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Sony kills concept approval, makes moves to get indies onto PS4
Sony kills concept approval, makes moves to get indies onto PS4 Exclusive
March 25, 2013 | By Christian Nutt




Tonight in San Francisco, Sony announced another indie PlayStation 4 game: Zombie's Studios' Blacklight: Retribution. The company also announced that popular parody fighting game Divekick, new puzzle game Metrico, from Digital Dreams, and Primal Carnage Genesis, from Lukewarm Media, are coming to its platforms. These games all come under its Pub Fund,

This news comes on top of further announcements that the company is making things easier for indie developers and big publishers alike. Sony's Adam Boyes, who heads up its publisher and developer relations teams, talks to Gamasutra about that evolution, why having veteran software developer Mark Cerny as the lead architect for its PlayStation 4 hardware is so important, and how the company might try to compete with a Steam Box.


Tell me about the changes you're making.

We've just changed our whole concept submission process. It used to be two stages, and all this feedback, and now it's just one, and it's optional feedback, so there's no greenlighting process, no voting, no weird stuff.

So is that just for indies, or is that across the board?

Everyone. Everyone, now, basically.

What I did, getting on board, went across the world and listened to feedback -- and said, "What are the biggest complaints, and how do we knock this out?" So that changed, and we continue to work every week on "what else are they complaining about?"

So if it's, hey, these guys are developing content for Vita, and we like the team, so we send them Vita kits as loaners for free. Or waiving patch fees for independent developers, if they need that support, then we're totally behind it.

How do you make that determination?

I don't like calling them "indie." I don't like making that distinction.

Usually the way we just say, if you're a digital publisher or a retail publisher, a disc publisher, and that's the main way. For our internal group we have Developer Relations, and they handle all digital publishers, and then we have Publisher Relations, and they handle all the disc publishers. That's kinda the way we break it down.

And studios, if they're small enough and scrappy enough, then they want to be indie. Then they tell us.

In the past, Sony was really hardline about getting approvals for concepts. It sounds like things have really been streamlined. Can you go into that a bit more?

Previously, how it worked, is that there were two stages. There was Stage 1, which was purely the concept approval, and then there was the second stage you would send in, much later on. And all of the different various stages of approval for putting your content out and putting a patch, basically your server ID would be given to you once you passed Concept Stage 2.

Previously what happened is you would get some feedback that was written by various teams around the globe, and compiled, and sent back to you. And we just found that when we talked directly to developers, and said, "Okay, we required you to respond to that feedback line-by-line, we required everyone to read them."And a lot of time when we talked to bigger teams, and even mid-sized teams, we said, how helpful was that feedback, and as we sat down with them they said, "We're paying 300 people to make a game," or 80 people, or 100 people. "We have a market for it, we have a publishing and marketing team, we do focus testing. Why do we need your feedback?"

And it made us realize that, why are we creating feedback for partners? If they want it, they can get it. That was the first big change. Let's make it a checklist. So they absolutely have to adhere to one of our main pillars for our platforms.

And then the second part was, why do we need it to be two stages? Realistically, if we want to be a facilitator for content, we want to get out of the way as much as possible. We obviously want to be aware. So now we almost treat it as, if we see stuff that we like, we're like, "Oh, maybe we can Pub Fund that, or we can do a partnership around that title." So that's more of an accounting task, whereas in the past it was an editorial staff task. And that's why guys like Nick Suttner who were hired into the eval group are now account managers in the Developer Relations team.

When you say "pillars," can you give me an idea what pillars are form your perspective?

Unfortunately it's all covered on our license agreement with the different platforms. But for Vita, for example, back touch, front touch, Near support, camera support. So you'd basically have to have one of those integrated into your title.

So you're actively going for stuff for PlayStation 4 at this point?

With developers? Yeah, absolutely.

It's been a big focus for us -- when I started writing disclosures for PlayStation, making sure indie developers were part of the disclosure process. We had to really bubble up.

The great thing is, unilaterally, because Shu Yoshida is such a big fan of indie developers, so they allowed us to say, "Hey, guess what, indies are top priority as well," so we've gone very aggressively after a lot of independent developers for PS 4.

Leading the way with Jonathan Blow is not a bad thing.

He's a great guy. The Witness, too. But the best thing about that stuff is that when you get out of their way and give them the tools that they need, it's easy to work with that type of developer -- the independent developers. Empower them with the tools and tech, and you continue to expand it like we said, with Unity and stuff, and make their lives easier, and listen to them...

Having Mark Cerny be the lead systems architect for the platform has been critical, because he is a creator, so he knows the story first hand.

You've said you've gone to a full policy of waiving patch fees for indies. Do they still have to go through a certification process? Is it a lengthy process?

With the cert process, we're working on -- we'll have an announcement shortly -- the certification timeline. That's been something we've heard a lot of issues being raised about in the past.

They still have to go through the process, but again, if there's any sort of fees associated with it, they can talk to their account managers. And for indies, we understand where they come from. I've done it in my background, a lot of the guys have. Nick, and Shane [Bettenhausen], and Brian [Silva] have been living that since day one. So we're super mindful of it. It's hard to find ones that have paid for it, because we don't see the point, and we want to support them.

With console platforms there is an advantage to reaching the audience, obviously. The audience is very big. Every platform has its advantages and disadvantages, and I'm not really talking about that, because we could debate about it. But in the end, some of the other platforms have advantages like if you're using Steam, it's very easy to patch. If you're using iOS or Android, it's very easy to patch. So if you're trying to attract people who are aware how other platforms work, you have to work on parity there.

Right. We're absolutely trying to. The challenge is that there needs to be certification. If it ties into our storefront, or any of the backend technologies, we have to verify. There actually is a propping process where we have to push it to the store, and stuff like that -- there are always going to be a couple steps we have to do.

If it's server-side, if it's something that's happening on the game side -- if you're tweaking a value, if it's an external server it's pinging, then that stuff can be done with very low touch. It's whenever there has to be a patch applied. Again, if there's a development studio that just wants to turn it, and it's just a bug fix, then we can turn that really quickly.

The selling point of a console like the PlayStation 4 is that it's a massive upgrade from the PlayStation 3. How do indies fit into that -- what is the attaction of you getting indies onto the PS4, specifically?

Well I think we looked at how we approached PlayStation 3, and independent game developers. It wasn't a focus. The machine had a lot of proprietary aspects to it. It was very hard for developers to master. This time around from the ground up, from the fact that [Mark] Cerny was lead systems architect, building all the components, it meant that our services and processes had to be more developer-focused.

So we've had to, from day one, think about what happens if guys like Vlambeer, how do we make it as easy as possible for them to play on the big screen? And the great thing about all of our different platforms is, if they want to start on PlayStation Mobile or Vita, they can sort of graduate up to PS4 and PS3 from that. It's really about how we get them to play their content on the big screen and in an engaging way, and really use all the new bells and whistles on PS4.

The PS3 launched into a very different market than the PS4 is launching into -- where PCs are resurgent, mobile devices are super powerful, there are lots choices. What is the appeal, from a developer's perspective?

The way I look at it, is that PlayStation is and always has been about gamers -- and has not always been about developers, but we are now.

I think the most important thing, when we look at all the options developers have out there, I use the analogy, if you're a developer, and you want your content to be seen by the most amount of people, it's easy to think "I'll just go to Times Square with my guitar and play music, and that's the most amount of people." When the reality is, the way we look at PlayStation, we're creating this amazing concert auditorium that's filled with people who are looking for music. They're looking for games, right? So when people put their content out there, it's the most focused audience of people. So that's the big thing I say.

The other thing i like to talk about that stuff, if you talk to the developers who make content, it's the guys like Brian Provinciano from Vblank, or the guys up in Toronto from Drinkbox Studios, their experience is that when you make content for gamers, from game developers that are in the right spot, then people just download it voraciously. Whereas with a lot of the other platforms, I think you have this challenge of fighting for awareness and discoverability.

We are and always will be focused on gamers. And so if you make content that you think will resonate with that audience, that's why I think it's important to come to our platform.

The real thing I hear from indies over and over again is, "We want things to be easier, we want to get onto these consoles more easily." Sounds like that's what you're going after. Do you have any more targets in your sights?

I think the key for us is continue going -- PAX is a perfect example. Sitting down with epople in the Indie Mega Booth and being like, Why aren't you on it? And the fact that, again, that I have a game development background and the Mark Cernys of the world and all of our different HQs are so mindful of this, how do we make it easier?

Because, yes, the big games are critical and important, but at the same time, the creators are always going to be born and raised out of smaller projects. So it's just continue to listen, and as soon as you stop listening and stop caring about them, then they go away. So we're just going to be laser-targeted on that for very many years.

We all know that Steam Box is a potential reality. Is that going to make working with a console less attractive to indies?

I'm not sure, exactly. For me it's more about, how are we going to stay competitive? How are people going to continue to have mindshare that is about PlayStation? I don't really know what their model would be or any of that stuff so I can't really comment on that.


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Comments


Phil Maxey
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"if we want to be a facilitator for content, we want to get out of the way as much as possible."

That's all they have to do.

Bruno Xavier
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The politics game... So cute.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Kujel Selsuru
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Yep! Now if they had some why of filtering games based on how much people play them we'd be in much better shape but I doubt a large corporation will ever do something smart like that.

Dave Long
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@ Kujel - that'd be a very tricky thing to do though - some games inherently have longer playtimes, or greater completion rates. A 2-hour game like Journey would, all else being equal, rate far below a 50-100 hour game like Skyrim (which takes a very long time to properly finish) - how do you rate them against each other? You can't just make it playtime, or all the top games will be MMOs, online shooters and grand strategy games. You can't just make it completion, as for a start many games have different concepts of what it is, and then have very different completion rates, independent of game quality. Then if you come up with some kind of algorithm, developers will game the algorithm to try and get on top - and I'd rather we didn't end up going down that path.

Andrew Traviss
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I thought it crashed due tons of low quality consoles, and a total lack of consumer guidance to sort out the good ones, not really the content on any one of those myriad consoles.

Ian Uniacke
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No one could say absolutely for sure, but I think it's fairly commonly believed that it was primarily low quality software on Atari 2600 that caused the crash.

Javier Arevalo
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My impression has always been that the crash was the result of LACK of high quality content.

Robert Fearon
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The video game industry didn't crash, a tiny segment of it did and for a very brief time. It wasn't simply a result of tons of low quality content either, that'd be ridiculous because so many industries are filled with so much low quality content it hurts - we've got and have had more crap since the (North American and North American only) crash year in, year out since.

We're no longer in the position to reproduce all the circumstances that led us there in the first place, even when we were it was incredibly localised in one specific region and over in a flash...

I'm really not sure why the internet in general is so obsessed with the idea that we must/will have another crash just because more people can make games. It's weird.

Jeremy Reaban
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Consoles crashed, but home computers survived.

But yeah, we seem to be re-living the home computer era, with most of the "indie" software being about on par with games you'd have to type in from magazines.

Kujel Selsuru
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@Dave - gameplay is the most important part of a game and so the games with more/better gameplay will rise to the top. Also there is no reason you can't add more filters to a search, look what nintendo did with that and the eshop, I can filter by price, rating, genre, etc. Adding a filter for playtime would go a long way toward clearing out the games with less/weak gameplay.

Matthew Mouras
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I like this in principle, but I don't like some of Boyes comments. He says he doesn't want to put too fine a point on what an indie is and then says things like:

"So if it's, hey, these guys are developing content for Vita, and we like the team, so we send them Vita kits as loaners for free. Or waiving patch fees for independent developers, if they need that support, then we're totally behind it."

or

"They still have to go through the process, but again, if there's any sort of fees associated with it, they can talk to their account managers"

The application of fees doesn't sound very well defined. So if I define myself as an indie and convince Sony of my status, I have to worry about my relationship with an account manager when I'm paying my bill? I have to plan my communication strategy so that I can receive loaner kits?

MS made this easy. Pay your $100 a year for the App Hub, release to XBLIG after peer feedback. Sure there were limitations to the XBLIG space, but you knew what to expect.

Maybe I'm reading too much into some of Boyes' comments?

Jarod Smiley
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^Perhaps, I think the proof is the pudding so-to-speak, with the recent burst of titles coming right over from PC to Vita.

PS4/PS3 development will be a bit more challenging to get into than PSVita/PSMobile...I think Sony is just trying to cover all bases here, and have a entry level (PSmobile) and intermediate level (PS3/Vita) and then you move up to the big boys on PS4.

Richard Hill-Whittall
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Brilliant stuff - I have been asking Sony for so long to loosen the concept approvals process, and now they've effectively killed it. Very welcome news.

@Matthew Mouras - It isn't a hassle actually working with an Account Manager - it is actually a positive thing. Our account manager in Europe is actually my favorite person in the industry - a top guy, always listens and has helped us out on numerous occasions. This is coming from someone who got their fingers badly burned with concept approvals on PS2 and PSP - I was quite anti-Sony for a long while.

One last request from me to Sony now - can you PLEASE make Unity a free part of the dev kit purchase - like Nintendo did with Wii-U. If you do that, you will turn around development on Sony platforms and you will have a lot of high quality content coming through from indies upwards. I'd say that is essential if you really want to boost the platforms.

And make Unity part of the PS4 and Vita kits. We went through the trauma of developing our own engine for Vita, and while the Vita SDK is great - as a small indie studio the costs and time involved creating that engine nearly bankrupted us.

Development without worrying about creating engine tech allows developers to focus just on the game play and game quality.

Matthew Mouras
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Thanks for the response. It's good to know you've gotten great support from them.

Michael O'Hair
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So, in other words, they're duplicating the Apple App Store with its lackadaisical app approval filter. But what happens when a game with questionable content (invasions of privacy, sweatshop manufacturing, game emulators, racism, pornography, cockfighting/Pokemon, etc.) slips through the cracks? Will those games meet the same fate? Just how wide will the gaps in the net be?


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