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Interview: Sony's Adam Boyes on the PS4 indie 'lovefest'

By Connor Sheridan on Thursday 1st May 2014 at 6:00 PM BST

Sony has been courting indies throughout the history of PlayStation 4 and PS Vita, but on Wednesday it finally proposed.

It held the engagement party the same night, at its PlayStation headquarters just outside of San Francisco. There Adam Boyes, VP of Developer and Publisher Relations, revealed that more than 1,000 developers are signed up to self-publish on the system. And Warframe, from independent studio Digital Extremes, is PS4's second-most downloaded app - beaten only by Netflix.

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Adam Boyes

Even if indie devs are the fashionable thing for console companies to be seen cavorting with these days, you have to admit that Sony made it happen.

They may not have been the first to discover these brilliant goofballs, but they were the first to give them their very own slick handheld to play around on - sorry Vita, Curve Studios knows it's true and so do you.

Is it a realistic long-term relationship? Can Sony hope to balance a multi-billion dollar business with the personalities that come up with names like Starwhal: Just the Tip?

Boyes thinks it can. We asked him how Sony expects to maintain a happy marriage with the independent community, and it turns out one of the oldest bits of wisdom still applies: always know when to shut up and let your partner do their thing.


CVG: Why are indie games important to PlayStation?

Adam Boyes: They're the heartbeat of the industry. Anyone that has an idea can bring it to market and put it out there and see what people think.

To me, that is the most important thing in this industry: sort of fostering creativity and new fresh ideas, and trying risky things, and stuff that big developers or big publishers maybe wouldn't try.

They're always taking risks and trying new things.

As triple-A costs and teams grow, do you see indie developers filling that middle ground?

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The funny thing is, the whole 'indie' term is changing so much. A lot of studios, like Gearbox is technically indie, Digital Extremes with Warframe is technically indie, but what they're doing is on a different sort of scale.

Warframe for us has been incredibly successful. And that's a great example of a studio that was doing some work-for-hire stuff, but is now the purveyor of their own destiny.

So I do think that there's a lot of small guys that are getting bigger. Some developers, like Capybara Games, are over 30 people. So they're making enough games, and Double Fine is another great example of really talented developers that are making great stuff.

"In the past that middle area was filled with licenses, because licenses equal discoverability"

People that used to be buying stuff that was that mid size I think are moving on to this new fresh stuff. Social media's played a massive role, because now we can tell people about things.

In the past that middle area was filled with licenses, because licenses equal discoverability. And now social media has infiltrated that and become our discoverable platform.

What does that mean for PlayStation?

For PlayStation it means a rich, diverse breadth of content. From the very top, big Call of Duty and Destiny and Battlefield and Maddens of the world, all the way to Starwhal: Just the Tip or Nidhogg.

These things are all extremely important to us because they all do different things. I always like to use the food analogy: some people want to sit down for a 15-course meal, and some people want to have a yummy bag of chips.

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I think all these games offer a different experience along that line.

How would you characterize PS4's indie presence at this point in its lifecycle compared to PS3, and PS Vita compared to PSP?

I think infinitely better. PS3, in the first six months - I don't know if there was any indie content at the time. Whereas we've had such a huge focus.

We got dev kits into indie developer's hands way, way early - a year, year and a half before the console launched - so they were able to look at it.

The fact that the PC architecture was similar to what they've used before on PCs and it wasn't as proprietary as PS3 also made it easy for them to bring their content and games over.

TowerFall alone took about eight weeks for them to port over. Octodad took eight or 10 weeks for them to bring over. So it's just making it easier for developers.

It's focused and we've removed a lot of the roadbocks to get the content out on the platform, and that's helped immensely because now people can get the games out there.

How would you describe Sony's role in the indie development community?

Hustlin'. I mean, we're very involved, I think. We care very deeply about it. We live it, and breathe it, and bleed it.

When we're with these people, these are our friends. These are people we respect, these are people we have dinners with and... I don't know, it's a lovefest.

It's really weird and hard to explain. But there's just a mutual understanding. They understand as a platform that we have to hit bottom lines and P and Ls [profit and loss figures] and all that stuff, but they see that we're more about the heart and soul of what they're doing.

"The day we aren't good at this... is the day that they'll tell the world and the gig will be up"

I think that then reciprocates. They feel the love and they feel like we're giving back to them, and then more of them want to come to the platform.

I always like to say when people ask, "Oh, is it just a shtick?" No, talk to the developers. I'll tell you what I feel and believe, but the reality of it is that it comes from them. The day that we aren't good at this, and the day that we are just blowing smoke, is the day that they'll tell the world and the gig will be up.

But in the meantime, we're absolutely leaning with our heart and soul into the indie movement.

Where would you like to be five years from now?

I would like [PlayStation] to be the easiest, most accessible place for anyone that's making great games to come out and have their games come to the broadest amount of people.

That's what PlayStation brings: a level of quality and a level of understanding that we can bring abroad massive people to your games, sort of like what we talked about with TowerFall selling more on PS4 than on Steam.

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We really think that brand affinity is very strong, and so we want to be able to create the biggest indie hug ever where as many people as possible are playing and trying these games out.

How do you balance indie developers' desire for self-determination with Sony's desire to present a coherent, friendly platform worldwide?

I think we mostly get out of the way, honestly; for us to facilitate the most of their content and their vision and to not get involved, to allow them to make crazy games that if you looked - when I was in the publishing world five years ago and I had a pitch, I would be like, "What? I don't even know what this is?!"

But now, games out there that get Kickstarted and are coming to market, we want to be able to facilitate them getting on the platform, and then bring focus to the great stuff for people to experience. That's really important to us.

This interview was conducted on CVG's behalf by Future's Sophia Tong.

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