August 23, 2013 11:03 AM | Staff
Short of actually timing it, it feels reasonable to say that half of Sony's Gamescom presentation focused on indie developers.
Whether it was videos with the likes of Derek Yu (Spelunky) and Mike Bithell (Thomas Was Alone) singing the praises of working on Sony's platforms, or the announcement of thechineseroom's new game, Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, indies were more prominent in Sony's press conference than they have ever been in any first-party showing to date.
One of the main people responsible for this at Sony is Adam Boyes, who heads up the company's publisher-developer relations teams. Sister site Gamasutra spoke to him at Gamescom in Cologne, Germany to find out more about Sony's strategy moving forward.
"It's a thing, it's an official thing," says Boyes of Sony's push to bring indie talent to its platforms. "Last night, I feel like we got to tell a little bit more of the developers' story."
If Steam exists, why go Sony?Boyes understands that many of these games will be available elsewhere -- notably on PC, in many cases far earlier than on PS4 or Vita -- but that as a console platform holder, Sony can give them a lift.
"I've played all these games that have come out on Steam, on Steam. I've found out about them from friends." Sony has "the ability to elevate titles," says Boyes.
"The important thing is that we want to create a story around this," says Boyes, which offers "awareness and discoverability" for games that people would miss if they don't use Steam. Even if he may be fighting competitors for games -- he is well aware that Microsoft announced its ID@Xbox indie program this week. For his part, Boyes says that he wouldn't want to be starting his next-gen outreach now.
Strengthening Sony's Developer RelationsBoyes' main concern seems to be making sure Sony's program is strong, for developers of all sizes. Listening to indies, says Boyes, has made Sony more capable of addressing the needs of all developers. "What indies give me personally is an honest insight into their everyday plights," he says. "It helps us evolve our platform more quickly."
"I strongly feel like if we're catering to indies and making their lives better, everybody's life gets better."
Publishers were hesitant to give honest feedback about bureaucracy within Sony's publishing system, because they were entrenched in the Sony publishing machine.
Prior to Sony, Boyes was at Capcom. "I was on the other side when we had to go through these concept processes, and I remember getting these reports, and our team looking at me, going, 'What is this? We have to respond to these shenanigans?' And we'd need to figure out the most politically-correct way to respond to it."
Boyes killed that concept approval process earlier this year.
When he came on at Sony, Boyes "started talking to the stakeholders around the globe, going, 'Why do we do this? What is the benefit to developers?'" Changing process from within is easy, he says, when he makes this case: "Gamers benefit if it's easier to get content out there."
Becoming a service companyMajor studios have a great deal of input into the decisions Sony is making, too -- the PS4 controller's suitability for shooters is also thanks to feedback from the likes of Infinity Ward and Bungie.
Boyes' team is working with these major studios to help ensure a smooth launch for their PlayStation 4 games. "We've been up to Seattle to meet with Bungie on a regular basis," he says. "We've been meeting with the Ubisoft Montreal team -- we've had a bunch of guys from Japan meeting with them... [on] everything, to help them through the process."
The company is also starting a series of roadshows "to roll out best practices" in front of developer partners, which helps "build a nice cadence to be able to help inform our partners."
"In general, in the past, we saw ourselves more of a platform," says Boyes. Sony made hardware, and developers made games on it. Now, things have changed: "We're transitioning to more of a service company."
Sony's aim with its revamped processes is "breaking down the walls, so the conversation between the gamers and the developers is as thin as possible, so they can have that direct conversation," says Boyes. "The goal is to have that really intimate relationship with gamer and developer. That's the master goal. We're just getting warmed up on the changes and improvements."
His goal with developers and publishers is to "treat them real," he says. "If you don't have that accountability with your partners, you can't be successful because it's going to get out. If people feel emotionally betrayed, then they are going to talk about it, and no NDA can prevent emotional betrayal."
Improving communication within SonyFinally, Boyes is also is helping to streamline the communication channels within Sony so developers can be routed to the right person. For example, Worldwide Studios signs exclusive games, like Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, and it also runs the incubation program that gave rise to Thatgamecopany (Journey) and Giant Sparrow (The Unfinished Swan). But Boyes wants to make it easy for developers, who don't have a clear view into Sony's silos, to easily be guided to the right contacts to discuss their projects.
"We've been trying to streamline that communication line, so they understand who they're talking to." And there's another side to it, too: Sony is communicating with itself. "There's a lot more internal communication," says Boyes, and he and Scott Rohde, software product development head for Sony Worldwide Studios America, speak about games and developers frequently.
Boyes also brought 11 members of his team to Europe for Gamescom to meet with Sony Europe to share information on process improvements across regions, he told us.
The PlayStation 4 is scheduled for launch on November 15th for the U.S. and November 29th for Europe. Launch dates in other territories, such as Japan, have not yet been announced.
[Christian Nutt wrote this article for sister site Gamasutra]