Need to Know: Skye Boyes
He’s inspired one of the biggest hits the video game industry has seen in years, and created a successful title of his own. And he’s only just begun
by Omar Mouallem
Higher ed: W.P. Wagner high school
First Program: Coded a parallax star mapper on QBasic at age 10
Fun Fact: Guitarist for rock band Them Locals
Can’t stop Candy Crushing or Angry Birding? You’ve got people like Skye Boyes to blame. Boyes has been creating addictive games since high school, and now he has seven employees. And while he’s a self-identified “indie” game maker, Boyes has struck deals with industry heavyweights like Sony and Nintendo.
During his first year of college, in 2003, Boyes posted a Flash-based game with stickman graphics online. It got 20 million plays. Realizing those eyeballs could be turned into ad revenue, he dropped out of a computer sciences program and used his $2,000 credit limit to create XGen. He had a string of hits, with games getting as many as 100 million plays. Then came an acquisition offer, “but I decided $8 million was less valuable than having creative control.”
Games have shifted from consoles and browsers to mobile. That’s dried up the ad revenue XGen used to rely on, but Boyes isn’t rushing to mobile. “There’s too much competition,” he says. And he’s right: there are more than a million registered developers for the App Store alone. Instead, XGen moved to consoles, selling downloadable games like Nintendo Wii’s Defend Your Castle, which was number one in Wii’s store for three weeks.
Last year, Sony licensed XGen to create one of the first games for the new PS4. “It’s pretty rare for a studio our size to get early access to development hardware.” Even more unexpected, the product, Super Motherload, was one of just 14 launch titles and the only one from Canada.
In a word, uncertain. Wii sales have plummeted, resulting in eye-watering losses for Nintendo. “The best thing for us is to build platform-agnostic games, so we can delay our decision of what platform to launch it on.” Meanwhile, he’s returning to the University of Alberta to chip away at his computer science degree, two courses at a time.