Q&A: The latest on PlayStation dev relations, with Sony's Adam Boyes

Sony has emphasized a commitment to make players happy -- but in order to get there, PlayStation needs to keep developers happy. We talk to SCEA's VP of developer relations, Adam Boyes.
Ever since the unveiling of PlayStation 4, Sony has gone to lengths to stress that PlayStation's focus is on making players happy. But in order to reach that goal, the company has consistently acknowledged that it has to make game developers happy first. Adam Boyes, with Sony Computer Entertainment America, has been one of the people at the center of PlayStation's developer-facing initiatives as VP of developer and publisher relations. His hands are on all Sony platforms, from PlayStation TV to PS4 to the Morpheus VR prototype. Here is an edited interview from E3 2014, where Boyes talks about developer outreach, paid alphas, and retail hardware as dev kits.

Sony's indie strategy: Can you describe how that has evolved over the past year, since we saw those nine indies on Sony's stage at E3 2013?

I think the evolution has really been the amount of outreach. The year-one strategy was to inform as many developers as possible about our policies, and doing as much outreach as possible so they all know [what we're doing]. Year two is basically continuing that. We have more and more developers graduating from college or migrating from mobile development, so need to continue the education phase. The policies are still very open. Anyone can still self-publish, that's a very important thing. We're still loaning out dev kits, that's not been a problem. We're even stronger now that Unity's in a better place for PS3, PS4 and PS Vita. And now obviously with Unreal having a lower barrier with subscriptions, there's just a lot more opportunities now for developers. There's also Game Maker and Monogame, which are both big deals. In general, there are more opportunities to get onto the platform, and take less time to do it.

Has PlayStation staffed up with more people to reach out to developers since a year ago?

It's grown by a handful, I think. But it's mostly about making our processes better. I think what we've made massive progress in the first year and a half of trying to make things better. But there's still some "manual" processes -- some filing of paperwork. We actually have an internal process group called "M.O.L.T.", which is "minimize operating lead-time." And that is all about what else we can be doing. Can we do click-throughs? Can we do propagations? Can we do sales reports directly to the developer? We're just trying to make ourselves more efficient and continually making developers' jobs' easier. Nobody wants to get stuck in a process.

How automated, or how open, is Sony willing to make this relationship with developers. Microsoft talked about turning the Xbox One into a dev kit eventually. The PS Vita already is. Is that something you've considered within Sony [for PS4]?

We're always looking at different ways to make life easier. There's no stone unturned for what we can do. We're having conversations. We have a global strike team, plus an SCEA strike team, who are in charge of trying to figure out how to look at what's happening with early alpha access, or paid betas -- which we've allowed before with Dust 514. Even with our own product, PlayStation Now is going into open beta at the end of July. We're always looking at ways to make it easier and more accessible. That's one of my remits -- trying to find out where the barriers of entry are, where are people getting jammed up, because not everyone has a dev kit, and we want to make development as easy as possible down the road.

The Early Access games on Steam -- I'm just really drawn to them. You go to Steam's top-sellers chart and you'll see the top seller is a broken-ass game called The Forest, but it's still really good, and you can see the vision come through. How early on in the development phase is Sony willing to put something out there. Would Sony release a game at "alpha 0.1" in a special section on the PlayStation Store, for sale?

That’s one of the massive conversations we have internally -- that, at what point does [a game meet standards of release]? We still at some point ensure that we're being mindful of the consumer. We don't want somebody to stumble across that title and expect a full product, and have a negative experience. At the same time, I'm like you -- I want to help bootstrap people, to bootstrap them, to help them out. Like supporting the underdog for a sports team.

Except the underdog is at the top of the Steam charts!

Which is amazing! That's the thing -- we live in a different world. There are different types of people. There people who always back games, enjoy Kickstarters, try things that they know aren't finished but are willing to help make better. I remember playing Rust and laughing hysterically. And there were some things that weren't finished, but I had a ton of fun. It was super intense.

Dude, we can just talk about Rust for a while.

[We proceed to talk about Rust for a while]

So anyhow, any hints as to how early [into a game's development] will developers be able to sell a game on PlayStation?

Honestly, we're working through that right now. We're figuring out what's ok. We obviously have our tech requirement checklist that people have to adhere to. So we're internally discussing, what does that list look like this? What are the caveats? Stuff like this. So it's still a project that a lot of minds are considering. No details yet, but it's something on the top of my mind every day.

At your E3 press conference, you led with Destiny, followed by The Order. Then you had the student-developed game Entwined. There wasn't a special spotlight specifically on nine indies, for example. Everything is mixed together. Is there a concerted effort internally at Sony to blur the line between what's "indie" and "triple-A," and just present and sell them as "games"?

It's funny that you say that, because [looking back at the show], everything really was all blurred together. I think that's really about the creative vision side of things. It seems that people expected another "Indie 9." How do you one-up yourselves then? Maybe bunkbeds, so there's 18! We talked a lot about that, but what important was to show the creative vision, whether it's Abzu or Broforce or No Man's Sky or The Talos Principle. There's something for everyone. Some people only love triple-A, some only love indie, but most gamers love a little bit of everything. So at E3, it was about showing stuff that we think will move the needle.

How involved are you with VR, and connecting developers with Morpheus hardware?

That's part of my remit. Our goal is to try to get developers who are interested access to the hardware so they can try it out and mess around with it. Obviously, there is a finite number of development kits. So we always tell developers to reach out if you're interested, then we'll sort of get you in the process of getting you one. There's been a lot of demos that people have come in to show us. Especially if they're working on a game that's in Unity or Unreal, it's really easy for them to bring them over because they're PS4-friendly. Morpheus is also working in a PC development environments as well.

Do you have an idea of how many developers actually have a Morpheus development kit right now?

I'm not sure exactly. Over 100, hundreds right now, all over the world? After we showed it at GDC, we were cautiously optimistic, but the feedback after GDC was extremely positive. So our goal is to make sure people who are really interested in it and want to make something and bring it out on PlayStation, then we can help them out on that.

When you're working with developers, what's the most common issue developers run into when working to get their games onto Sony platforms?

The first is obviously, is their engine compatible -- what challenges are there around that? Getting developers up to speed [to develop on PlayStation], making the registration process much easier. TRCs are challenging to developers, especially to ones who haven't made games for consoles before. But we're always there to help.

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