MCV/DEVELOP ISSUE 954
SNAP GAMES Is Snapchat the perfect home for your next game?
BUNGIE ON COMMUNITY CARE Bridging the divide between fans and developers
THE ART AND BUSINESS OF VIDEO GAMES
Welcome to work
Why Roll7 closed its premises and how remote working changed their lives
MCV/DEVELOP AWARDS – VOTE NOW! We need you to choose this year’s winners... see page 10
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05 The editor Dear Sony...
06 Critical Path
The key dates this month
10 Vote for your winners! The MCV/DEVELOP Awards shortlist
Real life events from the industry
18 Industry Voices
Our platform for the industry
22 Snap it Up
Snap talks games
22 28 Ins and Outs
And all our recruitment advice
32 Rolling Out
Roll7 on the rise of remote working
40 A Shared Destiny
image s later)
Bungie on community relations
46 Sam Barlow
The production of Telling Lies
52 Regional Champions Ukie breaks down the UK industry
56 Making a forever game Wargaming UK is built to last
60 When We Made... Lego Builder's Journey
64 The Sounds of... Petri Alanko
66 The Final Boss
Blazing Griffin's Naysun Alae-Carew
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“By retreating from E3 Sony is in danger of only preaching to the choir”
TheEditor Dear Sony – we must honk together E3 has been good to Sony over the years. The company has successfully timed its biggest beats to coincide with the show time and time again. For a quick example of that, look to YouTube where four of the platform’s top five all-time videos were released during previous E3 shows: God of War, Spider-Man, Final Fantasy 7 Remake, and the Xbox-skewering ‘Official Used Game Instruction Video.’ The latter is a perfect example of the company at its best, reacting quickly to a misstep by its competition and kicking Xbox where it hurt. While the seeds for the PS4’s success were born from its brand lineage, gamer-focus and hardware advantage, a chunk of its lead in the current generation started from that E3 and that video. So why would it give up the opportunity to repeat the feat at E3 2020? My initial reaction was that Sony simply lacks confidence. That seems a ridiculous statement for a platform in such a commanding position, with a string of generationdefining hits to its name and the biggest installed user base of all time. But Sony has been quiet recently and has reportedly gone through a major global reorganisation. After all, if Sony thinks its offering for Xmas 2020 is going to blow the competition away, then why not shout about it in LA, where it can be put head-to-head with Xbox? The reason E3 works for the games industry is because it acts as a tentpole event, a huge platform for us to promote our wares. It allows everyone to come together and it’s the one point in the year where the mass media really weigh in with reporting, amplifying the combined message that consoles in particular are a great way to play games. And that huge unified shout matters. Unlike mobile games, the console market has significant friction for consumers, after all (Stadia aside) you still have to go out and buy a console before you can play anything. The industry as a whole, in order to grow, must constantly fight for time with the likes of Netflix, which has far less take-up friction. By retreating from E3, Sony is in danger of only preaching to the choir. It may be able to do a better job of engaging its current audience, as it claims, but it risks losing some of its ability to talk to those who aren’t already devotees. If you’re a publisher or a developer of games, be they huge chart-toppers or smaller indie titles, that’s bad news. Whether you want to reach lapsed gamers, and get them playing franchises they once loved, or whether you’re looking to bring in those who traditionally didn’t think consoles were for them. From FIFA to Untitled Goose Game, the games industry should on occasion chant, or honk, together. Seth Barton email@example.com
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Here are the key upcoming events and releases to mark in your calendar...
Table Manners This title from Curve Digital is a physics-based dating simulator. Think Surgeon Simulator except with Tinder instead of distressing medical malpractice. The goal is to have a romantic first date, but with the ability to set your unfortunate date on fire, that’s almost certainly never going to happen.
Dreams Another Valentine’s day release for the lonely souls out there (or just the bad romantic partners, we’re not judging) – Media Molecule’s creation game Dreams is finally launching, having been first announced in 2013. The game has been in early access since early 2019, a slow rollout that has allowed Media Molecule to iterate on Dreams’ huge promise before its official release.
Yakuza Remastered Collection
Street Fighter V: Champion Edition
Sega’s mission to fill the PS4 library with Yakuza titles comes to a grand finale with the simultaneous release of Yakuza 5 remastered alongside this physical collection which includes Yakuza 3, 4 and 5. With the exception of spin-off titles such as Yakuza: Dead Souls, the entire Kazuma Kiryu saga is now available on one platform for the first time.
Okay, the games industry has definitely decided that we’re all going to have a lot of free time on our hands for Valentine’s day. If you’re looking to romantically fire hadoukens at your loved one this month, the Champion Edition collects all the DLC for Street Fighter V, as well as adding returning characters to the roster, such as Street Fighter IV’s villain, Seth. Which is perhaps the most villainous name known to man.
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MCV/DEVELOP Awards The Brewery, London
Voting is open right now for our revamped and rebranded awards – See page 10 for the shortlist – featuring a range of deserving nominees from across the industry. Then head over to mcvdevelopawards.com with your five-digit subscriber number (you can find that above your address on your magazine’s cover sheet) to select your industry-voted winners. You can also secure tickets and book tables via the same website, so ensure you’re on the list for the best night of the year. If we do say so ourselves.
Bayonetta & Vanquish 10th Anniversary Bundle To celebrate a decade of PlatinumGames, Sega is releasing a bundle containing remasters of two of its most popular titles: the original Bayonetta and sci-fi shooter Vanquish. The double pack marks something of a second chance for Vanquish, which was critically acclaimed at launch but did not perform to match those expectations.
Two Point Hospital After a slight delay last year, Two Point Studio’s hospital simulation game is making its way to consoles. Coming to PS4, Switch and Xbox One (as well as Game Pass on day one), these ports include the Bigfoot and Pebberly Island expansions, featuring new environments, challenges and illnesses.
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Editor: Seth Barton firstname.lastname@example.org +44 (0)203 143 8785 Staff Writer: Chris Wallace email@example.com +44 (0)203 143 8786 Designer: Mandie Johnson firstname.lastname@example.org Production Manager: Claire Noe email@example.com
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Luigi’s Mansion 3 has proven to be a pure delight to play with a squealing child as co-op companion Gooigi. Nintendo continues to rule my living room. Elsewhere we held the bi-annual Board Games Weekender in Whitstable, where I won at Warhammer 40K strategy epic Forbidden Stars... twice :)
I picked up Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot recently and it’s fantastic. It’s the perfect, condensed Dragon Ball Z experience. Fewer hours of power-up shouting, fewer family shouting matches over who gets the TV, fewer disapproving stares from my mum as the pink alien on the TV rapidly expands (while shouting). Chris Wallace, Staff Writer
Vikki Blake, News Writer
Seth Barton, Editor
ARCHIVES Digital editions of the magazine are available to view on ISSUU.com. Recent back issues of the printed edition may be available please call +44 (0)203 143 8777 for more information.
Recently I’ve been stomping around Journey to the Savage Planet. Stuffed with colour, charm and oodles of good humour, it’s proof that not all games need to be 80+ hour epics to be enjoyable. I know the object of the game is to repair the ship and make my escape but, to be honest, I don’t want to leave!
Paws the game
INTERNATIONAL MCV and its content are available for licensing and syndication re-use. Contact Colin Wilkinson for opportunities and permissions: firstname.lastname@example.org
The best furry friends the industry has to offer. Send yours to email@example.com .
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Biz Media Ltd, 44 Maiden Lane, London, WC2E 7LN All contents © 2019 Biz Media Ltd. or published under licence. All rights reserved. No part of this magazine may be used, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any way without the prior written permission of the publisher. All information contained in this publication is for information only and is, as far as we are aware, correct at the time of going to press. Biz Media Ltd. cannot accept any responsibility for errors or inaccuracies in such information. You are advised to contact manufacturers and retailers directly with regard to the price of products/services referred to in this publication. Apps and websites mentioned in this publication are not under our control. We are not responsible for their contents or any other changes or updates to them. This magazine is fully independent and not affiliated in any way with the companies mentioned herein. If you submit material to us, you warrant that you own the material and/or have the necessary rights/permissions to supply the material and you automatically grant Biz Media Ltd. and its licensees a licence to publish your submission in whole or in part in any/ all issues and/or editions of publications, in any format published worldwide and on associated websites, social media channels and associated products. Any material you submit is sent at your own risk and, although every care is taken, neither Biz Media Ltd. nor its employees, agents, subcontractors or licensees shall be liable for loss or damage. We assume all unsolicited material is for publication unless otherwise stated, and reserve the right to edit, amend, adapt all submissions.
Pet: Chester Owner: Nick Turner Owner’s job: Global marketing manager at 2K
Pet: Baxter Owner: Lauren Carter Owner’s job: Head of communications at Modern Wolf
Pet: Rolo Owner: Gary Burns Owner’s job: Senior publicity consultant at Little Big PR
Here’s Chester, the nine-month old Boxer. He likes tennis balls, snoring, farting and making sure that he keeps up to date with the latest news.
Baxter is a four-month old Cairn Terrier. His favourite thing is Steve, his toy fox. He knows the toy by name and will bring it to you if you ask ‘Where’s Steve?!’
Rolo loves walks, with the ability to pull any human anywhere. He’s currently working through an expensive dog toy habit and enjoys peeing in Pets At Home.
+44 (0)203 143 8777
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GOOD LUCK TO ALL THE FINALISTS AT THE MCV/DEVELOP AWARDS AND THANKS TO THE GRAND JURY FOR SHORTLISTING RENAISSANCE IN THE BEST PR AGENCY CATEGORY
Our Values: We believe in ethical communications, working with the client to ensure their creativity is experienced by the right people at the right time.
Our Mission: To create the best conditions for your project, product or corporate activities to succeed through strategic planning, delivering measurable results without unnecessary jargon. Our Team: Renaissance is built around a core team of contributing consultants who collectively have more than 80 yearsâ€™ experience across the games industry; in marketing, PR, and product management, spanning the AAA and Indie sectors.
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Thursday 5 March 2020 The Brewery, London Book your table at: www.mcvdevelopawards.com
Development Tool of the Year GameMaker Studio Quixel Shotgun Unity Unreal Engine Wwise
Visual Innovation of the Year Bithell Games for John Wick Hex Codemasters for Dirt Rally 2.0 Media Molecule for Dreams SIE London Studio for Blood & Truth Supermassive for The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan ZA/UM for Disco Elysium
External Development Partner of the Year Cubic Motion Elite3D Keywords Studios Sumo Digital Virtuos Warp Digital
Audio Innovation of the Year Billy Goat Entertainment for Supermarket Shriek Creative Assembly for Total War: Three Kingdoms Foam Sword for Knights and Bikes Media Molecule for Dreams Sam Barlow and Furious Bee for Telling Lies SIE London Studio for Blood & Truth
Recruitment Agency of the Year Aardvark Swift Amiqus OPM
Gameplay Innovation of the Year Bithell Games for John Wick Hex Denki for Autonauts Inkle for Heaven’s Vault Media Molecule for Dreams Sam Barlow and Furious Bee for Telling Lies ZA/UM for Disco Elysium
Major Studio of the Year Codemasters Creative Assembly Frontier Developments Media Molecule SIE London Studio Sumo Digital Indie Studio of the Year Bithell Games Chucklefish Foam Sword Hello Games Ustwo Games ZA/UM
Narrative Innovation of the Year A Brave Plan for The Bradwell Conspiracy Inkle for Heaven’s Vault No Code for Observation Sam Barlow and Furious Bee for Telling Lies Supermassive for The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan ZA/UM for Disco Elysium
THANKS TO OUR GRAND JURY! Our shortlists were selected by our MCV/DEVELOP Awards Grand Jury, which consists of industry veterans from every aspect of UK development and business. They nominated their most-valued partners and most-respected peers from across the industry, with only those receiving substantial support reaching this stage.
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Vote for your industry winners today at: www.mcvdevelopawards.com/vote
PR Agency of the Year Bastion Indigo Pearl Lick PR Little Big PR Renaissance Swipe Right PR
Major Publisher of the Year Capcom Nintendo Sega Sony Square Enix Take-Two (Rockstar Games and 2K)
Creative Agency of the Year Adam&eveDDB Fourth Floor Gamer Creative ICHI Worldwide Studio Diva Studio Qi-ni
Indie Publisher of the Year Chuckefish Curve Digital Sold Out Team17 Wired Productions
Campaign of the Year Borderlands 3 – 2K It’s Time to Play – PlayStation UK Mortal Kombat 11 – Warner Bros Pokémon Sword and Shield – Nintendo & The Pokémon Company Resident Evil 2 – Capcom Xbox Game Pass – Xbox Media Brand of the Year Eurogamer IGN PC Gamer PCGamesN Rock, Paper, Shotgun
WE NEED YOU TO PICK THE WINNERS! We want the whole industry to have its say on its brightest and boldest from 2019. So we’re asking MCV/DEVELOP subscribers to vote for our winners. You’ll need your subscriber number for this, which is above your address on the magazine wrapper. Then head to www.mcvdevelop.com/vote and make your selections.
Platform of the Year Epic Games Store Google Stadia Microsoft Xbox Nintendo Switch Sony PlayStation Steam
Retailer of the Year Amazon Fanatical GAME Green Man Gaming Sainsburys Argos Smyths Toys Distributor of the Year Advantage CentreSoft Click Entertainment Exertis Genba Digital Koch Media
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Real Life Events from the industry
POCKET GAMER CONNECTS LONDON Pocket Gamer Connects came to London for the seventh time on January 21st, bringing over 2,460 delegates from 65 countries together at The Brewery. 2020 was Pocket Gamer Connectsâ€™ biggest year yet, with delegates from over 1,000 companies wandering the packed exhibition hall with more sponsors and exhibitors than ever before (over 110 tables and booths). The event comprised a cross-section of the industry, with indies and student developers rubbing shoulders with investors and C-level execs from the biggest platforms, plus every key tool-maker, service company, platform and consultant were also present, as well as the usual press core. Four more Connects are planned for 2020: Seattle (May 11th to 12th), Hong Kong (July), Helsinki (September 29-30th) and Jordan (November) before returning to London once again in January 2021.
Left: Ian Livingstone, speaking as part of Hiro Capital, on Emerging Macro Trends in Games and Game Streaming from a VC Investorâ€™s Perspective
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Above: Ioana Hreninciuc, CEO of GameAnalytics, speaking on mobile trends
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POCKET GAMER MOBILE GAMES AWARDS 2020 Right after Pocket Gamer Connects London closed its doors, guests gathered for an exclusive gala dinner event held at Café de Paris. The Pocket Gamer Mobile Games Awards saw 22 category winners being named as the best in their respective fields for their output over the past year. Winners included thatgamecompany’s Sky: Children of the Light and Activision’s Call of Duty: Mobile, which walked away as recipients of ‘game of the year’ awards, with CoD: Mobile developer TiMi Studios further celebrated as winner in the ‘Best Developer’ category.
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GAMES FOR GOOD Mobile developer Space Ape Games brought industry leaders together on January 22nd at Games for Good: An event dedicated to using games to facilitate change for a day of discussion, networking and inspiration. Speakers included Playmob’s Jude Ower, Lesley Mansford from Supercell, Jake Manion from Internet of Elephants, Special Effect’s Tom Donegan and Space Ape’s very own Deborah Mensah-Bonsu. The talks centred around how games can help shape the world around us and the initiatives their companies are involved in to better the world.
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Your store page is your game’s best marketing tool Hannah Flynn, communications director, Failbetter Games
MCV/DEVELOP gives the industry a platform for its own views in its own words. Do you have a burning hot take for the world of games? Get in touch!
THE store page is an absolutely crucial component of your game’s marketing. All of your marketing efforts will be for nought if the store page that people land on doesn’t drive them to take an action – be it to put a game on their wishlist, follow or purchase. I review store pages for other indies on Twitter every week, and I see the same things coming up quite often. Here are three things which I’ve seen pages miss the mark on: Firstly, can people understand what they’re getting, based on the information on your page? Can they tell quickly what the genre of game is, what they do in it? People are browsing for games that they know they’ll like. This isn’t the place to tease or hint at what your game does. Be as upfront as possible about what your game is offering. When developing the capsule art for Sunless Skies, we did a survey to find out what impression our artwork was giving people about the game. We discarded ideas which gave the wrong impression, or which didn’t contain enough information, and ended up with a large central image of a steam train flying through space – which is a pretty good depiction of what you do in Sunless Skies! Next, can the information on the page give the potential player confidence in the game? Is everything up-to-date and factually correct? Trustworthiness is important, because you’re trying to convince someone to do something. Try not to have anything on your page that would cause doubt, and do everything you can to build trust. If it’s November 2019, and this game’s page says ‘coming 2019’ but doesn’t have a release
date, or recent development updates, what does that say? What would make you want to follow a game which didn’t look like it was still being developed? Sometimes on the pages I review, one part of the page disagrees with another. The description says the game has full controller support, but only the partial controller support box has been ticked. Things change throughout development; reflect them on your page. The most obvious mark of trustworthiness is your review score. If your review averages aren’t looking good, you should have something on your page which shows that you’re addressing it. Maybe that’s responding to reviews which are factually incorrect, or maybe it’s an announcement post about an upcoming patch. Lastly, when you have the above in place, is the page really specific to your game, using imagery and tone of voice that convey the feel of it well? Can you use the game’s tone of voice, or insert a few gameplay GIFs which show its atmosphere? Also: this is not a once and done thing. Your store page is your game’s home. Every day, players are looking at it to decide if they want to try your game. Set a reminder to look at it at least monthly, and keep a rolling list of changes you want to make to keep it polished and working hard! Hannah Flynn is a multi-award-winning marketing and community professional who has worked with Failbetter Games since 2014, launching and promoting all of their titles, including 2019’s Sunless Skies. Follow her on Twitter @itshannahflynn.
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How To Produce a triple-A game – a valuesdriven Agile approach Steve Cuss, head of studio operations, Criterion
MAKING any game is hard and the challenge is only becoming more and more complex. At Criterion, our approach to producing triple-A games has to accommodate scale in people, process and technology. Planning a whole creative project from start to finish is an exercise in self-delusion, but not planning at all means that you never know how much farther you need to go, the direction in which you need to head or exactly what you might need. You can’t plan what you don’t know, but you need a plan. Our approach at Criterion to be able to meet that challenge is firmly grounded in both our people and process philosophies. Perhaps the most impactful expression of these philosophies is in maximising autonomy – over team, task and technique – as well as adopting a leadership approach that prioritises both influence and inspiration. For this to be effective, it is essential that we work hard at maintaining alignment on multiple levels, and to keep sharing context deep into our teams. This enables highly informed decisions to be made as close to the point of execution as possible. Our approach builds upon Agile (Scrum) and Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). However, off-the-shelf, these do not facilitate the breadth of creative and scientific collaboration needed to make a game. Equally we believe a full implementation of SAFe would suffocate a game team. So, we have adapted the roles and essential rituals of SAFe to work within the context of a AAA game.
For example, our approach distinguishes between game direction (inspiration and direction), product management (definition of the game we are making) and project management (priority & sequencing). On our game team the Agile product owner role is delivered by a combination of a producer, an area lead and a development director. Our product management takes the SAFe structure of sagas, that define the boundaries of a pillar that benefits the game; themes, that define the boundaries of the many pieces that make up each saga; and epics that describe the detail of each theme and feed our project management process. To maximise autonomy and alignment it is important to us that the game is described at each of these levels in terms of benefits to the player and not instructions of what and how part of the game should be built. We are always learning and evolving our process. We believe our approach has been one of the things that has contributed to our winning the gamesindustry.biz award for Best Place to Work, every year since their creation. Steve Cuss started in the games industry in 1994 as a programmer. He joined Electronic Arts in 2001 and moved to Criterion in 2003, working on Black, both Burnout and Need For Speed series, Star Wars Battlefront and Battlefield V: Firestorm. He became Head Of Studio Operations in the summer of 2018 and that year was a Nominee for UK’s Best Boss in the gamesindustry.biz annual awards.
“You can’t plan what you don’t know, but you need a plan.”
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Is it boom or bust for chat app gaming? Craig Chapple, mobile insights strategist, EMEA at Sensor Tower
SENSOR Tower data shows that in 2019, the most downloaded app in the world was WhatsApp, with approximately 850m installs. The No.3 app was Facebook Messenger – followed by Facebook itself in fourth – while Snapchat was ranked No.10 with a bit over 275m downloads. Facebook claims its Messenger platform has 1.3bn monthly active users, while Snapchat boasts 210m daily active users. Other huge platforms such as TikTok, which racked up close to 739m downloads in 2019, offer the ability to message friends – owner ByteDance is currently investing into games – while Discord is another large chat service that works cross-platform, generating 64m downloads on mobile last year. The sheer number of users and level of engagement on these platforms is hard to reach anywhere else, and in theory, it holds a lot of opportunity for games.
FACING A CHALLENGE The current key players in the Western market for chat app gaming are Facebook Instant Games and Snap Games. Discord had initially moved into becoming a distribution platform for PC games, but has since stepped back on those plans. First launched in 2016, Instant Games later allowed developers to monetise through in-app purchases and advertising. But in the face of powerful platform holders including Apple and Google, even a tech giant like Facebook faced some difficulty in taking a revenue share, given it was releasing its own games platform within apps served by other storefronts. It was not allowed to utilise IAPs on iOS, while it also reduced its share on Google Play to zero after initially trying to take a cut on
top of Google’s, which resulted in developers getting a minority split of the revenue. Last year, Facebook made the decision to pull Instant Games from Messenger and migrated it to the social network itself. The company said at the time it wanted to make its app “faster, lighter, and simpler.” Messenger users can still be directed to Instant Games, but they are sent to Facebook.
SNAPPED UP Another contender in the chat app gaming space is Snapchat, following the launch of Snap Games in 2019 [See page 22 for more on that]. The new platform launched with titles from a few big mobile companies such as Zynga and ZeptoLab. Snap has also shown some commitment to its ambitions in this space with the acquisitions of developer Prettygreat and London tech firm PlayCanvas. The company likely sees games as a way to increase monetisation of its platform, as well as engagement. While just a few years ago it looked like chat app gaming was about to explode onto the scene, progress has been much slower in terms of their popularity and ability to generate revenue at the levels seen on the App Store and Google Play. If this business was significant – you’d hear about it. There’s still promise in the idea of chat app gaming, but there are proven difficulties of working around the two major platform holders and convincing users to play games in these apps, as opposed to the other easily accessible apps on their phones. Craig Chapple is mobile insights strategist, EMEA at mobile intelligence firm Sensor Tower and was senior editor at PocketGamer.biz.
“There’s still promise in the idea of chat app gaming, but there are proven difficulties.”
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Brought to you by
If the future of games is streaming, developers need to ask some serious questions Sijo Jose of PTW discusses the future of cloud streaming platforms, and the associated challenges for developers
Above: Sijo Jose, PTW president for North America & India
DESPITE early teething issues, heavy investment from the industry’s biggest players suggests cloud streaming platforms are, ultimately, where games will land in the future. Just take a look at the huge investments from Google, Microsoft, Sony, and Amazon. These tech giants don’t usually go this hard after a new platform or technology unless they see a future in it. It’s a promising sign. And if the future of games really is streaming, it signals some serious changes on the horizon for game developers and some serious questions that need to be answered first. How will game development standards shift? With new technology, development standards will undoubtedly shift. Now, most of these changes are likely to make life easier for developers. One of the most notable changes will be instead of developing a game for separate hardware, like consoles, and phones, etc., development will likely be for a similar set of cloud standards – each cloud platform’s server – and the platform will handle the device specifics. What’s more, the simplified nature of streaming platforms trickles down to the rest of the development process. Take compatibility testing, for example, which has traditionally required developers to test their games on a plethora of different devices, each with different specifications. Because all the processing happens in the cloud on these new streaming platforms, rather than on the device, developers don’t need to create specialized systems to make a game compatible on each different piece of
hardware anymore. Instead, it’s simply a matter of testing to make sure the game fits on every screen and with each controller type. So, though there will still be a need for some compatibility testing, there’ll be a significant reduction in developers’ efforts. Precisely what a lot of these new development standards will look like is still up in the air but as adoption spikes and more games join these platforms, developers will need to watch closely. How will teams change operationally to fit new content demands? As monetization moves away from being hits-driven and towards long-tail subscription services, it has shifted the development lifecycle of a game. Rather than creating a game, finding and addressing bugs, launching, then leaving it to live out the rest of its time, games have become living things that demand new content updates that keep players engaged. It’s what these platforms, being subscriptionbased, will prioritize. Games like Fortnite and League of Legends have already pioneered how teams can manage continuous content delivery, but many more developers will need to start thinking about how their games will continue to live after release, too. Not only will studios need to maintain an ops team that can fix bugs in the existing game, but they will also need to establish teams that are continually building, testing, and localizing new content updates at pace and scale to keep up with growing content demands. Who will control player data? Games collect huge amounts of consumer data – time played, player preferences, churn rate, etc. And there’s a huge advantage to understanding what captures players’ attention and what turns them off. As games move into cloud platform servers, developers risk ceding access to their own players’ data in the process. It’s not clear who will maintain access to gamers’ data yet, but one thing is clear: whoever controls this data will have greater insights into what’s working, what’s not, what players really want, and more leverage in negotiations. No matter how the future plays out, it’s clear that cloud gaming platforms are here to stay and they will change the way games will be played and built. And helping developers figure out the path forward is what we’re all about at PTW. So, if you want to know more about how streaming and subscriptions are going to change the games industry, you can read a whole eBook about it at FutureofQA.com
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Is Snap Games the biggest gaming platform youâ€™re not on? 20 | MCV/DEVELOP February 2020
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Snapchat has over 210m daily active users, and games are now fully integrated into its core chat function. It’s an opportunity to bring your IP to a huge new audience – and the company’s gaming team is building a big London presence to make that happen
espite being a company with a ghost for a logo, stealth isn’t something you’d usually associate with Snap, which hurtled into the global consciousness in 2012. Many have predicted its demise since, but the platform now has a stable and growing user base of over 210m daily active users, while its steadily rising share value is higher than almost any time in the last three years. It came as something of a surprise to discover that Snap has a sizeable (and lovely) office in the very heart of London’s west end, not that you’d notice it from the outside. The well-known ghost logo and usual bright yellow are nowhere to be seen, in fact even the company’s name is abbreviated in reception to just ‘SC.’ It’s a stealth office. The company’s entry into the gaming sector has also been somewhat stealthy too. While the company hasn’t hidden its gaming ambitions, there will be many who are unaware of the potential in terms of both reach and reward. So just what is Snap Games and why should developers be keen to get involved? SNAP IT TOGETHER At Snap’s offices we sit down with senior engineering manager Will Eastcott and head of EMEA game partnerships Pedro Rodrigues (pictured left from left to right, respectively). Rodrigues joined the company last year from Facebook’s gaming team. But it’s Eastcott’s story which is intertwined with the creation of Snap Games. Having worked and consulted at Criterion, EA, Sony and Activision, Eastcott became co-founder and CEO of PlayCanvas, an HTML5-based game engine inspired by the shift to web and cloud-based technologies. Eastcott recalls: “I had previously worked with Dave Evans [PlayCanvas CTO and co-founder, now senior software engineering manager at Snap]. And we got together and discussed the possibility of a new type of game engine. “This was going to be a web-based game engine. And at the time, we were inspired by what we were seeing in terms of these online productivity applications, for
example, Google Docs, and were wondering whether we could create an online collaborative game engine where you would build everything through the web browser.” That coincided with the launch of WebGL, which opened up the possibility of high-fidelity graphics in web browsers. PlayCanvas received investment and started to grow a customer base. Then in 2016, Snap became aware of the engine. “Snap’s director of product Will Wu came across some of our games and he ran them on a mobile device and he was blown away by the load times, the performance, the quality of the graphics that we could achieve through HTML5,” Eastcott recalls. “And it seemed to him that PlayCanvas had to be part of the Snap Games story that he was building at the time. So we had a meeting with Snap, and it was a no brainer for us to be part of building a brand new gaming platform that was going to be entirely different, with such a vast audience, and to play a part in that story. It was just too good to be true. So my cofounder Dave and I agreed to join the Snap family and that happened in March 2017.” A GAME OF SNAP? For those who aren’t au fait with Snapchat, how do games fit into the platform? Well it’s as simple as tapping a little ‘Rocket Ship’ icon beside the text entry field in the chat interface. “Our audience of 210m daily active users are extremely engaged on Snap,” says Rodrigues. “Spending on average 30 mins every day using the platform, interacting with their best friends. Snap has grown Snap Games as the perfect extension to these friendships, offering accessible, shared experiences. Snap is really aiming to build a sustainable gaming platform that improves discovery for high-quality games, that empowers social play and inspires shared memories between friends.” Eastcott continues: “We saw chat as being the launch point for these experiences, because that’s where Snapchatters hang out digitally together. Where people share
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Right: Games based on existing IPs, such as Subway Surfers, sit alongside new titles such as Slide the Shakes
these kinds of synchronous moments. So enabling a new type of experience within chat, based around gaming, seemed like the perfect place to start. “A lot of the early prototypes that we built as part of the Snap Games team, were these kind of little synchronous multiplayer games. We were taking classic, traditionally single player games that were previously seen on the app store, and we were reimagining those as synchronous multiplayer prototypes. And that sowed the seeds for the kind of game ideas that you see today on Snapchat.” A key point is that games on Snapchat are made for the platform, Eastcott points out: “One thing you’ll notice, if you browse the games on Snapchat is that they’re unique to Snapchat. They’re not ports of other games. It’s important to us that there’s great original content that players can find and play on the platform.” CHAT IT UP One of the reasons that Snap Games is still somewhat low profile is that it’s cautiously picking the developers it works with, rather than throwing the platform open.
“Snap Games is a closed platform, at least at the moment,” Eastcott confirms. “And so we’re carefully curating a set of developers to work very closely with us on game content. The team that we have works in very close collaboration with all of our partners. And that includes our internal studio as well, based in Brisbane.” That internal studio was previously Prettygreat, which was founded by the creator of Fruit Ninja alongside other senior staff from the developer Halfbrick. The focus of its efforts to date has been creating games utilising Snap’s own popular Bitmoji virtual avatars, such as Bitmoji Party and Bitmoji Tennis. So there’s plenty of internal experience that those new to the platform can lean upon. But diving into a new platform is still a risk for any developer. “Our large and engaged audience gives our games a head start,” notes Rodrigues. “Still, building and growing sustainable platforms takes time and it requires close collaboration between Snap’s product teams and those of our developers and partners alike; It’s a marathon and not a sprint. “We had that in mind when committing to building Snap Games and made intentional decisions to ease the
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life of our partners – we’re not an open platform and have decided to work with few and select devs that share our vision for social gaming. “This has allowed us to be attentive in listening to our partners’ feedback and adapting our roadmap to their needs. With PlayCanvas and Prettygreat, plus the backend, hosting and services – we continue to equip our partners with the tools they need to bring their projects to life, quickly and more efficiently.” Snap certainly seems confident that it has its end in order. So what is it looking for from potential partners? “We’re a very design led company. And we’re always looking for very creative studios who can innovate and really take advantage of our platform in a way that’s quite unique. So we’re pretty picky when it comes to the studios that we work with, but we’ve identified some great partners,” Eastcott responds. And Rodrigues notes that, despite being a closed platform, they are open to approaches: “We are always available and happy to meet with great developers who want to explore bringing new gaming concepts to Snap. We’re looking to build trusted relationships with devs globally and are confident that either through Snap Games or via other platform integrations we have a lot to offer to established and upcoming developers alike.” And established developers are encouraged to consider how existing IPs might be reimagined for
the platform. Examples to date include Alphabear Hustle and Subway Surfers Airtime. So if you have an Tetris 99-style gem of an idea for your game, then Snap might be a great place to take it. LIFE UNDER CANVAS Snap Games wants new games and fresh takes – sounds reasonable, but it also wants them developed on its PlayCanvas engine. Some developers may balk at that, but Eastcott is persuasive in explaining why that’s best for everyone involved. “PlayCanvas is a really important element to the Snap games platform. It enables developers to build very high fidelity HTML5 games very rapidly and gives those developers an easy route to build games that work well, not just on the latest handsets, but on a broad spectrum of devices. Right down to devices that would have been released say, up to seven years ago.” That’s an iPhone 5S or the original Moto G, depending on what part of the market you’re looking at. “This way, we can address close to 100% of the audience, especially in developing markets where some of the Android devices have lower power CPUs and GPUs,” Eastcott continues. “It’s really important that we can target our games to every Snapchatter.” We suggest that many will balk at moving away from established engines such as Unity, to which Eastcott Left: Ready Chef Go! launched on Snap Games on December 19th and has already served over 500m virtual food orders to date (read more on the game overleaf)
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MOJIWORKS ON READY CHEF GO! Mojiworks recently launched its first Snap Games title, Ready Chef Go! Describing itself as a social games developer, the studio focuses on games for popular chat & social apps. So we asked Matthew Wiggins, Mojiworks founder, about his experience of working with Snap. How did you come to be working with Snap Games? We started Mojiworks with the belief that chat platforms were the next big thing for mobile games, and always hoped for the chance to work with Snap. Snapchat is such a fun app already that we felt it would be the perfect place to bring friends together through play. As we got to know the Snap Games team, it quickly became clear that we had a shared drive to make native-quality games that are also powerfully and uniquely social: games that live where your friends are. We jumped at the chance to get involved.
where you and your friends hang out is a huge opportunity to create uniquely social experiences. Mojiworks is about being able to tap into that to make the best games for friends & family across the world. Thinking about core game loops and mechanics changes a lot when your game is immediately brought into people’s relationships, and we’re excited and respectful of the chance to hopefully strengthen those through our creations. It’s an incredibly exciting design space for us, and the platform features – like Bitmoji, which we love to use – help with that connection to players.
How did you find the PlayCanvas engine to work with?
How successful has Ready Chef Go! been to date?
Our team has a long history of working with the PlayCanvas team, stretching back all the way to the earliest days of HTML5. They’ve pioneered high quality 3D-on-web, and the engine performance is excellent, so we can put more of our time towards making our games great. Integrating their tools with our workflow and tech was easy, and we’ve collaborated closely to give feedback on new features and the roadmap – our partnership around that has been really good.
From the very first day we’ve seen a healthy percentage of Snapchatters coming back to play again and again. Right now there’s a compact portfolio of great quality games on the platform that players can move between, and that helps all of us. We’ve been really pleased with what we’re hearing from players so far, too. We talk to hundreds of them every day – they’re maxing out on content and asking us for more of everything! It’s especially cool to hear that so many of our chefs are playing regularly with their friends. We really wanted to make a ‘friend-y’ game for the warm social environment on Snapchat, and we’re thrilled that Chef is proving to be a great fit.
Speaking from a design perspective, what about the platform excites you? We’ve always believed that having a game live primarily in the place
counters: “Developers find they’re immediately at home in PlayCanvas. The workflows that we have in the engine are very similar to other game engines on the market today. So developers tend to be up and running and building their games within 24 hours of using the engine. So that’s actually not been a problem. “And within a short space of time, most developers see that the performance and load times they can achieve through PlayCanvas are far better than they get with other engines. So in the end, it turns out to be like a huge net win for them to be using PlayCanvas. And it ensures that we’ve got a consistent environment where developers can build games for Snapchat very rapidly. “So we find that, throughout the whole development process, from that first shaking of hands through to them making their game go live on Snapchat, we’re with them every step of the way. And it’s not like we expect developers to work in isolation and then just contact us when they’re ready to submit, we’re with them right from the beginning.
“They feel loved. And they get all the attention they need. So that’s really important for us that we’ve got these close relationships with our developers, not just on the technology side, but also on the design side. “And ultimately, developers see the PlayCanvas team as their internal technology team. So rather than being some kind of remote, corporate entity – where if they have a problem, they have to potentially wait a long period of time to get those problems fixed – they can contact us and have fixes turn around and deployed within hours.” CASH IN A SNAP Having a small group of developers on the platform also brings dividends, quite literally, when it comes to monetisation on the platform. Which is simultaneously both simple and, apparently, effective. “We enable developers to monetise their games through an ad unit called Snap Commercials,” says Eastcott. The format is the same six-second, unskippable
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“The nice thing about Snap Games is that it was monetisable, right from the very beginning.”
video that appears elsewhere on the platform, such as during its Snap Originals video content. Monetisation on new platforms is often tricky, but while Snap Games is still in its fledgling years, Snap as a whole has a huge user base to draw from. “The nice thing about Snap Games is that it was monetisable, right from the very beginning. So none of the developers found themselves in a situation where they couldn’t generate revenue from their games,” Eastcott explains. “On Snapchat, you’ve got a vast audience ready made for you right from the very beginning. And we have a lot of levers that we can pull to ensure that everybody gets a fair crack of the whip,” Eastcott continues. Which means your title has a big potential audience and isn’t going to get lost among hundreds of similarlooking apps. Better still, there aren’t any big marketing costs to cut into your profits, notes Rodrigues: “Additionally, on a social platform like Snapchat, games are mostly discovered organically and through friends’ recommendations, enabling devs to connect with millions of Snapchatters without depending on large marketing budgets. HTML5 games are also crossplatform, meaning that the games our partners develop will be accessible across Android and iOS without requiring platform-specific development.” CAPITAL GROWTH The Snap Games team is growing with the platform – with Eastcott recently returning home to the UK in order to build out the team in London. “I’ve just moved back here from LA. I was working out of the Santa Monica office for maybe around two and-a-half years and I’ve just now moved back to London so that I can spin up an additional PlayCanvas team that’s really tapping into the UK talent pool that we’ve got here.
“I’ve got a long history of working for games industry companies here in the UK. So I’m fully aware of the incredible talent we’ve got here. And I want to draw on some of that to build a new team here in London. I’ve already got a team that’s divided between Santa Monica and London to develop PlayCanvas. Now I’m looking for really strong game engine developers to come and join this team here in central London. We also are looking to build a team that works more on the partnership side as well. “We’ve already got Pedro [Rodrigues], who leads our partnerships effort here in London, and Pedro is also hiring people who can help him both on the strategic side and the partner engineering side. So these are people that are going to be working with our partners really closely and just giving them the best possible development experience that they can, and they kind of work hand in hand with my team. All of that’s being set up here and in our London studio, so we’re hard at work recruiting for those teams right now.” The industry is constantly on the lookout for new platforms. Snap’s solution seems well-considered and potentially lucrative. It’s also an opportunity to bring long-standing IP to an entirely new audience, creating intriguing multiplayer spinoffs to established IPs which could turn a profit while also reaching new gamers. It’s certainly worth seeing if you can make a match with Snap. Rodrigues concludes: “We’ve learned a lot so far through the start Snap Games has made and we’re super excited by both new features in the works, and games that are currently in development. My team is really committed to ensuring our developers and partners see a strong upside from collaborating with Snap and helping us grow our platform. We’ll keep focus on win-win-win initiatives – for Snap, for developers and for players.”
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Ins and Outs: Industry hires and moves and Sunless Skies. Most recently, she was chief product officer at Spirit AI. 1
After seven questionable years at Indigo Pearl (his words, not ours), ROBBIE PATERSON (1) has joined Devolver Digital as their new marketing manager. Paterson stated: “I’ll miss everyone at Indigo Pearl, but I feel lucky to have made such brilliant friends. Please keep being nice to them all, they’re the best!” RIC COWLEY (2) is the new editor of PocketGamer.biz. Cowley has been in the industry for four years, having previously worked as PocketGamer’s news editor. “It’s great having Ric back on board,” said Dave Bradley, COO of PocketGamer.biz publisher Steel Media. “Mobile is the most interesting space in the games scene at the moment and few people know it like Ric.”
EMILY SHORT (3) has joined Failbetter Games as their new creative director. Across her 20+ year career in games, Short has worked on dozens of games, contributing to award-winning narrative titles such as Where the Water Tastes Like Wine
Sumo Digital have appointed KIRSTIN WHITTLE (4) as their new partnerships director, within the business development team. Whittle stated: “I’ve followed and admired Sumo Digital for many years, so to now be part of such a talented and progressive group of studios is amazing. I am delighted to have the opportunity to work alongside the brilliant leadership team to help shape and support strategic plans.”
Kwalee has a new head of publishing in the form of SIMON PRYTHERCH (5), who previously worked with CEO David Darling at Codemasters on titles such as LMA Manager, and Pete Sampras Tennis. Prytherch stated: “I’m thrilled to be joining Kwalee and in turn, re-joining colleagues such as David, Jason and many others at such an exciting time in the business. The company had a brilliant 2019, and with Kwalee’s expertise, there’s a great opportunity to grow the
publishing department. I’m looking forward to working with developers from around the world and recruiting a worldclass team.” DAMIAN BURNS (6) has joined Twitch as its first ever EMEA MD. Burns joins after five years at Facebook, where he was senior director of gaming EMEA. Sara Clemens, chief operating officer at Twitch stated: “Damian’s deep experience in digital advertising, gaming and community services make him the ideal partner to help realize the potential of multiplayer entertainment. Damian brings over 20 years of expertise working with media partners, agencies and content communities.” Dual Universe developer Novaquark has hired HÖGNI GYLFASON (7) as their chief technology officer. Gylfason was technical director at CCP, where he lead the DevOps team and implemented games-as-a-service cloud solutions for EVE Online.
has added three new hires. ALEX EARLE (8) has joined as the new community manager, focusing on launching and supporting Spaceteam VR. Earle has been in the games industry for over two years now, largely working freelance for PR and events across Europe representing companies such as Nintendo, Payload Studios/Tentacle Zone and Muse Games. Also, DAVE PRICE (9) has joined as the new game designer. Previously, Price was a junior designer at JAW (Just Add Water), working on Ice Age: Scrat’s Nutty Adventure. Finally, MARIAN FELIX (10) joins as the new office manager. Felix graduated from the University of Hull with a Law and Business degree last July, and is currently undergoing her LPC training.
Leeds-based developer Cooperative Innovations
After a record-breaking 2019, Jagex has added six new hires to the studio. DAVID BAMBERGER (11) has been appointed
as the new head of product marketing for RuneScape. Bamberger previously worked at Tencent America as marketing manager for PUBG Mobile. Alongside David, OUNI KWON (12) has joined Jagex’s publishing powerhouse as head of product marketing for Old School RuneScape. Ouni spent nine years at Wargaming, where he worked on World of Tanks, and Total War: Arena. JOEYRAY HALL (13) has joined Jagex in the new role of creative services director, having spent 23 years at Blizzard Entertainment. MIKE DONATELLI (14) has joined as product director of Old School RuneScape and previously worked on products such as Dark Age of Camelot, Warhammer Online and Wildstar. STEWART STANBURY (15) joins as director of business development, having previously worked with clients including Adobe, Dell, Ubisoft, EA and Rockstar. ANNA MOSTYNWILLIAMS (16) has joined Jagex as director of publishing partnerships. Williams has worked for brands such as Discovery Communications and Quantic Dream, as well as launching two technology start-ups. Williams will be leading on Jagex’s outreach and relationships with platform, distribution and marketing partners.
Got an appointment you’d like to share with the industry? Email Chris Wallace at firstname.lastname@example.org 28 | MCV/DEVELOP February 2020
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Every month, we pick the brain of an up-and-coming talent
George O’Keeffe, principal environment artist at Rare, Xbox Game Studios
game online, and decided to create a tavern environment. I really wanted to get as close to their art style as I possibly could. The end result was nowhere near the beauty of Rare’s rendition, but I sent the environment to them to have a look nonetheless. To my surprise, they were impressed and I was offered a position working for them!
How did you break into games? I entered the weird and wonderful world of game development by a slightly unconventional route. When I was younger I was always a huge fan of video games, but I never really knew a career in games was a possibility – so I studied Architecture at university. Architecture was a logical outlet for my creativity, but there was something missing, so after a few years I packed it all in to try my hand at creating game art. I decided to study a Masters in Environment Art at Escape Studios in London, and I absolutely loved it. I finally felt like I was doing the right thing. While studying for my Masters, I remember watching a trailer for Sea of Thieves at E3. I remember being completely blown away by the art style and the incredibly immersive environments the game had, and I decided to create a personal project in their style to test my skills. I found some cool concept art for the
What is your proudest achievement so far? I am so incredibly proud of the work everyone at Rare and Xbox Game Studios has put into Sea of Thieves. The game is such a unique experience, and I am so proud to play a part in its creation. We recently announced that we have over 10 million players, and it’s absolutely crazy to think that 10 million people are using the art that I, and the rest of our team creates. It is genuinely a dream come true! What’s been your biggest challenge so far? I think my biggest challenge is one that many artists experience at first. I have always found it very difficult to show people my artwork, and be proud of the work that I have created. I am incredibly self critical, and always focus on the flaws and imperfections in my own art, and so I was absolutely terrified of showing my artwork to anyone. That fear was pretty quickly challenged when working in the industry, though, because you need to be able to show and discuss your artwork multiple times a day, to people from every department. I am still scared, but definitely less-so! What do you enjoy most about your job? I love the incredibly positive and friendly community that Sea of Thieves has. One of
“My aim is to keep learning.” my favourite parts of my job is creating ways of immortalising these amazing community members in the world of Sea of Thieves. Whenever someone in our community does something cool or different, we try to celebrate that person in the game. Sometimes that is comedic skeletal remains sticking into the sand with the player’s name engraved on a rock beside them, sometimes it’s a painting of amazing real world cosplayers hanging in a tavern in game, or recreations of a young fan’s drawings scattered around the Sea of Thieves world. I love our community, and I love that our team is able to celebrate them in game. What’s your biggest ambition in games? My aim is to keep learning. Our industry moves so fast, and evolves so quickly that it is so easy to become complacent. As a result, I really want to keep challenging myself, continue learning as much as I can, and keep producing the best art I possibly can. What advice would you give to an aspiring environment artist? It may seem impossible to get a job in our industry, but I promise it is not. However, it does require a lot of hard work and persistence. Use every moment, and every opportunity you have to keep learning, progressing and working towards that goal. If you are truly passionate about it, it won’t even seem like work, and the dream job will be totally achievable in no time.
If there’s a rising star at your company, contact Chris Wallace at email@example.com February 2020 MCV/DEVELOP | 29
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Cherry picked advice to help you reach the next level in your career
Rebecca Ford, live operations and community director at Digital Extremes tells us about working on Warframe, balancing community expectations and the importance of understanding fandom high concepts and paying attention to the details matters. Writing clearly and concisely is key! If you were interviewing someone for your team, what would you look for? Participation or understanding of any one given fandom is important – the ability to relate the creative process to the consumption process and act as a conduit of that is key. I would look for someone who can speak knowledgeably and objectively on a fandom, backed by a university degree of some kind to support their understanding of media and communication. Technical skills are a plus (our team often dabbles directly in game development tools to further our knowledge!) Having the capacity to work on a team with many fast-moving moving parts and having a can-do attitude, are key qualities we look for in candidates. What is your job role and how would you describe your typical day at work? I am the live operations and community director for Warframe, the online action game that Digital Extremes opened to the public on PC in March 2013 (and in closed beta the year before!) My day begins and ends with ‘what’s on fire’ or ‘what needs to be deployed and when.’ The ‘need’ is identified by two parties – what do the devs need to do to hit their next update, or what does the community need to improve their experience. Then these needs are balanced against our work week, community expectations, and we do our best to hit those goals. My role is relatively unique in that I work with both the Warframe dev team – directly relaying the community’s concerns, ideas, and
suggestions to the development team and with the community at large, creating relationships, setting expectations and putting out fires. My team is a living, breathing conduit for our constantly evolving game. What qualifications and/or experience do you need to land this job? Generally speaking you need to have a good grasp on game development technologies to be able to do the main part of your job: communicate. You are eternally communicating about the art and science of developing games – and you are directly integrating a community into that process. I am not a programmer, but I can get around the Warframe development tools relatively well; being able to communicate
What opportunities are there for career progression? In community, we start with coordinators, and then we specialize. You either specialize on a platform, or in a program. It’s a simple divide that creates an extremely knowledgeable and diversely skilled team. You become a leader of a specific platform – like Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, or Xbox One – or you become a leader of a program, such as our usergenerated content program, a program we call TennoGen, that works directly with artists in the community. Coordinators grow into senior coordinators, and eventually managers! The technical folk become community developers and provide support in the game directly.
Want to talk about your career and inspire people to follow the same path? Contact Chris Wallace at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Iterating for Better Putting The G Into Gaming’s founder Liz Prince reveals a new programme, Empower-Up, that will help games companies of all sizes to achieve their Diversity & Inclusion pledges
“We must ensure that the industry is seen as culturally mature and inclusive.”
Liz Prince Business Manager, Amiqus THE launch of Ukie’s Diversity Pledge, plus the findings of its extensive research into the current state of play within the UK games industry should be welcomed by all. The arrival of the most up to date data on diversity and inclusion is hugely important and, although it shows there is still much work to be done, the introduction of Ukie’s Pledge is a strong signal that the UK games industry is fully committed to supporting enhanced representation at all levels. For our industry, looking inwards, that is hugely important; we need to ensure that everyone feels included, respected and valued. For those looking into the industry from outside, it’s equally vital; we have skills shortages and we want to attract the very best talent to this exciting industry. We must ensure that it is seen as culturally mature and inclusive – and as forward-thinking about diversity as it is about technology and creativity. We know that studios are keen to engender diverse teams – they just don’t always know how to start, or simply don’t have the resources. And that’s why G Into Gaming is introducing the Empower-Up programme – designed to make it possible for all studios to prioritise diversity and inclusion of all under-represented groups, and take action. This programme will give guidance and real practical resources to studios of all sizes and act as a focal point to achieve their Pledge goals and make a change for the better. With so many brilliant studios already committing to the Ukie Pledge, I wanted to give an overview of how Empower-Up can help. First – the important bit. There’s no financial commitment to embark on this programme at an entry level. We know that for many smaller studios, resources are limited, and we want Empower-Up to be an option for all, whatever the circumstances. There will be options to ‘level
up,’ dependent on requirements. But taking part in the programme is free of charge – we just ask for your time and commitment. The programme will be powered by partners specialising in learning and development, as well as diversity and inclusion, which means that everyone who takes part in the programme is guaranteed the best practical advice on steps to ensure their companies are welcoming, attractive and inclusive to people from all backgrounds, from all underrepresented groups. We will provide tools to help you to assess current practices across your business, allowing you to identify your areas for improvement. You’ll receive high level guidance to support you in identifying those areas you’d like to focus on, and to help you pick out specific actions that you will commit to. The number of actions and the range of areas you want to focus on will depend on you, your time and resources. Whatever the scale, it’s a commitment to change! Those studios wishing to take part in the programme will become part of a community. There will be on-going advice from the EmpowerUp team through regular updates and content, in-depth best practice guidance, webinars plus invitations to events to help you achieve your aims. Taking the pledge to become a more diverse and inclusive workplace is a great start. By offering this programme for change, we hope to arm all studios – regardless of size – with the tools to make good on those promises. If you’re interested in finding out more about Empower-Up, drop me a line – email@example.com. Putting The G Into Gaming is a pro bono initiative founded by and in association with recruitment specialist Amiqus. To find out more email G-IntoGaming@amiqus.com or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Chris Wallace talks to Roll7â€™s Simon Bennett about why the studio closed the doors of its premises for a life of remote working, and how it has changed their lives
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B All photography by Drew McDonald
Below: Roll7 coming together at one of their regular team meetups
usinesses are struggling with numerous connected issues. Good office space is expensive, the UK’s transport infrastructure is poor, and work-life balance is becoming a key issue for employees. So the prospect of remote working is becoming increasingly popular. So much so in fact, that the Office of National Statistics predicts that 50% of UK employees will be working remotely in 2020. There are huge potential benefits but switching to working from home isn’t without its risks. It’s a potentially daunting move for companies of any size – particularly those in the highly collaborative field of game development. Thankfully, there are industry success stories for you to learn from. Roll7 decided to make the switch five years ago now. In May 2015, the OlliOlli developer closed the doors of its premises for the very last time and went remote. After seven years of operating from a physical office, the team saw it as a solution to a number of issues they’d been facing: from employee motivation to the constant delays and unpleasantness of commuting at rush-hour. To get an understanding of what motivated the process – And how Roll7 has adapted to remote work, we sat down with Simon Bennett, Co-CEO of Roll7.
“Back in 2015,” says Bennett, “we heard a lot of people expressing disbelief at the thought of a fully remote office being able to function as efficiently as one based in a physical location, let alone better. Of course, there were some immediately obvious benefits – we would save over £250,000 a year on rent alone – but was this really the right choice in the long run?” Roll7’s uncertainty wasn’t entirely misplaced. The concept of remote work is often treated with suspicion, for three main reasons. Firstly, as any staff writer with occasional ‘work from home’ days can tell you, the motivation to work can rapidly decline when there’s no manager on hand to keep you from drowning in cat videos for eight hours a day. On top of that, there’s the possibility that a lack of close interaction could undermine team work. With these considered, there’s a real worry of remote work undermining the quality of work. Secondly, there’s a concern around attracting new talent – Do people want to work from home? Enough that it won’t negatively impact the hiring process? And finally, will publishers and investors understand the new direction the company is going in? Will remote working make it more challenging to secure investment?
“This focus on output, not hours, has enabled us to eliminate crunch.”
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“In truth, these were all things that we were initially concerned about ourselves” admits Bennett. “But, over the last five years, with a bit of trial-and-error and a lot of thought, we’ve reached a place where we can comfortably answer all of those concerns. Five years on, going remote is probably the single best thing we’ve ever done for the health of the studio and our workforce.” QUALITY OF WORK Since going remote in 2015, Roll7 have released two critically acclaimed and award winning games (Not A Hero and Laser League), so it certainly seems clear that remote working hasn’t undermined their ability to work as a team. How was this achieved, without a physical office environment enabling an easy flow of communication and co-worker interactions? “There are several reasons,” notes Bennett. “The main change from a project management and delivery perspective was at director level, and us reacting to a new requirement to be hyper-focused on clarity and quality of communication – ensuring that the vision of the projects we are working on are articulated very clearly, and that people are always aware what they are working on. This marked a departure from some of our earlier project management methodologies that were more ad-hoc and chaotic, due in part to the ability to just grab everyone into a meeting, or miscommunication based on chats misconstrued as new workload. Our production methodology now is streamlined and far clearer, as a result, output and morale is through the roof – which ultimately results in better games. “Working from home means that there are less distractions than one might find in the typical office environment, and more scope for employees to tailor their workspace to their own personal requirements. At Roll7, people are able to work in total silence or listen to loud music, turn the heating up or down whenever they want, and eat as much stilton and garlic as they like without fear of retribution from furious co-workers! Combined with a recently implemented flexible hours policy our team has the ultimate flexibility to take a longer lunch if they want to, or go pick up their kids from school. It really has made a huge difference to quality of life and staff happiness, which ultimately affects the quality of work people are delivering. “Working remotely also means that the focus is on actual tangible output, not just on turning up and sitting at a desk from 9 to 5:30 while zoning out and not actually getting anything done. People tend to turn in better work, in our experience, when they’re focused more on great results than on looking like they’re working. Trusting our employees to get on with
things on their own terms has proved to be extremely motivating – people have a real sense that they own the work they produce, and have a sense of pride in being able to turn in great content and contribute to the games we make in a meaningful way. This focus on output, not hours, has enabled us to eliminate crunch; we work smarter, not harder, and a motivated workforce who truly care about what they’re making means that we’re more likely to be ahead of the requirements for a milestone than behind.” Of course, there are positive aspects to a real-world office space that can’t be denied. People need time and space to interact, and while Roll7 keeps in touch via Slack and Zoom calls, as well as a regular online gaming sessions, there’s no complete replacement for face-toface conversation when it comes to building a team. This is something Roll7 agrees with – holding fortnightly in-person meetings at the Ukie offices in London, where they have a couple of remote desks. While the timing of these meetings are occasionally affected during development (they were moved to monthly meetings during the development of Laser League), Bennett maintains the importance of these regular interactions. “Especially in the early stages of projects,” notes Bennett, “it’s crucial to have that time together more often. Between these in-person meetings and our robust online communication system, we’ve managed to create a thriving office culture without the need to spend every day physically in the same building.”
Above: Co-CEO and co-founder of Roll7, Simon Bennett (and his cat), pictured working at home. Opening spread: Also working remotely are Roll7’s other cofounders: Tom Hegarty (top) and John Ribbins (middle).
ATTRACTING TALENT It’s also undeniable that remote work simply isn’t for everyone – some people’s work styles are simply better suited to an office. But for everyone who is turned away by the prospect of remote work, there’s yet more who are attracted by it. “We’ve found that being a chiefly online workplace seems to attract a larger and more diverse pool of
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applicants,” says Bennett. “In general, remote work tends to allow for a more varied range of working styles.” There’s a number of benefits to remote work for employees, beyond the obvious ones of saving time and money avoiding a daily commute. Flexible working hours also open the door to people who are simply unable to work in a conventional office – parents are better able to juggle work and childcare. Additionally, not having to commute every day opens up the hiring process to people with physical or mental disabilities that may limit their ability to travel daily. Of course, an online-focused workspace also allows Roll7 to take a more global view when it comes to hiring, as Bennett explains. “We can hire people from a much wider physical radius than would be possible if people were having to commute into the office every day. This means we get a larger and more diverse pool of applicants to choose from, and more access to talent outside the immediate London area. It means that we can hire the best – not just in the immediate area, but in the country and even beyond that – and because our employees work with us online, not in-person, they don’t have to worry about any upcoming changes to their rights to work in the UK. “Equally, we also see a lot of applications from industry veterans who are tired of crunch culture and the drudgery of commuting and want a job that gives them a bit of a change of pace and work in a more refined way.” And the pool of potential new employees did grow immensely once the company had gone remote. “When we hired a lead programmer for OlliOlli2,” says Bennett, “we received 13 applications for the role to come and work at our Deptford studio. The same advert in 2019 garnered 120 responses, and we are seeing a similar uplift across all disciplines as we scale up from 20 to 50 in 2020, which against the backdrop of a tougher hiring market in the UK and EU is a real strength.”
INVESTOR TRUST Since Roll7 had started with a more traditional office, they naturally benefited from existing relationships with publishers and investors when they decided to go with a remote set-up, making it easier to maintain that level of trust. However, even without that bedrock of existing relationships, in a world where all our relationships – not just business ones – are moving more and more into the cloud, it seems likely that remote work is going to become even more common in the coming years. “Many publishers and investors who we’ve spoken with have been based far enough away that our interactions with them have taken place primarily online or by phone, with some infrequent in-person meetings” notes Bennett. “It’s therefore not a huge jump for many investors to understand how we can operate securely, efficiently, and remotely – after all, that’s exactly how we communicate with them. Saying that, we have had to ramp up on our security protocols – including some bespoke ones – for people working remotely, but these are not too dissimilar to those in an office environment.” So remote work has certainly been a successful business decision for Roll7 – but as discussed, the benefits of stepping away from a centralised office aren’t entirely business-related. There’s a real human impact that comes with more flexible working conditions, so what has this change meant for the team at Roll7? Bennett recounts the experience of Paul Abbott, their lead artist, and what he’d said during a Roll7 meetup. “Since starting working at Roll7 I have developed a new relationship with my daughter. I walk her to school just before work, and pick her up. I now know who her friend Maisie is, and why she is struggling in maths. We have this fantastic new bond. I only wish I had been able to do the same with my son.”
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A shared DESTINY
Community is a tricky thing to define, and a trickier thing still to build and manage. We talk to Bungie’s David ‘DeeJ’ Dague about why Destiny’s is one of the best around
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onsumers, audiences, even players aren’t what your game needs to be successful. To be truly successful a game needs a ‘community.’ The word is used constantly but it can still feel a little nebulous. As a quick example, which games would you consider yourself part of the community, and which ones (that you also play) are you not? And why is that? If you’re looking for a best-practice example of how to build a game’s community, then Destiny and its sequel would certainly appear on many people’s shortlists. Quite literally, given Bungie won ‘Best Community Support’ at the Game Awards in December. And that’s despite having a busy recent past: departing Activision, moving the PC community over to Steam, and re-launching the game as free-to-play with Destiny 2: New Light. So we met up with David ‘DeeJ’ Dague, communications director at Bungie, at a Londonbased fan event, to discuss how the company built its community, what that job entails today and how it has coped with those changes. Dague responds to our query on the nature of community with Bungie’s driving philosophy for all its work: “We create worlds that inspire friendship.” And he explains: “So in our case, the community is the product. The game is what we create as a catalyst for that.” A community-first approach isn’t a revolutionary concept today, but Bungie was thinking hard about the formula to achieve that before many, and its results are better than most. Dague explains Bungie’s thinking on achieving that in more detail: “When the game becomes a venue where people can come together and have interactions with each other, it stops being an executable, it stops being even just a singular piece of entertainment. The game becomes a place, and people can go there to have interactions with other people who also enjoy it. “This transcends fandom. It goes beyond being a member of a fan club where you have a common interest and there’s a conversation about that thing. People can come together in our game and interact with each other through their characters.
“They can share experiences with each other completely independently of anything that we have created.” The power of shared virtual spaces is undeniable, but why then do some games feel full of life, passion and invention, while others become simply lifeless lobbies? BUILD IT AND THEY WILL COME? In order to look for the seeds of Destiny’s success you have to go right back to its very genesis. For a shooter, it took the unusual step of focusing on co-operative PvE content over competitive PvP. And in its world building it set up the players as Guardians, a legion that defends the earth against encroaching darkness. Dague explains what those early days were like: “There were very specific design decisions that were made. Things that might seem obvious, but were actually things that we arrived at through much debate and much soul searching. “The idea that there is no friendly fire in the game. The idea that you can’t hear someone’s voice in the game until you invite them into your party. These are all things to help keep toxicity at bay. And these are also things that contribute to the sensibility that every Guardian in the world is potentially on your side. In Destiny’s lore, the PvP content is marked up as being mere training for the Guardians, to make them “a better warrior so that when you face the enemies of humanity, you’re ready to fight,” Dague explains. “But if you’re out in the real world, and you see somebody wearing a Destiny shirt, you may think to yourself, I wonder if that person has ever saved my life in a public event? I wonder if that person has ever danced with me in the tower? I wonder if that person could ever take me along on a raid and help me get that one implement that evades me, that’s not part of my collection? “If you think about some other multiplayer games, if those two players meet each other out in the world, they may see each other as opponents, but there’s this strong sense of community and solidarity that surrounds what it means to be a Guardian because we wanted to create a game
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where the players would celebrate each other, where the players would aspire to get onto each other’s level.” ADDED VALUE While the game’s design and content provides the basis for everything that follows, Dague defines the community as those who take it beyond what is simply there to be consumed: “We see community as people creating their own action inside of the platform that we created for them. “What we’re really trying to inspire is this sense of belonging, this idea that you are part of something that is larger than yourself, and sometimes they can cluster together into smaller groups that are more intimate than the overall community. “And when a community can cluster together into clans or groups or just share a common forum, a Discord server, or the real estate that we provided them on Bungie.net, then they can start to really shape this hobby around their own interests and their own tastes.” And those tastes range from raid speedrunners, loreobsessed forumites, cosplay groups, fan-fiction authors and artists, to PvP clans. “We’re there to appreciate what they’re doing and to say that this is exactly what Bungie had in mind. We want people to do these things and host gatherings like these where we can in person, express our appreciation to the community” And all of those community niches bring more colour, more depth and more engagement to the player base as a whole. But with the definition of community being so broad, it naturally follows that the role of community management is similarly so.
SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER “We serve a bunch of different purposes,” Dague concurs. “Obviously we’re there to represent the studio to the players, we’re there to educate, we’re there to inform, we’re there to celebrate the awesome things that they’re doing. “At the same time, inside the studio, we are the advocates for the player, we can take their feedback, we can take their feelings about the game, and we can share that with the developers so that they can better create a product that is ideally suited to the people who love it the most. “I’m constantly telling the community managers on our team that our role is to tell the truth. We tell the truth to the player about the game and our goals for their experience. We tell the truth to the creators about the players and how they feel. We try not to overly editorialise either argument, we’re just there to sort of keep this bridge of understanding open between the people who are making the game and the people who are playing the game. We represent that truth faithfully, and hope for the best. You know, we are both developers and players, and yet neither at the same time.” As with any team involved in running a live game, Bungie must balance what its community says versus what its wider audience does. “Whenever a creative decision is made at Bungie, we can take into account the anecdotal conversations among the most vocal hardcore players, the data that encapsulates every player in
“What we’re really trying to inspire is this sense of belonging.”
Pictured: Bungie and members of the UK Destiny community meetup to celebate ‘The Dawning’ an annual in-game event
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the community as a whole, as well as our own design inspirations, our own goals for the experience, as well as the experiences that we’re having at night as players of our own game.” And all of that feedback comes together every fortnight at a meeting. “So there’s a very healthy debate that occurs all the time at Bungie, every other week, the community managers jump into a room with development stakeholders, analysts and data scientists, and we all try to identify what is the current mood in the game. “And this is informed by data. It’s informed by conversation. It takes into account many different things. So it’s not just a matter of us mindlessly serving their every whim, but taking the things that they’re talking about, about how they feel about the game, and see if we can make a better experience for them. That really delivers on the type of emotions and experiences that we have in mind when we go to make it. “We have, on numerous occasions, cancelled existing content plans to shift our strategy. And instead of being a company that’s trying to lead the conversation, we’re willing to react to their conversation, saying, ‘based on what you’re talking about, we’re going to plan the following steps to bring the game closer into alignment with what you’re expressing you want.’ However, he’s clear that community feedback can only direct the creative team to a certain extent: “That’s not necessarily meaning that we strap a saddle on our backs and let them ride us like a pony! “We take cues from them, we take inspirations from them, where somebody says, ‘I want to take six of my friends to patrol a destination.’ We realise that they want larger forms of collaborative play and so then we can create an activity like The Sundial, or The Menagerie that will matchmake six players together with an interesting challenge and a compelling reward set,
something much better than what they asked for, and delivers on that desire and that urge in ways that they hadn’t imagined yet. “So it’s a collaboration. It’s a matter of us making the best game that we could possibly make as the people who invented this world, at the same time serving the players’ interests and their desires as well as their expressed preferences.” SHOW DON’T TELL Despite all that forward planning to create Destiny’s sense of community, all the huge work the community team has put in since to fan that flame, it still hasn’t been all smooth sailing for the high-profile game, especially as its every decision is analysed by the press and community alike. Which brings us to ask where the division lies between community management and PR? “At its best, community management needs to coexist harmoniously with the same goal set as PR. The people that work in public relations at Bungie are my most valuable partners,” Dague tells us. “We talk about the community every day, we talk about the state of the game every day. We can plan a content calendar, we can decide what we want to tell the
Pictured left to right: xxxxx
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“The most meaningful moment as a player of our game should never be reading about it on Twitter.”
community before content launches, we can decide how we want to ritualize the different things that go live in the game over time, calling the shots, giving them calls to action. But any time we plan too far out in advance, we’re depriving ourselves of the ability to be extemporaneous and improvisational, and react to the way they feel.” Planning too far ahead is one cautionary tip then, but another sticky point is working out just how much you should tell your audience in advance. How do you engage a fanatical community without spoiling what’s coming next? Dague is adamant about one thing: “The most meaningful moment as a player of our game should never be reading about it on Twitter. “There are people in our community who have such a voracious appetite for Destiny, for any information about the game, that if we give it all to them, they will gladly consume it on the internet, and then go into the game and say: ‘You over marketed this, it didn’t have the capacity to surprise me.’ So sometimes, as community managers, we will endure scorn from the hardcore players who are saying to us ‘you’re not telling us enough about this game.’ “It’s depriving the players of the ability to make those discoveries in the game. And while I love the enthusiasm, and while I instinctively want to make people happy, my understanding is that the game is going to do a much better job of making the players happy then I am when publishing things to a blog.”
That said, players do need some guiding, and the content does need promoting, so finding the balance is “a constant conversation.” “When we’re putting together the things that we want to say to introduce players to new content, there’s always sort of a no-go list. What do we want people to discover in the game for themselves? How can I illuminate the trailhead? ‘if you start taking your steps down this path, if you go to Mercury, and start engaging in this new activity that we’ve created for you, you will uncover new lore, you will earn weapons, you will earn new armour.’ “But we cannot, through our marketing campaign, fleece the player experience of all those wonderful eureka moments where people say ‘Oh my god, look what I got. Look what dropped!’” Dague talks on how best to balance information that might be going out as trailers, longer-form documentaries, video snippets, social posts, blog posts and more. Each piece of content has its own answer, but the community team’s job is more than simply distributing information, it’s about reaching the most active members of the community and making sure they have “what they need to know in order to lead their own portion of the conversation.” IN THE VANGUARD The community team deals with, and supports, these most active Guardians in order to help maximise their efforts in leading and shaping the wider playerbase.
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“These are the Vanguards,” Dague says, borrowing an appropriate term from Destiny itself. “They are all, each of them, probably leading their own social movement inside the game. They are people who help involve players in something that is bigger than themselves but smaller than the overall community. “We have people down there,” he gestures to the lively event below, “who are authorities on the lore and the backstory of the game. We have people out there who are authority figures on exactly how to get the most out of the player experience with the smallest amount of investment. “They’re expert content creators. And that term, content creators, is really how we relate to them. They are creating content of their own, to provide their own service to the community. They’re not influencers, we cannot rely on them to sell our product for us.” He explains that further: “If we refer to them as influencers, it’s like, we’re relying on them to sell the game for us, and then we put too much pressure on them. When you refer to someone as a content creator, you’re sort of making this agnostic designation of their value without expecting them to be on your side. “Everybody has their own strategies for how to leverage the player voice. At Bungie, we’ve always seen [content creators] as partners. We’ve always seen them as people who need to have their own voice in this conversation and we need to provide them with an opportunity to simultaneously be both our cheerleaders and our critics.” And as with many games, some content creators are highly critical of the decisions that the developers make. “Yes. And we’re happy to listen to that. It’s valuable,” Dague replies. “A lot of times when a content creator is providing us with their opinion, they are almost a constituent representative, telling us what they know about the people in their audience.” And those creators carry the weight of many. “So listening to a content creator is a great way of getting closer to that silent majority, because it might just be YouTube comments, or streaming chat, that we can’t digest on a regular basis. And they report up to us, ‘the people in my community, the people in my audience tell me this, and they want me to let you know that.’” AFTER NIGHTFALL And nowhere is that idea of constituent representatives more tangible than at an event like the one we’re speaking at.
“The people who attend these events speak to large groups of players. And the stories that radiate out from this event can help create that sensibility that we love our community, that we’ll travel great distances to meet with them in small groups, where we have the chance to hear their voice and listen to their stories, and have them pass on to us the things that are meaningful about the game. “People have told me stories here: ‘My clan is really excited that I’m at this party and they wanted me to tell you something important about how we all feel about the game.’ And we want to communicate the fact to this community that we want a relationship with the players, we want them to feel like their voices are heard. We want them to know that they have a voice in our creative process. We want them to know that we’re listening to their complaints and that we have a process to respond to the issues that they’re reporting. “We’re problem solving. We are taking cues of inspiration from them, and we are creating moments where they can each have the spotlight shine on them, whether they’re creating amazing art or whether they are doing amazing things in the game.” Dague is clear that Bungie must take every opportunity to “celebrate the player” and say “Bungie made this game hoping somebody like you would show up and do these sorts of things. So thank you for completing all the hard work we put into the creative process.” Publishers, designers, artists and programmers don’t instinctually set out to make a game whose success is measured in cosplayers, YouTube videos and clan members. But it’s actually a better metric than many, and certainly one that can put a smile on your face. And, as an independent studio, Bungie plans to go further, to become even more open in its thinking (without giving away those big secrets, of course) and even more engaged with the community that is its reason for existing. “I think we are always trying to give people a sense of what the studio personality is all about. You know, we like to quote people in our blog, we like to bring people on to our live streams. The community was always Bungie’s to manage, and the game was always Bungie’s to develop. “So we will continue to be transparent to the point where we’re not depriving the creators of their right to make the game they want to make, but we need to sustain that sensibility that there is a collaboration and there is an open channel for player input.”
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Her Story and Telling Lies director Sam Barlow walks Chris Wallace through the production process required to blend films and video games into a compelling narrative that’s both yet neither
ver since he left Climax Studios to go independent in 2014, Sam Barlow has become known for interactive experiences that blur the lines between video games and film. His first independent game, 2015’s Her Story, was released to critical acclaim and set the stage for Barlow’s future in video games. Telling Lies, Barlow’s follow-up, takes Her Story’s mechanic of searching a database for video clips and adds a new twist to it. Instead of using police interview recordings to unravel a murder mystery, Telling Lies has the player searching through recordings of private Skype conversations between a cast of four main characters – one of whom is an undercover FBI agent. The unique nature of both Her Story and Telling Lies seems to have been born out of Barlow’s frustrations working as a writer on more traditional games – attempting to flesh out a title’s narrative once development is already underway. “As a writer on a video game,” says Barlow, “you’re constantly juggling. Someone over there is creating the combat system, someone over there is having to build level four, which is act two of the story – all this stuff is going on while you’re trying to get into a quiet room and write the thing. If you have enough money, if you’re Ken Levine, you can scrap entire swathes of the game because you suddenly realised that doesn’t work with your story. But for most people, you just kind of bodge it together and push on, but it’s painful as a writer to work like that.” The realities of writing a game like Telling Lies freed Barlow from these constraints. By using an approach more typical in filmmaking than game development, Barlow was able to spend time researching and establishing the game’s narrative long before it went into production. “With Telling Lies, I knew the story I wanted to tell and I had these four characters in my head. I knew
the big picture story, and thematically what this thing was going to be about. So I then went away and spent a lot of time just researching. I had a researcher that worked with me, and we just started from like, ‘these are the four characters, this is what I think they do, these are some assumptions I’ve made.’ So she went away and met with FBI people, and looked into it. Where do these people live? What do they do? We had a lot of questions early on.” Telling Lies’ mechanics made it essential to have a script in mind well in advance. The player uncovers the story in a nonlinear fashion, by delving through a stolen NSA hard drive by searching for keywords found in the game’s dialogue. Therefore, it was important that Barlow knew just how easy or difficult it was for players to find each individual scene. “We have a horrific process where the whole script gets sucked into the computer, which calculates how connected everything is. So I’ll then get a report spat back at me saying like ‘scene 56 is really hard to find, because there’s nothing very unique in this scene. It’s gonna be really hard for players to find,’ and you go ‘okay, well that’s bad.’” “So then I go in and look at it and I can see no-one’s saying anything interesting. For instance, let’s just say this was a Star Wars game and they are talking about the Death Star. But this isn’t working, because enough people have said ‘Death Star’ earlier in the story. So I’ll go in and look at every earlier instance of Death Star and be like, actually, we don’t need to talk about the Death Star in this scene, we can just infer, or refer to it with a different word. It very much becomes an iterative, sculptural thing where I’ll just keep tweaking the script, rerunning the computer, come back and say, ‘okay, now scene 72 is harder to find.’” Of course, with a game like Telling Lies, it’s not enough to just write it and jump straight into production. Since he’d be working with live actors
“You just bodge it together and push on, but it’s painful as a writer to work like that.”
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Above: Alexandra Shipp, who plays Ava, on set for Telling Lies
instead of polygons, he had to be sure that the script was ready to shoot before he could begin with casting. “The next bit was weird for me, it’s not efficient as far as games go. When you schedule out a game you say ‘we’re going to start here and we gotta finish here.’ And once you’re up and running, you kind of just keep working until it’s finished. But with this, we got to the point where we were happy with the script, we then had to do a test. Because obviously, when you commit to filming something like this, you can’t go back and tweak something without it being hugely expensive. So to make sure this thing actually worked, we did some read throughs of the story and filmed it. Very crude, placeholder footage, a lot of it involving me – I was playing Logan [Marshall-Green]’s character. I was also playing some of the other characters – the mother in law was me in a yellow scarf, which was fun. “Then we did a series of focus groups where people played essentially the whole game, but looking very unfinished and with all this footage that was in no way representative of the final experience, but at least kind of mapped out ‘this is what the game’s gonna be.’ We did a couple of tests, made a few tweaks and had the thing
where we’re like ‘okay, this seems to work.’ Then you have the bit where going into the whole casting process is essentially a tools down moment. “It’s like ‘right, we’re going to send the script to this actor and we’re going to wait for them to read it and get back,’ and you can only send it to one after another because that’s the etiquette of dealing with talent. So there was a period of time that was just casting. It’s this horrible jigsaw of well, ‘so and so is happy to play this character but they’re only available this month,’ and trying to wrangle that is a whole video game in itself.” CASTING CALL While voice acting and motion-capture in games has attracted high-level talent over the years, casting professional actors to perform in a video game can still be something of a tall order. While the industry has certainly gained a lot more respect in the public consciousness over the years, actors are rarely looking at video games as their next big chance. “If you go to an agent and say, I would like to cast your actor in a video game, the immediate response is either ‘no’ or, ‘how much are you going to pay?’”
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Barlow notes. “So if you want Jon Snow to be in Call of Duty, and you’re willing to give them the money, that’s essentially marketing money really, because you want to do a big song and dance about this person being in your game. They very much still see it as a spin off work, merchandise work. It’s the same as doing an advert or something. It’s like, this is not going to further their career, they’re not going to win an Oscar for this. So you do have that challenge. “Luckily, we had Annapurna backing the game, who has a film side and is known for doing very good movies. It creates a focus that meant that we could, at least, get to the point where we could say ‘look, this is an Annapurna thing, take a look at the script.’ That would then leave the door open. And we would send the script and I’d hear back, where the actor’s like ‘I started reading it at 8PM and it’s past midnight, and I’m still reading the script. So I decided to come talk to you.’ So that really helped, once we had an actor reading a script, and they’re like: ‘Oh, hang on a minute. This is clearly not a typical video game.’ “As well as that, I think one of the bible docs that we shared said that the story doesn’t necessarily have a single protagonist, there are these four characters and they all have a whole story’s worth of stuff. And if you’ve been in a movie and you’ve been cast as the wife of the main character, you’re getting like two scenes or something. So I think when they actually got the scripts in their hands, they’re like, ‘oh shit, no, there is a 100 pages of stuff for my character to do.’ So then you meet with the actors and see if you have a rapport. I think any
actor that I was in a room speaking to had kind of preselected themselves, because they’ve read this huge-ass script and seen just how much was involved and had an understanding of what we were going to do to shoot it, so if they were still interested, then they were clearly in it for the right reasons: to come and do something a little bit different.” IF YOU HAD ONE SHOT A little bit different is putting it mildly. Not only is the production process of a game like Telling Lies alien to typical game development, it’s also radically different to how a normal film shoot would go. Since the story is told by the player viewing one half of a Skype conversation, both sides of the call had to be filmed in a single shot. “Everything that’s in the game is essentially a one shot” says Barlow. “So if you have a 12 minute scene, you are going to shoot for 12 minutes non-stop. And if something goes wrong, if a plane flies overhead, or someone forgets a line or trips up, then you have to stop and go back to the start again. So that is a huge demand on the actors – there are some very famous actors who cannot remember more than a page’s worth of dialogue and will just deliver a line at a time, and it’ll be fixed in the editing room. “I felt it was important to be able to watch someone’s face while they’re listening to someone else talk at them. There’s something intimate and interesting about these conversations, so it was important that we actually shoot people talking to each other. Left: The game’s various clips are found by searching through an NSA hard drive
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“So if you see Logan talking to Kerry [Bishé], Logan is on location in his place and Kerry’s on her own location, we’d have two separate mini teams. And they’d be speaking to each other over our version of FaceTime where they would have a little monitor and they would have this camera rig they’d be holding, and we would run everything simultaneously. And we would have to keep running the scene until we got a good one all the way through. “Nobody shoots like that. That’s not how you shoot a movie or a TV show. So everyone was out of their comfort zone. Because this meant that when we called action, we had to clear the set, to essentially have 360 degrees. Because if the actor’s moving around in the space and is holding the camera, you can’t see lighting crew, you can’t have big, obvious lights that are actually physically in the space. But the cool thing was, if you were shooting this as a movie, you would have tonnes of different camera setups, you’d be spending a whole day and shooting a single scene, all the different angles. The actors wouldn’t necessarily be speaking to each other, right? They’d have stand ins and stuff. Whereas here, if we got all the way through a 10 minute scene and got something beautiful, we were done with that scene and we could move on, and suddenly you’ve shot 10 minutes of footage, which is a pretty large amount of footage to grab in one go. So it was a very different way to work, but once we kind of hit our rhythm it was a cool way to shoot.” To add an extra layer of complication, the importance of the player being able to search for clips via keywords meant that the actors had little room for ad-libbing. So not only was the cast required to remember large sections of their lines at once, they had to remember them exactly. “On a film set, you have a script supervisor. On a normal shoot, their job is to worry about continuity, and just kind of keep track of the complexity of the story you’re shooting. When you’re shooting it out of order in bits and pieces, the script supervisor will be the one to go ‘hang on a minute. We’re shooting this scene but didn’t she have her scarf on before?’ They kind of track all of that stuff. With this one, we had a little program where as she’s watching it, if an actor is supposed to say ‘I would like a ham sandwich today’, and instead they say, ‘I would like sandwich today’ instantly she could check to see if they had just ruined things – like, is the
word ‘ham’ in any way a useful thing within the scene? And if it was, we would have to reshoot it.” THE ART OF SWEARING “The thing that I think that was the hardest was if an actor added a word. Especially swear words, because they are particularly emotive, I think when someone curses it’s usually coded to character. So certain characters get certain swear words. “Kerry gets more scatological stuff, she gets all the shits and craps, and I think Alex [Shipp]’s character gets all the fucks. It drove Kerry wild that she couldn’t say fuck. There’s a scene where she says screw and she was like ‘ugh, I would rather say fuck than screw,’ and she just can’t. When you’ve got an actor in a scene and they’re emotional, they might throw in an extra swear word. They would just naturally do that, even if they’re hitting 99% of the script as written. And the script team would be quickly looking and be like, ‘oh shit, the fact that you just adlibbed a couple of curse words means that you’ve just made the scene that follows this one doubly hard to find so sorry, we’re gonna have to go again.’ “We’d get like a beautiful take of a whole scene. And you’d be like, ‘sorry guys, you’re gonna have to go again, because one of you said a word that you shouldn’t have said.’ Every now and then I would cheat, and I would use that as an excuse for an extra take. But I didn’t use that too often!” But that challenging production looks worthwhile now, with Barlow proud of what the team put together. “It seems to be doing well! My biggest concern was while, on paper, the differences between Her Story and Telling Lies seem like little tweaks, the impact they have on the overall experience is huge. My question was: ‘are people going to be okay with this being different?’ My touchstones were things like True Detective season two, Serial season 2, The Killing season two – these shows that were huge hits, and for their second season, they mixed up genre or tone in a way that really pissed people off. But I think that’s gone pretty well, there’s a good balance of people prefer one or the other. They generally feel strongly about that opinion, and I think it’s a good sign.” And with Barlow already planning his third title in the same vein, one that promises to return to his gothic horror roots, we expect there’ll soon be a third camp of opinion to add to those two.
“Nobody shoots like that. That’s not how you shoot a movie or TV. So everyone was out of their comfort zone.”
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Regional Champions Ukie’s big report demonstrates the positive economic impact of games companies across the length and breadth of the UK – a critical factor as government looks to encourage growth right across the country UKIE’S new report is well-timed. Think Global, Create Local is a study that points out how games are one of the best-distributed creative industries in the country. For example, over 55 per cent of game development jobs in the UK are based outside of London and the South East, with over 1,000 roles in each of The North West, East of England, West Midlands and Scotland. With the country now having entered the transitional period for Brexit, and with a refreshed government settling into power, now is the perfect time to make the case, yet again, that the games industry is a boon for the country as a whole. Especially with such the prevailing will to better distribute well-paid and highly-skilled jobs all around the country. The report shows that there are six towns and cities outside of London where the video games industry generates £60m in gross value added (GVA) to the local economy. And it also highlights Scotland’s game economy, which puts £131m into the nation each year – making it the most economically productive of the devolved nations. Stuart Dinsey, chair of the Ukie board, said: “This report demonstrates how the UK games industry’s regional strength is delivering a hugely positive economic return. Towns and cities of all sizes share in the high productivity jobs, commercial growth and cultural contribution that our sector offers. While UK games businesses are successful on the global stage, the direct benefits of their pioneering creative work are felt across the country. “The video games industry has an important role to play in rebalancing the economy and creating skilled careers. We look forward to working with government and policy makers to continue to bring the jobs of the future to local communities.” The data used to collate the report comes from the 2016 Screen Business report, which still represents the most complete and relevant dataset for such a study, covering over 2,100 game businesses, with Ukie stating “It is the single most authoritative economic analysis of the UK games industry ever conducted.” All data here comes from that report, though obviously there’s likely to
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have been some changes, and general growth, over the last four years, so use this as a baseline. The report’s key findings are as follows: • In 2016, UK games companies directly employed 16,140 FTE roles and contributed £1.35bn in GVA to the UK economy. Including indirect and induced impacts, this rises to £2.87bn in GVA. • London’s games sector is a billion pound industry, generating £1.4bn in GVA for the economy and directly employing over 5,100 FTE roles. • Eight games hubs contributed over £60m in GVA to their local economies: London, Slough and Heathrow, Leamington Spa, Newcastle upon Tyne, Crawley and Horsham, Edinburgh, Manchester and Guildford. • 55% of game development studio roles are based outside of London and the South East. • The North West, East of England, West Midlands and Scotland all employ over 1,000 FTEs in development studio roles. • 23 towns and cities throughout the UK are home to over 20 local games companies. • Scotland is home to a thriving games industry, with three major hubs generating £131m in GVA for the UK economy. • The North East games industry has the biggest impact on the local economy outside of London, at £1.90 of every £1,000 of regional GVA. • 99.5% of UK games companies are officially SMEs (Small to Medium Enterprises), employing less than 250 people, which collectively contributed £1.6bn in GVA. • £339m in GVA is generated by micro-businesses of less than 10 employees, representing 13.7% of the industry total, and employing 3,664 FTEs. • The very largest games companies, employing over 250 people, are hugely important to the UK economy, alone contributing £840m in GVA and employing over 4,200 FTEs, or 26% of the industry workforce. REGIONAL DISTRIBUTION In 2016, there were 2,108 active games companies across the UK. These include global brands and platforms, major publishers, world-leading development studios, start-ups, scale-ups and a vibrant and creative community of micro-businesses. While over 89 per cent of games companies are based in England, over half of UK games companies are based outside of London or the South East, including many larger developers. While Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are all home to internationally successful businesses. DEVOLVED STRENGTH In 2016, Scottish games companies contributed £131.2m in GVA to the UK economy. Large employers in Edinburgh made a significant economic impact, as did the lively indie games community in Dundee. Welsh games businesses contributed £14.4m of GVA to the UK economy in 2016. 48% of Welsh games companies are based in Cardiff, but companies
UK REGIONS BY GVA Region
Direct GVA (£M)
Total GVA (£M)
East of England
Yorkshire & the Humber
Outside of London, the parliamentary constituency of Guildford has the greatest number of games industry employees. throughout the country play a significant part, including in nearby Bridgend. The games industry in Northern Ireland contributed £5.6m in GVA to the UK economy in 2016. 60% of these games companies were based in or around Belfast and represented the majority of the economic impact. Small development studios were present in five of Northern Ireland’s six counties, residing in the likes of Derry, Coleraine and Craigavon. AROUND ENGLAND As with other entertainment and media sectors, London is central to the games industry in England, with over 500 games companies based in the capital. However, from Newcastle upon Tyne in the north east to Brighton on the south coast, major games companies can be found throughout England. In 2016, the North West games industry contributed £157.3m in GVA to the UK economy, with Manchester alone accounting for £66m. The innovative, techled games industry found in Liverpool also makes a significant economic contribution. The North East games industry contributed £99.9m in GVA to the UK economy in 2016. Large employers in Newcastle upon Tyne made up the lion’s share of regional GVA at £86m. An emerging sector in Sunderland also had a significant impact. Since 2016, further investment in the North East, particularly from large businesses, is likely to have increased employment and led to further growth.
Above: All credit to David Thompson, researcher, and Luke Hebblethwaite, insight & innovation manager, both of Ukie, who authored the report.
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With the highest percentage of game employees per working-age population, you’re most likely to meet someone who works in the games industry in Leamington Spa. SIZE MATTERS THE report shows that the UK games industry comprises companies of all sizes: from solo developers and indie micro-businesses, to startups, scale-ups, boutique publishers, large development studios and global multinationals. It is clear from the data that companies at all scales make significant contributions to the UK economy, both in terms of employment and GVA. The games workforce is spread relatively evenly across business of various sizes and together the smaller businesses generate value comparable to the industry’s larger companies.
UK COMPANY BREAKDOWN BY COMPANY SIZE Company size (employees)
10 - 24
25 - 49
50 - 99
100 - 249
Total GVA (£m)
The games industry in Yorkshire and the Humber contributed £42.9m in GVA in 2016. With several smaller hubs based around established businesses and recent screen sector investment, Yorkshire is currently set for growth. Games companies in the West Midlands contributed £130.9m in GVA in 2016. While Birmingham and Leamington Spa have around the same number of active companies, Birmingham is mostly home to smaller, newer businesses, whereas major studios in the long-established Leamington games hub generated over ten times the economic impact. At £101m in GVA, Leamington was the largest single economic contribution outside of London and the Slough/ Heathrow area. In 2016, the East Midlands games industry contributed £74.1m in GVA to the UK economy. Several smaller games hubs centred around larger companies had considerable combined economic impact.
At £1.35bn in GVA, the games industry directly generated nearly twice as much value for the UK economy as the fishing industry (£718m) in 2016.
The games industry in the East of England generated £54.3m in GVA in 2016. Cambridge is the most prominent games industry hub in the region, home to several highly successful UK games studios with a significant employment base. In 2016, the South West games industry contributed £32.5m in GVA to the UK economy. The games-related output of a major animation studio and their overall impact on the local economy supported a thriving hub of smaller games developers in Bristol, contributing £9.47m in GVA. Further south, a small hub in Falmouth also stands out.
THE SOUTH EAST In 2016, there were nine key economic hubs identified in the South East, with the region comprising a substantial part of the overall UK games sector. Major development studios in the Crawley and Horsham area were a significant boon, contributing £83.7m in GVA to the UK economy. Further south, a multitude of smaller and mid-sized businesses in Brighton also had a considerable combined impact. While comparatively smaller, the hub in Basingstoke is also notable. As home to several world-leading studios, the wellestablished games development hub of Guildford and Aldershot contributed a substantial £64.0m to the UK economy in 2016. Despite a comparatively small number of local games businesses, the inclusion of a major studio in the Medway area helped bring a significant £21.6m economic boost to the local area. In Oxford a mix of larger and mid-sized businesses contributed a further £14.4m in GVA to the UK economy. With several major studios and publishers, the Slough and Heathrow area contributed a considerable £116.2m in GVA in 2016, with the nearby Reading cluster bringing an additional £8.5m. Mid-sized publishers and studios in Milton Keynes added a further £17.7m. Overall, the South East games industry contributed £356.3m in GVA in 2016. London is the largest hub for the games industry, with 588 games businesses based in the capital in 2016. Together, these companies employed over 5,107 FTE roles and generated a total economic impact of £1.39bn in GVA. As by far the largest UK games industry hub, London is home to a massive diversity of businesses, from micro-studios to global publishers, operating across all platforms, technologies and genres, creating an enormous wealth of creative and innovative content. The capital’s impact in supporting the wider UK games ecosystem cannot be underestimated, with its international statute as a world-leading city for financial services, creative industries, culture, heritage and diversity drives investment, partnerships and opportunities from around the world.
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A Swift spotlight: Accessibility in games Chloe Newman on living with invisible illnesses, finding a gaming community online and why the industry needs to do more to encourage inclusivity
Accessibility advocate Chloe Newman
CHLOE NEWMAN (@dottie089_) has been an advocate for accessibility for years, speaking both via social media and publicly, raising awareness of the fact that there is still much more to be done by game makers and platforms on the subject. “I have Fibromyalgia, which is a chronic pain condition. It’s caused mental health issues, anxiety and depression. When it’s at its worst, I have bad tendencies towards agoraphobia and not wanting to leave my home,” she admits candidly. “The whole experience has been a learning curve for me and my partner, as I also have joint hypermobility syndrome, IBS, chronic urticaria and chronic fatigue syndrome. It’s like a collection of small annoying things that add up and hit me with random bouts of fatigue and pain.” Chloe started gaming as a child on the Super Nintendo, making the transition to the Sony ecosystem from the original PlayStation onwards, but never forgot her Japanese gaming roots. The hobby took a backseat in high school, but she picked up gaming again in her early adulthood as an escape from the isolating factors of her emerging conditions.
“When I was more mobile, I used to be really social. I’d travel the world, meet up with friends and work out. When my fibromyalgia surfaced, I lost a lot of those social bonds. Certain friends didn’t want to navigate my limitations and expected me to be how I always was. That’s the problem with invisible illnesses.” Her partner, Sib, reintroduced her to the gaming community she’d taken a step back from. Through the PS4 she experienced great titles such as Little Big Planet, Tearaway and the Lego Star Wars series of titles. It wasn’t until she was surprised with a Nintendo Switch for her birthday that she fell in love with gaming again. “I adored Breath of the Wild instantly, but I always felt like something was missing from my gaming habits.” Although she enjoyed the distraction, Chloe was playing games focused on single player experiences. What she was actually searching for was a community. “I ended up finding that with the “Nintenmau5 & Friends” Discord server. I couldn’t just go out and see my friends like I used to, so I made new ones and brought them into my home life. Twitter, Discord and Twitch were all instrumental in that. The more I put in, the more I got out. I suddenly had friends at the touch of a button.” This sense of community and newfound companionship even allowed her to go outside of her comfort zone. She now meets up with her gaming family multiple times a year; where possible. Despite her positive experiences with gaming, Chloe still feels like the industry isn’t doing enough to open gaming up to more people. “Nintendo is at the forefront of innovation. They’re doing things the other big names just aren’t trying, look at the Switch and the Wii. Where accessibility is concerned though, they aren’t making any real moves and are lagging behind the competition. The Joy-Cons cause me pain through extended use, they’re fiddly (especially when used independently as a two-player set-up), and the options for UI customisation is extremely limited. Don’t get me started on the size of subtitles nowadays.” She does have faith that gains have been made though, especially with the Xbox Adaptive Controller and with the work of charities such as Special Effect and GamesAid. Video games are a fantastic tool and can broaden the horizons of those of us with more limitations. By improving hiring practices, we can create a more diverse gaming industry. By including more varied perspectives at all levels of the development cycle, titles will continue to improve and become more inclusive to a wider range of gamers.
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Pictured: Sean Decker speaks to his freshly-assembled team on the day of Wargaming UKâ€™s official launch
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A forever studio for a forever game You’ve got a sizeable budget, you’re building a new studio in a brand-new office space, to work on a big game. It’s the dream, but making a studio to last is still no mean feat. Seth Barton talks to Sean Decker and Keith Anderson about the creation of Wargaming UK
he slow evolution of service-based titles in the industry means that many of the studios now supporting such games weren’t explicitly created for the task – instead having transitioned away from discrete releases over many years. So surely it’s better to create a wholly new studio, from scratch, that’s built for the task at hand. Though that then comes with an avalanche of decisions to make, from location, to headcount, to strategy and much more. EA and CCP veteran Sean Decker has had to grapple with all that over the last year. With the result being arguably the most significant new UK studio launch of recent years: Wargaming UK. Inevitably there was some direction from outside, you might have read our interview piece with Wargaming boss Victor Kislyi back in September. And the opportunity to acquire Edge Case Games in late 2018 was a major turning point. Even then, that left a huge amount to decide. The studio was set-up expressly to deliver a service title, a “forever game” as Decker describes it, and to do that he must create a studio that’s equally built to last. So we sit down with him at the new studio’s official launch to discuss its founding tenets and direction – starting with head count. THE MAGIC NUMBER “What is the maximum number of people you can have and still maintain social cohesion?” asks Decker. “We
don’t want too many people, and what I mean by too many people comes from a study,” he adds. That study resulted in what’s called Dunbar’s Number, a study appropriately done by a British anthropologist, Robin Dunbar, in the early 90s. Based on the size of the human brain, and the size of early human settlements, he proposed that groups could only maintain true social cohesion up to around 150 people. “That’s really what you want, to be able to say ‘I know everybody, and I know their names.’ As opposed to walking around and you’re like: ‘Who’s that guy?’” At present the team is around 100, with plans to move up to 150. We wonder whether this preference was born out of Decker’s time with far larger teams? “I’ve been in studios who are small and nice and tight, I’ve been in ones which are massive, and again, you don’t know everybody, and it’s just a huge difference between them. And, you know, I really like the places where you do know everybody by their names.” Of course, we’d probably all rather work somewhere more personable, and for many that number would be smaller still than Dunbar and Decker’s figure. But then there’s a danger that you’re letting team size dictate the game you’re making, rather than building the team needed for the game you want. Decker is clear that the decision on head count came from him and is matched to the project. He also notes that the team will be punching well above its weight,
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having been built to optimise the use of both outsourced assets and externally-developed tools. OUT AND ABOUT “We hire people who are specific experts or who have worked with outsourcing before,” Decker explains. “For example, Nicolas Pain, our art production director, is fantastic and has done it for a number of companies in the past. He’s worked with Codemasters, Playground Games and so on. He’s used to building out great pipelines and that is what we focus on. As opposed to thinking everything has to be built in house. “So you can expect a much larger game and again, this is why we’re choosing in many places to use middleware – Unreal for instance. Do I want 50 of my people working on the tech or would I rather have 50 people working on the game? Those are the kind of choices that we’re making. “Everything will be directed from here, but I’m a big believer in working with partners around the world when it comes to content, no matter whether it’s VFX, art and so on. The amount that you have to make, it is almost unsustainable to build up a team to make it all… And there’s so many really good partners you can work with around the world who do it well.” And having built a team the right size for your ongoing needs, it’s best to avoid bringing in staff for a big push on assets, only to have to let them go again later when that comes to an end. Similar thinking has gone into the technology choices too. “It’s the reason we chose Unreal,” Decker continues. “They make a really good tech stack. They have hundreds of engineers working on it. Do I want to make that? Do I want to replicate that and try and beat that? Or would I rather make a game and focus on the game, instead of doing both at the same time?” LEVEL DESIGN One thing that Wargaming UK has been building, though, is its own new office space. We’re given a tour of the well-appointed new space, with a large meeting area,
neon-lit cafe, and open plan office space. The new office occupies the top floor of a large building on the edge of central Guildford, and offers great 360-degree views of the surrounding area. And building that space, alongside the carefully selected team, is all a part of creating a new culture for this new studio, or at least the seeds of it. Publishing director Keith Anderson explains more: “We’re still developing our new game, we’re still understanding what our new IP is going to be. If you walked into a studio that’s got some heritage, you would immediately see all their previous games. We’re building up to that, so how are we going to build a culture in the studio that represents what we want to achieve? “So a lot of what you see around is built on ‘the games that made us’, the games that got us here. We’ve got a lot of industry veterans, as well as new guys coming in. So for instance, this room is the 8-bit room,” he gestures at the tabletop arcade game we’re sitting around and the retro graphics adorning the walls. “That room there is the RPG room,” he points next door, where the meeting room has been fitted with a medieval-styled RPG gaming table, matching chairs, faux stone walls and an iron chandelier – it’s like something from a high-budget D&D streamer’s channel. “We wanted it to reflect that we’re all gamers, we love games, we have a passion for games, there are certain games that drove us to get to the stage where we are, and we are making games that will hopefully get a new generation of gamers coming in and loving games. “So we wanted the studio to have a feeling of embracing all the games that have influenced us and got us to this stage. So that’s why you see the eighties-style arcade setup in our canteen. The occult library next door, like a Resident Evil kind of thing. That’s the kind of vibe we looked at when we looked at building a studio.” It looks like it will be a fun place to work, though obviously at this early point, everything is unused, but once they get the shrinkwrap off those board games, and put a few tea mug rings on that table, it’ll feel much improved.
“I’m a big believer in working with partners around the world when it comes to content. The amount that you have to make, it is almost unsustainable to build up a team to make it all.”
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OPEN WORLD The meeting rooms, along with a testing room and two audio production suites, are the only places we see where you can close a door on the rest of the studio. It’s part of an open and transparent culture that Decker is set on creating. “Personally I become much more engaged when I’m sitting around listening to people and catching conversations, rather than sitting in an office and then you have to venture out. Just that one door is a massive barrier… I don’t want that. It’s not the culture we want to build out.” “From a cultural point of view, we try and be very, very open. We’re always having conversations. I’m having a conversation about whatever – finance, branding, whatever else it is, and everybody around me can hear that conversation going on. The only conversations you have outside that are those which are sensitive for HR.” And that spirit of openness will extend beyond simple, everyday conversations. “Every time there’s a milestone, everybody goes and shows all their work. We have an AMA every month, and all of our questions are submitted anonymously. Everybody gets to see all the questions, and I stand up and pick the most uncomfortable ones I can find in the list to answer. “That’s the kind of culture we want, to be able to have open and honest conversations. I’ve been in too many places where there’s too many side conversations going on, and the actual work isn’t getting done. “One of our main purposes is really, as leaders, to walk around and say: ‘Hey, you two need to talk. Because you said something, and you said something, and they’re not quite in agreement. Just sit down and have a conversation about it’. “And that’s the other reason why we shuffle the teams around and move people from seat to seat. Because your work changes as it goes along, and you need to sit next to the people you need to talk with. As opposed to, this is all art, and that’s all design, and silo them all out. Our teams don’t work that way, so we have coders that sit right next to the designer, and they’re working hand-inhand with art.” END GAME Location, office design, culture, all important parts of the puzzle, but Decker is keen to point out that it’s the people that really matter. “It’s really about the people we hire, this environment absolutely helps that and it helps the creativity and the
openness and the sharing of ideas. But really, it is about the people that we hire and their attitude and their thinking about what is fun. “We’re making a fun game, something that is going to be a hobby and something that people will enjoy for many, many years to come,” Decker states confidently. “At the end of the day it’s a hobby, hobbies are all about emotion, as far as I’m concerned, and whether your hobby is golf, or fishing or making modern trains, you do it because you enjoy it.” And enjoying being at work should therefore help the team make a game that’s more enjoyable. A game which, at present, Wargaming UK is being understandably cagey about. Though there are some hints as to what area the team is targeting. “I do really enjoy the idea of forever games, you look at League of Legends, you look at Dota, you look at Fortnite, you look at World of Tanks. Games that have just gone on forever. And that is really where my heart lies, in terms of making things that can be expanded for a long period of time. “Players want to invest in their hobby, in terms of time, and they want to be assured that it’s going to be there, that it’s going to be supported,” which is something that Wargaming as a whole can certainly claim to have delivered on in the past. “And then much more tactically, I think there’s a lot of interesting things in terms of games that power up within the session itself. So, League of Legends. You don’t bring a tonne of progression in with you, you have it within the match itself. And then other ones, games which are massively loot or progression based, Destiny is a great example. “There’s all these great places you can play around with, mix with, and so on and so forth. And so it’s been a lot of fun having everybody thinking it out. And one of the ways we work from a creative point of view, is as we’re diving into something very particular, we have the team, for a sprint, to just go nuts, just go crazy. “So, as an example, if you were going to make a new Diablo let’s say – we’re not making a new Diablo – but if you’re doing that, then the team goes nuts for two weeks on crazy stuff. ‘I’m going to have pink ponies come out of my spear!’ And the great thing about that is they can explore the space, they can be super creative and get all those juices out. And there’s a couple of things we’ll pick out of that. And then everything else: OK that was trash, throw it all away or think about it way down the road. “And I love that. And those are the kind of people we want, who can take that in and structure it into something that is fantastic.”
Above: Wargaming UK publishing director Keith Anderson
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When We Made... Lego Builder’s Journey
actually look at you. And even with that little bit of work, with the help of the animation and really smart designers and engineers, with everybody working together, you could tell from the very beginning that Chris Wallace takesshea was look behind the scenes a character that people would really gravitate of Light Brick Studios’ debut title, which seeks toward.” Quill really fleshed out character with to recreate the experience of becomes playinga fully with Lego the help of the game’s strong world-building. through a more poetic lens As an interloper in Quill’s world, the player experiences it not through her eyes, but as an observer watching as she lives her life in her familiar setting. It’s a strangely intimate feeling, and one which gives way to joint apprehension as both the player and Quill enter new, unfamiliar areas. “When you go through Mousetown and you see Quill runLEGO through there and you see that is she has aany hometown, BUILDER’S JOURNEY unlike Lego thegame feeling of might her leaving it, of that maybe in being in you be familiar with.town Launched danger, gives 2019 you more a bond,” Alderson says. Arcade, “If December as a of surprise release on Apple that part was left out,attracted you wouldn’t feel likepraise therefor was Builder’s Journey immediate its much to meditative fight for. Everything that we’ve done, the mood quiet, nature – telling a story as players solve settings, takingcomplicated Quill from one area towith the Lego. next and letting increasingly puzzles you rest and take in this environment… It’s all supposed It stands in stark contrast to the Lego games to we’ve exaggerate anduntil accentuate thatthe mood that you’re seen up now. While Lego brand has feeling. all ties back howwith you 2017’s are connecting with been Itbranching outinto of late, procedurallyQuill and her world.” generated sandbox title Lego Worlds as a notable Above: Karsten Lund from Light Brick Studios
example, the phrase ‘Lego video game’ still brings to SAME EIGHT WAYS mind QUESTION action-adventure titles spun off existing IPs. Collaboration was keyand during theBrick development of Moss, Creative director Light Studios head notKarsten just within theexplains team itself, but with thea help of external Lund the game was deliberate playtesters. People were often broughtininatonew feedback on decision to take the Lego franchise direction. “It started with the idea of exploring new genres,” says Lund, “and trying to use the Lego brick in a way that is a little different than what we’ve done these past years. We wanted to look at the brick from a different angle. The action-oriented gameplay is very much part of the Lego idea and the Lego play promise in many ways, but there’s also that other side, the creative side where you’re expressing yourself with the brick. That
the game and asked questions about their experience – even if most of these questions were actually very similar. “External playtests were mostly about ‘Okay, how do people feel when they play? Do they like it or not like it?’,” Alderson explains. “At the end of playtest we would ask the same question eight different ways. The question is really ‘What didn’t you like?’, but we would ask it differently: ‘What pulled you out of the experience? What took you out of the headset? If there’s one thing you could change what would it be? If you had two weeks to finish the game, what would be the thing that you’d fix?’ “Those help bring a playtester into their comfort zone, because no one wants to play something that people put a lot of care and love into and then turn around and say ‘Thisdefi is what didn’t like it’. Soto it takes a little was nitelyI where we about were trying go with this.while The to get the playtester we found that inspiration was to trycomfortable, and make anand artistic experience, finding ask the same and try different and put ways Lego to brick-building atquestion the core means of that you eventually the really good stuff aftertake the fourth experience. Weget wanted to see if we could brick or fifth time which you ask building, is it. fun in its own right, and turn that into “I don’t think anyone in our studio has ever made a a game mechanic.” game like is this, so I think important that game you trust Artistic certainly theit’s word for it – the hasthe process. You trust playtesting you make surebringing that you been justifi ably praised for its and art style, instantly allow yourself some time andoffreedom try something to mind the isometric work Ustwo’stoMonument Valley andcomparison then keep going. Try something branch out, – a that hasn’t been lostnew on and Lund. but“We alsowere use your experience from games that you’ve definitely inspired by the movement made before and that you’llwe’ve be fine. As in long as you’re of artistic games seen recent years,having fun too! Weonenjoyed especially mobile”playing notes Moss Lund.throughout “The games thethat entire I’m personally a huge of, such as Monument Valley, process and I think thatfan really helps.” are definitely an inspiration. But we’ve really tried to find our own feet in this, especially because everything is brick built and we have the unique design language of Lego. “We tried to come up with something unique, but we definitely drew some inspiration from those indie games out there that managed to show us new kinds of games, with new ways of playing and experiences with narrative and emotions.”
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Left: Lego Builder’s Journey takes a more creative, abstract and gloriously (in our eyes) Minifig-free take on the ubiquitous block THE LEGO PILLARS From these initial seeds of brick building, artistry, creativity, narrative and emotions, the team then needed to create a cohesive vision of the core experience of the game. To explain this, Lund runs us through the game’s key design pillars. “We needed to put brick building at the core of the game as a mechanic,” says Lund. “It had to stay true to what you actually do, the decisions you make when you build with bricks. So to keep people in that kind of flow, you have to pick up a brick, you have to figure out where it sits, you have to rotate it in the right angle to place it exactly where you want to place it. “Another pillar was the focus on the artistic – almost poetry, if you will. Trying to show what you can also build with Lego bricks, we were inspired by some of the indie builders out there. There’s a lot of people who are building amazing things in Lego that don’t necessarily have the look and feel like your everyday Lego model. “We were trying to see if we could twist it a little bit in terms of how we portrayed Lego. We didn’t want to use a minifigure, we wanted to create our own little characters. Just to give it that artistic vibe, so you had
to interpret a little bit into it. Which I think is the strength of Lego in general, there is a bit of abstraction around a Lego model in a cool way, right? “We also wanted to blend puzzle mechanics with a narrative on top of it. Both to drive people through the experience as a challenge, wanting to get further in the game and onto the next challenge and solve it, and reward them in that way, but also to tell them a story along the way.” AN AUTHENTIC LEGO EXPERIENCE Light Brick Studios’ focus on making the game replicate the feel of actually playing with Lego certainly makes the game distinct from the action-oriented titles. While those games certainly carry the Lego branding and aesthetic, they don’t particularly feel like playing with Lego. Any building in those games is an automated affair – Hold down a button and watch Hermione Granger build a motorbike, with no further creativity or input from the player. It’s not so much a criticism of these games – they’re proven to be undeniable successful in what they do – but they’re certainly more an exercise in playing with a particular IP, instead of
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worked on. So we had a pretty good idea of what the players thought. Obviously a testing scenario is different than actually going live and people playing it, but we had a pretty good feeling that we were onto something that would appeal to a lot of different players. Of course, it’s always interesting to release games and then to sit down and wait for reviews to come in and hope that people like it. It’s not like we were totally confident about the game, but we had a pretty good hunch, from all the testing we did, that this would at least be enjoyable.”
Above: Light Brick’s protagonist pair in Builder’s Journey
replicating the traditional Lego experience of throwing together bricks as you play. Arguably, Builder’s Journey chimes with the traditional appeal of the Lego System more than many of its cousins. Still, by taking the Lego franchise in such a different direction, it’s easy to see why Light Brick Studios might have been worried about how it would be received. When Lego games have such an expectation of IP-rich action-adventure gameplay attached to them, taking things into a more meditative, artistic direction could be seen as a real risk. But Lund shoots this one down, pointing to the heavy playtesting the game went through before it went live on Apple Arcade. “I don’t think we were worried really – we tested so much, it’s probably the most tested game I’ve ever
ONE SIZE FITS ALL An artistic vision, a respect for the traditional experience of playing with Lego and wanting to appeal to people of all ages are all certainly sensible goals to keep in mind when developing a game – But it’s also definitely easier said than done. Trying to marry an artistic vision inspired by Monument Valley with the need to have a puzzledriven game which is easily accessible to all ages is a tightrope to walk. “It’s never very easy to make a great game,” agrees Lund, “of course, there were challenges along the way. I think one of the big ones was our non-verbal approach, to try and tell a story and teach a game without using any words of guidance or any tutorials. That was definitely something that was that was interesting to test and iterate on until we had something that the players simply just got, without actually telling them what to do. “We ended up putting a little bit of written narrative in terms of controls in the beginning, just a little bit of text. But after that, there’s nothing. Everything is taught through the play, which is definitely what we think the Lego idea is, in many ways. You try things, you experiment and you learn and then you put things together in a new way and new things happen. So that’s the way we wanted this game to sort of reveal itself. But definitely it’s a hard thing to get right. So that took a lot of testing.” As Lund notes, the game’s development went through its own process of experimenting and learning.
“Everybody knows the brick. And everybody kind of knows what a brick does and where it goes, and how it fits together in the system.”
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Builder’s Journey went through a significant testing period to ensure their non-verbal approach was working – and it was through this process that the team were able to fully form the meditative experience at the core of the game. “Initially we had an idea of the game being a bit more challenging, but we realised through testing that the players really responded to the sort of zen-like, meditative play. So it slowly sort of smoothed itself out as more and more players came through and responded positively to that feeling of just building with bricks. So in that sense, it definitely took a little bit of a tonal shift thanks to our dialogue with the audience.” Still, even if you have your strong artistic vision nailed down alongside the intuitive mechanics, it’s no good if the game can’t find its audience. While the Lego branding undoubtedly helped bring attention to the game, Lund credits Apple Arcade as being an excellent fit for more artistically-minded titles. “I think there’s a lot of cool titles on Apple Arcade” says Lund. “I think the type of game that we’ve made, totally fits into the offering of games that they have. A lot of these games take a much more artistic approach, I
think it’s brilliant. We really felt a lot of support for what we wanted to do – It’s been a great partnership. “I think, in general, with the mobile platform there’s a lot of different types of players out there. And from our point of view, we want to try this experience out on a lot of different types of players because they know the Lego brick. Everybody knows the brick. And everybody kind of knows what a brick does and where it goes, and how it fits together in the system. “So we’re doing something different, something new with a very well known medium. It’s a design classic, some of these designs are 60 years old and they still hold up. So we decided to make something new using something well known, and it was interesting to see if people responded to that, and I think they really have. We’re so, so happy with the reviews. There’s a lot of praise and a lot of people who really get what we were trying to do. There’s a lot of people wishing for more, which is always a good thing.” And given the success Light Brick has seen with their inaugural title, we’re sure they’re going to be doing more creative building of their own to keep their new fans satisfied.
Above: Subtle lighting adds a surprising pathos to the title
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The Sounds of... Petri Alanko
Every month, we discuss the unique process of making music for video games. This month, Chris Wallace dives into the musical universe of Petri Alanko, who’s behind games such as Control, Alan Wake and Quantum Break
How early in a game’s development process do you usually start working on the score? Well, as early as possible, and if they allow, I’d gladly be available when they’re first putting the pieces together – brainstorming. It’s a precious tool, as even though something they’re discussing isn’t going to be in the final production, the ‘tone of voice’ or ‘the events that lead to’ type of discussions are the ones that matter to me most. In some cases, the events of these sessions produce an emotional impact that provides a profound foundation for – to use a saying from the fragrance industry – a base note. Of course the script will change, and the characters will change, but the essential ingredients are there. The finished character will be a little like meeting an old friend after, say, 20 years. The same with the environment; it has changed compared to the initial talks and ideas, but there’s that something that remained and evolved. Also, those talks and early script versions usually provide a lot of ideas for raw sounds, which, in turn, act as timeline anchors: returning to some early recording or a raw sound or an instrument sample/recording is a portal to the origins of the story. If I’m stuck with something I’m currently writing, sometimes going through the original recordings helps you through. It can be misleading, though, if you’re not careful. Be prepared to kill a few darlings and prepare for a course change, edits, takeouts. Don’t love anything too much. This, however, requires a special superpower: you need to be able to switch yourself from the creative person to the analytical person, without a delay. You need to be the agent and the manager and the artist, all at once, and the role switching will develop in time; the more years you play this gig, the more fluent you will be. What are the typical challenges of writing for games as opposed to more linear narrative forms? Well, things can easily get out of hand quite quickly – or become repetitive in the gaming world. One needs to be really prepared for the amount of material needed, it is surprising how complicated things can get, unless you
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are really meticulous with the naming and the versions, stems, clips, intros and outros. The first experience I had long ago with the dynamic content and playback engines was a true door-opener to me. I was very pleasantly surprised by the seemingly random, yet controlled, output of the shorter stems I had provided. I got so taken by the WWise engine that I even considered using it live with a band I was touring with. Initial tests were really rewarding, but the tour manager talked me out of the idea: “C’mon, you pretentious little sh*t, the stuff needs to be used by the roadies or the keyboard tech if you fall ill or die!” Obviously they were worried about the looks of the UI, I guess… Does your approach differ between writing for a multiplayer title as opposed to a single player narrative-driven game? I tend to think that multiplayer games require a slightly less abrasive surface, drama-wise. They sort of require a little less, due to the natural forming of in-game communications, be it communication by ‘character gestures only’ or tied together through a headset. It depends, really, and there are no rules. I personally prefer single player games, as I like the singular aspect. With more protagonists on screen, the emotions can get a little cluttered. With regards to the triple-A and indie comparison, I don’t actually separate the two. Of course the budgets are different as well as the assets reserved for marketing, recording sessions etc, but the essential core procedure is similar. The composing method is similar, the production side probably differs a little but the audience shouldn’t notice the production values,
Above: Alanko has become Remedy’s goto composer, working on several of their titles
it’s not their concern to worry about. I’ve learned some tricks that probably aren’t audible to ‘civilians’ that speed up the production a lot and ‘cut corners’ in a way that reveals itself only when looking at my audio workstation timeline... if you’re knowledgeable enough. Sometimes you can use the orchestra or the solo artists or sections, sometimes you use the sample libraries, sometimes it’s the combination, but this isn’t actually dictated by the budget: if it requires something, I can fit it in, be that one single soloist or a section – or a whole orchestra. In both cases, you just need to know what you’re doing. How has the role of the composer evolved in games over the past years in your experience? I ran into the most important issue back in the day. A long time ago, the clients acted towards the end of the production cycle: “OH GOD. WE NEED MUSIC OH GOD, OH GOD!” Luckily, that rarely happens anymore (but it still does), and people tend to be more proactive. I’d like to think they themselves have noticed the importance of appropriate, fitting music. The value of understanding the outcome of perfect music for your perfect product is more than the sum of the two: as music is the vessel of emotions, the right piece in the right place turns your work into a diamond. A little like a kiss and a good song: both are perfect as is, but with some suitable timing, the combination can bring tears into your eyes. In a movie, with some background story thrown in, the whole cinema audience will cry – and this, in my opinion, emphasizes the importance of the background stories in gaming. Don’t neglect the histories. You have one, the characters need one too.
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Brought to you by
The Final Boss Every month an industry leader wraps up MCV/DEVELOP with their unique insight
Unusually, Blazing Griffin makes both films and games – how did that come about? It started young! I grew up reading books, playing games like Zork and Monkey Island. When I was ten, it was natural to watch a Star Wars movie, read a book in the extended universe or play Jedi Knight on the PC. I never felt like format was a barrier; a story could transcend any medium. I started in film, but I found like-minded individuals in games and TV who saw the same thing – we could make something greater than the sum of its parts by bringing our industries together. At Blazing Griffin we’re storytellers first in the widest possible sense. Platform comes second. Attempts to blend the two mediums have struggled, but that looks to be changing, why do you think that is? I think the appeal is that it’s a challenge. The rise of indie gaming over the last decade and the ability to control your deadlines define your approach to IP, and taking bigger risks on format means you can increase the chance of successful projects. When you’ve got a huge budget, fixed dates and companies protective of their brands, innovation can be stifled and you become risk averse. You accept that and get excited that blending media is risky because it’s innovative – if you approach it timidly the chance of failure is high. What was the greatest moment of your career to date? The moment that stays with me is the first time my short film played in a cinema. I was at university and had made this awful stopmotion animation. Genuinely terrible. There’s a bit in the middle where a character did a martial arts kata for no reason, it was bad. But at the festival it got huge laughs, there was something magical in that moment, hearing a sold-out cinema laughing at all the bits you wanted them to. I think because that was the first time, it’s stuck with me over the years. There’s a new wave of gaming platforms coming, do you think they will generate growth in the medium term? I think there will be growth in the short term, with a high likelihood of a dip in the medium term, as the shopping spree of new platforms comes to an end. What needs to happen for long-term growth is expansion of the consumer base – we can’t just be fighting for smaller slices of the pie. We need to make games accessible for wider audiences. How do we show games can be of value to every demographic and income group, and solve discoverability? I feel like Apple and Nintendo are the only ones that are meaningfully looking at that.
Naysun Alae-Carew, Managing Director, Blazing Griffin “At Blazing Griffin we’re storytellers first in the widest possible sense. Platform comes second.”
Is the games industry headed in the right direction? It’s hard to say what ‘right’ is when talking about a consumer-driven industry, but the last few years have shown that games as an art-form have something to contribute. Like any storytelling, they can help us understand ourselves, each other and the world, or just help us feel part of something bigger. In that sense games are headed in the right direction – there’s a desire for excellence in art, to engage thematically, and increasing consciousness around the issues of representation and diversity, in which all media is slowly improving. I think games have a place to explore things like mental health because interactive and user-driven experiences can be powerful for personal stories. I suppose I would say we’re headed in the right direction, in fits and starts!
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