Where do indies fit in the next-gen?
The PlayStation 4 is launching by the end of this year, and with such massive launches, we wondered just where do indies fit in the grand scheme of things. At events like E3 of this year, Sony has talked about a big commitment to indie developers, not just on the PS3 and Vita, but on its next console too. But how does that all work behind the scenes? Thats what we asked Adam Boyes, VP of Publisher & Developer Relations for PlayStation.
He and the team at the Pub Fund have tried to create a welcoming atmosphere for indie development, and its hard to argue with some of the big names that have teamed with Sony under them. But how does it all work? And could indie games decide the next-gen console war? We asked Adam about all that and more in our exclusive interview.
How did you and Sonys move towards supporting indie development begin?
I started as a QA tester back in 1996 and eventually transitioned into production at Next Level Games working on NHL Hitz Pro, and a few projects at Midway, that started my interaction with platform holders like PlayStation. It gave me a lot of context on what it was like to work with them as an outsider. I then worked within the indie community via a job at Capcom and starting my own company, it gave me firsthand experience working with platform holders. And it left me saying, This isnt as simple as it should be for people to get their games out. Why is that? When I joined up with PlayStation I found a cadre of other people asking the same questions. So we joined forces to fight for good instead of evil.
It technically began when we allowed devs to self-publish when the PS3 launched, but it wasnt a focus of the brand. When we launched the Pub Fund four years ago, it was something a few people were interested in doing, but it wasnt a concerted effort. When I came on board, we had the people that cared deeply about this sort of content, and we were then able to invest a lot more in building that team out. And soon we found people interested in the other offices around the globe to make it a real global initiative.
How does the Pub Funds support indie development without impacting a teams independence?
We try to stay out of the way, with Pub Fund especially. Its their vision, their game, and thats the reason we got behind it. You know, they are the publisher in the end. We dont even manage their delivery dates. If they say theyre aiming for this area and end up six or nine months behind that, its no big deal because we dont want it out until its ready.
Weve heard these horror stories of where a developer is getting funded by someone else and are getting feedback that takes them away from, or compromises their vision. Pub Fund is really about elevating and allowing developers to find their own voice and amplify it as loud as possible.
What do you think this increased emphasis on indie titles brings to the PlayStation 4?
We think its a complete game changer. These were the people who were part of bigger teams that wanted to tell us how to improve the platform, but the team is so large its often hard to boil down what they want to improve. But weve found with the smaller teams that they have this complete honesty and transparency to tell you whats jamming up their development.
I think that direct feedback creates some best practices for all people making content. That open relationship evolves the platform far faster than when we asked these people who were being very polite to us.
Whats the difference between working with indie teams and the big publishers?
I cant say that a lot of the developers on a publishing team would use a lot of expletives when explaining how frustrated they are with something (laughs). If theyre having a hard time I ask whats going on, and This is whats jamming me up, instead of some formal email. And because Id previously had my open company that dealt with this kind of stuff from the outside, I completely understand going through that process.
Do you ever have any trouble balancing the business side of things with these indie titles?
Not really, because I have final approval on all these titles, so thats one thing that makes it easy. Sometimes theres trouble convincing others what the vision for a title is, but once they see it, thats when the creativity comes through and people get excited seeing the content.
And we realized something that I think the industry has taken a long time to realize. We understand that no one truly knows what people actually want. Theres no one purveyor of cool in the industry that can predict success. So its really about trying new things. Sometimes you try something that is so artistically out there, like Journey, that become a smash hit, and thats something I think you can really only find on PlayStation. Were willing, as a company, to take big risks on small things that a lot of people wouldnt believe in.
What difference do you think indie titles can make in the upcoming next-gen console war?
Well, we have those big, huge games that were super excited about, like I cant wait for Watchdogs or GTA V on PS3, but those things are representative of of stuff weve been seeing for some time. I think the indie community adds different levels of complexity, flare, and flavorto the platform that you dont usually see represented.
Its like, say, Quentin Tarentino as a creator couldnt exist without if films were all about pure blockbuster hits, and I think thats what we love for our games too. We want to see what those smaller creators can bring to the platform. I talk to people that spend 40 hours playing Thomas Was Alone, and they wouldnt be the same people that would fire up Call of Duty every night. I think that creates a situation where PS4 will have something for everyone.
When the PS4 was first shown, there was a lot of talk of developer feedback going into the system. Was that true for indie devs as well?
Yeah, when Mark Cerny was flying around the world interviewing developers, I was like, Its great that our platform is going to be more friendly, but what about our policies? And thats where I think weve seen a massive overhaul. We wanted to flip the table on what we had to make it much easier.
At one point we had even got some internal employees to go through the whole submission process. Those guys documented 64 different steps that involved, I think, three fax machines, two carrier pigeons, and a horse and carriage. So weve been continually making it easier, using a very active feedback loop, and were just getting started.