MCV/DEVELOP ISSUE 955
THE ART AND BUSINESS OF VIDEO GAMES
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MCV-MAR20-XSOLLA IFC:MCV-MAR20-XSOLLA IFC 17/02/2020 09:59 Page 1
BREXIT UPDATE Practical advice on leaving the EU for the industry
DEVS UNITED How game creators are pushing the envelope in Unity
THE DEATH OF THE
GENERATION GAME Can we finally celebrate the end of the industry’s painful cycle of rebirth? ■ SOLD OUT’S MOVING UP 03 MCV955 Editorial Cover_Final.indd 1
■ KING’S SABRINA CARMONA
■ SPLASH DAMAGE ON WELLBEING
■ DIVERSITY CENSUS - WHAT NEXT? 10/03/2020 15:31
05 The editor
The show must go on?
06 Critical Path
The key dates this month
Real life events from the industry
14 Industry Voices
Our platform for the industry
18 The generation game The death of the console generation
24 Ins and Outs
And all our recruitment advice
18 28 Develop:Brighton
Looking ahead to this year's event
30 Developers United
Devs talk about creating on Unity
36 Sold Out powers up
Digital expansion to follow acquisition
42 Sabrina Carmona A different kind of producer
46 Brexit update
And what it means for the industry
50 Ukie's diversity census Assessing the UK games industry
54 Mental health
Wellbeing, Splash Damage-style
58 When We Made... Knights and Bikes
62 The Sounds of... Jesper Kyd
66 The Final Boss
No Brakes Games' Sitara Shefta
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“Conference lurgi usually comes in the form of a nasty cold, but this year it could be a lot more serious.”
TheEditor The show must go on? Once again this column sits uncomfortably upon the precipice of history, as I write coronavirus threatens GDC and so much more besides. Having previously failed to predict the victories of both Trump and Brexit, I’ve accepted that my personal crystal ball tends a little on the optimistic side, so I’m going to try and correct that tendency here. Epic and Microsoft have just joined Unity, PlayStation and others in pulling out of GDC. Their reasons are simple and justified, they are safeguarding the well-being of their employees. Whether the show goes ahead or not is uncertain now, but it will certainly be a rather different GDC whatever the official decision. Now, at this point, it’s impossible to predict the actual level of risk of sending staff to San Francisco, a city with no significant outbreak, to network and meet with others. Many of us, quite rightly, consider GDC to be an essential event. But the risk of an industry-wide coronavirus outbreak outweighs the need for say, animators to attend sessions about improving their skills, or journalists asking CEOs topical questions. And we’re better equipped than ever to execute such parts of the event online. Keynotes are streamed, interviews done by Skype, and all without having to scurry around San Francisco and the Moscone to get to our meetings. There’s so much more to such events, though. The industry schmoozes across the city, packed into parties night after night. Conference lurgi usually comes in the form of a nasty cold, but this year it could be a lot more serious. With coronavirus around it wouldn’t take more than a few cases and suddenly everyone who attended would need to self-isolate, even if it’s only due to an outside chance of infection. The knock-on effect on larger studios in particular, with already daunting deadlines to hit, could be devastating. And if coronavirus does become pandemic in Europe and the US, then based on figures coming out of China, we’ll all be spending a lot more time at home playing games. So we’ll be glad that developers were well enough to finish them. Of course, GDC is just the first hurdle here in what might be a lengthy crisis. In that case E3 may also be affected. That would put a dent in the launch of next-gen consoles, which already have their supply lines threatened by the crisis (see page 18). That said, if coronavirus is controlled over the next month, or effective antivirals are found, then it may all be a more distant threat, to western minds at least, by the time June rolls around. In which case the LA show could actually benefit hugely from an industry that’s keen to get together after a longer-than usual winter hibernation. Sorry, there’s my optimistic side shining through again. Seth Barton email@example.com
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Here are the key upcoming events and releases to mark in your calendar...
GDC Moscone Center, San Francisco As we go to press the annual Game Developers’ Conference is still set to return for its 34th year. Taking place at a newly reworked Moscone Center in San Francisco, However the list of major companies who have declared they will not attend, due to coronavirus, is growing by the day. MCV/DEVELOP’s staff writer Chris Wallace plans to attend still but, like everyone, we’re monitoring an evolving situation.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons After being delayed from its original 2019 release date, New Horizons is finally hitting the Switch in March. According to Nintendo’s Doug Bowser, the game was delayed to ensure a healthy work/life balance for Nintendo employees. This title will see us living everyone’s deepest fantasy – running away to a deserted island to befriend anthropomorphic animals.
Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX Announced in January’s Pokémon Direct, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX is a remake of the original Mystery Dungeon titles from 2005. It sees the player mysteriously wake up in the body of a Pokémon and adventure across the world with a cast of Pokémon companions.
Doom Eternal March 20th is something of an emotionally conflicted day. From the idyllic peace of Animal Crossing to uh. Not that. If starting a community with your furry friends isn’t your idea of fun, why not pick up a shotgun and murder your way through the armies of hell? Or maybe pick up both and have a very confusing evening, we’re not judging.
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London Games Festival Various locations
London Games Festival is back! With the 2019 edition of the event attracting over 97,000 people across 40+ events, the organisers of the 2020 show anticipate over 100,000 guests this time around. The event kicks off with EGX Rezzed, one of the biggest PC and indie games shows in the world, and then Ensemble, the festival’s yearly exhibition of BAME talent in games. The LGF HUB two-day conference and expo will run on March 30th and March 31st with a focus on the global games industry and key issues around games impact, interactive narratives and games culture, while the Games Finance Market will take place on April 1st and April 2nd.
Half-Life: Alyx Valve set the internet alight when it announced its return to the Half-Life franchise, albeit in VR this time. However, HalfLife: Alyx takes place before Gordon Freeman’s return in Half-Life 2, meaning those looking for a continuation of the story will have to keep waiting. The player takes control of the titular Alyx as she fights the alien Combine alongside her father Eli Vance.
Persona 5 Royal Coming out almost three years after the original Persona 5, Royal brings a host of new content to the JRPG smash-hit – including new grappling hook mechanics, an additional semester to the year-long story, a new area of Tokyo to visit, plus a brand new character to join the team.
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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: Tom Carpenter firstname.lastname@example.org Production Manager: Claire Noe email@example.com
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My youngest has discovered Minecraft and is obssesed with TNT. But he can’t play it alone quite yet, so ‘Minecraft?’ is the first thing I hear every morning and every time I get home from work. Thankfully the toolset has grown hugely since I last played. So while he blows stuff up, I tend my bees, garden and virtual home.
The launch of Pokémon Home has given me an excuse to jump back into Pokémon Crystal (secretly the best one, fight me about it). While the lack of an early-game Snorlax is always a tragedy, I’m finding myself spending an odd amount of time thinking about that bodaciously beautiful bug boy, Heracross. Chris Wallace, Staff Writer
Vikki Blake, News Writer
Seth Barton, Editor
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I know I’m early for Halloween, but I’ve been immersed in horror this month. First up, I spent time familiarising myself with the terrifying inhabitants of World of Horror, and then I moved onto the console release of haunted house tale, Infliction. Just as well Animal Crossing: New Horizons’s coming next month – I need it!
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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Pet: Viper Owner: Melissa Chaplin Owner’s job: Marketing strategy manager at Game If You Are Viper structures her entire life around the acquisition of her favourite substance, cheese, once jumping into the fridge.
Pet: Jaffa Owner: Carl Dalton Owner’s job: Head of product at d3t Ltd
Pet: Mishi Owner: Marc Espinola Owner’s job: 3D animator at Lab42
Jaffa loves all things dog! Including digging holes, chasing sticks, jumping in rivers and perhaps best of all, being upside down on her beanbag.
According to Mishi: Nothing can beat taking a nap on someone playing a game, or sitting right in front of the monitor trying to capture that pesky pointer.
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Real Life Events from the industry
INTERACTIVE FUTURES Last month MCV/DEVELOP editor Seth Barton headed up to the Royal Spa Centre in Leamington Spa to celebrate this year’s Interactive Futures, in its second year. While the town is one of the key hubs for the UK industry, the event was far broader than just local professionals, with many travelling to attend, plus content programmed for students and enthusiasts to boot. Running across two days, the Friday was industry-focused and saw Ukie talk on its regional impact report, our editor hosted a talk on a practical approach to Brexit (see page 46), while the highlight was Brenda and John Romero speaking and taking questions on their careers. Day two, Saturday, was targeted more at the public, with talks on how to get started in the industry and why there’s a career for everyone in games. A great event and we look forward to next year’s.
Left: The broad event engaged local students of all ages, with workshops and talks
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Above: Friday saw an end of the day mixer, with cocktails courtesy of JĂ¤germeister Left: Brenda and John Romero, who headlined the session agenda, which also included numerous panel discussions on key issues affecting the industry (below)
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YORKSHIRE GAMES FESTIVAL February 5th saw the return of the Yorkshire Games Festival, with MCV/DEVELOP in attendance for the celebration of celebrating games culture, design and production, with a host of special guests providing their expertise to advise the game developers of the future. Among the packed list of speakers this year were Kingâ€™s Sabrina Carmona (pictured right with more on page 42), Mike Bithell discussing John Wick Hex (above), and Sumo Digitalâ€™s Zi Peters giving a talk on level design. As well as the talks, a number of industry experts attended an industry networking event, allowing students to get advice from the experts directly.
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SWIPE RIGHT PR TURNS FIVE Swipe Right PR turned five years old this month and celebrated at the Dock Club with clients, games industry peers and journalists present to cheer the big milestone. 2020 kicked off with a bang for Swipe Right, being nominated for three awards including being a finalist in ‘PR Agency of the Year’ for the MCV/DEVELOP Awards. MCV-MAR20-MIGHTY BEAR:MCV-MAR20-MIGHTY BEAR 24/02/2020 09:47 Page 1
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PAC-MAN can still get kids hungry to work in games Lee Kirton, Bandai Namco Entertainment
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!
SPEAKING with the Head of English at Falcons Boys school, I thought it would be good to build a presentation focusing on the creativity in storytelling, games and entertainment as a whole. What started out as a great way to inspire kids quickly turned into an actual study and brainstorming creation session. I built a presentation starting with a short quiz using PAC-MAN and our iconic Tamagotchi IPs as examples of successful creations. They knew PAC-MAN straight away – as with over 96 per cent awareness rate across the world it’s great to have a connection to the beloved character. I then took them through an entertaining journey through the 1950s and how families digested entertainment, TV, how kids made their own creative playground games using wheels on shoes, old school conkers and how things have changed over the decades, especially focusing on the 70s and 80s. This involves computing and console history, graphic engines and how something like Star Wars has evolved from simple yet addictive Vector graphics into what is seen today. I showcase how technology has moved on With games like Air Combat to Ace Combat, how a company like Bandai Namco Entertainment has been part of that journey since the 50s through arcade, home gaming, creating IP, toys and theme park experiences. They are then presented with how a company like ours runs, how there are many roles in our industry for all levels of talent and future talent! Then they’re shown a historic video of PACMAN using music and references from the 80s to the present day and how innovative products like Amazon Echo has inspired us to create new children’s adventures called ‘PAC-MAN Stories.’ These demonstrate positive fun for children, allowing them to be part of the story, learn, make good decisions, help others, save the planet, eating healthily and engage in sporting activities.
I explain that a simple game model of collecting power pellets by making food decisions is a clever design choice for a voice activated platform. That historic PAC-MAN video then sets them up for their task ahead, which is to create their very own character(s), environment, synopsis, backstory etc. that would work for a new game created by them. PAC-MAN’s successful history as the world’s most famous character inspires them on their creations. The class work in teams exploring each other’s skills from writing, drawing, design and presenting plus their game must be safe and they need to think about innovation and modern technologies available with some basic business included (how they would market their game, how they would invest money in talking to others). The results have been fantastic, fun, interesting and it’s great seeing some groups put the extra effort in. We have seen new planets created, new eco-warrior superheroes, puzzle games, videos, drawings and all sorts and I truly believe we should be inspiring kids to learn from our experience and motivate them in all potential future roles in the business: Finance, marketing, events, social media, sales, distribution, localisation, publishing, acquisition and development are all roles kids can look forward to. I see kids with so many different skills and this industry welcomes them all and this excites them. I’ve rolled this out in the Falcon’s Boys school for three years, as well as St Margaret’s School Sussex, British School in the Netherlands and Coopers School in Kent. One of the greatest things is seeing the kids working together in teams and also experiencing them presenting up front and the obvious positivity they demonstrate. Lee Kirton is the PR and marketing director & PAC MAN Sub Officer for EMEA at Bandai Namco Entertainment. Kirton is also an ambassador for charity SpecialEffect.
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What makes a successful hyper-casual game? Simon Prytherch, Kwalee
THERE remains some debate as to exactly what makes a hyper-casual game – even for us as the UK’s biggest publisher of them! Already widely-known in the industry is that hyper-casual games are synonymous with mobile, quick play sessions, fast development, and an ad-based model. The more important question for us, however, is what makes a successful hyper-casual game. This is something that we have dedicated significant time to answering. We apply in-house measures that we believe are powerfully predictive of hyper-casual success, too numerous to share here. However, we believe that they can be best summarised with a few key principles. The first is unsurprising: the game must have mass appeal. Topping charts worldwide cannot be achieved any other way, especially when a low Cost Per Install (CPI) is so crucial. You should also think explicitly about how hyper-casual games are presented to the audience; will your game have strong appeal through video ads? Visuals are the key to this, and there’s more to consider than simply making sure that they are appropriate for all ages – also consider whether you’re gearing towards players of a certain culture or gender. This shouldn’t limit you to sterile cubes, but always consider who you’re shutting out with your graphical flourishes. Also consider how most people play mobile games: in short bursts, with one hand, and in portrait. Long story arcs and complex mechanics are not part of most players’ daily gaming diets, so keep things simple and bite-sized. Harder to quantify, but no less important, is a game’s ability to deliver satisfying moments. These are of course subjective, and it will take
much play testing to confirm consensus across a broad spectrum of players, but you should work to accentuate these moments where possible. In our game Drop & Smash, this took the form of a ‘Smash Cam’ to really elevate the payoff delivered when your object falls and destroys its target below. The difficulty is to be simple without oversimplifying. One way to approach this can be to take familiar mobile mechanics – for example, tap to jump – and then applying a twist, like allowing players to adjust the height of their jump by tapping and holding. While hyper-casual games don’t need to retain players at the same rates as other mobile games, successful ones will have meaningful progression with new things to experience. Indeed, hyper-casual does not mean that you cannot give the player a sense of freedom and discovery in the game world. Take our title Clean Up 3D, in which the player can freely steer their vacuum cleaner around an expansive world, eventually growing beyond the confines of the building to consume cars, buildings and even aeroplanes. But the truly great thing about hyper-casual is how quickly and simply you can develop and iterate upon these ideas. If you have even just the nub of a concept, there’s little excuse not to give it a go; you could be closer to making the next hyper-casual hit than you think. Simon Prytherch brings over 30 years of industry experience to his head of publishing role at Kwalee, with previous positions including 7 years at Codemasters, CEO of Lightning Fish Games, Chromativity and Fluid Games, and as a software development manager at Amazon.
“The difficulty is to be simple without oversimplifying.”
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Road to Guangdong: a cultural journey Yen Ooi, University of Westminster
BACK in 2015 someone highlighted the fact that I am a writer of colour. It made me feel exposed. I had always been aware of my ethnicity, but it was never brought to the forefront of my work until then. So when in 2017 a friend set up a British East Asian writers’ group, I eagerly joined. Not long after, another friend spotted a call for a writer to work on an indie game set in China. I enquired about the role and suggested that someone from the writers’ group would be ideal, and that was how I landed the role of writer and narrative designer for Road to Guangdong. ‘Chineseness is a category whose meanings are not fixed and pregiven, but constantly renegotiated and rearticulated, both inside and outside China.’ wrote cultural studies professor, Ien Ang on identity. Being a Chinese diaspora who has lived in Malaysia, Japan and the United Kingdom has taught me loads about my own ethnicity as well as the complexities behind every person. As a huáyì – overseas-born Chinese – we’re constantly grappling with the fluidity of its meanings, through upholding traditions and cultural practices, while participating in a modern way of life. We learn to differentiate and move away from Chinese nationalism, yet find a sense of belonging through the shared values within international Chinese communities. We seem to be more concerned about preserving our ethnic values, as they become more exposed and vulnerable. Being part of a minority community makes you aware of how your ethnicity is being communicated to others, and what they derive from it. And that is where I began with developing the narrative for Road to Guangdong. What I know of being Chinese is through family, and it is no surprise that much of Chinese traditions place familial relationships above all else. In Road to Guangdong, the main relationship that the player will encounter is probably the harshest one, the one with Guu Ma. In Cantonese, Guu Ma means ‘father’s
eldest sister.’ The importance in keeping these titles is one of the experiences that I hope that players will take away – where in Chinese culture, familial relationships are of the utmost importance and respect is shown through these practices that are still kept today. While Guu Ma is the most critical person you’ll encounter, she is also your biggest ally. The story begins with Sunny and Guu Ma both just coming out of the grieving period for Sunny’s parents’ deaths. This is also what brings them together, as we find out that Sunny’s father left the family restaurant to Sunny in his will. While Guu Ma has to overcome her own jealousy to celebrate the fact that the patriarchal culture of leaving inheritance to the eldest male has been challenged, you play Sunny, a freshly graduated art student with other ambitions. I found Excalibur’s decision to locate their narrative-driven game in China a unique and brave one. Though diversity and inclusivity are terms that are at the tip of everyone’s tongues today, it is still rare to see true engagement with it. I know that the game will only be a glimpse into Chinese culture, but I hope that it is enough to open up a new world of experiences that are more engaging on a human level and less about the entertainment tropes that encourage stereotypes. I hope that through Road to Guangdong and similar games, we’ll see games become a platform for meaningful cultural exchange. It’s 2020, and though I’m still learning what it means to be a writer of colour, with all the encouragement from my team in Just Add Oil Games and the relentless support we receive from Excalibur, I know that whatever it represents, it’s a good thing. Yen Ooi is the author of Sun: Queens of Earth, and a book of short stories and poetry, A Suspicious Collection. She is a lecturer on Westminster University’s MA Creative Writing course. Road to Guangdong is the first game for which she has written. Road to Guangdong is currently available in Early Access.
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TV execs are now hungry for games content Jason Wiltshire, ADVNCR
IN September last year, I made the jump from the comfort of the lovely White City ADVNCR (formerly Attention Seekers) office and studios to join our relatively new office out in the wild frontier of west coast America. OK, I’m over-egging it, the Los Angeles office is in Burbank and it’s not that wild. They’ve got a Target and everything. But there is one thing Los Angeles never lets you forget, whether it’s the countless ‘For Your Consideration’ posters lining the streets full of static traffic or the sight of the iconic Warner Bros studio lot right outside the door of our office, this city is the centre of the entertainment business, and within three days of being here I found myself at an event run by The Hollywood Television and Film Society as part of their Unscripted season. The subject? Opportunities in esports and video games. I’ll never forget it. The panel was fascinating, with hugely knowledgeable games industry speakers, but the most interesting part? The questions from the TV executives: ‘What do we need to be relevant in the video games space?’ ‘How do we win an esports audience?’ ‘How do we get video games onto television?’ These were high-level players from the big networks and studios and there was a sense of… well let’s say urgency, in their voices. Now this is not news to any of us working in the creative space around video games, that TV should be embracing this cultural phenomenon. We’ve all been knocking on UK network’s doors for years with pitches for video game shows and things have started to move recently. We got excited just getting a first UK TV game special away for Quantum Break with Channel 4, then Go 8-Bit brought games to primetime on Dave and we’ve seen Sky dipping its toes into esports. Far from the usual lip-service, television is producing meaningful video game content. The US is way ahead of us here. Our US office produced an Apex Legends Pro-Am that went out on ESPN and ABC last year. Video games on ABC for two hours on a Saturday afternoon – imagine that happening on BBC 1 – and it’s not just ABC, TBS went in heavy with
e-League, NBC have a Rocket League show, CBS even had half a million people watching the Nintendo World Championships. Yet still it was clear from this panel experience, TV executives are looking for more, buoyed no doubt by the knowledge that the networks need to attract younger audiences, and they have realised that video games is a route to doing just that. So what’s the future? Esports has a way to go, I kept hearing the phrase ‘no-one has got it right (for TV) yet.’ If it’s going to attract those truly mass TV audiences it needs to give more casual viewers a reason to invest, the league structure, geographical, player and personality-based narratives that traditional sports offer. But numbers are creeping up as producers get canny to what actually works as a TV experience. Beyond esports, there’s the opportunity for clever and inventive thinking to develop original programming and entertaining formats around video games themselves. Is this going to bring under forties back to linear television? Nope. But a lot of those forty plus TV watchers have been – or are – gamers now and crucially the networks are adapting where and how viewers experience content to hit younger audiences. In the UK, Channel 4 and the Beeb have run video games related content on All4 and iPlayer, and in the next year, we’ll see a host of online platforms and channels popping up either entirely devoted to or featuring programming on video games, all hungry for content. Attitudes are definitely changing after years of networks and commissioners running scared of video games programming and the opportunity for individuals and companies working in content creation around the industry has never been greater. Jason Wiltshire is Chief Content Officer and SVP Biz Dev for ADVNCR. He has worked in the games industry for over a decade, delivering some of the industry’s biggest live moments as part of an award winning team, from esports finals to E3 press conferences.
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REJOICE: CONSOLE GENERATIONS ARE
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While the much-discussed death of consoles is still some way off, the death of the traditional console generation is upon us, and with it dies many of the aches and pains of our cyclical industry. Seth Barton discusses the impact of these changes with Wired’s James Temperton and IHS Markit’s Piers Harding-Rolls.
new console generation, while delighting most gamers, has long been seen as a necessary evil by the industry itself. If it’s given much thought at all, as new hardware is much like the rising sun to the games industry, being both inevitable and inexorable. Despite some theories to the contrary, traditional consoles look likely to be a big part of the gaming mix for the foreseeable future. However, the upcoming crop of new hardware doesn’t necessarily mean a new generation as we’ve traditionally known it. In the past a new hardware generation meant a clean break. A new console, which ran only new games. An entirely new ecosystem that discarded what came before – barring some sticking-plaster efforts to support older titles in varying forms. In just a few months, we’ll see a new generation of consoles which won’t follow those traditions. The huge install base of current devices will not be left to wither overnight, while the industry struggles to get enough of the new devices into consumer hands to make them a viable target for development. Instead, a far subtler transition is at hand, breaking the shackles of the generation game, and that’s one death that both the industry and consumers should celebrate. It’s our own Day of the Dead celebration. ONE GEN TO RULE THEM ALL Wired’s James Temperton, digital editor, who did a deep-dive into the engineering of the Xbox One X, sums up the change: “Commentators have been foreboding the death of consoles for almost as long as we’ve had consoles. Now, finally, it seems reasonable to suggest that this might be the last true console generation. But think of it more as a rebirth than a death. “This doesn’t mean that the PS5 and Xbox Series X will be the last big console launches, but it does mean the business case for launching new hulking lumps of metal and plastic has now become more complex.”
But there’s simplicity within that complexity, he adds: “As Microsoft has made abundantly clear, a game is now for life, not just one console generation.” Microsoft’s name for that is Smart Delivery. Probably the most important part of its recent Xbox Series X announcement. Consumers will only have to buy a game once (digital or physical) and they’ll be able to play it across both Xbox One and Xbox Series devices. It seems almost certain that Sony will follow suit in this regard. To not do so would hand Xbox a PR coup on the same level as the one Sony scored against the Xbox One, when Microsoft tried to lock down ownership of physical games to specific user accounts – an error that the Xbox One arguably never recovered from. That means, as far as publishers are concerned, that there is no generation change for the foreseeable future. They can keep selling games, be they boxed or digital, as if nothing had happened. And publishers we’ve spoken to are delighted with this smoothing of the path. “I’m not sure the platform holders are entirely sure how backward compatibility will impact the transition but overall this should make the transition easier for console gamers,” says IHS Markit’s Piers Harding-Rolls. And CD Projekt Red were the first to announce that it would support Smart Delivery with next year’s biggest game: Cyberpunk 2077. It’s a boon for a title that could otherwise fall awkwardly between the two generations and one that’s been warmly welcomed by fans. Expect everyone else to fall in line fairly quickly. It’s almost impossible to imagine that anyone will want to return to the mess of the last generation change, where there were a series of paid and unpaid upgrade systems for various titles, but no overarching structure. And it’s not just new games that will neatly bridge the divide, with Microsoft promising full backward compatibility with all games that run on the Xbox One, with no developer intervention required. You can argue it was always going to be this way, but to have it stated outright, and the incalculable working hours that such a move saves, is still a landmark moment. It’s of particular importance to games-as-a-service titles, which have to roll on uninterrupted, or else it
Above: James Temperton, digital editor at Wired UK
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Above: IHS Markit’s Piers Harding-Rolls
would cause disastrous friction for their publishers and player base. “Nintendo aside – because Nintendo has always been very much aside – the industry is now focussed almost entirely on the games as a service model,” Temperton notes. “Microsoft and Sony’s upcoming consoles represent almost a premium-tier upgrade, the ultimate way to experience what their respective subscription packages have to offer. But your near-decade old Xbox One will still do just fine.” Which brings us to the next big question, if you don’t need a new console to play 2020’s big games, as stated to us by Microsoft’s Matt Booty, then will people buy one? And should the broader industry care if they don’t? “It makes the business of marketing new console launches somewhat tricky. The backwards compatibility and games as a service shift will dent enthusiasm for forking out large sums on new consoles. As a result the PS5 and Xbox Series X instead represent a premium tier experience, and hardware sales will likely reflect this. How – and crucially when – consumer cash shifts will be crucial for each platform’s success,” predicts Temperton.
CONSOLATION PRIZE Harding-Rolls believes that despite the clear-cut generational shift, both new consoles are well positioned to outperform their predecessors. “Although there is quite a lot we don’t know about the launch of next-generation consoles, my expectation is that both PS5 and Xbox Series X will launch strongly if there are no supply constraints and pricing is within an acceptable range, that being $499 or below. “By strongly I mean that both the PS5 and Xbox Series X will beat the launch figures of PS4 and Xbox One. I hold this view because the PS4 has a significantly bigger active userbase compared to the PS3 back in 2013, which should put Sony in a stronger starting position at launch. I also expect Microsoft to have a much more effective launch this gen compared to Xbox One and to be better positioned to drive early adoption.” It’s a compelling point, as despite all the changes afoot in this new console generation, both companies look to be in a far stronger position this time around. But console launches are tricky things, historically only Sony has ever indisputably held a large advantage from one generation to the next (PS1 to PS2). But both the industry, and the companies involved, are now highly experienced at all this. Of course this is the beginning of a generation like no other, and that will extend beyond the currently announced devices: Xbox Series X and PS5. “Next-generation is likely to see some switch up in hardware strategy for Sony and Microsoft, for example bringing the rumoured less powerful next-gen Xbox to market at a cheaper price point,” notes Harding-Rolls. A second Xbox Series console has long been rumoured, Project Lockhart, and MCV/DEVELOP’s own sources have suggested that the Xbox One Series X isn’t the only planned device from Microsoft this generation. It looks like a major turning point, but Harding-Rolls does note that “we’ve already seen this strategy from Nintendo with the launch of the Switch Lite.”
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The impact of a possible ‘Xbox Series S’ console would depend upon when it was launched, alongside the X or a year later when the mass-market usually comes around to the idea of new hardware. And how its specification would differ. While it’s almost certainly going to match its sibling in most respects in order to run the same games, it might sacrifice the X’s high-end graphics performance in order to cut costs, and omit its disc drive in order to boost content revenue per unit, allowing Microsoft to sell the device at no margin. “Two-tier console launches and mid-generation upgrades are now the norm, with hardware manufacturers more interested in getting you to subscribe to their service than buy their new console,” says Temperton.
Above: Microsoft has confirmed that a single purchase of titles such as Halo: Infinite will cover both current and new devices. And Sony must surely follow suit with 2020 releases such as Ghost of Tsushima
ON THE NEVER NEVER While console manufacturers have managed to reduce the loss-leading hardware of the past, the increasing prevalence of subscriptionbased revenue means that new ways to shift consoles are increasingly appealing. In fact, the Xbox One X and S are already available for no upfront cost, with consumers paying for the console, alongside Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Game Pass, as part of an Xbox All Access package. And subscriptions services could take over from specific exclusive titles as the main reason to buy one device over and above another. But for the foreseeable future they will only go so far. “Next-gen, I expect a stronger focus on services to differentiate console offerings,” Harding-Rolls tells us. “It’s clear that Microsoft will be focused on Xbox Game Pass, but only as part of a collection of ways to access content using different distribution and monetisation models. I do not expect a wholesale transition to subscription services. I also expect Sony to continue evolving PlayStation Now. How the platform holders blend their services together and how they are integrated as product offerings will play an important role in engaging consumers.” And it won’t just be the platforms looking for ever greater regular income, Harding-Rolls adds: “It is likely that there will be more third-party subscription services using consoles and other services, as distribution channels for their direct-to-consumer ambitions. “The entry of new platforms and services means that content windowing will become more active, which is a counterpoint to a general shift towards cross-platform, service-based games.
“On one side we have an industry momentum to break down barriers for access to content and on the other I think it is inevitable that publishers will position their content at different times in different services to drive as much value as possible from their games.” So we could see something similar to Hollywood’s structure, where consumers are highly aware of the time gaps between initial cinema release, pay-to-play streaming, Netflix or similar, and finally TV broadcast. GOING VIRAL Hardware constraints make it unlikely that Microsoft or Sony will push out consoles on subscription plans at launch. Especially given that hardware supplies may be curtailed by the coronavirus says Harding-Rolls: “The chance of supply chain disruption due to the coronavirus is growing weekly. To assemble optimum inventory for a November launch, I expect both companies to start ramping up production in Q2, so if factories are not back to full capacity by that point there is likely to be some constraint versus optimum shipments in preparation for a launch. “Aside from the actual assembly of the consoles, it is hard to predict at this stage if the supply chain for components that go into these consoles, several of which will be custom, will or will not be affected. So, although I’m bullish about the potential for next-gen consoles, external events mean that predicting actual sales performance is a moving target at this point.” In previous generations that could have been a disaster for the industry, but with this softer launch, and 2020’s announced games all coming to current-gen (yet to be confirmed by Sony admittedly) such a hiccup in supply is far from the end of the world – unless, of course, it really is the end of the world. In which case console generations are the very least of our worries. It just goes to show, that like in life, nothing is truly certain and broader events can easily affect our industry in unexpected ways. Putting that to one side however, this upcoming hardware generation looks to be the least disruptive to the industry’s day-to-day business than any that’s come before it – and while disruption has been long cherished by some tech-driven markets, I think we can all agree that in the area of console hardware, less is best. And for those waiting for a prediction on who will ‘win’ this latest console war? Grow up. The industry wins when it has multiple strong, competitive platforms, and that, thankfully, is the most likely outcome here.
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HONOURING TALENTED WOMEN IN THE UK GAMES INDUSTRY FRIDAY 19 JUNE 2020 | LONDON
VISIT THE WEBSITE FOR MORE DETAILS: WWW.WOMENINGAMESAWARDS.COM
MCV-MAR20-OPM:MCV-MAR20-OPM 11/02/2020 09:32 Page 1
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Ins and Outs: Industry hires and moves 1
The Sumo Group has improved its internal training and its ties to academia with two additions to the team. First, JENNY MUHLWA (1) joins as learning & development manager. Muhlwa brings over a decade of experience in staff development from brands such as Wilko and Unipart. DR JAKE HABGOOD (2), meanwhile, joins as director of education partnerships, who is rejoining Sumo after 10 years at Sheffield Hallam University, where he taught on its Games Software Development degrees and founded Steel Minions game studio. Indie publisher Merge has added two new members to their team in Knutsford. ISAAC HASLEHURST (3) joins the team as a QA tester, having previously worked with Manchester’s Prospect Games developing varied titles. JAMIE COLLINGE (4) meanwhile has joined the team as assistant producer. Collinge previously worked with International Hobo as a digital artist.
IGN’s JOE SKREBELS (5) has been promoted, and is new the global executive editor of news, and will be leading the charge on IGN’s news output globally. Skrebels was previously the UK deputy editor, having joined the team as news editor in 2016. That’s not the only promotion at IGNparent Ziff Davis however, DANIEL KILBY (6) is now VP, global creative solutions & operations at the company. Having joined as marketing coordinator in 2009. Team17 have a new head of studio in the form of CHRIS COATES (7), Coates has over 22 years of industry experience, joining from Ubisoft Reflections and Ubisoft Leamington where he was studio design manager. Coates previously worked in senior positions at Codemasters and EA Vancouver. He said: “Team17 has been an iconic developer and publisher in the UK games industry for three decades, and I’m proud to join now and help it to continued success over years to come.”
Improbable has made two new staff changes. DAN GRILIOPOULOS (8) is now senior staff writer, having worked as lead content editor since he joined in 2017. Griliopoulos has written on a number of titles, including Pandora: First Contact and Warhammer 40,000: Gladius – Relics of War. “In my new role at Improbable Game Studios, I’m looking forward to exploring the new kinds of narratives and stories you can put into these innovative worlds,” he said. Additionally, DAN ODELL (9) has joined as chief financial officer. Odell joins from Disney Parks, where he spent three years as VP, global product management. He said: “The chance to apply my experience to a growing company in one of the fastest-growing entertainment markets, multiplayer gaming, is a great opportunity. I’ve been blown away by the talent and the ambition at Improbable, and I’m looking forward to contributing to its growth into an end-to-end solution for multiplayer game development.”
The remote-working Roll7 has a new studio manager in KYRA CHAN (10). Chan has six years of experience working in the Creative Industries, having previously worked at Fusebox Games and Failbetter Games.
Hutch has announced three new hires, as the studio expands its community team. First, CHRIS HOHBEIN (13) joins as head of community & social. Hohbein has over a decade of experience in community and social media management, having worked for studios such as Natural Motion, Lionhead and Jagex, on titles such as CSR2, Fable and Runescape. Hutch’s second new hire is KATIE ROSSITER (14), who joins the team as community manager. Rossiter began her career working in marketing and later on front-end web design for clients including The Guardian, Radio Times, Qatar Airways and Emirates. Finally, IAN WEBSTER (15) has joined the team as senior community manager. Webster previously worked at Codemasters across their roster of action and racing titles, including Formula One. Following that he was responsible for heading up Forza community initiatives in the EMEA region for Turn 10 Studios.
WILL ATTWOOD (11) has joined the Ubisoft UK Marketing Team in the newly created role of esports marketing manager. Attwood joins from ESL, where he held various roles within the esports organisation, leading the UK and Ireland’s national league, the Premiership, as well as Product Manager for the EU Masters among other projects. CAROLINE LACEY (12) has joined the entertainment and sports agency Creative Artists Agency (CAA) as executive in CAA Search, the agency’s Executive Search and Human Capital Advisory division. Lacey previously spent four years at executive search firm Odgers Berndtson, developing clients within the global gaming practice.
Got an appointment you’d like to share with the industry? Email Chris Wallace at firstname.lastname@example.org 24 | MCV/DEVELOP March 2020
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Every month, we pick the brain of an up-and-coming talent
Danette Beatty, Artist at Ustwo games talks about how they got started in their career, and the importance of diversity in the industry to see a game from start to finish and be part of that process of coming up with something from scratch. We were prototyping for a long time before picking the game that ended up being Assemble. Getting to learn about how we concept for a new game, picking an art style, creating pipelines, planning out the work that needs to be done and executing on it was incredibly valuable.
How did you break into games? A mixture of privilege, luck, timing, being active on social media and having the right portfolio. I went to College for Creative Studies in the States, majoring in game art. I knew I wanted to make colorful approachable games and tailored my portfolio to that. After I graduated I applied to Ustwo games for a full time junior art position and after a few interviews and flying me over to London I was accepted for the position and have been here ever since. What has been your proudest achievement so far? My proudest achievement so far has been working on Assemble with Care from the very beginning and seeing it through to shipping. I feel like it’s quite an accomplishment, if not rare,
What has been your biggest challenge to date? My biggest challenge has been creating boundaries between myself and my art as it changed from a hobby to a full time job. For a while I tried to continue to tirelessly do art in my spare time as well as at work, but for me it just wasn’t sustainable. I spend 98 per cent of my creative energy on the job and trying to squeak out that last 2 per cent for something to post on social media just felt like a chore. Instead, I have gravitated towards new hobbies such as learning ukulele and growing plants. What do you enjoy most about your job? I enjoy working on all the aspects of art and collaborating with other disciplines to make the best game we can. Because we are such small art teams, I get to do a range of things from concept art, 3D, lighting, animations, UI, and illustrations. I really like having such varied work and having a lot of ownership in a project. What’s your biggest ambition in games? My biggest ambition is to help make this industry a safer place for marginalised people.
“My biggest ambition is to help make this industry a safer place for marginalised people. Getting more diversity into the industry is really imperative. It’s how we get new perspectives and grow as an industry.” Getting more diversity into the industry is really imperative. It’s how we get new perspectives and grow as an industry. Currently Ustwo games hosts an amazing event called POC in Play that I hope to be more active at! What advice would you give to aspiring game artists? Don’t be afraid to make art that looks bad. I have never made a perfect finished piece without iteration. Most of my job is creating something and making changes to it. With social media it’s easy to see artists curating their work so you only see the amazing finished product, but trust me there’s a lot behind the scenes that gets scrapped!
If there’s a rising star at your company, contact Chris Wallace at email@example.com March 2020 MCV/DEVELOP | 25
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Cherry picked advice to help you reach the next level in your career
Catherine Channon, director corporate communications at Electronic Arts talks about her humble beginnings in the industry, and why communications is like an iceberg out selling used videogames when I left school. Many job ads might suggest otherwise, but there are routes into communications for those without degree level educations if you’re prepared to work hard. I spent a number of years as a journalist working in print, online and broadcast media which gave me an incredibly solid foundation for knowing what press need, how they are motivated and an eye for storytelling. Working in specialist gaming media early in my career also enabled me to begin creating a network of contacts that I lean into to this day.
What is your job role and how would you describe your typical day at work? I head up European Corporate Communications for EA. In simple terms I look after the communications that relate to, or impact upon the company. It’s an incredibly diverse role that gives me insights into all areas of our business and enables me to visit offices and studios across the globe which fuels my love for travel. One of the great things about my job is that there’s rarely a ‘typical’ day. There are longer term projects around our overall company story or on specific communication initiatives but that’s peppered with regular requests from across the business and from our external partners/media which can lead my day in any number of directions.
The International remit of my role means in addition to working with my communications peers in California, I also work very closely with our regional offices. I have a window on a variety of markets so it’s interesting to see what trends are occurring across them and the local variations. Both at a high level but also in terms of the day to day conversation around our games. EA’s European headquarters are in Geneva so no matter what the day brings, it pretty much always starts or ends with a run in the mountains or a swim in Lake Geneva for which I always feel incredibly fortunate. What qualifications and/or experience do you need to land this job? I worked my way up from the ground, I started
If you were interviewing someone for your team, what would you look for? Being a good communicator is a must. You should be able to articulate your own story as well as you would your prospective employer’s. Someone who can build relationships and quickly understand and empathise with the needs of others is also essential. You also need to be proactive, a self-starter and with the ability to see the bigger picture, often juggling the requirements of multiple stakeholders. Communications can often be like an iceberg – what’s seen on the surface can often hide months, if not years of hard work beneath it. What kind of opportunities are there for career progression? There are great opportunities. Long-term many senior communicators elect to run their own agencies, to work as consultants, join start-ups or help craft the stories of bigger organisations. The great thing is that everyone has a story to tell and being great at helping them tell it is a skill for life.
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 With the issue of online abuse back in the spotlight, we take a look at how social media can play a role in damaging vulnerable individuals, and what can be done about it
THE untimely and tragic death of Caroline Flack last month has again highlighted the impact of online abuse – particularly via social media – on the lives of those in the spotlight. While Twitter and Instagram have more recently been full of beautiful words about the TV presenter and her life, you only have to scroll back a few weeks to see the awful and vitriolic messages thrown at her and about her. We will never know what was going on in her mind and heart leading up to the moment she believed that taking her own life was the only way forward. Some have blamed the tabloids for ‘hounding’ her throughout her career; but the impact of an almost constant tirade of abuse via social media channels on someone who was very fragile and vulnerable at the time can surely not be under-estimated. The hashtag #BeKind began trending almost as soon as news emerged of Flack’s death and it began to feel like the social media ‘keyboard warriors’ were feeling some remorse. But for how long? And in games – where female and LGBTQ industry professionals are particularly targeted – has there really been any change in attitude on Twitter et al on the back of the #BeKind initiative? With even the Pope urging people to stop Twitter trolling for Lent, surely – in his words – this “is a time to give up useless words”?
Claire Sharkey Founder of Sharkbit; PR and marketing at The Irregular Corporation There’s a sense that we have to form decisions or take action instantly. The healthiest thing we can do is take time to research or even step back completely from using social media as a barometer for truth. Find multiple sources and apply empathy. No one is infallible and for every pro of social media being ingrained in society today there are many detrimental cons.
“Real people are behind game development, with real feelings” Robin Gray Founder, Gayming Magazine As the Editor of Gayming Magazine, I see firsthand the comments and tweets my femaleidentifying contributors receive in response to their views. When we feature articles written by female-identifying contributors about female issues in games, they are regularly shouted down by others (usually men) on social media and told they are wrong. Most of these people hide behind anonymous profiles and I feel that social media companies must do more to ensure that everyone who registers for an account must be fully identifiable and accountable.
Tamsin O’Luanaigh CoSec & talent director, nDreams I often see criticism of people’s games and hard work on social media, or credit given to some team members with others not seen as ‘worthy contributors’. It should be highlighted that real people are behind game development, with real feelings… The level of abuse can be damaging & nobody should be subjected to that.
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 email@example.com.
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MCV/DEVELOP readers get an extra 10% off conference passes at the Super Early Bird rate with the promo code: DUINXL
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Thousands of attendees will soon descend upon Brighton to attend Develop:Brighton. Ahead of this year’s conference, we spoke to Andy Lane about the annual event TELL US ABOUT DEVELOP:BRIGHTON! Develop:Brighton is the UK’s leading conference for anyone & everyone who’s involved in game development. For the last 15 years, it’s been where the developer community gathers to network, learn from each other, share their experiences and discuss the issues facing the industry today. Last year we welcomed around 3,000 attendees and with over 100 sessions and speakers covering topics from coding to game design, from discoverability to audio, it’s where developers can meet world-renowned experts, get insights into the future of game development and catch up with the latest in development tools and techniques. Alongside the conference is an expo which hosts 30-40 exhibitors plus the Indie Showcase and a number of free Indie Bootcamp talks. And there’s the Develop:Star Awards where the developer community celebrates and recognises the very best games, talent and innovations the industry has to offer. WHEN AND WHERE DOES IT TAKE PLACE? It takes place at the Hilton Brighton Metropole in Brighton and runs from Tuesday 14 July to Thursday 16 July. The expo, which is free to attend, runs from Wednesday 15 July with The Develop:Star Awards also taking place that evening. WHO WILL BE SPEAKING AT THE CONFERENCE? The first keynote speaker will be announced very soon. They’re one of the most recognisable personalities in the industry having worked on iconic franchises and multiple Game of the Year winners. The first round of speakers will also be announced shortly, covering hot topics including development for next gen platforms, customer acquisition, running a studio and diversity and inclusion. WHAT’S NEW? This year Develop:Brighton introduces a brand new session track dedicated to exploring the best business strategies and game design techniques for mobile games. The Mobile track joins our other established tracks covering Design, Art, Audio, Business, Coding, Indie and Discoverability. More Roundtables which are designed as an open forum for attendees to discuss key issues that might affect them are also planned for 2020 following their popularity in recent years. WHAT DOES A CONFERENCE PASS GET ME? A conference pass offers full access to all the talks happening across the days a pass is purchased for,
as well as entry to all official networking and After Hours events. You also get access to Meet@Develop, a scheduling tool to arrange meetings with potential partners and a dedicated meeting area at the conference where those meetings are hosted. Post-event, delegates get access to an online database where they can view all the sessions they might have missed. There are a variety of passes for developers, micro indies, students and academics, suiting all budgets. All passes are available at a Super Early Bird rate until Wednesday 8 April.
Above: Andy Lane, MD of Tandem Events
WHAT ELSE IS GOING ON DURING DEVELOP:BRIGHTON? The expo runs alongside the conference at the same venue. It’s free to attend and is home to 30-40 exhibitors, plus the Develop Bar and Networking Lounge, the Indie Showcase where independent developers show off their latest games and our free Indie Bootcamp talks aimed at developers who are just starting out. The Expo Booth Crawl offers a chance to explore the expo and meet fellow delegates, and there are a host of other After Hours activities too, including the IceBreaker drinks on the opening day, the GamesAid Poker Tournament, the Develop Game Jam and The Develop:Star Awards. WHAT ARE THE DEVELOP:STAR AWARDS? The Stars Awards bring the industry together to celebrate the very best games, talent and innovations the industry has to offer. There are 17 different categories which are shortlisted by a panel of industry experts and then voted on by over 4,000 members of the developer community so they really are recognition from the industry itself. There’s also the overall Develop:Star Award which recognises an individual and which was presented to Hello Games founder Sean Murray in 2019. Last year’s awards were a rousing success, with Sumo Digital picking up Best Studio and Ghost Town Games winning Game of the Year with Overcooked! 2. WHAT WERE THE HIGHLIGHTS FROM LAST YEAR’S CONFERENCE? With over 100 sessions and speakers there are almost too many to choose from but if I had to pick out a couple I’d say Sean Murray’s incredibly popular discussion of No Man’s Sky’s journey that made headlines around the world and Media Molecule discussing Dreams a few months into its early access journey in a keynote that’s now available to watch for free on Develop’s YouTube channel. For more visit www.developconference.com
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The many flavours of One tool to rule them all? Unity is everywhere, but despite its name there’s incredible variation in how developers use it. Seth Barton talks to both Unity and some top developers about the engine’s flexibility and future
nity is the world’s biggest game engine, a near-ubiquitous technology behind experiences as varied as Match 3 messenger games to console FPS titles and a lot more besides. And that breadth of use cases means that Unity is increasingly looking at how it can best support its broad swathe of users. In recent years we’ve talked in-depth about Unity’s big new features, such as its new render pipelines and its multi-threaded Data-Oriented Technology Stack (DOTS). However, new features, however exciting or useful they may be, are rarely at the top of the list when you ask developers what changes they want to see. So for 2020 Unity is focusing upon the usability and flexibility of its engine. And that means not only looking at quality-of-life improvements in the current version, but also how the company handles versioning in a tool that is increasingly being used to create complex experiences with multi-year development cycles. The most obvious change is that the company has changed its release schedule for the first time in years, adjusting the cadence of its Tech Stream releases from three to two a year. As Brett Bibby, VP of engineering, explains to us: “We’re rebuilding Unity to be lighter and more flexible. A key enabler of this is our Package Manager, which allows us to decouple many features, APIs and updates from our Tech Stream releases. This enables us to deliver a stable, slower changing core along with quicker fixes, and faster delivery of features and
enhancements to Unity, needed by the next-generation of productions.” That will have a knock-on effect on its Long Term Support (LTS) releases: “It ensures that the foundation of our Long Term Support releases are rock solid, and ready for your productions that are shipping right now. We also ensure that LTS to LTS upgrades are as painless as possible, giving developers the best of both worlds: tech releases with the leading edge technology you need to innovate and LTS releases which give you the reach and stability you need in the long term.” Asking about new features and Unity versions, we reached out to a handful of developers who have recently made incredible games with Unity. What really struck us was how much their use of the tool varied, in terms of the version, features used, and how much they added to the core technology provided. You can read their stories on these pages. And the company claims to be considering all these varied users with every such change of pace and with every release: “With every change we make to the engine, we are factoring in the stage the user is in with their work. We want to make sure that the updates we’re delivering are not going to put them in a situation where they are taking two steps forward, and then three steps back. “We also deeply consider where we can trim the fat, so that again, workflows are operating together in a logical, efficient way. We strive to provide professional yet accessible tools.”
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Above: Brett Bibby, VP of engineering, Unity
A key part of helping produce those tools are Unity’s internal teams, which create the incredible demos, and the proof of concept sandpits, which all help move the platform forward. “They provide invaluable feedback early on and throughout development to ensure we come up with the best solutions,” says Bibby. “We have moved towards a production-focused environment, so that we can better understand how our tools and workflows operate together for a wider variety of use cases.” And whether you’re creating a 2D indie title, a triple-A console game, or working on something totally different, improvements in how well the tool works are equally appreciated. “Every second spent waiting for a download, an update, or a progress bar to complete, is another second not spent on creating, coding, or animating. We are reducing iteration times, so there’s less time queuing, more time doing. We engage with developers around the globe on a regular basis to understand where we should focus our efforts.” And with that in mind, has the company’s recent focus on re-engineering its biggest core systems started to show bounty, we wonder? Particularly in terms of games pushing the graphics envelope with the new scriptable, HD render pipelines.
“I think it’s important to state that these are the foundational technologies that help developers solve a challenge. For instance, HDRP is one of many features and workflows that you’d want to use to achieve highend graphics. Unity is the destination for beautiful games that unlock the creativity and imagination of the community. I’d like to point to some amazing games that came out last year - Outer Wilds, Sayonara Wild Hearts, Disco Elysium, GTFO, Gris, and Void Bastards just to name a few. All Unity games, all with absolutely brilliant art direction. “And in 2020 you’re going to see even more beautiful uses of our platform - from Temtem’s cel-shaded style, to Ori and the Will of the Wisps’ gorgeous graphics, to Wasteland 3’s beautiful snow and particle effects – I’d say that Unity developers are really pushing the bar for graphics. Additionally, it’s important to emphasize the fact that all of this ties into our philosophy on what game development actually is. We see game development technology as something that is the proving ground for the next wave of technology innovators. What we do with our engine for game developers inextricably applies to the development of other real-world experiences – the way cars are designed, the way bridges are built, for example. It’s all about providing a foundation for creators to bring all the pieces of their dreams together in a cohesive, usable and scalable way.”
Madfinger Games: Shadowgun War Games
Miroslav Ondrus, CTO, Madfinger Games
Madfinger Games is celebrating its 10th anniversary in May, and since the very beginning, we have partnered with Unity to develop our games. We’re currently working together on major aspects of our just launched title, Shadowgun War Games, on things like rendering, performance, matchmaking and dedicated servers. Some of the key Unity tech and services we have implemented for its release, or are planning to use post-release, include: ML Agents: used in training AI teammates to behave like human players; Matchmaker: for players to find the right match for a great gameplay experience; Multiplay: to maximize server uptime and player enjoyment Unity Transport Layer: connecting players to servers with low latency; Vivox: providing low latency communication for players; and Unity Ads: for increasing player engagement Unity helps us with prototyping really fast, which is one of the things I like the most about it. We currently use Unity 2019.2 and, as clients since the early days, we will
carry on using every new version they provide. Take Unity Connected Games, for example – although this new Multiplayer/Network is still under development, the cooperative approach of Unity as a whole makes it a great experience for us. We like to do lots of stuff on our own, so we’re happy that Unity allows us to do just that. One other thing I like is the Unity Hub, which is a nice touch for developers like us who are working on multiple projects with multiple versions at the same time. We’re looking forward to DOTS as we’re mainly working on highperformance projects. We have a strong relationship with Unity. They give us great support, dedicated communication channels and, most importantly, they really listen to our feedback and act upon it. I can’t imagine using anything different because their support helps us innovate and create the games we’ve always wanted to build.
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Blu Manchu: Void Bastards We started using Unity to build Void Bastards as we thought it would be the best tool to prototype in. We had in mind the idea of making a later decision about what engine we might ship the game in, but as you would expect, that decision made itself because the prototype just turned into the shipping game. Our engine priorities were all about stability and and tools, not bleeding edge features, so we stayed very conservative with Unity versions, only updating our version of Unity a couple of times during the multi-year development and shipping with Unity 2017, even though 2018 was available. Specifically, we started with Unity 5, switched to 2017 about mid way through and shipped with a 2017 LTS release. Our render pipeline was very standard – we managed to achieve our different look by working within what 2017 provided – custom shaders and some lighting tricks rather than hacking into the renderer. Probably the biggest feature we missed that has since been added
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to Unity is nested prefabs but, again, we worked around this by scripting our own simple system that was good enough for our purposes. It’s nice to see this feature being property supported by the engine now. The only real problem we’ve had with the engine was when we bumped into a hard crash associated with asynchronous scene loading. Because we didn’t have source access our only way to resolve this was to roll back our code changes until we found the one that triggered the crash. That took several weeks of grinding labour that we’d really like to have back. Overall Unity turned out to be a great choice for our project though. The new, more flexible, Universal Render Pipeline is obviously a great improvement that would have been nice to have for Void Bastards. But our strategy was always to work with the (stable) tools we had rather than take the risk of being exposed to new features that are likely to be less stable.
Jonathan Chey, owner of Blu Manchu
10 Chambers Collective: GTFO
Simon Viklund, composer, sound designer and community manager at 10 Chambers Collective
The launch of GTFO has been the most stable and performant launch in our game development careers (most team members have 15-20+ years as professional game developers), and the game is still only in Early Access! We attribute this very much to Unity; namely the profiler and the “Crashes and Exceptions” backend: We have never had as much control and knowledge about what’s going on as we do today! Unity’s analytics backend is really something – we’ve been told it’s intended mainly for mobile game developers since that is a very data driven space, but we can verify it’s extraordinarily useful for those who make FPS games on PC too! The Unity engine provides an exceptional ability to create prototypes or any type of quick-and-dirty test of game functions. The short distance from idea to
practical test, facilitated by Unity, has without a doubt been instrumental to the creation of many of GTFO’s core features. By using a combination of separate prototyping environments and placeholder systems from the Unity Asset Store, we have created a modular project where systems can easily be replaced when they need to be. During the production of GTFO we’ve always prioritized productivity and workflow. The fact that Unity makes it so easy to create tools that the development team can use internally, has been instrumental in equipping 10 Chambers to sustain GTFO with new content for a long time. GTFO is a testament to the fact that Unity makes it possible for tiny teams to create ambitious and potent games.
Mobius Digital: Outer Wilds We’re currently using Unity 2017.4, but when we started the project years ago we were all the way back in Unity 4! Outer Wilds is an extremely unconventional game on a lot of levels, so we had to leverage a lot of parts of Unity in unusual ways, and create a lot of tools specifically addressing our design and production needs. One of the scariest moments in our production was the switch from Unity 4 to 5, as support for concave colliders on rigidbodies was dropped by PhysX. Since every object in our game is a rigidbody (from the sun to planets all the way down to marshmallows), this meant we had to re-write physics integration ourselves to get everything working and stable again! Over the development of Outer Wilds, we created a plethora of tools unlike any found elsewhere. These include scene transform handles that automatically stick objects to surfaces and align them to local gravity fields, a tool to “stamp” foliage and other detail objects across arbitrary surfaces, scripts to bake kitbashed terrain into a cleaned-up and optimized final result, an in-Unity editor for designing and hand-crafting starfields, a tool for creating unique assets for spiraling alien text found throughout the world, and a custom build pipeline that allows us to easily publish to PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. What was great about working with Unity is that we were able to quickly and easily integrate these all into the editor in a way where they were easily usable by the entire team,
allowing us to make a large hand-crafted game with a very small team. Built-in tools like the Profiler and Frame Debugger were vital to getting the game out the door, and were a perfect level of accessibility for a majority of our purposes. Both provided incredibly helpful ways to see what was going on under the hood, allowing us to not only debug our code and solve performance problems, but also to write better code in the first place. A lot of Unity’s other tools were not things we could use with Outer Wilds, as they either assumed that the world geometry wasn’t moving (lightmapping, occlusion baking, etc), assumed that our game took place on flat planes (terrain), or they weren’t fully supported yet in our version of Unity (scriptable render pipeline, burst compiler, DOTS, etc). The lack of these features were not significant barriers to us, though, and we achieved our rendering, memory, and performance goals by repurposing existing Unity systems or by rolling our own. The biggest feature that I wish had been available to me during development was the scriptable render pipeline, as it seems like it would have given me the ability to do more intelligent culling and shadow rendering for Outer Wilds. At no point during development did it make sense to jump major versions to try to rewrite how the entirety of rendering worked, however.
Logan Ver Hoef, tech artist at Mobius Digital
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and moving up Sold Out, the UK boxed specialist is getting serious about digital, with its recent strong PAX East line-up being just a hint of things to come as part of the Enad Global 7 group
old Out has long been a fixture of the UK games industry. In various guises it has specialised in finding undervalued areas of the market and then going on to make a good business out of them. Historically that was budget PC titles, although more recently it’s become the biggest champion of the physical copy in an increasingly digitally-obsessed world. Bringing a wide range of games to retail around the globe, including titles from the very best of British developers and publishers. Late last year the company was acquired by the Enad Global 7 group (at the time known as Toadman Interactive). That investment has kickstarted a new phase for the company, so we visited CEO Garry Williams at Sold Out’s City of London office in order to discuss the company’s future. SELLING OUT The takeover came as something of a surprise, we’d met the company in person before, back when Sold Out was publishing Toadman Interactive’s own Dark Souls-styled Immortal: Unchained. And since when did a developer ever buy the publisher? The reasons are numerous, and compelling, but Williams’ first response is that it gives Sold Out access to funds and wider expertise, so it can cut bigger deals and be more competitive. Williams recounts a massive recent hit which Sold Out lost out on, as they didn’t have the access to cash to match a competitor’s advance, something that may be less of an issue in future. That said, Williams isn’t about
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Above: Gestalt: Steam & Cinder’s protagonist, Aletheia, pictured both in battle (right) and on her stats and upgrade screen (left) Opposite: Disjunction is a narrative-driven, cyberpunk, stealthaction title
to change a lifelong approach and start making huge bets: “I’m quite conservative, so my willingness to use that credit, because it comes with interest, is somewhat limited,” he notes. That relative caution seems to be matched by the new owners, who are looking to be more measured in their growth than their compatriots over at Embracer (previously THQ Nordic AB), which now has some 26 studios under its wing and is rapidly approaching 100 games in development, with new announcements seemingly coming every month. EG7 has a more focused approach to the current handful of titles in its pipeline, each of which will benefit from the skills of the wider group. “We’re called in, as Sold Out to publish those games,” Williams explains. In addition, as Sold Out, the company has its own internal slate of digital indie games that it’s signing and bringing to market. And expertise is shared both ways. As part of EG7, Sold Out now has access to the group’s development arm, which retains the Toadman moniker, so it is able to support Sold Out’s signed developers if they need assistance with a particular area, such as netcode, or conversions to other platforms.
MARKET DAYS The companies will work together then, but Williams is keen to stress that Sold Out still has a lot of autonomy. “They are the board and they are the owners, but they let each piece sort of run individually.” And so of course, the company continues to work with its current key partners. Team17 has numerous titles in the pipeline, including the upcoming Moving Out; Rebellion recently launched Zombie Army 4; and then there’s Frontier Developments, which had a cracking year with Planet Zoo – and who this month were finalists in our own MCV/DEVELOP Awards. And speaking of UK development talent, EG7’s most notable development acquisition is Antimatter Games, based in Falmouth, Cornwall. The Rising Storm developer is currently working on a new multiplayer shooter, simply titled ‘83’, which is set during the cold war. That brings up the possibility of a console, or even boxed launch, for the previously PConly developer, though nothing is confirmed. With publishing and development in place on certain titles, the last ingredient is the group’s creative agency: Petrol Advertising in LA. “We’ll use them for the titles with larger marketing budgets, they’ll come in and look
“We want a more robust way of dealing with digital.”
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at the planning for the game and provide their expertise and creative lens on those titles,” explains Williams. And while a big marketing campaign won’t suit every game, Williams wants to apply Petrol’s marketing expertise to many titles, “to find the right audience and the hooks for that audience” alongside the publishing and development skills: “We want a more robust way of dealing with digital, in the same way that we know boxed already.” And that is no easy task, as even Sold Out, with its huge experience and excellent contacts, bemoans the lack of available sales data in the digital market. Without data, the whole industry is struggling with accurate digital forecasting as ”there’s not much to codify or guide your decisions,” admits Williams. HEAD EAST Great content usually shines through, though. And Sold Out has announced three new indie titles with a lot of potential, making a total of five titles that were on show at its PAX East stand last week, its biggest to date. KeyWe, Disjunction, and Gestalt: Steam & Cinder, are the three new titles, which join No Straight Roads and Radical Rabbit Stew on the current release slate. “Our growing line-up of exciting new indie titles is set to satisfy a broad range of players’ tastes, covering a wide variety of genres from some exceptionally talented developers,” says Williams.
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We have the opportunity to play all three new titles during our visit. Disjunction is a 2D top-down cyberpunk title, which takes the strong storyline, RPG-lite elements, and branching narrative options from Deus Ex and blends them with stealth and action mechanics reminiscent of the original Metal Gear games. The combination, plus the excellent execution, makes the game feel like the closest thing we’ve seen in quite a while to a safe bet.
“Our growing line-up of exciting new indie titles is set to satisfy a broad range of players’ tastes.” Gestalt: Steam & Cinder treads similar ground, being a side-scrolling 2D platform shooter with RPG elements in a steampunk setting. Character designs and pixel art are spot on here, and it’s promising a deep narrative, rather than the Souls-styled environmental story-telling of games such as Hollow Knight. The wildcard of the bunch is the adorable KeyWe. This sees multiple players controlling a pair of industrious Kiwis (the bird, not the people from New Zealand) as they mob-handedly (despite not having any hands to speak of) run a period post office, dealing with
post, parcels and telegrams in what is one of the most unusual, yet compelling titles we’ve played since Overcooked, to which it will be no doubt compared. The concept isn’t as instantly graspable, but it’s highly original and its characters could fly far (despite being wingless as well as handless). WHAT UNCERTAINTY? Many acquisitions simply take a company and inject large sums of money in order to supersize it. With Sold Out, it looks as though EG7 has planned well, bringing together publishing, development and marketing capabilities in a single group. It should produce a very capable publisher with plenty of room for further growth as opportunities arise. Plus for Williams, being part of a larger, off-shore group means that Sold Out can feel confident in an uncertain time. “We are now able to minimise the risk of the negative impact from any potential outcome of the upcoming Brexit Trade Agreement negotiations by gaining access to operations in both UK and European markets,” he concludes. Left: KeyWe’s smileinducing co-op antics certainly stand out
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A different kind of PRODUCER Sabrina Carmona, senior producer at King, talks to Chris Wallace about the importance of recruiting and retaining more diverse voices in the industry
he somewhat mixed findings of Ukie’s recent diversity census of the UK games industry (see page 50 for that) has prompted a conversation about what needs to be done to bring more diverse groups into the fold – and particularly into leadership positions. One such person leading the charge to diversify the games industry is Brazil-born Sabrina Carmona, senior producer at King. We sat down with Carmona at the Yorkshire Game Festival – an annual event at the National Science Museum in Bradford – where Carmona and other industry figures gave talks addressed to the game industry workers of the future, a packed lecture hall of university students looking for advice on how to get their start in the industry. The festival’s timing (and Carmona’s presence there) seems fortunate, given the surprisingly diverse
set of faces attending each talk. Glancing over the audience during Carmona’s talk we spot plenty of rapt stares from students outside the white male majority. We wonder if this is what attracted Carmona to come up to Yorkshire in the first place. “100 per cent,” Carmona confirms. “When they invited me to come, they said, listen, ‘it’s in the National Science Museum, it’s the Yorkshire Game Festival, it’s not in London’ and I was like, ‘I’m in.’ “Because that’s just it. I’m from a country where we don’t have the support, we don’t have the incentive. It’s really hard to open a studio and to work in games, but here you have really talented, really passionate people. So for me, I will always go for the underdog or the minority because hey, I tick all the boxes you could possibly imagine. “For a long time in my career, I thought that my ultimate goal was to be accepted for who I am. Now, I know that that’s not real, I want to succeed because of who I am, because I’m different. And as a producer, I want to be able to give people opportunities and build teams. So I’m very passionate about giving that opportunity to other
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people to come work and be themselves. We want that, we want that different kind of person.” Carmona has experience of being that different kind of person – And not just as a Brazilian woman working in the UK games industry, which is reportedly 70 per cent male. Carmona began her career back at home in Brazil where, she casually mentions, she was the second woman ever to work in the games industry in Brazil. “It was not really an industry per se,” she notes. “There were not enough people in the beginning, right? I never thought that ‘oh, I’m the only one, or the second one.’ I only started thinking about that when I started studying. In my class there was me, and there was this one other girl who dropped out the first semester. So I was the only one. I was like, yeah okay, maybe there are more boys than girls in games, we’ll see.” “Once I started my master’s degree, I was the only woman researching. And then I went to work, and there were no women at all. So I was like, okay, I have to change this. So I started teaching free lessons for game design at one of the museums back in Sao Paulo, in order to incentivize more people to join the games industry. And the women would come in, and I would come to them like, ‘Do you want to work? Because I’m hiring.” She wasn’t just that different kind of person in Brazil, either. Carmona has worked in a frankly exhausting number of countries – Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Germany and Sweden before landing in the UK at King. It’s this global mindset that has informed Carmona’s stance on the importance of maintaining a diverse workforce. “I think I’ve worked with over 100 nationalities” says
Carmona. “I’m very lucky. I’m very humble that I’ve had such opportunities.When I was in Mexico I was working for a Japanese company, so my manager was Japanese, and the other people were Mexican. I was the only Brazilian, and there was an American. So we were all different. It sounds like a joke, right? “A Japanese, a Brazilian, a Mexican and an American enter a restaurant...” she laughs. “Then I moved to Chile to work for a Canadian company. So there were people from Montreal – French Canadians, and we had all these nationalities from Latin America: Argentinians, Brazilians, Chileans… it was amazing. I moved to Germany and it was the same thing, and when I moved to London, well, everyone wants to be in London. So I get to work with people from Africa, which I’ve never visited, but I have someone from Eritrea on my team. And that’s amazing, because the way they see the industry and the world is so different. “It’s the same with Indians – a huge country with so much possibility. The way they consume games, the way they monetize behaviours is completely different. So if you actually want to make a product global, we need those insights. The way they operate and use phones and apps in China is completely different than in the US. If we want our games to thrive, we need people who are from there – we’re not going to travel everywhere. “I’ve worked in so many languages, it’s been such an interesting experience for me. And that made me much more globally aware. When I started in Sweden, I built a team of 23 people with 17 nationalities, almost everyone was different. I think there was someone from Panama,
“If we want our games to thrive, we need people who are from there – we’re not going to travel everywhere.”
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Pictured above: Sabrina Carmona, King
which was like, ‘oh my god, I didn’t know they made games’, I didn’t even think about it. So I think that’s the brilliant thing.” “King has a lot of initiatives for DNI (Diversity and Inclusion). Obviously, nowhere is perfect, but we are trying our best – And I think most big companies are doing that. It’s not about having a quota, ‘oh, we need to have this many women, or this many non-binary, or we’re going to Pride.’ That’s not enough, right? So we do some things like having blind CVs – we only see their capabilities. We don’t know where they’re from, or how old they are, because that’s exactly it – I have someone in my team who’s over 50, and in the game industry, a developer over 50 working with a 19 year old is the best experience you can probably have. The way they approach things, the differences in experiences... So it’s not just about gender. it’s not just about ethnicity – it’s people of different ages, people with different experiences, different backgrounds, different education. “And with a company like King, we’re probably one of the biggest mobile developers in the world. So people come after us for jobs and we’re very privileged in that sense, but that does not mean that we just hire the same kind of people, right? I mean look, I’m there. Every producer is different, and we’re always striving for that. We look around and say, ‘okay, what are we missing? What do we want to do?’ It’s not only in games, but across all the other functions because we work with marketing, finance, legal, we do all of it, right? And they’re all very, very diverse.”
So with all her experience both embodying and rallying for the importance of diversity in the workplace, what does Carmona advise: both for members of minority groups looking to break into the industry, and for companies looking to hire them? “I think first of all, you have to find similarities, you have to find your network” she notes. “Of course, throughout my career, there wasn’t only women mentoring me, it’s impossible. There were none. But I had to find people that would support me, because I was different. “And besides that, I think, first and foremost, you have to believe it’s possible, and you have to be very resilient. And so for people like me who are already in the industry, you have to go out there and make yourself visible. You say, ‘look, I’m a woman. I’m Brazilian, and I’m different than everyone else here.’ And you will find people similar to you – like, I opened my Twitter and there were people like ‘oh, i saw your talk, and i’m exactly like you, I’m so happy to hear someone’s out there.’ “I go to schools as well, talk to young girls, like ‘hey, you ever thought about making games? Do you like games? Everyone likes games, right?’ Where I came from, I didn’t even know you could make a career out of it. I just thought it was something that just happened, so the fact that it is possible, I think it says a lot. As people in the industry, I think it is our job to talk about it and make it possible for others. “You have to challenge things – I was talking to a lot of recruiters some time ago, because when you do interviews, you have that category, you have to see if the person is a ‘cultural fit’. I hate that. Why would I want a cultural fit? Then I’m gonna have another Sabrina, and I don’t need another Sabrina. I mean, the world can’t handle another Sabrina. I don’t need another Sabrina, I want someone completely different. “We need someone that will be able to thrive in our values, in our culture, and would add to our culture. It was a big conversation when you’re talking about diversity in the recruitment process, because that’s exactly it – we were looking for a cultural add. We’re looking for someone who believes in our values but is a cultural add, not a cultural fit. I don’t want someone to fit in a box. If I hire producers just like me, we will make the same mistakes together and we won’t know we’re making them.”
“You have to see if the person is a ‘cultural fit’. I hate that...”
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WHAT NEXT FOR
For recruiters? For EU citizens? For the industry? The only certainty about Brexit is that it’s happening. So how should UK games businesses prepare in what is a highly-fluid situation of negotiations and new regulations? Seth Barton talks to Csaba Berenyi of Sponge Hammer, Anna Mansi at the BFI, George Osborn of Ukie and Amiqus’ Liz Prince about the impact of the split and how to best prepare.
he UK has left the European Union. And like it or not, we’re all in the same boat now. Whatever benefits Brexit may or may not bring in the longer term, it’s certain that the ongoing uncertainty around the UK’s final relationship with Europe is bound to result in some choppy waters – at least from now until the end of the transitional period on the 31st of December, and most likely beyond that as well. Broader business advice for how the industry should prepare for Brexit is available, but the ongoing trade deal negotiations means that there’s a lot of uncertainty in some areas. And that can only be combated by keeping up with current events,
says Ukie’s head of communications George Osborn: “The UK officially leaving the European Union has provided some clarity for businesses on where we are going. But our advice is to keep a close eye on the news to see what emerges from the next stage of the process. “The priorities for the UK industry in the negotiation of a trade deal with the European Union remain similar to those outlined in Ukie’s 2017 State of Play report. Maintaining the free flow of data, limiting barriers to hiring the best and the brightest from around the world and preventing the emergence of burdensome travel restrictions is important for the good health of the games industry.
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“We will continue to advance these arguments in the coming year. However, we won’t likely have clarity on the shape of a future trade deal for a number of months. We recommend in the meantime that businesses prepare themselves for the coming months by watching the advice guides we prepared in case of a no-deal scenario last year. “These videos provide a lot of common sense tips for companies in regards to the process – such as the importance of using standard contractual clauses – that should provide a solid foundation for the future.” One area that Osborn made clear to us was that the pan-European PEGI rating system would continue to be used in the UK, so no worries there. “We also recommend that if you do need help in the coming year that you should get in contact with us. Our policy team is staying on top of developments to give detailed advice as the year progresses, while our membership team can help put you in contact with companies who can help you over any hurdles you may encounter.” In short, this is an evolving situation and we all need to pay attention. THE HUMAN LEAGUE The first piece of the industry’s personal puzzle came into focus recently when the government outlined its immigration policy post-Brexit – a key piece of forthcoming legislation once freedom of movement with the EU comes to an end on December 31st. Recruitment specialist Liz Prince, head of Amiqus, starts by noting that the new system will apply to everyone, not just EU immigrants: “The new system will now treat EU and non EU citizens equally and will include a route for skilled workers who have a job offer from an approved employer sponsor and the job will need to be at a required skill level to qualify (A level qualified or above).” That should mean that the majority of industry roles will qualify, Prince notes, though we’re concerned that jobs with softer skills, such as business development roles, might be harder to argue for. “The applicant will also need to be able to speak English,” she adds, though no testing regime for this has been set yet. “The minimum general salary threshold will be £25,600, although if the salary was less than this (but more than £20,480) points can still be earned on other specific characteristics, for instance having a job offer in a shortage occupation or having a PhD relevant to the job.”
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Ticking the basic boxes isn’t going to be the key issue here for those recruiting talent, though. But instead it’s the nitty-gritty of the new bureaucracy that’s the key, especially as it will now apply to everyone coming to the UK to work, adding a huge workload to recruiters of EU citizens who would have previously come over to the UK hassle-free. “It’s imperative that the government simplifies the sponsorship and immigration process to ensure that employers and candidates enjoy a smooth and inexpensive route into UK employment,” Prince tells us. “Although the points based system may be sufficient to support the UK games industry’s access to skilled talent from around the world, we still need to be able to attract people to work in the UK and to our businesses, and that takes more than just a system. Attitudes are being noticed overseas.” And that pointed note has statistical backing, Prince explains. “Recent reporting finds that the UK has fallen from 9th to 12th place globally in terms of the country’s ability to attract, retain and develop talent. Key factors to the modest drop down the league table include political instability coupled with poor tolerance of minorities.” Such perceptions are, concerningly for many developers, not equally distributed across the country: “It’s interesting to see that there are key regional differences to the overall positioning for the UK – London has improved its position, rising from number 14 to become the world’s second most talent-competitive city. However, the sting in the tail is that Britain’s regions are not doing nearly so well.” And it’s in those regions that much of our development output is based. “The report finds that Britain as a whole has what it describes as a ‘relatively low degree of internal openness’. Put more bluntly, the country has become less tolerant of minority groups. Viewed through this prism, it is this which is making it harder to attract talent,” Prince states. So what then can games businesses do to push back against what is a national problem? “Brexit is definitely an opportunity for companies to improve their value propositions, to focus on their culture and diversity to enable them to heighten their ability to attract global talent. In addition, to fill gaps in talent capabilities, employers will have to understand the full range of levers available to them, including changing operating models. “For example, the wider use of agile teams, which are more flexible than traditional units, means that certain employees would no longer need to be co-located, so some roles could be virtualized. Companies can unlock
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Above: Anna Mansi from the BFI and Sponge Hammer’s Csaba Berenyi
internal talent by upskilling or cross-skilling existing staff, rethinking job descriptions and hiring from unconventional talent pools. In addition, taking steps to develop staff of all ages by introducing training and upskilling opportunities goes hand in hand with the creation of learning cultures within organizations.” In short: “The key messages are – shore up your value proposition to be the most attractive you can be, and nurture talent now.” GETTING SETTLED Plenty of advice there for those looking to recruit, but what should be your first steps if you’re an EU citizen working in the UK or an employer of EU citizens, who wants to do their best to support their employees through this difficult time? For this we turned to Csaba Berenyi, an EU citizen hailing from Hungary, who after stints at Codemasters and FreeStyleGames, is now MD of Sponge Hammer in Leamington Spa. “What should you do as an EU/EEA citizen? First, make sure to start your EU Settlement Scheme application. It is a relatively painless process of scanning your passport or national ID using your phone or tablet. In the past, the app was only available on Android, but they have added support for iOS now as well. You can find more information on the government’s website: https://www.gov.uk/eusettledstatus. “It’s important to know that submitting your details will not automatically grant you Settled Status. There’s a non-transparent approval process that can take anything
from days to months. What can make it stressful is that you have no way to see what’s happening to your application during this time. But when you do, eventually, receive your status confirmation document, there’s a few useful things to know, Berenyi explains: “It will clearly state that it is not evidence of your newly granted status. Landlords and employers may need to use a different method to verify your right to stay. And if you change your mobile phone number, email address, name, identity document or UK address you will need to update your new details on the website.” That’s hardly reassuring news, so how can employers assist their employees? “Companies can do a few things to help. Although the process may be simple for some, offering help could be beneficial. Employees, depending on their circumstances, may need access to legal support, so allowing time off and/or access to a lawyer would be welcome.” SUPER STATE AID Of course, it’s not just people and businesses that have complex relationships with our European partners. The UK itself has many ongoing agreements with the EU and with its governmental bodies. Meanwhile, our own government may also look at the way it currently supports the games industry once the EU’s rules on state aid no longer apply. We turned to Anna Mansi, head of certification at the BFI, which manages the cultural test for Video Games
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Tax Relief (VGTR) for her take on possible changes in this area. “The UK’s Creative Sector Tax Reliefs will not be affected by Brexit – this includes those available for video games. In the BFI’s Screen Business report (2018), the previous Chancellor restated Government’s commitment “to supporting [the UK’s] highly-skilled and innovative creative industries through creative sector tax reliefs.” Content will still qualify for VGTR if it passes the UK’s video games cultural test. The cultural test will also continue to recognise EEA content and personnel. Under the Withdrawal Agreement, UK personnel have EEA status – and thus will be able to qualify for other Member States’ cultural tests – until the end of the transition period. “The state aid regime helps regulate how public authorities provide advantages, such as VGTR to organisations that could potentially distort competition. No material changes are expected to the UK’s state aid regime before the end of the transition period in December 2020. And beyond that? “The Political Declaration sets out an intention to ‘ensure open and fair competition’ by upholding the common high standards for state aid applicable in the Union and the United Kingdom at the end of the transition period, and to maintain a robust framework thereafter.” But of course: “This is subject to further negotiation with the EU.” “Under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement, the UK will continue to participate in the current Creative
Europe programme until it ends in December 2020. UK projects are able to apply for funding up until this point, with successful applications receiving funding as normal, even where their funded activity is set to take place after December 2020. “The UK’s participation in the next Creative Europe programme, running 2021-2027, is subject to negotiation with the EU. The BFI continues to make the case for the UK’s participation. There is further information relating to freedom of movement; IP and Data transfers on the BFI Brexit Q&A page.” So if you get your employees onside, improve your offering as an employer to those coming from afar, retain your VGTR and keep a beady eye on the news for any further changes, then maybe we’ll all get through this? Maybe, but let’s not forget the impact that Brexit has already had, and will continue to have on those most affected, EU citizens in the UK. And so to finish we return to Berenyi: “I know for many in the industry Brexit seems like an absolute evil, it is getting sorted one way or the other. The hardest part of it was uncertainty. There are a few challenges ahead and as negotiations progress throughout the year, and various options disappear we’ll get to see the final shape and act accordingly. “That said, the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the past years left a scar. I know people who left the country because of it. To retain staff, making sure they feel appreciated and showing support and interest will make a big difference.”
Above: Amiqus’ Liz Prince and Ukie’s George Osborn
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UK Games Industry Census report High representation of LGBTQ+ workers but there are serious issues elsewhere, Ukie’s diversity census provides a key baseline for future improvements
“Diversity isn’t a nicety; it’s a necessity if the industry is going to grow.” Above: Ukie CEO Dr Jo Twist at the launch of the census
UKIE recently released the UK Games Industry Census, the most authoritative analysis of diversity in the UK games workforce to date. The findings are somewhat mixed, with some areas to celebrate, but many more showing a clear need for improvement to create a suitably diverse workforce. The census will also be conducted regularly, with the intention to run it every two years to track how the industry’s diversity profile changes over time. The census was written by Dr. Mark Taylor from the University of Sheffield, with funding coming from the Arts & Humanities Research Council, and was focused
on three main areas: the kinds of work that games industry workers do, their personal characteristics and their backgrounds. The questions were written to be comparable against those from other sectors and national datasets in order to get a clear image of the industry, to ascertain which areas require improvement. The UK Games Industry Census was completed by over 3,200 game workers (around 20 per cent of the entire UK industry) between September and October 2019. Both open and targeted recruitment methods were used in order to ensure a truly representative sample of the sector.
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Pictured: Frances Light, Global Director of Diversity & Inclusion and CSR at King.
Liz Prince Founder, G Into Gaming
Perhaps the most encouraging find of the census is the high representation of members of the LGBTQ+ community, with them constituting 21 per cent of the industry in the UK. This is enormous when you consider that national data indicates that the LGBTQ+ community makes up between three and seven per cent of the UK population.
“19 per cent of workers come from the EU/EEA, and a further 9 per cent from the rest of the world.” Of the community, the industry has a two per cent representation of non-binary people in the workforce, well above the national average of 0.4 per cent. Transgender people meanwhile make up 3 per cent of the industry, triple that of the national average at an estimated 1 per cent. The industry also seems to be more open to hiring, or better able to retain, people with chronic physical health conditions, with them making up 21 per cent of the workforce. This is again above that of the overall working population, with 13 per cent reporting long term physical issues. It comes as no surprise that the UK games workforce has a large representation of international
workers. 19 per cent of workers come from the EU/ EEA, and a further 9 per cent from the rest of the world – respondents listed 88 different countries as where they spent the most time in their childhoods. International workers constitute a third of core games production, art and programming roles, and are more likely to be found working in senior, mid-level and junior roles, but are less likely to work in managerial and directorial positions. The industry is also remarkably young, with two thirds of workers aged 35 or under. Despite this, 54 per cent of people in the industry have worked in the sector for five years or more. The findings aren’t wholly positive from a diversity standpoint, however. Just 10 per cent of the games industry are from a Black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) background. This is slightly above the national working population, and higher than both the overall creative industries and specific sectors such as music, publishing, and film & TV. However, it is lower than the equivalent figure for IT and software, and also below the average in the working-age population. BAME workers are in broadly all job roles, with a slight lean towards non-sector specific roles (ie. job roles that are also found in other sectors, such as office manager). And crucially, they are less well represented in senior positions. Looking at gender, the UK industry is 70 per cent male, 28 per cent female and has 2 per cent nonbinary representation. Obviously, the proportion of women in the industry is significantly below the national average, as well as the average in cultural and creative roles, but is similar to the percentage of women working in Film & TV, and above that of the general IT and software sector. The industry is also well-educated and often from more privileged backgrounds. For example, 12 per
The launch of Ukie’s Diversity Census is to be welcomed. While we are over-indexing in certain areas such as LGBTQ, the results show that we are sorely lacking in certain other areas. As the founder of the G Into Gaming initiative, the report’s findings on gender representation within the industry are of huge interest to me. And sadly, it’s unsurprising that just 28 per cent of the UK’s workforce is female – significantly below the national average for those in work – further underlining the fact that there is still so much to be done to attract more women to the industry, and, importantly, retain them. A change in mindset and approach must be led by senior management teams. Too often we see heads nodding in agreement – but then nothing changes. It will take ambition and action to ensure our industry is diverse and inclusive, this MUST come from the top. It is the leaders who can set and direct the collective vision for a diverse and inclusive industry and bring it to reality in their studios, as a priority for their businesses. This can’t be about being seen to be doing something; it’s about taking action to ensure we grow into an attractive, mature and consistently successful industry, culturally world-leading and held up as examples by governments globally. Games is one of the most innovative and forward-thinking industries there is. We must ensure that our commitment to D&I matches that.
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Kish Hirani Chair, BAME in Games
After 30-odd years we finally have a credible census of our industry. As a first-of-its-kind report we don’t have any comparison for positive or negative trends, but we will see these after the next census in two years and more accurately in four years. For now the key findings on BAME shows that industry representation is just 10 per cent and it is particularly apparent that BAME individuals are underrepresented in senior roles. Attracting more BAME talent to join the industry is the key to improving representation and eventually having them stay long enough to be in senior positions. Possible barriers include a perception in the media – as well as by parents, guardians and mentors – in not recognising it as a credible career. And this issue is particularly apparent in BAME communities. A number of volunteer run organisations, such as BAME in Games, take a grassroots approach by having monthly meetups at various games studios or related organisations to encourage more diverse talent to work in games. But we do need wider formal apprenticeships programs especially for those who do not pursue higher education to gain relevant qualifications. We have some good internships programs run by studios but again all run as local initiatives rather than an industrywide practice to encourage diversity and inclusion.
cent of the workforce attended an independent or fee-paying school, almost double the national average of 7 per cent. This percentage skyrockets to 20 per cent among directors and CEOs. 81 per cent of the industry have an undergraduate degree, rising to 88 per cent for core games production roles in art and programming. This is significantly above the average for the cultural and creative industries, at 57 per cent. 27 per cent of the workforce have a game-specific qualification, rising to over half of those working in game design and art roles. The most common qualifications are those in STEM subjects, at 31 per cent, rising to 60 per cent for programming roles. Also highlighted in the survey is the alarmingly high percentage of industry workers living with anxiety, depression or both – at 31 per cent, far above the national average of 17 per cent. Those in junior or mid-level roles are more likely to suffer from anxiety and/or depression, though higher levels of depression are reported among directors/CEOs of smaller companies. Portions of the industry also work significantly longer hours than the average worker, as 3.5 per cent of respondents reported working 51 hours a week or more. Three quarters of respondents reported that they worked a more standard 33 to 40 hours a week. These findings reveal the unique make-up of the UK games industry. While there is cause for celebration, the report highlights key issues that need Pictured: Dr. Mark Taylor of the University of Sheffield, author of the report
to be addressed – Particularly the low numbers of women and BAME workers in the industry. “Diversity isn’t a nicety; it’s a necessity if the industry is going to grow, thrive and truly reflect the tens of millions of people that play games every day in this country,” commented Dr Jo Twist OBE, CEO of Ukie. “A diverse industry that draws on myriad cultures, lifestyles and experiences will lead to more creative and inclusive games that capture the imagination of players and drive our sector forward.”
Robin Gray Founder, Gayming Magazine Co-Founder, Out Making Games
When I first saw the results of the UK Games Industry Census, I had to reread the LGBTQ statistic multiple times before it fully sunk in. 21 per cent is a huge number, and well above the UK assumed average of LGBTQ people being between 4-7 per cent. Games has often been seen as a place where a queer person cannot exist, whether that is playing games or working in the industry. What this has proven is that LGBTQ people have stood up and sought employment in the industry they love. We cannot say whether this is based on the policies of companies or whether queer people just decided to break down the walls. I feel it has been a mix of the two. Of particular note, I am so happy to see that there is a high percentage of trans and non-binary people in the industry. Having a workforce who aren’t afraid to use all the colours in the crayon box is so important for our future. With big numbers, comes big responsibility, and it is up to the industry now to keep working to support and encourage their LGBTQ workers. There is an urgent need for companies to be doing more to support the mental wellbeing of their staff. Rates of depression and anxiety of LGBTQ people in games are high and although LGBTQ people in wider society tend to report higher rates of anxiety and depression too, this should not be an excuse. Also, although we have seen a growth of LGBTQ content in games recently, companies need to be involving more of their queer workforce in the development of their games to ensure greater representation and authenticity. This census has proven that you have the staff, now use them!
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MCV-MAR20-ICE/ITA:MCV-MAR20-ICE/ITA 24/02/2020 09:25 Page 1
o i d u t s r e i p hap
With the Ukie diversity census pointing at alarmingly high rates of depression and anxiety in the industry, Chris Wallace talks to Splash Damage about what studios can do to take care of their team
hat was arguably the most alarming statistic from Ukie’s UK industry diversity census (see page 50 for that) was the high percentage of UK games industry workers who are suffering from anxiety and/or depression. At 31 per cent, the UK industry is suffering from these mental health concerns at a much higher rate than the national average of 17 per cent. While the statistic is certainly concerning, it perhaps wasn’t the most surprising element of the report.
The effect of working conditions in the games industry has become something of a hot topic in recent years, as stories of excessive crunch and workplace harassment have made headlines on many occasions. It certainly won’t have come as a surprise to the industry workers themselves – something which Kate Lindsay, head of HR at Splash Damage can attest to. “I don’t think we were surprised really, no” says Lindsay. “It’s something that’s talked about a lot in the games industry. With the stress the creative
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process brings on, the pressures to deliver to clients and customers, it’s really easy to see how doing something that you love can turn into something dark quite quickly. “You read things about crunch and work environments in other studios. It’s certainly caught some attention in recent years. I’m not saying companies have necessarily fixed these issues, but it’s certainly something that, in the last two years specifically, companies are more aware of. “Game studios are thinking consciously now of not trying to burn people out for the sake of burning them out. Just to meet a milestone. We want to protect our people, our talent. We do need to look after them. “Burning them out is not the solution. I can’t comment on what other studios do in terms of dealing with crunch and overtime, but it’s certainly not something that we have a lot of. It is something that we are conscious of and we have been for a while.” Of course, there’s also an argument to be made that the overrepresentation of depression and anxiety in the games industry can be (at least partially) a symptom of workers feeling more comfortable discussing their mental health. “I think discussing mental health is less taboo than in the corporate world,” she notes. “People feel more open about how they’re feeling and feel free to talk to us about it without the fear of being reprimanded. I think this is a great thing that we should applaud. “You know, I’m not entirely sure how realistic the figures are from other industries. Are they being realistic about mental health in their own industries? It’s part of the reason here at Splash Damage we make sure that whatever benefits we provide are tailored to employee need, particularly around mental health and wellbeing. So no, I wasn’t surprised. But it’s still an interesting stat and it certainly attracts your attention, it shows that we always need to do more.” WELLNESS WEEK As a company, Splash Damage has certainly been doing more to address their employee’s mental health and wellbeing of late – Kicking off their first ever ‘Wellbeing Week’ in October last year. The week focused on wellbeing as a whole, not limited to just mental health, and included staff-run exercise clubs, in-studio seminars from the likes of BUPA, Health Assured and Medicash, as well as mindfulness activities throughout the week. “We’ve run mental health workshops and mindfulness courses in the past – but it had never been put forward as a business strategy before. And that changed last year. “I was noticing an increase in employees wanting to talk about their mental health, and more employees coming to HR and wanting to be more engaged with talking about these things. And we started thinking:
‘Are we really equipped to deal with conversations about mental health?’ We weren’t really prepared to deal with full-scale mental health conversations. “So this is something that we put forward last year as a strategy, and something that the senior leadership team were absolutely on board with. And so we looked at sort of what we wanted to do. Luckily we have an EAP (employee assistance programme) service in place to do the big sort of internal push on that, because that’s a 24/7, telephone or face to face counselling service that is available to all of our employees from day one. “One of the benefits of having enhanced EAP service is it gives you instant stress referrals. So if anyone is feeling stressed we can instantly take them through a more robust counselling session. So that’s pretty good, but that was never going to be enough. We thought ‘this can’t just be a quick fix. What else can we do?’ “So I personally know Mel Crate, who runs a company called We are Luminate, who are a wellbeing consultancy. We started talking about our strategy and what we wanted out of it, and we put together a programme with Luminate which included training for HR specific things. We’re taking on a lot of emotions in our team, what are we doing with them? How do we create boundaries and resilience and things like that for our own team? “And then we moved on to line managers: we’ve got 120 line managers here, are they really equipped to be dealing with frontline conversations about mental health? That was definitely a key focus. Training our line managers on mental health issues has been an important step in ensuring that these things are spotted early, not left until an employee is at breaking point. It was absolutely critical when we first did this that managers were quick to talk to their employees on a one-to-one basis about what was going on, to be open and honest and have that dialogue. “On top of that, we started offering weekly in-house counselling sessions. And so we run eight of those in a day with a counsellor, and it’s strictly confidential. Even
Above: A yoga class at Splash Damage during its Wellbeing Week
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Above: Kate Lindsay, Splash Damage
HR don’t know who’s going in and out of these sessions. Just like how you’d visit a counsellor off-site, but just bringing in-house so people could feel like they could have someone on-tap. Some people just use it as an adhoc thing, and others have regular ongoing sessions with them. We also offer more ad-hoc stress management and building resilience workshops, just to add an extra layer to our mental health strategy. “We wanted employees to think that we were taking mental health seriously, that we weren’t just going to do a quick fix and stop talking about it. It’s something that we wanted to really drive through the business, for people to understand that we were going to make a real difference in people’s lives, and for them to be able to practice selfcare and be happy at work. That was the main driver: them coming to work and feeling comfortable that they were being looked after, and that they had someone to talk to all the time.” BREXIT BLUES Of course, feeling comfortable and secure in the workplace often takes more than just therapy and wellbeing. For a company with a large number of workers from overseas, the overhanging threat of Brexit (see page 46) has been a constant source of stress for years – calling for more specific practical support. “I thought Brexit would cause more problems than it has,” notes Lindsay. “We’ve not stopped talking about Brexit for a long time. Having a lot of expats in the studio, it’s obviously been at the forefront of our minds. We need to keep pace with what’s going on. “Even if there’s been no changes, it’s about saying, well, this is what’s happening, this is what’s not happening. Just so they understand what’s going on. It’s something we’ve built into our onboarding process as well. So new starters can feel confident that we know what we’re talking about. “Particularly with the settlement visas. We even bought an android phone for our employees [there was no iOS support at first], so they could do their visas in the office, or take the phone home and do it for their families. And it’s just doing little things like that, just so employees know that we actually are on top of it. “We don’t want to see retention issues because of Brexit, so we’re doing everything we can. We have a Brexit Slack channel just to talk about Brexit and what that will mean for them and so far, it’s been okay. I mean, we obviously have until the end of the year until B-day and then everything will change again.”
FLEXING YOUR HOURS Being happy in the workplace often means not being in the workplace. Flexible working and remote working have both been offered up as solutions to the problems of crunch and burnout. But how do they fit into a general mental health and wellbeing perspective? “I’m a really big advocate of flexible working, I do it myself. It’s about moving past the presenteeism issue of just being in the office – being successful in work doesn’t mean being at your desk 40 hours a week. “I personally run regular seminars on flexible working, and we’ve seen a really big spike in applications over the last 12 months of applications. And we’ve had a 100 per cent approval rate to date for them, and it’s something that we want to encourage. “Remote working is a tricky one because while I think it does work, I’m conscious of the isolating factor of remote working. We’re so well-equipped now to work away from the office, but then we must also be mindful of not taking work home during personal time. “I think that’s a real balance. It’s all well and good saying you can work from home, but not so you can work until midnight or have that pressure to be available 24/7. And the isolation factor is really key, I’ve seen it not work because people miss out on the social interactions that happen at the office. And so I’m a much bigger supporter of flexible working from that perspective, but that’s not to say that remote working can’t work, it’s just something you’ve got to be really conscious of.” So how has this focus on mental health and wellbeing changed people’s lives at the studio? “Well, for starters our employee engagement and satisfaction ratings have increased massively. They really appreciate the changes. The fact that we have put this as our number one strategy over the last 12 months has really piqued the interest of lots of our employees. It’s certainly something we’ve talked a lot about on social media, and I think it’s helped with our attraction of talent, as well as retention. “And from a performance perspective and a productivity perspective, it has really helped. It’s been really well received, we’ve had lovely feedback from our employees and it’s something that we are continuing to sort of refresh and review as the business grows. Social wellbeing and mental health issues are just so important to us here at Splash Damage.”
“It’s about moving past presenteeism”
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Brought to you by
A Swift studio spotlight: Team17 Team17 is a staple of the UK video games industry and has historically been based in Yorkshire; but their impending 30th anniversary has ushered in a new era of expansion
Above (left to right): Jasper Barnes and Viki Freeman of Team17
WITH a thirty-year legacy of memorable titles, including the likes of Worms and Overcooked, Team17 is a prestigious studio, with skills as an in-house developer as well as a publishing label. Continued success has seen them go from strength to strength, expanding to new locations which include a state-of-the-art studio in Wakefield. But what is it actually like to work for such an illustrious developer? James Bowers from Aardvark Swift visited their West Yorkshire office to speak with Viki Freeman, Team17 human resources business partner, and Jasper Barnes, talent acquisition manager, to investigate that very question. Over the years the studio has grown from a single location to two developments studios and a commercial office in Nottingham. “We’ve had to take people who wanted to be at a studio of 30 people and retain them as we scale up to be a studio of 200 people,” explains Jasper. Team17 have achieved just that through a series of internal initiatives which have given their employees a voice. “Recognition programs take a lot of time to embed for businesses that haven’t had things like that before,” continues Viki, who has been at the forefront of these wellness drives. “We have the Teamster Engagement Committee [TEC] which I founded. It’s a few people from every discipline who want to be the voice of the employees.” Through TEC, Teamsters can speak openly about issues both small and large. From personal struggles, to something lighter like an office BBQ, nothing is out of bounds. “We listen to every single person and give real feedback on what we can and can’t do. Saying
what’s not possible is an important part of the process so people aren’t left in limbo.” Empowering staff is a priority for Team17, no matter their background. “The inclusivity here to be who you want to be and present however you want is fantastic, especially coming from a corporate past,” says Jasper. This culminates in a work culture that’s both inclusive and infectious. “I do feel very lucky every day, as cheesy as that sounds, because I kind of can’t believe there are jobs like this,” smiles Viki. “I’ve always sought out companies that believe in their brand. [Team17] do and when you come to work you believe in it too. It becomes part of you and your life. It’s not a job.” As well as a shift in internal culture and the massive growth that followed, Team17 have also adapted how they’re set up internally. This includes their grassroots work of graduate onboarding and their new office setup. With the move to their new office, they were able to build something that fit Team17 perfectly and reflected the environment they were looking to create. “I was part of the project management team and the design team. It was really nice to think about what we needed from an employee’s perspective,” says Viki. “We operate on a very open-door policy. No one should ever feel like nobody has time for them.” It’s a sentiment echoed by Jasper, “The hierarchy is very flat in that sense; the head of studio sits out on the floor with everyone else. The tech director sits opposite his programmers. Everyone sits within the team.” The work ethic reflects this. The word ‘passion’ is avoided because it’s such a common commodity. “We almost need another word for it,” laughs Viki. “No one here has the mentality of that’s not in my job description” Despite big growth, Team17 has still done a lot with surprisingly little, with over 100 titles released to date. “Our head count is very small compared to what we actually put out there, but we don’t have crunch. Whatever it is we’re doing; we’re doing it right.” “We’re professionally indie. Large enough to develop great quality games, but small enough to still really care,” states Jasper. With a roster of developers who have spent their entire careers at the studio, Team17 is in capable hands. “Our CEO Debbie Bestwick has been with us every step of the way. She’s a phenomenal leader.” You’ll be able to listen to the full conversation with Viki Freeman and Jasper Barnes on the Aardvark Swift Podcast, available now via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, third party apps and the Aswift.com website!
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When We Made... Knights and Bikes
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 Knights and Bikes, the debut game from toward.” reallyestablished becomes a fully flby eshed out character with Foam Sword, whichQuill was two the help of the game’s strong world-building. Media Molecule alumni 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 runDESPITE through there and yourecent see that she has hometown, its relatively release datea of August the2019, feeling of her and leaving it, ofhas that town maybe being in Knights Bikes already seen enough danger, gives of a other bond,”media: Alderson success to you spanmore out into Withsays. two “If that part was left published, out, you wouldn’t likeway thereand waseven books already a third feel on the much to fightoffor. we’ve done, the mood rumblings anEverything upcomingthat TV show. It’s hardly a huge settings, Quill from one area tooffthe surprisetaking on the face of it, coming onnext the and backletting of a you rest and take in this environment… It’s all supposed hugely successful Kickstarter campaign with a visually to distinct exaggerate that(and mood that you’re styleand andaccentuate the excellent family-friendly) feeling. It all ties back intotwo how you are connecting with characterisation of its leads, Nessa & Demelza. Quill It’s andthe herfamily-friendly world.” angle that maybe best explains Above: Moo Yu, Foam Sword
the game’s broader success, and it’s an angle that SAME QUESTION EIGHT WAYS informed the game’s central mechanic: narrative driven Collaboration was key during the development co-op gameplay, with a particular emphasis of onMoss local, conotop. just within the teamisitself, but with help of external While the game still able to bethe played solo thanks playtesters. People werea often in toinitial feedback on to an AI-companion, lot of brought the game’s inspiration came from a lack of story-based co-op games that can be played with families and loved ones, according to Foam Sword co-founders Rex Crowle and Moo Yu. “Before I moved to the UK,” says Yu “I was a single gamer who played hundreds of hours of games a week on my own. Then once I moved here, I met my wife, and I was always longing for more co-op games. The thing that I felt was really missing was story based co-op games. So either we’d play single player games
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 ‘This iswe’d whatpass I didn’t about it’. So person it takes to a little while where thelike controller from person, to the get other the playtester comfortable, wethere foundand that or person would just beand sitting findingproviding different ways to ask the means either commentary or same trying question to solve puzzles you eventually getWe thejust really good stuff fourth or and giving clues. couldn’t find after manythe games fifth time youwas ask ait.nice story to play through as two where there “I don’t think anyone in ourthe studio made a characters. I think that was thinghas thatever I eventually game this, focusing so I think more it’s important thaton. you trustwhat the sort oflike started and more Like, process. You trust playtesting and see you myself make sure that you are the kinds of games that I can playing allowmy yourself freedom to tryI’m something with wife? some Plus I time haveand a son now, and always and then once keep he’s going. Try something new and branch out, thinking, a little bit older, what are the but alsoI use games can your play experience with him?” from games that you’ve made before and be son fine.could As long as you’re We imagine he you’ll and his easily just having fun too! We enjoyed playing play Knights and Bikes – The game’s focus on Moss throughout thethe entire imaginative of its child-leads process andplay I think thattwo really helps.” forms much of the game’s character, as well as making it approachable for younger players. This emphasis on childhood takes inspiration from classic coming of age films from the 1980s. “Like a lot of old school British games,” says Crowle, “the idea formed while we were sitting in a pub one day. We were in this pub on the banks of the Thames, and we were talking about all the stuff that we loved about the movie The Goonies, the way that that’s a real coming of age story. It’s about kids both being
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Left: Knights and Bikes distinctive art style is designed to evoke the idea that the game could have been drawn by its own protagonists individuals but also working together. They have a very strong shared goal of trying to find some treasure, but also that’s just the MacGuffin. The film is really all about them learning to get along with each other. So it started off as this idea of making something similar to that, but also we wanted to put our own spin on it. We didn’t want it to just fall into tropes and nostalgia and what have you. So as the development progressed, we decided to set the set the action in a fictionalised version of Cornwall where I grew up, so it would have kind of quite a different feel to the Oregon setting of The Goonies. I felt that I would be able to contribute a lot more than if I was trying to make a game about somewhere that I hadn’t even visited.” ARTS AND CRAFTS This coming of age dynamic isn’t just limited to the game’s narrative, however. The distinctive hand-drawn art style of the game was designed to look as if it had been designed by children, using the kind of materials that children would have easy access to. “I mean, there’s also some practical reasons for that” says Crowle. “We knew it wasn’t going to be full 3D – that’s definitely not where my skills are, plus with
3D that pipeline just gets so much longer when you’re a small team. So I felt that if we could use 2D artwork in the 3D world setup, it would essentially mean that instead of doing concept art and that just being the start of the process, that actually concept art could be just exported as a static image, loaded into Unity and then stood up in a 3D world. “But beyond the practical reasons, there was also the question of how that art is going to be created? I felt that creating the world with similar materials to what the kids would have themselves would make it feel a little bit like they are creating the world. They’re telling this story to you when you play it, you’re seeing it slightly through their eyes. “At the same time, I didn’t want it to have that look you sometimes get in movies, where they want to show like ‘oh, it’s the kid’s drawing on the fridge’ and it’s kind of a wonky house. And then someone always draws like the letter R backwards to show like ‘aw, a kid’s drawn it.’ No kid has ever drawn Rs backwards! That’s just something invented by adults! It still had to look beautiful, but this use of materials helps us to meet halfway between the adult world and the expressive, imaginative kid perspective on that world.”
Above: Rex Crowle, Foam Sword
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wanted to make something quite small, quite personal – something that we could work on by going around to each other’s flats and working from kitchen tables. “Both of us live in London, and Media Molecule is down in Guilford so there was a lot of commuting down there. And I’d done that for well over a decade. So, you know, it felt like it was a good time to really roll up our sleeves and just try and take on making a game and learning about all of the aspects of game making and publishing as well. Things that you don’t have to deal with when you’ve got a whole studio around you making you look actually professional.” “For me, it’s very similar,” Yu cuts in. “I think, we both did that thing where you rise up the ranks and reach a leadership position, where you have a bit more control and power. But, I think there’s always that moment where you have the nitty gritty of exactly how you want something done, but you’re having to explain it to someone else, writing a spreadsheet or a list that a team is going to implement and that kind of stuff. Just being able to sit down and start typing and get exactly the thing that I wanted, it’s something that I sort of longed for after a couple years of being a product manager.”
Above: Early concept art for the game
The pair have proven experience in exploring imaginative, child-friendly spaces like this. As Media Molecule alumni, they both worked on LittleBigPlanet, with Crowle having since gone on to work as the creative director on Tearaway and Tearaway Unfolded. With this pedigree under their belts, the pair felt it was time to step away from Media Molecule and start up their own studio. “Tearaway was a really fun project,” says Crowle. “I really enjoyed my first time leading a project and being slightly hands off, but also trying to guide the game to fruition. All games are hard to make. And I think after you’ve created a whole universe from scratch, you’re often looking for something new to do and have some new adventures. I think both of us really
BICYCLE BOTHER Even with all the experience in the world, there’s always going to be development nightmares with such a small team. We ask if anything stands out as a particular problem – As it turns out, it was all the bikes (the knights, apparently, were perfectly fine). “It took so many tries to get the bikes looking and feeling nice,” notes Yu. “Even though they were 2D, flat objects, we wanted them to feel like they were 3D in the world. We really wanted to make them feel like bikes. It was such a key part of feeling like you’re going out there and exploring the space. I think, if we had moments in there where it felt clunky or it looked really weird, that it would take you out of the experience. “So there’s this blending of the 2D and 3D, like the behaviour is all 3D, but we’re representing it in 2D assets. And I think the bikes definitely took the most iterations of that. Rex just had to make a tonne of weird abstract animations and have faith that layering six or seven animations on top of each other would actually make a thing that felt like a bike moving in 3D space. Yeah, that definitely took a few tries.” “Because it’s not just the bike rotating,” adds Crowle. “The front wheel and the steering could rotate independently, and then obviously there’s a character on it as well. So that became a sort of spider’s nest that we were always having to roll up our sleeves and poke at every now and then to try and get it a little bit
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smoother. I think we got there because while it’s never going to be as smooth as a full 3D system, I think that just adds to the charm. And you can see how much the kids are enjoying the bikes as they’re riding around on them. But yeah, that was definitely kind of a core problem, because obviously the game had bikes in the title. There’s no way that we could just take them out.” Furthermore, that key period of iteration gets further expanded on once you’re dealing with multiple kinds of co-op play. The game can be played alone with an AI companion, in local co-op and also through online play – each which had to be taken into account. CO-OP COMPLICATIONS “One of the things that jumps out at me from a programmer’s perspective,” notes Yu, “was just implementing a game that works as a single player with AI, or local co-op, or online co op as a single programmer on a project. I’m glad it’s done and I’m glad it all works, but it’s just crazy having to program everything three times. It was just so chaotic. “I remember we had a little section where you lift up the rocks, and like, the amount of times I’ve rewritten how to lift up a rock as two players online and like, what does the co-op player do? What happens if you’re halfway through and you go offline? Why did I sign myself up for this?” “Plus I would just be just throwing in animations and stuff all the time or just at the last minute,” Crowle cuts
in. “Like ‘oh, but we could maybe do some particles here!’ Unity is very, very visual, which is kind of both a good thing and a curse, because then artists can get all in and fiddle around with everything. Which then creates a whole bunch of other tasks, because it has to work as a multiplayer and online. So, yeah, sorry Moo!” Despite Crowle apparently dooming Yu to an eternal hellscape of rock-lifting, he doesn’t seem to hold it against him too much. Maybe it’s because the pair have seen their hard work pay off in a big way – the game released to widespread critical acclaim, and has proved excellent at bringing families together. “What was most surprising,” notes Yu, “is how young some of the kids are that people send us images of playing the game. I kind of understood adults would play it with young children, but I assumed that they’re ordering their child around for ten hours. But we see really young children playing it together. “There’s the Metacritic score and there’s the sales numbers, but you also get to see how it affects people and their relationships. “My friend’s kids hate each other. They fight all the time. The fact that they were able to sit together for ten hours to play the game tells me what kind of experience we made, and the effects that can have on people. I think that’s something that you always forget when you’re making a game and you’re solving some esoteric online networking bug, but I think that’s a benefit of being in the industry that we’re in.”
Above: Getting the bikes to feel right was a tricky part of the game’s development
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The Sounds of... Jesper Kyd
Every month, we discuss the unique process of making music for video games. This month, Chris Wallace dives into the musical universe of Jesper Kyd, a BAFTA award-winning composer behind games such as Borderlands, Assassin’s Creed and Hitman
How early in a game’s development process do you usually start working on the score? I am often involved early on in the process, sometimes before there’s anything helpful to see from the game, in which case the concept art becomes very useful. Being involved early can be a huge benefit, especially when writing a lot of music. It’s common for games to have 3+ hour scores and that requires some time to write, especially if experimentation is encouraged. It’s also beneficial when the score starts to evolve together with the development of the game, it really makes you feel part of the team. In such cases there’s a lot less guesswork involved and the direction of the score becomes very clear. What type of material do you request from a studio before starting to write the score? If I have started writing music when the game is early along in development, concept art can be very inspiring, since you are looking at the same images as the art department. Graphics can keep evolving right up to the end of music production. Videos are also very helpful, especially when the music is added and then sent back in a gameplay video. That is often very insightful. Depending on how the music is written, the story can also be key. Sometimes there’s more focus on the music enhancing a certain location, other times the score follows the storyline closely – but in general I feel that it’s important to come up with a concept for the score that can then be adapted to any part of the game world and the storyline. Do you work closely with the sound designer(s) of the game, to ensure there’s cohesion between the score and the sound effects? Since I often work with the sound department when delivering my music and talking about ideas and new deliveries, if there are any issues with the music and sound design not working well together, yes, we will talk about it and make changes accordingly. We discuss where the sounds effects or music should occupy the EQ range, what are the musical moments and which are sound-effects driven, where to let the music strongly affect the mood of the game, etc.
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What are the typical challenges of writing for games as opposed to more linear narrative forms? When writing for film and TV the story usually takes center stage over everything you write, unless the location is really unique. In games you often have the possibility of pausing the story and simply exploring the world, discovering secret items or locations. In this case the music is often inspired by the locations but I always try and find ways to add the lore and storyline into the music. An immersive music score can also encourage players to explore and experience the game atmosphere longer. In such cases, even five extra minutes can mean the player finds a clue and then spends much longer in the world. Does your approach differ between writing for a multiplayer title as opposed to a single player narrative-driven game? For a narrative-driven game the music is always key to telling the story and adding drama, emotion and depth to the experience. I often find that competitive multiplayer titles don’t need the same amount of music in-game, since the sound effects are vital to a good player performance and so music shouldn’t hinder or get in the way. As far as indie vs triple-A, the main
Above: Kyd’s work can be heard most recently in 2019’s Borderlands 3
difference is usually the amount of music needed; Indie games tend to be a lot shorter in length whereas triple-A games often require a minimum of 3-5 hours of music. Also, on indie titles you often get to work with the game designer directly but for triple-A games it’s normal to work with an audio department. But my writing approach doesn’t differ between them. How has the role of the composer evolved in games over the past years in your experience? I feel there’s more and more appreciation and focus on good scores. Games don’t need to sound exactly like film scores to be good quality and I feel that’s something that the industry has figured out. The games I have been scoring lately have given me a lot of creative freedom and I always get very excited about that. Gris composer Marco Albano said the studio saw him as a designer as much as a composer as his music sometimes changed the game’s approach do you feel that this reflects your own experience as a composer? That’s really awesome to hear! In my experience, sometimes the developers let the music play longer, allowing it not to be interrupted, to extend cinematics or gameplay moments.
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How free are you to experiment when you take on a mandate from a studio? I’m very free to experiment most of the time. I frequently have a lot of ideas on both the music direction and music implementation which I share with the studio and so we are often able to tweak and improve the music brief. I am a gamer myself, so I think about what would be the best possible music for me, as a gamer to experience. It sometimes involves creating surprises or sometimes the opposite of what you expect to hear can really engage the player. As a gamer I find that sometimes this kind of approach can really connect with the audience and deepen the experience as well as make the moment more unique and memorable. Do you feel like game soundtracks get the same recognition as film scores? If not, why does this difference exist? Not really. It’s hard to say exactly why. Perhaps there still is a stigma that some people think it’s harder to score a film than a game. And yes, writing music for a Tetris puzzle game can seem easier, sure, but try scoring a 50 + hour open-world game and it becomes very challenging. Every single mood in this huge journey has to be supported by music. Having scored films as well, such as Tumbbad (Amazon) and Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe (Netflix), what’s on screen will usually show you the path of what’s needed to make a scene work but for games we often have to go find that path ourselves since we don’t have the opportunity of talking to the game designer every day. When working on a film I usually talk to the director every couple of days. There is an intense collaboration going on between composer and director. Subsequently the composer is more involved with the journey of the film and often gets included in the festivals/awards campaigning and glamour of the film industry. Perhaps this can explain it a bit. What was the most inspiring game world you worked on, which aspect did you most want to bring into your score and how did you reflect that? There are a few that come to mind. In Darksiders 2, scoring the character Death as you roam the afterlife was such an inspiring idea that I knew a concept score would be ideal. The developers asked me to write a fantasy score in a style that hadn’t been heard before and so it became a perfect collaboration. The developers not wanting the score to be dark and bombastic, and then to focus on the idea of an afterlife became a really deep and meaningful experience for me. Hitman is another series where the idea of scoring music from Agent 47’s viewpoint, his interior
Above: Kyd drew inspiration from both Hitman and Assassin’s Creed’s protagonists when composing
mindset as I call it, became an integral part of the game experience. Composing such a dark, operatic score for Hitman: Blood Money and recording with a huge choir and 90-piece live orchestra was just so amazing to be part of. Finally, composing the first 4 scores for Assassin’s Creed, especially Assassin’s Creed 2, was also an incredible experience. The idea of creating a contemporary Renaissance music score as well as adding a sci-fi twist to everything running through the Animus was really fun to figure out. The main character Ezio was also a huge inspiration, and his tragic story of loss and sacrifice is where Ezio’s Family came from. It has been amazing to see how the fans embraced this theme and how it has now evolved into an iconic theme for the franchise. Do you have any tips on how can developers best help composers to make music for their game? I find it super helpful getting involved early on in the game making process. That allows more time for experimentation and makes you a part of the team. A good line of communication is also key, meeting the team and having them show you the game is a huge plus.
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The Final Boss Every month an industry leader wraps up MCV/DEVELOP with their unique insight
The studio is in Tenerife but you must be the only devs on the island. So (weather aside) what’s the thinking behind that? Everyone loves to go on holiday and we love to make games, so why not have both? That was the philosophy behind opening a studio here. We wanted to offer people a different lifestyle opportunity, but one which is still within easy reach of mainland Europe. So far, we’ve managed to attract talent from various locations which has been fantastic. We want to offer a different lifestyle to that of the more typical city life we’ve been used to back in the UK. You’ve worked at big studios before, EA and Sumo, but do you prefer leading a smaller team? I think regardless of studio size, it’s the people that make it a great place to work. Being in a smaller team means that you get to know everyone more personally, and I think this contributes to building a great culture. The nature of game development also becomes less restrictive as it truly means that everyone can be hands-on, creative and impactful towards the game we’re making. I love leading a smaller team, but that’s because of the people that make it. With the greatest respect to your current role, what is/was your dream job? I love helping people; that’s where I find happiness and when a team succeeds that brings me joy. From previous roles, I saw the best and worst bits of making a game, but this taught me how I wanted to see things done, so I knew that I wanted to move into a leadership position. Equally I love making games, so running this studio has become my dream job. I love it, it brings me the best of both worlds. You’ve worked with children in the past, and on kids games, are growing minds something that intrigues you? When I was playing Super Mario on the NES, my mum was playing co-op with me, so I don’t really consider many games to be specifically ‘kids’ games’ – I think there’s a beauty in appealing to a wide audience, and making games that people of any age can play together and have fun. It’s not necessarily growing minds that intrigue me, it’s different perspectives, and how you can bring people together in games.
Sitara Shefta, head of studio, No Brakes Games “Everyone loves to go on holiday and we love to make games, so why not have both?”
The studio was born out of Human Fall Flat, an enormous hit, do you feel extra pressure working on a follow-up? We’re super proud of Human: Fall Flat and the community that has been built around it. Whatever we release next, I’m sure we will be proud of it because we’re a quality focused team. And who said anything about a follow-up...? What was your reaction to the recent Ukie census on the industry in regard to BAME representation? I was surprised – 10 per cent of people working in games are BAME? Of course, the results reflect those who participated in the census, but it’s not a true representation of my own personal experiences. The census also noted that BAME people are noticeably less represented in senior positions and I agree that I haven’t known many in senior or creative decision making roles. It honestly needs to be fixed if we’re to move forward as a progressive industry, one that truly reflects our players. Now we have more organisations such as POC in Play leading in these initiatives it ultimately will.
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