MCV/DEVELOP ISSUE 956
MEET THE INDUSTRY’S BRIGHTEST YOUNG TALENT (PLUS EVEN MORE ON THE BACK COVER!)
THE ART AND BUSINESS OF VIDEO GAMES APRIL 2020
n MCV/DEVELOP AWARDS PICS 01 MCV 956 Front Cover_Final.indd 1
n MAKE YOUR STUDIO A CO-OPERATIVE
n WE MEET STADIA’S CLEVER FOXES
n MARKETING YOUR GAME WITHOUT EVENTS 03/04/2020 14:21
MCV-FEB20-WARGAMING:MCV-FEB20-WARGAMING 28/01/2020 09:15 Page 1
05 The editor
The long and short of it
06 Critical Path
The key dates this month
Real life events from the industry
16 Industry Voices
Our platform for the industry
18 30 Under 30
Celebrating the best young talent
30 Ins and Outs
And all our recruitment advice
18 34 Stadia's clever boys
We meet a happy fox and a sad fox
40 Rare: Legends
Staff talk Rare's legacy and future
44 Over the event horizon
Promoting games without events
48 Cooperative Play
Running a co-op studio
Taking The Persistence from VR to TV
The sun is shining on Farmville again
60 When We Made...
The BAFTA-winning Outer Wilds
64 The Sounds of...
Inon Zur talks Fallout and more
66 The Final Boss
Ustwo Games' Maria Sayans
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MCV-APR20-SPLASH DAMAGE:MCV-APR20-SPLASH DAMAGR 01/04/2020 09:33 Page 1
“Games are an incredible way for people to come together and enjoy themselves in this time of enforced isolation.”
TheEditor Trying to make a difference The slightly uncomfortable truth is that early stages of the coronavirus crisis have been pretty good for some areas of the games industry. Sales are largely up with games and consoles flying off shelves. Whether they be digital releases or delivered by our ‘newfound heroes’ of post and parcel services. The Switch is sold out everywhere (OK, not for the first time), with prices on eBay only rivalled in their insanity by those of toilet roll. While the new Animal Crossing now looks to have been precisely engineered, and then repeatedly delayed, to be the perfect game, at the perfect time, for the current crisis. In short, some of the games industry is weathering this storm better than many. And because of that we must try harder than ever to be a force for good. And I’m proud to say that much of the industry has done just that. With innumerable charity drives, charity streams and charity sales. Well done all. Of course, the games industry is not unaffected by the crisis. Since I started writing this piece, GAME staff have largely been furloughed (there’s a word I hope I never have to type again) and news just in is The Last of Us II has been indefinitely postponed. For event-based businesses, things are looking really tough. The cancellation of E3, along with the postponement of other events (see page 6), has hit hard. While admirable endeavours, such as the National Videogame Museum (see page 67), are endangered. It’s clear then, that the full impact of the crisis on the industry will play out over a much longer period. Gaming is pretty resilient to broad economic downturns, it’s an affordable form of escapism after all, but the current lockdown will come home to roost. While everyone has been quick to move to working from home, such arrangements will be seriously tested as the Q3 and Q4 big releases enter their final run-ins. Working from home is great, we do it all the time, but when you’re trying to finish off a complex game, or execute a big PR and marketing campaign, having people physically together is a huge boon. And then there’s elements such as motion and performance capture, QA, or press events, which can’t easily be transplanted to homes. While the manufacture of hardware, such as the Switch and the upcoming next-gen consoles, is also threatened by the ongoing crisis. Of course, there are bigger things to worry about right now, and we should all help in our own communities where we can. But remember that games are an incredible way for people to come together and enjoy themselves in this time of enforced isolation. Games matter and we should take pride in entertaining and connecting our players in what is a difficult period of isolation for many of them. Seth Barton firstname.lastname@example.org
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Here are the key upcoming events and releases to mark in your calendar...
Someday You’ll Return Someday You’ll Return is a psychological horror title developed and published by CBE Software and coming to PS4, Xbox One and PC. Players find themselves in a desperate search for a missing daughter deep in the woods. The game draws inspiration from titles such as The Vanishing of Ethan Carter and Outlast 2, with the Czech developers describing it as a “Morovian Silent Hill.”
Final Fantasy VII Remake
A remake of a classic title is hitting stores this month. Square Enix brings us the long, long awaited remake of the legendary Final Fantasy VII. The game will be released as an episodic, timed-exclusive for the PS4, though just how many episodes is unknown.
Announced at E3 2018, this title from Splash Damage and The Coalition takes the beloved Gears of War franchise and reimagines it as a turn-based strategy title. This initial PC release (both standalone and via Game Pass) will be followed by an Xbox version later.
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Usually in Critical Path we like to keep you updated on the month’s upcoming events. Unfortunately, due to the lockdown caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, all high profile events in the industry have either been postponed or cancelled outright. The past month alone has seen EGX Rezzed and Reboot Develop Blue’s postponement, as well as the outright cancellation for Unreal Fest Europe and, of course, E3 (more on that on page 44). And there’s sure to be further postponements and cancellations to come. As an event organiser ourselves, we are aware that these were painful decisions to make, and our sympathies go out to everyone involved. Our own Women in Games Awards (more details on page 28) has been moved from June to November this year.
(photo credit: Los Angeles Convention Center)
Moving Out With so many of us working from home under the current climate, it’s a perfect time for co-op titles to keep us busy. Team17 are closing out the month with a moving simulator that brings new meaning to the phrase ‘couch co-op’. Moving Out sees you as a newly-certified Furniture Arrangement & Relocation Technician (snigger), taking on moving jobs all across the town of Packmore.
Arcade Spirits Originally a PC exclusive, Fiction Factory Games’ romantic visual novel is making its way to PS4, Xbox and Switch. The game follows an alternate timeline where the 1983 video game crash never occurred. The protagonist finds themselves in a new job at the Funplex game arcade, where we meet the cast of romantic hopefuls.
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Editor: Seth Barton email@example.com +44 (0)203 143 8785 Staff Writer: Chris Wallace firstname.lastname@example.org +44 (0)203 143 8786 Designer: Tom Carpenter email@example.com Production Manager: Claire Noe firstname.lastname@example.org
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I’m lucky, all things considered. I have a spare room. An IKEA adjustable height desk. A big hi-res monitor and a proper desk chair. HOWEVER my wife is working from home with those, so here’s my setup most days, in the kitchen (constantly-hungry children not pictured)... At least I got the fruit basket.
Changing to working from my living room is remarkably similar to my office dynamic. I’ve still got my feet inappropriately all over my ‘desk’. And I’m still sneaking in gaming sessions at lunchtime, while my bickering housemates fill the Seth rantshaped void in my life. Now if only I could work out what keeps distracting me... Chris Wallace, Staff Writer
Vikki Blake, News Writer
Seth Barton, Editor
ARCHIVES Digital editions of the magazine are available to view on ISSUU.com. Recent back issues of the printed edition may be available please call +44 (0)203 143 8777 for more information.
You know the experts say never work from your bed? Well… I’m doing that. There’s more demand on the home office with us all on lockdown so I’ve relocated to a makeshift office in my bedroom. COVID-19 has had a big impact on other things, and sadly I’ve lost work. So, if you’re looking for a writer, please: get in touch!
Paws the game
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Pet: Luna Owner: Huw Millward Owner’s job: Developer of Warsim: The Realm of Aslona
Pet: Winston Owner: James Guppy Owner’s job: Client Services Coordinator @ The TrailerFarm
Pet: Maki Owner: Danni Amos Owner’s job: Senior Publicity Manager Little Big PR
This is Luna! Luna frequently struggles to choose between ham or human but she’s still everyone’s best friend, like a capybara.
Kirby is his spirit video game character – he inhales his food (and everything in sight) and can’t get enough of destroying stuffed animals (especially ducks).
Meet Maki the Shiba Inu, First of Her Name, Queen of the SideEye and Disapproving Snorts. Chewer of all Things and Chaser of Leaves.
+44 (0)203 143 8777
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MCV-APR20-COCONUT LIZARD:MCV-APR20-COCONUT LIZARD 20/03/2020 09:22 Page 1
Drinks Reception Partner
Real Life Events from the industry
MCV/DEVELOP AWARDS 2020 It seems like another world now, but it was only a few weeks ago that 450 industry professionals gathered together for the MCV/DEVELOP Awards 2020 at The Brewery in central London. The big winners on the night were Nintendo, winning both the Major Publisher and Platform of the Year awards, as the Switch continues to delight the public and industry alike, and Media Molecule also took home two trophies, picking up the year’s Major Studio award, as well as Gameplay Innovation for Dreams. Emily Mitchell, the creator of Fractured Minds, a game she developed as a teenager to highlight issues around sever anxiety, from which she personally suffers, won the inaugural Games for a Better World award. And topping off the night was the new MCV/DEVELOP Legend award, which went to Rare for its incredible body of work. With the award being presented by Keith Stuart from The Guardian (see page 40 for more on that). NEW NIGHT, NEW AWARDS The MCV and Develop Awards date back almost 20 years, and this year we combined the two into a single event to bring together every aspect of our multi-faceted, multitalented industry, with every constituent part required to make it the success it is today. That means we had 18 new categories and an opportunity to introduce a brand new system for deciding the winner. This year we put democracy at the core of the awards. We got rid of entries, no more fussy forms to fill out, instead a Grand Jury of 50 industry veterans voted for the shortlist, and then we let our electorate, in the form of 5,000 MCV/DEVELOP subscribers, cast their votes. The industry spoke together and chose the winners. As well as returning to The Brewery again this year, we retained changes with games-appropriate entertainment in the form of ex-industry turned comedian Imran Yusuf, as well as a range of arcade games from Bespoke Arcades. We’d like to take this opportunity to thank our headline sponsor Bidstack and our event partners: Amiqus, PTW, Frontier Developments, OPM, Fourth Floor Creative, Honest PR, Bespoke Arcades & Little Big PR – plus our charity partner GamesAid. The awards simply wouldn’t happen without the continued support of the industry – thank you all for getting involved.
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Pictured: MCV/DEVELOP’s editor Seth Barton kicks off the evening’s ceremony
Major Publisher of the Year Partner
Campaign of the Year Partner
Table Gift Partner
Pictured: We can’t promise that all MCV/DEVELOP awards offer gravity-defying powers
Right: Ukie’s George Osborn was one of the lucky table gift winners, with thanks to PTW and SIDE
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Pictured: Imran Yusuf hosted and provided the entertainment for the award ceremony
Right: Gareth Williams, from Heaven Media and Safe in our World introduces the Games for a Better World Award
Pictured: Bespoke Arcades provided a range of arcade cabinets for the afterparty
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THE WINNERS Here is the full list of MCV/DEVELOP Awards 2020 winners, with all having been selected by MCV/DEVELOP readers, huge congratulations to you all!
DEVELOPMENT ESSENTIALS Development Tool of the Year Unity External Development Partner of the Year Sumo Digital Recruitment Agency of the Year Amiqus
OUTSTANDING STUDIOS Major Studio of the Year Media Molecule Indie Studio of the Year Hello Games INNOVATION IN GAMES Visual Innovation of the Year ZA/UM for Disco Elysium Audio Innovation of the Year Creative Assembly for Total War: Three Kingdoms Gameplay Innovation of the Year Media Molecule for Dreams Narrative Innovation of the Year Supermassive for The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan
REACHING AUDIENCES PR Agency of the Year Indigo Pearl Creative Agency of the Year Fourth Floor Campaign of the Year Xbox Game Pass â&#x20AC;&#x201C; Xbox Media Brand of the Year Eurogamer PUBLISHING AND PLATFORMS Major Publisher of the Year Nintendo Indie Publisher of the Year Team17 Platform of the Year Nintendo Switch
RETAIL AND DISTRIBUTION Retailer of the Year Amazon Distributor of the Year Koch Media
SPECIAL HONOURS (Jury selected awards) Games for a Better World Emily Mitchell for Fractured Minds MCV/DEVELOP Legend Rare
Left: Amiqus went home with the award for Recruitment Agency of the Year
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Above: (top) ZA/UM receive the Visual Innovation award for Disco Elysium. While (below) Media Molecule win Major Studio of the Year
Left: Rare collects the biggest trophy of the night, winning the MCV/DEVELOP Legend Award
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MCV-APR20-ION FURY:MCV-APR20-ION FURY 11/03/2020 11:36 Page 1
The current crisis shows us people are ready to engage in new ways Roger Cheung, The Multiplayer Guys
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!
IT’S NO surprise that people have been playing more multiplayer games recently. Steam has recorded over 20 million concurrent players, whilst games like Elder Scrolls Online, Fortnite and Apex Legends have been seeing massive spikes. It’s fantastic that the World Health Organisation has recognised that games can be a force for good, and is working with the industry on the #PlayApartTogether initiative. But what else is happening out there? Are there emerging patterns of behaviour that could potentially help us make innovative multiplayer games in the future? As an ex-board game designer, gameplay mechanics have always floated my boat; how people react when ‘rules’ and restrictions are introduced, how they compete, cooperate and socialise. The restrictions being imposed on us now are influencing our everyday behaviour, encouraging us to seek different ways to be sociable. We see children playing online educational games over WhatsApp, university students at home but still playing Cards Against Humanity, and grandparents playing chess with their grandchildren over Skype (which is absolutely adorable, until one of them flips the board and rage quits…) And witness the popularity of Netflix Party which allows viewers to watch the same show at the same time wherever they are, with the ability to pause the show and “chat.” These behaviours show that people are willing to engage with technology in new ways. Can we learn from these interactions, and combine them with the renewed spirit of community and cooperation that (I hope) will be prevalent as we emerge from the current crisis, to build some innovative multiplayer experiences? Sure, millions are already playing accessible quiz games, superbly crafted PvP
shooters, and great co-op games – from the amazing split-screen A Way Out, to fun-fests like Borderlands that can really sing when played cooperatively. But imagine a multiplayer experience that is truly accessible, and cooperative at its core. Where players, whatever their age, ability or access to hardware, can band together, combine their skills and work together towards a common cause. Some players play on console, and are joined by players with no traditional games experience (but have a smartphone and an abundance of skills could help in a quest). And others just come along for the ride, showing their support, and being part of the collective conversation. Everyone on the same adventure, pulling on the same bit of rope, no matter how young or old, veteran gamer or those who have never played a game before. Could be fun, right? While we think about games, please spare a thought for the many people who have much more pressing things on their minds. I consider myself very lucky to be working in an industry where remote working works, and for a company that has gone above and beyond when it comes to prioritising the well-being of its staff. Conference-calling amongst stir-crazy teenagers is a minor inconvenience compared to the real problems that are facing many people out there at the moment. Roger Cheung has been developing games of one kind or another for over 25 years. He’s head of future development for The Multiplayer Guys, now part of Improbable, who are development partners for many triple-A online multiplayer franchises, with customers including Zenimax Online Studios, Mediatonic and 2K.
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Finding your remote control Caspar Field, Talk Management
I LOVE office-based teamwork: working with others, bouncing ideas around, collaborating. It’s something that I find (if well managed), tends to lead to good outcomes; is a great way to engage the team in the development process; and is generally an enjoyable way to make games. Now, however, for most companies, even if they were in agreement with me and operated as a team in an office, the coronavirus has forced them to change their ways and move to a remote-working model. This presents fresh challenges in communication and team direction that for a management consultant like me is an interesting problem to tackle. With this in mind, I contacted two studio leaders who have arrived at the crisis from different directions: James Marsden of FuturLab, which usually operates out of an office; and Simon Bennett of Roll7, which has been a remote working studio for several years. Bennett explains, “We run our processes much like we did when we had a physical studio, but we had to adapt things for working remotely – which we found made us far more efficient and better communicators, instead of relying on just being physically there for someone to ask questions to – we have to make a conscious effort to over-communicate and plan, which in turn has strengthened our creative and management process.” For Marsden, however, although he’s worked remotely in the past: “The original Velocity was developed remotely… I learned how to write very succinctly during that time,” he is missing face-to-face contact with the team. “I find it far slower to give effective direction. Right now we’re iterating on some key animations, and when you’re in the same room as your colleagues, it’s possible to act out the motions like a lunatic, improvising in the moment. There are layers of friction added to that immediacy when working remotely. I’m looking for tools that can help speed this up, but it’ll never be as good as being in the same room,” he suggests. Prior to the coronavirus crisis, Roll7 dealt with some of these issues by holding fortnightly
face-to-face meetings at a central location, to establish relationships and the “vibe”, as Bennett puts it. Day-to-day, he says, “We use tools that most medium-sized studios would expect, so Slack (our office), Zoom (our bigger meeting space), Notion (our game Wiki), SVN (for the game), Mural (for our artists to collaborate). We run two-week sprints and have a per-project standup daily at 9am without fail.” Certainly, from my own experience of working from home, a firm schedule is essential to keep myself on track. Marsden and Bennett’s thoughts strongly overlap in this area of sticking to plan, particularly when it comes to avoiding crunch. Marsden’s theory on this is that, “it’s my belief that patience is the most valuable resource when making video games – it keeps people caring about the quality of the game long after the novelty has worn off – it’s the reason we don’t crunch, since crunch destroys patience.” Bennett explains that at Roll7 “we have banned crunch in favour of allowing people a more flexible schedule in which to do their best and most effective work.” What’s clear is whether remote or not, both – rightly – place huge value on keeping their teams happy, with Marsden saying that, “If anything, this has brought into stark relief what we had right, so we’ll do even more to keep the culture strong. More group activities and likely more high-fives!” And Bennett notes that, “86% of our team are happier working remotely for Roll7 than they were in previous roles, and ultimately, happier staff make better games!” If nothing else is clear in these uncertain times, Bennett and Marsden’s shared beliefs in well-defined processes, strong communication, a solid schedule, and keeping their teams happy, are needed more than ever while we shelter from the viral storm. With 25 years’ leadership experience, including seven as CEO of Wish Studios, Caspar now helps companies with management, operations, budgeting and production. Visit http://talk. management for more information.
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t is a tremendous pleasure to announce this year’s 30 Under 30, once again showcasing the very best young people in the industry. We say this every year – but we have truly been inundated with nominations, highlighting the sheer wealth of talent that we have in our industry. We would like to thank everyone who got in touch to nominate their colleagues and peers, simultaneously demonstrating a tremendous amount of goodwill at a time when we perhaps need it most, and making our staff writer’s email account fully unusable for a month. As with last year, we have again opened the doors to every single aspect
of the broader UK games industry, making the competition to reach the final list particularly fierce. Narrowing down the nominations to just 30 winners was incredibly difficult, with some truly heartbreaking decisions to ensure we best represent young talent from right across our broad and eclectic industry. We would of course like to applaud our winners, but we also wish to extend that to our honourable mentions and indeed, everyone who was nominated. The passion you all show for your careers is incredible, and despite current events, the UK games industry has a bright future ahead. Congratulations to you all.
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DEAN ABDOU Video Producer, ReedPOP
WESLEY ARTHUR has spent his four-year span in the industry at Sumo Digital, having been promoted several times since he joined after graduating with a first class degree in game design from Sheffield Hallam University. He started at Sumo as a junior designer, but was soon promoted to level designer and is now senior level designer. “Wesley’s work has continued to impress colleagues and clients,” said one of his supporters, “and I would mark him out as someone who will one day play a senior leadership role within the industry.”
DEAN ABDOU has relentlessly climbed the ranks since joining the industry as a PR intern at Think Jam. Since then he has worked as a freelancer, a staff writer for the likes of Geek Bomb and Resero Network, before joining Gamer Network last year.
WESLEY ARTHUR Senior Level Designer, Sumo Digital Ltd
IMOGEN BERESFORD-BONE Release Manager, Xbox
IMOGEN BERESFORD-BONE joined the industry in 2014 at GAME as a Trade Marketing Assistant in their head office. In just three years, she worked her way up to trade marketing account manager, managing accounts such as Ubisoft, Blizzard, Capcom and Bethesda. She then joined Xbox in 2017 as a release manager; working with partners all around the world during the development, launch and life cycle of their products. She is also an ambassador for SpecialEffect, and is currently volunteering for St John’s Ambulance and as a trustee of SafeInOurWorld.
To quote one of his supporters: “Dean Abdou brings a perfect balance of professionalism, energy, and fun into everything he does. Dean is truly excellent at everything he chooses to do, and I’m excited to see what more he continues to bring to the industry.”
JOEL AUTERSON Software Engineer, Improbable
DESCRIBED as a “programming wizard,” Joel Auterson has spent the last three years at Improbable, but is also the co-founder of indie studio Bearwaves – where he is responsible for producing and programming Feud, an indie live-services strategy game across mobile and PC, currently sitting at over 40k players. In his work at Improbable, meanwhile, he has built their open-source matchmaking and live services systems, creating more opportunities for the game makers of the future to realise their visions and bring their titles to the masses.
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GIL CANIZES Senior Gameplay Programmer, Rocksteady Studios
SINCE joining Ubisoft Reflections in 2017 from Brunel University London, Lara Coulson has been described as “an integral part of the design team, exceeding all expectations along the way. From being instrumental in the co-creation of the clans feature in Tom Clancy’s The Division 2, to mentoring young people as part of the Ubisoft Gaming School, Lara has demonstrated time and time again that she has a bright future in the video game industry.” Coulson was co-creator on the clans feature in The Division 2 during her first year at Ubisoft, spearheading the design of the feature.
GIL CANIZES started his career as a co-founder of indie studio Insane Sheep, after which he moved to Ubisoft to work on Assassin's Creed Origins and Beyond Good & Evil 2. While there, he impressed both his own team in Sofia, Bulgaria as well as programmers in other studios. He joined Rocksteady Studios in 2018, where he was
LARA COULSON Game Designer, Ubisoft Reflections
ALEXANDER DUDOK DE WIT Game Developer, King
ALEXANDER DUDOK DE WIT started in the industry working on VR and games projects before leaving to work on his own games. Dudok De Wit led a team to the finals of Dare to be Digital in 2015 showcasing their game at the ProtoPlay games festival in Dundee and went on to have their game greenlit on Steam. More recently he has worked at King as a developer on Candy Crush Friends Saga. He has also organised and hosted the first Global Game Jam at King, and was invited back to work for City University and is now working as a lecturer teaching the entire Computer Games Architecture module.
quickly promoted to senior gameplay programmer. To quote one of his supporters: “Gil is the personification of a gameplay programmer; every bit as good a designer as he is a coder. He brings the two disciplines together perfectly, and for the betterment not just of the game but all who work with him.”
KAI ELIZABETH DU Head Surface Artist, Creative Assembly
KAI ELIZABETH DU gained a first-class degree in Computer Game Art from Teesside before starting her career in games at Creative Assembly in 2014. As an artist she now specializes in hard surfaces. And over the years she has contributed to the Total War: Warhammer series, Total War: Arena, Total War: Britannia, as well as working on Halo Wars 2 in partnership with 343 Industries. She is currently working on Creative Assembly's as yet unnamed new FPS IP. And in the company's internal game jam last year, her team landed 1st place.
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GEORGINA FELCE Studio Operations Manager, Big Pixel Studios
PHIL GARRETT Global Partner Marketing Manager, Sony Interactive Entertainment GEORGINA FELCE has spent the past two years working at Big Pixel Studios, having joined in 2018 as a studio manager before being quickly promoted to studio operations manager. She was one of GamesIndustry. biz’s 100 most influential women in UK Games, and is committed to building a more inclusive and diverse industry. She is part of Games Events London and regularly hosts educational networking events. According to one of her supporters: “Gina is a champion! The studio wouldn't be where it is today with her contributions over the past 12 months. Gina helps the studio tick along with all things operations day to day but is always looking for ways to make things better.”
AN honourable mention in last year’s list – Alasdair Hibberd joined the industry in 2016 at Wired Productions, starting as a production manager on the We Sing franchise, before moving up to work as product marketing manager. During his time at Wired, he helped them to win MCV’s Best Campaign Under £500K award in 2019, and secure three years of consecutive Indie Publisher of the Year nominations. He was also involved in the groundwork to create Safe In Our World, personally coining the name. After four years at Wired, he very recently joined Frontier Developments as product manager.
PHIL GARRETT joined PlayStation in 2017, after five years at Xbox as an international campaign manager. As the product management lead for third-party partnerships, Garrett successfully delivered regional partnership campaigns for the Red Dead Redemption 2 and Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 launches. Soon after, he received a promotion to his current role of global partner marketing Manager, which has seen him globally manage key third-party marketing partnerships as well as two direct reports based in the UK and the US. One supporter describes him as “a master of organisation and efficiency, he clearly has a very bright future ahead of him in the video games industry.”
ALASDAIR HIBBERD Product Manager, Frontier Developments
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ANNA HOLLINRAKE Principal Artist, Mediatonic
ANNA HOLLINRAKE is an art director, illustrator and 2017-18 BAFTA Breakthrough Brit. She has worked for a long list of companies since joining the industry as a freelancer in 2014, before heading to Mediatonic this year. She has worked on projects such as Lola and the Giant, Arca's Path VR, Magic: Duels and Adventure Time: Pirates of the Enchiridion. To quote a rather enthusiastic supporter of hers: “She's a gem that outshines every other in this industry and she will continue to glow forever more. She's great, get her on that goddamn list else it's just INVALID.”
JAMIE K KING Co-founder and Lead Designer, Moonshine Studios
ALEX HOLT-KULAPALAN Account Manager, Indigo Pearl
DESCRIBED as an “SEO and content whiz,” Sam Jones has taken his experience as an award-nominated news journalist into the world of marketing and SEO. He has also been a huge presence across Fanatical's social channels after taking on the role of script writer and presenter. To quote one of his sponsors: “Sam manages Fanatical's content and has written over 1,000 blogs in his time here! Which has seen a 149.9 per cent increase in sessions over the last six months. If this wasn't enough he is also the main star of our new YouTube videos, writing, recording and performing the scripts, or being on camera, reviewing games or interviewing – he is the voice of Fanatical!”
SINCE leaving his old job in IT nearly 3 years ago and making a career change, Alex HoltKulapalan has gone from being an intern to an account manager, working on some of the biggest names in games, including Blizzard, Google Stadia, CCP Games, Wargaming, Facepunch, Epic, the BBC and more. “Alex has a natural grasp for all things tech and highly complex subject matter,” said one of his supporters. “He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of everything from triple-A titles to indie platformers, from firstperson shooters to virtual worlds. Best of all, Alex knows just how to make those titles shine.”
SAM JONES Content Manager, Fanatical
JAMIE KING started working in game development in 2015 when he joined ISO Design as a junior designer. At ISO he assisted with the development and design for dozens of interactives for award winning visitor attractions such as Epic Ireland and the National Museum of Scotland. In 2017 King co-founded Moonshine Studios, where he is the lead designer and responsible for level,
game and narrative design – assisting with other tasks such as art direction, UI creation, 3D modelling, VFX and QA. Moonshine Studios will soon be releasing its debut title, Get Packed with publisher Coatsink. Get Packed was announced as one of the first Stadia exclusive games at Google’s 2019 E3 Stadia Connect which reached millions of people across the world.
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SOPHIE KNOWLES 3D Artist, Playdeo
DESCRIBED by one as a “pun factory you love to hate,” Ben Maltz-Jones has been a member of the Rebellion team since joining in early 2019. He managed and planned the social campaign for the launch of Zombie Army 4 and was crucial in the reveals of Evil Genius 2 and Sniper Elite at E3. He is cited as being critical to Rebellion’s social growth with a 25% increase in just his first year; and has been involved in much of their video content production. One supporter states: “Ben is a level of creative talent that's been unheard of in the British Isles since Celtic times. What he lacks in hair he makes up for with sheer creative energy.”
DANIELLE PARTIS Editor, InfluencerUpdate.biz at Steel Media
SOPHIE KNOWLES has spent much of her time in the industry since 2014 as a freelancer, working with studios such as A Brave Plan, doing animation for The Bradwell Conspiracy. In 2019 she joined Playdeo, where she worked on Avo! – a game about a female scientist and her avocado companion. Outside of work she is a member of BAFTA Crew Games, and helps
BEN MALTZ-JONES Social Media & Marketing Executive, Rebellion
DANIELLE PARTIS joined the industry in October 2017, launching the InfluencerUpdate. biz brand at Steel Media, having previously worked as a freelancer and PR manager. She also won Journalist of the Year at our 2019 Women in Games Awards. She juggles a number of roles, having built the site up from nothing, alongside speaking at industry panels. “Danielle has had a brilliant year!” said one supporter. “Aside from being the core editor on InfluencerUpdate.biz, she's won awards for her incredibly hard work for the site. She's dedicated and driven – a strong wee gem!”
with Game Events London. One of her (many) supporters describes her as “massively determined, focused, creative and ambitious, with a phenomenal work ethic – but she seems to always balance it well with her personal life as she's a great friend too. Sophie is a phenomenal professional and a wonderful human being.”
JACK MUDGE Environment Artist, Splash Damage
HIS supporters tell us that Jack Mudge has fostered the LGBTQ+ community at Splash Damage, having created the LGBTQ+ Employee Resource Group. He has been with Splash Damage for two years now, having joined as associate environment artist, before being promoted to his current position within just one year. “His passion and drive to make our studio a better place is second to none, and I have seen it motivate more people to be outspoken about what they believe is right, and inspire the next generation of LGBTQ+ folks at Splash Damage to make a difference” said one supporter.
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DECLAN PAUL Head of Production & Operations, Airship Images
ABBEY PLUMB Producer at Electric Square
DECLAN PAUL started his first role in the games industry a little under four years ago as a producer at Airship Images, where he was promoted to his current role in just two years. Paul has worked on a number of high profile titles including the upcoming Baldur’s Gate 3, Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order, Forza Horizon 4, Hitman 2 and Star Wars Battlefront 2. “Declan is driven to be successful in the games industry,” said one supporter. “His passion for productivity and games are a perfect match for working as a head of production. In the three years he has been with the company he has taken on more and more responsibility and learned an array of new tasks, never shying away from a challenge.”
LIAM PRICE Associate Lawyer, Sheridans
ABBEY PLUMB wears a number of different hats in this industry. Not only is she a producer at Electric Square, she is also an ambassador for both Women in Games and Special Effect, and has industry experience across mobile, console and tabletop games. She is the founder of the 'WIGJ Midlands Quarterly Meeting' and the 'Killer Pool Championship' for SpecialEffect which brought together 150+
RORY POWERS beat hundreds of hopefuls to get a job as one of the main hosts and producers at IGN. In his time at IGN he helped shape the IGNUK team into what it is today, and was instrumental in bringing home multiple awards for podcasts and videos. He’s currently co-founder of RKG, one of the UK games industry’s most successful Patreon businesses. “I’ve worked with people in games media for almost 10 years and I’ve never met anyone with the same passion and enthusiasm as him. He also has a big, mad accent which makes him mysterious,” said one sponsor.
industry professionals. She has also produced IAP offers, charity runs and 24hr gaming livestreams which have raised over £100,000 for charity. “Abbey was our producer on a really difficult project,” said one supporter, “but the way she rallied and looked after the team was incredible. She is fiercely protective of her people, and was extremely well liked by her colleagues while she was working with us.
RORY POWERS Co-founder, RKG
LIAM PRICE began his career as an intern working for Warner Bros in 2014 and thereafter being trained as a lawyer with the company. His work at Sheridans sees him advising a number of indies and triple-A developers. Price was ESL UK’s first legal support in 2015/16 and is a founder of Out Making Games,
an LGBTQ+ diversity network for those working in the games industry. Price regularly presents to the games industry on multiple commercial legal topics, such as at UKIE with their UKIE Hub Crawls in 2019 and 2020, the UKIE Hotline for games legal advice in 2019 and their nodeal Brexit guide.
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SAMANTHA QUIRK Marketing Specialist, Nomad Games
SAMANTHA QUIRK began her career in the industry at GAME, where she spent five years and rose quickly through the ranks – starting as a senior sales assistant, moving up through management until she was finally working as a CRM executive. Last year she joined Nomad Games, where we are told that she has “revolutionised” their output. “As a small studio, Nomad Games can sometimes struggle to be noticed amongst the big boys,” said one supporter. “Sam has helped enormously in organising marketing campaigns, changing our company branding and website, plus improving company morale through event management.”
HANNAH ROSE Unity Programmer and Freelancer
RACHEL RAKOWSKI-GASKIN Head of Esports/Strategic Partnerships at Jagex Game Studio
CAOIMHE RODDY has had a busy year, as well as supporting Chucklefish in releasing Apple Arcade title, Inmost, as their Producer, she won the Game Dev Heroes – Production award. She has also volunteered for the Girls Make Games workshops, an excellent cause that she also won awards for supporting – such as being our MCV Women in Games 2019 Mentor of the Year and the UK Games Fund Community Spirit Winner 2019. Caoimhe is also the director of Girls Game Labs and a Women in Games ambassador. “Caoimhe is a strong-spirited, incredibly enthusiastic individual who is making some very exciting changes to the way that we can volunteer with young people in the UK games industry” said one supporter.
RACHEL RAKOWSKI-GASKIN has been working in the industry for eight years now, starting off as a composer for games before shifting across to esports – taking on audio engineering, camera operation, producing, script writing, graphic design and live events with numerous brands including Blizzard and F1 Esports. “Rachel has championed esports within Jagex and is a driving force in changing the company and its games for the better,” said one supporter. “She is driven, talented and has brought a wealth of experience and ideas to the role”
CAOIMHE RODDY Freelance Game Producer
HANNAH ROSE has been working in the industry since 2015, having started out making educational games for young children. Following that, she worked on VR and AR projects, before working on the multiBAFTA award nominated Cultist Simulator. She is credited with mentoring gender minority people to get their first industry
jobs, and uses her platform to boost other minorities, and make the games industry more accessible for all. To quote one supporter: “Hannah is the epitome of 'sending the lift back down' – she's constantly trying to help others who are similar to herself to get into the games industry. To be so open to help others in such trying times, it's a quality to be admired.”
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SHAY THOMPSON Producer & Host at Glass House Studios, founder of Level Up Link Up
SHAY THOMPSON is a producer, host and activist in the games industry. A former host of Xbox Interactive, Shay has gone on to regularly host BAFTA panels, and become the face of both McLaren Esports and Glass House Studio. Her work at Glass House sees her producing, editing and hosting long-form editorials on video games, politics and everything in between. She created Level Up Link Up, a networking event created to help bridge the gap between newcomers and established industry professionals in games; with the aim to bring more people of colour into the games industry. Level Up Link Up delivers tangible career advice, true in-industry representation and righteous activism that has led people into their first industry jobs, paired them with mentors and allowed them to express thoughts and feelings in an empathetic environment.
NAREICE WINT Associate Producer at Lucid Games and Creative Director PartyLlama Games
WHEN Nareice Wint isn’t doing her day job as associate producer at Lucid Games, she's working as creative director, producer, designer and level designer on her indie game, Pandora: Chains of Chaos, which she has been working on for three years while working simultaneously on original IPs at Lucid. “Nareice is one of the most passionate individuals I've had the pleasure of working with,”
LIAM DE VALMENCY Senior Principal Programmer, Media Molecule
HAVING been hired out of university as Media Molecule's first ever graduate hire, Liam de Valmency has spent the last five and a half years working on Dreams, the PS4 game that provides players with a suite of creative tools to make games, art, music, and animations. His role on the project was to design and implement the creative tools, including artistic sculpting tools, animation tools and underlying systems, plus scene assembly and level design tools, which combined make up the foundation of the game's creative possibilities. This level of responsibility led to him being made senior principal programmer in July of last year, just five years after starting as a junior.
said one of her supporters. “She is always travelling around the country, at great expense to herself to build her profile and promote whatever she is working on, be that Switchblade or Pandora alike. She has done many talks and gives back as much as she can to the development community. All the while maintaining an extremely positive and excitable personality."
Honourable Mentions Joel Herber Mediatonic / Lewis Nicholson Electric Square / Piers Duplock Warp Digital Entertainment / Conor Clarke The National Videogame Museum / Adam Lavender Ubisoft Leamington / Becky Jowsey Supersolid / Hannah Watts Coatsink / Samuel Partridge Stave Studios / Bianca Iancu Freelance / Becky Mullen Bastion
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HONOURING TALENTED WOMEN IN THE UK GAMES INDUSTRY WEDNESDAY 25 NOVEMBER 2020 | LONDON
VISIT THE WEBSITE FOR MORE DETAILS: WWW.WOMENINGAMESAWARDS.COM
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The 6th annual MCV/DEVELOP Women in Games Awards is back! Join us as we celebrate amazing female talent in the UK games industry, it’s set to be a truly inspirational and rewarding afternoon. Get involved to join friends and colleagues in celebrating your successes and get the recognition you deserve.
NEW BIGGER VENUE: The Purcell Room, Southbank Centre, London For this year’s event we’ve moved to the recently restored Purcell Room, part of the Southbank Centre and right next door to the Royal Festival Hall. This new venue doubles our capacity from previous years, allowing us to invite yet more fantastic women from all over the industry. As an arts and cultural venue, we feel the Southbank Centre has the perfect liberal and progressive feel for this event, and with its location on the river there are loads of opportunities to continue celebrating beyond this inclusive afternoon event.
After Party Sponsor
Attendance is on an invitation-only basis. To register your interest please contact: email@example.com
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Ins and Outs: Industry hires and moves 1
MICHAEL DENNY (1) has been named vice president and studio head at TT Games. Denny previously held the role of senior vice president of Sony Interactive Entertainment Worldwide Studios Europe, heading up the company’s game development operations in the region. Denny will oversee strategy, execution and business operations for all TT Games offices and its portfolio of titles, “I’m very excited by the opportunity to help create a new vision for TT and lead the studio forward to another successful phase of its evolution” said Denny. Ubisoft have two new junior communications managers, after both KATIE LAURENCE (2) and CALUM RIDGEWELL (3) received promotions this month. Laurence will be managing Ubisoft’s GaaS and free to play games including Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege, Roller Champions and many more. Ridgewell will be managing many upcoming titles and projects this year, including Gods & Monsters.
Wargaming has appointed INGO HORN (4) as their new ‘communication director europe’. In this position, Horn will lead a team of seven regional communications experts across key European territories, speak on behalf of Wargaming for all products on all platforms in Europe, and report directly to global PR director, Arthur Pratapopau. Horn is wellknown for his involvement with charity. He founded Gaming-Aid in 2013 and the streaming movement Letsplay4Charity in 2018, and has received more than €200,000 in donations for various charities. In 2016, he was honoured as an inductee of the German Game Developer Awards Hall of Fame. Veteran game creator, MIKE BOOTH (5), Creator of Left 4 Dead, CounterStrike: Condition Zero and Nox has joined Resolution Games’ board of directors. Booth will join a strong lineup of gaming experts to help steer the direction of the company, while also working hands-on with the company’s games team.
Sumo Digital Group has made two senior appointments. First, cofounder DARREN MILLS (6) has been appointed director of excellence and integration. “As a cofounder of Sumo, Darren is the perfect candidate to add value and make an impact in this important role within the Group” said Paul Porter, COO, Sumo Group. Meanwhile, JIM WOODS (7) has been promoted to fill Mills’ former role as studio director at Sumo Sheffield. “Jim worked with Sumo for over a decade before joining the company in 2017. His experience and pragmatism have put him in great stead to lead our largest studio” said Porter. Sumo Warrington meanwhile, has appointed ANDREW JONES (8) as associate technical director. “Becoming a part of this new team is a great opportunity. We’ve got our own remit here along with the support of one of the UK’s biggest and most highly regarded independent studios” said Jones.
Hyper-casual developer Kwalee has hired DILPESH PARMAR (9) as its new head of ad monetisation. Parmar joins the Leamington Spa-based studio with 12 years of ad monetisation experience. Most recently, he worked for international ad network IQzone, where he departs as COO. In addition to this, Parmar’s resume includes a two-year tenure at Shazam, where he set up ad monetisation for brands. Kwalee CEO David Darling stated: “Dilpesh brings such a breadth of experience in the area of ad monetisation, it’s brilliant to have him on board.” JULES LANGRAN (10) has joined MAG Interactive as art director at its Brighton studio. She left her previous role as art director at PlugIn, where she was part of the team that won a BAFTA Children’s Award in the Interactive: Adaptive category. Langran will help the studio to create a new product and build on its success as a leading mobile developer and publisher of casual mobile games.
Games industry analyst PIERS HARDING-ROLLS (11) has joined Ampere Analysts as head of games research and research director. Harding-Rolls was previously at IHS Markit, where he had been the head of games research and lead VR/AR analyst for nine years. GameInfluencer has appointed DAVID AN (12) as its new CEO. He said: ”GameInfluencer has developed into one of the leading influencer marketing companies in the gaming industry. In our next phase, we will open up our network of influencers to global nongaming brands who seek creative ways to reach younger audiences. I am looking forward to working with the team.” After 4 years at Wired Productions, 30 Under 30 honouree (see page 18) ALASDAIR HIBBERD (13) has joined Frontier Developments as product manager. Hibberd was product marketing manager at Wired Productions, where he joined as product manager for the We Sing franchise.
Got an appointment you’d like to share with the industry? Email Chris Wallace at firstname.lastname@example.org 30 | MCV/DEVELOP April 2020
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Every month, we pick the brain of an up-and-coming talent
Sally Morgan-Moore, producer at No Brakes Games talks about the role of a producer and enabling developers to do their best work upcoming title by doing whatever I can to get our amazing developers achieving their best work. They’re utterly fantastic, and capable of magic. I want them to feel they’ve achieved as such. In addition, I remain linked with the Human: Fall Flat IP by supporting our partnered devs, as well as maintaining strong relations with our publishing team at Curve Digital. I’ve also been recognised for my passion in publishing too, so I am entrusted with our studio brand/creative development methods, press and PR relationships management, as well as community engagement too. All of my experience modes are switched to ‘ON’, and I couldn’t feel more motivated.
What is your job role and how would you describe your typical day at work? I work at No Brakes Games – the studio forged in 2019 following the huge success of physics-based puzzle platformer Human Fall Flat, by founder and CEO Tomas Sakaluaskas. I was hired as the 11th employee in October 2019, and first dedicated inhouse producer. Previously I had worked my way through QA, production and publishing from the start of my career back in 2007 for companies like Codemasters, Rare, and Frontier Developments. Being able to focus my experience now into this role within a powerful little indie team like this was an energy I couldn’t refuse. As producer my day involves steering the development of our newest,
What qualifications and/or experience do you need to land this job? Tough one to answer almost, as I’m such a wild hybrid of experience, but due to the diverse ethos of the studio, all of my collective passions were considered as part of the role. If I had to pinpoint the specifics though, I’d say I was sought for my attention to quality following my QA and usability experience, to my understanding of Agile development and how best practices work within our team dynamic in production. The final cherry on the cake then comes from my creative and communication insight from publishing. If you were interviewing someone for your team, what would you look for? Creativity! Enthusiasm! We all work together as this little powerhouse of collaboration, where no ideas are wrong ideas. I mean of course I’d look for their expertise in the primary role skillset, but it doesn’t just end at ‘tick boxes’
“As producer my day involves steering the development of our newest, title by doing whatever I can to get our amazing developers achieving their best work. They’re utterly fantastic, and capable of magic.” here. I feel like if you stick to a regimented expectation of skills and performance without enabling your potential team member’s ‘broader being’, you miss out on so much value (as do they!). What opportunities do you have for career progression? EVERY opportunity. As part of our studio values we offer regular performance and feedback reviews (every three months) and ensure that each member of the team has the opportunity to explore their creative passions. For example, our lead QA has just started to learn Unity for the first time during any down time she might have. She’s doing amazingly well!
If there’s a rising star at your company, contact Chris Wallace at email@example.com April 2020 MCV/DEVELOP | 31
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Cherry picked advice to help you reach the next level in your career
Gareth Martin, senior engine programmer at Coconut Lizard talks about his role, the studio’s outlook to hiring and how his code has appeared in thousands of games so some of my code can be found in thousands of games. Even without that, as contractors we work on many different projects for many different companies and get to make fixes all over the industry.
What is your job role and how would you describe your typical day at work? Officially I’m a senior engine programmer for Coconut Lizard, but unofficially I’m the C++ expert. If someone comes up against an incomprehensible compiler error message, they come to me. The rest of the time I spend digging into obscure bugs, crashes, or optimisations in the Unreal Engine codebase. It’s not necessarily as flashy as working in art or game design, but it’s immensely rewarding – I get to get right down to the metal and fix things that nobody else can. Each day or week can bring different things to look at – maybe there’s a memory leak in one part of the game, or maybe some recent gameplay code has exposed a crash in the engine – digging in deep and working out what’s going on is an enjoyable challenge. Some of my fixes have ended up being pushed back to Epic and integrated into UE4 itself –
What qualifications and/or experience do you need to land this job? Personally I have a BSc in Games Programming, and coming up on 14 years in games - but it’s possible to land an entry level programming job without either of those. What’s most important is knowing C++. Other languages help (we encounter everything from Python to C# being used by our clients) but C++ is what Unreal Engine is written in, so you need to know it. We work closely with Newcastle University so that graduates come out having the skills we look for, but we’ll hire anyone that’s good enough and who we think will be a good team fit. As at Coconut Lizard we specialise in UE4, some experience with that (especially the C++ side) would give you a leg up over other candidates - and the best part is, it’s free to download and play with! That said, we do consider all candidates with experience in other engines - we’ve hired engineers experienced with other companies’ proprietary engines and they have made a hugely positive impact on our work after becoming familiar with Unreal. If you were interviewing someone for your team, what would you look for? At Coconut Lizard, the main thing we look at is your ability. Everything starts with a CV of course, but if you’re a recent uni graduate with no industry experience, having a Github link or the like and we get to see how you really code,
we really like that. We have a UE4 programming test we often send out for pre-screening, and then we bring you in to interview, show you round, and assess how well you’d fit our team, along with your attitude and mindset. We do a series of questions on C++ and the like, a live programming test (no whiteboard coding, we give you a real compiler!) and have a look through your portfolio. Asking questions is looked on favourably – we want people who are interested in the work we do, and who know when they’ve reached the end of their knowledge and need to ask someone else. Being able to dig into unfamiliar code and work out what it’s doing quickly is also a valuable skill – it’s not unusual for us to need to fix code (whether written by clients or in UE4) that was written in years past and the specifics of which have long since been lost. What opportunities are available for career progression? Coconut Lizard is a flexible company, so we don’t have a rigid career progression / management structure. We don’t push people into management roles based purely on years in the industry. Instead, in addition to pay, progression mostly comes in the form of becoming the go-to specialist for something or another. Even our juniors tend to rise quickly into this – we’re all working in different areas so if you share that knowledge you’ll get the respect of your peers, whether you’ve been with us a dozen years, or only a few. We regularly attend UK development conferences, talks and training courses, keeping the opportunity to attend these open to any of our employees – we place great value on training our employees, so we don’t restrict this to seniors.
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 The games industry has reacted quickly and confidently to the challenges that COVID-19 is throwing at us. But, as individuals, we still need to find ways to focus and stay positive – when we really may not feel like it. Liz Prince, Amiqus’ business manager shares her approach to staying well during these difficult times IN these strangest of times, while we’re all facing so many personal challenges, it’s good to know that the games industry has real strength, creativity and a foundation for growth. More people are playing games right now, the World Health Organisation has given us much needed external validation with many parents, and studios are continuing to hire and onboard new talent at home ahead of them joining up with the team once we’re back together. Plus, we are an incredibly talented, creative and community-focused industry. We will work through this difficult time creatively, and we’re already seeing people pulling together and supporting one another. The latter is a very real reason in itself to feel positive. But I also recognise that for many of us, irrespective of the things we know, it’s hard to focus on feeling positive or, indeed, to focus, full stop. During the first week of lockdown I read a great article which was shared on Twitter by the brilliant Claire Boissiere from Jumpship Studio. The article was headlined ‘Is Anyone Else Just Barely Functioning Right Now?’ and it resonated with me and, I’m sure, many others. The author, Carolyn L Todd at Self, talked about how she was looking at the lives of others, their workout routines, their new-found hobbies and pursuits and their already ultra-organised daily schedules – and asked herself why she wasn’t doing the same… “Except then I remember something: That the ‘occasion’ is a global pandemic. That to just get by is actually enough right now. And to be not doing okay is normal and natural and not a problem.” I can’t agree more. We’re feeling many things right now, but anticipatory grief probably sums it up – a loss of safety and an anticipation of something bad happening. This in turn can cause negative emotions like fear, anxiety, sadness, fatigue or panic. Our lives are full of uncertainty which can impact our ability to function normally or make decisions – causing us to feel irritable, isolated or helpless. As we navigate through the complexities of life right now, I wanted to share some things that I do to help myself, in the hope that something may also help you if you need it. Stay safe and if you’d like to chat then we’re here anytime.
PRE-EMPT AND PREVENT • • • • • • • •
Check in regularly on your own well-being – how do I feel today mentally and physically? Keep an eye out for early warning signs of wellness challenges. How’s my thinking? How are my thoughts making me feel, and are they helpful or unhelpful? Looking after my wellbeing – water, food, sleep – is there anything I can improve to help myself? What can I change, what can’t I change and therefore need to accept? What needs my urgent attention? Can anyone help me? What are some of my helpful coping strategies, and what are the unhelpful ones… What are my warning signs and who can I share those with?
WHEN I’M ANXIOUS AND MY MIND IS RACING I USE STOPP TO HELP • • • •
Stop and pause for a moment Take a deep breath Observe your emotions – what are you reacting to, how are you feeling and thinking? Give yourself some distance from the feeling. Pull back – what’s the bigger picture, is this thought a fact or speculation, what advice would I give a friend? Reassure yourself that this is temporary. Proceed – what’s the most helpful thing for me or others to do here, what should I focus my attention on right now for the best.
At Amiqus, we have many resources available to help, so please do get in touch via email@example.com.
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A TALE OF TWO FOXES
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Can Google’s Stadia use machine learning to revolutionise game development? Chris Wallace befriends two clever foxes to find out
erhaps one of the strongest selling points of the Stadia is its streamlined process, saving a tremendous amount of time on behalf of the user. With no lengthy game downloads, updates or hard drive management, it’s a tempting option for the time-poor individual who has carved out a spare hour to sit down with a game. Google is now taking this time-saving philosophy and applying it to game development itself – by experimenting with machine learning (ML). And this work is touching on elements as disparate as content creation, balance testing and language-based interaction. Stadia has put together a team of game developers, machine learning engineers and infrastructure engineers in order to create gameplay prototypes to demonstrate the potential for machine learning in game development, it tells MCV/DEVELOP. “We’re taking on the risk that developers don’t want to,” explains Erin Hoffman-John, head of creative for Stadia research and development. “We’ve been talking externally to developers and asking them, what are the things that you’ve always wanted to do but have not been able to do? What are the things that you’ve had to cut out of your games because you haven’t been able to do them fast enough, or you just haven’t had the processing power?” PROJECT CHIMERA One of the projects that was born out of these conversations is codenamed Chimera. It uses generative adversarial networks – where, for example one ML network creates something, and another network tries to work out if it’s real or artificially-generated. Chimera was part-inspired by projects such as This Person Does Not Exist – a website created by former Uber software engineer Phillip Wang that generates images of ‘people’ who, of course, do not actually exist. The technology is impressive – the website just seems to be a collection of LinkedIn profile pictures before it’s explained that all of these faces are computer-generated. It immediately begs the question of whether this can be applied to game development, particularly if it can be used to create video game assets. Additionally, given the constraints and challenges of game development, can it be used to empower smaller development teams?
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Above: Erin HoffmanJohn, Google Stadia
“What if a team of 14 people could make a game the scale of World of Warcraft?” asks Hoffman-John. “That’s an absurd goal, right? The thing about games like WoW is that they rely on a lot of heavy, repetitive content creation. The artists and the writers are doing a lot of essentially duplicate work, that’s where a lot of the investment goes. If you look at the amount of money that is spent making a game like World Warcraft, it’s like 70% content and 30% or less code, even though it’s a tremendous amount of code, it’s way more on the content side.” Hoffman-John runs us through what Chimera is capable of. The game prototype is a card-based, creature-battling strategy game, featuring machinegenerated artwork. The machines are trained on 3D assets created by an artist, creating a host of animals that can be merged together to create new and more powerful creatures (hence the name Chimera).
Ordinarily, the prospect of creating artwork for every possible creature combination would be completely off the table for a smaller team, Hoffman-John stresses, underlining the potential of Chimera. And by linking this with Style Transfer ML, which allows artists to literally drag-and-drop reference images (such as a Van Gogh painting) to inform a game’s art style – smaller teams are able to create even more complicated character designs without a huge time-sink. The next element of Chimera is reinforcement learning. Seeing as the prototype is a card-based strategy game, Stadia has been able to use reinforcement learning agents to play the game millions of times, playtesting it in order to inform the game’s balance. “So I knew when I designed the game that the T-Rex is super strong. But I didn’t know exactly how strong, and I didn’t know the frequency with which it could be played. This is the kind of thing that causes exploits to be in games when they’re released, or you have this wild imbalance in a card game, because you can’t predict all the outcomes. “But by playing the game millions of times with reinforcement learning agents that we’ve trained on the rules of the game, that lets us test the balance very, very quickly. So even a small developer who might not have access to hundreds of people to playtest their game could have access to this reinforcement learning tool that will optimise the play of the game. “It can learn the game by itself without being scripted, and then tell you where the problems are in the balancing. It lets you test your theories of the design against what’s actually happening in real time.” By applying machine learning to both recreating the character designs and the game’s balancing, Stadia is opening the doors to smaller teams to create unique and well-balanced experiences that otherwise would have been too complicated, time-consuming and expensive to create – which is all in support of Google’s own ‘next billion gamers’ goal. “We worked backwards from this question of ‘what does it mean to unlock the next billion gamers?’ We’re thinking very long term, looking five or more years into the future. The big thing we want to do is be able to use Stadia’s accessibility to reach billions of people. And if we want to do that, from a game development
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standpoint, you have to either empower, amplify or create more game developers. You have to make it easier to make games.” WHAT DOES THE FOX SAY? Chimera isn’t the only way Stadia is using machine learning to reach those one billion gamers, though. Anna Kipnis, senior interaction designer at Google, runs us through another (and much more adorable) prototype using Semantic ML. “I was a game developer for about 16 years,” Kipnis says. “I worked as an AI and gameplay programmer for Double Fine. Most of Double Fine’s games have really complex characters. And my focus was on bringing them to life. “Over the years, we’ve seen games go through this incredible visual evolution, from just a few colours, to many colours, from 2D to 3D, extremely high fidelity and so on. But I think that interactivity with characters has not seen the same kind of exponential improvements. And so this is where I think semantic ML could really help. “So what is Semantic ML? At its core, semantic ML is just phrase or word association. But of course, some phrases are more closely associated than others. “For example, the word ‘flower’ is more closely associated to ‘tulip’ than it is to ‘funeral.’ So what Semantic ML can do is give us these word distances, these word vectors, and some of these word vectors are actually signals of context. So for example, a flower can be put into a vase.” Kipnis boots up the demo and we’re suddenly confronted with the dream our heart never allowed us to have – communicating with a cheerful cartoon fox. The fox follows simple instructions and directions – Kipnis types hello, and the fox waves in response. She asks for some coffee, and the fox brings her a mug. She throws a stick, and the fox fetches it and brings it back to her. “I didn’t actually programme the fox to answer questions,” Kipnis explains, “or even to know what the heck coffee is. What I’ve done was I’ve taken an object that looks like a mug, and I’ve given it the label in plain English, ‘small mug.’ And then semantic ML kind of did everything else for me through those word associations.”
“First up, I want to mention a few misconceptions about using ML. Firstly, the misconception that it requires knowing how to train ML models. I thought this too when I first started working with ML because you hear about it a lot – but you can also just use pre-trained models. “Next, the idea that it requires massive amounts of data. Of course, data is important for training ML models, but it turns out that you don’t really need that data if you’re not going to be training anything. “And finally, this idea that developers have no control whatsoever over the output of ML. People think that it’s like this black box, and you just kind of have to accept what it gives you. But this is actually not true.” Kipnis points to how the fox learns to interact with the world around it. She shows us the game’s workings under the hood – all written not in code, but in plain English. “Typically, the way that you create characters in video games is that you have to be explicit about everything” notes Kipnis. “If the player does this specific thing, then our character will answer exactly like this. So if the developer’s not accounted for something that the player chooses to do, if the player is being original, then the game just doesn’t do anything – there’s no response. “The fox is different. So the way that I made it work is using simple grammar of the form, “I verb noun” or ‘I verb.’ And I just created a complete expression space of everything that the fox can do, to whatever objects I’ve labelled in plain English.” The model, which is developed by Google AI, is trained on billions of conversations from all over the internet, allowing it to create these semantic connections without need for input from the developer. So with the objects and actions labelled under the hood, the fox can respond to full sentences without the need to manually link concepts together – Semantic ML takes care of that. I’M NOT OKAY (I PROMISE) So with these rulesets of the fox’s actions in place, Kipnis explains how Semantic ML can be used to define a character’s personality. Which unfortunately means we’re going to take our lovely fox friend and make him very sad.
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Above: Anna Kipnis, Google Stadia
“So I mentioned before that developers think that ML is kind of this black box” Kipnis notes. “But this tool actually allows you to tweak the final outcomes. So let’s say we have a fox that’s sad, and when I say ‘hi’, maybe instead of waving, I want it to just get very sad. I ask if it wants to play, and it’s not going to play. I ask for some coffee, and it’s going to be unlikely to offer us some.” Kipnis demonstrates, throwing a stick to our forlorn fox friend, who picks it up and solemnly places it by a plant – perhaps contemplating the futility of his sad fox existence. Another use of Semantic ML is in dictating patrol behaviours – actions a character does to demonstrate that it has a life outside of the player. Something that, in traditional game development, would require a high level of programming knowledge in order to implement – But as with the fox’s other actions, Semantic ML allows you to keep these instructions in plain English. Kipnis shows us a simple list that the fox follows, patrolling the room without need for code to inform his behaviour. The instructions don’t even need to be entirely precise – while the fox refers to the label ‘couch’, it understands the instruction ‘look at sofa’ regardless, thanks to the word association element of Semantic ML. So far the fox has been following fairly simple instructions. ‘Say hello’, ‘pick up a mug’ etc. What happens if we ask something more elaborate? Kipnis shows us another list of instructions – get stoked, get some money, check out the weather and we see what the fox does. In this example, Kipnis has misspelled ‘money’ as ‘monet’. Instead of getting confused and not doing anything in the face of an unfamiliar instruction, the f ox instead summons a painting. “I was a little surprised when this came out,” says Kipnis. “But the thing about semantic ML is that it’s also aware of these cultural connections and so as you know, Monet was a painter. So if we say ‘make some monet,’ the fox will respond by conjuring a painting. The coolest thing for me about this technology is it gives characters this inner life that it would have taken a tonne of work before for developers to be able to put this in. As a developer, you don’t have to anticipate every possible idea a player has.” Kipnis sends the fox off again, this time telling it to check out the weather. Dutifully, the fox walks up to the
window and looks outside. “Again, I didn’t do anything. There’s nothing connecting those concepts. It associated that the weather happens outside and so it moves to check it out there.” As with Chimera, the potential for this to save a tremendous amount of time for developers is clear. Without the need to code everything and with the freedom that comes with an AI understanding vague and unexpected instructions, developers could find more time to spend on other aspects of their games. “If we could spend less time focused on the tedious parts of AI, what is now possible?” asks Kipnis. “Semantic ML can speed up that iterative process and help save developers time, but most importantly it enables developers to focus on far more interesting problems. The game artist who got that set of tools didn’t just go home early, they used them to create more and more complex visuals and with each step in that evolution, they would think, ‘okay, now that we’re here, what can we reach out and grab that was just too far out for us before?’ And so this is what I think semantic ML can do for game characters. If we can interact with game characters in plain English or plain language, what is now possible?” This rings true with what Hoffman-John said about the inspiration behind Chimera: If we free up developer’s time on the more laborious aspects of game development, what kind of games could be made? Of course, Google’s experiments with machine learning open up the door to new and exciting game experiences, but they could also provide quality of life improvements for developers. With crunch being constantly discussed in the industry, machine learning could allow more developers, more time outside of development, beyond just the potential for improving their games.
“As a developer, you don’t have to anticipate every possible idea a player has.”
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Brought to you by
A Swift studio spotlight: The Multiplayer Guys The Multiplayer Guys, an exciting remote outfit with offices in Nottingham, is planning on growing to 500+ people over the next five years. The future looks bright and busy for the ambitious co-development studio.
Above: Jaymes Chapman, The Mulitplayer Guys
WITH a portfolio supporting some of the most exciting projects in recent years, some they can discuss and others they’re tight-lipped about, the work-for-hire studio spotted a gap in the market and seized upon that opportunity. It’s allowed them a period of unprecedented growth, which is why James Bowers of Aardvark Swift visited their Nottinghamshire office to discuss just what the future holds for The Multiplayer Guys. “The journey we’re on is going to be astronomical. It’s probably going to be one of the largest hiring drives that I’ve ever been involved with,” says Jaymes Chapman, head of recruitment. “Vaughan [O’Brien] did a fantastic job of hiring 50+ people last year, and I’ve kind of taken up from where he left off. I’m pretty competitive, so even if I beat that record by one person, I’ll be happy.” The need to grow is natural considering the projects the team have been involved in; as well as the number of ambitious things they have in the pipeline for current and
next-gen systems. “We talk about getting up to a 500+ person organisation, and I can only see that happening. The projects demand it,” says Chapman. Growth is a word that comes naturally to the team, it’s all they’ve ever known. The studio had humble beginnings and it is still technically in its infancy. “The Multiplayer Guys was an idea that Rick [Alexander] and his wider leadership team [Steve Bennett and Rocco Loscalzo] had roughly two years ago now. Rick went to a conference and gave an overview of what The Multiplayer Guys could potentially offer. Before he even landed back in the UK his phone was ringing, asking for support on several projects for different studios,” states Chapman. The secret to the success of The Multiplayer Guys is flexibility, diversification and a laid-back culture. A large portion of their staff work remotely and could feasibly be based anywhere in the world. “There’s a challenge for talent out there, especially really good talent. If you’re passionate about what you do, we can accommodate that massively. We work remotely for our clients, so we should be able to resonate that with the people that we hire.” With the nature of the games industry, with both logistical and geographical challenges, Chapman goes on to say that remote work will always be an option for the right person. The Multiplayer Guys aren’t content resting on the success they’ve already achieved. They’re hiring across the board, building out not just their engineering team, but their art team too. “From an outsider looking in, The Multiplayer Guys is an extension of some of the most innovative studios working in the world right now. We are an outsourced solution that offers services globally to studios that might need engineering assistance [in a multiplayer capacity]. “We are in the process of building out a creative team, to help with the creative direction across studio partners that we work with now and in the future. Game art is huge, we all know we’ll play a game if it interfaces really well and the user experience is amazing. Harvey [Parker] came onboard to build out that team last year.” You’ll be able to listen to the full discussion with Jaymes, including his fascinating career history of how he represented his country in Rugby and helped build digital services for the Balkan region, in an upcoming episode of the Aardvark Swift Podcast; available now via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, thirdparty apps and the aswift.com website!
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For our new MCV/DEVELOP Awards we had the opportunity to reinvent a very special award: Develop Legend. We’re thrilled to have Rare as our first ‘next-gen’ recipient and here we talk to staff about what makes it one of the UK’s longest-running and most important development studios
he recent MCV/DEVELOP Awards brought together the whole of the UK games industry in a way that we’ve never attempted before. It now seems a world away, but it was actually only a few weeks ago that hundreds of us could still gather to celebrate the year’s achievements (see page 10). Combining the MCV and Develop Awards was always going to be tricky, we may be one industry but there’s an incredible variety of skills within it to recognise. But it also provided an opportunity for us to rethink why we gave out awards, who to, and what for. The Develop Legend award has had numerous prestigious recipients: Shuhei Yoshida, Tim Sweeney, Mark Cerny, Hideo Kojima, David Braben and many, many more. However, we thought that the award should encompass teams as well as individuals, teams which are made up of the diverse talents required to bring any game to players today. And when we started to think about teams that have achieved brilliant things at the highest level, both historically and in recent years, it was Rare’s name that came up, from our own team, from members of our Grand Jury and from others we spoke to. GUARDIAN ANGEL Among Rare’s supporters is The Guardian’s Keith Stuart, who picked Rare out as one of the most memorable of the “over 200 development studios” he’s visited over a quarter of a century of games journalism. So we invited him along to the awards ceremony to speak about this incredible developer. “I have been playing their games for 35 years,” Stuart told 450 members of the assembled industry. “Throughout the 1980s and 1990s Rare worked extremely closely with Nintendo, on a series of smash hit titles from Battletoads to Banjo Kazooie, from Donkey Kong Country to GoldenEye and many others. “During this period, and beyond, I believe this studio got closer than any other western developer to the design genius of Nintendo. Its projects have always
Below: The Guardian’s Keith Stuart speaking on the night
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Above: (left) Rare’s studio near Twycross in Leicestershire, (right) one of the studio’s doggies with its new awards
shared that same philosophy of joy, light and innovation – where the games teach players how to play, and then let them loose in the world to express themselves. “That’s a really crucial part. This company’s games have always left a space for the player to feel creative, to feel heard and seen. When you visit the studio you understand why that is. This is a company full of craftspeople – they obsess over every moment of play, every frame of animation, every note of music. This love of craft has been evident in every conversation I’ve ever had with people who’ve worked there. “More recently, when this studio started out on projects for the Xbox One console, it could easily have taken a conventional route, revived a beloved franchise and worked within a safe, familiar genre. “It didn’t. It made a massively multiplayer cooperative pirate simulation. I’ve been playing games for 35 years, and I thought I’d seen it all. But watching my sons play Sea of Thieves with their friends, all of them helpless with laughter as they accidentally drop another treasure chest in the sea, or get drunk on grog and throw up all over their ship, has reminded me of the supreme pleasure of video games. “Unlike TV, unlike film, this medium allows us to forge our own paths and tell our own stories. And if there’s one studio in the world that really understands this unique quality, it is Rare.” At that point, a horde of Rare employees rushed up on stage to receive their award. Obviously we’d have loved to have presented it to all 200+ employees in person, but that would have been tricky. Still, having a crowd of diverse talent on the stage, and a raft of awards
representing the company’s various smash-hit games over the years, was in keeping with our new vision for a Legend award that gives credit to all. RARE DECLARES Later on we caught up with some of Rare’s staff who came up to receive those awards on the night, to ask them what they think makes a ‘Rare game’, the reasons behind the studios continued success as well as what they like about working for one of the UK’s longeststanding developers. Simon Prodger, director of audience and brand, has a nice take on the Rare difference: “Rare makes the kind of games the world doesn’t already have. Rare games have a sense of magic about them, a distinctive creative spark and a determination to do things in their own way that makes them so delightful and original.” That originality is also key to Veronica Heath, Rare’s talent ambassador: “I honestly think you can’t compare Rare’s games to anything else – we’ve always aimed to be different, memorable and unmistakably fun.” Louise O’Connor, executive producer on upcoming title Everwild, tells us: “You know you’re playing a Rare game when you laugh out loud at something unexpected, or when you’ve done something that you can’t wait to share with your friends… Rare games are about filling up your heart and making you smile. I think the team puts huge effort into trying to give our players these moments and long-lasting memories.” Long-term industry watchers often view Rare across three different periods including the early Spectrum years under the Ultimate Play the Game moniker, its
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many years working with Nintendo, and since 2002 with Microsoft, across the Xbox, Xbox 360 and Xbox One. There are too many important games to mention, but what is notable is that Rare zipped from genre to genre during all of those eras. Never settling in any one niche, but instead making platformers, first person shooters, adventure games, racing games, motion-controlled titles and many titles that defy any such easy classification. “I think the team and the studio are always looking for a new challenge, both creatively and technically,” O’Connor explains. ”We love being different and I think our success comes from a team of people who are driven to truly create new experiences. It comes down to us being brave, doing things a bit different and having the freedom and space to be creative - this is how projects like Everwild have come to fruition!” “For me it would be Rare’s ability to continually reinvent itself as a studio,” concurs Prodger. “Rare has
Prodger adds: “Yes, there’s a determination across the team to make our games as good as they can be, and for them to have the level of impact they deserve. “As a first-party Xbox studio we have the chance to make games that positively impact the lives of millions of people. That’s an opportunity we’re all determined to take.” And presently there are three opportunities that the studio is looking to deliver on. “In Sea of Thieves we have a growing service that’s just entered its third year in the market and is as big as ever. We’re working with a partner studio to bring Battletoads to a whole new generation of players. And last but not least, with Everwild we get the chance to bring Rare’s next new IP to the world. Working on one of these titles would be a career highlight, getting to work on all three of them at the same time is just mind-blowing!” exclaims Prodger.
“Rare makes the kind of games the world doesn’t already have.” never sat back and taken the easy option. Instead it has always looked to evolve, grow and do new things in a way that keeps its games feeling so fresh and original. It takes a special team and culture to do this, creating an environment where people feel empowered to take creative risks.” SEA OF DREAMS With such a storied history, though, is there then a pressure on the team to deliver? “It’s not a pressure to live up to a name - it’s only a name after all,” points out O’Connor. “Rare is much more than that – it’s the people, the creators of these worlds, this team. I think we have to live up to giving this team the right opportunities and support they need to do amazing things. It’s about us continuing to build the right inclusive culture, so we can build amazing games – that’s how you become Rare.” “Everyone has their own experience and memories of our games, whether that’s from our older titles, discovering Sea of Thieves or joining the hype over Everwild – that’s really special to us. We want to continue to bring these memorable experiences to players each and every time, which as you can imagine comes with its own set of challenges!” Heath explains.
“My favourite thing about working at Rare is that every day I get up, I go into the office, and I know it will be a completely different day to yesterday,” O’Connor tells us. ”I love that we grow and evolve as developers every day – I love seeing the team create something new, I love playing something that feels special, or seeing a character that I can fall in love with again, or a part of the world that is so beautiful, I just want to look at it and take it all in. Every day is new, every day is inspiring and every day, my heart fills up a little bit more.” And Heath concurs that it really is a dream job: “For me, Rare is so close to my heart as a gamer and I never imagined I’d have the opportunity to work here. Step into the studio each day and you see why Rare’s games are made with so much love, fun and dedication. Every day is about achieving something, helping each other and growing as teams and individuals. We live and breathe that in our studio’s culture. I really haven’t experienced that anywhere else in my working career.” With the studio having succeeded, critically and commercially, in bringing gamers together in its socialcentric pirate simulator. It looks to be continuing on that core idea of social gaming in Everwild. With the learnings from Sea of Thieves, its first persistent online game, to build upon, the title is set for truly huge things.
Above (from top): Rare’s Simon Prodger, Veronica Heath and Louise O’Connor
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BEYOND the event HORIZON
Coronavirus has cancelled or postponed every games industry event. So how does that affect your 2020 title’s marketing plan and what can you do to get your game in front of journalists, influencers and players instead?
t’s been a year like no other. In the face of the medical, social and economic crisis that is coronavirus, the games industry of course isn’t the world’s biggest concern. However, that economy isn’t going to stabilise itself and a lot of people have a lot of time on their hands, so launching that video game in 2020 still seems like the right thing to do. Now, as an industry we’re fortunate to be a stay-athome form of entertainment and one with a mature digital delivery system (sports and cinemas have it much worse). That said, events still make up a key beat in the marketing strategy of most sizeable new titles, so how best to adapt your approach to this virus-struck year?
We asked a handful of marketers how much impact the loss or postponement of GDC, Rezzed, E3 and possibly Gamescom and many more will impact their plans and what can be done instead to replace that reach. VP of global marketing Ben Payne, from Human Fall Flat and Bomber Crew publisher Curve Digital, sets out the scale of the problem for us: “Obviously events are a key part of our marketing mix across all our titles, be they new releases or catalogue titles with new content. It is the main opportunity to get our games in the hands of our fans and potential customers around the world. The removal of these events gives us a real challenge as to how we can do that between announcement and shipping date.”
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Robbie Cooke, head of marketing and PR at Rebellion, paints a picture of what has been lost from E3 alone: “Every year we fill our press room with hundreds of press and influencers from all over the world, which we would otherwise rarely get access to. In years gone by we’ve had Sniper Elite 4, Zombie Army 4, Evil Genius 2 and more hosted live on the stages of Twitch, IGN, Gamespot, YouTube Gaming and more. “This is crucial for an independent like us without the option of going it alone like EA and Xbox have. We also know that pound-for-pound, coverage at E3 is better value than almost all forms of advertising we do in terms of reach, so while it’s a big investment, it can be worth it.” OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS Of course a challenge can also be an opportunity as Sarah Hoeksma, marketing director at Sold Out, points out: “Whilst no one would have predicted the changes that have been forced upon us it is never a bad thing to have
May and June. Then we re-revealed Evil Genius 2 at the PC Gaming Show during E3 and it outperformed even the Sniper Elite announcement. We were delighted of course, but there was a trade-off: All those important eyeballs were on the conference livestream and not our own channels. So there’s a definite balance to be had depending on your objectives!” Of course, the importance of events does vary depending on the title, launching a sequel is very different to launching a new franchise altogether in these scenarios. “I’ve lost count of the number of times over the years I’ve heard colleagues, be they developers, publishers or platform partners saying “we just need to get this game in people’s hands for them to get it and drive sales’,” says Curve’s Payne. “The results are based on not only play sessions but also data capture, which allows follow up communication to drive customers into our digital stores.”
“It is never a bad thing to have to consider new ideas and approaches.”
to consider new ideas and approaches. It might level the playing field for publishers & devs as these events can have major costs attached,” with even major being an understatement when it comes to the likes of E3. And Steve Filby from Motion Twin, creator of Dead Cells, concurs: “For studios like us it would be an opportunity, if we had something in the pipeline, as the media hogs will all be running around waiting for the sky to fall and we can get some influencer time for a lot cheaper!” Rebellion’s Cooke too ponders the benefits of an E3less June in particular: “Media spend may get cheaper as announcements become more spread out. Depending on the project there might be a chance to own an entire news day, or week, by revealing a game away from the hubbub of E3. We know from previous experience that revealing a game around E3 has both advantages and drawbacks.” Cooke gives a recent example: “Last year we announced the future of the Sniper Elite series in Spring and were happy with the traction we got away from the noise of
ONE DAY EVENTING With the events off and everyone stuck at home, increased influencer spending looks to be the first port of call in this particular storm. But that doesn’t just have to mean spending more and more broadly. “Influencers are already a significant area of focus for us as they are for everyone, but thinking how we can use influencers and other media outlets to distribute digital keys for our games to our fans is being looked at,” says Curve’s Payne. “I think we have to be open-minded in how we move forward, and we look to our platform partners also to see what alternatives are available within their ecosystems. Open betas, demos and other ways of getting access to our games are being considered,” Payne continued. Sold Out’s Hoeksma is thinking on similar lines: “We will look at ramping up how we work with influencers & PR outside of events; considering how we use demos
Above: Sarah Hoeksma, Sold Out
Above: Robbie Cooke from Rebellion
Opposite: The Los Angeles Convention Centre, home of E3. (image credit: LACC)
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Above: Steve Filby, Motion Twin
Above: Ben Payne, Curve Digital
and betas and what we need to do in terms of increased advertising to strengthen awareness.” While Rebellion’s Cooke doesn’t think the lack of events will encourage fresh thinking: “I don’t think there will be any revolutionary new finds, but yes, that money can be invested elsewhere, whether in advertising, live digital events, greater outreach to content creators, greater investment in headline-driving PR assets, new staff and expertise… there’s a lot of potential to find some new wins, and learn some new lessons, actually.” PAXING IT UP The news cycle on coronavirus has moved so quickly, that even the cancellation of E3, something almost unthinkable in any normal year, was quickly relegated to yesterday’s news – though obviously it will be more keenly felt when June eventually rolls around. “I think we can all readily admit the ‘gravity’ of E3 is a bit self-perpetuating – it’s all we’ve known for so long!” Says Cooke. “We enjoy it as gamers, we enjoy it as a place to meet industry friends and we love showing off new games to the community. For me it’s one of the most enjoyable parts of the job… though I will actually have my birthday with my family in the UK for once and not at the LACC! “Being UK based, we’re going to need to re-think how we approach North America. It may make us think a little more creatively about how we give press, creators and players access to our games, or how we build communities without events or big third party support.” Others are not so concerned by the fall of E3, but are eyeing other events with a worried eye. “E3 was not really even something I was even bothered with as an indie until we started heading out for deal-making on the business side,” says Filby. “So it’s not really been a big deal for us. If they cancelled PAX, particularly PAX West, that would be of more concern to us, as we use those shows for community outreach.” And it’s not just Motion Twin that feels PAX is the bigger problem: “We have been leaning into PAX
more as a strong event for indie games and just had a really successful PAX East,” says Hoeksma. “E3 and Gamescom are great events to announce games at, so we will be looking at alternative ideas. That said we are well aware that the development of games can be
“I think we can all readily admit the ‘gravity’ of E3 is a bit self-perpetuating – it’s all we’ve known for so long!”
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unpredictable and schedules change so we are used to contingency planning.” SYMPATHY SYMPOSIUM Of course the closure of so many events may not just affect those who utilised them. “While everyone in our industry is affected by this, I just want to comment on the event agencies that support the games industry around the world. They are uniquely affected by this development and I hope that they are supported during this time in whatever way is possible and that the long term impact is minimised,” says Payne. And Cooke concurs with thinking of the wider picture: “Really my heart goes out to the people
delivering E3 and other events. The devs making demos, the events agencies, PR teams, freelancers, and everyone else.” Adding that in E3’s case, “the good news at least is that three months’ notice gives some of us a little room to think.” While Hoeksma has found one silver lining: “I’ll miss catching up with everyone at these events but there is a little Greta inside of me that is happy not so many planes are taking off right now!” It’s just one way in which the world may not return entirely to ‘normal’ after the trail of devastation left by COVID-19 recedes. And in some ways that may not be a bad thing, both for us as an industry and for us as a species.
Above: A typical scene from PAX West, with the kind of crowds that we won’t be taking for granted for a while to come.
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KO_OPERATIVE MODE Chris Wallace talks to Saleem Dabbous of KO_OP about the benefits of worker co-operatives in the games industry: democratic leadership, equitable pay and great employee retention
t seems impossible lately to avoid headlines of industry workers speaking out, often anonymously, on damaging workplace practices – ranging from excessive crunch to mass layoffs. While there are plenty of factors that contribute to these situations, it’s hard not to wonder about the role workplace power dynamics can play. Workers in conventional game studios often have no say in the direction the company moves in, and can feel too intimidated (justifiably or otherwise) to speak back to management about abusive practices or mental health concerns. So what if employees had more power in the workplace? What if they had equal ownership of the company, able to help guide its future direction and profit from its success? We reached out to Saleem Dabbous, from the co-operative game studio KO_OP to find out. KO_OP is an artist-run and owned game studio, responsible for games such as Lara Croft GO: The Mirror of Spirits and the award-winning puzzle title GNOG. The studio’s employees have a partial ownership of the studio and earn the same wage as one another. It’s a rare structure to see in the games industry – and one that came about almost accidentally, as Dabbous explains. “When we first started the studio, I didn’t actually know about co-ops as a model. From the start, our studio was really inspired by indie record labels, umbrella groups that would find interesting artists and then support them. And their success was everyone else’s success. It would allow for the creation of interesting art that no one else would put their money behind.
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“And with that as our founding principle, there were soon people in the community in Montreal, where we’re based, who said: ‘The way you do things, sounds really similar to a co-op. Have you considered running your studio as a co-op?’ And I thought: ‘Well, I don’t know what that is, let me look into it.’ “So I did my research and was like: oh, shit, yeah! This is so obvious – why wouldn’t we be a co-op, this makes so much sense! “Everyone in games sacrifices so much, games are so hard to make, and it just makes sense that we should all be on the same page and on the same sort of level of ownership and hierarchy. It didn’t make sense, to me, for it to be anything else. “Just because I had the money, the luck and the privilege to start something like this doesn’t mean much to me. I was just lucky to be in that situation where I
could do this, and my co-workers were sacrificing in their own ways. We were all contributing so much to what the studio was that of course it should be a co-op. It honestly felt really natural.” Now operating as a fully worker owned co-op (although the studio is currently still transitioning to be recognised as a co-op under Quebec law), employees get an equal share of the business after six months of employment, with an equal vote on the future of the company. This approach certainly empowers KO_OP’s employees, but could this limit their future growth? Larger co-ops will often adopt a more representativebased democracy, with a chosen group making decisions for the company. Still, with more hands on the wheel, does it become more difficult to steer the company in the right direction?
Below: KO_OP’s offices in Montreal
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Above: Saleem Dabbous, KO_OP
“If the company were to build and expand, it would definitely be a challenge. But there are co-ops in other industries that are way, way bigger. And they’ve shown that [the concept] can continue to operate well. So I’m not too concerned about that. We have decided that we don’t want to grow too much as a company. So that feels comfortable to us. But I don’t think that it’s a model that is inherently incompatible with growth.” KO_OP pays each member of the team exactly the same wage – which is perhaps one of the reasons they’re looking to keep the team relatively small. Equal pay certainly sounds attractive to less experienced employees, but as team members level up their skills and experience, is there a risk of them moving for increased salaries at more conventional studios? KO_OP can certainly offer pay raises – but only to the entire team, not on an individual basis. “In our case, that’s a reality. But what people get out of being members and owners, I think makes up for that,” he responds. “And just to be clear,” Dabbous notes, “having equal pay is not intrinsic to the co-op model. It’s just a decision that we made, though often co-ops will be more transparent about pay.” He explains how maybe the highest paid employee could say only make X amount more than the lowest, for instance. “Our eighth birthday is in two months. And in that span, only one person has ever left the studio. And he left primarily saying, ‘I actually need to make a lot more money because my partner and I want to have a baby and I need that security and stability’.” To which Dabbous agreed that the studio wasn’t the place for them right now. “And that’s fine, it was very amicable and we’re a team of 12 people right now. I think one person in eight years is like a pretty clear sign that co-ops are very good at retention!” It’s certainly an impressive achievement, and a particularly important one for a studio looking to maintain a small and experienced team. Dabbous explains further: “I think that a lot of people came from precarious environments where they were under structures where they had bosses or co workers that were very problematic or toxic… And they didn’t have any authority or ability to push back. Or if they did, they got in trouble for it.
“We create a lot of avenues to interrogate our own hierarchies, because hierarchies always exist. They’re always there. They’re always present. But we try to do our best to constantly interrogate those to provide resources for people to kind of push past them. And also to be able to just voice their opinions, voice their needs and their demands, and make that actually happen in a way where they will be safe, and they know that they’re not just going to get fired for bringing up these issues. I really think it’s all about providing a safe environment where people are genuinely heard. It’s very simple but it’s very powerful at the same time.” Dabbous’ journey with KO_OP has changed him from not knowing what a co-operative was, to being an active advocate for the model. He first came to our attention in the run-up to GDC, planning an event titled: Co-ops for Surviving Capitalism. A pizza-fuelled meet and greet for co-operative workers, and those interested in the model.
“Our eighth birthday is in two months. And in that span, only one person has ever left the studio.” “The original motivation for the event was that GDC rejected my talk about running a co-op on a day-to-day basis!” Dabbous laughs. “I’d seen a lot of misinformation on Twitter of how co-ops are run and why they’re a bad model for creative work and things like that. And I was just like, none of this tracks with my actual experience of working in a co-op structure for years. “I wanted to provide a space where I could demystify a lot of the day-to-day elements, a lot of the discussions around hierarchies, for example. We are a flat hierarchy when it comes to business decisions, but we have creative hierarchies. There are project leads, who make final calls because we believe in letting people be experts in their disciplines, and leading in those areas.
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Dabbous was further frustrated when workercooperative studio Motion Twin announced that they were creating a new studio that wasn’t going to be a co-op, and discussed their frustrations with the co-op model. “A lot of the things that they were saying, I was like, what? None of this is intrinsic to being a co-op, what are you talking about? This just sounds like you didn’t really sensibly structure things, or didn’t have the experience to know how to run these things in this way. “None of the things that they brought up seem to be really sensible critiques of co-op structures. And then I saw a lot of people on Twitter constantly using that as an example of why the co-op structure is actually bad. And so I just wanted to kind of step in and like provide a counterpoint to a lot of those discussions. “I really wanted to just have a space where people could come with their questions and have them addressed by someone who has a lot of practical experience. And also a space to learn who’s interested in this model, who’s out there that wants to meet,
because there aren’t that many resources for co-ops in games, and it was very hard when we were getting started to know who to talk to. So I just wanted to provide a space that was available for folks, and to continue to advocate for alternative models in our hellish capitalist nightmare.” Of course, with GDC’s cancellation, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the event did not go ahead. But that hasn’t dampened Dabbous’ enthusiasm for spreading the word about the cooperative business model. “That’s something that we’ve been trying to figure out how to have the bandwidth to do just because as a small studio, we only have so much energy to do stuff. But we recently hired a community manager. And I’m really excited, she aligns really well with our political beliefs and she is extremely excited to start pushing for more events and advocation of our model. To be able to champion those things, to let us increase our bandwidth. So I think you’ll be seeing more from our studio along those lines.”
Above: GNOG is a tactile 3D puzzle game in which players explore whimsical monster heads and the secret worlds inside them
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Firesprite is bringing its acclaimed VR-exclusive to TVs and monitors for the first time. Chris Wallace talks to Graeme Ankers to find out why, and discuss the host of technical challenges that come with a shift to â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;pancake modeâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; 52 | MCV/DEVELOP April 2020
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as the augmented reality title The Playroom (as well as Playroom VR), and free to play Vita and mobile title, Run Sackboy Run! Still, it was a move that fitted with the philosophy the studio had taken towards these projects. “We’ve done a lot of what I call ‘strategic projects’ where we partner up with big platform holders,” says Graeme Ankers, managing director of Firesprite, “and it’s generally about looking at new technology or things that are coming in the future. That’s a lot of what we do as a studio.” With this in mind, Firesprite’s latest announcement seems to be a bit of a surprise. The Persistence will be coming in non-VR form to PC, PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch this summer – with existing owners of the PSVR version receiving it for free as an update. It’s an unexpected move from a studio known for experimenting with new technologies, but one that Ankers argues stays true to the studio’s core philosophies: “The key drive for Firesprite is to really push and deliver something special, and do something slightly different. Even in going from VR to non-VR for Persistence, we still feel that we’re experimenting in bringing innovation and something new to the genre.”
n a market filled with shorter, more casual experiences, The Persistence was something of a success story for the PSVR. Releasing in 2018, the survival horror VR title was one of the few to offer a hardcore, eight-to-ten hour experience exclusively for Sony’s headset. It was a success for developer Firesprite too. The Persistence was the Liverpool-based studio’s first IP, entirely self-published by the studio, and was warmly received by the press – clocking in at 78 on Metacritic, with critics regarding it as one of the best VR experiences available at the time. It’s a strong first showing for a studio that had previously worked on other studios’ properties, such
Above: Graeme Ankers of Firesprite
PANCAKE MODE It’s certainly new to see a VR game being adapted for a non-VR platform. If anything, we’re more used to seeing movement in the opposite direction – such as with Skyrim and No Man’s Sky moving to VR, for instance. Adapting The Persistence for flatscreen platforms (or “pancake mode,” as Firesprite calls it) brought a host of problems to development, both expected and unexpected – leading to a much more difficult process than had been initially anticipated. “We were doing a lot of testing side by side,” notes Ankers, “even when we were developing the game for PlayStation VR. And it just seemed to really work, in every component of the game. Once we’d delivered the PlayStation VR experience, and we got some really lovely critical and commercial success from that, we then thought ‘well, why don’t we explore this on different platforms?’ And as optimistic developers, as we always are, we thought this would be really easy. “Going from VR to non-VR, the whole design language of the game is very different. Even how you treat a user interface, or taking account for where the player is sat in the experience is very different. VR controls are very attached to look at systems that are played based on head tracking. So on PSVR we had something that was quite subtle, but we had a cursor that wrapped around the objects that you were looking at. So we’re changing that language completely moving to a flat
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Above: The Persistence’s sci-fi horror blends stealth with roguelike design elements
screen version of the game, so there’s challenges around that, because you’re redesigning that system.” Even simple things like the UI have to be changed drastically when adapting from VR. The Persistence’s upgrade system, for instance, is represented in a menu that takes advantage of the extra space allowed by VR, with the player being able to physically look around a large, sprawling menu. But once adapted for a flatscreen, suddenly this menu design became unmanageable, and had to be redesigned. It isn’t all aesthetic changes either. The shift in platform meant that gameplay adjustments had to be made as well. “We did a lot of work on the locomotion speeds on the Playstation VR version, adapting turning speeds to eliminate nausea and things like that. By default, the rotation speed in VR is incredibly quick. And that’s to bypass your own body’s response to turning – because if it’s slow enough for your body to recognise it, that’s where you get motion sickness. Because you recognise
it as a turn and therefore your body thinks it should be turning, and it’s not. So it starts to think ‘oh my god, I’m poisoned’. It’s a travel sickness thing.” We can vouch for that ourselves. The Persistence in VR offers players with stronger stomachs the option for slower turning speeds. We give it a go and need a lie down for about half an hour, before returning to appreciate the work the team put into protecting us weak-bellied folks. And these nausea-reducing efforts extended to the level design too. “If you look at the way that the game is designed it’s quite subtle, you’ll notice that a lot of things are on a level. For example, there’s not many stairs, for instance, that would give you a changing horizon in terms of pitch as you’re moving. “As well as that, and quite interestingly for survival horror, you have to redo everything in your field of view. You really want to pay good attention to that, especially if you keep breaking up the lines of sight as you’re going through the levels. We wanted to create a sense of how you can go from being the hunter to the hunted very quickly. And so you have to bring in that element of stealth and avoidance and looking for that next resource. “And because the levels are procedural, it’s actually quite difficult to have procedural with stealth in mind, because normally it’s quite handcrafted. So we worked out a good system where we could create a common set of heights in relation to the player and where they were positioned. So that if you’re in cover, you knew you were in cover, and that was accentuated in VR – and we needed another way of making that work in pancake mode.”
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GUSSYING UP THE HORROR Of course, the move to flatscreen isn’t just a series of challenges – there’s also plenty of opportunity to spruce up the game for this latest version. “In the flat-screen version, this is where those graphical effects come into play” says Ankers. “It sounds easy to say, ‘we just got some framerate back, and we banged a load of GFX at it and it looks great.’ But actually, how do we use that to build the atmosphere? How do we rebalance the lighting and create those pools of dark? It’s the same kind of language but delivered in a different way. “Because VR is so immersive, some of the feedback that we got is that people were actually put off by being too terrified to play it. We’d never really thought of it that way before, but that is genuinely valid feedback from some players and, I think the opportunity that we had with the flat-screen version wasn’t so much to dial it down but to look for new ways to bring that in. “So we could play a lot more with the foreshadowing, because we know roughly where the player’s looking. That plays into shadows, it plays into the reflective surfaces, that sense of tension. And then of course, audio, which plays both ways to VR and non VR, but, you know, giving you that creeping tension. A panel going and making you jump, or a creaking noise. “So we were working on accentuating in those areas, and I think the 4K modes, and it working at 1080p on Switch really enhances so much of that that core game loop, that atmosphere, that tension – and we didn’t want to lose that at all” It’s obvious from the work that has gone into this latest version that The Persistence is hugely important to Firesprite. The business angle of re-releasing the game on multiple platforms is an obvious one – but talking to Ankers, it feels like more than that. The studio obviously has a lot of affection for their first IP, and this re-release feels as much of a passion project as it does a sensible business decision. “It’s huge for us,” says Ankers. “The Persistence was our first own IP – we’re working on a lot of strategic stuff, but this is something that we can do that’s completely ours. It’s something that we’ve taken from the very kernel of the idea through to delivery. “It’s about showing what Firesprite can do. We are very ambitious – I’ve got a big vision for the studio and where I want us to go. And we are growing quite fast. I think the game embodies what we’re about – we had to take risks with it. We had to be very efficient in how we were developing it. It’s not like we can put masses of money on marketing budgets. We had to be clever
and focus on innovation of gameplay and getting that satisfying live/die/repeat loop to create something new. “That’s always what we try to do at Firesprite. We want to try and do something that’s different. So, it’s a huge passion for us. We’re proud of the game. We’ve delivered something that was ours, with all the resources we had available to make it and bring it to market all on our own. That was actually quite ambitious for our first IP, to go into that space from nowhere. “It is very much a passion project. It’s less about the commercial side, and more about: actually, can we show this to more people? A wider audience, that’s what it’s really about. That’s what’s driven us to do this.” It’s easy to be cynical and say that bringing the game to TVs demonstrates that VR as a platform hasn’t delivered, either for Firesprite or for the industry. Although according to the outlook of the studio, pushing technical boundaries will continue. “Hopefully you’ll see the same kind of message in everything that we make, that we’ll be always pushing to try and do something different – and we’ve got more of that coming soon.”
Above: The Persistence was Firesprite’s first homemade IP
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How EA’s brightest made the sun shine once again on Zynga’s farm
From a one-time valuation of over $10bn, Zynga had a long way to fall. But with ex-EA leadership and a successful M&A strategy it has come roaring back and is now preparing to launch new Harry Potter and Star Wars titles – as well as coming full-circle with Farmville 3
hile Zynga has seen huge success in recent years with Words With Friends, the company remains synonymous with Farmville, the Facebook game with which it made its name. Like many incumbent businesses Zynga was slow to pivot to the new thing, in this case mobile games, and for many years was left behind by the likes of Rovio, Supercell and King.
Over the last few years, though, it’s performed an impressive turnaround. Buying up successful mobile game studios and taking them to greater heights under its wing. A strategy that had it claim it was one of the fastest growing games companies in the world, backed up by a whopping 61 per cent uplift in revenue for 2019. Behind that growth lies four ex-EA executives: Zynga CEO Frank Gibeau, who had 20 years at EA overseeing
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its top franchises, CFO Gerard Griffin, COO Matt Bromberg, and Bernard Kim, president of publishing, who spent a decade at EA, and takes the time to discuss Zynga’s M&A and IP strategy with MCV/DEVELOP. ACQUISITIVE NATURE “Zynga has been on a roll with regards to doing really smart acquisitions in the marketplace,” starts Kim. “And our vision around this is focused on companies that have very strong live service businesses.” He namechecks three acquisitions in particular: “Gram Games has Merge Dragons. They just launched Merge Magic at the end of last year, which has performed really well for them, a really strong, stable live service business that continues to grow. “Small Giant Games has Empires and Puzzles which has quickly become one of our top grossing games. This is a steady live service business that continues to deliver. “And then Peak Games has a portfolio of card games that just continues to steadily and consistently drive both fantastic features for players and revenue as well.” Zynga has undeniably made some smart investments then, and Kim explains how it went about selecting these particular companies. “We meet with a lot of companies,” he begins, but it’s in an increasingly fortunate position. “What’s exciting about Zynga and the improvement of our reputation in the marketplace is we actually receive a lot more inbound – companies that want to be part of Zynga.” Lucky them. But even with that advantage, Zynga has to bring something to the partnership in order to increase the value of these already successful companies beyond what they’re currently generating. “We have deep product management knowledge, we have data platforms, we have a strong publishing platform as an organisation. We sit down with the management teams of these companies, and we basically talk about the challenges and the opportunities that we have as companies, independently, trying to break out in the mobile games space, which is super competitive. “The performance of these companies has only become better after the acquisition, we use a term internally: stronger merged. There’s a great feeling where you can be part of a larger family, you’re sharing best practice, everyone’s going through similar types of challenges in the marketplace. And we can share as a team going into the marketplace versus doing it alone.” And speaking more specifically Kim tells us: “In a very low pressure way, we basically offer a dashboard of services. And so they might say, ‘Hey, we would love for your beta team to come in and look at our economy in a specific live service’. And we’ll fly in our data scientists
from San Francisco or from Austin. And they’ll sit down with management teams and go through a bunch of recommendations of things that could happen in the game. Or they might say ‘hey, we need help building a dashboard to help visualise some of the stats that are coming in every single day. Or maybe ‘you guys can help us with platform partnerships with Apple and Google’. We’re happy to help in all of those different ways.”
Above: Bernard Kim, president of publishing at Zynga
CULTURAL RESPECT Some care must be taken, though, to not snuff out the culture of the studio, which is what generated the initial success that attracted Zynga’s attention. “Absolutely,” Kim agrees. “Here’s an example, we bought Small Giant Games and virtually nothing has changed at the company when it comes to culture and structure, they even publish games under their own moniker, which was something that we wanted to protect. That’s why we’ve spent, ‘X’ dollars [reportedly $560m in this case] buying these companies, we’re buying the expertise and the culture, that’s not something we want to mess with. “The same goes for Gram Games, they’re still publishing under their own brand. They have a very different development structure than the rest of Zynga and we want to continue to nurture that and help them thrive and in some cases, we stay very far away from the culture that those companies have developed over time.” And such acquisitions are set to continue, Kim tells us: “With regards to Zynga’s core business, our financial fundamentals are very strong and we are sitting on a lot of cash. Our goal is to continue to put that cash to good use.”
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Above: Zynga’s Harry Potter-themed match 3 game looks like the closest thing to a surebet you can get.
Of course, M&A is only one pillar of Zynga’s continued growth, with the expanded company now set to launch a range of big titles, including some of the biggest IPs around. WIZARD WARS With EA executives in key roles at the company, it comes as little surprise that Zynga is working on both Harry Potter and Star Wars titles, with the EA veterans being familiar with both franchises, of course. And while EA may have once had exclusive rights to their console iterations, mobile has always been a more competitive space when it comes to licensing. “I spent 10 years in Electronic Arts and worked on a lot of the licences, and a lot of those licences were not exclusive. We launched Star Wars Galaxy of Heroes, and it was up against maybe ten other mobile games in the marketplace.” Zynga’s upcoming Star Wars title, which is yet to be named, has been in development since late 2018 by NaturalMotion studio BossAlien in the UK. When it does appear, it will certainly have plenty of other Star Wars games for company. “We have absolutely no problem going into a marketplace and working with a little competition, for our management team competition is what drives us on a daily perspective. We don’t fear competition, we
actually get pretty excited about it and step up to those challenges,” states Kim confidently, and on Zynga’s approach he adds: “It’s defined around great products and then great marketing and publishing.” The new game has been described as a mid-core title, something a bit more involved than the casual games that Zynga is well known for: “The studio team has experience launching mid-core experiences. And we’re really excited about the gameplay and melding that together with an intellectual property that we also believe is going to stand the test of time.” Before we see that title, another big IP is already in soft launch, Harry Potter: Puzzles and Spells. A match 3 game that is squarely back in the casual market. “So when it comes to demographic, we’re literally going after everyone,” says Kim, and early footage of the game from its technical soft launch in the Philippines backs that up, with players matching shapes and casting spells within seconds of the game launching.
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Kim is keen to distance it from other Harry Potter titles currently on the market: “This isn’t going to be an experience where it’s required that you spend three hours playing the game, or you have to run down to a park or anything like that. “We’re really excited about what players can do in a match 3 experience and our goal is to make the game approachable, easy to get in, easy to get out of. And so if you want to spend 30 seconds playing the game, you can, if you want to spend three hours playing the game you can. And of course, it’s free to play so everyone can jump in. “We’re pretty selective when it comes to which IP we bring into Zynga. We believe that the Harry Potter franchise and the iconic characters and stories are going to be around for a very, very long time.” He also notes Zynga’s previous partnerships with Warner Bros and Portkey Games (which oversees Harry Potter titles): “We’ve also worked closely with Warner Bros on Willy Wonka and Wizard of Oz.” Working with highly-prized IPs does come with its own set of challenges when compared to home-brewed titles, though, as you can’t publicly iterate and test in the same manner. “When it comes to large IPs we [still] actually create a tonne of prototypes and playables, we move really fast. But we don’t test them in the open marketplace. We test them with our own employees. We have a very vibrant and passionate group of gamers. And so we actually test them internally on our own platform. And that’s how we go about understanding what would work in the open marketplace. We do then test them often and early in the marketplace until we feel very comfortable with where gameplay is.” HOME GROWN Beyond the likes of Star Wars and Harry Potter, Znyga actually has its own big IP, the one that made the company: Farmville. “When you think of Zynga, you think of Farmville as a franchise,” agrees Kim. “And we’re really excited about this new version built just for mobile: Farmville 3. We really believe that we brought the best parts of the original Farmville, but it’s been reinvented with more mobile and social mechanics that I think are going to delight players.” As well as that of course, it has a big name recognition advantage, and no IP-sharing competitors to deal with, which hopefully should lead to more organic player
growth, thereby saving on some of the costs that come from user acquisition. “When it comes to Farmville, there’s very few franchises in the world that have experienced a billion downloads or play sessions, it’s pretty incredible and people have a great memory of playing Farmville in the past.” And that memory should help the game grow right to the top of the charts, or at least it would have done until recently. BEYOND CASUAL The app charts are now dominated by the growth in hyper-casual titles. So we ask Kim if Zynga is interested in the space, either as a means in itself, or as a way to onboard a different audience to its core titles? “Yeah, it’s something that we are keeping a very close eye on. Every single morning, the thing that I look at is the top free charts and the top grossing charts. And, as you know, the top free charts are highly populated with hyper-casual titles. “These are great experiences where people can jump in, jump out, there’s no first-time user experience, you either understand the gameplay or you don’t, and you can trial a lot of different game play. “It’s a genre that we think is not going away. And we actually have some titles in soft launch, as well as some titles that are going to be going out globally, that are right in this space. And we’re also developing internally and externally, so it’s a genre that we’re closely monitoring and we feel positive about, Other areas for growth he notes are emerging markets, 5G and streaming: “I think that traditional markets continue to steadily grow. But we see emerging markets for Zynga. And of course, when I say emerging markets, it’s a market emerging for Zynga, so Asia for Zynga could be a big opportunity for us. “We also see potential new platform growth with the arrival of 5G and streaming as big opportunities for the business.When it comes to positioning Zynga, like you mentioned, we are a mobile-first company, the majority of all of our revenue and engagement takes place on mobile platforms. We continue to see that platform grow both in adoption and organic growth. But we really believe we’re well positioned for emerging platforms as well, especially as the technology continues to increase and mobile devices become more advanced. And then streaming is going to just drive even more opportunities for higher performance games. So we’re really excited about that.”
Above: Zynga is perhaps still best known for its hugely successful Farmville franchise
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When We Made... Outer Wilds
actually look at you. And even with that little bit of Chris Wallace takes a look behind work, with the help of the animation and really smart the scenes of Outer Wilds, the BAFTAdesigners and engineers, with everybody working winning title fromyouMobius Digital, together, could tell from the verythat beginning that began life as Masters’ project sheawas a character thesis that people would really gravitate
Above: Alex Beachum, Mobius Digital
toward.” Quill really becomes a fully fleshed out character with the help of the game’s strong world-building. As an interloper in Quill’s world, the player experiences it not through her eyes, but as an observer watching as she lives hertemptation life in her familiar It’s a Digital strangely THE to say setting. that Mobius hasintimate had an feeling, which gives way towith jointthe apprehension ‘out ofand thisone world’ success story Outer Wilds aswould both the and Quill new, unfamiliar areas.(and be player as accurate as itenter is deeply, deeply clichéd “When youapologise go throughforMousetown and you Quill no, I won’t it). For a project thatsee started rununder through there and you see that she has a hometown, such inauspicious beginnings, it has reached theastronomical feeling of herheights leaving(still it, ofnot thatsorry) town–maybe being with in going home danger, givesJoystick you more a bond,” Alderson “If a Golden lastofyear, and picking upsays. numerous that partawards was leftthis out,year, you including wouldn’t feel like there was other three BAFTAs just as much to fight Everything that we’ve done, the mood we went to for. press. settings, taking Quillwith from one area to thecreative next and letting We sat down Mobius Digital’s lead Alex you rest and and taketech in this environment… It’s allwho supposed Beachum artist Logan Ver Hoef, were to predictably exaggerate over and accentuate that mood thatsorry) you’rewith the the moon (okay, now I’m feeling. It all ties back into feedback the game hashow seenyou so are far –connecting particularlywith since Quill and her it began lifeworld.” as Beachum’s Master’s thesis during his time at The University of Southern California’s School of SAME QUESTION EIGHT WAYS Cinematic Arts’s Interactive Media & Games Division. Collaboration key during of Moss Beachumwas explains: “The the yeardevelopment before I started my , notthesis just within theateam itself, but with athe help of external we had couple of classes, world-building playtesters. brought in tothe feedback class and People a thesiswere prepoften class. Between two of on those, I worked on a couple of one-off prototypes, one where you toss out a probe with a camera on it, and another where I had to do something with the uncertainty principle, which led to a prototype where if you looked away from an object, it would teleport elsewhere – what became the teleporting quantum rocks from the final game. “Probably the most important one was when one of my classmates said that I should make an emotional
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 thatyou you’d fix?’a prototype. So I decided to make one where roast “Those helpover bringa acampfire, playtester intothen theireventually comfort zone, marshmallow and the because no one wants to play something that people put sun explodes.” a lot caretoand and around and say It’sof easy seelove howinto each of then theseturn prototypes would ‘Thismerge is whattogether I didn’t like about it’. So it takes a little while later to form Outer Wilds, a space to get the playtester comfortable, we found that exploration game with a very literaland gameplay loop – finding22different ways ask the same question means every minutes, the to sun explodes and you start right you eventually get the really good stuff after theby fourth or back at the beginning, roasting marshmallows the fire. fifth time youBeachum ask it. The team put together then “duct taped” “I don’t think anyone in our hasit.ever these prototypes together, asstudio he puts Andmade by thea end game like this, development, so I think it’s important you trust the of a year-long much of that the Outer Wilds process. Youtogether, trust playtesting and you make sure that you was already right? Well… allow yourselfdone,” some Beachum time and freedom try something “It wasn’t says. “Ittowas this rough, and then keep going. Trygame something and abranch pre-alpha version of the wherenew there’s time out, but also yourplanets experience from games loop anduse all the physically existed,that butyou’ve with little made before you’llthat be fine. Asconsider long as you’re having in the way of and anything you’d level design. fun too!just Weaenjoyed playing Mostly bunch of MayaMoss spheres with extruded throughout the entire things coming out of them.” process and I think that really helps.” “It was very charming,” Ver Hoef adds. “It looked like an N64 game.” For the next few years, the game became something of a hobby project, a handful of people working in their free time while Beachum worked at Microsoft. Even when Beachum moved back to LA to join Mobius Digital, it wasn’t until the Outer Wilds won in the Seumas McNally Grand Prize and Excellence in Design categories at 2015’s IGF awards that the team at Mobius decided to take on the project.
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Left: The game as it looked in its Alpha stage, before the Fig campaign Mobius then had the unusual benefit of picking up an existing project, with the design pillars already decided and in place in the early version of the game. THE PILLARS OF CREATION “We had three major pillars from the student thesis,” Beachum recalls. “One was curiosity driven exploration. We wanted to make sure that players are exploring because they’re curious about the world, and not for any other reason. That informed the narrative structure of the entire game – you’re finding clues that teach you about things to go investigate, but we don’t put a giant waypoint on your map. “Pillar two was that the world would change over time, in a way that you can’t control. We didn’t want to make a player-centric game. Nature will go on with or without you and there’s nothing you can do about it. “Finally, the third pillar was really putting the feeling of the space at the core, a camping in space aesthetic where you still felt vulnerable. We kept these pillars to this day, which sometimes made development more difficult. When we started it at Mobius we actually kind of lost our way a little bit initially, just because it’s a huge transition, and when its been a while you forget the point of the thing you’re making” Still, following a successful crowdfunding campaign on Fig in 2015, development was full speed ahead – with a plan for a shorter development cycle.
“The original plan was to ship halfway through 2016,” says Ver Hoef. “I joined just after the Fig campaign, and the plan was that in nine months from that point the game would be shippable.” Once publisher Annapurna Interactive got involved in the project, however, plans changed drastically. Following a lengthy negotiation process, Mobius suddenly found themselves developing a much more polished version of the game than had been initially planned. “Annapurna games definitely have a standard,” says Beachum. “They just don’t put out games that don’t look and feel fantastic. It was definitely way beyond what any of us expected to be bringing Outer Wilds to. So that added about three years. There was a period of time where we’re just figuring out like, Okay, what does the double-A version of this game look like? It took years to figure out exactly what that was.” “Even though we were dramatically uprezzing what we were shooting for,” adds Ver Hoef, “our team was still just a dozen people. So the big question was: how do we make something that’s gonna hit the bar that Annapurna is looking for with only four 3D artists?” Despite the new visual high bar to hit, Mobius managed to press on with the project without ever cutting back on the game’s initial scope: Though as Beachum recalls, they didn’t have much freedom to do so anyway.
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Above: (Top) The first fully-mapped layout of the game’s solar system. (Below) The observatory as seen in the final game.
“Early on, we kept being asked ‘ hey, can you guys just… not do this planet?’ And just no, no, no. It’s this whole tangle – here’s the narrative map, it’s like this. We were sort of locked in.” LASER FOCUS In fact the small areas that did hit the cutting room floor did so in order to prevent players from becoming distracted from the central mystery of the game’s world, instead of limiting the overall scope. “So there are two escape pods, there’s one that lands on Ember Twin and another on Brittle Hollow” says Beachum. We had this whole idea that the two groups of survivors would have needed a way to communicate with each other. So we had them build
these little lighthouses on the poles of each planet, and they would send morse code signals to each other across the solar system. We had working versions of these, and you could throw a switch to turn them on, and beams of light would shoot out and there was text that you could read of them communicating. “We ended up cutting these because players thought there was a puzzle there when there wasn’t. You’re shooting a beam of light at another planet, surely this does something! And no, it’s just a story thing, it’s a piece of world building. As cool as those conversations were, it had nothing to do with any of the major curiosities the player was supposed to be investigating. “We realised that we needed to cut things that weren’t directly related to information players should care about. One of the big reasons why we’re very thankful we ended up having all of the extra time that we did, is if we had put out a version of the game after a year and-a-half, it would have been this weird niche game that only really hardcore players would know. People would be reading all this text and be like, ‘I don’t get this’. We built a lot of stuff before we realised that what we had done made no sense to most people, and so we pared a lot of stuff back.” While personally we resent not being able to explore giant laser lighthouses, it was probably a wise call, with the final game feeling like a perfectly tailored mystery waiting to be unravelled piece by piece. Still, with the game having gone through three distinct stages during its lifetime – from the initial Alpha, to the Mobius version developed for the Fig campaign, to the final Annapurna release – Outer Wilds has a few inherited issues from those early student days, as Beachum explains. “The one everyone talks about as being the puzzle that doesn’t work is the Ash Twin project. With the quantum stuff, you go to a quantum rock and you learn a rule, and it’s really clear. This was more complicated. We tried to put anything related to the Ash Twin project nearby to one of the warp receivers, but players don’t pick up on that. If you go to all the warp receivers, you’ll learn everything you need” “Ha, I didn’t even know that!” interjects Ver Hoef, surprised. “And there’s a whole lot of reasons for that,” Beachum continues, “but what it all boils down to is that the solution to that particular mystery is something we came up with back while it was still a student project. When we finally realised people were having trouble with it, we pulled it apart. We’re like, ‘oh, no, at the core of this, this doesn’t actually make 100% sense!’ It sort of makes sense, but we literally can’t fix it. All we could do is try to improve the clues for it and try to help people understand the logic that went into it, but realistically, we should have done something else.”
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IT’S A WILD WORLD This wasn’t the only problem the Outer Wilds had, however. The game fell foul of a truly unfortunate coincidence – releasing around the same time as another space-faring title, Obsidian’s painfully similarly named, The Outer Worlds. “It was pretty upsetting.” notes Ver Hoef. “I remember it was the VGAs, we had a trailer announcing that we were coming to Xbox. And then there was another trailer announcing the The Outer Worlds. And I was just despondent for a few days. “But in the end, it’s only been good for us. Because they’re so much larger, it means people will see an article about Outer Wilds and be like, ‘oh, that’s the new Obsidian game’ and click on it. And we get people learning about our game that wouldn’t have learned about it otherwise. So at the end of the day, it was probably a-ok.” And of course the game’s big impact salves any such wounds. As we’ve said, it has seen such an incredible level of success that I’ve run out of space puns. It might have been a long road to get here, but the team is delighted with where they’ve ended up. “I mean, literally the day before release, I was just thinking ‘oh, god, I hope people don’t hate it’” says Ver Hoef. “Because our opinion was always that this is going to be a very niche thing. Just because the game is self-directing [with no waypoints or missions], there’s gonna be a solid player group for whom this is exactly
what they wanted – but we didn’t think it would have tremendously broad appeal. When the review embargo lifted, we started getting reviews – and people don’t hate our game! and that was just…” “You expected people to hate it?!” interrupts Beachum. “Well, yeah…” replies Ver Hoef. “I’m a pessimist. But from there, it’s just been so entirely out of scale with my expectations. I mean, we’re up for a number of BAFTAs! Yeah okay, sure! It’s bewildering and I don’t know if I’ll ever work on a project like this again. “As someone who’s made something, you only look at it and see the problems and things you want to fix. But I think what’s really thrilling is seeing our communities playing through it, and how much they love to make things based on it, and how much care they put into not spoiling it for anybody. Everyone in that community is just like, ‘okay, we’re gonna ask you a lot of questions to understand exactly what tidbit of information to give you, in order to give you the exact experience that we had.’” “Our player base is super lovely” agrees Beachum. “It’s incredible. It’s like, ‘oh, my god, everyone’s being so nice – and it’s the internet!’ It’s really cool anytime you hear a story, where it’s like, ‘oh, my kid played this, and now they want to be an astronaut.’ It’s just like, I don’t know how you respond to that! It’s really, really, really cool.” “It’s somehow made those nine months that stretched into four years feel like it was worth it for me” says Ver Hoef. “Which I think for any project, that’s a reasonable amount to ask.”
Above: The game as it appeared after the Fig campaign
Above: Logan Ver Hoef, Mobius Digital
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The Sounds of... Inon Zur
Every month, we discuss the unique process of making music for video games. This month, Chris Wallace dives into the musical universe of Emmy award-winner and 3-times BAFTA nominated composer Inon Zur, who’s behind games such as the Fallout series and The Elder Scrolls: Blades
How early in a game’s development process do you usually start working on the score? In many cases I start to work on the scores during the very early stages of the game’s development. For example, on Fallout 4 I started working on the game’s score in 2012. Usually I’m working on games 3-4 years prior to their release. I believe this is a really smart way to create and develop the music as the game is being developed, so the game’s creators, writers, artists and I are being fed and inspired by each other throughout the process.
What type of material do you request from a studio before starting to write the score? Everything! Everything they can give me. I always want to immerse myself as much as possible in the game, the story, how it looks aesthetically and how it sounds as far as sound effects. But more important than anything else, what are the emotions we want to create throughout the game? I always start with the 3 Ws: What, Where and When. What kind of game is it? Where does this game take place? When does the game take place in terms of time period or era? In this way I can understand the story behind the game and start thinking in terms of creative tools and how to create a score that will be the most supportive and engaging for the player throughout the whole game and story. Do you work closely with the sound designer(s) of the game, to ensure there’s cohesion between the score and the sound effects? Yes, I believe that a close collaboration between the composer and sound designers is a must. It is essential to the whole soundscape of the game. Together we can decide where the music will take over and where it stays in the background for the most impactful and meaningful experience. Sometimes there are even more specific collaborations. For example, if I’m writing music for an area in the game where there’s, say, an engine noise running, I will tune the music to the tone of the engine’s sound. If machines are emitting sounds around the note of ‘E’ then I will write a score based on the note of ‘E’,
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there are multiple players interacting and needing to communicate with each other. Then we sometimes consider playing the music in a different way to accommodate the communication between players. How has the role of the composer evolved in games over the past years in your experience? I believe that over the years the importance of music for games has grown tremendously. Twenty years ago I think that people did not pay attention so much to music for games. It was perceived as a part of the sound elements in the game but since games have become so story-driven and cinematic the influence of the movie and TV world has led game creators to understand that music is a major contributor to the gaming experience. This is why we see a lot of resources for today’s music in games and as a consequence of the industry’s continued growth we also now see many concerts of game music and a lot of successful game soundtrack albums released, which you couldn’t really imagine in previous decades.
so there is cohesion between the score and sound effects. On other occasions, if there is a scene with a lot of action and shooting, we know that music with lots of heavy drums or fast percussion could be mixed up with the shots, so I will write a smaller and more continuous legato melody that will work around and not compete with the gunfire. So these kinds of collaborations are really essential for creating a cohesive and satisfying soundtrack for the game. What are the typical challenges of writing for games as opposed to more linear narrative forms? More than anything else you have to capture an atmosphere that is not going to change at every turn with the picture but rather plays from the point of view of the player and follows their emotional journey. So you can write a pure musical piece that follows the player’s experience, supporting their story, and creating an emotional musicscape that will be with them no matter what happens to them. This is the biggest difference to film and TV where you are locked to the picture and you have to write for all the sudden changes. Does your approach differ when writing for multiplayer vs a single player game? In essence no, because regardless of the story, the game’s technology and style of the game, music will always try to capture the emotions behind the scenes that the game is portraying. Having said that, a composer needs to take into consideration where
Above: Zur’s work can be found in a number of games in the Fallout series
How free are you to experiment when you take on a mandate from a studio? At this stage of my career I’ve been given quite a lot of freedom in many cases. I would say that this freedom of creativity is being given in order to explore different possibilities. The musical style for a game is not something that is just decided from the get-go. Sometimes it takes months even to create and find the right style for a game. I remember working on one game where it took us 4-5 months during which time we went through many different styles, electronic, orchestral, musical sound design, before we found what worked and really helped the game. Sometimes it really takes time to develop the right music for the project and we need to explore, to experience the music in-game and take the time to do it in order to create something that is completely unique signature-wise for the game. Do you feel like game soundtracks get the same recognition as film scores? I think that films overall still have a wider mainstream appeal than games. Most people around the world are familiar with films and a lot of people do play games but movies are still more accessible to people and it’s generally a more recognized art form compared to games. However, those who play games definitely hold music for games in the highest regard. Also, from a musical point of view, we can see a very strong growth of acknowledgment and support for music for games all over the world, with concerts, radio, soundtracks, and I think this trend will just keep on growing over the years.
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You’ve worked with an incredibly diverse range of titles and creators, but what are the constants in our varied industry? I started to work in the industry in 2001 and have been lucky to work with amazing creators and professionals over this time, and made some small contributions to the success of games like Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Battlefield, Spore, EVE Online, The Sims and now ustwo games. I think two important common threads are the joy and sense of adventure that comes from working with people who love what they do, and the passion that I always get from our players. I love going to conventions and player gatherings and speaking to our players, wherever that is. I distinctly remember the many Gamescoms I have worked at, after long hours of preparation, typically after a panicked final 24 hours getting the latest build of the game. When all is ready, all the staff with their brand new t-shirts on and we are waiting for the doors to open. All is quiet, and then you start hearing tens of thousands of feet rushing through the halls to be the first to play your game. It’s one of the best feelings in the world. I love player feedback, and I get a rush of excitement from looking at the reviews on the App store. I sometimes get a bit tearyeyed reading them. With respect to your current role, what is your dream job? This is my dream job, without a doubt. I love helping game creators bring their vision to reality, helping them be successful, helping them grow as professionals and as people, and creating the conditions, teams and resources so that beautiful games get made. I honestly hope I get to be involved in making games until I am a little old lady.
Maria Sayans CEO, Ustwo Games “This is my dream job, without a doubt. I honestly hope I get to be involved in making games until I am a little old lady.”
What were the worst moments of your career? Some of the worst moments have to do with having to let people go as a result of the ‘boom and bust’ approach to hiring and team building that has been too common in the industry. Teams ramping up, teams ramping down, studio closures. I hated all of that, and it has resulted in me being very cautious when hiring. These days at ustwo we are very mindful to maintain a team size that is sustainable and project teams that are not too big. I have also failed spectacularly but most of those moments, if it was just me making a fool of myself, I now think are funny. Like the time I thought we should invite journalists to an online tournament on the first Xbox to showcase the FIFA online functionality before launch. It was such a logistical disaster that after 4 hours of trying I think we did more damage than good to the idea that one day people would be playing FIFA matches against each other on their consoles. Do you feel the games industry is headed in the right direction? I am hugely excited about the future of the industry. There is so much more diversity in talent and in the player base than when I started, and so much variety in content. Our output as an industry keeps getting better and more interesting and rewarding every year. I cannot wait to see what truly native streaming experiences are, or the innovative content studios will be able to create under subscriptions, without the pressures of free-to-play or the weight of expectations of premium models. And I am very encouraged by the deep care that many studios (like us, at ustwo games) and publishers are showing for the impact that games have on society.
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