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Sony's Adam Boyes On The Importance Of Indies

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 smaller studios.



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 the hardware.

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 regular basis.


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 far?

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 stay competitive.

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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