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Smaller company, higher stakes

Adam Boyes explains why he left Sony to be CEO of Iron Galaxy, and what he sees in the future for half-step console upgrades and VR

In July, Adam Boyes left his role overseeing developer relations for PlayStation to rejoin the the developer ranks himself as CEO of Iron Galaxy. Speaking with GamesIndustry.biz at the Montreal International Game Summit earlier this month, Boyes said that even in his short time on the other side of the developer/platform holder divide, he's noticed some pretty big differences.

"When I was at PlayStation, people always returned your call," Boyes laughed.

There are a few bigger picture changes as well. His influence over where the industry as a whole is headed is arguably smaller atop an independent studio than where he was at a major platform holder, but Boyes said the sense of responsibility in his current position feels much greater.

"When you're part of a management team of a company with 120 people's livelihoods at stake, it's like the stakes are higher, even though the impact is smaller from a financial perspective," Boyes said. "So that's been different. They say that the stress roller coaster's highs are higher and the lows are lower."

"That was one of the big reasons I left [Sony] was to have that all in our control, to say, 'The future's over there, then that's where we're going. Let's start marching.'"

That's why in some ways, there's also more pressure for Boyes to be restrained since he went indie.

"You have to be a little more conservative when it comes to putting money out there to do things for sure because you need to think about the health of the company, cash flow and all those things," Boyes said. "But on the flipside, everything you throw at the wall sticks. Because me, Chelsea [Blasko, director of product development], and Dave [Lang, founder] are the partners in the company. Any idea we have, we can go after."

As Boyes explained, there's something empowering about being able to tell people, "Here's what we're doing" without adding a caveat of "if we get approvals from the higher ups."

"It doesn't frighten me," Boyes said. "It excites me, if anything. That was one of the big reasons I left [Sony] was to have that all in our control, to say, 'The future's over there, then that's where we're going. Let's start marching.'"

So where is the future and where is Iron Galaxy marching? For the very near future, it may be marching in place. Iron Galaxy's roots are as a work-for-hire developer, and has gradually expanded its business to include its own original projects (Wreckateer) and has even been publishing other developers' games in recent years (Divekick, Videoball, Capsule Force). It sounds like the first two parts of that business aren't going anywhere. Boyes said it would be ridiculous from a business perspective to ditch the work-for-hire component of the business, and the company is putting a high priority on incubating its own original IP.

As for publishing other studio's games, Boyes said the company is still evaluating what worked and what didn't from its previous slate of published titles.

"I think the biggest lesson we learned is that association of a studio with a genre of games isn't as easy to convey as we thought," Boyes said. "We thought people who love Killer Instinct [which Iron Galaxy took over from Double Helix for season two and three] are going to love Divekick, are going to love Videoball, are going to love Capsule Force. But those games are all different in diverse and different ways.

"So I think the miscalculation there was that there would be an association between Iron Galaxy and competitive multiplayer games. I don't think that hit the mark as much as [we wanted], but along the way I think a ton of things were learned: how to manage great events, how to manage streams, how to develop community... In the end I think it's actually the Killer Instinct community that has benefitted the most because all the things we learned in that process we were able to roll into KI, but it's been a big learning experience for the company as a whole."

In his new role with Iron Galaxy, Boyes will benefit from some of the developer-friendly policies he embraced at Sony. For instance, the walled gardens of the console business have never been more open to developers.

"The days are gone, in my opinion, of an entity's role being the quality bar establisher of what type of content you should be delivering," Boyes said. "We had a very open policy. If you looked at a screenshot of Videoball, you might be like, 'That is triangles and circles. That looks like garbagetown.' So how far do you go if you open that Pandora's Box of being the editorial staff? In my time at PlayStation, that wasn't our role. We didn't want to be that person, because the bottom line is if stuff comes out and it isn't great, it's not going to sell. And that's part of the ecosystem."

While's there are still lengthy technical requirement checklists developers must work with in order to launch on consoles, Boyes doesn't expect those particular barriers to be lowered anytime soon. He sees them as self-selecting barriers that show whether or not a developer is actually serious about trying to run their business on the platform. And if devs are willing to jump through the TRC hoops to get bad games on the market, that should be up to them.

"To me, the console manufacturer's role should be allowing a robust marketplace where commerce can occur. And then let capitalism dictate what works and what doesn't."

"To me, the console manufacturer's role should be allowing a robust marketplace where commerce can occur," Boyes said. "And then let capitalism dictate what works and what doesn't. If a game comes out with bad quality, it's not going to sell. "

Boyes takes a similar stance when it comes to the new trend of half-step console upgrades like the PS4 Pro and Microsoft's Project Scorpio. He's personally excited about them, but seems a bit ambivalent about their prospects.

"It's not for everyone," Boyes acknowledged. "If it's the Joe Blow guy who plays Madden, Halo, Uncharted 4 and that's all they play [each] year, they're not going to care as much. But I think there's a place for it. And developers, believe it or not, always want the best to show. That's why so many of them have these ultra-high settings for PC versions of the games. There's some pride in being able to show the best-looking version of it. The part that is less exciting for many developers is there is sometimes more work. There is usually more work involved, whether it's in exposing the settings, or making sure it runs at frame rate levels or stuff like that, but I think the payoff in the end of gamers having more ability to see high-fidelity stuff is cool.

"Here's the thing. If PS4 Pro doesn't sell and Scorpio doesn't sell, they probably won't do half-step changes again. But they're thinking about what gamers have historically asked for, even though they haven't been given that option. And capitalism again will tell us how the story ends."

One place Boyes isn't quite so ready to defer to capitalism is virtual reality. Whether the first wave of headsets post huge numbers or not, he believes people will continue exploring the market.

"I'm not worried," Boyes said. "I think the fidelity of the experience is high enough for where we are today. If we look at the origin of the first Tesla Model S that came out on the marketplace: Extremely expensive, not a lot of [charging stations], people still bought it, and look where we are today. I think PSVR was the first true mass market product, and the number of people I've taken through that experience who have been blown away by it has been awe-inspiring to me, and makes me want to make more VR experiences as a studio. Overall I think it's a great first step. And anytime a new market's being created, you're always worried about, 'Is it too soon? Is it not soon enough? Is it before its time?' VR was before its time with Virtual Boy. I think here is the start, and the more they create revisions of it, the better off we'll be."

Disclosure: MIGS has a media partnership with GamesIndustry.biz, and paid for our accommodation during the event.

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