'Evolving every day' - Sony's approach to working with indies

Sony's Adam Boyes explains how the platform holder hopes to attract "really art-house stuff" to PlayStation Network via its Pub Fund program, and lays out the way in which the publisher works with indies.
Sony has earned a reputation for funding daring indie games -- especially lately. Dyad and Papo & Yo, in particular, have picked up plaudits in recent weeks. Of course, this is not an accident, says Sony's Adam Boyes. Boyes is the vice president of publisher and developer relations for SCEA. Installed in his job for around four months, he's heading up the company's push to find indies -- and fund them -- via its Pub Fund initiative. While that's not the only part of his job, which also includes overseeing relationships with the U.S. triple-A publishing industry and external developers of all sizes around the globe, Boyes considers indies an important part of the Sony landscape. "We’re always looking for things that people wouldn’t be able to do normally. Like, really art-house stuff," says Boyes. "We really want to feature them, and have an artful platform for people to put content out on." As a gamer, he says, "I’m fine with paying $10, $15, $20 for something and realizing the creator has put their heart and soul into something." That, essentially, is what Boyes looks for. "If it’s awesome, that’s sort of the first qualifier," he says. "If it’s something that really sets itself apart from what else is out there," that "always stacks higher."

How it Works

Once Sony gets interested in a game -- which could be all-new, or could have appeared on other platforms before, though that isn't as attractive to the Pub Fund team -- the first step is to get the developer licensed by Sony. Unlike with Xbox Live Arcade, licensed indie developers can self-publish on Sony platforms. Rather than a publishing relationship, "Pub Fund is more of an incentive," says Boyes. "It’s kind of like a grant to get people that are interested in getting on the platform." Sony does not function as a publisher in the Pub Fund scenario; it simply funds the projects Boyes and his team believe in. "So, we find a developer, we find a project, they pitch it to us, we say, 'Hey, we like it.' And then we pay them upon completion, advanced against the royalties," says Boyes. Developers, in fact, are responsible for securing their own funding until the project is completed. Sony pays when the master version of the game is submitted. "Why we really like the model [is] because, basically, once we recoup, we go to the traditional model that they would be getting with their self-publishing," says Boyes. He notes that since it's not a publishing model, Sony does not make any claims on developers' IP, either.

The Financing Question

Of course, since Sony doesn't pay until completion, developers are responsible for their own funding up to that point. "I’ve heard stories of teams taking that to, basically, the local banks, and getting that money advanced against that," says Boyes. The company is also willing to work with developers who got going with Kickstarter -- "if a game gets Kickstartered, chances are people are excited about it," says Boyes -- or who self-funded their whole project but just need help at the end. "As a matter of fact, I had a meeting this morning where there was a team of guys that had self-funded for two years," he says. Boyes was frank about what sort of funding developers might expect from the company. "What we usually say is $500,000, U.S., is sort of the ceiling. We have the ability to go over, but really that’s the top one." But the company, he says, is "hands-off" during development. "We see a concept, we believe in the developer, and then basically we check in once in a while, but there’s no heavy, hands-on interaction with them. It allows them to take their own journey," he says. There are no deadlines set by Sony, either, as it pays upon completion.

What Sony Does

Sony will also work with Pub Fund developers to get them dev kits. "Our group works very closely with them to make sure they get all the stuff that they need," he says. It's worth noting also, that while Pub Fund is an SCEA initiative run out of California, Boyes' team works with developers around the globe, including the UK's Hello Games (Joe Danger). Sony also worked on co-marketing with Canada's ][ Games on Dyad, inviting Shawn McGrath to repeatedly post to Sony's official blog. The game was also mentioned at Sony's E3 press conference, Boyes notes. "We try to make the whole entire pathway easy for them and support [Pub Fund developers] in any way we can," says Boyes. "...there’s a myriad of things that we bring to the table to make it just more than a game on the platform, and really feature it." Boyes recently instituted a policy that waives patch fees for Pub Fund developers, recognizing that indies don't have the deep pockets of major publishers. "I think you guys will see a lot of really exciting announcements over the coming six months about different evolving policies that make things easier for our partners. Self-publishing was step one. Then waiving patch fees for our Pub Fund partners," says Boyes. "It’s important to us because developers are the gas in the engine, and that’s the important part we need to focus on: make their lives easier. Because, like I said before, there’s a lot of options these days, and we need to make sure that we’re evolving every day."

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