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Close encounters with console indie execs, part 1: PlayStation's Adam Boyes

What are the tastes, backgrounds and game industry experience of some of the biggest decision-makers at major console companies? We find out, starting with PlayStation's Adam Boyes.

Brandon Sheffield

April 23, 2014

14 Min Read

What are the tastes, backgrounds and experience of some of the biggest decision-makers at major console companies? Developer and senior contributor Brandon Sheffield inquires, starting with PlayStation's Adam Boyes. In the early days of the indie resurgence, the big publishers were still figuring out what to do with us. It was a bit of a Wild West of publishing agreements, with business models up to debate, and decisions made by large committee. Things have settled down a bit now (though things are sometimes still done that way), and now all the big three console makers have a representative they put in front of the indie crowd. There's Adam Boyes, leading Sony's initiative, Chris Charla, who heads ID@Xbox, and Dan Adelman, who is Nintendo's indie evangelist. Collectively, they're the face of the indie console space. They're all industry veterans with a strong dose of that independent spirit, and we know they help indies make their way to console (and hopefully fabulous riches), but what do we know about them really? This series of articles aims to find out what makes these three indie platform leaders tick, and not just when it comes to games. It's good to remember that, while they may seem like they're just the gatekeepers of content, all these folks are humans, with varying interests and quirks. If all goes well, we'll bring some of that humanity to light here, as we ask them a series of questions that are more about personal taste than corporate policy. We begin this series with Sony head of publisher relations Adam Boyes, primarily because he was the first to respond to our query. Full disclosure: Sony has funded two of my own projects, Gunhouse, and Oh, Deer!, and Microsoft is funding Gunhouse's transition to Windows Phone through their AppCampus program. But these are personal questions after all, I'm not exactly playing hardball with anyone here. It would be difficult to play favorites even if I wanted to. Boyes is a Canadian bad boy who has worked everywhere from EA to Capcom, before landing at Sony as vice president of publisher and development relations. Our most recent interaction was on our respective ways back to our respective hotels after a night of GDC weirdness. He was fumbling with a plastic bag full of snacks. After a brief salutation, I noticed there were some people I didn't want to talk to approaching. So we ducked into an alley and shared all the GDC gossip for about an hour, at 3 a.m. on a work night. If you're wondering whether Sony is devoted to indies, that's a fair piece of your answer right there, considering I have not made Sony a dollar in my life. Wait, I'll do you one better -- after our talk, he pulled out a Snickers from his bag. "Hey man, you want this?" he says. I was feeling rather famished, and the hour was late. "I couldn't possibly," I said. "Do I look like I need it?" he offered. I took the Snickers, and the next morning, when I woke up late for my own day of the conference (the Career Seminar - come next year!), I was grateful for it. What other C-level exec will give you a Snickers bar at 3 a.m.? I ask you. This Boyes character, then -- who is he? Why does he love Canada so much? Let's see if we can't figure it all out.

Starting with the basics, where did you grow up?

I grew up in Abbotsford, B.C. Canada, a smaller town about an hour outside of Vancouver that is known as the Berry Capital of Canada. It's also known for the Abbotsford Airshow.

What games did you most enjoy as a youngster?

I have a younger brother, so many of my fondest memories were us playing games together. Since we were always fighting (as brothers do), we had many contentious battles in Pro Wrestling or Ice Hockey for NES. The games we loved playing together were Contra, Bubble Bobble, Battletoads, stuff like that. With bigger single player games, we would watch each other and help each other out – King’s Quest, Space Quest, and even [gasps] Leisure Suit Larry. I got my dad pretty hooked on King’s Quest 3, and I remember he played for 20 hours straight and finished it overnight.

"I switched to computer science, realized I was terrible at calculus and high-end computational math, so I switched to business."

My dad ran his own company, so we convinced him to buy some ‘high end’ machines, and set up a serial cable LAN connection to play Rise of The Triad with neighborhood kids. It got so popular that we would charge them $1 for five matches and made a bit of money doing that. Pre-internet, my brother and I also ran a bulletin board system from my dad’s company fax machine phone line. It was called "The Savage BBS." We played tons of games on there -- Legend of the Red Dragon, Barren Realms Elite, and tons more. At the arcades, my favorite games as a youngster were Gauntlet, 720, and Dragon’s Lair. I was never good at the latter two, but I would watch other kids play for hours. I remember spending $25 one day playing Gauntlet for three hours straight… and the closest arcade to my house was over an hour away in Birch Bay, Washington. Not a ton of arcades in Abbsotsford, which was a shame.

And how did you go from berries to running Sony's indie/publisher relations?

I’ve always liked video games since I can remember, but strangely didn’t dive into computer science until later in my life. I was good at chemistry in high school, so when I enrolled in university I thought that was what I should do. I switched to computer science, realized I was terrible at calculus and high-end computational math, so I switched to business. I got into the industry as a QA tester at EA Canada back in 1996 – left my job at Costco to pursue my dreams. I loved working at EA – met some incredible people, and learned a ton about game development from the QA side. After about four years moving my way up to lead tester, I ended up leaving during the dot-com boom to go to a startup in Vancouver. That lasted about a year before the bust happened, and then I moved to Dublin, Ireland to work for a year and a half at another web startup. I came back to Canada in 2002 and worked for Corel for a short stint. After being bored to tears in the tech sector, I rejoined the fold.

"The first big project I shipped [at Capcom] was Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix. Man, I loved our huge game names there."

My first project back in gaming was NHL Hitz Pro, working at Next Level Games in Vancouver. It was great because it was a startup studio, and we were working on a hockey game to boot! After that project wrapped, I was offered a job as an associate producer at Midway (who published NHL Hitz Pro) on the sequel, and be based in Chicago. I took the job, and when I arrived in Chicago they canceled the NHL project and put this small-town Canadian boy on America’s Favorite Pastime, baseball. I worked on Slugfest: Loaded and then moved on to work on Blitz: The League. When Blitz shipped, our studio head left to join Capcom as VP of product development. He called me one day and asked if I would move to California and run product development under him, and it was a no-brainer. I’ve been a Capcom fanboy my entire life, so it was a huge honor to take that job. Our number one goal was to make sure we didn’t screw up our childhood dreams, and the first big project I shipped there was Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix. Man, I loved our huge game names there. After shipping 20-plus games in four years, I wanted to try things on my own terms, so I started my own company in 2010 called Beefy Media. It was a video game production company, and we teamed up with The Weinstein Company, MGM, and other companies to bring their IPs to the games space. We worked with lots of indies, shipped mobile games, and it gave me an amazing perspective of what it’s like to be out on your own. It was a great run, and from Robocop Avatars to a Sour Patch Kids video game, I learned a ton. In 2012, I sold the company and joined SCEA as the VP of publisher and developer relations.

I've heard about those weird testing rituals in the early days of EA - do you think these were in any way useful?

Thinking back to those early days, it was the Wild West. When I started, we only had one or two PCs per testing team, so you would have to write your bugs on a notepad, then you had 30 minutes at the end of the day to type your bugs up and save them onto a 3.5 inch floppy disc, and submit them to the assistant lead tester to enter into the database. No real internet back then. So crazy to think about.

"Another bug we tested was in FIFA games for PC. We would roll a soccer ball over the keyboard, and it would crash half of the time on the title screen. We couldn’t reproduce that bug without the soccer ball."

We developed some pretty weird rituals for testing. I remember a couple of shipped bugs – in NBA Live ’98 for PC, if you created over 2,000 players, the simulation for a full season caused a crash that happened 100 percent of the time. I remember being told that they were shipping with that bug, and I was flabbergasted. Looking back, it was such a stupid thing for me to get angry about… How many people are going to do that back then? Another bug we tested was in FIFA games for PC. We would roll a soccer ball over the keyboard, and it would crash half of the time on the title screen. We couldn’t reproduce that bug without the soccer ball, and so we would write up the bug and the dev team probably thought we were on drugs. We also used to do tons of bizarre food challenges – cheeseburger challenge, soy sauce challenge, Slurpee challenge, mayo packet challenges… so bizarre. The thing I’m most proud about is where all of our old original QA team members ended up. You’ve got one guy that went on to be the creative director at 343, another was running Relic, another was the president of Lucasarts, many of them started up successful companies… all from our humble QA beginnings.

You talk about Canada a lot. What's so great about that place, anyway?

The people, the nature, the beer, the hockey, the video game scene. Too many things to list – I feel like growing up in Canada provided me with a ton of advantages later in life. My inherent need to apologize comes to mind, and my constant stress of being the redheaded stepchild of the world. The best advice I have to anyone that wants to understand Canada better watch these four movies: Strange Brew, Canadian Bacon, Fubar, and Trailer Park Boys: The Movie.

What's your favorite city in the world, then? I know you've lived in a few!

This is a tough one – I’ve had the privilege in living in many cities around the world – Vancouver, Dublin, Chicago, San Francisco, but I don’t like picking a favorite. It’s a cop-out answer, but each one has incredible aspects about them, and drawbacks as well. If I had to move my family to a new place, it would be a toss-up between Austin and Montreal if it was North America. If you are a sports fan, Chicago is amazing, and the Midwestern people have the best attitudes I have ever interacted with. For nature, you can’t beat Vancouver. You are one hour away from surfing, skiing, hiking, sailing, and some of the most incredible sights in the world. It’s so expensive to live there though… and San Francisco has some incredible restaurants and is on the cutting edge of tech, which can be fun when you are on trails for new services like Uber. Love those perks of living in the Bay Area.

As a game-oriented father, how do you decide what games to let your kids play?

As a gaming father I’m super protective of what my kids play. We’ve played Skylanders, Disney Infinity, Mickey Mouse Castle of Illusion, and Duck Tales. We play Runner 2 (which my daughter nicknames the Jump Jump game). Rogue Legacy, Thomas was Alone, and recently my daughter started watching me play League of Legends (but I can only play as Annie who summons a huge teddy bear). They love grabbing the controllers and pretending to play co-op, but they are still pretty young for analog sticks. They do great with touch games on the Vita or iPad.

What music have you been listening to lately?

Primarily I listen to Pandora, and flip between four stations depending on my mood. Seed artist: Macklemore and Ryan Lewis usually digs up newer hip hop. I have a Kool Moe Dee channel for the throwback jams. Jurassic 5 for funky hip hop, and Cee Lo’s Forget You is a great party mix seed song when we are entertaining guests at home. Growing up I mostly listened to hip hop, went through a big grunge phase, and I’ve always appreciated Golden Oldies as well. I’ve got a pretty big appreciation for music, since I played trombone in high school for many years, as well as a short stint as a DJ in my 20s.

Okay, list time. What are your favorite games from the last year? And what did you like about them?

Too many to list! I’ll break some of the highlights into categories: Tension – Last of Us. I’ve never felt more stressful or had a more intense video game experience than that one. The minute I finished the game, I started over in Survivor difficulty just to stress myself out even more. Compulsion – Rogue Legacy. The goal to earn more coins each run was one of the most addictive things that I’ve encountered in the past few years. The whole concept of playing as your heir is too damn smart. Laughs – Octodad. I haven’t had my kids more transfixed on a video game than Octodad. They are youngsters (2 and 4) but man oh man were they hooked watching me play. And everything in that game makes me laugh. Young Horses is brilliant. Peer Pressure – Candy Crush. My wife started playing, and I would help her get past some levels… then I downloaded it and got sucked in. Epic – GTA 5. What an incredibly huge and amazing game. When I get bored with one character, I switch to the next and I’m satiated. If I ever get bored, hop online to have my head exploded in seven seconds.

Let's have your five best bars in the world, next. And tell me why you like them!

1) Fado Irish Pub in Chicago. Met my wife for the first time there. 2) Temple Bar in Dublin. Yes, there is a Temple Bar area in Dublin, but there is a Temple Bar in Temple Bar. If you catch it during a late afternoon (not around the weekends when it’s rife with tourists) it’s a little slice of Irish heaven. 3) Black Angel Pub in Prague. They do these amazing cocktails with Nitrogen frozen cubes of booze. They do an absinthe infused drink called ‘Penecillin’ that is amazing. The whole place is ornate and goes underground like a high-end cocktail dungeon. 4) U Sudu pub in Prague. This is the trippiest bar I’ve ever been to in my life. It used to be a small community hundreds of years ago, and has caves after caves that you go down into. It’s something right out of a medieval hobbit dream – there are bars and sub-bars as you go deeper into the depths. 5) Het Elfde Gebod in Antwerp, Belgium. This place is packed with religious knick-knacks and sits in the shadow of the huge cathedral in the main square in Antwerp. Amazing beers here – some incredible Belgium Dubbel and Tripel beers. Highly recommend the La Trappe Quadrupel!

Real important one now: Which system has the most bits, PS4, Wii U, or Xbox One? This will strongly affect my purchase choice.

Straight trollin'. Front page cover image credit: AFP

About the Author(s)

Brandon Sheffield


Brandon Sheffield is creative director of Necrosoft Games, former editor of Game Developer magazine and gamasutra.com, and advisor for GDC, DICE, and other conferences. He is a member of the insert credit podcast, and frequently participates in game charity bundles and events.

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