MCV/DEVELOP ISSUE 962
THE ART AND BUSINESS OF VIDEO GAMES
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REGIONAL SPOTLIGHT: SKÅNE AND MALMÖ Why southern Sweden has a world-rivalling development hub
WOMEN OF XBOX
WHEN WE MADE: FALL GUYS
The UK’s women in green have banded together to make a difference
The story behind 2020’s biggest and funniest hit game
MARTHA IS DEAD
WIRED IS ALIVE AND KICKING Wired Productions on its latest titles, the next gen and its big ambitions
THE DEVELOP 100 IS COMING BACK A CELEBRATION OF THE BEST STUDIOS ON THE PLANET – SEE PAGE FIVE FOR DETAILS 03 MCV 962 Editorial Inside Cover V5 FINAL.indd 1
05 The Editor
The Develop 100 is back
06 Critical Path
The key dates this month
One Special Day 2020
16 Wired Productions
Going all-in on next-gen
22 Ins and Outs
This month's hires and moves
23 Rising Star
Lucid Games' Nicola Disley
24 Levelling Up
Electric Square's Abbey Plumb
25 Iterate for Better
Hiring after Brexit
26 SkĂĽne Spotlight
Sweden's amazing industry hub
36 Write a better pitch
Stephen Hey dissects the game pitch
42 Stadia Makers Stadia and Unity's new initiative
48 Women in Games
The Awards shortlist 2020
50 Women of Xbox
The UK's women in green have a plan
54 Game Pass + Indies
How will the service affect the sector
58 The Game Awards
How the biggest night is going global
62 When We Made...
66 The Final Boss
Renaissance's Stefano Petrullo
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“Though I doubt anyone feels like a bigger success for it. Success is weird that way, most people only accept it on their own terms.”
TheEditor Measuring success without status anxiety Measuring success and failure is a minefield when you start to think about it. Musing about whether you’re as happy, rich, energetic or sexually-fulfilled as your friends, siblings, that bloke you went to university with ten years ago, is fraught with peril. And if these things do get you down, or simply intrigue you, then I highly recommend Alain de Botton’s book Status Anxiety. Even if you take something simpler, let’s say MCV/DEVELOP’s ongoing dependency relationship with Call of Duty’s Warzone, it’s still tricky to compare your wins and kill/ death ratio to others. Who’s on your team? What hardware do you have? Plus there’s the constant spectre of skill-based matchmaking (SBMM) – by which the game pits you against tougher opponents as you improve (these are my excuses at least...) SBMM doesn’t only exist in games either. We all subconsciously compare our successes to those currently around us. PlayStation, Nintendo and Xbox naturally look to each other to judge their success in terms of market share, rather than looking back at those they vanquished along the way to the top. However, as we all now know, the world can be turned upside down in a matter of months, the bar for success shifts radically and suddenly most of the industry is doing better than ever – with record financial results being posted all over – though I doubt anyone feels like a bigger success for it. Success is weird that way, most people only accept it on their own terms. But the reality is that the industry is a huge success and we’re all a part of that, whether you’re at the very core of making games, or in any one of a bazillion roles that help bring them to market and keep the ecosystem thriving in some small way – like me. All this thought about success and failure comes from a decision we made a couple of months ago to bring back the Develop 100. For those unfamiliar it’s a simple concept, a list of the top one hundred studios in the world, a list of the most successful creators of games, to inform everyone about where success can be found. And, sorry about this, a big dose of status anxiety for some to boot. Despite that downside, we still believe that it’s worth climbing up high and looking out across the whole industry for these examples of success. We’re hoping that we discover success in many unforeseen places, and that the list acts as a directory for excellence, a broadening of horizons. We hope it lets us see there are opportunities for success that we hadn’t even considered – so we can stop simply coveting our neighbour’s oxen. If you’re interested in getting involved in The Develop 100, we’re looking for partners who have data and analysis to offer, as well anyone who thinks that it might marry well with their goals for success in 2021. Get in contact with email@example.com for more details. Seth Barton firstname.lastname@example.org October 2020 MCV/DEVELOP | 05
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Here are the key upcoming events and releases to mark in your calendar...
Critical Path Cake Bash
Cake Bash, from High Tea Frog and Coatsink, is a four-player party game, where players take control of cakes to, and I’m quoting here so don’t blame me for this, “beat the crumbs out of each other.” The game is coming to PC, PS4, Xbox One and Stadia, with a Switch release planned later this year.
Crown Trick is a roguelike title from developer Team17 and published by NEXT Studios. The game, coming to PC and Switch, was a finalist in the Indie Prize (Asia) 2019 Awards. Crown Trick is set in a procedurally generated dungeon, and is centred around strategic, synchronous, turn-based gameplay.
Amnesia: Rebirth This prequel to the original title in the series, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, comes from Swedish studio Frictional Games. The game is set in the Algerian desert, and sees a woman called Tasi Trianon having to survive otherworldly monsters.
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Watch Dogs Legion
The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope
Honestly, under the current circumstances, the only way I’m going to be exploring central London again anytime soon is via Watch Dogs Legion. It’s lucky then that the game features a recreation of London, complete with both an appearance from Stomzy and hopefully the (long vacated) MCV/DEVELOP offices.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope is an interactive drama survival horror game from Supermassive Games and Bandai Namco. The game is the second of a planned eight installments of The Dark Pictures Anthology series, acting as a followup to last year’s Man of Medan.
Pikmin 3 Deluxe Listen, Pikmin is one of the best and most terrifying Nintendo franchises to date, and I’ll dig up the garden of anyone who says otherwise. Pikmin 3 is the latest title to be salvaged from the ruins of the Wii U to find new life on the Switch – leaving just Wind Waker HD left to make the jump (hint hint).
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We’re Playing... CONTENT Editor: Seth Barton email@example.com +44 (0)203 143 8785 Staff Writer: Chris Wallace firstname.lastname@example.org +44 (0)203 143 8786 Design and Production: Steve Williams email@example.com
ADVERTISING SALES Senior Business Development Manager: Alex Boucher firstname.lastname@example.org +44 (0)7778538431
MANAGEMENT Media Director: Colin Wilkinson email@example.com +44 (0)203 143 8777
SUBSCRIBER CUSTOMER SERVICE To subscribe, change your address, or check on your current account status, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org 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. INTERNATIONAL MCV and its content are available for licensing and syndication re-use. Contact Colin Wilkinson for opportunities and permissions: email@example.com
New meta game! How many backlog games can I play before my current boxes get wiped clean and packed off to CEX to cushion the cost of new boxes? The answer, absolutely none! As I’m still playing Warzone quads for the sake of the added human interaction. Oh, and for the bloody great war trucks too, they’re ace.
Following incessant Twitter nagging, I’ve finally caved and picked up Hades. After it dominated my feed for the past couple weeks I’d almost hoped I’d hate it, but I’m frustrated to announce that it is, in fact, brilliant. I’m not usually a rougelike fan, but Hades is genius in tricking me into thinking I’m good at video games. Bravo. Chris Wallace, Staff Writer
Chris may have abandoned the MCV Warzone team, with the latest 100GB update giving his steam-powered internet connection some problems, I’m still staying faithful to Verdansk – and not at all bitter that I wasn’t playing during Seth and Chris’ dramatic and heroic victory last month. Alex Boucher, Senior Business Development Manager
Seth Barton, Editor
Paws the game The best furry friends the industry has to offer. Send yours to firstname.lastname@example.org
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Biz Media Ltd, 44 Maiden Lane, London, WC2E 7LN All contents © 2020 Biz Media Ltd. or published under licence. All rights reserved. No part of this magazine may be used, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any way without the prior written permission of the publisher. All information contained in this publication is for information only and is, as far as we are aware, correct at the time of going to press. Biz Media Ltd. cannot accept any responsibility for errors or inaccuracies in such information. You are advised to contact manufacturers and retailers directly with regard to the price of products/services referred to in this publication. Apps and websites mentioned in this publication are not under our control. We are not responsible for their contents or any other changes or updates to them. This magazine is fully independent and not affiliated in any way with the companies mentioned herein. If you submit material to us, you warrant that you own the material and/or have the necessary rights/permissions to supply the material and you automatically grant Biz Media Ltd. and its licensees a licence to publish your submission in whole or in part in any/ all issues and/or editions of publications, in any format published worldwide and on associated websites, social media channels and associated products. Any material you submit is sent at your own risk and, although every care is taken, neither Biz Media Ltd. nor its employees, agents, subcontractors or licensees shall be liable for loss or damage. We assume all unsolicited material is for publication unless otherwise stated, and reserve the right to edit, amend, adapt all submissions.
Pet: Elsa Owner: Gemma Cooper Owner’s job: UK PR manager, Bandai Namco
Pet: Maisy & Noodle Owner: Neil Bancroft-Jones Owner’s job: Finance director designate at nDreams
Pet: Reginald Owner: Stijn Vervaet Owner’s job: Technical producer at Bossa Studios
This is Elsa, named after the main character in Frozen. She likes to bark at window cleaners, sit inside cardboard boxes and pretend she’s a cat in general.
Maisy and Noodle arrived while still in “lockdown” but are slowly being introduced to the outside world. Not sure they get social distancing though...
Reginald looks very distinguished, but is super clumsy and gets himself in trouble. If he’s not begging for food, he’s passed out or on the hunt for big bugs.
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MCV-OCT20-CCP:MCV 28/09/2020 11:31 Page 1
Real Life Events from the industry
One Special Day A
record 80 games industry partners large and small from around the world united on Friday 2 October for SpecialEffect’s fifth One Special Day fundraiser, donating game sales and running a wide range of other events including virtual staff challenges and livestreams. A range of game studios pledged to donate some or all of their game sales on the Friday to the charity, with games ranging from Rovio’s Angry Birds 2, to Hello Games’ No Man’s Sky and Boneloaf’s Gang Beasts. In addition, volunteers took part in One Special Challenge, raising money via physical exercise, such as runs, walking delays and cycling.
Money was also raised via a special One Special Day clothes line on Insert Coin, which included badges, face masks and hoodies. The event saw a series of livestreams, featuring speakers such as Rovio’s Elise Lemaire, Space Ape Games’ Deborah Mensah-Bonsu, Rare’s Craig Duncan and Double Fine’s Tim Schafer. The charity will use the funds to help physically disabled gamers across the world to play to the best of their abilities. There’s still time to donate at www.onespecialday.org.uk or for more information contact Nick Streeter at email@example.com
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Pictured: One Special Day was supported by numerous companies, such as EA Dice (community manager Adam Freeman, left), by livestream talks, socially-distanced runs and many other activities, as well as game sales.
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Microsoft x Bethesda ramifications for the game discovery ecosystem. Simon Carless, founder of GameDiscoverCo
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!
You’ve all seen Microsoft’s announcement that it’s buying ZeniMax Media for $7.5 billion. In cash. But as someone who thinks deeply about game discoverability – how people find and play your games – what are the ramifications? They’re both subtle and wide-reaching, in my view. This multi-billion dollar investment is going directly into the ‘content wars.’ Specifically into the game subscription wars, where Microsoft is intent on being ahead of Google, Amazon, Apple and others (and particularly Sony!). Should you need confirmation, the Microsoft PR notes an “intent to bring Bethesda’s future games into Xbox Game Pass the same day they launch on Xbox or PC.” This is a continuation of the play that has been increasingly obvious in recent months. Ultimately, the Game Pass subscription plan (software as a service) is the ‘center of the offering’ for Microsoft, not a piece of hardware. This is incredibly relevant for game discoverability, since it shifts the lens from an ‘evaluate and buy’ to a ‘subscribe and try’ mode. So all eyes should be on this as it continues to roll out. Although Bethesda’s games won’t be removed from other devices, it seems unlikely that the biggest upcoming titles will also launch on PlayStation, unless already contracted. Bloomberg’s Dina Bass confirmed as much with Phil Spencer – Microsoft will deliver Deathloop and Ghostwire: Tokyo as PlayStation timed exclusives as Bethesda agreed. After that, games will be on Xbox, PC, Game Pass and other consoles on a case by case basis. This doesn’t mean new games won’t make it to Steam or Switch, but mainly as teasers for the Game Pass ecosystem, in my view. Selling a game for $60 on Steam, when you know you can get a $10 a month subscription that gets you access to it and hundreds of other games? That’s upsell in the long term, folks. So let’s take a quick inventory on the subscription wars. Nintendo isn’t interested in fighting on that playing field, and possibly never will be. Same for Steam, besides hosting
subscription services like EA Play on its platform. And PlayStation would prefer not to, but can probably feel itself getting dragged inexorably into the fray. So maybe there’s all kinds of people out there, and maybe game subscriptions aren’t going to dominate in the future. And for Sony, I’ve got to believe that they’ve been internally quoting the movie War Games, where “the only winning move is not to play.” (I think ‘mutually assured destruction’ was involved too somewhere.) Yet with Sony’s future success hinging on PlayStation being a profit center, not paying billions for devs and publishers, it’s difficult for them to compete with Microsoft. So.. maybe it’s looking like the classic ‘monopolist as disruptor’ situation – at the expense of Company X. Here’s where the ‘wider-ranging’ discussion comes in. When large companies use lossleading tactics to get ahead in the subscription space, how is it going to distort the traditional premium game selling/discovery ecosystem? Could there be some surprising upsides in here for devs or publishers who can get on the subscription train at the right station? Or could there be downsides, as good relationships with platform holders who acquire your games for subscription services end up creating large, complex new gatekeepers to making money, if you don’t make a F2P game. Guess we’re going to find out. And the true ramification here is that Microsoft is making multi-billion dollar acquisitions because it wants to accelerate the subscription transformation in the game biz. And we’re all along for the ride. Simon Carless is the founder of the GameDiscoverCo agency, and runs the popular GameDiscoverCo game discoverability newsletter, which looks at how people find your premium PC/console game in the 2020s. He was formerly Independent Games Festival chairperson, one of the folks running GDC, and a game developer at Atari and Eidos. https://gamediscoverability.substack.com
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Time to write a new strategy guide for the business Joost van Dreunen, startup advisor, lecturer at NYU Stern, co-founder of SuperData Research
Several years ago famed designer Raph Koster told a crowd of several hundred industry professionals and aspiring game makers: “Being creative is not necessarily a unique virtue.” You could hear a pin drop. The celebrity game maker dared to desecrate the sanctity of creativity by calling it unremarkable. For years we’ve clung to the idea that the only path to success was that of a single brilliant person working tirelessly on a creative vision. Consider, for instance, Eric Barone, the designer behind indie darling Stardew Valley, who stated: “I really truly believe that if you create the right game, and it’s a really good game, it’ll hype itself. It’ll market itself.” As if by magic, a marketplace will naturally become efficient, players will have no trouble finding content they enjoy, and artists find critical acclaim purely on the merits of their work. Because that is how billion-dollar industries function, right? In the case of Stardew Valley, its creator was, of course, correct. Barone’s game sold over ten million copies and generated millions in revenues. But this narrative conveniently overlooks the fact that Barone’s girlfriend subsidized Stardew Valley’s development for years despite being in school. It effectively shielded him from any financial accountability while working on his game. Behind every successful independent game designer stands a parent, friend, spouse, or sibling who helped out. No one makes games in a vacuum. We’ve come a long way. After teetering on the fringes for decades, video games have finally become a mainstream form of entertainment. It took a few decades and a global pandemic but now all signs point toward interactive entertainment finally having its day in the sun. Game company valuations are skyhigh, investors continue to pour money into the market, and quite literally all of the biggest firms in the world are spending billions to claim their stake. It’s not that we needed the validation of others to know that this is an exciting industry. But it sure is nice to have outgrown our
awkward teenage years and become a fullygrown cultural form of expression. This recent ascension also comes with important new affordances. For one, the industry’s “ internal logic” is in desperate need of a revision. Specifically, the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves – the industry’s shared narrative on how it works – is in need of an update. The myth of the lone genius is just one of the many unexamined clichés that has long guided our decision making. As if to say that what truly matters in the games industry does not require the input of any of its other participants. Perhaps because of its incredible growth, a large disparity continues to exist between the games industry’s conventional wisdom and an economically grounded approach to how it functions and innovates. What got us here won’t carry us much further. Now that we have the attention of the world, we owe it to ourselves, our craft, and our audiences to think as creatively about the business as we do about content. To do that we’ll have to broaden our understanding to include the wider intercourse between game designers, producers, industry analysts, financiers, marketing specialists, and other decision-makers. They all earn a living by busying themselves with the creation of interactive entertainment and accordingly shape the industry at large. Talent will always be a critical component. But it is not the only thing that matters. Time for a new strategy guide. Joost van Dreunen teaches at the NYU Stern School of Business and is the author of One Up: Creativity, Competition, and the Global Business of Video Games. Previously Joost was co-founder and CEO of SuperData Research, a games market research firm, which was acquired by Nielsen in 2018. He currently serves as an advisor to Parsec Gaming, and publishes a newsletter on gaming, tech, and entertainment called SuperJoost Playlist. More details at www.superjoost.net.
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Breaking down the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on mobile games Craig Chapple, Mobile Insights Strategist, Sensor Tower
Tech companies are some of the few businesses that have been able to continue to grow in a world changed by the global COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns; the mobile games industry included. In my previous column, I noted that Q1 2020 was by far the best quarter ever for mobile game downloads, with 13.4 billion downloads from the App Store and Google Play, up 21 per cent quarter-on-quarter and 39 per cent yearover-year. In Q2 2020, downloads rose again to 15 million, while in Q3 2020 installs dipped slightly to 14.3 billion – still much higher than previous years. Player spending, meanwhile, has been on the up. In Q1 2020, it hit $17.5 billion, up 6.6% Q/Q and 16% Y/Y. By Q2, revenue grew sharply to $20.1 billion, with growth slowing but still continuing in Q3 to $20.9 billion.
TOP GENRES Games that have proven particularly successful are the usual top grossers: PUBG Mobile, Honor of Kings, Candy Crush Saga, and even the location-based title Pokemon GO. Titles that connect people have also found success, including the likes of Roblox, Words With Friends 2, Scrabble Go, and Fortnite, prior to the latter’s removal from the app stores. Using Sensor Tower Game Taxonomy to drill further down into which genres have seen the biggest gains this year, we took a look at the growth in downloads in the U.S. for the top 100 grossing games in each category. We found that U.S. mobile games revenue in H1 2020 for Simulation games grew 63.2 per cent Y/Y to more than $851 million, powered by sales from titles such as Roblox and Township. The second fastest-growing
genre was Racing, with player spending rising by 51.9 per cent Y/Y to $110.3 million, while Casino rounded out the top three risers, with revenue up 46.4 per cent to $2.1 billion. Casino also saw big gains for downloads, with U.S downloads for the top 100 games up 39.1 per cent Y/Y in H1 2020 to 89.4 million, led by the likes of Coin Master and Slotomania. Racing was the No. 2 top riser, with installs up 33.3 per cent Y/Y to 75.6 million, while the Shooter genre ranked No. 3 for growth, with downloads rising 33 per cent to 85.5 million.
LONG-TERM CHANGES? Mobile games industry growth has headed into overdrive this year, though this in itself is nothing new. Prior to the pandemic, major IP holders have had enormous mobile launches, with Niantic’s Pokemon GO, Nintendo’s Mario Kart Tour, and Activision’s Call of Duty: Mobile generating well over 100 million worldwide downloads each in their first month. Right now, it looks like the impact of the lockdown on consumer habits will be long-term, resulting in more people playing games on their mobile devices than ever. But headwinds lie ahead, including the delayed changes to the IDFA on iOS, restricting the ways in which publishers can target users, which could have a material impact on revenue and game downloads. User acquisition will unquestionaly become more challenging, and this industry has been built on it. Craig Chapple is Mobile Insights Strategist, EMEA at mobile intelligence firm Sensor Tower and was previously Senior Editor at PocketGamer.biz. www.sensortower.com
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ALL WIRED UP FOR NEXT-GEN With its first-ever console launch title in The Falconeer, and with Martha is Dead following on soon after, Wired Productions is ready to come into the next gen swinging. Chris Wallace talks to managing director Leo Zullo to find out more.
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fter a year like this, it’s hard not to look wistfully towards 2021. It has been a challenging 2020 for us all, in new and unexpected ways. 2021 may still be uncertain, but it’s sure to be an exciting time for the industry. Not only has the games industry seen a boost from social distancing measures,
but we’re standing on the precipice of a brand new generation, filled with new possibilities. It sometimes feels a little uncomfortable to recognise that aspects of our industry have flourished during this crisis, but the past six months have shown how beneficial gaming has been to keep people entertained and connected with one another during these difficult times. One studio that’s looking to the year ahead is Wired Productions – who not only has big plans for 2021, but is closing out the year with the Falconeer, a launch title for Xbox Series X|S. Which they are immediately following up on with another next-gen offering, Martha is Dead, in 2021. It’s an exciting time for the publisher, who has not only successfully weathered the storms of 2020, but even managed to expand its team during the crisis. To find out what Wired has planned for the year ahead, we sat down with managing director Leo Zullo.
Above: The Falconeer is both Wired’s first next-gen title and its first console launch title too
DIFFICULTY LEVEL The publisher has big plans looking forward, but nobody could have planned for 2020. So how has Wired kept it together during these tricky times? “You know, we kind of cottoned pretty early,” notes Zullo. “I was actually in Italy,
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Below: The Falconeer is a open-world air combat game from developer Tomas Sala
I attended the MCV/DEVELOP Awards, and the next day I flew over and then lockdown happened. “I decided to stay here, and so I got on the phone to the team saying ‘look, we have to get ready because this is going to happen.’ So we were actually a bit ahead of the curve in terms of when the UK officially locked down, because we were already preparing. “In our experience, there were some teething problems technically, just to get remote work working properly, and there were some teething problems emotionally because a lot of people were not used to working from home or being on their own.” Given Wired’s involvement in mental health charity Safe in Our World, it’s not really a surprise that the publisher took the time to look after its team’s mental health. Zullo notes that the team put work into staying in touch with one another – not just for work purposes, but to ensure people felt less alone during this trying time. “In terms of business, people call it the COVID bump, but yeah, people were at home and wanted something to do. The funny thing is, just a few months before COVID, the WHO criticised gaming, saying, ‘oh, gaming addiction, terrible! Games are bad!’ And then like, two, three months in, ‘games are really good for people!’ I mean, it was nice that they did that. But you know...
“We were lucky in the sense that while we suffered a little bit operationally, the business didn’t. Arguably it just gave us more time to be able to focus on what we’re going to do next.” Despite the current situation, the company has actually been expanding with new hires recently, such as the addition of Gareth Williams as head of publishing. “I thought finding people was going to be a problem. We did start to look for staff prior to COVID happening, and we were sitting on about 300 CVs, which we obviously couldn’t get to look at. “So that all kind of got parked for about three, four months. And then lucky enough, we started employing people who we knew, or people that we knew who knew someone, so our network is pretty good. We employed almost organically, which was nice. “For a small company based in the UK, we’ve now got about a 22-23 person headcount. We’re in a good strong position for 2021, and we’re even looking at 2022 titles. I think we’re in a good spot.” FLYING FREE Wired has a lot to look forward to as well, with some big releases on the horizon. The launch of the Xbox Series X|S consoles this November is not only the launch of a brand-new generation,
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but also marks a milestone for Wired: its first ever console launch title. The Falconeer is a open-world air combat game from developer Tomas Sala, coming to Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One and PC on November 10th. For the publisher’s first-ever launch title, they’ve certainly picked a pretty looking one. Basically, think dogfighting but with massive, rideable birds: marrying a gorgeous art-style with frantic gameplay. It’s fresh and imaginative and will let people show off their fancy new toy this Christmas. Sala himself has shared his excitement about what can be achieved with the new hardware, promising both a 120fps frame rate mode and graphical fidelity not possible on current consoles. In a recent Unity post, Sala shared his surprise at the power of both the S and X, stating: “There’s no tradeoff between graphics and performance with this generation; we get both! Series X is running on that full PC spec with no compromise. That wasn’t possible on the previous generation of consoles.” “It’s an exciting time in the industry” Zullo adds. “Things are a little bit messy on the communications side from both format and tech partners, I think COVID has obviously not helped. But yeah, next gen is going to be a big feature for us.” MARTHA IS DEAD The Falconeer won’t be Wired’s only next-gen offering for long. Coming to Xbox Series X|S, and PC next year is Martha is Dead – the latest offering from developer LKA, with whom Wired has a healthy and long-standing relationship.
“We’ve been working with the LKA studio for about four years now. We worked on their first project, The Town of Light, which was an incredibly important title for us as a company. It was a sort of parallel journey, as it spearheaded setting up Safe in Our World. So as a project, it was fundamental to Wired’s growth, our relationship with LKA and setting up the mental health charity.” As for Martha itself, the title is a psychological horror taking place in World War II-era Tuscany. The titular Martha is found dead, with players taking the role of her grieving twin sister as she encounters the horrors of war and a mysterious folklore. Sounds promising. And according to Zullo, it’s a game that was seemingly destined for next-gen hardware. “Everything about Martha is bigger and better. They must have seen into the future, because this was actually before anything to do with next gen specs or hardware or anything technical was announced. Because from day one they were already using photogrammetry techniques, 4K graphics... just everything about it was next level in terms of visual fidelity. “LKA is a studio whose core strength is discussing difficult subjects, difficult narratives, with a backdrop of real settings. They’re an Italian studio, so Town of Light was based in a real-life Italian psychiatric hospital. And Martha is based almost in the same timeline of 1944, but it’s got the backdrop of the Second World War. It has all these sorts of subjects, topics, baked into a wonderful story.” Due to Wired and LKA’s long-standing relationship, their partnership on Martha felt like a natural step.
Below: Wired has a pre-existing relationship with Martha is Dead developer, LKA
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“As a company, we don’t shy away from difficult subjects – and I think that’s sometimes important.” Above: Bringing Martha to next-gen felt like a natural progression to Wired
“I’d like to think we’re kind of partners at this stage. They’re happy with the way we work, we’re happy with the way they work, and we support each other. It’s definitely going to be a very, very special game. “It has some incredibly dark moments. It’s going to get talked about. It’s a game that needs to be played, and it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s definitely going to make next gen look good.” WIRED DIFFERENTLY A game touching on themes of mental health feels quite at home for Wired. Not only is Zullo himself the cofounder and chair of Safe in Our World, but the publisher has a history with titles that explore this sensitive topic. “It’s a difficult thing to marry difficult subjects like mental health and portray them in games. It’s really, really sensitive. I think it was done really well in Town of Light, because it had, I think, six or nine months worth of just pure research into the subject matter before embarking on development. And obviously, that experience carries through. “I think it’s important that the topic is discussed and played in games. We also did a game called Fractured Minds, which was touching upon different aspects, whether it’s paranoia, or claustrophobia, anxiety, all
these types of things, but it was done in a really sort of nice way, and it got people talking. Town of Light got people talking, Martha will get people talking. They’re not necessarily promoting the subject matter, but they’re definitely going to get people thinking about the subject. “And I think that’s the best thing we can do as a charity, as a company, and as developers: to get people talking about difficult subjects. So it’s important, it’s an important game for us and it’s an important game for the industry as well.” While Wired obviously has an interest in starting these important conversations, Zullo is resistant to the notion that the company can be so easily pigeonholed. “We definitely pick games with either difficult subjects or good narratives. As a company, we don’t shy away from difficult subjects – and I think that’s sometimes important. But it’s also about games that we’d like to play. “There was a danger that we were going to get pigeonholed into adventure games with horror, or dark aspects to them. Because there does seem to be an internal line. Those Who Remain, Deliver Us the Moon and Close to the Sun... There seemed to be a bit of a theme coming in. ‘So when we announced Martha, everyone was like ‘oh, yeah, this is a Wired game!” And no, it’s not a Wired
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game. We just like games that we like. Sure, we don’t shy away from topics that are difficult, but we like music games too, because music is also in our DNA. Although even in that arena, mental health issues have sadly been a factor, with Wired’s Avicii Invector rhythm title launching posthumously after the suicide of the eponymous Swedish DJ in 2018. “In addition to Martha, we’ve also got six unannounced games and most of them, if not all are going to be on next-gen platforms, and two of them are going to be VR titles. We’re actually dipping our toe into the VR world. Some might say it’s a bit late, but there’s some interesting things happening in that space now. I think now it’s matured to the point where the markets at work are a little bit clearer. So as a company we’re diversifying, we’re growing.” PROMISING AND PROMISES With the company growing, and ready to offer a selection of next-gen titles, it seems that 2021 is going to be a good year for Wired. And Zullo is keen not to lay out just what the publisher can offer developers, but how it can share the wealth during these troubled times. “A lot of the developers like to work with ue, because though we are a small company,
we do try and do everything that we can. To be honest, there’s so many publishers popping up now, and everyone’s got their own skill. And I would say we’re kind of a jack-of-all-trades. “We obviously do digital publishing really well, and we do retail publishing. So every single game will get a global retail release. We do collector’s editions, we bring in soundtracks, we do everything. “And it’s very much a family vibe. So when we sign a game, we don’t sign many, but when we do, it’s the developer first and then the game. Every single team member has to sign up to it. Because if everyone signs up to it, they’re passionate, and they love the people that they work with. “We’re doing a day one edition for The Falconeer. It’s the first time we’re doing that. It’s got loads of really good stuff in it, and it’s only 35 pounds. We try to provide good value for both the gamer and for the retailers too, because retail took a bit of a kicking from COVID. Games at retail really didn’t need that, because they’re already on a slightly slippery slope. “We do what we can to support retailers, we do what we can to support developers and we do what we can to support gamers. That’s the kind of level we aspire to for all our games and all our developers.”
Below: Wired and LKA worked together on their previous title, The Town of Light
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Ins and Outs: Industry hires and moves 1
Splash Damage has made a number of promotions within the company. First, OLIVER WARD (1) has been promoted to senior development manager. Ward was previously development manager, and joined the company in September 2017as an associate producer. Still at Splash Damage, STUART FARISHTASMITH (2) has been promoted to senior production tester. Farishta-Smith has been at the company since August 2017, joining as a production tester. The third promotion is TIMOTHY ORMAN (3), who has been promoted to senior development manager. Orman has been promoted multiple times in his almost 4 years at the company, having joined as a production intern in March 2017. Next up, GEORGE WRIGHT (4) has been promoted to executive producer. Wright has had a number of different roles in his six year stint at Splash Damage, starting as a producer in 2014.
Still at Splash Damage, RYAN WILTSHIRE (5) has been promoted to senior development director. Wiltshire has been at the company for almost nine years now, having started in January 2012 as an associate producer. Finally, BARANE CHAN (6) has joined Splash Damage as principal UI programmer. Chan has experience working on the Grand Theft Auto franchise and Killzone: Mercenary. RAY WILLMOTT (7) has joined Coatsink as a senior social media and community manager. Willmott will be working on some of their new and upcoming games, as well as a currently unannounced project. LUCY BOXALL (8) has been named director of corporate communications at Creative Assembly. Previously the studio’s head of communications, Boxall has been with Creative Assembly for four years and will lead the studio’s global corporate communication functions for the UK and Bulgaria.
JAMES BRUCE (9) has joined Premier as head of games PR. His background in the industry includes heading up the UK PR & Social team for Xbox at Edelman for four years, as well as running global communications for sports broadcaster DAZN.
Deep Silver has four new hires. First, MAXX WALLACE (13) has joined the company as a global marketing assistant. Wallace has over seven years of experience in the video games industry working with GAME and Activision Blizzard.
KAIHA PUCKEY (10) has joined Bandai Namco as a communication and events executive. Puckey previously worked at Ubisoft, in a 12 month stint as a PR and Marketing Intern.
ALI PAYNE (14) joins as global communications manager. Payne has been in the industry for over 20 years, having started out as a business trade journalist on CTW. Prior to joining Deep Silver, Payne was Senior Publicity Consultant at Little Big PR.
KATI LEVORANTA (11) is stepping down as CEO of Rovio Entertainment. Levoranta has been CEO of Rovio since 2016, where she took over from former chief Pekka Rantala. NAZIH FARES (12) is leaving his position as communications manager at Blizzard Entertainment, where he was responsible for the RIMEA territory. Fares has over 12 years in the business, and as a “proud polygot,” is available for work in the EU/UK. Fares’ portfolio can be found at http://nazihfares.com/
Next, DAVID ROBSON (15) joins Deep Silver as global community and influencer manager. Robson has eight years’ experience and has specialised in working with influencers across the gaming industry for the last five years Finally, CHRIS PETERS (16) joins as global community manager This is his first role in the video games industry, having moved from an executive complaints position in the energy sector.
VR developer nDreams continues its studio expansion with a number of key hires and promotions. First, TAMSIN O’LUANAIGH (17) has been promoted to chief people officer. O’Luanaigh has been at nDreams for 15 years now, having previously worked at IBM Global Services. And TOMAS GILLO (18) has been promoted to chief development officer. Gillo was previously vice president of development at nDreams, having joined in November 2015. Next, JAMES SHEPHERD (19) joins the company as head of studio, the BAFTA winning creative will support Tom in the running of the 100+ person development team. Shepherd previously has held senior roles at both Xbox and PlayStation. Finally, THAD FROGLEY, (20) formerly of Boss Alien, joins as technical director. Frogley has over 20 year’s experience in games development and brings a wealth of technical and managerial experience to the role.
Got an appointment you’d like to share with the industry? Email Chris Wallace at firstname.lastname@example.org 22 | MCV/DEVELOP October 2020
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Every month, we pick the brain of an up-and-coming talent
Nicola Disley, programmer at Lucid Games, talks about her start in games, battling with imposter syndrome and finding an extended family in the industry How did you break into games? A couple good leaps of faith really. I’ve always loved games but never considered trying to make a career out of them until I was visiting a friend on campus who was studying programming and games development. At the time I was studying analytical science at another university but wasn’t really happy. I sat in on a couple of his lectures and just couldn’t get the idea of it out of my head. I’d never even tried programming, so I just took it on faith that I’d enjoy it and pick it up alright. I left my course and started up at this new one the following year. I was fortunate that in the final year my lecturers had invited someone from the industry as guest speaker and judge for our presentations. I managed to impress him enough that I got my first job programming games and my foot in the industry. What has been your proudest achievement so far? Definitely just getting to this point, getting the job in Lucid and moving over here from Dublin. That was a big scary step for me but I recognised that to get to where I wanted to be I needed to surround myself with amazingly skilled people, other programmers as well as role models. What has been your biggest challenge to date? That’s a really difficult question. My day-to-
I wasn’t prepared for how much of an extended family it would feel like I was getting. For such a big industry so many people seem to know each other! So starting at Lucid where so many people working there had known each other for years, there was this really familiar warm atmosphere straight away. And just getting to be really creative and silly while making something awesome with this brilliant bunch of people is amazing. What’s your biggest ambition in games? I really want to be somebody that people could look up to, especially if that encourages more girls to consider a career in games. I’m a shy person, but I really think visibility is important here, so if trying to be a little more out there encourages someone to picture being a games programmer that would be amazing! day is basically overcoming challenges that feel like the most important thing in the world until they’re solved. In all honesty it would be pushing back against imposter syndrome, it’s still an ongoing challenge! I feel it’s very prevalent in our industry and can be really difficult for some people to overcome, so I try and talk about it quite openly, especially when I see friends or colleagues that are fighting it themselves. What do you enjoy most about your job? The people I get to work with, hands down.
What advice would you give to an aspiring Programmer? OK, it’s hard but try not to feel overwhelmed by everything you don’t know, it’s a massive spectrum of roles and knowledge being a programmer. There’s a reason people take particular pathways, that’s why the job is so exciting and rewarding. It’s like any other skill you just need to keep at it, programe little games, or even just little ideas that pop into your head, because you don’t know what that could grow into.
If there’s a rising star at your company, contact Chris Wallace at email@example.com October 2020 MCV/DEVELOP | 23
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Cherry picked advice to help you reach the next level in your career
Abbey Plumb, producer at Electric Square, talks about her varied role, the importance of communication skills and maintaining a passion for learning Having the ability to consciously listen, learn and produce actionable items that can be delivered on is incredibly valuable. Being able to multitask is also a useful skill to have when working in production, You’re often having to think about multiple timelines as well as the impact decisions have on the team and areas of not only your own project, but all the studio’s projects simultaneously – Get good at spinning plates! Experience in fields of project management and coordination are really good starting points for moving into production as it gives you the opportunity to demonstrate your organizational skills. There are lots of transferable skills you can take from other roles and careers through into games production!
What is your job role and how would you describe your typical day at work? I am a producer at Electric Square and involved in the wider industry as a SpecialEffect Charity Ambassador, WIGJ Ambassador and BAME in Games Mentor. In my role as a producer, it is my job to make sure the individuals in my team are connected with the tools, support and information they require to deliver on time and to quality. It isn’t straightforward to describe what a typical day for me at work is, as each day can be completely different to the next based on the immediate requirements of the project and the team, however there are a few heartbeats throughout the working day that are always the same. I am involved in all the morning stand ups
with the team which is where I get to check in and both make sure that the team is well and the project is on track. I also partake in daily build reviews, project management software tool maintenance and daily burndown checks. There are also multiple project related development meetings that will take place throughout the day which vary from being one-to-ones with an individual member of the team, through to much larger mixed-team meetings. What qualifications and/or experience do you need to land this job? There are several qualities that are useful for a producer to have. People skills are a must and communication skills are really important.
If you were interviewing someone for your team, what would you look for? I would be looking for someone with great listening, communication and organizational skills. Soft skills are also key – being kind, empathetic, approachable and appreciative are wonderful traits to find in producers! A passion for learning is also important, there are always tools and methodologies to be reading up on when developing your production skills. I also appreciate people who have an analytical streak in them, ultimately someone who has a great balance between people and planning skills! What opportunities are there for career progression? From the role as a producer, given the correct time, training, experience and attitude you have the opportunity to step up into senior, lead and director roles. There are also opportunities to refine your focus within production and produce for an individual discipline.
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 HIRING FROM OVERSEAS POST-BREXIT: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW With so much going on in the world right now, it’s been easy to miss or overlook news and key announcements on things other than the pandemic. Unless you’re at the coal face of recruitment, one such thing that may have passed you by is the implication of the recent update on the points-based immigration system being introduced in January 2021. If you’re a studio manager or recruiter and are hoping to grow your team over the next couple of years this is incredibly important. And it could have a serious impact on staffing up in a sector that already has a skills shortage. So, what does it all mean from a recruitment perspective and what should you be doing to get ready? Currently, EU nationals have the right to live and work in the UK without a visa, and for those here prior to the end of this year nothing will change until June 2021. It’s important however that if someone expects to remain in the UK after June next year, they should apply for pre-settled or settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) and we’d advise to do this as soon as possible, it’s free and can be managed online. From January 1st 2021, if you want to hire new staff from overseas you will need to be a Home Office approved sponsor, applying with the correct documentation and paying the relevant fee. It’s also important to note the need to have appropriate resources and systems in place to manage and monitor employees, so this is worth looking into now. Once you’re a sponsor and you identify an overseas candidate, it’s likely that you will be sponsoring them through the new Skilled Worker route under which workers will need to gain points using a system designed to assess their skills and salary level. All applicants will additionally need to pass the relevant UK criminality checks and will have to demonstrate intermediate English language ability. You will pay a fee to assign a Certificate of Sponsorship to the migrant (£199) and an Immigration Skills Charge of £1000 per migrant per year of sponsorship, small business discounted
rates will apply. The candidate will also need to pay for the visa itself (up to £1,480) and the Immigration Health Surcharge (£624 per year from October). To speed up the hiring process, the Resident Labour Market Test will be removed, which means that employers will no longer need to advertise the vacant role to the national workforce. There will also be no limit on the number of Skilled Worker visas which may be granted under the new system which is good news for growing your team. So, with only a few months to go before these significant changes land, it’s time to consider your current employees, encourage those EU nationals to make their EU Settlement Scheme application if they wish to remain in the UK. And from a future hiring perspective look into the process for obtaining a sponsor licence, there’s likely to be a significant influx of applications at the start of 2021, so get ahead of the crowd to avoid delays which may affect recruitment or retention of key staff into 2021. If you want to talk about any of the changes to the immigration system or processes for hiring from overseas please do get in touch, we’d be happy to help in any way we can. The phrase ‘we’re all in this together’ has gained genuine significance during this crisis and we’re absolutely here to help. Our team is fully focussed on you. We’re open for business and if we can help any existing or new clients during this time with insights or with hiring needs, please get in touch. 01925 839700; email@example.com; @weareamiqus
“If you want to hire new staff from overseas you will need to be a Home Office approved sponsor”
At Amiqus, we have many resources available to help, so please do get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Build your own bridge to Skåne
This month’s regional spotlight looks at the region of Skåne and its capital of Malmö. The games industry in the old port town, and the surrounding region, has seen huge growth in recent years, and now has a development community and supporting infrastructure that’s second to none.
kåne’s capital Malmö has more games developers and studios per capita than almost anywhere else on earth. Sitting just across the waters of the Øresund from Copenhagen, Malmö is relatively modest in size, but packed with opportunity. The biggest studio is Ubisoft’s Massive Entertainment, creator of The Division franchise. While mobile heavyweight King has a big presence in the city, and more recently Just Cause creators Avalanche Studios, opened here too. Looking at indie teams, Little Nightmares creator Tarsier Studio was founded here in 2004. It is one of a plethora of homegrown outfits. Alongside them are micro studios such as Simogo, creators of Sayonara
Wild Hearts, and DeadToast Entertainment, the one-man team behind My Friend Pedro. With mobile and console, triple-A and indie studios, all working side-by-side, it’s understandable why the long-running Nordic Game Conference is held in Malmö every year. And the development community’s growth isn’t slowing. Hitman creator IO Interactive chose Malmö for its second studio in early 2019, making the short hop over from Copenhagen. Sharkmob was founded by Malmö veterans in 2017 and recently came to wider prominence when it was acquired by Tencent. Plus Swedish strategy king Paradox Interactive established its third Swedish studio here in 2017.
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All that activity has created an industry hub that rivals any in the world. 2018 figures show that Swedish-registed companies alone employed almost 8,000 industry professionals in the area, a figure that leapt 48 per cent since 2017, and anecdotally has continued to rise steadily since. The region is now home to over 70 game studios, generating €1.87bn in revenue in 2018, up a hefty 33 per cent from 2017. Malmö isn’t alone in the Skåne region. Up the coast is Helsingborg, a historic coastal town, which is home to yet more development talent, such as Pixelbite, creators of mobile strategy title Xenowerk Tactics, along with localisation specialists Localize Direct. Another key asset of the region is Lund, boasting the oldest university in Sweden – rated amongst the top 100 in the world. Skåne is clearly a region any developer or company should seriously consider if it’s looking to relocate or expand – be they a triple-A goliath or an indie start-up. So let’s look a little deeper behind the success story of the area and whether it might be a good culture fit for you and yours.
Photo credit: Apeloga
AN OPEN PORT While the Swedes and the Danes maintain a healthy rivalry, Skåne with its fertile rolling fields more resembles Denmark and similar parts of Northern Europe than the stereotypical dense forest and small hamlets of the northern counties of Sweden. In fact Skåne was a part of the kingdom of Denmark up until the 17th century. That proximity to Denmark is still a major part of everyday life for those in Malmö. For example, Copenhagen’s Kastrup is the airport of choice for developers we spoke to. It’s the third-largest in Northern Europe, handling around 30m passengers a year. “Our airport is one of the better international airports in Northern Europe,” Massive Entertainment CEO David Polfeldt tells us of Kastrup. “This gives Malmö a direct line to all of the world. There are direct flights to Shanghai, to Seattle, another one to LA and so on. And it’s literally 20 minutes away from the office.” That short journey is thanks to the hugely impressive tunnel and bridge combination that spans the Øresund, connecting Sweden to Europe with a dual-use train and car crossing. The strait is one of the busiest waterways in the world, providing access from the North Sea into the Baltic. Malmö’s position upon the strait, as a key port shaped its history, for better and worse, and gave birth to the thriving games industry hub we find here today. Malmö and the surrounding region is universally applauded today as a fantastic place to live. As Sharkmob’s Martin Hultberg concisely notes: “Malmö is a small town by the ocean on the doorstep of a major capital city in close proximity to some of the most lush, beautiful countryside in the world. What’s not to like?” However, the strength of its games industry comes out of a more troubled past, both for Malmö itself, as a once industrial powerhouse, and Europe more generally. Massive’s Polfeldt takes us through that recent history, describing Malmö as a “comeback city.” “Malmö went through tough times, in the 70s, and in the 80s, when the old heavy industries just disappeared. There used to be
Above: Martin Hultberg, Sharkmob
Above: Sandra Smedegaard Mondahl, IO Interactive
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Photo: NCC Klas Andersson
Above: David Polfeldt, Massive Entertainment, and (top) images from the Massive offices in Malmö. Polfeldt’s new book, The Dream Architects, provides a further insight into Massive, Sweden’s games industry and much more.
one of the biggest shipbuilding wharfs in Europe, the car factory and traditional old industries, and those all died out and left the city in a bit of a really bad shape.” Unlike many, though, Malmö came roaring back to life. “One of the things the politicians did was begin building, getting rid of the old factories and building private homes. Those attracted a lot of young people with university degrees who are looking for somewhere to live. “It’s an important part of the mentality and philosophy of Malmö,” explains Polfeldt. “There is a very good understanding of community, helping each other and being positive towards new things. That helped the IT industry as, in the absence of traditional industries, Malmö had to reinvent itself.” And that positivity to the new, that reinvention “is built into the city now, from politicians, from landlords, from companies, from people who grew up here when the times were worse.” HARBOUR OF HOPE But that influx of young people is only half of the story that Polfeldt has to tell: “Malmö specifically, but Sweden in general too, has embraced several waves of international residents,” he explains. From those fleeing persecution during and after World War 2, “a huge wave when Yugoslavia fell apart,” and then many “Italians, Greeks, Portuguese, Spanish and South Americans” who came to find work during Malmö’s industrial boom days, and more recently another wave from the Middle East. “All this is normally considered a burden or a fairly complicated integration problem. But it has made Malmö extremely international to a degree that is disproportionate for being a fairly small local town in the south of Sweden,” Polfeldt points out. “It’s not particularly Swedish,” he says. “It is very international in its thinking, in its population. And what we’ve found as a gaming company is that it helps us because we’re aiming at the global market. So having a globally aware workforce is a competitive advantage.
“Integration has shaped a demographic that is unusually well suited for international competition. And the truth is that half of our staff today were not born in Sweden. And they find it extremely easy to come to Malmö and just become a part of the city.” That competitive advantage, born out of multiculturalism, is something that others have identified, including Sandra Smedegaard Mondahl, HR manager at IO Interactive. “We depend on diversity and different ideas to be brought to the table to make creative and inspiring games that keep challenging the status quo and be ahead of the curve,” says Mondahl. “Therefore Malmö’s diverse and multicultural aspects are great qualities when it comes to both getting inspiration for features as well as stimulating our minds in different ways both inside and outside of work. “The multicultural aspect also makes it easier to get around not speaking English as well as making international friends when you relocate which makes integrating as an expat much easier.” That includes Mondahl, who despite coming from just over the water, is an expat herself: “With me being Danish, the ever-old war between Denmark and Sweden has always been a bit of a standing joke. Especially now, after having lived in Sweden for over three years, and joining IO Interactive, a Danish company, the irony is hard to miss. But I’ve always wanted to work with international people – Skåne, the games industry and IO Interactive definitely offers me that.” QUALITY ASSURED Malmö is a welcoming town then for those coming from outside of Sweden – even from old rivals. And Scandinavia generally is considered around the world as having a great quality of life, but what’s it really like to live in Malmö and Skåne? Tarsier Studios CEO Andreas Johnsson sums it up for us. “Malmö is an amazing city to live in, diverse, amazing food, great pubs… All the options I would have in a big metropolis, but within bike distance are the ocean, rapeseed fields, forests…”
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IO’s Mondahl agrees: “Skåne and Sweden in general provides a healthy work-life balance, where I can run into nature, eat amazing food – there’s more restaurants per capita than anywhere else in Sweden! But at the same time, the small, convenient city offers the ability to get anywhere on a bike.” And while Malmö is a big hit with everyone it seems, you don’t have to live in the city itself, says Johnsson: “The nice thing with Skåne is that it is quite easy to commute. So people do live outside of Malmö, living the countryside dream, while having the benefits of Malmö during work hours. Johnsson’s colleague, senior narrative designer Dave Mervik is originally from the UK, and notes that commuting in does have its downside “I live out in the countryside, which of course has its perks, but you also have to put up with a more parochial mentality that isn’t quite as common in Malmö. I really miss that side of life in the city.” It’s a city packed with things to do, Polfeldt tells us: “Everything is really close, you can use a bike or walk by foot to almost anywhere. But because it’s still Sweden’s third largest city, we do have the biggest football team, the biggest ice hockey team, the biggest female football team, the Opera House and the theatre.” Paradox’s Lars Håhus adds his own favourites: “An amazing number of great restaurants, being able to go for a swim in the ocean on your lunch break, or enjoying the Malmö festival right outside our studio during the summer.” TALKING IT UP Most people looking to move to Skåne won’t have to tackle the language barrier, with developers telling us that English is the community’s lingua franca and widely spoken beyond it too. “Swedes are generally great at English,” Swede Lars Håhus tells us, in perfect English of course. “No matter if you are getting falafel or setting up a bank account, communicating is usually effortless,” he continues, effortlessly. “Yes, you can definitely get by with only English, I do not speak Swedish myself!” Eliana Oikawa, COO of industry group Game Habitat tells us. “English is the official language in all major studios and Swedes are generally very comfortable with English and it’s no different here.” English-born Mervik feels that some effort can still be made: “Sure, you can get by and a lot of people do. But for me I think it’s important to treat that with respect and not just expect people to be happy or comfortable speaking in English.
“Our working language at Tarsier is English,” he continues, “because we have employees from all over the world and don’t want language to be a barrier. However, it’s heartening to see the number of our colleagues actively working to learn Swedish. I think it’s a great way to feel even more at home and connected to the place you’re living.” He does add, though, that not all Swedish is the same. “The Skånsk dialect is an absolute nightmare to both understand and replicate, which is a shame because I absolutely love how it sounds! “I’m from Liverpool and have heard enough bad impressions of the Scouse accent to last a lifetime, but that’s a piece of cake compared to Skånska. So far I’ve managed to say the words ‘four’, ‘school’ and ‘back’ in Skåne-ish without people laughing. It’s got even worse with where I’m living now, and I’m fast running out of vague, non-committal replies. They’re gonna find me out any day now!” Sounding like a local isn’t essential of course, but a little local knowledge will still go a long way.
This feature was supported by Invest in Skåne, the official investment promotion agency for Skåne, works to promote this southernmost region of Sweden. Skåne is home to one of the most interesting and dynamic game development ecosystems in Europe – if not the world. At Invest in Skåne, we are proud to be part of this ecosystem. We can help you visit, meet, explore and, most importantly, get settled in the region. As a special promotion, during 2021, we will be sponsoring a guest office at Game Habitat to give international developers a chance to try the region out. So no matter if you are a one man indie or a multinational developer or publisher, we are here for you. We are a non-profit governmental organisation and our services are free of charge. Do you want to know more about us, the region or how we can help you? Let us know by contacting Olof Tedin, Business Advisor, at email@example.com
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Above: Christoffer Nilsson of LocalizeDirect, and (top) Helsingborg, where the company is based
If you’re thinking of relocating to the city then you have a number of options in terms of location. Massive and Tarsier for instance are in the middle of town, just south of Malmö Castle and the historic centre. With Massive recently converting an old factory into a massive new purpose-built studio. A great option for those with the means. Malmö largely eschews high-rise buildings, but the shiniest and newest offices are to be found in Västra Hamnen (West Harbour), which sticks out into the sea to the north-west of the centre. Previously a wholly industrial area, and then a derelict slum, its rebirth is a huge local success story, with both IBM and the state broadcaster moving into the area recently. While the next up and coming area is Frihamnen (Free Harbour) and Hamnen, to the north of Malmö’s train station. Here it’s looking to repeat the gentrification, and diversification, that Västra Hamnen has seen such success with. ONE STEP BEYOND But enough about Malmö, let’s look beyond the reborn port to the rest of the Skåne region. Starting up the coast at Helsingborg. Another coastal town just across the strait from Denmark, but far smaller than nearby Malmö at just over 100,000 people. “Malmö has grown to become a great hub for game development, says Christoffer Nilsson, LocalizeDirect’s co-founder, “But here in Helsingborg, we have LocalizeDirect, Pixelbite, and Frictional Games.” The latter being the horror specialists behind Soma and the Amnesia series. LocalizeDirect does localisation work for many major studios around the world, as well as more
local ones, Nilsson tells us. “Pixelbite were among our first LocDirect users, and now they will be among the first to try our new headless CMS for games – Gridly.” Tarsier’s Andreas Johnsson notes the potential of the wider region: “I do think there is a possibility for both Landskrona [another coastal town] and Helsingborg to grow in terms of game development hubs. Accessible cities, close enough to get some value from the things in Malmö.” The distance is practically reduced further still, says Nilsson: “The whole region is well connected by public transport: it is easy and quick to travel around here. It takes 40 minutes to commute from Helsingborg to Malmö, and an hour and twenty from Helsingborg to Copenhagen, which means that we do not limit ourselves just to one city.” It’s cheaper than you might expect too, he explains, “The cost of living is less compared to Stockholm – according to some estimates, there is a 15-20% difference. And there’s less competition for talent as well away from the big city.” The region also generates talent at a prodigious rate, says Nilsson. “When it comes to the video game business in Skåne, there are a few striking characteristics to it. Like the rest of Sweden, Skåne has a great pool of talent but is still close to Europe. “A lot of development talent comes from Lund University. Also The Games Assembly, a vocational school, works purely in preparing specialists for the games industry, many of which are getting employed by the companies in Skåne.” A dedicated school, turning out game developers, that sounds like an industry dream come true. Although, it’s not the only educator in the region, as Sharkmob’s Hultberg points out: “We also work closely with both Malmö and Lund Universities. The proximity of these two institutions is a great advantage for our region.” A PERFECT HABITAT Many of the freshly-trained developers who come out the doors of The Game Assembly go straight to work behind the doors of another local industry institution: Game Habitat’s DevHub. A good example is Frogsong Studios, as COO Olle Lundahl explains: ”All the founders of Frogsong Studios met when studying at The Game Assembly and formed the company after doing an internship together.” It started at a local tech incubator Minc, but soon moved into DevHub. “Frogsong actually moved in one day before DevHub officially opened up,” he tells us.
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DevHub is described as “a community-focused coworking building” for game developers. One that now boasts upwards of 25 different companies – taking spaces from as small as a single hotdesk, right up to entire floors of the building, seating forty people. Alongside indie studios you get the likes of IO Interactive, whose Malmö outpost is based here. Lundahl says the benefits are huge. “Being located at DevHub has helped us a lot, not only by providing a roof over our heads but also to provide a social space where you can pop into a discussion about topics like programming with entity component systems or go waist deep in shader talk when you’re fetching a cup of coffee.” And that local community is more than just informal support, Lundahl says: “We have worked together with Tarsier Studios on more than one title and helped Apoapsis Studios as well.” The Devhub is the physical manifestation of Game Habitat, a non-profit organisation that supports the local development community – with over 30 studios and businesses as active members. And with a whole building to call its own, it’s a more substantial outfit than many national trade organisations we could name. So how did it start? “Game Habitat was formed in 2013 by the industry in southern Sweden as a means to build
upon and accelerate the bubbling community in the region. It was very much a joint effort by the game studios here,” says COO Eliana Oikawa. Game Habitat helps co-ordinate the community in the region: “It’s all about having close relations with the game studios in the area as they are our family, friends, our members and they are essential to our operations by contributing both financially and by providing time and support to our cause.” IO Interactive works with Game Habitat, as Mondahl explains: “We’re proud to be working closely with both the other big triple-A studios and the indie community. We work on topics such as relocation of international employees, share ideas for how to make the industry better in terms of diversity and inclusion and other topics that are important for us as an industry and community.” Tarsier’s Johnsson notes that Game Habitat forms an essential link between the community and local government (such as Invest in Skåne, see page 29): “Game Habitat is definitely proof that the local government sees and understands what is happening. Just the last five years has resulted in an explosion of new developers, studios expanding into Malmö, and developers relocating to Malmö. For a relatively small city, this is a big & real thing that they need to nurture and support.”
Above (from top): Eliana Oikawa and Peter Lubeck from Game Habitat.
Photo credit: Apeloga
Pictured: Game Habitat’s Devhub centre (and yes, of course it has a sauna)
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SCHOOLING THE NEXT GEN The Game Assembly (TGA) is widely cited as one of the most important facets of the success of Skåne’s games industry. We talk to Linda Nilsson, Education Manager Malmö, about the programme and its students. How did The Game Assembly get started? At the start of the century, the games industry really started growing in Sweden, and so did the demand for new employees, So, in close cooperation with Massive Entertainment, TGA formed with a vision to educate highly competent future game developers. A curriculum was established with a unique concept, focused on interdisciplinary teamwork, and where the game programming students create and use their own game engines. TGA started in 2008 with two programmes, Game Programmer and Game Artist. Since then, the school has grown to offer five programmes in Malmö: Game Programmers, Animators, Artists, Technical Artists and Level Designers. TGA students send in their work to The Rookies (a community for non-professional digital artists) every year and has been ranked a top 10 game development school in the world since 2017. In 2019 TGA expanded and started a second school, in Stockholm. The Game Assembly is a school for Higher Vocational Education. This is a concept where programmes are created in accordance with the needs of the labour market and in close cooperation with employers in the industry. The programmes are in Swedish and government funded. The TGA has a board responsible for the quality and content of the programmes, consisting of employees from game companies in the region as well as student representatives. Is it a struggle to keep up to date with a rapidly changing industry? Since a main goal of ours is for our students to get employed in the industry, we find it essential to evolve together with it. We adapt and develop the programmes almost every year, making sure that we use the latest software and that our educators are up to date with what the industry needs. TGA has a highly competent workforce of full-time educators. They have years of experience from the industry and understand what it takes to create and release a game. Professionals
from the industry also visit and give lectures: Swedish, Danish, Finish and British companies visit throughout the year. A mission of TGA is to educate developers, which is why we make sure the students learn to make games in cross-disciplinary teams. Half of their time consists of making games with students from the other programmes. Eight games are created during the two years in school prior to the internship phase, starting with the most basic to more advanced 3D games. The Technical Artist programme is shorter and they join in on the 6th-8th game projects. More advanced games are made from scratch where the programmers create their own engines, which gives them the skills they need in order to conquer most of the already existing game engines in the business. Working in groups gives valuable insights into obstacles one can face while making games and understanding the difficulties of other disciplines. They also develop the communications skills needed to be successful in the games industry. Giving and receiving feedback is a big component, and we focus on helping each other in order to create both a caring and a creative work environment. The programmes are high paced and we have incredibly dedicated and passionate students who work hard to stay on track to finally be employed at a game company. How many students do you see graduate every year? The last couple of years we have graduated around 80 students a year. Next year it will be closer to 100, and more to come with our school in Stockholm. The vast majority of graduated students get employed in the industry quickly. Several former students work abroad, for example in the UK, Japan and Canada. Do you work with local developers to place students? Every year TGA hosts an event called ‘Meet and Greet’. Our students get a chance to meet professionals,
show their work and apply for internships. All the programmes finish with a 4-7 month long internship at a game company. The event has been a great success for both parties and usually over 90% of the students secure an internship placement. After that, Game Habitat, a game community organisation situated in Malmö, hosts a Meetup where the companies and students get a chance to mingle and get to know each other even further. TGA is an important part of the eco-system of the industry, providing companies with future game developers. We receive great feedback from companies saying that TGA students are considered junior developers by them, already contributing at the beginning of their internships. Do you track the success of your alumni, both in getting jobs or setting up their own studios? We do a follow-up six months after graduation, and last year close to 90 per cent were working in the industry by then. Our alumni network is of great importance to our school and something we truly appreciate. We stay connected through closed social communication hubs where news and ideas are exchanged, or meetups are arranged. Alumni also visit the school to hold lectures or lead workshops. Many like to stay in touch and talk fondly about their time at TGA!
“The last couple of years we have graduated around 80 students a year. Next year it will be closer to 100”
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COME STRAIT ON OVER Skåne studios vary in size from a single developer to one of the biggest in Europe. Whatever their size, everyone told us that Skåne was a great place to set up a studio or other games business. With Game Assembly, Game Habitat and Nordic Game Conference (see page 33), all contributing to make a great place to set up shop. Game Habitat’s Oikawa summed up recent successes: “In the past few years we’ve seen major studios like Avalanche and IO Interactive choose Malmö as their next studio location. We’ve also seen experienced teams starting new studios, like Sharkmob. In record time they’ve been able to set up triple-A teams, which I believe speaks for itself.” IO Interactive’s Mondahl spoke positively of the studio’s experience and the support on offer: “The Swedish government is highly supportive, when we needed to open the office in Malmö we quickly got help from Invest in Skåne who’s a great partner for someone who doesn’t necessarily know the ins and outs of the Swedish practices. They’ve been helpful when starting up, but also ongoingly. “There’s a big effort in making Sweden the place to be for game development companies from the government’s side, and there’s plenty of support to get if you know where to ask – it’s not handed to you on a silver platter… A challenge can be that most information is only available in Swedish, so there’s a bit of translation costs associated with that.” Oikawa continues on the benefits of the region: “Any major studio looking to move, or set up a new location in Sweden, would definitely benefit greatly from the availability of existing talent, and the community and quality of life makes it easier to attract and retain new talent. As for investing, we have one of the greatest and most varied selection of studios here you can imagine, making awardwinning and critically acclaimed games for all platforms and all genres.” Access to talent is always an issue for new studios, after all great developers don’t just sit around twiddling their thumbs, waiting for someone to show up. That said, having a big pool in a relatively small city makes things far more fluid. “There is a clear need of more talent, as all the studios are expanding,” Tarsier’s Johnsson tells us. “Some people move between the studios, but most of the recruits are people moving to the Malmö region. Malmö is an attractive city, and for the people that want to live in a house, there’s plenty of options with good commutes. I do think however,
with COVID-19, that there might be a slowdown in people moving to Malmö and more people wanting to work remotely, which might slow down the physical growth of studio staff here.” A possible issue, but one that affects everyone, and Skåne’s good public transport system makes living out in the countryside and coming into town occasionally an attractive option. Paradox’s Lars Håhus agrees: “In general people are attracted to the humble size of the city combined with closeness to metropolitan Copenhagen and cozy Lund. The possibility to live in the countryside but still be able to come to the city for work with little commuting is also appreciated by many.” UNIVERSAL ACCLAIM We asked a lot of people a lot of questions about Skåne and Malmö. And almost without exception they were not only enthusiastic about the region and the city, but they also pointed out some great solutions to many of the typical problems that relocating and growing studios can face. Game Habitat’s DevHub provides a fantastic place for smaller studios to startup with huge opportunities to network from day one. Game Assembly helps relieve some of the constant competition all developers have for talent, by introducing new talent, trained to industry needs, on an annual basis. While Nordic Game Conference puts Skåne on the map, seriously reducing the friction for anyone thinking about relocating here. Beyond that, it’s a beautiful part of the world without being a boring one. Placed in a fantastic location as the gateway to Sweden, and within easy reach of both Copenhagen and the rest of the world. With the option of either the post-industrial boom town of Malmö itself, or somewhere more picturesque nearby. It really does look to have it all. Our only regret in writing this piece in 2020 was that we couldn’t visit ourselves. But there’s always next year, and at the speed Skåne is growing in industry esteem, by then there’s certainly bound to be something new to talk about.
Above: Lars Håhus, Paradox Interactive
Below (from top): Andreas Johnsson and David Mervik of Tarsier
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LEARNING FROM THE NORDICS Skåne, and Malmö specifically, are already wellknown to many across Europe (and beyond) thanks to the annual Nordic Game Conference. The event has been running for around 16 years. It’s one of the biggest game industry conferences in Europe, attracting over 2,000 visitors every year, and widely regarded as one of the friendliest and most popular too. Paradox’s Lars Håhus explains the upside for local studios: “It’s truly a time where Malmö can show it’s best side and having a studio in the region enables us to contribute to the program closer with the Nordic Game team each year. “If we have something interesting to share, we love having ‘Paradoxians’ on stage to talk about our latest insights. Paradox being a publisher, we aren’t actively looking for investors but our bizdevs attend to find talent and business opportunities each year. Our presence in the region means that relationships established at the conference are easier to maintain throughout the year.” Tarsier’s Andreas Johnsson agrees: “It’s a major happening every year for us and a lot of the staff participate. As well as all the great talks, the ability for companies to meet us in our neighbourhood & office brings us all a lot closer together. Having the Nordic Game Conference on our doorstep is really a luxury that we must never take for granted, and it’s amazing to see that it has grown so much over the years.” And other organisations rally around during the
this work he decided to use his hometown of Malmö as the place for an annual gettogether, with the aim of giving the Nordic developer community a place to meet, discuss, and network. The city was perfect for this – not being a capitol, but yet very close to a major airport (Copenhagen) it kind of ticked the right boxes as a “neutral” meeting ground for Nordics. When the NGP ended, we took the opportunity to continue running the conference. At that point, in 2012, the conference was already a well-known event in the global calendar, and it was quite logical to continue being in Malmö.
event to expand it across the city, Eliana Oikawa of Game Habitat tells us: “During NGC we take visitors on a bus tour of a bunch of studios like King, Massive, Tarsier, Avalanche, our DevHub as well as to game educations like The Game Assembly, to show a glimpse of all the diversity of talent and success that one can find here.”
We also reach out to Jacob Riis, the organiser of Nordic game Conference to find out more How did the conference get started, why Malmo? The Nordic Game conference originated as a part of the Nordic Game Program, an initiative to create a Nordic games industry with game developers from all over the Nordic countries, funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers. Erik Robertson, current CEO of Nordic Game, was appointed to lead the program, and as part of
Why should developers locate their businesses here today? Most of the reasons I’ve already described above, and maybe adding that today there is a great feeling of community among studios
in Malmö, with established studios willing to share knowledge and experience with startups, making it quite easy to quickly “feel at home”. Also, Malmö is a fairly small town, so you never feel alone or lost. Being from Copenhagen, we often describe Malmö as an “urban village” with friendly people and a vibe of closeness. Aside from the pandemic, how has the conference changed and grown over the years? We started with Nordic Game being a meeting place for the Nordic studios, and as such we had 150 people attending for the first edition in 2004-5. Since then we have worked hard and very focused to keeping the vibe of an annual and cozy gettogether while evolving the show into a global event for anyone working with games. As such I sometimes describe what we do as creating a window – for the Nordic devs to show themselves to the world, and for the global industry to get a unique access to the entire, Nordic industry. So, before the virus we were beyond the magic 2000 attendee mark and were looking to expand even further. Postvirus we did our first ever online Nordic Game in May and had 1300 people participating, and right now we’re working on NG20+ - our first take on a hybrid between online and physical elements.
Right: Jacob Riis, Nordic Game Conference
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Brought to you by
Dolby Atmos powerslides into arcade racing Michael O’Kane of Level 91 Entertainment and and David Baxter of Boom Clap Play explain how they implemented Atmos into twin-stick racer Inertial Drift Inertial Drift is a dual stick arcade style racer inspired by classic drifting games. The audio goal was to reinforce and enhance the stylised visual aesthetics and gameplay. We leveraged Wwise for audio authoring and became aware of the potential of Dolby Atmos and the available Microsoft Spatial Sound Platform Plugin in the early stages of development. We tested the configuration across full 7.1.4 studio monitors, a top firing consumer system, stereo monitors and the headphone renderer. Without changing the mix implementation across any testing scenarios, we found pleasing results with negligible issues.
Above (from top) Michael O’Kane and David Baxter
AMBIENCE DESIGN Using Wwise’s automation panel we created vertically layered ambiences for the game. By setting the positional behaviour to follow the orientation, regardless of positional distance, we could define a zone and fire it off on a single game-object, containing a fully spatialised ambience that reacts to the player’s camera orientation. We then blend between various ambiences as the car moves around the track. For tunnels, we implemented a simple acoustics solution using the built in Wwise surround reverb that feeds into all front and side channels. Sounds are sent to the reverb effect as an auxiliary bus, allowing us to
curate what sounds are impacted by reverb and by how much. We primarily used reverb to enhance the engine sounds when in tunnels, making them sound louder and more powerful. WIND SYSTEM After experimenting with a few different vehicle wind systems, we moved towards a proximity based spatial approach. The distance from the car to the walls is calculated and used to control procedural wind layers in the side channels. The distance to overhead obstacles can also be tracked to provide a layer of wind through the overhead channels enabled by Atmos. This gives the player a lot of feedback about the environment around them, rooting them further into the space. VEHICLE DESIGN Stylised engine sounds were an important part of our audio design. We used a mixture of multi-sampled static RPM loops from library sources, personal vehicles, synthesis and even guitars. After creating a library of mechanical and electronic types, we assigned various characteristics in a procedural manner to each vehicle to create a variety of sounds. To provide detailed road feedback to the player, surface sounds are synthesised per wheel. Each tyre reacts to whatever surface it is in contact with, playing rolling and sliding sound effects based on the speed and slippage. HITTING THE APEX We definitely feel working with Atmos enhanced the audio experience of Inertial Drift, and we were pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to implement. In some respects it is as easy as just switching a plugin on, however we would definitely recommend seeking access to an Atmos equipped mixing room for at least some of your tuning sessions to give you a full perspective on what’s going on. The headphone renderer is great for day-to-day work and definitely enhances the experience, however it doesn’t compare to the imaging you get from a full monitoring solution.
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Brought to you by
A Swift Spotlight: Into Games With an aim to support young people from primary school age through to their first industry role, how has Into Games evolved over the last year? BORN from the frustration at the lack of diversity and pathways into the games industry, co-founders Declan Cassidy and Kirsty Rigden married up their teaching and professional experience to create a movement which helps to build partnerships between the games industry and UK educators. James Bowers from Aardvark Swift speaks with Brandon Cole, partnerships lead, and Millicent Thomas, social and content lead, about Into Games’ past, and what the future holds for diversity and inclusion. “We have an industry which is 90 per cent educated to at least undergraduate level, with a very high socioeconomic barrier as well,” states Brandon. “When we first started, young people weren’t getting industry touch points. There was a real lack of resources and industry engagement. Declan and Kirsty undertook a long research project to determine what the core pillars of Into Games would be and how we could ensure we had the biggest impact possible.” The preparation phase seems to have worked wonders. With an expanding base of original and informative content – including a new podcast series, industry Q&As, regular game jams via Side Quest, and a free online platform for connecting youth organisations with the UK games industry (the Video Game Ambassadors) – they’re firing on all cylinders to ensure that the video game industry is accessible like never before. “We started doing live Twitter Q&As with industry professionals. We’ve now got an amazing database, just from asking people to be available for half an hour to answer questions from people looking to get into similar careers,” says Millicent. “It is so valuable for young people to be able to ask questions directly to their favourite artists and designers.” Allowing young people to ask questions and receive honest and transparent answers will surely work wonders for the next generation of game development. Couple that with the pathways for every industry role being mapped out on the Into Games website, and you can really begin to see the value in this free resource. “Guidance and information are Into Games’ founding principles. There’s so many young people who maybe wouldn’t usually get involved in projects, who become really engaged once they learn there’s more than just programming roles out there. When kids realise they want to be a level designer or work in marketing for games, it is a really cool feeling knowing you helped them come to that realisation,” adds Brandon.
The reactive nature of filling a specific niche is something this small and remote team excels at. Despite global lockdown affecting a large portion of the industry, with most events postponed or cancelled, a digital offering has actually streamlined the Into Games process. “Our work is in a better place because others have moved in-line with us. More often than not we’ve found that remote engagement is better as it is so easy for anyone to get involved and just have it sat there whilst they get on with the rest of their day, like our Into Games Mentorship program which runs over Slack,” states Brandon. Their Into Games Mentorship program has been an incredible success. Seeing a number of mentees go on to exciting positions within the industry. A more remote studio culture also provided Into Games with an opportunity. “For Side Quest, we decided that there were a lot of digital tools out there that we could be using, with a huge network of people who had committed their time to supporting social impact projects and who could now do that more easily. It has been really great to work with the industry more, as well as being a fantastic tool for schools and colleges to use as a regular game jam platform. It has informed some of the future projects we have planned for sure.” You’ll be able to listen to the full conversation with Brandon Cole and Millicent Thomas in an upcoming episode of the Aardvark Swift Podcast, available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, third party apps, and the aswift.com website.
Above: Brandon Cole, Partnership Lead
Above: Millicent Thomas, Social and Content Lead
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HOW TO PITCH YOUR GAME While some in the industry have seen thousands of indie game pitches, many others rarely come across these often secretive documents. Here Stephen Hey shares his pitch for Trailer King, a game that never was, in order to give some pointers on where you might be going wrong
game with • Present the as possible) (as complete go key art and lo atement • Have an X-st s • State format
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e the ‘feeling’
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• Wh at is t he co re loo • Wh p? at do e s t h the ga e play er hav me? e to d • How o in does t h e game • Add play c scr ontinu illustra eenshots/m e? te eac ock-u h stag ps to e
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t it will feel uch about wha • Tell me as m game like to play the pillars ur 3-4 design • What are yo biguity y potential am • Clear up an (Airstream) r selling points he ot y an d • Ad
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• Cred ibility • Wha t have you de the pa livered st? in • Have you de alt with certific ation e tc? • Do y ou und erstan pipelin d all th es invo e lved?
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BEHIND THE STADIA MAKERS Stadia has showcased the first set of games released under its Stadia Makers program Chris Wallace talks to the developers to find out more about the games, and the program itself STADIA has unveiled the first set of games to come to the platform as part of its ‘Stadia Makers’ program. The program, which is run in partnership with Unity, is designed to encourage more indie developers to self-publish their titles on Google’s streaming platform. It offers three key benefits to the studios chosen: technical support from the Unity team, up to five physical development kits, and direct funding from Google to assist with the costs of bringing a game to Stadia.
Today Stadia has unveiled the first seven games coming to Stadia as part of the program, Fireheart Games’s TOHU, Bedtime Digital’s Figment: Creed Valley & Figment, Furyion Games’ Death Carnival, Vox Game Studio’s Kaze and the Wild Masks, Spooky Doorway’s The Darkside Detective Season 2, 2 Ton Studios’ Unto The End and Fishing Cactus’ Nanotale – Typing Chronicles. To find out more about the games, and the benefits of being part of the program, we reached out to each of the seven studios.
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TELL US ABOUT YOUR GAME! TOHU A brand new adventure game that’s set amongst a world of weird and wonderful fish planets. Combining traditional adventure game mechanics with an approachable design, TOHU features a variety of enchanting locations and strange scenarios.
The Darkside Detective Season 2 A brand new collection of comedic pointand-click adventures that will see Detective McQueen in six new standalone cases as he investigates a creepy carnival, explores a retirement home, and even tries to unwind on a trip to ‘sunny’ old Ireland…
Figment A musical action-adventure set in the recesses of the human mind… Welcome to the world of Figment. Join Dusty and his ever-optimistic friend, Piper, on an adventure through the different sides of the mind, solving puzzles to set things straight.
Unto The End It’s a 2D cinematic combat-adventure, featuring a nuanced combat system and handcrafted encounters, which follows a father’s journey through an unforgiving wilderness to get back to his family.
Figment: Creed Valley An encore to Figment. Dusty and Piper have restored peace in The Mind, however, a new adversary is threatening its balance. Our two heroes must travel to Creed Valley, where The Mind’s beliefs and ideals are formed, to face their most menacing and theatrical foe so far. Death Carnival A fast-paced top-down shooter with extreme weapons & online multiplayer mayhem.
WHAT PROCESSES ARE INVOLVED IN BECOMING PART OF THE STADIA MAKERS PROGRAM? Linda Bendsneijder, junior PR manager at SOEDESCO (Kaze and the Wild Masks): We have been talking with the Stadia team ever since we met them back when we were still allowed to meet people face to face. Once we started working with PixelHive to publish Kaze and the Wild Masks, we figured this was a great fit for the Stadia and entered the Makers program. Bruno Urbain, CEO at Fishing Cactus (Nanotale – Typing Chronicles): Applying for the Stadia Makers program is straightforward and does not require much outside a pitch, but as always the more the better. After a first selection phase, the title is evaluated by the Stadia team
Nanotale – Typing Chronicles An atmospheric typing adventure RPG set in a colorful vibrant world. Follow Rosalind, a novice Archivist, as she journeys out to explore a distant world. Kaze and the Wild Masks It embraces all the classic 90’s platformer elements and gives it a personal touch with modern-looking pixel art graphics. Thanks to the powers of the Wild Masks, players can pounce ferociously like a tiger, soar through the sky like an eagle, sprint fiercely like a lizard, and rule the sea like a shark.
and if the game resonates with their editorial line we move forward and agree on the terms. Then there are two distinct things to take care about: developing the title with Stadia specificities and preparing content for Stadia’s marketing team. Stephen Danton, game designer, 2 Ton Studios (Unto The End): It was all pretty painless, we filled out a form, showed some folks Unto The End, and then made it official. David Logan, CEO at Akupara Games (Darkside Detective Season 2): We’ve had a great relationship with Google for many years, and had been chatting with them about Stadia right from the beginning. The Maker’s Program was exciting to us because we received the added support from Unity. The game had to be evaluated by both the Google and Unity teams for consideration.
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WHAT KIND OF TECHNICAL SUPPORT HAVE YOU RECEIVED FROM THE UNITY TEAM?
Stephen Danton, Game Designer at 2 Ton Studios
Bruno Urbain, Fishing Cactus So far, we did not need Unity tech support to get started on Stadia, it might come handy as we dive into the specificities of the platform. Mark Offenberg, game programmer at SOEDESCO So far, the Unity team has been very helpful in thinking along with us. They provide assistance with issues during our development and look into
HOW BENEFICIAL IS THE PART STADIA FUNDING AND DEV KITS TO AN INDIE DEVELOPMENT TEAM?
Ben Marquez Keenan, Developer at Spooky Doorway
Stephen Danton, 2 Ton Studios: Itâ€™s nice for sure. Sara and I really appreciate it. It lets us focus just a little bit more on delivering the right experience for Unto The End. Bruno Urbain, Fishing Cactus: First we have been able to add more time to the project. it means that some post-release features have been integrated into the initial release plan which is always a good thing for players. Mark Offenberg, SOEDESCO: The dev kits have been a great benefit in developing for Stadia. It gives us a reliable source where we can continue
any bugs we encounter. In doing so, they assist us with getting Kaze and the Wild Masks ready for launch. David Logan, Akupara Games Unity has been available to answer any questions for us, big or small. They promptly got hardware into our hands, which isnâ€™t an easy thing as our team is spread out around the world. We also are a part of a Stadia/Unity exclusive forum where we can get direct tech support from both teams. Hans Haave, Bedtime Digital Games: Unity has been quick to answer our questions when facing new situations.
to test Kaze and the Wild Masks at all times. Debugging the game is also significantly faster with the dev kit. Ben Marquez Keenan, Spooky Doorway (Darkside Detective Season 2): The funding is hugely beneficial to a team of our size, it has allowed us to hire in the people we needed and the dev kit makes the whole porting process possible. A few teething problems have made the process a bit slower than we like but Google appears to be working hard to address these issues and make development more streamlined for indies in the future. Hans Haave, Bedtime Digital Games (Figment: Creed Valley): Very. Allows us to increase the scope of our game and work more efficiently.
Mark Offenberg, Programmer at SOEDESCO
David Logan, CEO at Akupara Games
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ARE THERE OTHER BENEFITS IN BEING PART OF THE STADIA MAKERS PROGRAM? Stephen Danton, 2 Ton Studios: More people get to see Unto The End, and we get to learn from and work with some of the folks shaping the future of gaming. It’s extremely exciting. Beyond the Makers program, the ideas behind Stadia have the potential to change gaming forever. A world where you can pick up and play from pretty much anywhere, makes games accessible in a way previously reserved for television and radio. Sara and I really appreciate the opportunity to be a part of that and can’t wait to see how things unfold from here. Bruno Urbain, Fishing Cactus: A complementary marketing campaign provided by Stadia which is kind of helpful whenever you are developing an indie title like we do on Nanotale. It is a game that press doesn’t usually pickup so
DO YOU FEEL INITIATIVES LIKE THIS WILL ALLOW FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF INDIE GAMES THAT MAY NOT OTHERWISE RECEIVE ENOUGH FUNDING? Linda Bendsneijder, SOEDESCO: Yes, we come across a lot of developers with small budgets and I think the Stadia makers program would certainly be beneficial to many. And it’s not just the funding either, as Stadia is able to contribute to the overall success of a title by providing the full package, from tech support to marketing. Offering this complete package helps developers beyond the development of their current game, and also
getting visibility through Stadia is a more than welcome aspect. Linda Bendsneijder, SOEDESCO: It’s the complete package! The technical, producing and marketing support have all been really helpful to us. Whenever we faced any hiccups or had any questions, the Stadia team has always been understanding and contributing to solutions. David Logan, Akupara Games: The Stadia Makers program is a perfect fit for small to midsize indie developers. With their marketing support and funding they help amplify our team and project, and it has created a lot of opportunities to reach a wider audience than our title would have otherwise had. Hans Haave, Bedtime Digital Games: It’s always interesting to be working with cutting edge tech and pioneers developing in a new space. It helps sharpen our ability to be first movers in an ever increasing digital age.
contributes to them (financially) being able to create a second or third game. Bruno Urbain, Fishing Cactus: To be fairly blunt, I would never count on Stadia alone to fund my indie game. For example Nanotale is already available on Steam (Early Access) and funding has been secured way before we enter into a partnership with Stadia. That said Stadia can be an interesting leverage to retain ownership or to put more resources on your game. David Logan, Akupara Games: Absolutely! Indie projects in Unity that need a bit of a financial boost to complete their project should definitely consider developing for Stadia Makers.
Hans Haave, Communications Manager at Bedtime Digital Games
Bruno Urbain, CEO @ Fishing Cactus for Nanotale - Typing Chronicles
Linda Bendsneijder, Junior PR Manager at SOEDESCO
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Digital for 2020
Attend from home, attend for free, supply your own ice cream!
he much-loved annual seaside event has had to make a few changes for 2020 – as have we all. Now taking place on the 2nd to the 4th of November, the event has gone digital and changed its name to match, but it’s still packed with opportunities, interactions and learnings for the industry. Yes, we’ll all miss mingling in the bar, wandering along the beach and eating one too many free ice creams. However, on the plus side you don’t have to leave the comfort of your home and the whole thing is free. So turn up the heating at home, expense a big tub of ice cream and make the best of it! Andy Lane, managing director of Tandem Events explains: “We’re making the whole thing free to ‘attend’ this year as we wanted to support the development community as much as possible, so developers from the UK and across the globe will all be able to access the talks and expo.”
“We’re obviously disappointed not to be having a physical event this year but at the same time we’re hugely excited about Develop:Digital. We’ve got a great lineup of talks covering all our usual tracks across all three days, together with some live panels and an inspirational keynote from Todd Howard.” And a very topical catch Howard is as well, with Bethesda having just been propelled into the spotlight (even more than usual) by the Microsoft acquisition. Howard, and a couple of other standouts, are detailed to right. “On top of that, there’s a virtual expo where exhibitors can interact with visitors in real time,” Lane continues. “And on Wednesday the Develop:Star Awards will recognise and reward the best games and talent within the industry.” We’re looking forward to the event, and we hope to ‘see’ you all there in November.
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DEVELOP BRIGHTON: DIGITAL DETAILED THE CONFERENCE Bethesda Game Studios director Todd Howard will deliver the conference’s headline keynote on Monday 2 November at 5pm GMT. Tuesday’s keynote will be delivered by Dominic Robilliard, Creative Director at Sony Interactive Entertainment America. Develop:Brighton Digital’s third keynote session is a live panel – Running a Game Studio –All You Need to Know. Studio heads will discuss their experiences and there will also be a live Q&A with attendees. Speakers also include representatives from Ubisoft, Mediatonic Games, Frontier Developments, Media Molecule and Splash Damage. The conference will consist of four sessions for each of the eight tracks: Design, Art, Audio, Business, Coding, Mobile, Indie, Discoverability. Sessions run from 10am to 6pm GMT and will be streamed online through ReAttendance. Access to the conference and expo is completely free, but registration will be required to access the website and its many features. All confirmed speakers can be found via the website.
THE EXPO The Reattendance website will also house this year’s expo. Here, users will be able to browse virtual booths set up by our exhibitors.
The booths will be staffed live by representatives ready to answer any questions attendees might have. Any companies wishing to exhibit at Develop:Brighton Digital should reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
REGISTRATION Go to: www.developconference.com
THE AWARDS The Develop:Star Awards will take place virtually at 5pm GMT on Wednesday 4 November, at the conclusion of the conference and expo. The broadcast, MC’d by Strictly Come Dancing’s legendary Alan Dedicott, will be streamed through ReAttendance as well as the Develop:Brighton YouTube channel. Seventeen awards will be given out, celebrating the best of the video game development community. This year’s Develop:Star will be awarded to Bethesda Game Studios’ Todd Howard at the conclusion of the event. For more information and the latest updates about Develop:Brighton Digital and the Develop:Star Awards, visit developconference.com and follow @DevelopConf on Twitter.
Three to watch at Develop: Brighton Digital
TODD HOWARD, GAME STUDIOS DIRECTOR, BETHESDA Todd Howard, the Bethesda veteran needs little introduction. Having directed acclaimed titles across both the Elder Scrolls and Fallout series over his long career. Howard is currently directing Starfield, Bethesda’s first new gaming universe in over 25 years
DOMINIC ROBILLIARD, CREATIVE DIRECTOR, SONY INTERACTIVE ENTERTAINMENT AMERICA Creative Director of Pixelopus, who most recently directed the multiple award winning and two time BAFTA nominated Concrete Genie for PS4. He previously worked on The Getaway series and the (sadly) cancelled Star Wars 1313.
LYDIA ANDREW, SENIOR AUDIO DIRECTOR, UBISOFT With almost 20 years of experience at EA and Ubisoft across multiple titles and genres – including Battlefield, Harry Potter and Assassin’s Creed – she has immense experience to share and is currently heading up audio on the upcoming Immortals: Fenyx Rising.
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25th November WITH THANKS TO
Join us for an inspiring livestream awards on November 25th We’re very excited to announce this year’s Women in Games Awards shortlist, opposite. Congratulations to everyone who made it out of many, many, many entries. This year’s event will be livestreamed. The decision was somewhat forced upon us, but the outcome is looking brilliant. We’re now working with game event production experts ADVNCR on the awards, and thanks to them we’ll be doing a full live production. We’re super excited to have two incredible hosts for the event, with Charleyy Hodson (Xbox) and Elle Osili-Wood (BBC), both of whom had made our shortlists before coming onboard for the event. We’ll also have some special guests in the studio on the day, and plenty more joining us remotely.
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All of our shortlisted nominees will have the option to join us live. It should be an incredible event to celebrate the contribution of women to the UK’s games industry. And we‘re hoping you can all join us too on the afternoon of Wednesday the 25th of November, we’re expecting the event to run for under an hour, exact timings TBC. The shortlist is opposite. A big thanks to all of our judges for putting in the time and eﬀort to choose our winners. We’ll be featuring them all in an upcoming feature on the state of play for women in the industry Finally, we’d like to thank our sponsors for this year’s event, without whom it would not be possible: Rare, Facebook Gaming, Unity, EA, ADVNCR, Amiqus, Creative Assembly, Hangar 13, OPM Jobs and Splash Damage.
WOMEN IN GAMES AWARDS SHORTLIST 2020 Rising Star of the Year – Development Sponsored by Creative Assembly • Hannah Rose, Bithell Games • Inês Filipa Brasil Lagarto, Lab42 • Jasmine Moore, Sumo Digital (Nottingham) • Jessica Sham, TT Games • Julia Shusterman, Sports Interactive • Vicky McKelvey, Supermassive Games Rising Star of the Year – Business Sponsored by EA • Christie Moulding, Team17 • Emily Horler, ReedPop, UK • Emma Withington, Bastion • Eva Poppe, Unity • Shazina Adam, SIEE • Katie Laurence, Ubisoft Creative Impact of the Year Sponsored by Splash Damage • Anna Hollinrake, Mediatonic • Helen Kaur, Rocksteady • Jess Hyland, Wonderstruck • Julie Savage, Supermassive Games • Karoline Forsberg, nDreams • Lily Zhu, Splash Damage
Technical Impact of the Year In association with Made with Unity • Amy Phillips, Media Molecule • Anastasiia Tsaplii, Bossa Studios • Cheryl Razzell, Polystream • Michelle Chapman, Sumo Digital • Mohrag Taylor, Creative Assembly • Nareice Wint, Lucid Games & Party Llama Games
Journalist of the Year • Elle Osili-Wood, Freelance journalist and presenter • Jessica Wells, Network N • Lara Jackson, GameByte • Louise Blain, Dialect/Freelance • Vic Hood, TechRadar • Vikki Blake, Eurogamer & NME
Comms Impact of the Year • Amy Hughes, Square Enix • Charleyy Hodson, Xbox UK • Haley Uyrus, Mediatonic • Taylea Enver, Frontier Developments • Sola Kasali, EA • Zuzanna ‘Zee’ Inczewska, Team Adopt Me Businesswoman of the Year Sponsored by Amiqus • Gemma Johnson-Brown, Dovetail Games • Korina Abbott, Neonhive • Maria Sayans, Ustwo • Nusrat Shah, Exient • Tina Lauro Pollock, Brain and Nerd Ltd • Lauran Carter, Liquid Crimson
Career Mentor of the Year Sponsored by Hangar 13 • Caroline Miller, Indigo Pearl • Korina Abbott, NeonHive • Melissa Phillips, Silver Rain Games • Romana Ramzan, Glasgow Caledonian University • Tara Mustapha, Code Coven • Anisa Sanusi, Limit Break Mentorship Games Campaigner of the Year Sponsored by OPM Jobs • Cinzia Musio, Splash Damage • Fey Vercuiel, Studio Gobo • Lauren Kaye, She Plays Games • Marie-Claire Isaaman, Women in Games • Michelle Tilley, Sony Interactive Entertainment • Roz Tuplin, Games London Outstanding Contribution Sponsored by Rare The recipient of this award will be announced during the livestream event.
WWW.WOMENINGAMESAWARDS.COM Headline Sponsor
Award Sponsor (Businesswoman of the Year)
Exclusive Media Partner
Award Sponsor (Rising Star – Development)
In association with
Award Sponsor (Career Mentor of the Year)
Award Sponsor (Games campaigner of the Year)
Award Sponsor (Creative Impact of the Year)
If you’re interested in getting involved with the awards next year please contact: email@example.com
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Meet the Women of Xbox Xbox’s UK studios and office have banded together to create a new, officially recognised, group that campaigning for greater diversity, representation and support of women in the games industry. Seth Barton talks to Rare’s Louise O’Connor about the initiative
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box has been a progressive force in the industry of late. Its dual-tiered console strategy is innovative, the EA Play deal furthered its ambitions to change the way games are distributed, and the ZeniMax acquisition is the most exciting in years, potentially redefining the term first-party. And now, just as crucially, the platform is making another positive progressive move, with the announcement of Women of Xbox – United Kingdom. The new group is formed of women from right across the Xbox family in the UK. With representatives from across all disciplines of games development at Rare, Playground Games and Ninja Theory, as well as other Xbox teams. We caught up with Rare’s Louise O’Connor, executive producer on Everwild, to discuss the founding and aims of the new group. “I’ve been working at Rare for a long time, and I’ve been a part of the Women in Games group at Rare,” O’Connor tells us – she also gave a brilliant keynote at last year’s Women in Games Awards. But recently the Rare group found new allies with the huge growth of Xbox Game Studios which started in 2018. “We wanted to use this opportunity of partnering with our sister studios, with Ninja, with Playground, with the Xbox teams in London and Reading, and just build a community of women, a support network for the women that are already in the industry, but also as an inspiration for girls and women who want to get into the industry. To offer them our perspective on what it’s like to be in the industry.” A BREATH OF FRESH RARE That’s something which is much needed at present, as the media discussion of women in games has had a decidedly toxic air about it during 2020. And while there are issues, O’Connor explains, there’s space for celebration as well. “This group of women have come together to celebrate the diversity that we have, the way the industry has changed and grown. And there is a celebration in that, we have to be proud of all the work that we’ve put in. And we have to be proud of the fact that we are willing to put more work in to continue to drive diversity across our studios. And so we have to celebrate that. “There’s no room and no space for toxicity, or bad behaviour in our business and in our communities. And so I think this is a great opportunity for us to talk about the fact that this is a great industry to be a part of, there is nothing to stop any woman thriving, to have a great career. And to feel included and be creative, to have an opportunity to do anything that they want to do in the games industry.
“A long time ago, it was
“And I will climb to the top of the highest mountain – well maybe not the highest mountain because I’m not a very good climber,” she laughs, “but I will go somewhere really high. And I will shout it from the top of it, that this is a great industry to be in.” Our feeling is that women’s standing in our industry has improved immensely over the last 20 years – from a low bar admittedly. However, to make more progress it becomes necessary to shine a light on some pretty ugly stuff. Which in turn could make some outside think that things are getting worse rather than better, when overall the opposite is true over the long term. “I think that’s very true,” replies O’Connor. “It’s certainly a very different place to what it was, a very different industry. I actually feel quite privileged to have been part of that journey, to see first hand how it’s evolved, I hope that I can inspire people coming into the industry to know that it’s ever changing. And it’s so willing to grow and learn and continues to want to do that. “We’ve worked really hard, and this is my personal take, but I think it’s because our audiences have changed. A long time ago, it was a boy’s world. And that’s so not true right now – girls are pirates, too,” quips O’Connor in reference to Rare’s own Sea of Thieves. “And I think that that’s the important change. It is our audience. And I think our industry needs to change to reflect our audience. And that’s what’s happened over the last 20 odd years.” Now that may sound like a long, slow grind, but O’Connor thinks that games are actually transforming faster than many similar industries. “When you think about us as an entertainment industry, I think the games industry is so fast paced, compared to things like the WE’LL BE CELEBRATING the priceless contribution that movie industry, it’s women make to the games industry at our Women in Games Awards on Wednesday 25th of November – with our headline one of the many reasons that I love sponsor this year being Xbox Game Studios’ Rare. Join us online for a fantastic livestream event. For more information to be working see page 48. in it.
a boy’s world. And that’s so not true right now – girls are pirates, too”
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“What I see now is an industry that is willing to self reflect and make changes, they want to diversify, they want to see representation in games, and they want to be inclusive, they want to be accessible. I feel that as an industry that we’ve evolved, like this idea of gaming for good. Really thinking about our audience and our players and trying to get as many players into our games, giving them the opportunity to play the things that we’ve worked so hard to build and make. That’s what I love about what we do.” A PLAYGROUND FOR ALL It’s still early days for Women of Xbox, but the very fact that Microsoft has chosen to champion what could have been a wholly inward-looking
initiative is very promising. So what does the organisation have planned? “The initial idea was that we really wanted to do an event and have people come and meet up. But obviously we can’t do that,” explains O’Connor. “So instead we’ve decided to start with a series of videos, letting the Women of Xbox talk openly about their industry, with the first being, naturally, how they got started in games. “We wanted it to feel like a panel discussion. So we’ve got a group of women from across the studios, from a variety of different disciplines, and all at different levels, who have come into the industry in lots of different ways. “And they are just talking about their own experiences getting into the industry and
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“I believe in the power of being creative with a diverse team, to really think differently about what our audience wants and needs and expects.”
hopefully sharing some useful nuggets of information and insight. “We’re very lucky to have a great amount of support from people around the different studios to help us create this,” she adds, “We’re all together in one group.” Future topics are currently still up for debate: “We want to work with all the women across the studios to really think about what kinds of topics we’d like to talk about in the future. “And then we’ll continue to make videos and do panel discussions and hopefully talk about things that you don’t normally talk about in the games industry because they’re coming from very different perspectives, and can hopefully give some insight into just being in the games industry, which are relevant to everybody.” Beyond that there’s an awful lot more that the group could undertake of course, connecting the initiative to in-game content for instance, or launching paid internships to proactively improve diversity. “This is exactly the kind of stuff that we’re discussing. At the moment, we’re just in that ideas gathering phase. There’s a selection of things that we’ve started to target, that we feel are achievable, right now, and then as we grow this group, and we build, the goal will be to really think about how we can use our games, our platforms, and our communities, our social platforms to really make a difference in our industry and in our products.” Rare and Ninja Theory both have been exemplars in terms of engaging with women through their games, and it will be interesting to see how they both, along with Playground Games’ upcoming Fable, continue to evolve in that respect in the years to come. “With my project [Everwild] and what I do in my studio, I believe in the power of diversity and the teams because I think we represent our audience far better in that respect. And that’s how we make great games. And that’s how we make different things. “I believe in the power of being creative with a diverse team, to really think differently about what our audience wants and needs and expects. I get really excited about the future of the industry. And I’m someone who’s, you know, I’m old school. But the future is bright. There’s so many opportunities for new experiences that we could present to our players and new audiences that we can bring into our platforms. “And we’re thinking not just about the workplace and how essential it is to have a diverse workplace environment. But also about the amazing communities that we create as a result of these games that we’re releasing –and I get really excited about all of that. The future is ours to take! Let go do it! Let’s go diversify our teams. Let’s go build our industry up, let’s go shine a light on the great things that we do.”
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Will Game Pass fund indies? With Microsoft making aggressive, headline-grabbing moves with its subscription service, Chris Wallace finds out what Game Passâ€™ recent developments mean for smaller creators
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“£70 on PS5, or ‘free’ via Game Pass”
t seems, if Microsoft has its way, that we’re about to have a very Game Pass Christmas. The company has been focusing its efforts on its subscription service for some time now – It even seems to be prioritising Game Pass over selling its own hardware. Matt Booty told us last year that Microsoft first-party titles would still play on the Xbox One for the first couple of years of the Series X and S’s lifespan. It was an unconventional, headline-grabbing promise, but it shows Microsoft’s clear commitment to keeping players in the Microsoft ecosystem via Game Pass, regardless of the hardware under their TVs. Game Pass goes beyond the Xbox too – It has been available on PC for some time now, even featuring PC-exclusive titles such as Crusader Kings III. And Microsoft has been expanding beyond even that, recently linking its live streaming platform xCloud into the Game Pass service, expanding its reach to Android phones (though it’s having some issues with Apple’s App store rules, so don’t expect it on iOS just yet). It isn’t enough to just make the service available if there’s nothing to play on it, of course. So Microsoft has made some major additions to its rolling 100+ game library in two bombshell announcements. First, the announcement that EA’s own subscription service, EA Play, would be joining Xbox Game Pass, bringing mammoth franchises such as FIFA, The Sims, and Mass Effect to Microsoft’s service at no extra cost. It was, we thought at the time, the biggest deal in gaming. Our own MCV/DEVELOP editor Seth Barton remarked: “it makes us wonder, if this, then what next?” Well, “what next” turned out to be an even bigger bombshell, with a $7.5 billion purchase of Zenimax – Bringing the The Elder Scrolls, Fallout and Doom franchises, plus many more, into Microsoft’s toybox. It’s still unclear if Microsoft intends to share its toys with Sony or not – sure, having the next Elder Scrolls exclusive to your platform is a good way to shift consoles. But with next-gen games set to increase in
Douglas Flinders Director of Bit Loom
Mike Rose Founder of No More Robots
price, the offer of “£70 on PS5, or ‘free’ via Game Pass” is still an incredibly tempting one. The consumer argument for Game Pass looks pretty clear cut, then. But what about developers? Game Pass currently boasts over 15 million subscribers, which is likely to increase as EA Play and Zenimax’s library are added to the service. That’s a lot of eyeballs on your game, and it’s particularly tempting for indie developers – there’s no longer a need to produce time-consuming demos if players can try out your entire game via a subscription service. But does appearing on Game Pass help or hurt sales of your game? And while xCloud brings more potential eyeballs to your title than ever before, does the incoming triple-A deluge of titles run the risk of drowning out smaller creators? THE GAME PASS BUMP First things first, how useful is GamePass to indie developers today? How much does the service actually drive discoverability and sales? “It’s been very dependent on the game for us,” notes Mike Rose, founder of No More Robots. “For Descenders, it has been immense. Sales across all platforms increased after we went into Game Pass – for example, Steam sales tripled since Game Pass – and Xbox sales themselves quadrupled after Game Pass. “For Hypnospace Outlaw, Steam sales have doubled since we entered Game Pass, although it’s tricky to say that’s definitely Game Pass causing that, since we also launched on Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 that day too. For Nowhere Prophet, we haven’t really seen increased sales or discoverability anywhere. So it’s definitely been a bit all over the place.” “Unfortunately PHOGS! hasn’t released yet so we don’t have any data to share,” says Douglas Flinders, director of Bit Loom, who’s twin-headed dog simulator PHOGS! Is set to launch on Game Pass (as well as PC, Switch and PS4) later this year.
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“But we can tell from personal experience, from using Game Pass, that being part of that ecosystem is a great place to be. We have found ourselves experimenting and playing more genres and games outside our comfort zone. “With Xbox driving the Game Pass subscription service with the Xbox Series S|X, we are excited to be a part of the catalogue and reach players we otherwise might not have. “Getting the word out is half the battle for smaller developers with interchanging roles. Our publisher has thankfully taken away a lot of stress of getting PHOGS! in front of gamers and let us focus on making the best possible experience for anyone who plays the game” A mixed bag then – though Descenders’ performance is certainly going to attract attention to those considering bringing their title to Game Pass. So how easy is it to get Microsoft’s attention? Can you seek out your success on Game Pass, or does your game already need to be successful to even be considered? It seems obvious that it’s in Microsoft’s best interests to pick out the already popular titles for its platform. “It’s tricky,” agrees Rose. “Arguably, Microsoft only really wants to put titles that are successful, or they know will be successful, onto Game Pass, otherwise players will complain. That being said, I think it’s really cool that they allowed us to add Hypnospace Outlaw to Game Pass. The game was already successful on PC, but it’s pretty niche and pretty weird, so obviously they’re open to adding wacky stuff too!” “For us at Bit Loom,” notes Flinders, “getting on Game Pass was an exciting surprise as we mainly saw larger games and more well-known indies getting selected to be part of the Game Pass service. Having Coatsink as our publisher has definitely helped us to get PHOGS! on Game
Pass with their previous successes as a publisher of indie titles. “Coatsink has built relationships with first parties over the years and I’d expect that this would help determine being offered to be included in the Game Pass service.” Game Pass isn’t quite a free-for-all – and its uses for discoverability would suffer if it was. But it’s an encouraging sign that Microsoft is willing to entertain the potentially successful titles too – provided a reputable publisher is involved too, of course. GAME PASS FOR ALL Still, for those lucky enough to be chosen, both Rose and Flinders agree that the platform is an encouraging sign for smaller creators. “It’s still pretty early along into the life of Game Pass,” says Rose, “but currently I would argue that it has been beneficial to the majority of smaller devs who have got titles on there. I would imagine that being on Game Pass has reduced a lot of porting risk for a lot of studios.” Flinders shares Rose’s general optimism here, adding: “Services like Game Pass can give a new, wider audience to smaller developers and help them continue making interesting games by giving a platform for new players to discover their game and recommend it to a friend, driving sales on other platforms. “It is easy for smaller games from less wellknown developers to become lost in the sea of other games being released at any given time so Game Pass and the support of the Xbox team is priceless in helping drive maximum visibility on the Xbox platform.” These benefits to indies will surely only increase with the addition of xCloud. Being able to stream your game to mobile platforms, at no additional cost to the user, must surely be a real boon for discoverability. What exactly is the potential for xCloud bringing indie games to a wider audience? “We’ve already seen it,” says Rose. “We were asking to have Descenders on xCloud quite early on in the preview, and it has definitely increased our player numbers. I can’t really say by how much, I’m currently not able to see that data, but we are told by players quite regularly that they played on xCloud.”
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“It is exciting to know that people will be able to play the game without owning an expensive console or computer.” says Flinders. “Not everyone will spend money on a games console but those people might have a phone they can stream the game to. “The Streaming space is an exciting place right now, Stadia, xCloud and Amazon all believe in the streaming model and it gives the accessibility and a low entry point to consumers to get highquality games without a hardware barrier.” THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT? Still, it isn’t all rosy. As we head into the next generation, Microsoft is clearly focused on bringing even more big-label titles to Game Pass than ever before. It’s an exciting prospect for consumers, sure. But what of the indie developers? How can an unknown, low-budget title compete for attention when it’s surrounded by FIFA, Fallout and Doom? “This was and is always the concern with any of these sorts of platforms,” says Rose. “And yeah, I imagine it will creep that way in the coming months and years. It’s in Microsoft’s hands to keep bringing as many smaller titles into the service, as they do with triple-A titles”
“Visibility is always going to be an issue for indie developers,” notes Flinders, “especially when up against triple-A games. However, we’d like to think that the extra support from Xbox for being part of Game Pass will bring more subscription users to stumble upon smaller indie games like PHOGS! and try out more indie games where they might not have otherwise if it wasn’t just included with their subscription.” It’s always an interesting time whenever the industry is on the cusp of a new generation. But this generation in particular – with Microsoft’s subscription service offering an aggressive challenge to Sony’s dominance of the market, feels particularly interesting. It just remains to be seen if Microsoft can keep Game Pass friendly for indies.
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Gongs Go Global Forced to give up its usual showbiz trappings, The Game Awards decided to push forward with a more global, multiple location event. Geoff Keighley tells MCV/DEVELOP about his big plans for the big night
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he Game Awards returns for 2020 on December 10th, but like every other awards show it will be a little different this year. Rather than being presented from a glitzy theatre venue packed with the great-and-good of the industry, the event will instead adapt to the prevailing pandemic conditions. Of course, the event was always an online one, for audiences at least, with the blend of awards and exclusive trailers reaching over 50m global viewers last year. Beyond that the show acts as an anchor for playable content, demos, extended live streams and other experiences. Plus there will be sales across all major platforms linked into the event. All of which is rolled together under The Game Festival banner. And with E3 having been heavily disrupted this year, first switching to a digital event and then deferring to the Black Lives Matter protests, the Game Awards, with plenty of forewarning and coming off the back of the big console launches, is looking to be the biggest single stage in town in 2020. So rather than simply relocating to a smaller, emptier venue, Geoff Keighley and his team have instead taken the opportunity to go global. With three locations, Los Angeles, Tokyo and London, all combining to provide what should be a night to remember. We caught up with host and executive producer Geoff Keighley to discuss this year’s plans in more detail.
Why did you decide to switch to three locations? I’ve always dreamed of hosting The Game Awards internationally. This year, since the world can’t fly to LA to attend the show, we thought we’d bring the show to the world. It felt like the right approach to have hub locations in North America, Europe and Asia. I’m tremendously excited about the possibilities.
Will you be gathering all the shortlisted nominees across the three locations? Our plans are still taking shape, but we hope to have select guests appear live at each of our hub city locations under strict COVID-19 safety protocols. Nominees will join us via live link from their home locations. We are not planning to have a large gathering of people or live public audiences in any of our locations this year. What are the challenges of hosting a live awards show digitally? We’ve always streamed the show digitally, so the at home viewer experience won’t be any different: They can expect awards, world premieres, musical performances and a big celebration of gaming. The main challenge I’ve been thinking about a lot is how to capture the energy of the live crowd and bring that to the show. The good news there is that we have 5,000+ co-streamers across all the platforms that react to the news. With the new consoles launching just a few weeks before the event, there’s intense interest in gaming at present, even beyond the usual community, so what are your audience expectations? It’s a great question. I feel tremendous weight on my shoulders to deliver a show that celebrates the vital role this industry has played in entertaining the world in 2020. It’s certainly an exciting time for our industry. We’re working hard to have some great game announcements that showcase the forward momentum in 2021 and beyond. It will be very interesting to see how the event pans out, but there will undoubtedly be some big stories and big trailers launched on the night. Plus Keighley is continuing to explore the show’s ability to launch demos and the like, in order to instantly engage viewers with new content they can play, rather than just watch.
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Brought to you by
The face of gaming is changing – marketers need to catch up Gaming audiences are evolving, so it’s more important than ever that marketers know who they’re speaking to, and what their message is. There are countless clichés about the video game industry, and one of the most prevalent is the idea that there is such a thing as a typical gamer. If you ask someone to describe a ‘gamer’ they’ll most likely paint a stereotypical picture of a young male with a controller in his hands. The true picture of a gamer is infinitely more diverse, as anyone who has had the pleasure of attending Gamescom in real life can attest. However, this isn’t necessarily reflected in the way games are marketed. This suggests some in the industry believe these clichés themselves, whether consciously or unconsciously. Women in Gaming Research by Newzoo shows that, contrary to popular perceptions (both inside and outside of the industry), 42% of console gamers are female. But when looking at the product, creative and targeting of many major console game marketing campaigns, it would be easy to think that only men are buying games.
Ciarán Norris has over 20 years’ experience of digital marketing. His experience leading award-winning teams encompasses embedding SEO best practice into major media organisations, leading the commercial roll-out of Tumblr in Australia, and working with clients ranging from Nike to Rolex, Unilever to Ford. Ciarán currently leads Facebook’s team focused on supporting PC & Console Gaming companies in EMEA.
There are, however, positive signs. Games such as Wolfenstein: Youngblood and The Last of Us Part II showed us the cliche that gamers won’t play games built around female characters is a myth. More recently, Square Enix didn’t put Captain America, Iron Man or one of the obvious male characters at the heart of Marvel’s Avengers, but instead built the game around Ms Marvel, a Muslim Pakistanki-American woman, and the game was the best selling title in the UK at the time of writing this. One of the most anticipated games of the year, Cyberpunk 2077, will do away with binary gender choices entirely. As CD Projekt Red’s Senior Concept Artist Marthe Jonkers said: “You don’t choose your gender... you now choose a body type...and we have two voices, one that’s male sounding, one is female sounding. You can mix and match.”
In terms of product, it sometimes feels like one step forward and one step back. Analysis of the games showcased in press-conferences at E3 between 2015 and 2019 showed a disconnect in representation. The number of games with multiple character options had increased and the games which ‘centred’ males as the primary characters had gone down. However, the number of games showcased in 2019 which centred women was also lower than all bar one of the previous four years. One of the many sad things about E3 not taking place this year is that we will never know if that number would have gone up.
These games are simply tapping into pent up demand within the gaming community, as our analysis of conversations around the last two E3s showed. At E3 2018, women represented 39 per cent of the conversations taking place on Facebook on the first morning of the event but in the run up to E3 2019, they made up 41 per cent of the conversation. The ads that are being shown to these existing and potential customers also often reinforce the stereotype of games designed primarily for men, but evidence from similar industries shows that needn’t be the
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“It’s clear that many in the industry care passionately about building an environment that’s more welcoming to women, and about making games that better represent them” case. When looking to acquire new audiences, the entertainment industry often relies on a convergent personalization strategy. This can often lead to unconscious bias in the advertising (for example, action is for men, romance for women). When working with the BBC on the launch of the first female Dr Who, we wanted to establish deeper, unbiased connections with the intended new audiences at each opportunity. We did this by leveraging machine learning and real people feedback in the development of new trailers, to minimize assumptions, increase relevance and, ultimately, drive business results; for that particular campaign, a 36 point lift in ad recall amongst females. Make 2021 the year of diversity It’s clear that many in the industry care passionately about building an environment that’s more welcoming to women, and about making games that better
represent them. We’re very proud to be one of the five founding Pledge Partners for UKIE’s #RaiseTheGame Diversity Pledge but even happier there are now more than 60 other companies associated with the gaming that have signed up. If yours isn’t one of them, now is the time to do so. 2021 promises to be an incredible year for the games industry. It will start with two new consoles and continuing potential for VR and cloud gaming, all of which could broaden PC and console gaming audiences even further beyond the outdated cliches of young men. It’s also an opportunity to refresh marketing strategies and media plans to fully embrace the diversity of gamers. Because if they aren’t in line with the people the games industry doesn’t currently reach, they risk missing the chance to bring a new generation of players into the next generation of gaming.
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When We Made... Fall Guys
actually look at you. And even with that little bit of work, with the help of the animation and really smart designers and engineers, with everybody working together, you could tell from the very beginning that Chris Wallace takes a look thereally gravitate she was a character thatbehind people would scenes of the toward.” surprise mega-success of Quill really fleshedfor out character with the year, and finds outbecomes what ita fully means the help of the game’s strong world-building. As an Mediatonic going forward. interloper in Quill’s world, the player experiences it not through her eyes, but as an observer watching as she lives her life in her familiar setting. It’s a strangely intimate feeling, and one which gives way to joint apprehension as both new, has unfamiliar thinkthe it’splayer fair toand sayQuill thatenter Fall Guys done areas. pretty “When you go throughIt’s Mousetown youlast seeIQuill well for Mediatonic. strange toand think, spoke run through there and you the see launch that sheofhas hometown, to the studio, around theaTonic Games theGroup, feelingthat of her leaving it, of that town being in their then-upcoming titlemaybe was mentioned danger, you more of a bond,” Alderson says. “If just ingives passing. that part out,clearly you wouldn’t likeFall there was but The was teamleft was excited feel about Guys, much to fight for. Everything that we’ve mood we had no idea that the game woulddone, soonthe come to settings, taking from onefor area to the to next and –letting dominate myQuill Twitter feed months come a you rest andimprovement take in this environment… supposed dramatic over the filth It’s youallpeople to usually exaggerate fill it and with,accentuate frankly. that mood that you’re feeling. It all ties back how are connecting with Looking back it’sinto hard notyou to kick myself for not and her world.” having a sense of what the game would become – Above: Jeff Tanton, Mediatonic Quill
think of how much of a smug ‘I told you so’ article this SAME WAYS couldQUESTION have been! EIGHT The game’s already iconic art style Collaboration wasdesign, key during thewith development of Moss and character mixed its anarchic pick-up, notand-play just within gameplay, the teammakes itself, but it look with destined the help of forexternal success playtesters. – in hindsight, People at were least.often brought in to feedback on In fact, it’s this perceived simplicity, its ability to appeal to inexperienced players with little explanation, that has led some to imply that this was an easy win for Mediatonic – a simple game, released at the right time to tap into the right market. “It’s interesting when people are like ‘oh, Mediatonic has had this huge hit and they’re making it look easy,’” notes Jeff Tanton, creative director at Mediatonic. “This was not easy. You know, we actually went through
the game and asked questions about their experience – even if most of these questions were actually very similar. “External playtests were mostly about ‘Okay, how do people feel when they play? Do they like it or not like it?’,” Alderson explains. “At the end of playtest we would ask the same question eight different ways. The question is really ‘What didn’t you like?’, but we would ask it differently: ‘What pulled you out of the experience? What took you out of the headset? If there’s one thing you could change what would it be? If you had two weeks to finish the game, what would be the thing that you’d fix?’ “Those help bring a playtester into their comfort zone, wants to play people abecause time in no theone studio where we something had a few that projects fallput a lot of care lovework into out andthe thenway turnwe around and say through andand didn’t expected, ‘Thiswe’d is what I didn’t like about it’. So it takes awe’re little while and take on other projects – because get the studio. playtester comfortable, and weused foundtothat atoresilient One of our designers say finding different to ask same question that we’re ever ways prepared forthe misfortune, we’vemeans got a you eventually get around the reallythat.” good stuff after the fourth or survivor’s instinct fifth time you ask it. “I don’tGAUNTLET think anyone in our studio has ever made a FOOL’S game this, so Iinstinct, think it’sand important trust the It’s thislike survivor’s being that ableyou to move on from process. misfortune You trustthat playtesting led to Fall and Guys’ you make creation. sureAs that you Tanton allow yourself explains, some in the timemonths and freedom beforetoGDC try something 2018, the team and then looked keepback going. at Try some something of their new previous and branch projectsout, –but ones alsowhere use your they experience had studied fromthe games industry, that you’ve believing they’d made before found and a niche, you’llbut be fine. the projects As long as hadn’t you’re quite having worked fun too! We out.enjoyed playing Moss throughout the entire process “So I asked and I think the team that really specifically, helps.” ‘just this once, throw business out the window and pitch me something you want to play.’ And out of that, Joe Walsh [game designer at Mediatonic] came to me with this one pager, which he called Fool’s Gauntlet. “And it was great, because it was clearly something he wanted to play, and inadvertently he had found something that had an incredible business case behind it as well. The only thing working against it was that it was a Battle Royale, and I was like, ‘Fortnite and PUBG are everywhere. There’s literally no way we’re
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Left: Fall Guys was born out of a pitch originally called Fool’s Gauntlet going to find we’re going to be able to sell ourselves in the battle royale space.’” Still, Fall Guys found a way to stand out against the crowd, and Mediatonic took the game to publisher Devolver Digital. “I think we had a strong feeling we’re going to take this to Devolver” says Tanton, “we’ve always wanted to work with them again, we were just glad that they liked it. I think we could have taken elsewhere quite easily, but when Devolver got on board we just knew it was just a match for us. “The game didn’t land fully formed, but Joe’s pitch was strong. Generally we have a series of rounds of meetings – I think Pixar calls them ‘brain trusts,’ which is a very wanky term – but it’s basically we’d get people in the room to give honest feedback and knock the idea into shape, and that happened very, very quickly for Fall Guys.” If only the rest of the process was as painless. While Fall Guys may be simple to play, it certainly wasn’t a simple process putting it together. “The thing with Fall Guys is, this is fully networked physics, with 60 players all at once, where everyone is having broadly exactly the same experiences as everyone else at the same time. There’s all of these messages about where your limbs are, how you’re
falling, how the physics is taking effect... that was a huge overhead for the team and just a constant thing they had to tackle. “That was the bravery of the team. The only way to do that work is to have to get it working with five players, then ten and then you optimise and you build up. They basically entered this thing not knowing if it was possible, but just kind of hoping they could make it work. So, huge respect for the engineering team for pushing through that and having all of these physics characters knocking about and doing all the right things. That was tough.” Beyond just getting the game to function at all, the team had the additional challenge of not being able to play it for much of development. “We always thought the game would be fun, but we struggled with the early levels, because it’s really tough to test at scale – we had to find 60 people.
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Above: Getting the game to work for 60 players all at once proved challenging
“And that was another thing when it comes to the physics. They were making these levels before we’d really understood how the character moves. And then sometimes the way the character moves would have to be changed, because of the problems that were being solved with the 60 player network. It’s like, look, you can’t have the character bend in all these different ways, we’re sending too many messages. You know, when you times that by 60, and then you times that by all of the things moving and suddenly the internet’s falling over, we can’t do this. “So it wasn’t until midway through development, that we were even starting to understand how the game played, and how these things intersected and how these problems will be solved. “So the team did a really great job, on all counts. There were a lot of problems and none of them were separate, they were all interconnected. And the biggest thing for design was they didn’t get a chance to really play the game and understand what the game was until far later in development than I think you’d have with a lot of titles.” DESIGNING THE BEAN Despite the challenges (and some initial server troubles immediately following the game’s launch), Fall Guys has gone on to spectacular success. There’s any number of reasons for this, but one thing that definitely helped Mediatonic’s title stand out from the crowd
was its art style, and the design of the eponymous Fall Guys in particular. “We knew intrinsically, having watched things like Takeshi’s Castle and Total Wipeout, that we wanted these things to fall over, and we wanted them to fall over good. This all goes back to It’s a Knockout, which was this very British show from the 70s. “They just delighted in dressing people up in things that were completely antithetical to climbing over obstacles and anything that requires some kind of skill. We knew very, very early on that we didn’t want them to be good at what they were doing, when you watch these shows, you’re waiting for moments where they fall, because the falling is the joy. “So we knew we wanted them to be tall and top heavy, and we knew we wanted them to have some restriction around the legs, so we didn’t give them knees – you know, knees are far too useful. “[The final design] was a combined effort between Dan Hoang [principal concept artist] and Amy Pearson [artist]. They kind of came together when we began and were like, ‘we can do better with these characters. They’re doing the right thing physically, but we don’t love them.’ “Basically, Amy’s proud about giving them butts, and Dan then pulled that whole thing together. And he did a really incredible job working in the needs of design as well, like we knew customisation was important – and I’ll be honest, I thought the beans
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were good when we were making them, but seeing them in the game, seeing all the costumes and seeing how easily they mod to pretty much anything you want to put them in... It’s just an incredible piece of work from Dan and Amy, and the whole art team that joined afterwards, they really knocked it out the park.” The ability of the Fall Guys to be placed in any variety of wacky costume, while still being recognisable as a Fall Guy at their core, is testament to the genius of their design – and one that encouraged companies to launch a bidding war for charity to get their branding into the game. While Mediatonic certainly couldn’t have predicted that, they knew the costumes would be important from the start. “We knew we wanted a base that was iconic, but never at the expense of being able to dress them in things. So in all of the early pitch stuff, you’d have your Fall Guy and then Dan would draw a whole bunch of ridiculous things like sharks and whales over them. We were never looking at just the Fall Guy, it was always the Fall Guy in costume. “So I think going through that process, and always understanding that the costume is going to be a huge part of it really helped us. It’s weird, I think the Fall Guys are iconic, but at the same time entirely neutral. You can add anything to them, and it doesn’t take away from the core.” The design isn’t the only genius move, mind you. From the day of launch, Fall Guys was available as one of that month’s free games for PS Plus subscribers. Given the game’s success, enjoying the highestearning PC launch since Overwatch, it’s hard to tell if the game owes a lot of its success to PS Plus, or if Mediatonic potentially missed out on a lot of sales. “I think it’s one of the best decisions we could have made,” says Tanton. We looked at what happened in Rocket League, and we dreamed of emulating something close to that. Even with half of what they have, we would have been super, super happy. “And, well. Fall Guys has done very, very well. We’ve had a lot of downloads on PS Plus. I know some people have said, ‘are you not frustrated? Those could have been sales!’ And... no. There’s literally no way we could have made the impact that we did without PS Plus. The support from Sony has been incredible. “And we’ve not done badly out of this situation. To be in this situation and then say, ‘oh, but look at what we could have had,’ that’s looking at it the wrong way. “Our fear was ‘are there going to be enough people playing, that 60 people can get into a game?’ And if all the PS Plus did – and there’s obviously a lot more – but if all it ever did was take away that fear at launch that there wouldn’t be anyone buying the game, and therefore even the people who bought the game can’t
play the game properly... If all it did was that, I’d still say it was worth it. But obviously it’s done a hell of a lot more than that.” BIGGER THAN YEETUS It seems reasonable to assume that Fall Guys has surpassed all expectations. Mediatonic were confident they had something special, but it takes a special kind of confidence to know you’re going to become the biggest game in the world. “So with expectations, the way I feel safest talking about it is not the money made, but the plans made. We had three plans worked out with Devolver. It’s something we do with any other project, you have to be like okay, we can’t afford this 40-50 person team anymore, the game isn’t making enough money to make this worthwhile. “As a studio, Mediatonic really doesn’t hire and fire, so you start thinking ‘where do I put people? What projects can they move onto?’ “So I’m making these three plans. One of them was – this has fallen off a cliff. Therefore we need to move quite quickly. The second was – this is kind of where we expect to land. This is a good success, and let’s look no further than then six months into the future and we’ll work out what’s happening there. And then there was this moonshot, ridiculous plan. Like, this is where we start ramping up, this has been something of a success. And that was our moon shot. “We blew past the moonshot plan within a few hours of the game being launched. So we need to make some new plans.” It’s an almost unbelievable level of success – Mediatonic’s biggest title by a quite considerable margin. Still, in my last conversation with Mediatonic, the team was passionate about maintaining a diverse portfolio of titles. How do you maintain that philosophy when you suddenly have the hottest game of the year? How do you avoid being absorbed into the Fall Guy’s clumsy embrace? “I think there’s a lot of ways around that,” notes Tanton. “The studio has always survived due to its diversity, being able to pivot and work on different things. So yes, Fall Guys is dominating the studio right now – as it should. But I don’t think there’s any doubt in our mind that we still want to move on to and create things that surprise us in the studio. I think if we weren’t doing that, we wouldn’t be Mediatonic. “If we hadn’t done that two years ago, we wouldn’t have Fall Guys. So we want to build out the studio and build on the technology and all the lessons we’ve learned from Fall Guys. There’s absolutely no way we’re just gonna throw everything out that got us to where we are today.”
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Brought to you by
The Final Boss Every month an industry leader wraps up MCV/DEVELOP with their unique insight
You started your career as a games journalist in the nineties. What’s your best story from the ‘golden years’? I’ve got plenty from when I was at The Games Machine and Zzap64. When we reviewed Ultima 7, five of us had to play it constantly over the course of 24 hours, writing the review, grabbing screenshots and so on. Similarly, another time we had to transfer review code for a Team17 game to an Amiga through a modem at 2400 BPS. I mean, it took more time to download the game than it did to play it! We’re on the eve of a console launch. How does this one differ from those you’ve seen before? I’ve got to be honest and say I find the console wars that typically flare up rather boring, and I hope this is the last time we see them. That said, it’s interesting to see how the two platform holders are definitely heading in different directions this time – something I think can only benefit the consumer – and the timing of Amazon’s Luna announcement also seems significant. Do you feel the games industry is headed in the right direction? We are continuing to evolve as an industry, but it seems we’re still not able to learn from our past mistakes (games delays, budgeting errors). And there’s a large amount of toxicity floating around at the moment, with disagreements being amplified and politicised on Twitter. On the positive front, however, the industry is definitely getting more diverse compared to other, older sectors, and that can only be a good thing. You spent almost seven years at Ubisoft. What did you learn? Lateral thinking, ethical practices in PR, and the fact that huge, multinational publishers can and indeed do listen to their employees. I have incredible memories of working with both the central corporate and product PR team in both France and Montreal, as well as the old guard in the UK office – which now boasts the incredible Stefan McGarry, who I am lucky enough to be able to call a friend. With respect to your current role, what was your dream job? I’d say I’ve ended up doing what I like doing the most – talking about video games. That said, I grew up clubbing back in Italy and, whilst I was editor at PC Zone, I was a resident MC every Friday and Saturday night at a local nightclub. I would have loved to have become rich and famous doing that if I’m honest.
Stefano Petrullo Founder & CEO Renaissance PR “It’s interesting to see how the two platform holders are heading in different directions this time – something I think can only benefit the consumer.”
What are the biggest PR challenges today? I always say discoverability is key, as well as adapting to the continuous shifts within the industry. More broadly, however, since Renaissance’s inception in 2015, we have invested in two things; tools and people. Tools that help to gather and analyse data – media coverage, content creator output, etc – and people that have the talent to make connections with journalists and content creators at both local and global levels. What was the funniest single moment of your career to date? Back in the 90s, I almost got arrested coming back from ECTS because I’d bought a Star Trek Next Generation Phaser type II replica that, on the X-Ray machine at Heathrow, looked like a gun. The funniest part is, when I was asked to explain what was in the box, I simply said it was “just a toy”, which they seemingly misinterpreted as a sex toy. I’ll let you imagine the faces of the armed police at the airport as they opened the posh red velvet box with the United Federation of Planets gold insignia embossed on the top.
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