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Adam Boyes is the vice president of publisher relations at Sony Computer Entertainment America. His job is to convince developers to publish third-party games on Sony’s PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita game machines. Last week, he showed up on a panel at the Casual Connect game conference in Seattle, where he was recruiting casual game developers to Sony’s game platforms.
His presence shows that Sony is embracing the new social, mobile, and online side of the game industry. And that makes sense, considering that Boyes’ predecessor, Rob Dyer, is now the head of third-party publishing at Zynga.
Boyes used to be on the other side of the conversation. He is a 15-year veteran of the game business and former director of production at Capcom USA. He most recently served as president of Beefy Media, a video game production house he founded. He also worked in executive producer roles at Midway on titles like MLB Slugfest: Loaded, NHL Hitz: Pro, and Blitz: The League.
We caught up with Boyes in Seattle. Here’s an edited transcript of our talk.
GamesBeat: I’ve been coming to Casual Connect for a few years, and I’ve never seen a Sony person recruiting developers here — at least not on stage. That’s something new.
Adam Boyes: I’ve been coming here for many years. I don’t know if Sony has because I’m the new guy. I think it’s a new message, too. I’ve been with the company now for three months, and my background is more product development. I’ve worked with developers very closely, both at Capcom and previously. Getting to the roots and talking to the people who are making the content is always a big focus. And then also getting the word out on the fact that developers can publish their own content on the platform, which I don’t think a lot of people understand. Trying to get that word out, too.
GamesBeat: You get a different kind of developer here, too.
GamesBeat: Not the kind that’s traditionally being recruited for console titles.
Boyes: Traditionally, yeah. But if we look at tradition, the traditional publishing model has changed quite a bit, too. Back in the PlayStation 2 days and the PlayStation Portable days, you had to be a full-blown publisher to get your content out to stores. Now we have the PlayStation Network and other digital destinations where people can purchase content.
GamesBeat: Is that a bigger priority, then?
Boyes: I think we see a lot of passion about development in different places, then. We’ve got some free-to-play games on Vita already, with MotorStorm RC and with Montezuma Blitz. We’re making a move into PlayStation Mobile too. I think, in general, getting out to speak with developers, whatever conference it is, is important for the PlayStation ecosystem.
GamesBeat: The one thing that seems like a big difference compared to iOS or Facebook is how frequently your developers can do updates and embrace the analytics model that works so well in social games — where people do their testing, tweak the design, and upload a change via a fast update process.
Boyes: I think we’re pretty open to being able to patch content and add content. As long as it’s data. The challenge is always when it’s an executable; then it’s a full submission. As far as patching small parts of data, we have some partners that patch multiple times through the life cycle. If they’ve installed the right sort of tools and tech on the back end to be able to monitor analytics, then they can patch data on a regular basis.
GamesBeat: That’s been a sticking point in the past with different platforms. Has that been freshly addressed?
Boyes: I think that’s part of the evolution. Originally, we had a different policy on free to play. Now we have free-to-play content and microtransactions. We used to have certain requirements for publishing. Now we have none for developers to publish other content. You have to go through the process of submitting for concept approval, but all of these things are things that have naturally evolved over the console life cycle. We’re evolving more than ever now because the industry is evolving.
GamesBeat: How many digital games are there now? Are you going to dramatically increase that?
Boyes: Obviously, PlayStation Store is newer than PlayStation as a brand. So the focus is to continually allow our partners to put their content out there, both digitally and at retail. We’ve seen great performance from digital downloads, both with PlayStation Store on Vita and with PlayStation Network. So it’s going to continue to be a focus.
GamesBeat: Isn’t there still a distinction between a curated platform and one where it’s published completely freely? Like the iPhone or Android?
Boyes: The PlayStation brand has become synonymous with high-quality content. But our concept approval process is very light in comparison to what it was in the PS one and PlayStation 2 days. Again, because it’s a different type of developer. If you look at Shawn McGrath and Dyad, those are the kinds of games we like. We weren’t able to tell that story 10 years ago on PS2. So it’s cool that we can work directly with developers and allow them the ability to put their content out there.
GamesBeat: Big Fish Games announced their cloud-gaming service with casual games at $8 a month. That’s getting interesting.
Boyes: Interesting. For us, PlayStation Plus is a great example of something where people can get a bunch of great pieces of content on a rolling monthly basis. We see that as a big value proposition to gamers out there: to be able to play big, chunky, meaty games. Once you download them within that month, it’s on your system until you delete it. I think that’s a great differentiator for our platform.
GamesBeat: Do you look forward to Sony exploiting Gaikai in some way? Will that help your mission, as well?
Boyes: We haven’t really talked about anything to do with the Gaikai deal. We have cloud saves — we have cloud updates right now — but there’s nothing more to talk about.
GamesBeat: How much change do you want to embrace? You look at it and you say, “This is just not us,” or, “This is just not our place.” When people ask that, what is the answer?
Boyes: I think people’s perception of an open platform versus a very closed platform is definitely changing. If you look at back in the Genesis and SNES days, people forget that the PlayStation was the one that came along and allowed people to be a lot more free. I think it’s all come full circle now, as we come upon the sixth year of the PlayStation 3 console and we’re continuing to evolve our policies and improve the openness of the platform. I think we’ve done a great job of evolving policies and the platform and allowing these guys to have a direct path to the consumer.
I’m a big believer in allowing the consumer to have a direct conversation with the developer, so they can have a back-and-forth. What we’ve been doing around Pub Fund is a great example of that with Dyad and Papa & Yo, which is coming soon. And then even on the first party with Journey and Unfinished Swan. I think there are a lot of examples in the Sony ecosystem, both in the first-party and the third-party, where we’ve already been changing and evolving our platform quite a bit.
GamesBeat: It sounds like Jussi Laakkonen of Applifier wants you to go this extra step of having Sony work with a developer that was more doing a game as a service — a continuously updated game. Is that something for the future? Is that something you can do now?
Boyes: Especially when we look at PlayStation Network, we have DC Universe Online, and the one I’m really jazzed about, Dust 514 — which is done by CCP Games. And that ties into EVE Online; plus, they have a Vita companion app. Those guys are the masters of a game as a service. So that partnership is a great one, and it’s going to show that we have the ability to work on these games-as-service types of content.
GamesBeat: Do you think that would be one where you would update daily, or would it be more like monthly updates…?
Boyes: I think it’s up to the developer. We work closely with the developer. It’s their vision. We’re never going to tell them to do it this way or that way. It’s up to them.
GamesBeat: That seems like it would be where the biggest challenge lies: just moving fast enough to accommodate how ever many developers want to move this way.
Boyes: Yeah. And it’s our job as a platform to continue to evolve as the market evolves. I think we have a lot of different storefronts, and a lot of different places for people to purchase content, so we’re evolving. I think we’re growing that capacity really quickly.
GamesBeat: How far do you think free to play is going to reach?
Boyes: Like I said, we’ve kicked it off with some Vita titles and with some PlayStation Network titles. It’s really up to our partners to bring more content from that world and that realm to our platform. We’re always looking for a broad set of content, and I think that’s a big focus in the industry. Historically, the breakdown of content available on our PlayStation platforms is representative of the breakdown of content that people are interested in. So we’ll have premium stuff, we’ll have free-to-play stuff, and we’ll have hybrid stuff, as well.
GamesBeat: Sony’s indie track record is pretty good. A lot of your successes have come from that front. How do you keep that alive?
Boyes: That’s more for our first-party group, based in Santa Monica, Foster City, and San Diego. They’ve done a phenomenal job working closely with developers on Journey, Unfinished Swan, the PixelJunk games. That’s more of a question for those guys. I’m the new guy, so I look back and I admire all the stuff they’re doing because they’re just crushing it. They know how to get great content out of developers, and that’s phenomenal. Sound Shapes for Vita…. On our side, the third-party side, with the Pub Fund, whether it’s Guacamelee with the Drinkbox guys…. Our philosophy is we’ve built a grant system with Pub Fund where we basically do an advance against royalties. We find that some developers want to do what they’re going to do, and what that does is it softens the blow when they submit it. It gets approved, they get their money advanced to them, and that allows them the freedom to do it on their schedule. There are successes on both sides. But I’m just excited as a gamer for the great amount of content that’s coming to the platform and has been successful.
GamesBeat: Is there more flexibility now for a publisher to embrace, in order to get developers these days? There seem to be so many different platforms to pull developers in. Especially with, say, five mobile game developers self-funding a title for iOS. That seems to be the path of least resistance. How do you squawk louder than anyone else? Saying, “Hey, come on over here to my platform”?
Boyes: It’s a great point. If you have a finite number of developers, it isn’t easy. Now we have mobile and social in the mix. You absolutely need to tell a more compelling story. The compelling story that we feel we have is we bring gamers that are rabid about content. It’s a certain type of people who come to our platform looking for content. [When] people fire up their PlayStation, when they fire up their Vita, when they’re playing a PlayStation Mobile game, they’re looking for what PlayStation brings to the table. That’s great, compelling content. So we feel like we rise above that discussion. If you look at a lot of the other players, they’re not focused on games first and foremost. Right now, to get your game on PlayStation 3, it’s three button presses. With other consoles it could take 10 or 15, especially when you look at a lot of devices out there that do multiple things. PlayStation is a gaming machine first and foremost. It does all kinds of awesome great stuff, but at the same time, when people fire it up, they know what they’re getting. That’s what excites us.
GamesBeat: How do you deal with the perception that the PS3 console is nearing the end of its life, and that maybe they should wait or postpone any PlayStation title?
Boyes: I’m not seeing a lot of that in our partner discussions. We have more users than we’ve ever had. We have over 100 million accounts worldwide. We have very robust fans. It’s the lowest price it’s ever been. There’s more content available. I’m excited that we’re still at this point in the life cycle, and there’s still great, compelling content. The announcements we did at E3 with The Last of Us and Beyond: Two Souls — I think that’s the kind of stuff that people don’t expect, but it still shows that we’re still relevant, and people are excited to see the content. I think the most important thing for us is just for people to understand that we’ve got a platform where developers can bring their content to the marketplace on their terms. All they need to do is get licensed, and they can bring their content out on our platform. We want to get as many developers excited about the platform as we have consumers that are excited about it.