of testing,
then it's something that we obviously have to apply a lot of resources, but for
many of the smaller titles then we have the ability to waive those.
Coming Up Next: Boyes explains what the PS4 will offer independent developers...
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