Interview: PlayStation’s Nick Suttner

Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Nick Suttner’s parents relocated to the United States when he was three years old so that he wouldn’t have to grow up in the apartheid system. He then landed in Chicago, where he lived for 22 years. After spending a few years writing for EGM and 1up (and hosting one of their podcasts), he eventually ended up at Sony, where he’s been for 5 years and works as an Account Support Manager in Developer Relations. I had the privilege to speak with Nick about his many years in Chicago, and his current position at Sony where he has played a major role in bringing several locally-developed games onto PlayStation platforms. 

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For starters, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. I was a big fan of your stint co-hosting the 1upFM podcast and have followed you on Twitter since and it’s very exciting for me to get to interview you.

My pleasure! It’s always exciting to be interviewed, and especially so by a fellow Chicagoan.

So I would imagine few places are more exciting to be than a company as it launches a new video game console. Can you give us a little taste of what that’s like? What types of things did you get to do/events did you get to attend?

It’s been a pretty crazy year, from the PS4 announcement in NYC back in February (which I was at helping Jon Blow debut The Witness on stage), to GDC, Full Indie Summit, PAX East, E3, PAX Prime, Fantastic Arcade, Gamercamp, and finally back to NYC for the PS4 launch a few weeks ago. I probably missed some in there, but yeah – a lot of my year has been traveling to different industry events and talking to developers about bringing their games to PS4, Vita and PS3. Thankfully, Sony’s friendliness towards indies often precedes us these days, so it’s more a matter of talking through the actual details of self-publishing on our platforms.

Beyond that, there’s always plenty to do back at the office making sure that every title I’m involved with launches as smoothly and successfully as possible, and countless other things (like showing everyone hot Spelunky pro-tips). But the energy and excitement in the building (which is actually a new building that we moved into back in April) has been growing all year, and while everyone is working harder than ever it’s been really gratifying to see one plan after another come to fruition (knock on wood).

So you are involved in bringing indie games to PlayStation platforms. Can you tell me about your role in that process?

The Developer Relations team that I’m a part of is involved with every step of a game’s existence from outreach, to developer licensing, to ordering dev kits, to working with release management, PR, marketing, etc. to make sure every game has the support it needs from every angle. Especially for many of the smaller (read: one-man show) indie devs that we’re often working with these days, it’s really important for them to have a reliable contact on our end to help answer any questions along the way, or go and track down whoever has the answer. I’m also part of our Pub Fund group that has been responsible for signing titles like Guacamelee! and Divekick this year, and Sportsfriends, Metrico and N++ next year. But overall, I think the most important element of the role is simply being a champion for indie titles both outside of and within Sony. 

Our group wouldn’t have been as successful these past 18 months or so if we weren’t absolutely sincere in our endeavors to bring a breadth of unique, interesting and downright weird games to PSN. I really wanted to play Octodad: Dadliest Catch on a PlayStation platform, so I didn’t stop bothering the developers for 2+ years. Then they were on stage at our E3 press conference this year, so I guess it worked out? 🙂

Oh yeah, we were thrilled to see 
Octodad as one of the games playable on PS4 demo kiosks. So you were pretty instrumental in bringing that to PS4 then?

As I mentioned, it was a long road of harassing them across multiple trade shows for a couple of years. And to their credit of course, the second they were in a position to make it happen they let us know, and turned around a build running on a PS4 dev kit faster than anyone we’d ever seen. It also didn’t take much convincing to put the game on stage at E3 – it’s almost as much fun to watch as it is to play, and really summed up our commitment to making PS4 gaming a wildly diverse thing.

You grew up in Chicago. How would you say your time living here shaped you as a gamer? Any particular Chicago-related gaming memories you would like to share?

My roots in gaming are of course inseparable from my childhood, and my childhood is inseparable from Chicago. From playing the Super Mario Bros. cabinet at the (long-defunct) arcade in the basement of the Century Mall, to waiting outside the Best Buy on Howard at 6 a.m. for a PS2 (and missing it by six people), to working at the (also defunct) EB Games at Webster Place, where we sold more pre-orders of Shadow of the Colossus than any other store in our district. I also grew up down the street from the Degerberg Academy on Lincoln, where a few of the original Mortal Kombat actors apparently trained.

Indie game development is much more spread out across the country and tucked away in smaller corners than big budget and AAA development. How do you keep your ear to the ground and stay aware of smaller projects when they are happening all over?

It helps that many of the events I mentioned above (especially GDC and PAX) bring many devs out of the woodwork, so it’s easy to meet a lot of people and see a lot of rad things in one place. It also really helps when devs tell their friends that they should show their new game to Sony, because we’re not scary, we actually care, and we probably want to help them self-publish it on PSN. But it’s also just about being aware and interested; when I visited Vancouver earlier this year, I wanted to swing by their “indie house” just to meet and hang out with Alec Holowka, Matt Thorson and Chevy Ray Johnson and see what they were working on. We played a WHOLE bunch of TowerFall, and that was basically the start of TowerFall: Ascension ending up on PS4 (because it’s incredible, duh).

We are obviously a bit biased, but we feel like Chicago is a pretty major player in indie game development and that there are a lot of exciting things happening here. Is there a sense of that elsewhere?

Absolutely agreed. I feel like it’s been a bit slow to come around with its developer scene in terms of really major U.S. cities, but it’s been hugely making up for lost time the past couple of years. I’m working with both Young Horses and Ragtag Studios to bring Octodad: Dadliest Catch and Ray’s the Dead to PS4, respectively, and chatting with several other Chicago devs as well. There are also games like Kentucky Route Zero, that does so much for the medium that it really helps establish a landmark on the Chicago dev map.

And finally, what are some of the games that you played a major role in bringing to PlayStation that you are most proud of? Any upcoming games you’d like to tell us about (that you CAN tell us about)?

I’ve had a hand in several of the ones I’ve mentioned above – The Witness, Octodad, Ray’s the Dead, Sportsfriends, N++, TowerFall: Ascension, and others like Transistor that I’m super excited about (it just didn’t come up). In the short term, I’m particularly excited about Sportfriends, even more so now that it’s coming to PS4 too. It’s shaping up really beautifully, and has so much of the personality of the four incredible designers involved.

Thanks again for speaking with me! The next time you’re in town, give me a holler. First round at Emporium is on me.

Will do, looking forward to it!

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