Beefy Media's Adam Boyes
The former Capcom man on the challenges for the digital videogames sector
With an ever-increasing emphasis on the digital platforms there's an inevitable increase in interest for people who have experience of success in the area.
One of those people is Adam Boyes, who helped launch a range of titles in the console digital space while at Capcom - but now he's founded his own consultancy, Beefy Media. Here he explains more about his company, and how the genre is developing.
Q: Explain the thinking behind setting up Beefy Media, and what it's all about.
Adam Boyes: Well, I was at Capcom for about three years, and left there a few months ago to start my own company - Beefy Media. Basically what I saw in the industry is that... in Hollywood there's a production layer - a model that can grab the producer, director, and the concept and bring it to fruition. And we don't really have that in our industry.
What I kept seeing is that the way publishers function is that they have four different distinct groups - the mobile group, the online group, the digital group and the retail group, and there isn't a lot of cross-talk.
What's happening now is with the dilution of products, each product has to live in its own circle - but what's happening is that there are a lot of developers out there that have great ideas, they just can't get them out there, so they're not bringing them to all the screens they should be bringing them to.
So what I do with my company is that I work on the development side with great teams to help refine their pitches and help improve their chances of signing a deal; but at the same time try to bring together a multitude of partners - multiple different developers, art outsources, QA groups and so on, so we can be a group that stands alone and be agile.
The problem right now with the ebb and flow in publishers of funding - or no funding - is that you need stability. Being able to do the freelance model I think is a lot more fruitful nowadays - because you have all of these different groups, such as tech or design outsourcing. If you bring all those people together to create convergent games, that's really the goal of the company.
Q: And that vision is something that came to you based on your experience at Capcom?
Adam Boyes: It was talking to everybody in the industry. At Capcom we obviously had a very interesting strategy with global - the most successful downloadable games that we made were Capcom IPs. We had a couple that we tried, like Age of Booty and Flock which didn't perform as well as the ones with brands, but I still saw a lot of great products out there.
There are some great examples of guys we were talking to, like Limbo and Deathspank and Joe Danger - all those great developers - and I just kept seeing them have all these frustrations and challenges. I realised that the knowledge I'd built up through my 15-year career can be utilised for those developers.
I like to say it's taking that publisher knowledge and sprinkling it with developers so they can become more mature, and make sure that when they walk through the door they're speaking the same language as the publisher.
Because publishers and developers think in different ways, and there's no real bridge in-between the two - so that's where I see myself fitting in, building that bridge with them and helping them get what they want out of the publisher.
Q: There seems to be a feeling among third party publishers that success lies with existing brands, as you say - while original IP that works is almost all independent developer-led. Is that something you've seen?
Adam Boyes: Yes - basically the top-sellers are mostly things like we had with Street Fighter HD Remix, for example, or Bionic Commando Rearmed. Bringing those things back, giving them some wonderful polish and a new coat of paint, those things are going to sell gangbusters.
But then you have the Trials HD... well Trials has been a series for a while. But you have that, and Castle Crashers and Braid - they're coming from the independent world.
What you're seeing is that publishers aren't willing to go the whole hog into the digital space, when they can do it in retail - because they have the money to do it in retail, right? They're going to try to maximise their profit as much as possible, and while the small guys can dabble and try something new, that's where we see the synergy between the digital platform and independent, new IP games.
Because they can't afford to make a huge retail game, but publishers can - so when you see the Alan Wakes of the world, and the new IPs that get out there, it's because they can. We're just seeing it on a different scale which we never had before.
Back in the day it took two or four guys to make a game - but now that we've grown, people still want to make games with those small sizes, but they can only really express their strength with new IP on their own.
Q: So it's just not worth publishers' time and money to invest in new IP on those platforms?
Adam Boyes: You're right - it's a value proposition. It costs roughly 10 per cent of a game's development cost to manage that game. If you do that across a $30 million game versus a $300,000 game, the cost is relatively similar... but where you start getting into trouble is the headcount. If you're managing a hundred games for $300,000 - then you need a massive production staff to handle that. You'd need, like, forty producers or something, whereas for a big game you'll have a team of four or five producers.
So it becomes a numbers game - the potential is much higher for the 'big swing for the fence' $30 million project than it is for the small one. That's why I was so proud of what we did at Capcom - we said from day one that we were going to take the space seriously - that the guys in Osaka were going to keep making fantastic products, but what we would do was augment that by being on the cutting edge of technology with the digital platform... but spend the right amount of time.
Everyone else was dabbling, dipping a toe in the water, but we jumped in whole hog and that's why I was really proud of the early adoption.
Q: Where do you feel Capcom sits now, compared to when you joined? How much further along the digital path were they when you left, do you think? Will it continue to evolve there? There's been quite a lot of change.
Adam Boyes: Yes, there has. The thing is, what we did was built a digital strategy and executed on it - and although we left there are still a lot of great products they've been announcing. I'm sure there will be stuff in the future they'll be talking about.
I'm really happy with what was built - but I think the amount of products that we released, it was a lot. It was pretty aggressive early on, and though I can't comment on what their future plans are, strategically there was definitely a culmination of bringing the West and the East together - which I think will benefit the company big time in the long term.
Working very closely with Japan, if Capcom Japan understands how to work with the Western world, that can only benefit everyone, right? It'll make the Japanese games more Western, and that will be very beneficial for the company. I think they're making all the right moves, and I'm excited to see what the future holds for Capcom.
Q: There's an interesting dynamic developing between XBLA and PSN. Obviously XBLA was out there first, so PSN has necessarily been playing catch-up, but we're seeing a lot of interesting titles released on the Sony platform - and I'm hearing time and again that the door is closed for XBLA. How do you see the landscape between those two platforms?
Adam Boyes: Well, I absolutely think the landscape has evolved very dramatically - it's really been two and a half years since the whole digital thing launched. I think with Microsoft they came out and it was a big splash. If you looked at the front end of Xbox Live, Arcade was a big presence, and there was a lot of content - some weeks they were launching four games.
I think the quality control of some of those titles early on... they wanted content - they wanted a lot of stuff on the channel. But as we evolved the games got better - I think Bionic Commando Rearmed was a great example of a game that raised the bar, and then Shadow Complex came out and raised it even more.
We saw more and more dollars being spent on the games, so Microsoft wanted to spend more time on fewer titles - but at the same time the blade was getting crowded with the Facebook stuff, Zune stuff, and all of a sudden my content is harder to find, and there's less of it. It was never really truly transparent to people outside as to why that was happening.
Sony is really embracing the approach with Pub Funds - and Microsoft too, to a degree, with Twisted Pixel and 'Splosion Man. On the other side you've had Hello Games with Joe Danger - a great game, a great group of guys. A small team, but Sony helped them with the Pub Fund. Basically they'll guarantee sales if you approach them with a great concept.
So I think what we're seeing is an evolution - people always think they're going to make great games... but they're not. The majority of people are making s****y games, so less and less of them are being accepted, and more and more people are getting turned away.
That's kind of what my new company does - I go in there and tell them this is s**t, and what they need to do to make it better. Or if you're a total loss... It's kind of like a Simon Cowell approach, but people need that.
When you're going to have a nice conversation with a publisher, and you've never done that before, you need to talk to somebody like me so you can understand what they're looking for. You can't wing it, not nowadays, because they're going to go to 80 other developers - and what's going to edge you out is if you know what they're looking for, and talk to them the way they like to be talked to.
But it's been an interesting evolution - I think Sony right now, if they continue to focus on the indie stuff, more of the Joe Dangers of the world, and the Pub Fund really comes up with some more great content then they could be the ones having more content pumped out that's higher quality.
It's really up to the platform owners to find the best stuff and put it up there.
Q: Looking at the core games release slate it's now become clear that one of the economic impacts has been on original IP - something which publishers warned around 18 months ago. But will that have an impact on the long term health of the industry? Will we be turning people off with little else but relentless 'sequelitis' and is that where the digital platforms will step up?
Adam Boyes: I think every smart publisher needs a balanced portfolio, and the balance is really the question. Activision has its big monsters, and they don't want to focus on the smaller stuff - that's just what they do. They're happy with that, and that it's going to increase revenue.
I like the fact that EA said they wouldn't report on earnings projections any more, because then they can have that creativity. And with EA Partners, with Deathspank and Shank and these games that are awesome... these are games I wanted to sign when I was at Capcom, because you can see the passion that gets poured into it.
So the correct answer I think is a good balance. People love nostalgia - we've got all these kids toys that people played with when they were smaller, coming back and being released. It's going to continue to happen - people want sequels.
But I think the important thing we're seeing - and I like this trend - is taking a brand that people know and extending it to a new place. Like Halo Wars, as an RTS - that was interesting - and I think we'll see more of that.
Q: They've been doing that with Star Wars for years, and pretty successfully, on balance. Films, cartoons, a variety of different games...
Adam Boyes: And people understand that IP. Now that these other IPs are getting so much larger I think they can start doing that to an extent. But balance - it's like when a runaway hit comes along in Hollywood, like a Fargo or something. It's so out there, I love it.
We'll always have the Castle Crashers, the Joe Danger, the 'Splosion Man's of this world - and hopefully we'll see that in a bigger arena. But right now the barrier to entry is pretty easy - a phone call to Sony or Microsoft, and you could have a deal in a month or two.
Q: So you're saying the doors haven't yet been slammed in people's faces?
Adam Boyes: I don't think so - there are so many new avenues right now. I think the advantage that Microsoft is going to have going forward is if Windows Phone 7 takes off, if they can build that into something that complements Xbox Live and PC stuff, they might have a competitive edge.
We'll see with the next PSP - if Sony uses that correctly... and that's why I keep harping on about convergent games - something we've been talking about for 10 or 15 years - but nobody's doing it correctly yet.
Until the policy makers within these big companies say "You know what, we just need to bend the rules to have this amazing experience," then we're always going to have this juxtaposition between the two companies.
Q: How significant is the EA Partners angle?
Adam Boyes: We'll see with the sales - when you look at any business unit you're measured by your return on investment. If you're making 10 or 15 per cent on these games versus spending all the time and effort signing the next big thing that's going to make you 60 per cent... they'll probably shut it down.
But I'm really passionate about Hothead Games, I think Deathspank is genius and Ron Gilbert is an amazing man. Shank looks fantastic too - they just keep adding new content - so I'm really excited to see how that goes. I wish them the best - we were trying to do something like that, but then we realised at Capcom that it was just all about our IPs.
So I hope it does well, because if it works it'll mean that a lot of other companies will look at it and try it out.
Adam Boyes is founder of Beefy Media. Interview by Phil Elliott.