MCV/DEVELOP ISSUE 965
NEW IN THE NEW NORMAL Joining the industry during COVID JAGEX’S NEW $200BN OWNERS What are its ambitions for Runescape and beyond? PRESS ALERT! Journalists talk about journalism
THE ART AND BUSINESS OF VIDEO GAMES
THE INTERNET’S FRONT PAGE Marketing on Reddit
A NEWFANGLED TRANSMEDIA CAPER!
WALLACE & GROMIT
THE BIG FIX UP
■ DEBUGGING D&I: MONTHLY ADVICE FOR DIVERSITY 01 MCV965 Front Cover v2 flat.indd 1
■ THE ART OF... OVER THE ALPS
■ SPELLBREAK: MAGIC ROYALE
■ WHEN WE MADE... IF FOUND 29/01/2021 15:28
Nominations are now open for 2021
Showcasing the industryâ€™s brightest young talent To nominate yourself or a colleague then head to mcvuk.com/30under30 for all the details plus tips on creating a standout entry Companies looking to get involved with this yearâ€™s 30 Under 30 should contact firstname.lastname@example.org Brought to you by
MCV 30 under 30 House ad V3FINAL.indd 1
05 The Editor Stonking!
06 Critical Path
The key dates this month
08 Industry Voices
Comment from around the industry
10 Ukie on Brexit
Practical advice for leaving Europe
12 Wallace & Gromit
Cracking app, Gromit
18 Ins and Outs
This month's hires and moves
22 Debugging D&I
Our new regular feature
23 Recruiter Hotseat
Team17's new career opportunities
24 New in the new normal
Joining the industry during COVID
28 Jagex + Carlyle What's next for Runescape?
32 Liquid Crimson
Making first impressions that work
34 Pressing Matters
Journalists on journalism
The latest battle royale contender
42 Marketing on Reddit
The expert advice
48 The Art Of...
Over the Alps
54 When We Made...
58 The Final Boss
Kwalee's David Darling
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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/DEVELOP and its content are available for licensing and syndication re-use. Contact Colin Wilkinson for opportunities and permissions: email@example.com
This month I’ve been playing the stock market and laying hedge funds low! Seriously though, I’m still in Night City having a rather strained relationship with Keanu Reeves. My Warzone obsession continues, though I spend as much time sending passiveaggressive tweets to Raven about bugs as actually playing.
Well Tier 4 was announced while I was on the train out of London, so I’m stranded in the North for a while. Thankfully, like the overgrown child I am, I took my Xbox home with me for Christmas. So I’m getting my fill of London from the streets of Watch Dogs: Legion, while gettings the murders in on Hitman 3 Chris Wallace, Staff Writer
This month I’m still very deep into playing Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla! I’m not just leading my vikings to raid the English however, I’m also finding the time to explore my musical side in lockdown, with Let’s Sing Queen, and I’ve also been dusting off Rock Band recently as well. 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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Pet: Zuli Owner: Ziz Simoens Owner’s job: Game designer at PRELOADED
Pet: Chip Owner: Simon Pearce Owner’s job: Creative director & artist at Glitch Games
Pet: Rocket Owner: Mark Verkerk Owner’s job: Lead technical artist at Jagex
This is Zuli, a very elegant gal. Her favourite activities are going on adventures and snuggling while we play video games.
Chip is a mischievous but gentle sausage dog who loves nothing more than cuddling up to his owners all day.
Rocket is an affectionate and wimpy kitten; He gets scared by other cats, birds, and sometimes even a mild gust of wind.
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“A triple-header collision of aggressive competition, incredible technology, and rulesets that have evolved from the very beginnings of society.”
TheEditor The morals behind a good game of Stonk I’m sure by now you’ve either deciphered to your satisfaction just what the hell went on with GameStop. Or you’ve decided it all makes no sense whatsoever… but hey, what does make any sense these days? I’m certainly not going to try and lay yet another explanation upon you for the madness that occurred around the US’s biggest games retailer. Though I will say that I rather enjoyed watching financial journalists try to understand why Reddit communities do something (answers in thesis form please); while games journalists tried to get their heads around the insanity of the financial market. And insane it is. A triple-header collision of aggressive competition, incredible technology, and rulesets that have evolved from the very beginnings of society into something mind-bogglingly complex to anyone who doesn’t play themselves. ...Hang on a second, that all sounds rather familiar. Of course it’s no coincidence that the users of r/WallStreetBets had an awareness of and (arguably) a soft spot for a physical games retailer. Undoubtedly, many are also members of numerous gaming reddits as well. Looked at one way, the financial markets are just another game, one where you can set the stakes as high or low as you like. Technology also means the lines between the financial markets and gambling are now paper thin. Just practically speaking I can jump from Bet365 to Robinhood on my phone with a quick tap, and both can be linked to, and impact upon, the same bank account. Investing in companies is straightforward, you find a stock that you believe will grow and you put your money into it. Simple and positive. But shorting companies, taking a position that they will fail rather than thrive, feels far more akin to gambling. Investing has long been a moral guiding light of our capitalist system: speculate to accumulate as the saying goes. However, at the same time, betting is largely frowned upon, something the games industry is well aware of. But maybe we’re just not trying hard enough. Maybe loot boxes are exploitative not because they are like gambling, but because they’re not enough like a real financial risk. Maybe if we allowed people to win or lose hundreds, thousands, millions of pounds on their next microtransaction we’ll finally live up to the expectations of modern society and be showered with the kind of rewards that London’s hedge fund managers enjoy. Not very likely, but it’s clear that there’s a double-standard here, and it’s one that games are perfectly placed to explore, culturally speaking. Maybe someone should try adding shorting as a mechanism to some games. Allowing you to bet against yourself before you start playing, reducing your losses should you lose as predicted, but capping them, or even inverting them should you win big. It would certainly add something to the roguelike genre for starters. Seth Barton email@example.com
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Here are the key upcoming events and releases to mark in your calendar...
Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury
Yorkshire Game Festival: Game Talks Online For 2021, Game Talks will be moving online, but it’s the same exciting programme of talks, masterclasses and Q&A events featuring high-profile industry guests as the usual Yorkshire-based event. Game Talks Online will be hosted by Jordan Erica Webber (podcast host and presenter of The Gadget Show) and Keith Stuart (author and journalist at The Guardian).
The great ransacking of the Wii U’s best titles continues, with Super Mario 3D World hitting the Nintendo Switch this month. Not only does this bundle feature one of the best Wii U titles, but a brand new campaign, Bowser’s Fury has been added. A recent trailer for the game showcases Mario facing off against a giant, monstrous Bowser.
Little Nightmares 2 The followup to Tarsier Studios’ puzzleplatformer horror title is finally here, again published by Bandai Namco. This sequel sees the player taking the role of Mono, a young boy trapped in a world that has been distorted by an evil transmission.
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Breakpoint by Backtrace This is a two-day virtual developer tools event focused on showcasing the tools and best practices that game programmers depend on. The event will feature talks from the thought leaders in the following tools segment areas: Debugging, Performance, Quality Assurance & Testing. Ultimately the event will provide an opportunity for game developers to learn first hand what it takes to successfully deliver the industry’s best games.
Persona 5 Strikers Originally released last year in Japan, this followup to Persona 5 is finally seeing a worldwide release. Developed by Omega Force and P-Studio (and published by Atlus), the game is a crossover title between Persona 5 and Koei Tecmo’s Dynasty Warriors franchise, and is set six months after the events of Persona 5.
Bravely Default 2 Yet another sequel launches this month, this time a return to Square Enix’s Bravely Default universe. Bravely Default 2 is actually the third installment to the series, because numbers are meaningless, apparently. The game is set in a different world to prior games in the franchise, on a continent named Excillant, divided by five different kingdoms.
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The value of blended in-game advertising in a privacy-first world Ben Fenster, co-founder and CPO of Anzu.io
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!
In January 2020, Google announced that it was planning to phase out third-party cookies within two years and would comply with Apple’s changes to IDFA in early 2021, and the digital marketing world shook. By 2022, all major browsers will have blocked the collection of thirdparty data via cookies, and digital marketers and advertisers will need to utilize other methods of data collection to personalize their content. The world is moving toward prioritizing privacy over personalization and that’s not a bad thing. With cookies, users don’t know who is collecting their data, and the results can feel invasive. This is a major shift in the world of digital marketing, especially for companies who rely mostly on third-party data to target their audience. Performance marketing, in particular, will need to adjust in a big way, as it relies on a deep understanding of online behavior to target users and personalize their digital experiences. On the other hand, brand awareness marketing that already relies on contextual targeting, first-party data, and statistical location data won’t need to make major adjustments to business-as-usual, perhaps just some minor tweaks. And since brands are moving toward increasing brand awareness efforts and more synergy between their performance and awareness marketing silos, this is a good thing. With the swing of the pendulum toward brand awareness, media such as digital OOH and in-game advertising can help brands reach their target audiences. The goal of these media is first and foremost to get brands in front of consumers, with a secondary goal of generating consumer action down the line. In the games industry, the move away from cookies and persistent identifiers is compounded by the need for developers to respect gamers to ensure user retention. Blended in-game advertising provides the solution to both of these issues. First, it is perfect for brand awareness campaigns due to the high level of attention that games have as interactive 3D media. When people play video games, they are focused
on the content. Since blended ads are part of the content, the level of attention to ads is high, exactly what major brands are looking for. Second, with blended ads being part of the game, they do not disrupt the gameplay and can add value by increasing realism. Gamers feel respected and have more positive feelings toward ads being shown in this manner. How is audience targeting done in-game without cookies? There are several solutions that provide precise audience targeting across platforms and devices without using persistent user identifiers. Statistical demographics data involves combining estimated user nonprecise locations with statistical location-based demographics data. This provides advertisers with diversified audience targeting options related to age group, gender, family status, and more. Contextual targeting is achieved by matching game titles to distinct audience types with defined demographic properties and interests. When publishers choose to share this information with advertisers, ads can match a nameless user’s age, location, language, and gender but not a specific individual user and their behavior across different devices and apps. These solutions enable large-scale global brand awareness campaigns in the gaming sphere, unified across all platforms and devices, without the risk of invading the user’s privacy or violating privacy laws and regulations. As persistent user identifiers and cookies continue to disappear, blended in-game advertising is a valuable solution for brands wanting to run effective campaigns that respect gamers. Ben Fenster is Co-Founder and CPO of Anzu.io, the world’s most advanced ingame advertising solution. Anzu’s full suite of AdTech integrations includes ad viewability in collaboration with Comscore and Moat, brand lift measurement in collaboration with Kantar and Nielsen, as well as audience verification, data enrichment, and fraud detection. To find out more, visit www.anzu.io.
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OKRE: Opening Knowledge Across Research and Entertainment Dr Jo Twist OBE, CEO of UKIE
If there is one thing that Ukie knows about games, it’s that our industry benefits enormously from drawing on a wide range of perspectives. The first UK Games Industry Census, which was published in February 2020, demonstrated the growing diversity of games and found it to be a workforce that is highly international, youthful and particularly welcoming to the LGBTQ+ members. While data like this is important, we also know there is much to do to broaden our reach further. Being surrounded by people of different backgrounds, expertise and outlooks makes our thinking more varied and our approach more dynamic in an industry that depends on these qualities. Diversifying the workforce isn’t just something businesses should be doing; it’s a necessity for running a successful business. There is plenty that we, as an industry, are doing to diversify the field. The #RaiseTheGame pledge is helping businesses enact meaningful change today; our outreach to schools and colleges is going further than ever to reach others. And the plethora of groups dedicated to raising up different communities is making a major positive impact on our sector. But we can go further by reaching beyond our own corner of the creative industries to pool our knowledge with people working across the screen industries and other disciplines. Games are the product of collaboration between people with diverse expertise. Games benefit as much from great programmers as they do from brilliant performances, from having the best artists to provide a meaningful visual identity and the best storytellers to bring a narrative alive. Yet meaningful collaboration between different sectors and industries has often been lacking, meaning we’re not always benefiting from insights gained from the diverse creative and research communities. So how do we take these ideas and use them to inspire people across the industry? As is often the case with innovation, it starts by having the right conversation with the right people at the right time. And as we’ve learned through our work with #raisethegame, we need to put in place welcoming spaces to ensure those conversations can happen. That’s why we’re supporting the work of OKRE: Opening Knowledge Across Research and Entertainment to facilitate these
conversations. The goal of this new charity, an offshoot of Wellcome, is to enable those in games, the wider screen industries, the breadth of social and scientific research, and the diversity of global lived experiences to build on one another’s strengths through the exchange of ideas, expertise and perspectives. And that’s why this month I hosted OKRE Development Rooms, an opportunity to connect and get a creative boost at a time when many of us need it. The theme was Urban Worlds: Lives and Landscapes, offering a lateral look at our changing cities and their communities. As a geographer by training, I have always been drawn to games that visualise or represent urban environments and how these environments are shaped by and through humans. These are rich and complex systems that can be fertile settings for compelling interactive entertainment. It’s exciting then to be working with the OKRE Development Rooms to delve deeper into this theme and be inspired and stimulated by fresh, diverse perspectives and expertise from around the world. With each year that passes, our expectations of games seem to grow exponentially, and 2020 demanded different things from our games to satisfy an even more diverse audience. Whether it’s innovation on technical, narrative or gameplay levels, this is an industry defined by its ambition but one that is also deeply aware of its responsibilities to its players and broader society. As a powerful ideas and communications medium, the way games handle representation and deal with subjects of societal importance within games themselves and the industry as a whole will be examined with ever more scrutiny. Over the last year, we’ve built great momentum for games by meeting such challenges head on. We must use every tool at our disposal to ensure that we maintain that. Embracing crosssector collaboration, and the exchange of ideas with others to enhance our work, our ideas, and our ambitions, can only make us even better. For more about OKRE head to okre.org. Dr Jo Twist OBE has been CEO of Ukie since 2012. Before this she was Channel 4’s Commissioning Editor for Education. She’s a London Tech Ambassador, a VP of Special Effect, and serves on various boards and advisory groups, including the Bafta Games Committee.
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The UK-EU Deal: What does it mean for games?
Ukie’s policy and events officer Grace Shin explains the impact of the Brexit deal upon the games industry. From data to physical goods, freedom of movement to IP.
he Brexit transition period has now come to an end, and a trade agreement has been reached on the UK and EU’s future relationship. What does this mean for games, and how will the industry be affected? Here, Ukie provides an overview on the major areas impacting the games industry – from data flows, to changes to trade.
Grace Shin, Ukie
DATA FLOWS Continuing the flow of data between the UK and the EU is a major issue for our members. With the UK becoming what is known as a third country to the EU, there were concerns that the free flow of EU data into the UK would come to an end on January 1st 2021. As a data adequacy agreement was not included in part of the trade deal, a temporary bridging arrangement has been agreed in order to allow data to continue being transferred from the EU to the UK for four months, which may be extended up to six months. During this time, the EU has committed to completing its ongoing adequacy assessment. The UK Government remains confident an adequacy agreement will be reached within this time. However, it is still advised as a measure of contingency that games
companies put in place alternative measures such as standard contractual clauses before the end of the temporary bridging arrangement. This is because although achieving a data adequacy agreement is very much in the interest of both parties, and despite how data regulations between the two are currently broadly the same (GDPR is retained in domestic law after the end of the transition period and so the key principles, rights and obligations remain the same), the UK can expect more scrutiny by the EU in how it processes its data as it becomes a third country. PHYSICAL TRADE – CE MARKING If you currently manufacture goods for or distribute goods to the UK market with the CE marking, there are a few actions you must take. Products which previously required CE markings will need to carry the new UKCA marking for importation into Great Britain. However, please note that Northern Ireland will still require the CE marking. Products are allowed to carry both the UKCA and CE until there is divergence between the two; divergence is not expected to occur for the foreseeable future. Businesses should endeavour to phase in the UKCA marking as soon as possible. However, to allow
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businesses time to adjust, CE marked goods can continue to be placed onto the GB market until 1 January 2022. Existing stock already fully manufactured, CE marked and ready to be placed on the market before 1 January 2021 do not necessarily have to meet this deadline. Until 1 January 2023, you have the option to simply affix the UKCA marking on a label affixed to the product, or on an accompanying document (as opposed to physically on the product). Manufacturers based within Great Britain will need to identify a representative based within the EU whose name and address can go on the product as a contact point for the Market Surveillance Authorities. This can be a contact with importer responsibilities or authorised representative. The latter is a legal party that acts on behalf of the manufacturer and ensures products comply with UKCA/CE markings. The opposite is also the case for manufacturers based within the EU who export into the UK. Most importantly, Great Britain will no longer recognise authorised representatives and responsible persons based in the EU. If you use an authorised representative, you will require one based in the UK for products being placed on the GB market. Again, the vice versa also applies. You will have to appoint this as soon as possible. The address for the authorised representative must then be included on product labelling where the UKCA mark has been affixed.
UK companies will also miss out on EU funding schemes such as Creative Europe and Ukie will continue to work with Government in the development of schemes which can support the games industry including the Global Screen Fund announced in the November Spending Review.
DIGITAL TRADE The digital trade of software and games is another key aspect for games companies to consider. If you are a UK business supplying digital services to consumers in the EU, you must either register for the Non-Union VAT MOSS scheme in an EU member state, or register for VAT in each EU member state where you supply digital services to consumers. Equally, supplies of digital services to UK consumers are liable to UK VAT. This is particularly relevant for marketplace platforms.
IP IP rights are broadly unchanging. The trade agreement enforces a baseline of IP rights which neither party can weaken â€“ however, it also provides flexibility for both sides to go further in the protection and enforcement of IP rights in the future.
FUNDING The UK is no longer bound by EU state aid regime. This means that there is potential for the UK Government to enact more beneficial subsidy schemes, however the terms of the Brexit agreement means that there are still limitations over what the Government (or the EU) is able to introduce.
MOBILITY The end to freedom of movement is a key pillar of Brexit. British citizens will no longer be entitled to work in EU member states without a visa, and vice versa. Despite this, UK nationals do not generally need a visa when travelling to and from within the Schengen area for short stays of up to 90 days in a rolling 180 day period. This includes short business trips or stays related to attending conferences, and trade fairs. In addition to this, each Member State has its own list of activities it allows to take place visa-free. You can check them on the gov.uk website. Meanwhile, for recruiting EU workers, UK employers should take note of the new immigration system in place which now applies to both EU and non-EU nationals. Employers will need to obtain a sponsor license to issue work visas to foreign workers. It is recommended that employers apply for sponsor licenses now in order to prepare. Employers should also ensure that any EEA employee currently in their UK organisation should apply to the EU Settlement Scheme. The deadline for this is 30 June.
OTHER NOTABLE ASPECTS The trade agreement includes commitments from both the EU and the UK Government to provide clear and accessible online information about the agreement. We look forward to clear guidance being made available for our games companies. In the meantime, should you have further questions on Brexit, feel free to contact the Ukie policy team at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are also able to connect you to one of our legal members. For more details and links to additional guidance head to https://tinyurl.com/ukiebrexit
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Wallace and Gromit’s Big Fix Up Chris Wallace takes a look at the pair’s most ambitious adventure yet – a transmedia AR title that brings together numerous storytelling elements. And which, pre-COVID, was all set for a big finale on the streets of Bristol
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allace and Gromit: The Big Fix Up promises to be a significantly more ambitious experience than you’d perhaps expect from many titles with a big-name IP attached. The app, which released on January 18th on Android and iOS devices, is a joint effort between Wallace and Gromit creators Aardman Animations and Fictioneers – itself a collaboration between Welsh studios Potato, Sugar Creative and Tiny Rebel Games. As an augmented and mixed reality title, The Big Fix Up makes use of transmedia storytelling – players will experience the app’s narrative across AR gameplay, CG animations, in character phone calls, comic strips, Extended Reality (XR) portals and more. If that wasn’t ambitious enough, the story slowly unravels to players (acting as Wallace’s employees) over a period of roughly 28 days, culminating in a dramatic final act in February. There’s quite a few famous names behind the project too: the app’s cast includes the likes of Downton Abbey’s Jim Carter, Peep Show’s Isy Suttie and Harry Potter’s Miriam Margolyes. The app’s month-long story began rolling out on January 25th. So as we wait to see how this ambitious project plays out, we sat down with Susan Cummings, executive producer and co-founder of Tiny Rebel Games. WORKING WITH AARDMAN Cummings tells us that Aardman was immediately on board with their plan for a transmedia title. “The concept of transmedia has been this sort of beleaguered term over the years,” says Cummings. “People tried to do it. Usually, it’s like a comic book that maybe two people read before going to see a Marvel film, because of that discoverability issue. “And so what we pitched was that we can bring all this together in-app. We
can bring different types of storytelling techniques together and take users on a real time journey, and reimagine what it is to experience a story, thanks to augmented and mixed reality and mobile apps.” Aardman shared this vision, Cummings says, resulting in a mutually beneficial partnership. “We were really looking for a partner that wanted to be involved, we didn’t just want a licence. Because it’s so new, we didn’t want to take someone’s story and just retell it this way. This had to be a new story. It had to be about giving a user agency over something. How can you feel clever and discover things along the way if it was a story that everyone had heard? There’d be nothing to discover.” The collaboration with Aardman allowed the team to overcome the challenges of the transmedia approach, working alongside Wallace and Gromit creative director Merlin Crossingham and the rest of Aardman’s creative team to flesh out the app’s narrative. Cummings is hugely appreciative of the support Aardman provided throughout the project, “No one’s done this before,” says Cummings, “no one’s really tried to tell a story in this way. It was really complicated because we have to first come up with a viable story that would serve our purposes. Everything was driven by the story in this project. Every single decision has been about what’s best for telling the story.” Helping to navigate how best to tell each element of the story was just one element where Aardman’s expertise proved useful. The Aardman connection helped to ground The Big Fix Up in the distinct Wallace and Gromit universe. Tiny Rebel Games has history with working with beloved British IPs – the Newport-based developer previously worked on mobile titles Doctor Who: Legacy and Doctor Who Infinity. Still, Cummings acknowledges there’s a
Susan Cummings, executive producer and co-founder of Tiny Rebel Games
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“heavy weight to bear” when dealing with such an expectant audience.
Asking Aardman Merlin Crossingham, creative director of Wallace & Gromit at Aardman, gives us the inside story of Wallace & Gromit’s relationship to games and entertainment apps like the Big Fix Up. Does the format of The Big Fix Up allow you to explore stories that you might be unable to tell in Wallace and Gromit’s more traditional format? I don’t think there are any stories that can’t be told in any format, so no from that point of view we could have told this story in a traditional format. However the story we created was specifically tailored to make the most of having our audience not only interact directly with the various media and technology but also to be a part of the narrative. The Big Fix Up gives our audience the opportunity to dive into Wallace & Gromit’s world. Bringing the characters and contraptions directly into their homes using the latest augmented reality technology - which is even more appealing while we’re all stuck at home at the moment! Wallace and Gromit have long existed in multiple mediums. Do you feel the property is inherently suited to transmedia projects? Wallace & Gromit’s heart and soul lies in traditional stop motion film making. However their strength as characters and the well-defined world in which they live does mean that they have the fortitude to dip their toes into almost any form of entertainment. The Big Fix Up takes this to the next level by incorporating so many different forms of media to tell one story. The great thing about Wallace & Gromit is that they are national treasures! They appeal to all ages, from 8-80, so being able to offer multiple ways to connect with the characters is important. It’s particularly interesting that The Big Fix Up consolidates multiple forms of media, from comic strips to AR, and phone calls to XR portals.
CRAFTING THE CHARACTERS Which makes the love Aardman has put into this project all the more important. From smaller details, such as a list of pie-related puns along a bookshelf, to getting hands-on in the creation of the app’s new characters, literally leaving the Aardman fingerprint on the project. “So there’s three new characters,” says Cummings, “but two of them, Bernard Grubb, and Hackerby’, had to actually be crafted in clay and then scanned, which is something we didn’t know going into the project. “But when you think about it, if you’re going to do that for both Wallace and Gromit, you have to do it for the others. It was an unexpected thing to actually have Aardman modellers create these characters, which was just amazing watching them come to life from the drawings through to the clay models and to the real thing. “And then they do these LIDAR scans, high resolution scans of the characters, and then we turn that into CG. But you even see thumb prints
Given the series’ long history as a beloved British IP, do you see a mobile app as a way to introduce a new generation to Wallace and Gromit? No, I don’t see it as a way of expanding the Wallace and Gromit audience base, however that would be a lovely side effect if it does happen. We entered into this project eyes wide open that it was a research and development project funded by the UKRI specifically to look at new ways to tell stories with emerging technology. So from that point of view I do hope it will open the doors to new and exciting story telling techniques to a generation who have become accustomed to interacting with the world via their mobile devices. Wallace and Gromit have been largely absent from gaming in recent years, with more of a focus on the Shaun the Sheep titles. Is there more of a desire to bring these characters to games again? We are always looking for the best opportunities for our characters and gaming is certainly one we recognise works fantastically for us but more importantly our fans. The last few years have indeed seen Shaun taking the limelight on the gaming front but rest assured Wallace and Gromit will be back within a game in the future. Watch this space!
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and stuff on the characters, and we had to keep all that. So when we put out our first trailer, there were a lot of people fooled, and totally thought it was clay.” Of course, even with all the love and support in the world – telling a coherent story across multiple different mediums is a tall order. With the app ranging from AR gameplay, to comic books, to in-character phone calls, it’s hard not to wonder if the team had created a huge challenge for themselves. “Yeah, it’s hard!” says Cummings. “It’s hard to do any one of those things well. It’s really complicated to make videos to try and make augmented reality because it’s so new. And it’s hard to write for those things, and to get the gags in as well, because Wallace and Gromit is all about humour. I think we may be the first company that has tried to do AR comedy, it’s super funny throughout.” Still, the transmedia approach allowed the team to focus on what elements would be best used for the sake of the story – even tailoring the medium to the specific characters. “But like I was saying with the story beats, we had to figure out the best way of telling each aspect of the story. So for example, Gromit doesn’t talk. So we had to figure out how to bring him into the story, what was the way of telling Gromit’s story? And so we settled on these noir full motion comic strips. And so that was a decision as being what is best for the story.”
Above: The team at Aardman working on key character Bernard Grubb Left: Gameplay revolves around constructing gadgets and gizmos and putting them to work on plot-related tasks
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Above: ‘Local reporter’ Clarissa Kent talks to the game’s characters and builds the story, which is set in Bristol
TELLING A TALE Splitting the story across multiple different mediums runs the risk of an audience getting lost, though. The app has a clear framing device: upon downloading the app, the user is signing up to be an employee of Wallace’s company – tasked with helping him with a job to fix up Bristol, as the beloved character once again finds himself in way over his head. But when a narrative that began in AR continues into a comic, only to end in a phone call, there’s a chance audiences might lose the thread of it. It’s a potential concern the team is all but too aware of, though Cummings seems confident about the final result. “The past month or two has just been integration and going over and over again, to make sure that the story flows. I think one of the most important outputs of this project is going to be: ‘did you get the whole story? Did you feel like you missed something, because of the way we delivered it?’ And you know, we feel really good about it, We can only get it out there now and see.” The app’s narrative will take place over roughly 28 days, with new content available every day
(apart from Sundays, even Wallaces need a break sometimes, trust me on this one), before its dramatic final act in February. Of course, the entire story will still be available after February, to cater to any latecomers. It’s certainly an interesting experiment, and the daily rollout of content over the 28 day period opens up the opportunity for water-cooler conversations – something that we haven’t had a lot of this year. With all the players receiving the content at the same time (time zones depending) each day, it’s a chance to give players a sense of a shared experience. “I feel like we are missing those,” notes Cummings. “There’s so much out there to watch. I end up telling somebody about something I watched, but no one’s watching it at the same time. I really miss the Game of Thrones experience of ‘could you believe what happened last night?’ That’s what we’re really hoping in this experiment, is to find out if people actually care about that.” The Big Fix Up is very much a narrative-driven experience. While there are gameplay elements, they’re skippable for those who would simply rather focus on the story and the app’s AR features.
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Cummings stresses that the app is not a ‘game’ in the traditional sense, with no failure states. “We know that this is a broad audience, and we’re not trying to make people uncomfortable” says Cummings. “There are a lot of people out there who are scared of games, who think that they’re too hard, and they’re getting punished and so forth. The audience for Wallace and Gromit runs the gamut, and we want parents and grandparents to be able to interact with this with their children, and teach them about something that they grew up with.” What gameplay there is focuses around a traditional gameplay loop of collecting parts and building gadgets. Players can send their contraptions out for less important jobs, similar to sending Fallout Shelter’s vault dwellers out on tasks. More urgent jobs take place in the app’s AR mode. For instance, the first urgent job players will encounter is to fix the Wrong Trousers, which have once again gone haywire. The gameplay itself promises to be fairly simple, and can be repeated at any time. For players particularly impressed by the AR technology, there’s even a sandbox mode called the Playground, Unity’s MARS technology and allows players to send Wallace’s bizarre contraptions whizzing around their own houses. A GRAND DAY OUT Which brings us to the elephant in the room. Not only was the app originally scheduled to release last year, but was due to culminate with players coming together on the streets of Bristol for the story’s dramatic final act. Of course, our current COVID-reality put an end to those plans. This unexpected spanner in the works forced the app to delay until 2021, so that the story’s final act could be reworked to fit our new normal. “The finale of the story, which is going to happen in February, was meant to be on the streets of Bristol,” says Cummings. “Something was going to happen, and everyone had to get to Bristol to help. And so we partnered with a company called Fantasmo to LIDAR scan the sections of Bristol that we needed, so that we could have
everyone come together for this rich finale involving crowds of people. Obviously, that suddenly isn’t going to be a thing. “So what we’ve done is we’ve taken the LIDAR scan data of Bristol, and our Unity team has been able to turn that into something akin to a diorama and made it scalable. So you can either make it really small on your tabletop if you’re confined to a small space, or you can make it really big and you can put it in your back garden or in your local park. “You’ll have a series of about a dozen AR experiences all open up at once, and you get this experience that you would have had on the streets of Bristol, but you can do it from home.” The work done to adjust to the changing situation is certainly impressive, but we can’t help but wish we could take to the streets of Bristol in February. Still, there are plans for this to take place, once it is safe to do so, across three yet to be determined cities. It’s certainly in-keeping with the idea of bringing people together through Wallace and Gromit. It all sounds very promising, and if all goes well there’s certainly hope for future collaboration with Aardman, or more transmedia narratives coming in a (hopefully less locked down) future. “We love working with Aardman, we have a great relationship and we’re really excited with what we’ve managed to pull off here. So I think there’s definitely interested in doing more of both with Aardman, and just more of these types of experiences generally. You know, we hope we’re right, that that this is something that that users want and that blended storytelling is something viable, and a fun way to interact with experiences.”
Feature and cover images © and TM Aardman/W&G Ltd. All Rights Reserved. And © Fictioneers Ltd. 2021
“What we’ve done is we’ve taken the LIDAR scan data of Bristol, and our Unity team has been able to turn that into something akin to a diorama and made it scalable.”
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Ins and Outs: Industry hires and moves 1
Splash Damage continues its regular appearance on this page, with four new hires at the company. First, DIEGO LLORENS RICO (1) joins the studio as an assistant gameplay programmer, Rico previously spent five months working as a game developer for Simedis, working on LapEntryCoach, a laparoscopy simulator. Still at Splash Damage, RICHARD HAYDEN (2) signs on as a lead product manager. Hayden has worked as a product consultant for the past four years, and has previously worked at Oneserve, as head of product.
Game developer Sharkmob is starting the new year by adding several new names to the London studio’s leadership team. First, SIMON LASHLEY (5) joins as a principal technical designer. Lashley joins the team from Wargaming, and has previously worked at companies such as Guerrilla and Rockstar, as well as at Sumo. Next up, ASHLEIGH WEBB (6) joins Sharkmob as a HR director. Prior to joining the team at Sharkmob, Webb worked at PlayStation London Studio.
ANTHONY KYNE (3) also joins, as a production director. Kyne joins from Mediatonic, where he has spent the past two years working as lead producer.
Still at Sharkmob, SERGIO FRANCO (7) joins as technical director. Franco joins from Amazon Game Studios and has previously worked at Rare and Microsoft Studios.
The last hire at Splash Damage is ETHAN PAGE (4) joins the company as an associate gameplay programmer. Page has worked for five months as a teaching assistant over at Kingston University.
KELVIN JANSON (8) also joins, as an art manager. Janson joins Sharkmob from Playground Games, where he worked for over nine years. Janson has also worked for both Sony and Codemasters.
LEE ADAMSON (9) also joins Sharkmob, joining the team as a lead vehicle artist. Adamson previously worked at Rocksteady, where he spent over 13 years working on projects such as Batman: Arkham City and Arkham Knight Sharkmob’s next hire is CHRIS ROYALL (10), who joins the team as a studio IT lead. Royall previously worked at King, where he spent six years working as an IT support team leader, and has also worked at Acxiom Corporation.
Future Publishing has undergone a series of promotions and new hires at the company. First, OSCAR TAYLORKENT (13) has been promoted to deputy editor on Official PlayStation Magazine. Taylor-Kent was previously games editor at the magazine. There’s some change over at EDGE magazine, too. CHRIS SCHILLING (14) has been promoted to deputy editor – with Tony Mott rejoining the team as acting editor.
Finally at Sharkmob, STEFAN VALASEK (11) joins as a concept artist. Valasek joins from Staffordshire University, with a bachelor’s degree in Concept Art.
Also at EDGE, ALEX SPENCER (15) joins as features editor. Spencer has been working as a freelance journalist since 2011.
Hypercasual mobile publisher Kwalee has hired MAX EVERINGHAM (12) as head of PC & console publishing. The former Team17 head of publishing is already working to build his new team and identify exciting new games to publish, following the recent launch of Kwalee’s first externally-developed PC title, Eternal Hope.
Keywords Studios has appointed SONIA LASHAND SEDLER (16) as the Group’s Chief Operating Officer (COO). Sedler has 20 years of experience, most recently as global head of managed services and banking strategy at Diebold Nixdorf, a global retail and banking technology and services organisation.
Liquid Violet, part of Keywords Studios has announced that KATIE YOUNG (17) has joined its audio production, voice casting and recording facilities located in London’s West End as head of studio. Young has nearly 18 years of experience in the industry—including 12 years working in various roles at The Walt Disney Company Publisher No More Robots has made a series of new hires at the company. First, SOPHIE SMART (18) joins the team as a senior producer. Smart will be helping to organize No More Robots in preparation for the 4+ games that the publisher is planning to announce and launch this year. Additionally, STACEY SATCHELL (19) joins the team as QA. Satchell is a game design graduate from the University of Central Lancashire. Finally, JOE BOGNAR (20) has joined ASUS & ROG in the systems division, working as a public relations specialist
Got an appointment you’d like to share with the industry? Email Chris Wallace at email@example.com 18 | MCV/DEVELOP February 2021
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Every month, we pick the brain of an up-and-coming talent
Grace Shin, policy officer at Ukie, talks about her start in the industry, dealing with Brexit and the joys of finding out what an MP’s favourite game is How did you break into games? Growing up, I adored games and couldn’t play them enough - whether it was games such as The Sims or Dragon Age. After graduating from the University of York with a history degree, I decided that I wanted to work in the policy/public affairs space, and so I looked on relevant job boards. When the position of Policy and Events Intern at Ukie turned up, it seemed like a perfect fit. After getting the job and making some life changing cups of tea for the team, I was promoted to full time. What has been your proudest achievement so far? This is going to sound incredibly dry, but the first consultation response I led on and wrote, which was our response to the Migration Advisory Committee on the Shortage Occupation List to include more games related roles. It was just a really good experience to have so early in my career. On top of this, the MAC took up recommendations we made, and although of course it wasn’t our response alone that did it, knowing that my analysis contributed was really satisfying. It gave me the confidence to trust my judgement in future work. What has been your biggest challenge? Brexit! Working out the complexities of varying scenarios of Brexit and their impacts on the industry has been a headache at times, especially when the situation changed so frequently the past few years (see page 10 for a handy summary of Shin’s work on that topic).
In fact, the process of analysing and explaining any piece of complex policy or regulation can be a challenge. The nature of the industry is that it is so diverse in terms of size and business models. You need to be aware that any policy aimed at games may affect a two-person team as much as an international corporation, which means it can be really tough when taking all that into account. I am a total geek though, so I find it immensely satisfying getting my head around the many policy challenges out there - especially when you’re then able to easily articulate them to members. What do you enjoy most about your job? A lot, actually. It is an exciting industry to work in as it is one which is naturally future focused. So shaping policy to help the games industry is motivating in that respect as you’re working on some forward-facing issues which have wider societal significance, from Online Harms to digital connectivity. The people who work in games makes it great as well. In my experience, everyone I have met has been so friendly and passionate about what they do. It’s an industry full of wonderful personalities and everyone is young at heart. Finally, I love finding out what an MP’s favourite game is. Strangely, it is nearly always Civilisation or a Paradox game. Hmm…
What’s your biggest ambition in games? Not a personal ambition but a broader one for the industry – I hope that one day its cultural importance is truly recognised and respected. The UK especially has such an amazing games heritage and there is often a degree of surprise when explaining this to parliamentarians. We have amazing creative industries, and games are a key part. We should acknowledge that. What advice would you give to an aspiring policy officer? Find out what you would like to do as a job in any industry and work on gaining experience and skills in that. Secondly, I really recommend going to industry events (well, virtually) and meeting people. You never know what kind of opportunity could come up.
If there’s a rising star at your company, contact Chris Wallace at firstname.lastname@example.org February 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 19
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Cherry picked advice to help you reach the next level in your career
Pierre-Antoine Cohade, producer at Sparx*, a Virtuos Studio, talks about wearing multiple hats, the need to be versatile and the opportunity for career progression each of the artists in our team individually to make sure everything is on track and identify any obstacles. The rest of the day then consists of meetings on a variety of topics, from team management, to visually checking current work, to reviewing KPIs, before wrapping up in the afternoon with calls to update our clients.
What is your job role and how would you describe your typical day at work? I am a producer, but most days I wear two hats in my role. The first is acting as a line producer on our multi-department triple-A and double-A game projects, working across teams to deliver complex projects for our clients. The second is acting as producer for our Brief & Concepts Group. Most days start with stand-up meetings for the multi-department projects currently underway. This is followed by a check-in with
What qualifications and/or experience does someone need to get this job? I wouldn’t say that there are any specific qualifications needed for this role, however there are certain attributes that are important to have and many of these do come with experience in similar roles, either inside or outside the games industry. Firstly, you need to have good managerial skills, so you should have some experience managing a team. In my role you need to manage directors, team leaders, artists, other producers, and more. Secondly, you need to have experience as a project manager, with ideally some knowledge when it comes to managing finances, legal contracts, and measuring against KPIs. Thirdly, you need to be adaptable. The ability to adapt your processes to those changes is crucial as every client will not
have the same requirements. If you’re a good problem solver who can think on their feet, you could make a good producer. Finally, you need to have an interest in the games industry, and always be on top of new trends and the latest new technology. If you were interviewing someone for your team, what would you look for? I would certainly be looking for versatility when it comes to the artists on my team. We work with 18 of the 20 biggest games companies in the world, so our projects can be so different that an artist who performed well on one can find themselves struggling on another. It’s important that my team can work with different styles (from oil painting style, to cartoony, to photorealistic) and are able to do different types of work (from environment or character concept, to set-dressing, to 3D modelling). Having a speciality is great, and all my artists have something they are particularly awesome at, but we always encourage them to diversify their skills. What opportunities are there for career progression in your industry? The great thing about the games industry is the variety of paths people can take as they build their careers. For me as a producer, there is a clear progression path to more senior production roles, such as leading up to production director. For my team of artists initial progression goes from junior artist to senior artist roles. At a big global studio like ours, those that truly excel at team management might well progress to team leader, and in some cases to art director.
Want to talk about your career and inspire people to follow the same path? Contact Chris Wallace at email@example.com
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Debugging D&I Amiqus’ Liz Prince introduces our new regular feature, promoting the importance of diversity and inclusion in the industry
e know there have always been many competing priorities for games businesses, made only more complex and challenging by the pandemic, which has impacted our lives in so many different ways. Diversity and/or inclusion have sometimes struggled to make it to the top of the agenda for many studios, and when they have made it there, for some it hasn’t necessarily moved past the discussion or initial investigation stage. We know that this isn’t generally from a lack of will, but through a lack of time, resource, focus or knowledge, or all of these things. Our industry isn’t alone in this – a recent report in the tech sector revealed that 41 per cent of companies asked had cited being “too busy” as the number one reason they avoid hiring for diversity. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated this for many. So where do we go from here? I remain passionate that the games industry must and can accelerate its focus on diversity and inclusion programmes, despite the ongoing challenges we’re all facing. And this series of articles is here to offer practical advice from those who have made significant changes for the better within their organisations. They will be sharing their best practice tips, experience and advice to help more studios make good on the diversity pledges they may have taken early last year. Hopefully, many of you will be aware of our ‘Putting The G Into Gaming’ campaign, which is aimed at supporting women in games, as well as encouraging more females to consider a career in games. We launched ‘Empower-Up’ as a sister initiative last year. The programme has been devised to provide a guided journey to help studios and leadership teams make a change for better. If D&I has become a Covid casualty in your business and you want to make it a priority but don’t know where to start, we can help. Get in touch any time. If you’re not ready or perhaps feel that you are still too busy to make diversity and inclusion
a priority, here are a few well documented and researched reminders as to why it should take centre stage in 2021. A diverse workforce provides a variety of perspectives, increased creativity, higher levels of innovation and delivers faster problem solving and better decision making. Diverse companies report greater profits, higher employee engagement and retention. Outwardly your reputation is enhanced, and in turn you will attract more top talent. Current data suggests that over two thirds of job seekers consider a diverse workforce to be important when comparing companies and job offers. Looking ahead however, this is going to become even more of a focus. When PwC looked into the statistics surrounding the millennial workforce, they discovered that diversity is something millennials hold in high regard. 85 per cent of females agreed that an employer’s policy on diversity and equality was important when deciding whether to work for an employer. As the workplace becomes more populated with the millennial and gen Z generations, studios risk missing out on top talent if they aren’t diverse and inclusive. There are so many tangible and measurable benefits to D&I, but there is also a significant moral responsibility to consider, to do the right thing and demonstrate commitment to social justice as part of your corporate social responsibility. We hope you’re ready to make D&I central to your 2021 priorities and that this series of articles will help.
“A diverse workforce provides a variety of perspectives, increased creativity, higher levels of innovation and delivers faster problem solving and better decision making”
At Amiqus, we have many resources available to help, so please do get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Recruiter Hotseat Team17 is looking to hire experienced people in QA and Production. Jasper Barnes gives us the inside scoop. What differentiates your studio from other developers? The sheer variety and diversity of titles that we get the opportunity to put out there! We’re a games studio and a games label, meaning we are given the chance to work on titles with games developers from all around the world, and can really flex our creative muscles by working in a landscape that is always changing and adapting. We’re inventive as a business, constantly challenging ourselves with new ideas, new genres and new technologies, and we do it with Team17 spirit, jumping into every challenge with both feet in the hope that we learn something cool! We’re indie at heart, and our passion for indie games and developers is tangible. What should aspiring devs do with their CV to get an interview? It depends on the job you are applying for. For the more visual roles (art, game design, graphics, UX, etc.) I would say that really your CV should be as simple as a signpost to your portfolio, which is where the magic needs to happen. We’ve hired people for junior and associate level roles on the strength of a portfolio, so it really is the most valuable tool that you should keep updated with your strongest and most relevant pieces of work. For other roles, I would suggest that you make sure you fully understand the requirements of the role that you are applying for before you hit send on your application. Where possible avoid submitting a CV that highlights your knowledge in the wrong areas of game dev. For example, if you are applying for a role in QA, you should be drawing focus to your high attention to detail, your creative
problem solving and your communication skills; rather than a link to your art portfolio or your design website. It can sometimes be worth creating multiple CVs for this exact reason. What advice would you give for a successful interview at your studio? For a successful interview at Team17 we really want to see potential in people shining through. The beauty of Team17 is that every game we work on is different from the last, and so we want to see people who can be superstars for both our immediate needs, but also the future projects for the studio. This generally means being able to show a good range of knowledge within your discipline; perhaps a game designer with experience working in Unity and an understanding of UX design; or a producer who is able to take ownership of a small project but also work in tandem with another or several other producers towards a larger title. Showing a bit of inventiveness within your job role or specialism is certainly a good way to stand out! What processes do you have for onboarding staff remotely? Like the recruitment process, we’ve put measures in place to make sure that we are giving new joiners a positive onboarding experience to get them set up and integrated into our teams as smoothly as possible. Working closely with the IT team and head of department across the business we ensure that we can get new starters’ workstations couriered to their address in time for their first day at Team17, so that they can log in on their first day from the comfort of their own home. From day one, new joiners are set up and ready to go with all the equipment they need
to work remotely, and on their first day they are virtually welcomed to the team by HR, their manager and their colleagues to make sure that they have everything that they need to be able to get started. From there, they will have regular chats and be welcomed into team meetings and virtual socials to make sure they feel a part of the team. We’ve had really positive feedback from people who have joined us throughout the pandemic. and we’re excited to hang out and work with them in person at our studios when we can eventually return! How many staff are you currently looking to take on? Well 2020 was a big year for us recruitment wise and 2021 doesn’t look any different. We have plans to continue growing our teams across all of our locations, especially our Manchester studio which is our newest location based at Media City. In particular, we’re looking for experienced people in QA and Production. There are roles for all of our sites currently on our website, with many more to follow in the next few weeks!
If you’d like to feature your recruitment team on this page then contact Alex Boucher – email@example.com February 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 23
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New in the New Normal Many of those who joined the games industry around the first outbreak of COVID-19 in the UK are approaching their first anniversary in their new careers. Chris Wallace discusses what it’s like to begin a career in our new normal
o say that the past year has been unprecedented and overwhelming is simultaneously a colossal understatement and a very tired cliché at this point. We all had a difficult 2020 – and not to be a pessimist, but 2021 is going to remain difficult for the foreseeable future. Still, there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and those of us who can work at home have largely gotten used to doing so. Though I’m sure there’s plenty of us still waiting for the days of office banter, after work drinks and industry events to return. For the more experienced members of our industry, the past
year has, I’m sure, felt like an odd pause – without the usual major events that act as checkpoints throughout the year. But what of us newcomers? We’re almost at the one-year mark since the first UK lockdown, meaning there will be people across the industry celebrating their anniversary without ever having stepped foot in their office or a games event. It’s a topic close to my heart. I joined MCV/ DEVELOP, my first job in the games industry, in October 2019. So I was lucky enough to be able to attend a few UK events – stepping bleary-eyed around EGX at the end of my first week, heading
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up to Yorkshire for my first (and only) event outside of London for the Yorkshire Games Festival, and of course: The MCV/ DEVELOP Awards back in March 2019. Still, my experience in the games industry is best described by that scene in Community: walking optimistically through the door, pizza in hand, only to find everything on fire. My first overseas trip, to San Francisco for GDC, predictably did not go ahead. My second, to attend Gamescom for MCV/DEVELOP was similarly cancelled. While I certainly feel fortunate to be here, it feels as if I’ve joined the industry in secret: smuggled in under cover of night. My Twitter feed is full of industry veterans looking back nostalgically on an industry I’ve yet to experience. I’ve been here for over a year now, and by the time I’m attending a major event again, I’ll likely be into my second year – and suddenly dealing with a very different job than the one I’ve grown accustomed to. But I at least had that 5 month period in the office. I’ve had the (dubious) honour of meeting MCV/DEVELOP editor Seth Barton, and our colleagues at other magazines. But there’s a whole host of people out there about to celebrate their one-year anniversary, having never physically worked with their colleagues. GREAT EXPECTATIONS We talk a lot about the ‘new normal’, but what about people for whom this is the only normal they’ve ever known in the industry? How does this match up with their initial expectations for their careers? “Before joining, I think I expected to hit the ground running at work a bit more easily,” says Nikky Armstrong, who joined Ubisoft Reflections a senior gameplay programmer in March 2020. “I was excited about making friends in the wider industry and attending conferences and events. “I’ve really had to step back and prioritise my mental health, followed by being able to do my job, which has meant being less involved with communities and online events because I don’t have a lot of energy left over. I have discovered what my new
level of productivity is and a huge learning curve was understanding and being OK with not being able to be as effective as I was pre-COVID. “This has been particularly difficult because the people that I work with now don’t have first-hand experience of working with me pre-COVID, so I did at first put a lot of pressure on myself to excel in my new industry and role. My manager and Ubisoft in general have been very supportive and understanding of my (and everyone’s) situation though, so with that support I have learned to go a little easier on myself.” PART OF THE TEAM Everyone I spoke to was keen to stress that their companies have been supportive during this time – a good sign, given the initial concerns about onboarding during this crisis. Despite many people quoted here having never physically worked with their colleagues, they nonetheless all reported feeling a valued member of the company. “I absolutely feel a part of the team,” says Winona Sharpe, who joined Double Eleven as a junior release associate in May 2020. “Our channels of communication are very open and always getting better as time goes on. I’ve been made to feel very welcome. Working from home is new to most of us in the business so in that way I haven’t felt like I’m alone going through this.” “Marmalade is really good for this,” adds Emily Inkpen, who joined Marmalade Game Studios as a copywriter in April 2020. “Or, at least, the marketing team is. We have daily catch-ups and video is always on. We still have creative brainstorms together for every campaign and release. “The company has a second office in Lisbon, which is where my design partners are (copywriters and designers generally form ‘teams’ and work closely together). We’ll be working remotely even when we are in the office, so video chat will be a thing even when (if) things get back to normal.” What seemed to be a theme, though not a universal one, is that building connections at work has been more or
Nicky Armstrong, senior gameplay programmer at Ubisoft Reflections
Emily Inkpen, copywriter at Marmalade Game Studios
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Venezia Georgieva, junior games designer at Mojiworks
Matthew Denny, development QA engineer at Codemasters
less uninterrupted. But when it comes to making connections outside of the company, things become a lot more complicated when working remotely. “I definitely think making connections in the wider industry has been much more challenging in the current circumstances,” says Venezia Georgieva, who joined Mojiworks as a junior game designer in October 2019. “Going to a new place for a talk or conference used to be an event in itself for me as it broadened my horizons not only to what the speakers had to say, but also to all of the other developers and professionals in the audience. It was a great way to meet people of all walks of life and be surrounded by healthy discussion. “Under the current circumstances working almost exclusively in front of the monitor, it can be difficult to attend extra events due to screen fatigue. I have attended a few online events since the first lockdown and have enjoyed my time on the UK Game Industry Slack, but they don’t quite fill the gap.” GETTING TOGETHER Online events and communities are welcome for a number of reasons. Not only are they safe during these troubled times, but they’re infinitely more accessible than physical events – without any of the costs associated with travelling and attending events, not to mention much more approachable for people with disabilities. But while we hope online events are here to stay, for many, they simply aren’t the same experience. Many struggle to make meaningful connections from behind a screen, making networking an even more hellish experience than it ever was. “My ability to make connections in the wider industry has been hampered in a way, yes” says Matthew Denny, who joined Codemasters as a development QA engineer a few days before the first lockdown in March 2020. “Although I’ve been able to attend online seminars from software companies, I do feel it’s harder to make connections over online events than in person ones.” “The main reason why online events are not as enticing to me is because it’s largely impossible to facilitate them without the screen,” adds Mojiworks’ Georgieva. “I often find myself a bit drained after hours of work in front of the monitor, which can make it difficult to get excited about what would otherwise be a wonderful event. “Nonetheless, I am very interested in online events which feature an interactive activity or a
Q&A segment. Ideally I don’t want it to feel like another meeting, but like a fun social event or an educational activity. Something to do together with other people is quite appealing to me.” But all that isn’t to say that, should the pandemic be over tomorrow, that returning to large-scale events won’t be an emotionally complicated experience. While the people I spoke to remained optimistic about adjusting back to the old normal when the time comes, there’s certainly a risk of a culture shock once this is all over. “I am a bit worried I will be wary of going to events,” notes Ubisoft Reflections’ Armstrong. “Even when they are up and running again, I may miss out on opportunities through being overly cautious, but I imagine that will get better with time” Though as Marmalade’s Inkpen notes, these fears will hardly be unique to those new to the games industry: “I think the whole country is going to be a bit agoraphobic. I’ve got a really good sense of the team remotely and I actually can’t wait to be in the office with them all in person! Perhaps I’ll be easily overwhelmed by the crowds in London at first, and I imagine a lot of headphone time in the office, but that was always the case. It’s hard to do words when everyone is talking around you.” CAREER CRISIS? The limitations on social interaction is one thing, but what of the potentially more long-lasting consequences of spending your entire career working remotely? Do our new starters feel that this pandemic has hindered their career development? “I think it may have hampered my ability to be as impactful at work as I would like,” says Ubisoft Reflections’ Armstrong. “Both in terms of reduced capacity and not being able to create relationships with a wider range of team members as easily. “I think it has been more difficult to demonstrate the value that I bring with me from outside the industry when I’m concentrating so hard on staying afloat. I also have put a lot of my study and personal projects aside because I want to shut the door on my work area at home at the end of the day.” The pandemic has been awful in many ways – and while they don’t even come close to counteracting the negative aspects, there are positives to be found if you look for them. “Personally I don’t feel that the pandemic has hampered my career development,” says
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Double Eleven’s Sharpe. “If anything, joining the games industry when I did meant that I had the opportunity to start a new career while at the same time prioritising my mental and physical wellbeing. I’m not spending several hours every day commuting, resorting to fast food, and coming home exhausted after a long day at work.” On the note of benefits, one thing I’ve personally found liberating about the past year is the move to remote work. While there’s certainly a few elements of office life that I miss, no longer having to factor in the costs (and misery) of an early morning London commute was one of the few perks of 2020, and one I hope to be able to hang on to in some form going forward. Is this a desire we can expect to see spread across the industry? “This is really tough to say,” says Ubisoft Reflections’ Armstrong. “I enjoy not having a commute, and as difficult as it has been to write code with my dog sat on my lap, it is very nice to take him for a walk when it’s still light out, and he will have severe separation anxiety issues for us to work through if I do go back to the office. I also don’t miss catching every cold that anyone brings in with them.
“But I miss the atmosphere and friendship of an office, and I haven’t been able to experience going to work at Ubisoft with the logos and memorabilia and things on the walls. That’s a superficial thing, but it was something I was looking forward to!” “Ideally I would love a mixed option,” adds Mojiworks’ Georgieva, “with some days spent working from home and some days spent in the studio. Even though countless game professionals have proven that we can do outstanding work remotely, I believe it is important to nurture the relationships within the team and to get to know each other on a personal level.” With all that said – this has hardly been the first year any of us had hoped for, I’m sure. If people had known their first year in the industry would be like this, would they still have joined? “Yes definitely,” says Codemasters’ Denny. “The industry is very hard to break into and I would recommend anyone looking to join the industry to not be put off by remote working. There are even some perks through remote working like being able to be around family, but also some disadvantages like higher energy bills!” “Yes!” says Marmalade’s Inkpen, emphatically. “Hands down, I’m home.”
Winona Sharp, junior release associate at Double Eleven
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Has Jagex found the one?
Jagex has new owners, a huge private equity firm, but what does that mean for the company and the industry? Seth Barton talks to Phil Mansell about expansion, acquisitions and some new Runescape games
C Phil Mansell, CEO Jagex
onsolidation has been the buzz around the game industry in recent years, with Microsoft, Tencent, and many more buying up developers at a pace. However, incumbents aren’t the only financial power in the land, and last week it was announced that Runescape creator Jagex had been acquired by The Carlyle Group. The Carlyle Group is big business. Considered to be the second largest private equity firm in the world, it manages over $200bn of assets. So it’s somewhat surprising to discover that Jagex is its first proper games industry acquisition. So we caught up with Jagex CEO Phil Mansell to discuss what the new ownership means for the company, it’s strategy, and for the games industry more broadly. NOTHING VENTURED... “I think [the deal] talks not just to the journey Jagex has been on, but also what’s going on in our industry and the renown and resilience and maturity that we’ve now got,” Mansell responds when we ask about the broader environment around the deal. “It was certainly not the case that the very largest private equity companies were getting really serious
about gaming five to ten years ago, when they started on the fringes. And now, while it’s newish, it’s not heart stoppingly shocking that it’s happened. “You can understand it from their perspective as well. You’ve got the games industry becoming more mature, better known throughout the world, whether it’s in live games or mobile or in AAA, you know that those franchises can be robust, long term, growth vehicles. “We’ve shown that with Runescape, but I think at an industry level, you’re seeing that increasingly over the last number of years, and COVID has only accelerated that. When other sectors have really struggled, games have remained resilient as we have through recessions and other things in the past. “It’s a good milestone, certainly for us as a company, but also a good signal of the confidence that the investment world has in video games.” And Jagex has confidence in its new owner as well. As we went to press, there were allegations from third parties that the dealings of previous owners had not been entirely transparent. Nothing there reflected on the behaviour of Jagex itself, though, and the company is very confident that this move is both proper and correct. After all, the
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Carlyle Group certainly looks to know its business. “We’ve decided not to go into the details on the mechanics of the transaction. But certainly, as you allude to, it has been something of a journey,” Mansell tells us when we ask about the short period under previous owner Macarthur Fortune. “The ultimate destination with Carlyle is absolutely ideal and we’re genuinely, really, really happy with it. It’s been a bit of an intense period, but the destination has made it worth it for sure.” TATE AND CAR-LYLE So just what makes their new owners such a sweet deal for Jagex? “They genuinely embraced our vision for the company,” says Mansell. “We’re in a good place, we’ve had a strong track record for many years of growing the company, we rejuvenated the Runescape IP, and we pretty much doubled the size of the company in four or five years. “But you can’t just reflect on the past, you’ve got to know where you’re going. And we’ve always wanted to really establish ourselves as a premier, global level, living games company. “Certainly, we’ve done a lot with Runescape, and Old School, and moved to mobile, with massive growth of the communities that we’ve had there. And the next thing we’re doing is we’ve got even more expansion for our existing games. “We have new platforms, new territories, loads of cool features that we have in the pipeline. We do want to do more with the Runescape IP which has 300 million users in its lifetime. “There’s a groundswell of fondness for the world and its stories and characters. Obviously, we love it, we’ve been telling chapters of this story of Runescape for 20 years. We think there’s a lot more to do there. So we’re really excited by the creative potential there as well. I think they could see that, and they really bought into it. They wanted to
sponsor our vision for growth, and support us and accelerate that. And I think it was that alignment and that meeting of minds that really made us just really happy.” SAGE ADVICE So what can Carlyle offer Jagex? Apart from access to funds, of course. Just how does a non-endemic owner assist running a company in an industry that’s historically misunderstood from the outside? “One of the reasons they have acquired Jagex, is that they found a really strong management team,” Mansell begins in answer. “I’ve been at Jagex for 10 years, I’ve been running it as CEO for four, running the games for many years before that. But I’ve also built a really strong management team. My executives have built their own teams as well over the last few years. And all of that really inspires a lot of confidence. “We don’t need someone to come and run the company, what we need is support and help. So some of that is wisdom and advice. It’s the Carlyle tech fund, so they do understand the world of digital, business to consumer, and the internet services side of things. So there’s certainly going to be a lot of wisdom about infrastructure and general tech company running which as we expand, that’s going to be really helpful.” And Carlyle is providing top-tier advisors too. “We’ve been really fortunate to bring on two nonexecutive directors,” explains Mansell. “We’ve got Niccolo de Masi, who is currently the chairman of Glu Mobile... and was also the former CEO there. He’s got tons of experience in not just mobile games, but the mobile ecosystem as a whole. We know mobile offers more opportunity for us, so that wisdom at a corporate level and investment level is going to be really helpful. “And the other non-executive director we’ve been lucky enough to bring on is Mike Griffith.
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Above: Jagex is having a yearlong party in Runescape for its 20th anniversary
And he’s a former CEO of Activision. So there’s another whole angle, developing franchises, developing IP... an understanding of high production value development.” To their role Mansell adds: “They’re not managers in our business, what they are is sage counsel for me and the leaders of Jagex to bounce ideas off, get good advice from, utilise their contacts in the industry.” PLACES AND PLATFORMS And those contacts will come in handy as Jagex looks to grow its reach globally. “We certainly have ambitions... to play in more markets. And that might mean we need presence in more places in the world. Someone like Carlyle, who has hundreds of companies, has the resources and help that can assist you in doing those growth expansions, finding new markets.” “We’ve got our two MMOs at the moment. Runescape and Old School, which have some degree of localization, but I don’t think we’ve fulfilled the potential there. So that’s not something we’ve got a plan to announce today. But it’s an ambition that we’ve got, we know there’s demand and interesting stuff to do there.” But it’s not just the current games that will allow Jagex to reach new regions, it’s also thinking more globally about its new titles. “When Runescape came out, originally 20 years ago, it probably wasn’t too surprising it was only in English. But in 2021, you’re launching a new game, you’re expecting not just the game to be really well localised and culturised, but for you to have the ability to publish, or
partner, in order to sell it and build communities around the world. “For us as a company we’re building this expertise overlap between our current games and our new games. But certainly, as we’re bringing new games to market, we expect to cover a much wider reach with those games.” Taking a couple of steps back, we ask what the strategy is for new titles, which would be a huge change of direction for a company that has, in recent years, concentrated on its crown jewels of Runescape and its Old School iteration. “When we think about new Runescape games, we know that our players have got homes in Runescape or Old School, we’re not looking to jolt them and move them out. Where we are looking at new Runescape games, multiple I would say, not just a third, is where we think there is a really great creative idea. One close enough to home that we’ve got the skill set, generally within RPGs to realise that, although RPG means a lot of different things these days,” Mansell notes. “Is there something that isn’t going to cannibalise or confuse our current players, or players who come and go from the games we already have?” he continues. “How can we extend that portfolio, but in a really constructive way, rather than forcibly migrating players? “We’re going to run Runescape and Old School successfully in perpetuity, and hopefully continue to grow and grow for many more decades. But what else does the Runescape IP offer? What else does our skill set and our creative energies want to conjure up that can sit as a complimentary addition.” We’re sure that Runescape’s passionate player base would be hollering out answers to that question, but we won’t indulge in any of that here. STEAM POWERED With all that in mind, Jagex’s recent move to place Runescape on Steam, the first time it’s appeared on another platform, makes a lot of sense. So was that simply an experiment for the future we wonder? “A lot of things we do, we do treat as experiments, the best thing you can do as a company, especially for games,
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is experiment and learn from it... and capitalise on the things that you’ve learned,” Mansell replies. “So Steam was a bit like that.” That said, it was also simply a good move to build the brand. “I think the main reason we went to Steam was it helps us reach more players. There are some players for whom Steam is their number one venue. It’s got a great toolset behind it. And we want to be exposed to as many players as possible to be building up our communities. “We’ve managed to grow as far as we have on our own, but we want to further expand our reach. And some of that is from distribution platforms, Steam has had the Runescape release and Old School is coming very shortly as well.” On the 24th of February to be precise. The company is also looking to make its first move onto console, Mansell reveals: “We are also looking at the potential of console platforms in the future as well, there’s some work started on that, again we’re not announcement-ready, but we’re really interested. “We’ve got some of the most successful MMORPGs in the world. And, yes, Runescape has a retro vibe to it, but in terms of their growth and the size of their communities they’re really up there. We want to continue to expand that reach. So whether it is Steam, whether it’s innovations we can do with the products ourselves, whether it’s other platforms, and ultimately other regions. We’re working on all of that.” And speaking of that retro vibe, it’s worth noting that Jagex is having a year-long party to celebrate Runescape’s 20th anniversary. Although those plans have had to be rethought without a tentpole physical event such as its huge annual Runefest fan gathering. “There’s a silver lining, which is it prompts you to rethink things. And you have to innovate a bit as well, what it’s meant is we’ve rethought how to celebrate these kind of events with players, we’ve got a lot more in-game events, and they’re not just like a moment in time, we have different chapters of celebration going through both games throughout the year. We think of it as a rolling year’s celebration.” WORLD OF WARCHEST Returning to what Carlyle brings to Jagex, we wonder if its new parent will enable the company to make acquisitions of its own? But funds were never the issue, Mansell replies. “We’re very, very fortunate as a company, we’re not particularly constrained by cash. You can see in our accounts we have over £100m in revenue, and around half of that as pure profit. So we don’t lack for cash to put into things. I think the difference with Carlyle is probably more about confidence and accelerating our growth.
I think that we do expect to be a bit more punchy, we want to grow our business a bit more aggressively. So I think we’ll speed up a bit on a number of fronts.” Mansell explains what the new, punchier, Jagex will look for in terms of opportunities. “Are there studios that we want to invest in ourselves, that could be part of the third-party publishing? It might be separate to that, just our own acquisitions. That’s something we know we’re going to be looking at more actively. So that’s also an exciting change, with our acquisition, that has opened more doors and potential. “For us, it’s what are the games that make sense? What’s the right size of deal or game where we really think there’s value that we can add, we can team up with a partner and give them something they don’t already have. Some of that is capital, some of that’s funding for marketing, a bit of development funding, absolutely. “But it’s as much about, do we think a big community can be built around that game? Do we think the game has a special place in the market? The test we talk about a lot is ‘can this game be the new favourite game of millions of players?’ And that’s the test we want to go through. And we’re very fortunate that we have the war chest to be able to do those things. CONSOLE-IDATION Which brings us right back round to the industry’s current consolidation spree. So does Mansell believe that the current buy-outs are healthy for the industry? “Each to their own,” he replies. “I think it very much depends on the company and the people there, about what they want to achieve. Jagex has always been, through different ownership, independently spirited. We’ve got our own IP, we’re not particularly dependent on other parties. “Carlyle really makes sense for us, that independent spirit. We only need to think about ourselves,” which is in stark contrast to say Microsoft’s acquisitions, which are then aligned heavily with the company’s Game Pass strategy. That doesn’t seem the right course for Jagex of course, although an alternative to venture capital ownership could be an IPO. “Long term, we’re open, and we know Carlyle is open to those sorts of things,” Mansell muses. “With Carlyle, we will be working on plans that build the long term value and growth for Jagex. Whether things lead to IPOs, or that sort of thing in the future, we remain open minded, that’s not the driving consideration, the driving consideration is to build our community, make our players happy, do some great creative work and continue to run a really healthy company.”
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HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER TRAILER...
...AND EMPOWER IT WITH SOCIAL WEIRDNESS
Liquid Crimson aims to take your incredible game and make an incredible first impression. We caught up with Lauran Carter, head of comms, to discuss its work during the pandemic, the new demands of next-gen titles, and bringing the Guildford Games Festival to the masses
ames are inherently interactive experiences, but practically every first look for a potential player is a video trailer. While content around the game, such as developer diaries and influencer campaigns, can be essential in explaining a title’s USPs. Liquid Crimson has been creating just such content for over eight years, with the team’s experience stretching back over two decades. Which all came in handy when 2020 stating throwing curveballs. 2020 WAS A YEAR LIKE NO OTHER, HOW DID THE PANDEMIC AFFECT THE STUDIO’S OUTPUT... One of the few good things (from the games industry’s point-ofview) about lockdown was that people needed to be entertained more than ever, so both die-hard and casual players were picking up their controllers in their droves. This meant that we were called upon by many games studios to announce and tease their games, as well as produce developer video diaries to keep their audiences entertained. 2020 saw us work with studios such as Supermassive Games, Criterion, Natural Motion, UsTwo Games, Outright Games as well as many, many more! It’s been a very busy year for us! … PRACTICALLY IN TERMS OF PRODUCTIONS? It’s been tricky, but thankfully not impossible, in part thanks to the (sometimes Herculean!) efforts of the games studios that we’ve worked with. With teasers and trailers, most of our work can be done remotely without the need to set foot in a studio, all thanks to modern day, highspeed broadband. The greatest challenge for us was how we would be able to safely film face-to-face interviews and dev diaries during a pandemic.
Prior to lockdown, we had many interviews lined up for the year for various projects, the planning for which we had to quickly adapt as the situation changed. We have been very fortunate to have worked with teams that inhabit large, but currently empty, studios so we have been able to use that to our advantage to set up a socially-distanced crew for some of the interviews. Also, Guildford has a fantastic venue, The Boileroom, that offers ample space for a socially-distanced ‘set’ so we’ve filmed interviews there as well. We’re very passionate about supporting and curating the local game dev scene. Liquid Crimson helps run the regular Guildford Game Dev evenings, the game awards and the festival – and being ‘detached’ from the community due to lockdown has been tough. We’re really keen to get back to IRL events once we’re clear of the pandemic! … AND CREATIVELY IN TERMS OF HAVING TO THINK UP NEW APPROACHES TO CAMPAIGNS? As far as creative approaches go, we haven’t found a huge amount has changed. We’ve always worked collaboratively with our clients to bring their vision to life, and as our clients are spread across the world as well as all over the UK, we’re very used to a portion of the process being ‘long distance’. Each of our clients bring a unique element for us to work with – from the colourful, squishy world of Alba, to the downright terrifying landscape of Little Hope, to the fast-paced, all-out action of CSR2. The games we work with have such depth that additional creative ‘angles’ haven’t really been required. We’ve just continued to work collaboratively and have carefully adapted to meet any challenges that presented themselves along the way. Communication and collaboration
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is, as always, key! Although we did take advantage of everyone being at home when it came to the Guildford Games Festival…
you ‘Wow, game devs are magicians! You worked on that game?! The creativity! The feeling! The experience!’, it’s inspiring.
THE GUILDFORD GAMES FESTIVAL WAS A BIG SUCCESS, TELL US HOW YOU PRODUCED THE LIVE CONTENT? The GGF really is a true labour of love for all the organisers, and even more so in lockdown! The inaugural live event took place in 2019, and we had plans to make it bigger and better for 2020. Initially, we were working with our Festival partners to hold the event in June 2020 but it became apparent very quickly that a physical event would not be possible, so we started to put together a Plan B. All the live events transitioned to online events, including the community-run game jam, so we kicked off a discord to provide a place for Guildford Devs to meet and discuss (akin to our Game Dev Drinks, but B.Y.O. from the comfort of your home!). Even with a Plan B, we would still need interviews, and thanks to our fantastic (and enthusiastic!) sponsors at EA and Supermassive, we were able to create environments within their studios that respected socialdistancing, and by providing items such as sanitiser, antibac wipes and facemasks (kindly donated by Insert Coin) to all interviewees and crew. It took a huge team effort, but we managed to produce over 9 hours of content for the event, which streamed to over 2 million unique viewers across Steam and Twitch in November. The interviews themselves were a joy to host: interviewing sometimes legendary, always inspirational developers and really deep-diving into processes and their learnings and history would have been the most exciting thing to be involved in in any year, let alone 2020! The interviewees were insightful, clearly devoted to their crafts and very keen to share their knowledge, which made for some fantastic video content! These interviews and deep-dives were such a success that we are definitely aiming to do more of these in the future!
THE NEXT GENERATION IS HERE AND GRAPHICS ARE SHARPER AND SHINIER AGAIN, IS THE ONUS THEN ON YOU TO KEEP UP? The very highest production quality has always been our priority, so in that respect, nothing has really changed. However, the technology has changed so we have kept pace with that. From trailers for the Dark Pictures Anthology and CSR2, for example, to recreating the in-game video content for games like Need for Speed Hot Pursuit Remastered. All these trailers, teasers and videos need to be made at the highest possible creative and technical quality. With the Xbox Series X and PS5 now in players’ homes and hands, game trailers just have to look stunning, and therefore it’s our job to ensure players get the most beautiful first glimpse of a game achievable.
YOU ALSO WORK WITH OTHER MEDIA AND ARTISTS, DOES THAT BREADTH OF WORK SPARK CREATIVITY? Absolutely! We love games but we also love music, science, outer space (real or sci-fi!), weird and wonderful live events, and all kinds of other things that make us us. From my perspective, just the fact that Liquid Crimson have a working relationship with folk in those fields is cool, but getting to sit down and interview a European Space Agency scientist, or the organiser of Space Rocks (and ex-Metal Hammer and Kerrang editor), or well-known comedians, and have them saying to
YOUR CORE TEAM IS NOW MAINLY WOMEN, CONGRATS! DO YOU SEE THAT AS AN ADVANTAGE IN AN INDUSTRY THAT CAN STRUGGLE TO REACH THE ‘OTHER’ 50% Liquid Crimson’s priority has always been to build a talented and creative team with a passion for the games industry and diversity ensures we’re able to approach projects from multiple angles and bring new perspectives. Lia recently joined the LC team, a graduate from Guildford’s University of Surrey. Lia has brought a fresh creative perspective to the team and I love that she learnt her trade at a Guildford Uni and that she is now embedded with a Guildford team! I’m also a recent addition to Team LC, having first worked with them at Lionhead Studios, mainly on trailers, dev diaries and live events for Fable Legends. As Liquid Crimson’s head of comms, I’ll not only be handling all of the company signal boosting, but will also be heading up a full communications arm, to offer social media support, influencer management and marketing campaign planning to other games industry clients – and beyond. With many projects already on-the-go, or lined up for 2021 and beyond, exciting times are very definitely ahead - and we cannot wait! For all your video or social media related hopes and dreams, get in contact with Liquid Crimson firstname.lastname@example.org. AND we’re hiring, and you could be just who we’re looking for. Drop us a note using the email above.
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The work of games journalists has changed significantly over the years. So just what is the role and responsibility of the press in a world of YouTube and streaming? Chris Wallace talks to four leading journalists to find their take on their own story.
I Below: Alice Bell, deputy editor at Rock, Paper, Shotgun (RPS)
don’t think anyone needs to be told that the internet has drastically changed the face of journalism. The reach of reporting has dramatically expanded, while its ability to actually make money has uh, not. More specifically though, games journalism has changed dramatically over the last couple of decades. The internet and the rise of social media and the influencer has forever changed not only how consumer games journalism functions, but what it actually looks to do.
Journalists are, at least in the triple-A space, no longer needed to tell players what games are coming out, when they’re coming out, or sometimes even if they’re any good. Influencers on Twitch and YouTube can provide their viewers a more direct experience of a game than any games magazine (remember those?) ever could. And that’s while gaming outlets are being squeezed by the same financial pressures that have affected traditional media too. Which begs the question I ask myself every day on press week: What exactly is the point of games journalism in 2021? WHAT’S THE POINT? “That’s a tough one to answer,” begins Alice Bell, deputy editor at Rock, Paper, Shotgun (RPS). “It’s tempting to copy the BBC’s homework and say ‘inform, educate and entertain’. “But if that’s the case, there’s a lot less emphasis on ‘inform’ these days, because companies have a direct line to consumers via things like social media, so when a game is announced they don’t need to see the info on a website ‘cos there’s already a tweet from EA with the full trailer in it, or whatever. “We can give more context, I think, and dig out the various oddities and fun things people might not have seen. RPS’s unofficial internal slogan is ‘a good time should be shared online’.” That point about context is key – journalists may not be needed to tell people that the new Call of Duty is coming out, but they are in a unique position to provide important information around it. “For me the purpose of games journalism is telling readers something they didn’t already know,” says Keza MacDonald, video games editor at The Guardian. “Whether that’s through a review of a game they might love, the inside story of a game’s development or cultural
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phenomenon from the gaming world, or something fascinating that players are doing.” Still, however you define it, the job has changed significantly over the years. For those who have been in the business for quite some time now, they’ve had to make significant changes to their work to keep up with the changing times. “I would say the role has evolved,” says Wesley Yin-Poole, deputy editor of Eurogamer. “From being, predominantly but not exclusively, an arbiter of information and impressions closely tied to the preview and then review cycle of big-budget games dedicated by triple-A publishers, into a storyteller. While on-diary news remains important, it is the off-diary coverage that has emerged as most successful, most interesting, and most fun to do.” There’s more to it than just having to compete with influencers and social media PR campaigns, though. Gaming has become a significantly more mainstream affair than ever before, meaning the definition of a “gamer” (for want of a less hideous term) is an increasingly diverse one. “Compared to when I started in the early 00s the games audience is far more inclusive,” says Andy Robinson, editor in chief at VGC. “More people than ever play games and combined with fewer barriers for game developers, it’s led to an incredibly vibrant landscape within which there are many stories to tell. In that same 15-year period, the industry has exploded; Wii, the App Store and high-speed internet have transformed the medium in a short space of time to the mainstream monster it is today. “What that means for games writing is that there’s much more room to specialise, whether you’re a critic, news writer, broadcaster or long-form writer. Compared to 15 years ago, a lot of the most successful games journalists – especially in freelance – are ones who own their niche. The people I work with are either best-inclass game critics, methodical guide writers, hilarious video presenters or died-in-wool newshounds.”
Yin-Poole, “which I think is a good thing for everyone. We still aim to hit review embargoes where possible, but we are not beholden to them. In some cases, it is much better to run a review after a pre-release embargo has lifted, for example if the game has a heavy online focus.” Previews may have less of an impact than they used to, but the rise of the live service titles has made post-release coverage more relevant than ever before. Titles such as Destiny 2, for instance, will still attract articles and videos years after its initial release. “The rise of service games has created an ecosystem for post-launch coverage that didn’t exist before,” says VGC’s Robinson. “There’s a market for specialising in a few games and covering them from an expert player’s point of view as they evolve. Because most of these games are online, it’s also interesting to hear human stories about the communities they’ve created. There’s certainly a lot of traffic here, especially if you’re wandering into guide territory – but that is incredibly contested.” Both the diversity of voices and the ability to specialise and find your niche is, of course, a welcome change. But this fragmentation can also lead to the development of cliques and, in collaboration with the hellscape of Twitter, can lead to some misplaced priorities.
Below: Andy Robinson, editor in chief at VGC
PREVIEW, REVIEW, GUIDE? While some of these changes are welcome, it means the traditional games writing cycle of rumour/preview/ review/guides feels less relevant than it used to. Guides can still drive traffic, but when pre-release gameplay footage is available all over Youtube, how necessary are previews? And when games can change drastically postlaunch, particularly when dealing with live service titles, how does an outlet approach its reviews? “We still turn up for preview opportunities, but our reliance upon them has decreased,” says Eurogamer’s
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Below: Keza MacDonald, video games editor at The Guardian
“I do think there has been a rapid shift, in the last few years, to games journalists caring a lot about their ‘personal brand’ on social media,” says RPS’ Bell. “Rather than, I dunno, writing. “I understand that using Twitter for networking can be important, especially if you live anywhere except London, or struggle with in-person networking for other reasons. But there are weird cults of personality popping up online and I am concerned that freelancers or new games journos coming up see their presence on social media, and being ‘in’ with the right cliques, as being of more importance than anything else. “Twitter accounts for a tiny, tiny, almost insignificant percentage of our traffic, so statistically speaking your Twitter pals are probably lying and didn’t read your article. Nobody’s Twitter feed has made me more likely to commission a freelance pitch, but it might make me less likely if I read it and think ‘Wow, this person’s opinions on, oh God, Bean Dad, have made them sound really annoying’. “I’d rather more games journalists focus on e.g. knowing what constitutes libel and slander and not doing them; doing words good; reading books. I say this as someone who used to be pathetically concerned with Twitter, by the way.”
REVIEWING CRUNCH Speaking of Twitter, with the issue of crunch at the forefront of everyone’s minds recently, many journalists have been taking to the platform to address issues of overwork and crunch in their own workplaces. The troublesome combination of a trend of releasing longer, more complicated games alongside tight embargo deadlines can lead to critics sinking huge amounts of their time in a single game for review – often under the low salaries typical for the industry. “I have spent entire weeks doing nothing at all except playing a big game for review and occasionally eating,” says The Guardian’s MacDonald. “Not much is made of the hours we work in games journalism because playing games sounds like a ridiculous thing to complain about, but the pressure is real, especially if you work for an outlet that places a lot of importance on hitting embargoes. “Video games journalism is an underpaid and overworked career, for sure. And just as elsewhere in media and in the games industry, it’s often the least experienced, worst-paid people who are expected to put in the longest hours reviewing games. There is an expectation that if you don’t want this to be your entire life then you shouldn’t be here – an expectation that hugely limits who can actually afford to make this work as a career.” Much like the wider conversation about crunch, it’s often a nuanced issue – and one that usually reflects poorly on the management of an outlet. “On the consumer journo side it seems to be mostly about having a good manager,” says RPS’ Bell. “I rarely do overtime, and I always get time back in lieu when I do, for example (the situation is obviously different for salaried vs. freelance). “Having said that, I personally think that while ‘playing a game for 36 hours over a weekend and then frantically spaffing out 2,000 words on it to an unfair deadline’ is very stressful, it’s not one-to-one comparable to ‘working 6 or 7 day weeks, every week, for months and months, to a deadline that keeps getting extended.’” TRUTH TO POWER Crunch may be a broader concern throughout the industry, but journalists face their own unique issues too. If we’re to take the traditional understanding of journalism, reporting on new information, the industry’s habit of absolute secrecy can be a bit of a roadblock. Information around games is arguably more heavily controlled than any other art form. Films are known about years in advance, I’ve already seen Robert Pattinson as Batman, and I know what Marvel film will be releasing in the year I die.
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Still, learning about a game ahead of time is hardly hugely important information. Neither the industry nor consumers are particularly served by finding out about a game a few months earlier than usual. “Players and journalists will find out all about the next Call of Duty eventually, whether a leak has occurred or not,” says Eurogamer’s Yin-Poole. “These kinds of stories are uninteresting. It’s more interesting to report on stories that have a genuine news value. Context is important here. Should we spill the beans that Microsoft is working on a new Fable? No, not in isolation. “But consider Microsoft closed down the previous developer of Fable just a year beforehand and has now returned to the franchise with another developer, and you start to build a case for the story passing a news value test.” More pressing are the stories regarding working conditions in the industry: ranging from crunch, to abuse to studio closures and layoffs. Frustratingly these are so often wrapped in secrecy too: emerging only in anonymous quotes from sources in fear of their careers if they speak out. It is perhaps here that the need for gaming journalism is most keenly felt. “I think it is vitally important for games journalism to hold the industry to account,” says The Guardian’s MacDonald. “I’ve often encountered the expectation that games journalism should be there to cheerlead the industry, especially as games are STILL underrepresented and sometimes misunderstood in mainstream culture. “But although one function of games journalism is to draw attention to the amazing things that creators and players are doing, another is to shine a light on the things that the corporate games industry would rather we ignore: toxic working practices, poor diversity, exploitative monetisation, and so forth. Look at the difference that exposing Weinstein has made to the film industry and in turn the world. Journalism can’t fix everything but it can certainly be a starting point.”
news journalism. It’s a challenge that faces journalism in general today, but I do believe that if you’re a young person who is dedicated to their craft right now then you will very quickly find paid work.” Robinson may get his wish “I think the world needs there: As The Guardian’s MacDonald notes, gaming’s more young people who are recent successes have finally passionate about becoming garnered the attention of more mainstream outlets. trained journalists, rather than “A big change in the past few those who are just passionate years is how many established media brands are finally getting about covering games” into gaming coverage in a serious way,” says MacDonald. “Wired, the Washington Post, Bloomberg, so on. I think the future of games journalism is going to be distributed more evenly across the media establishment and specialist games websites.” Of course, some things never change. “I dunno,” says RPS’s Bell. “Probably it will get even more extremely online. Endless pitches about BioShock? That seems to be the thing that never changes! If you’re Below: Wesley a freelancer reading this: please, please stop pitching Yin-Poole, deputy editor at Eurogamer about BioShock.”
THE FUTURE So, with all that change behind us, what does the future look like? In an ever-evolving industry, what can we expect from the games journalists of tomorrow? What skills do we need going forward, and what challenges might future journalists face? “I think the world needs more young people who are passionate about becoming trained journalists, rather than those who are just passionate about covering games” says VGC’s Robinson. “There are tons and tons of passionate content creators today, but not enough people, in my opinion, who have the same drive for investigative reporting or
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Enchanting a community Spellbreak is among the latest titles to take a stab at the popular battle royale genre. But thanks to smart gameplay, crossplay on all platforms and a player-centric outlook, it’s a strong contender to break into the big time. Seth Barton talks to its creators
hile the gold rush of battle royale titles has subsided, there are still those who are looking to advance the genre and take a slice of what has proved a very lucrative pie. One of the most promising titles of recent months is Spellbreak, which puts a fantasy twist on the usual template to great effect. In Spellbreak, players are battlemages, with a classbased system enabling fantastical abilities. That means traversal of the map is rapid, and weapons (spells) can have big area effects, providing a far more dynamic battlefield than players might be used to. And all of that is served up with the energy and colour of a saturday morning cartoon favourite. With alpha and beta tests done, the game has received a full release and now is setting out on its first paid-for season. So it seemed a good time to speak with the team at Boston-based developer Proletariat, to discuss both
the creative and technical decisions that brought them this far. “One of Spellbreak’s biggest differentiators is that we are free to explore a much more diverse set of abilities and forms of combat due to our theme,” Seth Sivak, co-Founder and CEO, tells us. “There are so few first or third-person fantasy action combat games and we think the current version of Spellbreak only scratches the surface. By focusing on projectiles, skills with cooldowns, and especially the ability to create elemental combinations, we have unlocked a whole new direction for core gameplay,” Sivak explains. While its setting makes it stand out from the usual military fare, there’s another key reason behind its potential. At launch, Spellbreak supported PC, PlayStation, Xbox and Switch, with both crossplay and
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cross progression. An undertaking that’s very potent when trying to build a sizable player base in this highly competitive space. BREAKING BARRIERS The studio was created back in 2012, with Sivak leaving Zynga to co-found it. Other hires have come from the likes of Harmonix, Insomniac and Turbine. Such as Cardell Kerr, executive producer, who was previously creative director on DC MOBA Infinite Crisis at Turbine. “Proletariat has grown to over 120 developers,” Sivak tells us. “The initial prototypes were built with a small team of only a handful of people and at the time the studio was only about 30 strong. Most of the growth has come in the last year and has allowed us to bring a level of quality to new areas of the game like audio, as we build out those internal teams.” That larger team has also been responsible for making the title work across all the various platforms. Cardell tells us about that process. “Spellbreak is built on the Unreal Engine, which has been extremely helpful for goals of being multiplatform. Launching with crossplay was extremely difficult,” he notes, but adds, “I often joke with the team that we managed to launch on multiple platforms with crossplay in the middle of a global pandemic, so really anything else we do will just be easier.” “Doing it required a lot of fundamental shifts in how we worked, from the implementation side and including multiple test kits, all the way to the quality assurance side and how we handled verification,” Cardell explains. And supporting the game on all the platforms remains a challenge. “We are still learning!” Cardell exclaims. “In terms of balancing console and PC players, we find that they are actually fairly similar in terms of the things they want from a game. If I had to sum it up, I think that the main difference between the two is that PC players tend to be more vocal.” A DISCOVERY OF BATTLEMAGES An engaged community is what everybody
wants, but balancing its requests with what’s actually best for the game is always a tricky task. Proletariat describes itself as a ‘Player First’ developer, but what does that mean in practical terms? We ask Sivak. “The first community members touched Spellbreak back in the summer of 2018. Since that time we have had an open dialogue with our players. We make decisions about the game using three major components, the first is the creative direction we want to take the game, the second is what players tell us they want, the third is what players actually do – metrics from the game. This information is used to inform our design and product decisions. “Our Players First mentality is about creating a relationship built on trust. We encourage our developers to interact directly with the community on Discord and Reddit. That transparency helps set the table for the community to trust us. We trust the audience to give us constructive feedback and hope they trust us to make the best decisions for the game. All of this only works if there is transparency and communication.” Sivak looks to have a clear approach to the relationship. Which is a lot more than some companies in the battle royale space have shown recently. Though, of course, as the game gets bigger, the demands also grow, and the vocal minorities can become very vocal indeed.
Seth Sivak, co-Founder and CEO
Cardell Kerr, executive producer
“One of Spellbreak’s biggest differentiators is that we are free to explore a much more diverse set of abilities and forms of combat due to our theme” A key gripe of many multiplayer communities in recent years has been skill-based matchmaking. Something that is always on the lips of influencers and commenters with regards to Activision’s Call of Duty: Warzone. So we ask how transparent Proletariat is with its implementation.
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“SBMM is an extremely contentious thing in BRs,” agrees Cardell. “When it comes to Spellbreak, we aren’t strictly SBMM, but we do try to ensure that new players aren’t immediately thrown into matches with people who’ve been playing since Spellbreak was in Alpha. I do think that it’s surprising how much conflict there is over SBMM when it comes to BRs. It is a staple of arena style games, but I think it speaks to how diverse the overall appeal of BRs actually is.” That diversity is no doubt born in part out of the huge popularity of the free-to-play titles. Players will often strive to improve at games they’ve invested money in to play, but a free-toplay won’t succeed by throwing new players to the wolves on their first outing. FANCY NEW ROBES Of course, all games need to make money, and so we come around to discussing Spellbreak’s first paid season – Chapter 1: The Spellstorm. Seasonbased models are now the norm in the BR space,
so we ask how it fits Spellbreak specifically and how early on the team set upon the structure? Ironically, we knew pretty early on that we wanted to pursue a seasonal update model,” Cardell answers. “Coming from strong RPG/ MMO roots, we knew that updating the game in a significant and predictable cadence would be the most interesting to players, and it allows us the time to create experiences that would be polished and interesting.” Seasons often bring both practical gamechanging content, cosmetics and a sense of an evolving story – but even with a sizable team now of 120, how does Proletariat balance and prioritise all of these? “This is one of the main struggles for creative projects!” begins Cardell. “We start out every chapter with far more work than we can possibly do. It’s a classic case of ‘eyes bigger than stomach’ where peoples’ passions drive them to pitch things that are simply too large to be achievable within the time constraints. “One of the main challenges is actually maintaining that passion, since you want to ensure that things don’t get too formulaic. In general, once we have a list that we know is simply too big, we force rank them and just start working down as well as estimating the time. Eventually cooler heads prevail and we snip some features and cut some other elements, ultimately resulting in a chapter that is as balanced as we can make it.” Even the biggest players in the space to date have delayed season starts in order to complete work on upcoming content. How flexible does Proletariat think it will need to be to deliver? “We have a more regular schedule, primarily due to the number of platforms that we are on. When it comes to updating our game, we are fully committed to keeping all versions in sync, which means that we have to do a large amount of pre-planning. “That said, we have already released sizable community driven features during patches, meaning we have tried to ensure we update frequently enough that we can maintain some
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agility when it comes to community desires,” coming back to that ‘Players First’ mantra. SCRYING TIME And Proletariat understands that players do more than simply play the game. In the past, the studio developed two influencer- and viewer-centric projects. StreamLegends was an RPG extension for Twitch that let channels communities to quest together; while Streamline was a third-person title which integrated the roles of broadcaster, player and viewer into the gameplay. Sivak points out that both titles were intended to increase their own reach: “As an independent studio we have been working hard to build games that distribute themselves. If you’re an unknown studio building a new IP you need to be thinking
about how you make people care about your game from the start. Beyond the fast action gameplay in Streamline, we learned all about how to make a game that is very watchable and very easy for content creators to use to make great content. “With StreamLegends we had the chance to test several ideas about the social nature of content consumption and the communities that grow around an influencer or a game. Both of these projects informed how we built and published Spellbreak.” The title looks to be off to a good start, with over 4,000 positive Steam reviews to date. We’ve before noted that such live games have little middle ground. It seems to be all-or-nothing, they either go on to do very well, or they end up going nowhere. Still, with Spellbreak Proletariat has given itself every chance to succeed.
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Marketing on the internet’s front page Chris Wallace talks to Reddit’s Harold Klaje, to get a survival guide to an often misunderstood marketing channel
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eddit, the self-proclaimed ‘front page of the internet,’ can be an incredibly attractive opportunity to market your game. With builtin communities of players to address and respond to directly, the benefits for Reddit marketing is obvious. With many Reddit users coming together in their shared interest in a particular topic, many find the platform incredibly useful for discovering new games. However, despite the benefits, the platform can often be intimidating at first. Many believe that Reddit users are hostile to companies coming into their space, and the staple of the Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything, where an individual or company can directly answer the community’s questions), while often useful for marketing, can backfire if it is approached unprepared. So to get the expert opinion on how best to approach Reddit for your game’s marketing, we spoke with Reddit EVP and president, global advertising, Harold Klaje. How has Reddit changed over the years, as a potential platform for advertisers and community managers? Reddit celebrated its 15th year in 2020 and has seen exponential growth over those years. Late last year we reported 52 million daily active users and 100,000+ communities, and are excited to now have an official presence in the UK, with big plans for further international expansion to come. The last five years in particular have seen accelerated growth of our ads business with more and more brands turning to our platform to engage with the internet’s most passionate audiences, and with great success. Today, Reddit delivers advertising results across all industries and sizes. From Fortune 500 brands to scrappy start-ups, we believe that if your product aligns with a passion, your brand should be on Reddit. What are, in your view, the main opportunities available when marketing directly to consumers on Reddit? Reddit is different from other platforms because it’s made up of all these communities of people who don’t necessarily know each other, but are connecting around the things that matter most to them, their passions. Remember, the number one reason people come to Reddit is to be informed and this has a direct impact on their purchase potential. For example, 73 per cent
of Reddit users find out about new games on Reddit and 53 per cent look for posts on Reddit to decide whether or not they’ll play a new game. Another key opportunity for marketing on Reddit is the fact that our users are truly unduplicated and can’t be found anywhere else online. In the UK, 15 per cent of Reddit users are not on Facebook, 38 per cent are not on Instagram and 37 per cent are not on Twitter, so in this sense, Reddit represents the untapped internet. Reddit is also unmatched in terms of the insights that can be gleaned by community conversations and user behaviour. We know, for example, that 45 per cent of UK Reddit users are console gamers and that 43 per cent purchased a gaming console in the last six months – these kinds of information nuggets are just the beginning and go a really long way in informing campaign strategy. All of this, the actively engaged, leaned in and unduplicated audience brings a very real opportunity for marketers. What we see on Reddit, which really stands out in the consideration phase of a purchase path, is that products and brands that are present in trusted and influential communities can increase customer spend, satisfaction, loyalty and NPS. We recently partnered with Verto Analytics to prove out Reddit’s role in the path to purchase journey compared to other social and digital platforms, which confirmed what we’ve long known to be true: consumers that use Reddit are more informed, make faster, higher-value purchases, and become stronger brand advocates. When it comes to games, we’re really proud to say that 95 per cent of subscribers to a game’s community will go on to purchase the game. What ad formats are most popular with advertisers on Reddit? Depending on the campaign objective, there are many different options for brands looking to advertise on Reddit and engage with our communities. Category – like gaming category – takeovers are always a great option for those looking for mass awareness and efficiency. For our DR clients, however, we see great success in additional community targeting beyond the specific interest group. For example, in addition to our gaming communities, targeting those focussed on entertainment, technology and even family and relationships can go a long way to reaching net new unique users.
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Promoted posts or videos can also be really strong tools to drive awareness and, for example, pre-orders for a new title about to launch. In the past year, we have also released a number of new features to better service our performance advertisers, such as Postbacks for app installs and additional functionality for the Reddit Pixel including retargeting. Similarly, we have introduced a number of targeting optimizations, including auto-optimization toward installs, to better meet the needs of our mobile gaming clients. Do you have any measurable examples/testimonials, which you can share, where Reddit marketing and community management made a big impact to a game’s success? Our partners at Zynga recently leveraged Reddit to reach gamers and encourage downloads ahead of their CSR2 racing game launch. They leveraged the depth and breadth of Reddit communities by targeting not just gamers, but racing enthusiasts and worked closely with our team on an evolving strategy – with continuous testing of interest group targeting and ad format variations – to help achieve high customer lifetime value. Ultimately, Reddit successfully drove 1.5x higher LTVs compared with other emerging social channels, with retention rates 16 per cent better than other channels and organic installs. The Reddit community is often regarded as hostile, particularly to businesses. Do you agree with this assessment, and how best should businesses approach the platform? It’s a great misconception that Reddit users are not welcoming of brands because the reality is just the opposite. We know that Reddit users welcome brands to engage with them on the platform, with around 69 per cent respecting when brands make an effort to participate. What’s more, around 60 per cent say they’re more likely to trust a brand that participates on Reddit, and 66 per cent of our users say brands can have conversations with them on Reddit that they can’t have anywhere else. Moreover, 82 per cent of online community site users say they would be receptive to brand participation in
their communities. It is one of the few places consumers look forward to brands being functioning members, contributing and providing value. Engaging in online communities drives brand love, trust and action. Reddit’s mission is to help everyone in the world find community and belonging online and this means building communities that reflect our values and respect civil discourse and human dignity. Hate, harassment, and calls for violence are simply not allowed on Reddit. Platform and brand safety is built into our platform structure and is something we’ve always put a lot of thought into. It is reflected in our unique, multi-layered approach to moderation, which includes tools, systems and teams to ensure the safety of our users, moderators, and advertisers. In terms of community management, do you have any advice for maintaining a healthy and positive community on Reddit? Community moderators are the heart of Reddit and we feel really fortunate to foster a platform of such passionate moderators who are so dedicated to keeping their communities safe and healthy. As for brands engaging on Reddit, regardless of the industry, we encourage all advertisers to lead with authenticity. We often tell brands to think about advertising on Reddit like they would their own dinner party entrance. You wouldn’t walk into a crowded room and start yelling. Instead, you listen to the conversation and get to know your audience; learn about their interests to find a way to appropriately and impactfully engage; jump into the conversation in a relevant, authentic way and, most importantly, make sure you stick around for the back-and-forth! Answers in Reddit AMAs can often make headlines in the gaming press – for good and bad reasons. What are the pitfalls to be avoided when running an AMA? As with all brand engagement on Reddit, we encourage authenticity and transparency. AMA’s are such a fun format for brands to connect directly with their audience, and add real value to a community. They allow brands to showcase their personality, bring a human element to their marketing and give their audience often unprecedented access to the people behind the scenes.
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Brought to you by
A Swift Spotlight: Deep Silver Dambuster Studios The name might have changed over the years, but Deep Silver Dambuster Studios is a staple of the British game development scene, demystifying the industry and improving employment opportunities
he studio’s original moniker of Free Radical Design brings a cult level of brand equity from devotees of the TimeSplitters franchise, so too with its Crytek UK past and subsequent involvement in the popular Crysis series. Since becoming Dambuster Studios back in 2014, when it was acquired by Deep Silver, the studio has continued to deliver quality, high budget, and narrativedriven experiences to the gaming masses, making its hometown of Nottingham, and the game development community within the midlands, proud. James Bowers of Aardvark Swift speaks with studio community manager, Toby Gallagher, about the studio’s culture, how it’s ensuring the next generation can transition to success within games, as well as how the team has found working remotely. “I’d actually only been in the studio for about two weeks before we moved to remote working,” says Toby. “It was lovely to see everyone rallying together. The IT team, HR, and the production team did really well to get us all set up from home. Rob, our studio development director, and several other members of the production team, were driving to people’s houses, dropping off computers, and making sure everyone had what they needed. We’re still working at full capacity, which is great.” As a relatively new addition to the Dambuster family, Toby saw his role as a natural progression to his previous marketing experience. It has allowed him to continue to be creative, and he’s been impressed by the internal culture and dedication on display from the rest of the team. “Having worked in other content roles, I’ve had to literally chase people around the office, with the people I need information from actively avoiding me,” Toby says with a smile. “At Dambuster, people come to me with ideas. I know passion is a word that gets thrown around, but I think they’re that passionate and proud about what they are doing, that any avenue to talk about it they want to jump on.” The supportive undertones of the studio struck Toby as early as his first interview. “They offered to pay for my travel and board the night before my interview, as they knew I was travelling in from Manchester; I’d never heard of anyone doing that before. Once I got the job, they offered me so much help and assistance with relocating locally. They helped with my bond and put me up in the studio apartment for two weeks, which they retain for new starters to make relocation easier.” It’s not just financial support that Deep Silver Dambuster Studios is willing to provide to their team, it’s also the
willingness to allow time for personal development. “Every other Wednesday afternoon our engineering team has a learning development window where they are given free rein to explore new things that they might be able to transfer over to work one day. It is completely free form and not something strictly on their task list.” In the 2020/21 academic year, Deep Silver Dambuster Studios are also assisting the next generation, working hard to ensure the transition from education to employment is as painless as possible. “We might not always have a specific job vacancy, but the content pieces we’ve published about how to get specific jobs in the industry, and the work we’ve been doing with both Grads in Games and Into Games, is something we’ve really enjoyed. Having partnered with Grads in Games, a number of our team members have been involved in their webinars to students up and down the country.” As well as growing their sphere of influence in employability and industry accessibility, Deep Silver Dambuster Studios is also actively expanding. “We’ve got quite a lot of vacancies in the studio at the minute, across the whole spectrum of disciplines,” adds Toby. The studio is hard at work developing the next instalment in the Dead Island franchise, but for now, they don’t have any further details to share. You’ll be able to listen to the full conversation with Toby Gallagher in an upcoming episode of the Aardvark Swift Podcast, available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, third party apps, and the aswift.com website.
Above: Toby Gallagher, Studio Community Manager
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Prepare for 2021 with new gaming audience insights
By Stephen Gray, Vertical Research Manager at Facebook With more people staying home due to shelter-in-place and social distancing measures, 2020 brought disruption to many industries. And despite a surge in new and lapsed players, gaming was no exception. More people were playing, watching and streaming than ever before. This growing demand for gaming has meant finding fresh ways of connecting with new players, bringing in new gamers as well as reengaging lapsed ones.
To understand the behavior of these new mobile gamers and the evolving game motivations of existing gamers, we surveyed consumers in nine countries to look at consumer behavior after March 2020. This article delves into data from four of those key strategic markets for many developers: US, UK, Germany, and South Korea. This research forms the basis for a new report, Games Marketing Insights for 2021, which is available to download for free today.
IN 2020, WE WELCOMED MILLIONS OF NEW PLAYERS Shelter-in-place and social distancing measures have led to this surge of new gamers as people look for new forms of entertainment. To understand the impact, itâ€™s important to look at how many more people have been playing games since the beginning of COVID-19 pandemic. Since March 2020, mobile gaming audiences have grown in every market we examined, with 25% more gamers in Germany, +28% in the US, +34% in South Korea and +50% in the UK. This means over 50 million more people in these markets alone are now turning to mobile gaming as a major source of entertainment and social connection. These new gamers werenâ€™t just a temporary spike; these consumers were still gaming in July 2020, several months after the initial peak of the outbreak. More than half indicated that they plan to continue mobile gaming as the world begins to recover from the outbreak.
Source: Games Marketing Insights for 2021, Facebook, 2020
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“We surveyed consumers in 9 countries to look at consumer behaviour after March 2020” A LOOK AT THESE NEW MOBILE GAMERS As the report shows, in all markets except South Korea, new mobile gamers skewed significantly more towards core gaming behaviors than their existing gamer counterparts. New gamers, in aggregate, were younger than existing gamers. They were also more likely to own a gaming console and to play game genres more aligned with core behaviors (such as shooters). They also reported playing more hours per week.
HOW AND WHY GAMERS SPEND New gamers were significantly more likely than existing ones to report spending money on mobile games since the start of the pandemic in all markets. They also reported spending more money per month on mobile games.
When it comes to the reasons why people spend money, there was more variety across markets than between the cohorts, some of which was tied to genre. In the US and UK, people were particularly motivated to pay to remove ads. In South Korea and Germany, people said they pay to avoid waiting or to skip difficult points (more typical of puzzle games).
Previous research has shown that people are open to seeing ads in games. In our survey, mobile gamers across all markets said they prefer free-to-play, ad-supported games. In the US, UK, and Germany, the preference for ad-supported models was stronger in existing players. New players, on the other hand, were more open to alternative monetization models such as in-app purchases.
KEY CONSIDERATIONS FOR GAME DEVELOPERS AND MARKETERS 1. Tailor your advertising campaigns to reach new gamers: There are millions of new mobile gamers across the globe; be sure to broaden the reach of your advertising campaigns to make sure that you’re speaking to these new gamers with messaging that appeals towards their motivations for playing. 2. Understand the long-term value of new gamers: New gamers exhibit stronger alignment with behaviors and attitudes consistent with core
gamers—more so than established gamers. Consider the long-term impact new players will have in the mobile gaming space such as more core gaming behaviors and motivators for playing and purchasing. 3. Use a monetization model that resonates with new gamers: Adopt mixed monetization models that take account of the increased time new gamers are spending in your games and their openness to in-app purchases.
GET YOUR FREE COPY OF THE REPORT To learn more about this growing audience and help you prepare for the 2021 gaming landscape, download the report from: facebook.com/ fbgaminghome/blog for free today.
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The Art of... Over the Alps
actually look at you. And even with that little bit of Seth Barton looks at the inspirations, work, with the help of the animation and really smart evolutiondesigners and production of the art of and engineers, with everybody working Over the Alps, led by Joshua together, you could tell from Callaghan. the very beginning that A branching game set would against shenarrative was a character that people really gravitate toward.” the turbulent backdrop of 1930s Quill really becomes a fully fleshed out character with Switzerland by Stave Studios
the help of the game’s strong world-building. As an interloper in Quill’s world, the player experiences it not through her eyes, but as an observer watching as she lives her life in her familiar setting. It’s a strangely intimate feeling, and one which gives way to joint apprehension as both the player and Quill enter new, unfamiliar areas. “When you go through Mousetown and you see Quill run throughver there see she title has from a hometown, theand Alpsyou was thethat debut Londonthe feeling of her leaving it, of that town maybeInitially being in based indie studio Stave Studios. danger, gives you more of a bond,” says. “If released in 2019, it built Alderson an adoring fanbase that part2020 was on leftSteam out, you wouldn’t feel like there wastitle over and Apple Arcade, with the much to fight for. Everything that we’ve done, the mood coming to Switch soon too. settings, Quill from one area to the next and It’s ataking branching narrative title set between theletting wars you restthe and take in this environment… It’sshould all supposed with developer stating that players “expect to action, exaggerate andsuspense accentuate that mood that you’re drama, and yodelling.” Samuel feeling. It all ties back answered into how you connecting with Partridge of Stave ourare questions. Quill and her world.”
WAS THE APPEARANCE OF THE GAME CORE TO SAME QUESTION EIGHT WAYS ITS INITIAL CONCEPT? Collaboration key during thedidn’t development Entirely so! was Our original pitch go muchofbeyond Moss, not‘interwar just within narrative the team game’ itself,until but we withstarted the help to of obsess external playtesters. about thePeople objectswere our research often brought was digging in to feedback up. This on started with old photographs, watches and other physical things, but soon coalesced around the travel posters of the era. From there, we decided postcards were a pleasing visual method of relaying text, which in turn triggered the idea that the main character was a spy writing postcards in invisible ink; the rest is history. WHAT INFLUENCES DID YOU DRAW FROM? Those travel posters were critical to the project, so
the game and asked questions about their experience – even if most of these questions were actually very similar. “External playtests were mostly about ‘Okay, how do people feel when they play? Do they like it or not like it?’,” Alderson explains. “At the end of playtest we would ask the same question eight different ways. The question is really ‘What didn’t you like?’, but we would ask it differently: ‘What pulled you out of the experience? What took you out of the headset? If there’s one thing you could change what would it be? If you had two weeks to finish the game, what would be the thing that you’d fix?’ “Those help bring a playtester into their comfort zone, because no one wants to play something that people put a lot of care and love into and then turn around and say much ‘This issowhat thatI some didn’t of likeour about locations it’. So are it takes taken a little directly while from to getthem. the playtester Writers Jon comfortable, Ingold, Katharine and we found Neil and that later finding Harry different Tuffs ways were to hugely ask the inspired same by question Le Carré means and you eventually Fleming. Finally, get theour really obsession good stuff with after thethe works fourth of or Wes fifth time Anderson you ask shone it. through everything we did. For example, “I don’t Andy think anyone Huckvale, in our ourstudio composer, has ever andmade Matt a Arneil game both like this, didso a sterling I think it’s jobimportant making our thatsoundscape you trust the as Andersonian process. You as trust possible. playtesting and you make sure that you allow yourself some time and freedom to try something HOW and then WAS keep THE going. ARTTry CREATED somethingAND new and BY WHO? branch out, The but also art was use very your much experience led byfrom Joshua games Callaghan. that you’ve Josh’s background made before in and print you’ll media be ficombined ne. As longwith as you’re a lovehaving of the era’s fun too! artstyle We enjoyed forms the playing backbone Moss throughout of what makes the entire Over the process Alps’and art look I thinksothat good. really Claire helps.” Brooks, Angus Dick and Martin Binfield came in as freelancers to add to this with illustration and animation, but right now it’s Josh flying solo. CAN YOU PUT ANY NUMBERS ON THE SCALE OF THE PROJECT? We squash just over 1GB of super high quality image files into a game that’s just over 0.5GB, with little or no compression, which took some doing. We also have 35 characters, each of which have anywhere between 2 to
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20 different facial expressions, requiring unique images. Outside of that, we’ve got over a million lines of text translated across 15 languages. Big game in a little box! WHAT TOOLS/TECHNIQUES WERE USED TO CREATE THE GAME’S LOOK? Josh is very secretive about what brushes he uses. He’s declined several times to share what they are! What we can say is that the majority of the background environments are done in Illustrator, while the character sketches are mostly drawn in Procreate. HOW DID THE ART EVOLVE WITH THE PROJECT? Hugely so. The original design was more realistic and textured, with the locations being much more painterly. This took a huge amount of time to create and didn’t fit the style of the game, so we shifted to a vector approach for the final version. A last minute change of perspective away from a side-on view to top down sealed the deal. We were creating the game over five years in our spare time around day jobs, so it had plenty of time to evolve.
I had to dig this out from an email chain from 2015. This was the first ever sketch of the game, based on a conversation Josh and I had about manipulating objects to tell a story. The game’s name didn’t even exist at this point! The perspective and very mobile centric design was phased out, but you can see the rough idea of what we are going for here.
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The Art of...
The Art of...
The Art of...
An example of the vintage swiss travel posters we took inspiration from.
The first attempts at making Swiss landscapes. We had the mad idea weâ€™d procedurally generate buildings and landscapes, until we realised it just looked awful.
A great example of the painterly, side-on style that we started with. This cabin, heavily redesigned, makes an experience in our second story, King of the Mountain.
Smith â€“ Our hapless hero, as he originally started out. Of all the characters Smith has changed the least. This was made in 2016...
Annie, the heroine of our second story, King of the Mountain. All interactions in the game are done through Stamps, and Annie has her own unique set (below) different to the other main characters.
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...and Smith as he appears today in our first story: Case of the Chateau Vercoli.
The Art of...
The Art of...
The Art of...
A 1939 cloth map of Switzerland, printed just before the war broke out. Many of these were destroyed by the Swiss government when the war broke out in an attempt to hamper potential invasions. I managed to snag this one and it’s one of my most prized possessions. We used it (very, very carefully) to plan our character’s journeys across Switzerland; I’ve actually never been!
An early postcard design. It’s barely a postcard! We had the idea we’d do these clean floating boxes. Once we got attached to the idea of using actual postcards instead, the rest of the game fell into place.
A first attempt at the postcard proper. Lots of ugly boxes and not much character!
Our current version of the Postcard, rendered in Arabic. Realising that the stamps belonged on the left, out of the way of the text and where mobile player’s thumbs are, was a revelation.
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The Art of...
The Art of...
The Art of...
Sketch versus finished – Josh still doodles out every location before blocking it out into vectors. 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 she was a character that people would really gravitate toward.” Quill really becomes a fully fleshed out character with the help of the game’s strong world-building. As an interloper in Quill’s world, the player experiences it not through her eyes, but as an observer watching as she lives her life in her familiar setting. It’s a strangely intimate feeling, and one which gives way to joint apprehension as both the player and Quill enter new, unfamiliar areas. How we rendered our locations “When you go through Mousetown and you see Quill around early 2018. We thoughtrun wethrough there and you see that she has a hometown, were happy with them until.... the feeling of her leaving it, of that town maybe being in danger, gives you more of a bond,” Alderson says. “If that part was left out, you wouldn’t feel like there was much to fight for. Everything that we’ve done, the mood settings, taking Quill from one area to the next and letting you rest and take in this environment… It’s all supposed to exaggerate and accentuate that mood that you’re feeling. It all ties back into how you are connecting with Quill and her world.” SAME QUESTION EIGHT WAYS Collaboration was key during the development of Moss, not just within the team itself, but with the help of external playtesters. People were often brought in to feedback on
Animation storyboard – what we handed to the very talented Ross Plaskow, who made our opening animation. The last panel wasn’t final, sadly.
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 ... The current style of locations. people feel whenMore they play? theyvectors, like it or more not like it?’,” depth,Do more space forend items parallax Alderson explains. “At the of to playtest wearound. would ask the same question eight different ways. The question is really ‘What didn’t you like?’, but we would ask it differently: ‘What pulled you out of the experience? What took you out of the headset? If there’s one thing you could change what would it be? If you had two weeks to finish the game, what would be the thing that you’d fix?’ “Those help bring a playtester into their comfort zone, because no one wants to play something that people put a lot of care and love into and then turn around and say ‘This is what I didn’t like about it’. So it takes a little while to get the playtester comfortable, and we found that finding different ways to ask the same question means you eventually get the really good stuff after the fourth or fifth time you ask it. “I don’t think anyone in our studio has ever made a game like this, so I think it’s important that you trust the process. You trust playtesting and you make sure that you allow yourself some time and freedom to try something and then keep going. Try something new and branch out, but also use your experience from games that you’ve made before and you’ll be fine. As long as you’re having fun too! We enjoyed playing Moss throughout the entire process and I think that really helps.”
For our most recent update we totally redesigned large parts of the game we felt were weak. This is a new screen that reports on how close the Police are to catching you.
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The Art of...
The Art of...
The Art of...
The Grimsel Pass, my favourite bit of art from the game. Josh outdid himself with his use of colour here.
Finally, two locations from our upcoming, third and final story, The Devil’s Quill. Super top secret and you’re all the first people to see them outside of the team!
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When We Made... If Found...
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 oftoward.” Dreamfeel’s If Found… a Quillstarring really becomes a fully fleshed out character with unique visual novel a transgender the help of the game’s strong world-building. As an woman, steeped in Irish culture interloper in Quill’s world, the player experiences it not through her eyes, but as an observer watching as she lives her life in her familiar setting. It’s a strangely intimate feeling, and one which gives way to joint apprehension as both the player and Quill enter new, unfamiliar areas. “When you go through Mousetown and you see Quill run through there and you see Dreamfeel, that she hasisaahometown, f Found… from developer visual novel the feeling of her very leaving it, of that town maybevia being in an almost literal sense. Presented the in danger, givesdevice you more a bond,”the Alderson “If take framing of a of notebook, player says. doesn’t that partcontrol was leftofout, wouldn’t feelinstead like there was it. direct theyou narrative – but erases muchThe to fight for. central Everything that we’ve done, the mood game’s mechanic is the act of erasion. settings, taking one area toand thebeautiful next andartwork, letting From the textQuill itselffrom to the distinct you rest and take in this environment… all supposed presented as sketches in protagonistIt’s Kasio’s notebook. to It’s exaggerate andthat accentuate moodtheme that you’re a mechanic ties into that a central to the feeling. all erasing ties back into how you are connecting game,It of the past and beginning again –with Quill toldand viaher theworld.” main thrust of If Found’s narrative of Above: Llaura McGee, a transgender woman returning home to her small Dreamfeel SAME QUESTION EIGHT WAYS Irish village. Collaboration the development of Moss Beginningwas life key withduring a two-person development team ,
notback just in within 2016, thethe team team itself, grew buttowith fivethe people help (alongside of external playtesters. some freelancers) People were onceoften publisher brought Annapurna in to feedback became on involved in the project around 2018. The small team is appropriate, given the game’s narrative – which juxtaposes an epic adventure of a space explorer attempting to prevent the end of the world with the smaller, more personal story at the heart of the game. And while the team grew as the project progressed, it all began with just two people: with Dreamfeel’s Llaura McGee drawing inspiration from artist Liadh Young’s sketches, who provided the art for the game.
the game and asked questions about their experience – even if most of these questions were actually very similar. “External playtests were mostly about ‘Okay, how do people feel when they play? Do they like it or not like it?’,” Alderson explains. “At the end of playtest we would ask the same question eight different ways. The question is really ‘What didn’t you like?’, but we would ask it differently: ‘What pulled you out of the experience? What took you out of the headset? If there’s one thing you could change what would it be? If you had two weeks to finish the game, what would be the thing that you’d fix?’ “Those help bring a playtester into their comfort zone, because no one wants to play something that people put a lot of care and love into and then turn around and say ‘This is what with I didn’t it’. says So it takes a little while “It started melike andabout Liadh,” McGee. “I loved to get the comfortable, wewith found seeing the playtester rough pages she wouldand draw all that her finding different to asktime theIsame means sketches and atways the same really question wanted to make eventually get the good stuff game after the fourth ayou collage like game. Soreally a diary based was a or fifth time ask something it. natural fit,you there’s really personal about a “I don’t and thinkallanyone in our studio has ever made a notebook the doodles and scribbles. game like originally this, so I think it’s important you trust the “It was a witch’s diary andthat I realised I could take process. this masking You trusttechnique playtestingI and was you playing make around sure that withyou inallow code yourself to erase some the time diary.and freedom to try something and “The then mechanic keep going. wasTry awesome something so new we decided and branch to out, make but also theuse whole yourgame experience aroundfrom it. We games also that had you’ve these zooming made before mechanics and you’ll which be fine. leantAsa long sense asof you’re scalehaving and apocalypse. fun too! We enjoyed What kind playing of story Moss would throughout we have theinentire a game process about and erasing I think that a diary reallyduring helps.”the end of the world? As soon as we asked ourselves these questions, we had the seed of the game.”
ERASING THE NARRATIVE The erasing mechanic is one of the more unique elements of the game. Beyond its thematic importance, it makes for a very tactile experience – making use of the touchscreen on both Switch and mobile platforms, as the player rubs out the game’s narrative, one page at a time.
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Left: The player is tasked with erasing the layers of the narrative as it unfolds
Below: The game is filled with Liadh Young’s beautiful artwork
“The erasing originally came from a university tech demo I made in 2012 in DirectX,” says McGee, “when I realised I could use shapes to essentially cut holes through objects. I had played around with this for years and had kept it in my back pocket. “Then when me and Liadh were trying to create a notebook game, inspired by zine culture and DIY art, I realised we could use it to create the effect of erasing words/drawings from a page. And I could actually create a system where you could keep erasing deeper and deeper! It was such a cool mechanic that we knew at that point it should be the core of the game. “So the difficulty was not in implementing the simple version of it, but in implementing it across many many layers in a structured way.”
With the game’s mechanic in the back pocket years before development, the challenge instead came from both the narrative and the logistical difficulties of releasing a game during a pandemic. “I think the challenge we struggled with longest was simply figuring out the story,” notes McGee. “Trying to figure out where it was going, how we could do that in our limited time and budget, and bring everything to a satisfying conclusion. We went in a few different directions until we started digging deeper into the characters and following where they led. “Release was probably the biggest challenge altogether. There was a lot of content going in and a lot of changes late in development. Additionally we were doing it during coronavirus. So handling testing where suddenly all the testers were working from home without the usual access to equipment was very tricky. Particularly with respect to the iOS and Mac versions of the game.”
ROLLING IN THE NINETIES The story itself may have been a challenge, but it makes excellent use of its setting. If Found... is set in Ireland during the 90s, and while its time setting is hardly front
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and centre of the experience (Stranger Things this is not), the game’s characters are nonetheless informed by this period. “Ultimately it just made so much sense for the story we were telling,” says McGee. “Ireland was still coming out of a depression at the end of the eighties and this was before the ‘Celtic Tiger’. “A year before when the game is set, homosexuality was only just decriminalized here. So it was a time where the world was changing very fast for Irish people. In our game a major theme is how people’s identities could be erased, willingly and forcefully, by the world around them so the setting fit into that.” Of course, the Irish setting isn’t hugely surprising, coming from the Dublin-based studio. McGee is keen to stress that while the game is not autobiographical, it does draw from her real experiences, and has a lot of “emotional truth.” “The importance to me isn’t so much representing Ireland,” says McGee, “so much as more creators representing the very specific places they’re from. I think when you pull from your own life the stories and the experiences are a lot more interesting and rich.” Still, the team took great pains to make it an accurate depiction of Ireland itself: with its dialogue filled with Irish slang terms and references to Irish culture. The game even features an annotation tool, explaining any terms that may fly over the heads of non-Irish players. “Fairly early on we felt we really wanted to go as far as we could with Irish language and Irish phrases. We wanted the story to be genuine. But we were also conscious of the difficulty that would pose to people who aren’t Irish though! So the annotations became the solution and they were planned fairly early on. “People love being let in on secrets, and I think they add a lot of flavour. It would be cool if more games included annotations, honestly!”
“The character wasn’t canonically trans probably until well into 2019,” says McGee. “If I started out to make a trans game I don’t know if it would be like this. But we were making a sad game about someone erasing and ultimately starting again and midway through development it was like: ‘oh damn, she’s trans.’ At that point it was impossible not to write it that way. “So then it just came about writing the most honest thing possible. There are lots of shitty moments in our lives, but there are people like Jack and Colum and Shans and Maggy who are totally accepting, and then most people just don’t care. I hope the positive balances the negative and generally the negative doesn’t last too long without reprieve.
A TRANSFORMING STORY Beyond its Irish roots, the game attracted attention for its transgender protagonist. Kasio’s gender identity is an important aspect of the story – and a source of tension between her and her family – but it doesn’t define either her or the game as a whole. And, as it turns out, she wasn’t written to be transgender until quite late in the game’s development.
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“It’s really important for trans people, all LGBT folks and anyone who is marginalized to be able to tell their own stories. No one else can tell those stories accurately, or without just repeating clichés. Only those who actually experience these lives can know whether what they’re saying is real, or whether what they’re saying is an echo of past media they’ve consumed. And if they’re just remixing past media it’s doomed to be full of stereotypes and even sometimes harmful. “These stories don’t need to all be heavy though. I’m looking forward to lots of silly and stupid trans stories in the future.” One potential selling point (or criticism, depending on who you ask) is that the game can be completed within a couple of hours. Personally speaking, in an environment where so many games market themselves on the hundreds of hours they take to complete, it’s refreshing to have a game that refuses to outstay its welcome. “The plan for the game was so much longer when we had no idea what we were doing and no idea what the game was really about,” says McGee. “Getting closer and closer to understanding our own game meant we could cut what we didn’t need. And the game is 100x better for it. As short as possible, but no shorter. “I feel like everything in a game should contribute to a good experience. The highest ratio of goodness to time. However most games are approached from how to maximise playtime, which leads to many single player games being way overlong and never finished. Endings are important to me, imagine not seeing the second half
of a movie! And so I want to make sure players get the whole picture. “Of course there are other games which are meant to be relaxed with. Even then I feel like it’s a duty to never be wasting someone’s time.” The player might be able to finish the game quickly – but its developers certainly didn’t. From the start of development in 2016, to its eventual release in 2020, If Found... spent a fair amount of time in the oven. “I would have liked to have made the game quicker,” says McGee. “Even before starting with Annapurna there was a lot of searching that it would be nice to skip past. The end of development was definitely the most fun part. “So I wouldn’t have committed to the same scope and ambition I had for the story, and the amount of text that comes with that. If I could go back, I would probably make a much simpler story that didn’t take place over a whole month.” Long development or no, it certainly seems to have been worth the work put into it, judging by the game’s reception. If Found... was nominated for the ‘Games for Impact Award’ at the The Game Awards, was adored by critics and listed on a number of games of the year list. “I’m delighted with the game’s reception!” says McGee. “It means a lot to me how much the game resonates with people. When we announced the Switch version it was so rad to see those who had already played it being excited and telling others, and that word of mouth keeps going. And now we can make another game which is the most important thing.”
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The Final Boss Every month an industry leader wraps up MCV/DEVELOP with their unique insight
Kwalee is a very different proposition from what Codemasters has become, but seems to have a lot in common with where you began with that company? Kwalee certainly has the atmosphere that Codemasters had in the early years: extreme innovation, creativity and small teams working together. We’re developing games in weeks rather than years and I really enjoy that kind of atmosphere. The other parallel is our desire to access the highest volume of players available. With budget games back then we were able to access a bigger chunk of the market, compared to full-price games. Now, with free-to-play, we’re dealing with super-high volume – we’ve passed more than half-a-billion downloads across our portfolio with many individual games well into the tens of millions. The real satisfaction with this is the creative fulfillment that comes from reaching a massive, truly global audience. What was the greatest single moment of your career to date? The most surreal one was being invited to Buckingham Palace with my brother Richard to collect our CBEs. It felt totally bizarre having started making games in our bedrooms and somehow ending up in a taxi on the way to Buckingham Palace, being taught all these protocols about how you’re supposed to walk up to the Queen, and all that. One of them was that you’re not supposed to ask her any questions, but I couldn’t resist asking if she liked computer games. She was too old for all that, she said, but her grandchildren loved them! Visiting the Queen was the biggest acknowledgement that the world had changed and that games were now recognised as being a big part of the entertainment sector – and people’s lives in general. Do you think the UK games industry is in a healthy position? I think it’s in an extremely healthy position with lots of hugely successful UK companies, and what’s really accelerated the growth over the past decade or so has been digital distribution. This has really opened up the entire global market to UK developers and publishers, allowing companies like Kwalee to grow significantly in a relatively short space of time – to the point where we’ve now got more than 100 team members and 101 current vacancies, from programming and marketing to data science and machine learning, and we’re embracing remote working all over the world. We’ve got such experienced, talented people in the UK industry but in the beginning we were held back by just making games for the domestic market. Nowadays the mega publishers have less power because they can no longer dominate the market through brick-andmortar retailers and shelf space; platforms like the App Store and Steam have created the environment for UK developers to flourish.
David Darling, CEO of Kwalee
“You’re not supposed to ask [the Queen] any questions, but I couldn’t resist asking if she liked computer games.”
You recently announced a PC title, Eternal Hope, what’s your thinking for diversifying into PC and console publishing? When we set up Kwalee in 2011, we never set out for it to be a mobile-only publisher. The strategy was to do 100 per cent digital distribution and digital marketing on any format, and we even tried platforms like Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV, but obviously mobile has been where we’ve enjoyed our biggest successes so far. We think that the time is right for us to try PC and console now because at the heart of the company, we just want to be very creative and innovative and we’ve never wanted to be platform-constrained. We’ve been bolstered by the experience of Max Everingham, with whom I worked at Codemasters and has also been at other successful publishers including Ubisoft and Team17. With him, we’re building a dedicated team to help us publish all kinds of brilliant games on these platforms and we’re looking to talk to developers about opportunities to collaborate – just as we always are on the hyper-casual mobile side of things, too.
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