MCV ISSUE 932 THE BUSINESS OF VIDEO GAMES FEBRUARY 2018
BUILDING THE IMPROBABLE IN LONDON
BILL ROPER: FROM BLIZZARD TO DISNEY TO THE UKâ€™S HOTTEST STARTUP
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05 The Editor
Welcome Develop readers!
06 Critical Path
The key dates this month
12 Rising Star
Anna Hollinrake talks work culture
14 PR Panel 2018
What are this year’s PR challenges?
Our monthly esports roundup
22 Big Interview
Bill Roper is building the Improbable
30 Ins and Outs
And all our recruitment advice
38 Get Discovered
How can the storefronts keep up
42 The Quiet Giant
Sumo on CCP Newcastle and IPO
46 All Aboard!
Obsidian on creating Deadfire
52 Chet Faliszek’s AIs Bossa’s new man talks story
56 An Ode to indie agility
Ubisoft Reflections on small games
60 The Station
Veteran devs double-down on story
64 Fresh Meat Wushu Studios
66 New and Improved
Monster Hunter World, They are Billions and Metal Gear Survive
74 When We Made... HyperLight Drifter
78 Brand Flakes Sea of Thieves
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80 Mechanically Sound OlliOlli: press X to land
82 The Final Boss
Splash Damage’s Paul Wedgwood
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“Hello, I’m Seth, please don’t worry, e erything’s going to be ust fine.”
TheEditor Welcome to Develop readers Some of you might be asking yourself what a copy of MCV is doing sitting on your desk or doormat. You’re a Develop reader, you’ve always been a Develop reader, is this is a mistake? Has the world gone mad? ello, I’m eth, please don’t worry, everything’s going to be just fine. ate last year we took the decision to merge our MCV, Esports Pro and Develop teams – bringing all our industry coverage under the MCV brand. As part of that we decided that a single magazine, serving the whole UK industry, was a better strategy. The games industry is constantly evolving and we all have to evolve with it. Digital distribution means the line between developers and publishers is being steadily erased. Our industry is increasingly customer-centric, gamer-centric so to speak, and we all have to work together to get the best games, in the best shape, into their hands. Develop and MCV already had considerable editorial crossover. Develop advised indies on self-publishing, for instance, while MCV has long interviewed developers about their games, as well as tricky issues such as monetisation and discoverability. One question I get asked a lot is why we’re keeping the MCV name and not Develop. It certainly wasn’t an easy decision, but felt more flexible, unlike the more sector-specific Develop. MCV’s been around for almost 20 years now, has great recognition worldwide, and we’re confident it can go on for another 20 years with all of the changes that could possibly entail. However, the Develop name will continue through our Twitter account, daily newsletter and, of course, the Develop Awards. With a combined team we’ll also be able to double-down on coverage for the biggest events of the calendar from GDC to E3 to Gamescom. And while the market might be global, we’ll retain a UK-centric outlook, supporting the studios and businesses here. Oh, and if you’re a regular MCV reader then happy new year and welcome back to the new magazine. As you can see we’ve changed a lot of things in this new monthly format. There’s more pages, more regular sections, and more big features and interviews. We’re incredibly excited about the year ahead and myself and the team (see page 8) hope to meet you soon at industry events around the UK and the world. If you have any feedback then please drop me an email. Seth Barton email@example.com
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Critical Path Here are the key upcoming events and releases to mark in your calendar...
Devolver Digital’s upcoming action adventure title Crossing Souls mixes a 80s setting and supernatural quests – which sounds like a great idea on the back of Stranger Things’ success. It’s Spanish studio Fourattic’s debut title and is launching on PS4 and PC.
Shadow of the Colossus This remake of 2006’s Shadow of the Colossus was Sony’s surprise announcement from E3 2017. Remade from the ground up for PS4 by Bluepoint Games and SIE Japan Studio, it should attract a wealth of new players to the PS2 classic. It’s being distributed by CentreSoft in the UK.
MCV Awards 2018 The Brewery, London The MCV Awards will soon be upon us, with the 16th ceremony taking place on March 8th. This year, we have revamped categories, with 18 awards up for grabs, split in four flagship categories: Publisher Awards, Media and Agency Awards, Retailer and Distributor Awards and Individual Awards. Listening to feedback, we’ve also changed the event format, with a shorter sit-down dinner and an increased focus on networking, with a longer drinks reception and afterparty. We look forward to seeing you there!
Check out the full awards shortlist on pages 10-11
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Ukie Hub Crawl 2018 The Games Hub, Colchester Having started mid-January with events in Brighton and Cambridge, the Ukie Hub Crawl 2018 continues this February with events in Colchester (February 15th), London (February 20th) and Belfast (February 22nd). The Ukie Hub Crawl targets both developers and publishers and is a great opportunity to get together with your peers to network and identify new opportunities and strategies across the UK.
PC Gamer Weekender Olympia, London This year’s PC Gamer Weekender will introduce a couple of new features, including ‘Get into Games’, which will focus on everything there is to know about landing a job in the games industry, with talks from recruiters and experts on specific dev positions, why game jams are crucial and much more. The usual events will also be returning, such as the PC workshops, tournaments, a VR zone, tabletop games, and the PC Gamer stage, which will host talks from key developers.
Moss Polyarc’s VR gem is coming to Sony’s PSVR headset at the end of February, having generated a lot of buzz from its various preview events. Principal engineer Brendan Walker will be giving a talk on Moss’ main character Quill at GDC 2018, entitled “How Quill Defined Polyarc’s R haracter Design Process.”
Metal Gear Survive onami’s first post- ojima Metal Gear release arrives this month on PS4, Xbox One and PC. It introduces new features such as base building and crafting. And let’s not forget the zombies. Read more on page 68
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Uni Sans SemiBold
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Sophia Jaques Games Sales Manager firstname.lastname@example.org
James Marinos Production Executive email@example.com
NewBay Subscriptions: The Emerson Building 4-8 Emerson Street London - SE1 9DU e: firstname.lastname@example.org www.mcvuk.com
The Sea of Thieves beta was the highlight of my month. I met up with some old friends and we sank numerous ships (and much grog) while my son laughed at our piratical incompetence. It’s a masterful piece of co-op design and I can’t wait to set sail again.
Shovel Knight launching on the Switch was a great opportunity to try its co-op mode for the first time and there’s really nothing like accidentally shoveling your partner to his death. I’ve also finally started playing Papers, Please and am now o cially obsessed with passports. Marie Dealessandri, Senior Staﬀ Writer
Seth Barton, Editor
One Saturday in early January I sat down with a packet of biscuits, a wiki guide and Stellaris, determined to finally learn it. I didn’t move for two days. Then Monster Hunter World happened. It’s been a hard month for going outside. fter bouncing off se eral times over the years, I finally clicked with ark Souls, so now it’s all anyone in the o ce e er hears me talk about. I just beat Ornstein and Smough and am taking a break to recover from the experience. Meanwhile, I’m loving Celeste.
Jake Tucker, Content editor business and esports
Jem Alexander, Content editor
Paws the game e best f rr friends t e games ind str as to o er end in o rs to ale ander nbmedia com
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ISSN: 1469-4832 Copyright 2018 MCV is published 24 times a year by NewBay Media Europe Ltd, The Emerson Building, 4th Floor, 4-8 Emerson Street, London SE1 9DU
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Real life events from the industry MEAT SHACK BABY! While there were other parties on this month, the grandest by far was Capcomâ€™s launch of its Monster Hunter World Meat Shack. The experiential event was open to the public over the weekend, but influencers and press were invited to get their teeth into a huge spit roast (below) on a preview night. Congratulations to Capcom UK (and Hope and Glory PR) on organising a great night out.
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Congratulations to all the shortlisted companies this year! IN-HOUSE PR TEAM OF THE YEAR: > Bethesda Softworks > Nintendo UK > Square Enix > Team17 > Ubisoft UK > Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment UK MARKETING TEAM OF THE YEAR: > Bethesda Softworks > Nintendo UK > PlayStation UK > Ubisoft Future Games of London > Ubisoft UK > Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment UK > Xbox UK SALES TEAM OF THE YEAR: > Bethesda Softworks > Koch Media > Microsoft - Xbox > Nintendo UK > PlayStation UK > Ubisoft UK > Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment UK
Pictured above: A gaming event where you can actually sit and play the game! It got a lot busier later on – but we’re never tardy when there’s food on offer
COMMUNITY MANAGEMENT OF THE YEAR: > Bethesda Softworks > Creative Assembly > Jagex > Sony Interactive Entertainment UK > Square Enix > Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment > Xbox UK MAJOR GAMES PUBLISHER OF THE YEAR: > Bethesda Softworks > Nintendo UK > Square Enix > Ubisoft UK > Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment UK INDIE GAMES PUBLISHER OF THE YEAR: > Curve Digital > Dovetail Games > Merge Games > PQube > Team17 > Wales Interactive > Wired Productions NEW GAMES IP OF THE YEAR: > ARMS by Nintendo > Cuphead by StudioMDHR (Microsoft) ellblade en a s acrifice b in a eor > Horizon Zero Dawn by Guerilla Games (PlayStation UK) > PlayLink by PlayStation > Prey by Bethesda Softworks
Pictured left: The huge wooden shack was bedecked with hanging meats and adorned with a huge skull
GAMING CAMPAIGN OF THE YEAR OVER 500K: > Bethesda Softworks for ‘Evil Within 2’ > Nintendo UK for ‘Nintendo Switch’ > PlayStation UK for ‘Only on PlayStation’ > PlayStation UK for ‘Horizon Zero Dawn’ > Ubisoft UK for ‘Assassin’s Creed Origins’ > Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment UK for ‘Middle-earth: Shadow of War’
GAMING CAMPAIGN OF THE YEAR UNDER 500K: > Curve Digital for ‘Bomber Crew’ in a eor for ellblade en a s acrifice > PQube for ‘Cat Quest’ > Space Ape Games for ‘Fastlane: Road to Revenge’ > Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment UK for ‘LEGO Worlds’ > Xbox UK for ‘PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds’ MEDIA PLANNING TEAM OF THE YEAR: > Generation Media > MediaCom PlayStation Team > Summit for GAME > Target Media MEDIA SALES TEAM OF THE YEAR: > Digital Cinema Media > Future > Gamer Network > IGN PR AGENCY OF THE YEAR: > Assembly > Bastion > Big Games Machine > Dead Good PR > Indigo Pearl > Little Big PR > Renaissance PR > Swipe Right PR CREATIVE AGENCY OF THE YEAR: > Attention Seekers Productions > Diva Agency > Gamer Creative > Heaven Media > ICHI Worldwide > Network N Agency a eo GAMES EVENT OF THE YEAR: > AD+D for ‘WWE x IGN eSports Showdown Live’ > Attention Seekers Productions for ‘Xbox at Gamescom Live’ > ESL for ‘ESL One Hamburg’ finit s orts for e lite eries > GAME for ‘INSOMNIA’ > Jagex for ‘RuneFest 2017’ DISTRIBUTOR OF THE YEAR: > Click Entertainment > Genba Digital > Koch Media MAJOR RETAILER OF THE YEAR: > Argos > GAME Digital > Shop Direct > ShopTo.net INDIE RETAILER OF THE YEAR: > Games Centre > Gameseek > Go2Games > Merchoid > Rice Digital > Seedee Jons > The Game Collection
Head to www.mcvawards.com for table bookings and details
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Anna Hollinrake, senior artist at Dream Reality Interactive
of what people expect from you. For a very long time, I thought I wanted to be a concept artist that does realistic concepts and can create all these very gritty, dark worlds. I can drown in Dishonored concept art. I love it so much, but that’s not me. As much as I want to create all this moody stuff, that’s not who I am. I am hyperactive and very colourful, and that’s the kind of thing that I like and make. The minute I started drawing castles in the sky and witches and brooms and strange vibrant worlds, it felt right with me and it sang to me. Finally accepting that, that maybe I’m not the moody and complicated concept artist that I like to think I am, has been a challenge. What do you enjoy most about your job? Seeing everything fall into place. When you’ve been working for months on one aspect of a game, when you are able to step back and take a look at what you have created and finally start piecing it together, there’s this incredible moment where all of the work that other people have done has been checked in and suddenly you’re playing a game. It’s a tangible thing. When everything clicks into place like that, it’s the best feeling.
ANNA HOLLINRAKE describes herself as a ‘perpetually cheerful weirdo’, and is one of BAFTA’s Breakthrough Brit’s for 2017. How did you break into games? I spent a very wayward youth sitting in my bedroom drawing terrible anime on my laptop, but at 16 I was playing Fable and realised that people actually made the illustrations – graphics didn’t appear fully formed. I ended up studying game art at De Montfort University. I attempted freelance; I went a bit mad in the process. Then I got a bunch of terrible jobs that made me very motivated to not be working in them anymore. I started as a graduate artist at Paw Print Games up in Chester three years ago. What is your proudest achievement so far? Definitely Lola and the Giant, which is the Daydream VR game that I worked on at Climax Studios. I was really lucky because everything just
“We need to stop glamourising overwork as a badge of honour...” fell into place and my art style was already the kind of thing they wanted before I even arrived there. I could take something from the initial concept all the way through to a finished product. eing able to have that level of ownership over an aesthetic and an entire level or game is so addictive. Seeing it come together and making people well up at the credits, that is my proudest achievement. What’s been your biggest challenge so far? I think it’s really finding my artistic voice and being honest to that. It’s so easy to play into the idea
What’s your big ambition in games? I really want to continue to put as much of myself as possible into projects and make stuff that makes people feel joyful or positive. I would love to create my own IP or ideas and have them be diverse and act as touchstones that emotionally impact people and make them feel less alone, feel represented and make them cry in a positive way. What advice would you give to someone trying to get into games and art? Paying attention to your health is really fundamental. I’m fairly sure that 90 per cent of game developers have anxiety. People should get better at stretching their hands. Everyone has RSI. We need to stop glamourising overwork as a badge of honour and making all-nighters seem cool. I remember being at university and standing in the corridor and bragging about how little sleep I got but it didn’t make me a better artist, it made me terrible at learning anything because I was malnutritioned and sleep-deprived. It’s just a bad time. Take care of yourself. Be kind to yourself.
If there’s a rising star at your company, contact Jake Tucker at email@example.com, and we might feature them here 12 | MCV 932 February 2018
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For Video Game PR
“Done to a T” www.deadgoodmedia.com
For more information contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org +44 7780 600 728 Ad Template.indd 1 DeadGoodTeaBag_v2.indd 1
01/02/2018 12/01/2018 09:52 16:37
Company name: Big Games Machine Has worked with: Kalypso Media, GameSparks and lots of indie devs Key contact: James Kaye, director Email: email@example.com Recent Success: We worked on anti-gravity racer Formula Fusion on PC – a spiritual successor to Wipeout. The Designers Republic oversaw most of the design, and some of the team worked on Wipeout 3. We generated a lot of buzz among fans, media interviews at shows and over 150 pieces of coverage to date.
Company name: Dead Good PR Has worked with: Maximum Games, Square Enix Montréal, THQ Nordic Key contact: Stu Taylor, director Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Recent Success: Either getting THQ Nordic’s Darksiders horse stable collector’s edition into Horse & Hound magazine, or the Biomutant announcement during Gamescom. The latter was the biggest new IP reveal during the show and even competed neck-and-neck with established triple-A franchises in terms of the volume of news and feature stories that were placed.
Company name: Kool Things Has worked with: Activision Blizzard, Riot Games, Superhot Key contact: Alek Pakulski, vice president Email: email@example.com Recent Success: After nearly 7 years of working with the amazing team at Razer Europe we have widened our co-operation yet again. From the start of February we are taking charge of the visibility of Razer’s brand and products in Romania – in addition to working towards the same goal in Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Turkey.
PR PANEL 2018 The PR Agency category remains one of the most fiercely competitive at the MCV Awards, so we reached out to a handful of top firms to discuss the state of the sector in 2018
Company name: Little Big PR Has worked with: Enhance Games, Techland, Mad Catz Key contact: Gareth Williams, COO Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Recent Success: At CES, Little Big launched Mad Catz to the world, revived and risen from the grave. People love a good story, and this one resonated. Two videos, one press release and CES appointments have generated over £10m in media value alone, with a reach of over 600m monthly active views, listeners and viewers. We’d call that a runaway success.
Company name: Renaissance PR Has worked with: Team17, Square Enix Collective, Daedalic Key contact: Stefano Petrullo, founder Email: email@example.com Recent Success: The recent release date announcement for Battalion 1944 from Square Enix Collective getting hundreds of news articles worldwide was amazing… Being able to get an interview with NewsWeek US for an indie was the best way to kick off 2018 and another huge success for us was getting our first ever merchandise client product reviewed in The Sun.
Company name: Vertigo 6 Has worked with: Electronic Arts, Bandai Namco, Asus, Jagex Key contact: Mike Hendrixen, marketing & PR director and founder Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Recent Success: 2017 was a blast for Vertigo 6. Our team and client portfolio have both grown. We amplified products for EA, Bandai Namco, Koch Media, Jagex, Asus, Pokémon and many more. The FIFA 18 launch was shortlisted for a Cross Media Award, and a European Excellence Award.
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“The competition for attention and clicks is so fierce now that the costs of PRing a game in a meaningful way just keeps growing.”
Has the discoverability challenge actually been a boon to PR?
James Kaye, Big Games Machine
2017’S increasingly cluttered digital storefronts
have created a unique problem for developers and publishers. It’s no longer enough to create a great game, now you need people to actually notice it. This creates a potential opportunity for PR agencies who have other ways to catch an audience’s attention beyond the store itself. “It’s both a blessing and a curse,” says Kaye. “You have opportunities to be more creative and find new ways to engage the media, and speak to fans and gamers like never before. But the competition for attention and clicks is so fierce now that the costs of PRing a game in a meaningful way just keeps growing.” Petrullo agrees, stating that while PR can help and representation is “fundamental” to discoverability, the market is so crowded that any agency needs to operate across all promotional channels to make sure every avenue is explored.
“There are a lot of people asking for PR services, but we have to be honest about what is achievable and what is not. PR is not and will never be a silver bullet, but instead a platform to amplify your message to make sure it’s heard.” Hendrixen argues that problems with standing out in digital marketplaces have definitely translated to a boost for PR agencies but that the discoverability challenge will only increase: “It’s more important than ever that there’s a buzz around your product and that you stand out in order to create a pull. Your product and campaign need to be remarkable.” Hendrixen mentions recent studies that say a consumer needs to see a product at least seven times before they even consider buying it, something that can be difficult to achieve in today’s crowded space. As Hendrixen suggests: “Be remarkable, or be invisible.”
“The average PC indie game marketing budget runs between zero and $300,000. The PR budget should be around 7 to 10 per cent of that.”
How much money is worth putting into your PR budget - is there a law of diminishing returns?
Gareth Williams, Little Big PR
“ONE of the first things we advise potential and current clients is not to overspend on PR,” says Williams. “There is a value to what we do, of course, but everything you spend money on should always be balanced with a simple question: ‘If I spend this money, how many more people will buy my game?’.” Williams suggests that if you can’t answer the question immediately, it’s a strong sign the money can be used better elsewhere: “Generally speaking, the average PC indie game marketing budget runs between zero and $300,000. The PR budget should be around seven-to-ten per cent of that.” Kaye suggests that many indies tend to underestimate how much they need to invest into marketing their games. “It’s the old problem of seeing PR as a cost rather than an investment,” he says. “I think that $10,000 is a decent figure for a ‘traditional’ PR campaign.”
Costs do escalate for events however, with Kaye mentioning that there’s no way to do event work on the cheap anymore, where people expect on-stand briefings or meetings. As the pound has got weaker around the world, UK developers will find international events more expensive than ever. Taylor says it depends on the company setting the budget: “How long is a piece of string? We discuss with our clients what their aims and expectations are ahead of launching a campaign. While a larger publisher may well have a four-tosix figure marketing and PR budget and access to the celebrity endorsements and launch parties that could bring, even if an indie had that sort of money it may not be right for them. “We work smart,” he continues. “Thinking creatively doesn’t always mean you have to throw money around.”
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“The reason for the increased amount of project work is because of the interest in PR by companies that weren’t doing any PR beforehand.”
Is your income split between clients on long-term retainer and fixed-length projects? How is this split changing?
Alek Pakulski, Kool Thingsx
THE question of how agencies earn their money was, understandably, a divisive one. Every agency answered this question differently, with Williams stating diplomatically that the dynamic between fixed-term per project and retained clients was always shifting. “Around 85 per cent of our clients pay a retainer fee,” he says. “This allows us to staff the client accounts efficiently, but also gives clients a lower rate and a longer investment from us as an agency. We’re also able to analyse and react to reception throughout a campaign, which is hard to do during a short project.” While Williams claims “any agency would be happy with this scenario,” the reality seems to be that, in a lot of cases, many agencies are seeing clients shifting towards a project-based approach. “Pretty much all the work we do is project based,” says Kaye. “For most games that are not triple-A titles, which is 99 per cent of them, it’s just too hard to generate the regular media interest that would warrant a monthly retainer.” Pakulski says that most of his work is shifting towards fixed-length projects: “It’s worth thinking
for a second about the explanation for this change. The reason for the increased amount of project work is because of the interest in PR by companies that weren’t doing any PR beforehand. It’s a favourable situation for PR workers, because it allows us to show our strengths to a larger selection of customers and encourage them to think about PR in their budgets more often.” Despite the difference in approaches shown across the marketplace, the answers highlight key differences that make project or retainer driven agreements attractive to different companies. Project-based work tends to be more expensive, as companies factor-in pitching, staffing and forecasting costs to the price you pay, but if you don’t have an ongoing service or brand to promote then it’s the logical option. However, for companies with a consistent output, the retainer can bring a closer relationship with the agency, a lower fee and makes it easier for the account to be staffed efficiently. There’s no single answer, but there’s probably a right answer for any given client.
“It’s complex and constantly evolving, but if you’re looking to give influencers money for promotion then it’s marketing.”
Is working with influencers part of PR or should it be a job for marketing?
Stu Taylor, Dead Good PRx
IT seems obvious to say “influencers are here to stay”, but it’s easy to forget that the appearance of these internet superstars is a recent phenomenon, and the market is still adapting to their presence. “It’s undoubtedly part of PR,” says Kaye. “But, influencers are not journalists and they need to be approached accordingly.” Many of the agencies we spoke to agreed with that sentiment. Kaye himself says that his agency Big Ideas Machine gets “great results” from influencers that it works with, and that it has become a “significant” part of every game launch. Pakulski says he considers cooperation with influencers to be “integral” to modern PR, as big a part as press meetings or creating content for social media. “The main goal of a PR specialist’s work is to view communication holistically and search for the best methods to use effectively across all possible channels,” he says.
Taylor however, says that agencies should be looking at their involvement with influencers on a case-by-case basis: “It’s complex and constantly evolving, but if you’re looking to give influencers money for promotion then it’s marketing, but if we’re speaking to influencers who have an established interest in a genre or game series and they’re interesting in running content because they want to, then that’s more like PR.” An interesting sentiment brought up by several agencies here is that the current trend of paid influencers could start to become more rare as audiences become more savvy at blocking out paid promotion, even from voices they previously viewed as authoritative. In its place could be a push towards earned attention media. “Content is still king,” says Hendrixen. “It is important to keep perspective and help influencers create content with your product that is relevant for their audience.”
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An agency for those who don’t do agencies, Li�le Big PR is the UK’s fastest growing specialist consultancy in gaming, consumer technology and events, providing global solu�ons in PR, social media and marke�ng. Wishing all the very best to this year’s MCV Award ﬁnalists. Join us now as we play Li�le Big Bingo and predict this year’s winners. If we’re right, you all owe us a drink. See you there!
COMMUNITY MANAGEMENT OF THE YEAR Jagex
IN-HOUSE PR TEAM OF THE YEAR Square Enix
MEDIA PLANNING TEAM OF THE YEAR Summit for GAME
CREATIVE AGENCY OF THE YEAR Heaven Media
INDIE GAMES PUBLISHER OF THE YEAR Wired Produc�ons
MEDIA SALES TEAM OF THE YEAR Gamer Network
DISTRIBUTOR OF THE YEAR Koch Media
INDIE RETAILER OF THE YEAR Gameseek
NEW GAMES IP OF THE YEAR Cuphead by StudioMDHR
GAMES EVENT OF THE YEAR Jagex for 'RuneFest 2017'
MAJOR GAMES PUBLISHER OF THE YEAR Nintendo UK
PR AGENCY OF THE YEAR (We couldn’t possibly say)
GAMING CAMPAIGN OF THE YEAR OVER 500K Nintendo UK for 'Nintendo Switch'
MAJOR RETAILER OF THE YEAR Amazon
SALES TEAM OF THE YEAR Koch Media
GAMING CAMPAIGN OF THE YEAR UNDER 500K Curve Digital for 'Bomber Crew'
MARKETING TEAM OF THE YEAR PlayStation UK
Have a great night, whoever wins, from Alex (The big one), Gareth (The li�le one), Charlo�e, Tom, Danni and Aaron. info@li�lebigpr.com www.li�lebigpr.com Ad Template.indd 1 Untitled-2 1
01/02/2018 09:53 1/30/2018 3:07:07 PM
“The next big change will be the drive to make PR activities more measurable in terms of effects.”
How do you see games PR agencies changing over the next five years?
Alek Pakulski, Kool Thingsx
A rapidly changing industry requires a rapidly changing PR sector, but how exactly might we see agencies changing? Most of our panel suggested that the amount of gaming PR agencies will grow. Williams also suggests that larger players might try to pick up some of the smaller boutique agencies that are having success in the space as a way to bolster their tech and entertainment divisions: “Fingers crossed, I hope we’re around in five years!” he says. “The likes of Dead Good, Lick, Bastion and Indigo Pearl are solid agencies that move with the times and always try to be ahead of the curve, and it’s commendable.” Williams adds: “They won’t like me saying it, but games agencies aren’t the most profitable,
and some of these larger agencies are shocked at the work that goes into some games campaigns. Generally speaking, games agencies’ output per client involves around three times the work that a home entertainment or film team would commit.” It seems that in addition to agencies multiplying and getting acquired, we could also see more stringent controls, with Pakulski suggesting we might see a closer eye kept on the ROI of PR agreements: “The next big change will be the drive to make PR activities more measurable in terms of effects,” he says. “Not only the usual, independent agency activity, but also the effects of opinion leaders, video creators and other participants.”
“Globalising comms is like trying to rule the whole world from the White House.”
With some bigger publishers globalising their comms capability, how does that affect PRs working with a largely national press?
Mike Hendrixen, Vertigo 6x
PETRULLO explains to us that “big publishers more and more want to go directly to the consumer” and that could be a good thing for the agencies: “I would not be surprised to see some big publishers focusing on global comms while PR agencies provide a cost efficient solution to help the message spread locally without incurring in the cost of maintaining a full operating subsidiary.” Pakulski also sees the need for local representation that’s sensitive to cultural differences: “An interesting example is the campaign of Call of Duty: WWII in Poland – a country especially devastated by the war, in which citizens are still very emotional about this topic. As a local team we knew about the numerous potential risks.” He also notes that even in countries with broad English language
skills, consumers still prefer local media with its familiar cultural nuances. Taylor believes that national boundaries are increasingly porous and that good PR travels: “There’s only one internet and most consumers are not tied down to a particular territory – a good story placed in a French outlet will be picked up in the UK, Germany, etc.” However, Hendrixen is downright scornful of the question: “Globalising comms is like trying to rule the whole world from the White House. Differences in culture and media consumption around the globe are huge. And with the rise of influencers, local relationships are more important than ever. PR stands for Public Relations. Not for Press Relations. You need to have eyes and ears in the field to know what triggers people and what the latest story is at the coffee machine.”
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Over achieving Blizzard’s esports gamble is paying off
Okay, I admit it. I’ve been cynical about Blizzard’s verwatch eague W since the firm first started teasing it in November 2016, with the glacial pace of developments only increasing my skepticism. Still, this month saw 10m people tuning in to the debut week of the OWL, and it was a hoot to watch with slick presentation, and a cool ring on the ceiling of the Burbank arena that slowly filled up as team’s achieved objectives. I spent Saturday night in a crowded pub in London, hollering alongside the crowd as ondon pitfire convincingly beat San Francisco Shock. OWL’s opening week showed promise, despite legitimate concerns from fans about the game’s meta and difficulty with spectating. Plus Blizzard’s confusing decision to tie each team to a geographical location and then host every match in Los Angeles, with hardly any homegrown teams. Still, there’s plenty to be excited about here and it seems sponsors think so too. While writing this piece, the news broke that Toyota was coming on board as an official partner. Which is why the Overwatch League needs to be wildly successful. Something Blizzard has done incredibly well is convincing non-endemic organisations to part with a significant amount of cash. While no official figures have been released, it’s believed that a slot in the OWL costs somewhere in the region of $20m, in addition to the regulations which mandate that players have to be paid a generous minimum salary. Most endemic organisations have been priced out, or had to partner up with mainstream businesses willing to stump up the cash. These are companies that view this as a business, and with an investment this deep, they’re playing to win. The future could be bright for Overwatch, and several sources suggest that with the support it’s getting from non-endemic organisations many people are worried that anything less than wild success will scare them away from esports for good. That could be severely damaging to the esports industry as a whole, with one source saying a high profile failure could sour big name brands on taking a gamble in the relevatively unproven field of esports sponsorship. W has gotten off to the a great start, but it still has a long way to go to prove itself, and it has a lot of weight on those big cartoony shoulders.
British Esports Championships This month saw the somewhat intriguing announcement of the British Esports Championships, which will be run for people between the ages of 12-19 by the British Esports Association. It’s evident that the UK is hardly a global powerhouse in esports. The likes of E and Gfinity have undoubtedly done fantastic work when it comes to developing the grassroots scene but ultimately, awareness and education around esports remains a barrier if we really want the UK to push on. Having League, Overwatch and Project CARS 2 potentially played through schools around the country in a competition would be fantastic for the scene. ‘Educational packs’ about the benefits of esports are being provided to teachers too. Maybe now we’ll see a burst of UK talent rise out of nowhere. Ollie Ring, Esports Pro
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Siege mentality The PC FPS market is well carved up, with Counter-Strike ruling the roost and Rainbow Six Siege making a name for itself as the plucky outsider. However, several big name organisations have stepped into the ring throughout January, ahead of February’s Rainbow Six’s world championship in Montreal (see right). It’s been several years in the making, but it feels like Rainbow Six Siege’s esports offering has finally found its feet, and people are starting to take notice. After a strong 2017 for the title, 2018 feels like it could be Siege’s year in the spotlight, and it’s well deserved.
the big events Six Invitational 2018 February 13th - 18th Montreal, Canada Rainbow Six’s world championship returns for its second year in Montreal, with the best players in the world coming together to determine who is truly the best at doing a shoot, with $500,000 on the line. At the same time, details of the first installment of the game’s Year Three content will be shown off, and the community will come together to celebrate everything Rainbow Six: Siege alongside influencers in the anadian winter.
IEM Katowice 2018 February 27th - March 4th Katowice, Poland Katowice is the biggest esports event in the world, with over 150,000 people descending on Katowice, a town with under 300,000 inhabitants. There’s a huge PUBG tournament, a Dota 2 major and a key CS:GO tournament taking place at the event. In this small town in southern Poland, esports Mardi Gras is happening.
Epic.LAN23 February 22nd Kettering, UK
StarSeries I-League CS:GO Season 4
Epic.LAN returns in February for the company’s 12th event at Kettering Conference Center. Epic.LAN23 will be another big LAN party, with several grassroots esports events occuring over the course of the event.
February 17th - 25th Kiev, Ukraine StarSeries I-League will have 16 of the best teams in Counter-Strike: Global ffensive duking it out for a share of the $300,000 prize pool. Taking place just before Katowice, the two events combine to form a formidable opportunity for sharp CS:GO teams to pull off a double.
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Bill Roper has worked on groundbreaking online games for almost a quarter-of-a-century but for his next challenge he left the west coast for London. He tells Seth Barton about taking charge of marrying Improbable’s tech to developers’ dreams
mprobable has one simple mission in gaming. To smash the single-server model and all the limitations that go with it. Sure, there are a handful of games which do that already, but only thanks to big teams with big resources. Improbable’s SpatialOS aims to democratise scale. To create larger worlds, more complex worlds, persistent worlds, and with the same ease that Epic and Unity have brought to other areas of game development. And scale is a big issue right now. The industry is often caught in the grip of one craze or another – and big player numbers are in vogue. After all, at first glance PlayerUnknown’s Battleground’s big player count is one of its key draws – which immediately asks whether a 200-player version would be better? Or worse? Or how about a 1,000 player game? Because Automaton’s Project X does just that and will be making an appearance at GDC. But a revolutionary technical platform isn’t any good without some equally revolutionary ideas to execute upon it. So Improbable has hired its first chief creative officer in the form of Bill Roper, whose 24 year career includes senior roles at both Blizzard and Disney, and who has broken new ground in the multiplayer space throughout. He was there when the first ever two-player game of Warcraft: Orcs and Humans was played – it was a draw after a desync bug meant both players thought they’d won. He worked on building the world of Starcraft and helped launch Battle.net to connect players around the globe. He placed live adverts in the world of Hellgate: London and experimented with games-as-a-service monetisation. He later went on to oversee Disney Infinity and negotiated the ability to move your creations between PC, Xbox and PlayStation.
So if you’ve got a game prototype and everyone’s said it’s impossible, then Bill Roper is the man to talk to because, just maybe, it’s only Improbable instead. WORKING WITH DEVS We sit down with Roper at the company’s Farringdon HQ in Central London. It’s grey and dreary outside but Roper is full of enthusiasm for his new role, having relocated his family from the west coast to join the company. Roper’s main task is to work with developers and help them get the most out of SpatialOS, something he greatly enjoyed in a similar role at Disney: “I ran a central creative group for a year-and-a-half that was focused on just that. Working with a broad group of studios and creatives to help them realise their visions for their projects,” he tells us. “One of the things that’s exciting about SpatialOS is that it’s very scalable both in terms of what it provides but also how it’s usable by teams, the way it can supercharge what you’re doing, give you new ways of thinking in terms of design, ways of achieving those goals.” Roper has worked on the biggest brands and for the biggest developers, but Improbable’s breakthrough looks more likely to come out of the leftfield, from a developer looking to establish itself with something groundbreaking. “The thing that I like about the indies is that they do tend to have a very simple kernel of a design, and then the question is ‘how are we going to make that really deep’ or ‘do that but across a vast space’. There’s that kind of purity,” he says. Not that Improbable is only working with indies: “I love working with studios of all sizes. We’re definitely doing that and it’s really neat to see how they approach using the platform
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THE MOTHER OF ALL SURVIVAL GAMES ONE of the things Improbable is putting together for GDC is a survival MMO demo – a truly huge one – with hundreds of players in the same world. “The idea is to have all these players in a survival game and what would that mean? What does it look like? We want to have persistence, we want to have an interactive ecology of things,” Improbable’s CCO Bill Roper says. “So that when people do, or don’t do, things in the game it actually impacts the greater elements of what’s happening. The world will contain mysterious relics, which are connected to the creatures you encounter. They harvest energy within the world and then return it to the relics, all the while interacting with the environment and the players. “You also want to collect that energy to power your ship and power your weapons, things like that,” he adds. “When they return energy to these relics, the energy then gets beamed up to this huge mothership. And when it gets enough energy from different specific relics then different effects happen to the entire world. And that could be beneficial but it could also be very bad. “However, you have the ability to influence that, to stop or reset
those relics in ways that might take cooperation to do.” So a game that started as a survival game, with somewhat of a PvP element, gains a cooperative angle. “You’re kind of combating against other players but you’re also combating the environment. You’re watching and seeing how the environment is working,” Roper says. And that huge mothership will be looming over you, always. “Another thing that we can do with SpatialOS we call ‘big things, far away’. So you can have central focus points like landmarks and actually have them represented, so no matter where anybody is in the world they can see it. And so we have this massive mothership that’s actually an object in the world, not in a skybox, it’s there. And you can see it from pretty much anywhere on the map, and it’s a 20x20km map. It’s massive and omnipresent. “That’s a really interesting idea. You can come up with all kinds of different ideas of what you can use that for, maybe landmarks for navigation, or providing information to players like the way the sky is used in Hunger Games to announce fatalities.”
depending on how many developers they have, what their IPs are, what their game design concepts are. “When you’re working with larger, more established teams, you know developers that have a richer history and background development. They bring a lot deeper knowledge in many cases on the challenges associated with online play.” Challenges that Roper is arguably as aware of as anyone in the industry. SMASHING THE SINGLE SERVER MODEL Part of that job is to nudge developers out of their presumptions about online games. “What I find is that, as designers, we’re almost trained to think reductively because of the limitations that are inherent in a single server model,” Roper says. “It’s a constant trade off – fidelity versus number of players, versus density, versus what we can do with pathfinding or AI or physics... There’s all these weights that you’re putting on the scales to get to balance out.” “We like to be involved as early as possible, because
I think there are many things that you’ll consider differently when you start having a Spatial mindset. But at any point in discussing design it’s meaningful to understand what constraints the platform removes. “At times it’s very apparent in the design where you want to remove some of those caps. I find personally the most meaning is derived in talking with the development teams and saying: where are you banging your head on the ceiling of the technology? What is that thing that you wish you could do that you’re finding you can’t, that you’ve left out of your design, or that you’ve reduced and distilled down to get to something that’s achievable?” Roper tells us he regularly sees pitches for games saying they want lots of players but only have 32 in the game. “It’s obvious you really wish you could have a couple hundred people,” Roper tells them. “And here’s how that would work.” Improbable is well aware though that more is not always better. “It’s not always about pulling out all of the stops and saying ‘Great you can have a thousand people in a million mile world’...” It’s not then aiming to create games that resemble Ready Player One, a great vision of a virtual world, but “from an actual game design standpoint it’s bereft with problems – Wow I can’t believe my wizard didn’t get killed by that X-wing! What I find is that you usually want to pull on a couple of levers in terms of that design.” And there are three core areas where SpatialOS can provide answers to developers’ dreams: massive scale, meaningful persistence and rich simulation. ALL THE PEOPLE, SO MANY PEOPLE And so we come back to that question, is having more players in a single world making it a better experience? The simple answer is usually no, or at least that more players brings some steep design challenges. “Obviously the big challenge with putting a huge number of players into a single persistent continuous world is how does that feel special to everyone? How does it even feel navigable to people?” “One way to do that is to break it down into communities,” Roper says. “We think about it this way because part of what SpatialOS is so good at is simulation. So what can you take from how the real world is structured. We all have things that we do that are very important and meaningful to us, and those close to us, that may not be important or meaningful to other people.” He describes how world builders can follow the model of real-world social groups, from close friends, to acquaintances, work colleagues, people from our hometown, or from the same country. All of whom we have varying degrees of attachment to. And how an event, such as the recent political polarisation in the US,
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Pictured above: Klang’s Seed (left) and Bossa Studios’ World’s Adrift
comes both as a result of those groups and in turn affects them all. It helps to provide emotional anchor points for players, such as property, something they can invest time and effort in, Roper tells us. “In vast worlds, people have to have a personal connection to care.” PERSISTENCE ISN’T FUTILE Another way to anchor players in a vast world is to provide greater persistence. “For me, saying ‘Here’s a rock, this rock has always been here, the rock will always be here’ is persistence but it’s incredibly boring persistence,” Roper explains. Good persistence, then, isn’t things staying the same, it’s things changing. When players’ actions leave a mark on their environment, they feel greater engagement, they feel that their actions matter. SpatialOS is capable of efficiently running large simulations around the clock, and keeping track of ongoing changes in that simulation. Developers tell Roper that they want greater persistence, and it’s an engaging idea. Imagine a series of battle royale games where you could stash gear for the next game. Allowing you to build up an arsenal of powerful weapons more quickly in the later games – if you can recover your cache of course. A further step (seen in Klang’s Seed, where you must manage a colony of individuals to ensure their survival) is persistence even when players are offline, with the simulation running constantly, and your charges carrying out their assigned tasks whether or not you’re watching them do it. Roper explains a scenario where the player could leave their character doing one activity but “you could set up a permission on your character that someone could recruit
them to help them with specific tasks. So when you came back there’s some bonus experience or resources. Now that becomes an interesting crossover point for when we’re next both online.” Using offline activities to kick-off new potential relationships online, or for players to help out a friend who can’t get online to play as much as their friends. SPATIAL AWARENESS World’s Adrift from Bossa Studios has long been the poster child for Improbable’s server tech, though it is only in self-described ‘pre-Early Access’ on Steam. Then there’s Klang’s Seed, which is in development, and Ninpo’s Vanishing Stars as well, a tower defence game on a truly epic scale. And we should see plenty more of these and a number of new titles around GDC. There’s many, many more games in development, but Improbable is keen to talk to yet more developers and if your team is germinating an idea for an online game, now is the time to get in touch. “I feel every day I work hard to give as much as I’m getting, because even though this is my 24th year in the games industry, I love the fact that I’m learning something new everyday, and that’s an exciting feeling,” Roper says. His enthusiasm is infectious too, once you start looking at the online games on the market, you realise that the vast majority were designed and perfected around a single-server paradigm. The tech is there, what Improbable now needs is the right games to sweep that model away and those can only come from developers who want to think outside of the box.
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INDUSTRY VOICES MCV 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!
Think globally, act locally Marcin Marzęcki, president at Kool Things
PUBLICATIONS featured in large, Englishlanguage media outlets are without any doubt the oly Grail for game publishers. They’re the first thing they will have in mind when it comes to PR. There’s a very good reason behind this approach – those media have very high opinionshaping power and therefore are able to boost promotion significantly. It’s all down to the current, highly globalised information flow, really. English language is the most global communication method of our times and news tends to spread by itself via the Internet when featured prominently in top tier English-language outlets. That puts them at the top of the hierarchy. Reaching such established media looks to be a high priority for anyone at first glance. That being said, we should never forget about the old, but always relevant mechanism: think globally, act locally. Despite what I’ve said above, that phrase is still very much key in the field of PR and general promotion of brands. A typical Polish gamer is certainly not getting his news from Gamespot, but from the established Polish gaming online media. These media use the reader’s everyday language, they speak in subculture-appropriate forms used in their close social circles, and they put the news in a context which is relevant to regional specifics, such as the habits and preferences of gamers in Poland. The local media have local people in mind – to put it simply. And this accessibility is a power that PR should be utilising to its best. This situation is similar in any given country, be it Europe or any other part of the world. The
local aspect may be crucial to positioning the brand or the product in the region and tying it to the audience stronger than a prominent global feature can, which will feel distant to a large portion of the readership – and sometimes completely unavailable for nonEnglish speakers. A local agency knows exactly which journalists are, for example, avid fans of RPG games similar to your title. And a local agency knows that it should be talking to certain specific journalists and not to anyone else in editorial. But this recognition of the best person for the topic is only the tip of the iceberg, when you really look at it. The local agencies also have personal ties with journalists that cover the gaming industry in their country. We attend the same events, meet on the same occasions, have mutual friends in the industry and, through cooperation across numerous PR campaigns, we know what will work the best for each of us. This kind of know-how and relationship is in very large part essential to getting across the things you want to communicate properly and translating it to a great media publication. BIO Marcin Marzęcki is president of PR agency Kool Things, established in 2010. It specializes in holistic promotion of games and related technologies, addressing its services both to leaders in the market and to ambitious newcomers. The company has a client list including Activision Blizzard, Razer and Superhot.
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Inspiring the next generation of game dev… and their parents Emma Smith, talent manager at Creative Assembly
SINCE establishing the Legacy Project three years ago we’ve found that utilising our expertise to give real-life game dev experiences, and to dispel the myths around the games industry, are the most impactful actions we can take for inspiring the talent of tomorrow. Through our educational activities we hear a lot of feedback from school students. Perhaps it is not surprising that the perceived barriers include: men find it easier to get jobs than women in this industry’ and ‘my mum tells me to get a real job’. We actively engage with secondary schools 12 to 1 year olds and offer workshops within our state-of-the-art studios in West Sussex. The format is simple but designed to inspire future career choices. Students are invited to use our motion capture studio to storyboard, direct, act and record animation sequences in teams, followed by a tour and the opportunity to hear from developers across a range of disciplines. We have focused on holding these experience days for mixed groups and girl-only groups to challenge misconceptions about diversity in the industry. Students often start the day thinking our studio contains 20 (male) programmers who make up the entire studio. They leave with the knowledge that the industry is open to people from all backgrounds and that in Creative Assembly alone there are over 500 people from 34 nationalities. Careers in the games industry have also been likened to achieving celebrity status. Worryingly, we heard from a parent that “getting a job in games is like getting through the X Factor.”
Considering the industry hires over 20,000 people in the UK alone, this is a misconception we need to challenge both with students and parents. Our aim is that every student, no matter their
background, walks away from the day feeling the industry is accessible to them and something they could consider in the future. The most rewarding feedback is, of course, students who have chosen Computer Science and other relevant GCSE or A-Level subjects, motivated by the studio experience. One student highlighted the very aspect we set out to achieve: “It has inspired me to take TE subjects further because I have seen the type of jobs you can get when you take those subjects and the happiness of the employees”. Another noted: “The games industry is a very good industry because there’s such a range of different job opportunities and you can work your way up and get training so you are more skilled”. We’re confident that we’ve created a quality model that focuses on addressing barriers preventing more young people studying STEM relevant subjects. In the future, we aim to expand on this, opening the offer to more schools and recreating the model for other areas of the games development process, such as sound design, which suffer from a skills shortage. BIO Emma Smith leads Creative Assembly’s Legacy Project and sits on the Next Gen Skills Employer Steering Group. From playground to industry, the Legacy Project is the studio’s commitment to educating, inspiring and supporting the games development talent of tomorrow and promoting games as a power for good. As part of this work Creative Assembly has partnered with BAFTA and the East London Arts and Music Academy.
“Students leave our studio with the knowledge that the industry is open to people from all backgrounds and that in Creative Assembly alone there are over 500 people from 34 nationalities.”
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Ins and outs: Industry hires and moves 1
Gaming editor James Wright had been running that section on his own since December 2015. He said: “I’m really happy to have Dom join the team on a more permanent basis.”
Former Premier PR senior publicist (and one of MCV’s 30 Under 30 2017) DANIELA PIETROSANU (1) has joined Frontier Development as associate PR manager. She spent over three years at Premier, becoming the UK lead for Square Enix titles. The games industry has a new key minister of state as MARGOT JAMES (2) has been appointed as Minister for Digital and Creative Industries, following a wider government reshu e. James previously was Minister for Small Business, Consumers and Corporate Responsibility at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy for two years. Freelance games journalist DOM PEPPIATT (3) has now joined the Daily Star gaming team full-time.
VR developer nDreams has made two new senior hires. Tech industry veteran MARTIN PRENDERGAST (4) joined as COO, with nDreams’ CEO Patrick O’Luanaigh commenting: “I’m delighted to welcome Martin on board. His experience, wisdom and commercial skills are going to play a vital role in our growth as we continue to expand nDreams.” Meanwhile, STEVE TAGGER (5) is the firm’s new business development director, bringing over 20 years of experience in the industry. He said: “I’m thrilled to be joining the amazing team at nDreams. The pioneering projects we’re working on right now place nDreams at the forefront of the VR industry.”
Future Publishing has appointed WILL HATTAM (6) as chief marketing officer, joining from Archant where he held the same position. STACY GAINES (7) has also joined the company as US marketing & strategic partnership VP. Future’s CEO Zillah ByngThorne commented: “ “I am thrilled to welcome Will to the team. His calibre and experience across the media sector will contribute substantially to the continued development of the business into a global platform for specialist media with scalable, diversified brands. “Stacy has the insight and expertise we need to continue our growth in the US market and there’s no one better for the job.”
“I look at it as an opportunity to serve and provide a leadership layer to the studio heads.” Matt Booty, Microsoft Studios
Sony Interactive Entertainment (SIE) has promoted JIM RYAN (8) from head of global sales and marketing to deputy president of SIE. Ryan has been with SIE since 1994, with several senior roles
over the course of his 23 years with the company. He said: “I’m looking forward to leveraging the experience that I have at PlayStation, both in Europe and also in leading global sales and marketing, to support [president] John Kodera as SIE strives to further expand the PlayStation business globally.” MATT BOOTY (9) has been named corporate vice president of Microsoft Studios, with former operations head HELEN CHIANG replacing him as head of Minecraft. In his new role, Booty will take charge of the budgets and outputs of 343 Industries, The Coalition, Mojang, Rare, Turn 10 Studios, and Microsoft Studios Global Publishing. Booty commented: “I look at it first and foremost as an opportunity to serve and provide a leadership layer to the studio heads, so they can focus even more on making great games.” Activision Publishing E ERIC HIRSHBERG (10) will be departing the firm in March. He had been Activision Publishing’s E for eight years and the firm is now “actively conducting a search for the next CEO of Activision.” GA E chief financial officer MARK GIFFORD (11) has resigned and will leave the High Street retailer at the end of March to “ensure a smooth transition,” the announcement said.
It added that Gifford was leaving to “focus on his other business and personal interests” and that the company has started to look for a replacement.
Games industry veteran PHIL HARRISON (12) has joined Google, taking up the role of vice president and general manager. Harrison is best known for a 15 year tenure as head of Sony’s network of game studios. News editor BEN BARRETT (13) has announced his departure from PCGamesN to move to France and become Focus Home Interactive’s new product manager. He spent over two years at PCGamesN, where he started in late 2015. Ukie’s biz dev executive MEG RICE (14) has joined voice recording studios OM UK, as product manager. She said: “I’ve always been passionate about narrative and dialogue driven games so I’m beyond excited to join the team. I am absolutely in awe of the voice talent we have in the industry and I can’t wait to work alongside them.”
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“Supermassive does a good job at keeping the entrepreneurial feel of a start up with its quick reactions and minimal hierarchy.” Name: Max DeVries
Studio: Supermassive Games Job Title: Senior Producer
Education: MSC Computer Science, UCL
28 DAYS LATER
Taking on a new opportunity in the industry can open a door to the job of your dreams. We catch up with a recent career mover at the start of their exciting new role through recruitment specialists Amiqus Congratulations on the amazing new job! What inspired you about Supermassive Games to come and join them? I had been impressed by the quality of the games they produce, particularly Until Dawn and Until Dawn: Rush of Blood. Once I met them I was impressed by the energy and vision of the management team and the quality of the developers. I was very pleased to hear that they saw a foc s on alit as consistent it a foc s on e cienc Can you tell us a few highlights about the project you’re working on? I am working on an unannounced project, so I can’t say much. The highlight for me has been my new team. Their experience, drive, enthusiasm and sense of fun is inspiring. What are you most excited about bringing to your role at Supermassive Games? Given my very international perspective (I’ve worked in the games industry in Madrid, Dublin and most recently Seattle, and before I was in games in Amsterdam, New York and Bangkok) I am enjoying bringing m e erience to a ritis de elo er it a di erse sta Having worked at companies large and small, in internal development and external development, I bring a breadth of experience about the ole lifec cle of ma ing a game for man di erent sectors am een
to pair my track record of success with Supermassive’s own great track record. What will working at a company like this mean for your career? Supermassive is a leading player in narrative-driven games and VR. Working here is giving me exposure to these innovative segments and I’m feeling very positive about the future of both. It’s exciting times at Supermassive and I’m delighted to be part of it. What’s the culture like at Supermassive and what’s your e erien e een i e ttin in Supermassive does a good job at keeping the entrepreneurial feel of a start up with its quick reactions and minimal hierarchy. It has a focus on excellence that resonates with everyone and it manages to provide the systems, cross team cooperation and tools of a larger company. I felt at home from day one, and have been pleased at how my ideas have been given consideration. What would you like to say to anyone thinking about a job move? Understand your motivation, always move for positive reasons, and do the research. If you choose to partner with an agency in your search, make it one who will understands your goals and USPs, and will help you to focus on the best opportunities.
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Cherry picked advice to help you reach the next level in your career
Failbetter Games’ Haley Uyrus walks us through every step of being a marketing manager and explains why it’s a more creative job than it sounds What is your job role and how would you describe your typical day? I’m the marketing manager for Failbetter Games. I currently look after all three of our games: Fallen London, Sunless Sea and our upcoming title Sunless Skies. In games marketing you tend to work on a lot of tasks concurrently, unlike programmers or artists who will work on one task for days or even weeks. That means that my typical day can vary a lot. Each morning, the first thing I do is check in on all our social media platforms and forum pages across all our games. This lets me tune in to the general player sentiment and also alerts me of any problems. After that, I’ll switch to any tasks I have that require a lot of brain power because I know that I work best in the morning. That could be anything from writing development blogs to planning campaign strategy to market research. The rest of the day will often be spent zipping in and out of things, like arranging events to showcase our games at, sending feedback to the vendor creating our next trailer, or posting Fallen London announcements for in-game events. Occasionally I might sit in an analytics meeting or the devs’ sprint planning meetings. W at a i ation an or e erien e o o nee to an t i o Degrees often aren’t necessary in the indie sphere as there are plenty of totally brilliant and completely competent self-taught people, especially in something like marketing. I’m a bit education-obsessed though and have a BFA in Communications Design, an MA in Game Design and an MBA in Creative Industries Management. For people wanting to get into games promotion, I’d be looking skills like: highly organised, problem solver, excellent writing, ability to research, ability to find patterns analytical , an understanding of people, brilliant communication, and of course a love and passion for games. It’s incredibly difficult to get your first job in games, so any real-games experience you can get is tremendously helpful to have on a CV. For marketing or PR roles I’d recommend volunteering at game conferences like Develop, or seeing if you can do part-time work helping devs with their social media or working their booth at consumer events. Try to find companies that will pay you for your time – you shouldn’t have to work for free! What do you look for when interviewing people for your team? Definitely the skills and possible experiences above. At the end of the day though, I’d be looking for someone who can see a game,
understand what makes it fun and interesting to players, and then be able to be creative in ways to shout about that to the players that will be most enticed by it. A common test would be to give the interviewee an example of a game and a specific campaign we’d want them to plan. We’d expect them to specify who is the target audience for this game, what platforms or places does the audience exist, which aspects of the game are they going to be most excited about, and what can we do to achieve our campaign goals. A mistake I see a lot during tests like these is people letting their creativity run away with them. It’s great to hear ideas about the super-huge viral campaign you have in mind that involves sending someone dressed as characters from the game on the Tube, but we also want to hear about cost-effective ideas on how to build momentum day to day. What opportunities are there for career progression? Plenty! It totally varies depending on what size and type of company you join, as a marketer at a publisher or an indie studio would differ drastically. However, most people start as something akin to a marketing executive, helping with the pieces of a campaign like finding specific journalists for reviews, tracking articles about the game, handling social media and helping at events. After that you might gain control over the marketing of one of the games at your company and work your way up towards becoming a campaign manager, then a full-blown marketing manager. The end goal may be communications director, especially if it’s a smaller studio, but if you end up somewhere larger you may branch off into something like a brand manager or a product manager depending on your skills and interests.
Want to talk about your career and inspire people to follow the same path? Contact Marie Dealessandri at firstname.lastname@example.org 34 | MCV 932 February 2018
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Top of the class
ea ing it ed cators to find o t at s im ortant for the next generation of game makers
THE MA Games Design course at London College of Communication isn’t necessarily what you would expect. Course leader David King, who has been running the course since it started three years ago, has a bit of freedom because as the course is an MA, he’s working with students who already have a lot of ideas regarding game design and a lot of them are also mature students, set on making games their second career. We talk to him about what he thinks is important about his course. MAKING A DIVERSE RANGE OF GAMES. “I try to make the course diverse in a lot of ways,” says ing. “With the exception of our first term, which is geared towards upskilling everyone and getting students to understand how fluid the concept of games can be, all of our students are free to make games in any medium they like.” In the first term of the year-long course, students are thrown at not just digital games but also board games, role playing games and even escape room games. Many students, King says, come with a set idea of what games actually are, and his first task is to get rid of that idea by creating three quick projects: a digital game, a board game and an escape room game built within the university. After that, they’re free to work in any medium for the rest of the course. “They have the freedom to explore what they want,” says King. “Because we look at games as interactive and playful things. Can a game be a game if it has no interactivity We try not to rule on that, and let students make their own judgements. f course, if they want to just make a fighting game and submit it, why not ”
TUTORS SHOULD NEVER STOP EXPERIMENTING King started creating games several years ago, as a way of learning the tools and programming languages he was using during study for his PhD on swarm robotics. He’s continued since, experimenting not just with the smaller digital games he created during his PhD, but also card games, role playing games and just about anything else that he can play around with. King gets a lot of enjoyment out of how design elements interact with each other, for him this experimentation is absolutely key to being a good teacher. “As a teacher if I’m not constantly doing stuff I think I’d become stale and not have anything new to teach the students; if I’m not reading and experimenting, then what can I pass on to them? “I don’t want to be ten years down the line teaching the same stuff that I am teaching now. With practice, I’m becoming a better designer, and hopefully by getting better I become a better teacher as well.” GAME JAM “For the last three years, we’ve been holding a Student Mentor Game Jam,” King continues. “We wanted to bring students together with those working in the industry, but also we have a BA course and an MA course, and we were concerned they might remain in silos, whereas we wanted to create a community of game designers.” A community is key, according to King, as it encourages sharing ideas and students casting a critical eye over projects, but also creates the possibility that students could meet the older student who gives them a job.
Dr David King MA Games Design Dr David King is the course leader for MA Games Design at the London College of Communication and has been teaching game design for three and a half years. He has numerous unfinished game prototypes and a PhD in swarm robotics.
“With practice, I’m becoming a better designer, and hopefully I become a better teacher as well.”
If you work at a university and would like to be featured here, get in touch with Jake Tucker at email@example.com February 2018 MCV 932 | 35
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ME ANYTHING This week’s question: What do you expect to be the biggest job opportunities in 2018? Brynley Gibson, Head of Studios, Curve Digital Entertainment
WITH the success of the Switch and initiatives like Sony’s PlayLink, we’ll see audiences broaden with innovative ideas and the return of a few family favourites. People with experience in this field will find they have a surprising edge. At urve developer uju we continue rebuilding the studio with major news to announce in early 2018. Expanding whole teams across disciplines means welcoming many new faces to join our fantastic core team, particularly in production and code.
Andy Booth, Technical Director, d3t
GAMES engineering as a service is a massive growth area so we’re recruiting heavily. any triple-A studios are leveraging off-the-shelf game engines like nity and nreal. kills for using these engines are really useful, but there’s a definite skill gap in understanding how to optimise these engines. Additionally, Nintendo witch has really gathered momentum so I predict a lot of opportunities in these areas for engineers with the right skills.
Tamsin O’Luanaigh, Company Secretary & Talent Director, nDreams
VIRTUAL reality will continue to grow throughout 2018 and we expect the biggest job opportunities to be in this area (of course!). We see constant demand for roles such as VFX, UI, network and graphics programming because of the emerging technical challenges R brings to development. As nDreams continues to grow we are always on the lookout for talented people.
Emma Purvey, HR Manager, Outplay Entertainment
utplay, growing our marketing team with talented artists, player support specialists and data-driven A and R managers who focus on user experience will be key. They will collaborate further with production so we can shift into a games-as-a-service mentality. AT
Ewan Lamont, CEO, Legendary Games
THE big trend for 2018 is going to be connected things’ in our industry, which means increasing multiplay across multiple devices and increasing portability. The witch is the current living embodiment of where consoles are going and now that we have mature games on our phone there really is no limit. Before the decade is out we will be playing on our thermostat, fridge, car or toaster.
Ian Flatt, Executive Producer, Codemasters
THE scale of triple-A games continues to grow, especially with the emergence of the box ne and P Pro. This will bring opportunities in every speciality of game development as teams expand in order to meet the emerging requirements. Esports is a new frontier, bringing fresh specialist positions. There will also always be a demand for specialist programmers odemasters is continually looking for candidates with skills in physics, AI and graphics.
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here are a lot of games out there, and the speed at which they are being released is only increasing. For developers it’s getting harder and harder to gain mindshare and effectively market to the vast majority of gamers. Particularly on digital storefronts, many of which simply weren’t designed for the deluge of game releases we’ve experienced in recent years. Even triple-A games can get lost in the shuffle on a service like Steam, which saw almost 7,700 new titles release in 2017 alone. Looking to the Game Developers Conference attendee survey, it’s interesting to see that digital storefronts are still considered to be important by devs when it comes to discoverability. When asked to indicate the level of importance of digital storefronts against other forms of discoverability for their last game as well as their next game, developers gave the likes of the PSN Store an equal score for both. In fact, when considering what routes to go down for their next games, GDC attendees show more faith in digital storefronts than ‘traditional press and bloggers’, which dropped four points. What the survey really shows is how much discoverability takes place outside of the game store environment, with ‘social media’ and ‘word of mouth’ sitting comfortably at the top of both graphs. ‘YouTube videos’ are also a popular choice, though there’s not enough granularity to know whether there’s more
emphasis on influencer exposure, official game channels promoting new trailers and behind the scenes content or paid advertising on popular videos. Perhaps it’s the combination of all three that explains its popularity among developers. But with so much importance attributed to digital storefronts, it highlights the necessity of publishers and platform holders to curate these shop windows as fairly as possible. “Digital store discoverability is one of the biggest challenges facing developers and publishers,” says Dominic Matthews, commercial director at Hellblade developer Ninja Theory. “Where the storefront is so limited and the number of new games being released is so high, it is difficult to stay relevant and in the shop window.” This seems to be a common concern with developers that we’ve been speaking to. Heart Machine’s Alx Preston laments the loss of simpler times, when indies could expect much greater exposure. “It’s bad right now,” Preston says. “I think it’s really bad especially on something like Steam where there were, what, over 7,000 games released last year? It all started to happen on Xbox 360 where you had events like Summer of Arcade. That was fantastic, brought a lot of indies to life and kind of brought that whole genre of smaller games made by tiny teams to the forefront. Back in 2008, when Braid came out, leading up to things like Fez.
Pictured above: Heart Machine’s Alx Preston
GET DISCOVERED How important are digital storefronts like Steam, the PSN Store and Nintendo eShop when it comes to discovering new games, and how can they keep up with an exponentially increasing software library? Jem Alexander investigates
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“You got to showcase those things. Really highlight them on a space that millions of people can see. And Steam was also great about supporting that stuff earlier on because they had a lot of available slots and they worked with teams to showcase and highlight on the front of their store. Even Sony on PS4 learned that lesson too with some heavy duty indie support, which is fantastic to see. Transistor was heavily featured.” But Preston fears that some platform holders only paid lip service to indies to follow a trend, and have since returned to favouring triple-A experiences. “Unfortunately I think Sony’s lesson was ‘Cool we filled in our slots, now we’ll move on to big triple-As, because we don’t have to do that anymore’,” he says. “And that’s fair. From a business standpoint, I get it. Triple-As are gonna make you a lot of money.” With the launch of the Nintendo Switch there’s been a trend of indie developers celebrating higher sales on the platform than anywhere else. Both Yacht Club Games, developer of Shovel Knight, and Lizardcube, developer of Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, have been on record to say as much. Though both of those games were early releases on the platform and we’ve since seen more and more games, some of dubious quality, find their way onto the Switch. The main takeaway for developers, as reflected in the GDC attendee survey results, is that digital storefronts can boost your game, but shouldn’t be relied on.
“Launching with good store visibility is not enough,” says Ninja Theory’s Matthews. “Yes, traffic will come into the store and see your game resulting in sales, but you need to lead players to your game page too. We’ve found that educating players about your game outside of the store and highlighting it through focused marketing around times of high store visibility works well. We’ve also found that tagging your title with the correct product tags is important – it helps to drive the right kind of player to your store page that is likely to be interested in your game rather than just anyone who happens to be passing.” But that doesn’t mean that more can’t and shouldn’t be done by platform holders and publishers to highlight high quality games that don’t have a triple-A marketing budget. Now that it’s so much easier nowadays to make a game and release it, the average quality of a new games has fallen. With asset flips, clones and unofficial ports rampant on Steam, with some even making their way onto more gated stores like Xbox Live and the Switch eShop. “Discoverability is a very serious problem that algorithms aren’t going to solve,” says Heart Machine’s Preston. “And so you see a lot of indies getting less attention. Quality games get lost just by virtue of nobody can find your damn game on Steam. I think that’s a really sad and serious problem. “Removing all the barriers to entry so that the lowest common denominator can also make it onto stores
Pictured above: Ninja Theory commercial director Dominic Matthews
Pictured below: Graphs from the Game Developers Conference attendee survey. The full survey results can be found online at: http://reg.gdconf.com/GDC-State-of-Game-Industry-2018
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Pictured above: The Station‘s Kevin Harwood
has created a big challenge. And I think the platform holders too need better ways of featuring and filtering this stuff so that as much of the good stuff comes to the top as possible and people don’t feel overwhelmed. “To be fair I know a lot of folks at these different platforms – Steam and Sony and Microsoft and Nintendo... They want to push as hard as they can for quality games, but there’s a balance to be struck on all of this and I understand the desire for Valve, for example, to open up as much of the store as possible. Not just as a cash grab but to democratise it. “I think you need to have a better ways of curating and featuring than just some algorithms in place," Preston continues. "And I know that they are also working on that. It’s a larger problem or set of challenges to solve that are not so simple and you’re not going to solve them in the course of a conversation. It takes a lot of data and feedback and the markets are always changing. To be fair there is still some good featuring that goes on on these platforms. Just, I want to see that stuff happen for more quality content as much as possible.” Matthews’ solution to the discoverability problem is to make storefronts as efficient as possible. “I would like to see the stores be more personalised,” he says. "It is happening, but it is simple things like:
if someone has already purchased my game I don’t want them to be shown it again on the store. Give that space to another title they might like. “I’d also like to see as much control of the game store pages to be handed over to the developers as possible. We know our games, we want to keep our pages fresh, so let us do it. Keeping the pages updated with information and community activity helps to keep the games relevant and leads to better discoverability.” Meanwhile, The Station's creative director Kevin Harwood takes a holistic approach to developing his sci-fi exploration game with discoverability in mind. “The democratisation of game dev and the digital distribution models have adjusted the formula, but the fundamentals are constant,” he says. “For our genre, it’s about creating beautiful experiences that provoke you. If you are willing to give limitless love to the process as you would a spouse, you’ll often find you create something with a life of its own. Serve your projects with dedication and commitment but recognise when you have given everything you can. “Focus on quality. Approach every aspect from the enjoyment and satisfaction of the player. Treat each opportunity to share your game with someone as a celebration worthy of all your attention.”
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SUMO The quiet giant of UK development
With an IPO and a high-profile acquisition, the often reticent Sumo Digital stepped into the limelight in December, Seth Barton visits managing director Paul Porter
espite its name, Sumo Digital isn’t a company that throws its weight around in public, largely due to the secrecy of its work-for-hire projects. Yet it kept us busy in December with a double-whammy of news. Soon after its parent company Sumo Group was floated on the stock market, the company expanded its operations with the takeover of CCP Newcastle, renamed to Sumo Newcastle. The acquisition takes the company up to around 500 employees – growing from just 15 initially back in 2003. So the name is starting to feel very appropriate, as one of the largest studios in the UK. From an initial single building the company now sprawls out across seven on its Sheffield site. Paul Porter, managing director of Sumo Digital, tells us that the company’s growth has been steady and considered over nearly 15 years now. “I don’t think we’ve accelerated particularly. It’s been year-on-year growth and at no point has there been any drive to say ‘we must get to be this big’. It’s always been a case of what work have we got on? What quality output can we produce? And how can we hire and fill the studio to meet those requirements? “It was never a case of hiring lots of people and then seeing what work we can get. We’ve grown to match the opportunities that have been available within the skillsets that we’ve got.” CCP Newcastle was best known for its work on EVE: Valkyrie , so we ask Porter if it was specifically attracted to its VR experience. “They have a lot of experience. The most recent thing that they’ve done is VR,” he counters. “And this is something we always faced at Sumo, the first game we did that people really knew about was Outrun 2 so then everyone thought we were a racing studio, when we were a team of people who had worked together at Gremlin and Infrogrames for ten years doing all sorts… For me, the skills around developing games are transferable.”
Porter also points out that with 500 staff, Sumo has picked up experience in practically every key genre along the way, so it’s “not just the case of pivoting a whole team doing one thing to another.” Size then certainly has its benefits. YOU WILL NOT BE ASSIMILATED CCP Newcastle wasn’t an unknown quantity to Sumo Digital, as Porter tells us. “We’ve been working with CCP for some time,” most publicly on CCP’s Project Nova shooter, “and when the opportunity arose to acquire the team we were really, really keen. “Some of the people we know there are a very experienced close-knit team that has been together for a long time and wants to stay together. Part of our job is to facilitate teams to make great stuff, and if they’re a great team, then they can make great stuff for Sumo.” Work-for-hire studios such as Sumo Digital thrive based on their ability to deliver quality work on time. So we ask how much the new studio will have to fit in with Sumo’s way of doing things. “I am a great believer in enabling people to succeed and the last thing I would do is say ‘stop working the way you’ve been working and now work this way because that’s how we do it in Sheffield’. At the same time, you learn from each other. I’m sure Sheffield and Nottingham will learn from Newcastle and vice-versa. We’re now a sum that’s greater than the individual parts – but that’s not by implementing a regime that says everyone must do it this way.” The studio is already a good fit on many levels. Sumo currently has “three, maybe four” projects in development using Unreal, the same engine the Newcastle team has been using. “Given the way the industry is going, the way Unreal is used so much, it’s just a positive for me. Though these days it’s less about the engine and more about the experience being produced,” Porter adds to clarify.
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SPINNING PLATES Having 500 staff is great, but they then need a lot of work to keep them all productive. “We’re absolutely not short of work,” says Porter, smiling. Still, the main trick of running such a business is making sure that projects dovetail neatly enough to keep everyone busy, but not too busy. Porter seems pretty cool on managing all that: “We usually have seven or eight projects on the go at any one time. Projects end and new projects start. Projects peak at certain times and then shrink down at other times... As long as you haven’t signed them all on the same day and don’t all finish on the same day, you know you’ve got a good balance of when you’ll need the resources.” The company has also expanded beyond the UK: “In 2007 we set up a studio in India,” Porter says. “Which
Pictured above: Crackdown 3, for Microsoft, is the company’s highest ro e t t e nder de e o ent
at the time was mainly artists but there are quite a few engineers out there now. Having some staff in a low-cost geography really helps us if we do have some gaps, or some downtime, then clearly it costs less.” But you don’t have to leave the UK to gain flexibility: “We do use a lot of contractors as well when there’s real peaks and we may use third-party companies such as [developers] Red Kite or Flix, who provide an excellent service.” So it sounds like there’s more than enough work to go around. “There are now more opportunities,” Porter replies. “I think it’s a combination of factors, but there’s a lot of people that want help with projects. Codevelopment is a much bigger thing than it used to be.” With those, the company has ridden out any supposed slowdown in the number of titles getting published: “A few years ago people thought that console development would really slow down and a lot of studios faced a lot of trouble and fell by the wayside. And at the same time we found that the opportunities have still been there, so from our
point of view there are still a plethora of opportunities in high-end console development. “The mid-tier is supposed to be shrinking, but making a part of a game is still good business. As long as we’ve got something that we can contribute to, that the team can engage with, and feel proud that they’ve produced, then we’re really happy.” THE LONG HAUL Barring a couple of patches, a work-for-hire studio would once walk away from a project after the gold master – but games-as-a-service has changed all that. “That’s what happened with LittleBigPlanet 3. We had a team working on it for well over two years after the game released, creating DLC, doing patches, support, even the community management. A whole range of things. “Games-as-a-service has definitely changed the way that people experience a lot of games. We’ve seen a lot fewer traditional single player story start-to-finish games than we used to,” states Porter. “You’re effectively releasing a Minimum Viable Product and then adding more content as that community grows and as the success of that game grows. It’s a lot more risk averse because you can get feedback from consumers quicker, you don’t necessarily have to build the whole eighteen-hour campaign... And then see if anyone liked it.” BIG DADDY So while some are bemoaning games-as-a-service ascendance over single-player fare, change isn’t something that phases Porter. “One thing I love about the games industry is that it’s always changing, there’s always new technology, there’s always new ways of playing games. But the bottom line is people love playing games. “I don’t worry that people have stopped playing console just because they play mobile games. I think people who play console games also play mobile games, it’s just that other people play mobile games as well. And some people who play mobile games might then play a console game. It’s just more ways to interact with creative content.” There’s no temptation to try mobile development though? “We’ll continue to specialise in high-end interactive entertainment,” Porter answers. “And that is absolutely our focus here. Growth is still definitely part of of the plan.” And it’s got the money for it. Sumo Group’s recent IPO was set for a valuation of £145m. “It’s great for us because it gives us a real base of stability for further growth. It gives us the opportunity to invest in things that we’d like to invest in – that we may not have been able to in the past.” Such as Sumo Newcastle? “Absolutely. It really strengthens us as an organisation.”
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ALL ABOARD! How Obsidian sailed its crowdfunded RPG safely to port Obsidian’s much-awaited sequel to 2015’s Pillars of Eternity is launching on April 3rd. Marie Dealessandri sits down with producer Josh Sawyer to discuss Deadfire’s crowdfunding, community feedback, the new ship features and the potential to iterate on the IP
hours. That’s all it took for Obsidian’s Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire to be crowdfunded on Fig. Back in 2012, Pillars of Eternity broke records, becoming the highest funded video game at the time with over 77k backers raising more than $4m on Kickstarter. For the sequel, not only did Obsidian manage to reach the $1.1m goal in less than 23h, but the campaign ended at $4.4m – 400 per cent of the goal – and accounted for the majority of all funds raised on Fig in 2017 (the platform raised $5.6m last year). “We’ve done this twice and both times we’ve been very nervous,” producer Josh Sawyer tells MCV. “For Deadfire, I think there was a lot of concern and doubt about switching to Fig. We already had this fanbase on Kickstarter but there was potential for more money on Fig through investment. It’s a platform that we don’t know that much about and that doesn’t have that many titles on it, so we were nervous and wondered ‘Can it hit the target? Is it going to exceed the target? If it does, by how much?’ Thankfully it worked out really well.” It’s fair to assume that with Obsidian’s CEO Feargus Urquhart sitting on Fig’s advisory board and having been instrumental in launching the crowdfunding platform back in 2015, the decision to move to Fig was very much an educated choice. Considering the success of Pillars, Sawyer adds that Deadfire “could have [been] done without crowdfunding,” but the need for additional income to make the game extra polished was what motivated the decision: “All the rendering in the game has been overhauled, we completely rewrote the AI system. We did all this from scratch.”
He continues: “The whole point of us trying to crowdfund this was to say: ‘Let’s make something that we can really build’. And that is ours. This year is the 15th anniversary of Obsidian and this is the first time we have the ability to make a sequel to a game that we’ve made. That really shows you how important it is to us to have the ability to iterate on this.” Being able to retain full control of Obsidian’s only IP was a key factor when choosing to crowdfund both titles, Sawyer explains. “That’s one of the nice things about crowdfunding – no offense to publishers. Don’t get me wrong: there are some publishers that are very hands off about what we do but it is nice to really focus on the fanbase. It’s nice to look at their feedback, see how they’re playing the game and respond to them. The fact that it’s crowdfunded makes that even more important and it means that we’re not beholden to a publisher who’s saying: ‘No, you have to make it this way’.” Obsidian does have a publishing partner though, The Banner Saga publisher Versus Evil (see interview on page 48), to manage marketing and distribution. Sawyer explains this choice: “We considered self publishing for a while but publishing is not easy. If it was easy, everyone would self publish. As time went by and we got deeper into development it became obvious that we needed a partner. Versus Evil seemed like a good fit. The Banner Saga is a very cool series, and it seems to be comparable [to Pillars]: it’s niche but has a very enthusiastic fanbase.” Versus Evil has chosen THQ Nordic to handle the distribution of the boxed version of Deadfire, including its collector’s edition that
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VERSUS EVIL: Obsidian is ‘one of the top-tier RPG developers. Plain and simple’
IN the five years since its inception, Versus Evil has published a dozen indie titles, with Anti Hero, Let Them Come and Guild of Dungeoneering being its most recent successes. And of course there’s Stoic’s The Banner Saga, one of Kickstarter’s early success stories. However, with Deadfire, Versus Evil seems to be upping its game. “Before I started Versus Evil, I was at Bethesda for five years. We’ve all worked on big triple-A projects,” general manager Steve Escalante tells MCV. “So to dive into something like Pillars of Eternity really expands the knowledge that we’ve always had. “We are starting to focus on more genres that make sense for us as a publisher, that complement the experiences that I’ve had in my 18 years in this business. And RPG as a genre happens to be one of them.” Picking up this specific project was a no-brainer for Versus Evil, Escalante explains: “First and foremost, it’s Obsidian and they are one of the toptier RPG developers. Plain and simple. Having been a fan of RPGs for most of my life, it was a bit of a geek-out phase for myself going ‘Wow, this would be really amazing if we can work with the Obsidian teams’.” He continues: “If you’re a fan of RPGs, [Deadfire] is the one you need to play. Being able to dive into a big RPG again is what I’m the most excited about but the setting and everything that they’ve done is just fantastic. The systems, the stories and
the dynamic that they bring with them are just awesome.” With the title being crowdfunded, it slightly changes what is expected from the publisher. However, Versus Evil is no stranger to this situation. “We’ve been dealing with crowdfunded titles, The Banner Saga being one of them, so we’re very familiar with the process,” Escalante says. “We need to go into the deal understanding that there are a bunch of promises that have been made to consumers. So really it just affects your initial planning, if nothing else. Crowdfunding campaigns are really interesting because they help build the brand and the excitement.” Games like Pillars of Eternity benefit from a very keen and vocal community, which helps to spread the word about the sequel. As a result, Escalante has high expectations for Deadfire. “Putting it plainly we hope and expect that we can meet or exceed the launch of Pillars,” he says. “Our goal is to build on the brand. We hope to not only bring in our former fans, but build on that and expand the audience.” This echoes perfectly what Obdisian’s producer Josh Sawyer told us as well: Deadfire has the potential to outsell its predecessor. “We’d love for it to do even better than Pillars and I think it can,” Sawyer says. “I’m hopeful that if we are really delivering for our fans and working well with the publishing partner, that it can outperform [Pillars] in every way.”
includes many extras – something essential for Sawyer. “I started at Black Isle Studios in the late 90s and one of the things we found is that players really do like – if not necessarily the physical box – manuals, maps, tokens… I remember all the way back to when my grandma bought Ultima V for me in the late 80s and it came with the book of lore, a silver medallion and a cloth map. I still have those.” At this point in the interview, we get a bit off track discussing Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale manuals that we still own – absolute bibles for old-school RPG fans. And it turns out things haven’t changed that much, as there has been a lot of demand from Pillars fans. Obsidian even has a producer devoted to handling the production of physical goods. “I think that a lot of our physical sales go for the collector’s editions and that’s a common trend: when there are physical sales, people tend to go for the really big deluxe edition that has all the goodies,” Sawyer adds. COMMUNITY DRIVEN What the Pillars fanbase wants, the Pillars fanbase gets: Obsidian has been very attentive to backers’ feedback during Deadfire’s development, and has made changes accordingly. During our chat, Sawyer is noticeably respectful, committed and attentive to the Pillars community. The fans are, after all, what allowed the studio to create the IP in the first place. Which is why Obsidian opted for a backers-only beta. “Since the beta started we’ve changed combat pacing quite a great deal, we’ve changed the speed of a lot of basic attacks, we’ve also changed movement speed so that characters move more slowly. A lot of people found it very difficult to control what was going on in the battlefield,” Sawyer explains. And these examples are only a tiny portion of all the feedback being re-injected into the game when relevant. The beta was also the perfect way to get backers’ feedback on the big novelty of Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire: the new ship management features. “We had a stronghold in Pillars and it wasn’t that good and a lot of people didn’t enjoy it. They felt the mechanics were a little shallow,” Sawyer explains. “More importantly the stronghold didn’t feel like it was really integrated into the story. So for a while we were talking about doing strongholds in Deadfire and the more we thought about it the more difficult it was to justify incorporating it into the story because you’re travelling all over the archipelago. Finally we decided we should just have the ship be a stronghold. So we said: ‘What do we want to get out of the ship?’ and really we want you to feel like you are the captain of the ship and you have your crew, distinct from your companions.
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Pictured above: Josh Sawyer, producer at Obsidian Entertainment
Your companions are traveling with you and the crew members are relying on you and also helping you navigate the world.” Exploration, tactical naval combat, upgrading and customising ships and levelling up your sailors are among the many things that can be done in Deadfire, though most of it is “optional,” Sawyer says, and players don’t have to engage in deep naval combat if they don’t want to. And even without the ship management features, Deadfire is bigger than the first entry. He continues: “With Pillars we were really happy about how it came out but we also looked at it and said: ‘There’s a lot of stuff we could have done better’. So I think that the overall level of polishing and refinement in [Deadfire] is the greatest accomplishment of it.” LOOKING AHEAD Deadfire is certainly not the end of the road for the Pillars of Eternity franchise. Obsidian has about a bazillion ideas for the future of the IP. “We always have to think about the future even if we are not necessarily working on it,” Sawyer says. “If Deadfire is successful, we are probably going to make a third game, but I also think that there are other possibilities for this IP. I’m working on a tabletop RPG set in the Pillars world. We are also looking at options for things like an exploration first-person style of game set in the Pillars universe. We’re also interested in a turnbased tactics game that is less focussed on exploration and more on tactical combat. A lot of fans have offered
opinions on that and I think a game like that could have a broader reach. So really we view the Pillars IP not as something that is just strictly for this style of game, there’s lot more potential for it.” And that logic applies to other projects: Obsidian doesn’t want to be a one IP, one genre studio. “Being able to develop and own their own IP is the sort of dream that companies have. And it took us quite a long time to get to the point where we could actually do that, now that we have it we really want to make the most use of it,” Sawyer continues. “Hopefully once we have a solid enough footing we can have additional IPs that we also retain control over. We like doing fantasy games but there’s more to role-playing games than just fantasy. And a lot of us like the idea of more radical RPGs, things like Alpha Protocol… I think people liked working on it because it was a role-playing game that was modern day espionage, which is not often explored.” Whether or not these projects will see the light of day thanks to crowdfunding remains to be seen however, as Sawyer highlights the uncertainty of the platform… and the pressure of the process on developers. “Crowdfunding is still such a new thing, even after all these years. It’s unclear how long all of this will be viable. So it’ll be interesting to see where things go in the future. “I do think that the initial rush is over now. In my mind I’m hoping it settles into something that is a little more predictable, because even though it’s great when you succeed, it’s very nerve-racking and anxietyinducing to be involved in these campaigns.”
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Chet Faliszek on how his AIs will one day make writers redundant A new project underway at Bossa Studios is looking to build games that will build themselves, including stories and characters, in the name of emergent storytelling and true player agency. Jem Alexander finds out more
hen Bossa Studios hired games writing royalty, Chet Faliszek, eyebrows were raised. Faliszek, whose decade and a bit at Valve means he has writing credits on the likes of the Portal, Half-Life and Left 4 Dead series, chose to join the relatively small British developer to work on a new game in which stories are told by AIs. Details were thin on the ground, and they still are, but having chatted to Faliszek, we’re starting to build a picture of what exactly a game written by machine learning might look like. It’s a curious notion that a writer might want to make themselves redundant by teaching game characters to tell their own stories, but that’s ultimately what Faliszek’s team is attempting to do. “Well I’m a lazy writer,” he laughs. “So I’m trying to replace myself.” This desire to explore autonomous narrative comes from a frustration with the limitations of writing traditional games. “You have to cover every single possibility of everything that can happen,” says Faliszek. “That means, in a lot of games, you are controlling everything that happens to the player because you’ve had to create the reactions for them. So in this game we want to expand that out so that the user can generate their stories, their actions, their activities, their world. Independent of what we’ve limited them to.”
This is an extrapolation of the emergent stories phenomenon that is exploding as open world, systemic games are becoming more popular. Faliszek thinks back to his work on Left 4 Dead and the way he wanted players to think of the unfolding events as being their own tales. “In Left 4 Dead I wrote that way to give breadth and space for players, so they could talk about it. I didn’t want you to talk about saving Zoey, I wanted you to talk about the time when I saved you. “We see the sort of emergent stories you get from PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. The example I use is Imre [Jele, creator-in-chief at Bossa]. When I played with him it was the first time he’d ever played. He found a car and the first thing he did was drive over me. Those are great stories and I compare it to me talking to my nephew when he was five, and he retold me the story of Star Wars. That was not so interesting. When things happen to you they’re way more interesting. “So how could we do that, where you have that emergent storytelling, and traditionally that happens in multiplayer games, right? But how do you do that with NPCs where it’s not just PVP? “I’m not saying that other games are bad, because that’s always scary when you’re talking about something new. I play all those other games, and I like them! If you look at Gone Home, where you discover this story, that is not an
“I’m a lazy writer, so I’m trying to replace myself.”
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emergent story, at all, and I totally love that game.” The best way to give players the most opportunities for these emergent stories is to give them complete control. Something the games industry was once preoccupied with since the late 90s, before realising that true player agency was still out of reach. Faliszek is betting on advancements in AI to finally make it a reality. “I joked originally to Imre that if the only thing the AIs do is change the five things they want you to kill, then we’ve failed,” Faliszek says. “Hopefully it’s more complex than that.” CREATING LIFE With NPCs controlled by AIs that learn and adapt, the game can change according to players’ actions and relationships can evolve. But where does the ‘designed’
may not match up to players’ expectations. “I worry that one of the reasons why people react and enjoy some of this stuff is because of the characterisation and personality that’s in there,” he says. “And if we can’t bring that into the game using the AIs I will worry about that. So what that ends up manifesting as, we’ll see. Because it’s not just the writing, it’s the animation, it’s the art, and so on. The goal is to have this personality, this thing that you want to connect with. Or something that you hate and you want to stomp out. How we do that doesn’t have to be words, it can be a bunch of things. But you know, I like writing words. So we’ll see how it goes.” Speaking of art, how will that pipeline work? Where does the AI stop and the human asset creation begin? “That will be interesting,” Faliszek says. “It is a different pipeline. Not to get into what the world is,
“ f the only thing the s do is change the fi e things they want you to kill then we’ e failed. opefully it’s more comple than that.” character end and the AI begin? How much input is required to create an entity whose personality can grow? “Some people have said that AIs have written Emily Dickinson,” Faliszek says. “No it hasn’t. It’s aped Emily Dickinson. Emily Dickinson had to exist first. A lot of AIs you see in the world now, like the AI that’s all witty in interviews, they got the questions ahead of time. Essentially it’s just look up. It’s like Alexa and Siri. They’re AIs and they’re incredible pieces of technology, but they’re not figuring this stuff out. What they’re doing is looking up, matching, and then responding to you. “So writers aren’t redundant in the sense of creating the characters and creating the personalities and seeing how much of that do we need to do. How much can the computer do? Can I do 50 of these and then the computer can learn to do more? We’ll see, and that’s probably the most interesting thing for me right now. Every game I’ve ever worked on, the tools to make that game changed from the writing side of it. That affected how we wrote and what we wrote. It’ll be the same here.” None of this has been attempted before in games, and so there are no guarantees about how any of it will work. Faliszek has concerns that the strength of personalities
but some of the things in them are going to be… also generated. And so you want to be able to have those options of some of that being from the machine learning and so when that’s true, what is animating it? So it is definitely a different looking pipeline than normal. I’m so used to concept art, modeller, paintover, animator, adds voice. It’s a very set structure. And so if you don’t have that, what does it look like?” With even character voices being computer generated, NPCs really are going to be developing their own personalities, for better or worse. “That is, for me, one of the scariest things, because as a writer, voice actors make everything I do better,” Faliszek says. “In Left 4 Dead, for instance, we met with the voice actors four or five times. The first time you meet is the first time you’ve written. It’s just you. And you get them to record it and you realise they have tendencies to go this way, or they have this personality or they really are good at this. If you look at Left 4 Dead 2, Ellis is really good at being naive, but not stupid. So everything else you write after that is based towards that actor, so without that actor there giving that influence, what is that going to be like and will it be as good? We will see.”
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An Ode to indie agility Jake Tucker talks to Reflections about how it retains its ‘independent mindset’ within the Ubisoft stable
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Pictured leeft: Xxx
ention Reflections to a certain generation of gamer and they’ll go misty eyed, fondly remembering PSOne car’em-ups Driver and Destruction Derby. For 16 years, the developer was synonymous with the roar of engines and the crunch of metal on metal. But the studio has made a dramatic handbrake turn in recent years. In the present day, Ubisoft Reflections, renamed after the studio’s acquisition by Ubisoft in 2006, is best known for a series of pioneering curiosities. In the last three years the team has released four games: platformer Grow Up and its sequel Grow Home, multiplayer shooter Atomega and musical exploration Ode, all of which are known for well polished but weird central mechanics. Ubisoft Reflections’ output doesn’t look much like a regular publisher-owned studio, and according to the team, that’s the way they like it. The studio’s process is always different, but Ode is a good example of when things just work: “An interesting point about Ode is that it came entirely out of Atomega,” says art director Jack Couvela. Atomega is a multiplayer title focused on shooting enemies to acquire mass, making successful players big and less successful players small as they fight to bulk up. Ode, meanwhile, doesn’t seem to share many outward similarities, being a single player game about music and exploration. “I wanted to push for the characters of Atomega to be actually made up of the little bits that [you collect],
so you are literally picking up bits and getting bigger,” Couvela continues. “One of our expert coders, Chris Jenner, did a prototype of collecting up balls and bubbles and just attracting them to each other. He made this thing where you could become this swarm of bubbles and we experimented with creatures made out of these bubbles. It was great. But it doesn’t really work with eight players.” Reflections couldn’t use the technology directly with Atomega, but everyone was so passionate about it and saw the potential in the way the swarm moved and parted, that the team decided they wanted to make a game about that. TOY STORY Most of the studio’s more interesting ideas were born from interesting side effects on other projects. Atomega itself came from a prototype one of the team created for themselves that the studio embraced, while Grow Up came from a physics idea that one programmer put together to create a character that itself was supposed to be used to help prototype a variety of new games. “We saw this stumbling, drunken little movement and saw huge potential and character in the technology. We built Grow Home entirely around that,” says Couvela, laughing. Prototypes in the Ubisoft Reflections office are called ‘toys’, producer Anne Langourieux explains, and the team can go through dozens before they find one they want to develop into a full sized game. “We don’t throw them all away,” Langourieux says when we ask how many are typically discarded. “Sometimes they’re just closed. We see potential,
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Pictured above: soft e e t ons’ Ode released late o e er on
we keep it for later. We’re a small team, and we already have two teams working on two projects this year, so we can’t take on any more, no matter how good the idea is.” This atypical development process extends to production time too. Ode was in development for a year and a half, with Couvela describing the process as “a long time for what we’re used to,” with the game sitting as a concept for a year, and being produced in just six months. Production time varies from game to game obviously, but is usually limited by the assigned budget for the title. Despite relatively short development times, the team is keen to keep things open to changes until a very late stage. “The way we handle production is by taking this into consideration and making sure our design is always scalable so that we can build on what is key to the experience,” says Langourieux. “We run a lot of playtests internally as well, to get feedback on the experience and help us improve it constantly. It makes up for planning with the budget always in mind, but also keeping it open enough to improve it until the end.” RESPONSIBLE LUXURY When it’s not producing these more experimental projects, Reflections is helping out with development on Ubisoft’s bigger titles, providing support on games
“We punch way above our weight considering the scope of the projects and the investment that they take.”
such as The Division and The Crew. We ask whether its trailblazing approach, which mirrors that of many indie studios, is only possible because of the support of Ubisoft. “It’s always awkward,” says Couvela. “There are double meanings for ‘indie’ where people describe the games we’ve made. That’s because it means two different things. We are not an independent studio, we have this huge luxury that genuine indie studios don’t have. It would be very unfair for us to not recognise that and be very clear about what we’re trying to do, away from financial risk, is have an independent mindset and mentality and agility, and that’s a self-imposed budget restriction. It’s all part of that. But it would be wrong of us to pretend like we don’t have the security of an Ubisoft studio.” He continues: “We punch way above our weight considering the scope of the projects, the investment that they take and then the profile that they get for the company. It’s massively disproportionate. We’ve shown that we can make a real impact in the eyes of players and get a huge audience for games that otherwise would never have existed.” Langourieux adds: “This brings with it the pressure on delivering something that is very innovative and creative as well. It brings a level of quality that we need to deliver for every project. It’s true that we have this safety net in a way, but everyone that’s in the team is extremely conscious about the budget aspect. We need to find solutions quickly, and this is why we use iteration so much as well.” TRIPLE-I With low budgets, Couvela suggests it means that the team can be very focused on the kind of player that will enjoy the game. Ode, being a niche game, was never going to attract the attention of the entire gaming public, but as the costs associated with the game aren’t huge, the studio is freed from having to worry about features to extend playtime, or hitting any core audience. “We’re very proud to have shown a different side to what you can do at a triple-A studio,” Couvela says. “We’re really proud that we’re able to demonstrate such creativity, even if I do say so myself,” he laughs. “There was a huge annual general meeting for Ubisoft a couple of years ago with Yves Guillemot standing in front of a massive panel representing all the IPs and brands for the company, and among that was a pretty large and fairly central figure of Bud from Grow Up. We announced Grow Up, the follow up to Grow Home, on stage at E3. To be on that stage with games of this scope and size, with a tiny team, it’s amazing. To make a game like Ode, purely about spreading light and love and joy, everything the world needs, the freedom to make a game purely about things the world could need a little more of, it’s great.”
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STATION A collection of industry veterans have joined forces to create The Station, a
‘sci-fi exploration game’ with a heavy emphasis on storytelling. Jem Alexander speaks to creative director Kevin Harwood to find out more
tudios are putting more and more emphasis on a game’s story. The developers of The Station, a collection of friends who have been working in the industry for a while, came together to deliver their story by weaving a game around their narrative. As a result they’ve created an experience that allows players to truly bear witness to the story and make up their own minds about what takes place within. Creative director Kevin Harwood talks us through the team’s formation, remote working and how it ‘playtested’ the story to ensure players will be connected to the characters and world. Can you go into detail on how the team formed? Did you leave jobs to work on this game or is this a side project while you work 9-5s? The North American game dev community is really small despite the size of the industry. Within a three to four year period one can end up cycling onto projects to give you exposure to a huge portion of the top talent. It was just circumstance that I kept working alongside the people who had led the development of some of the most
influential games for me like Bioshock, Destiny, Deus Ex and Prototype. These folks live and breathe games and are some of the most friendly people I’ve ever met. For a good number of us, we wanted to return to working on story-driven experiences as this is why we got into the industry in the first place. The majority of us are, I’m not sure the correct word for it, ‘late-career’ or ‘established’? We have worked in the industry for some time and most of us are in a position where we can pursue projects of passion. Yes, this is a 9-5, but with none of the connotations. You mention being long time friends – did you work together before or is this the first time? Well, I can speak from my perspective. I worked with Dave Fracchia, the executive producer on an unannounced MMO project prior to working on The Station. I had also worked with Les Nelken (design director) and Duncan Watt (audio director) on another MMO project – I apparently like to work on MMOs or something – and was in love with the work they produced. These guys don’t just work, they live what they
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produce and it’s no surprise their credit list and work history is as extensive as it is – they set the benchmark for the industry. After the project was complete, I approached Dave about the story and it wasn’t just that we loved the premise – we seriously enjoyed each other! We pitched it to Duncan and Les a few weeks later. They loved it and we immediately started work. I met John Costello, our art director, in the early stages when we were looking at art references. I came across his work and was stunned. The man is an absolute beast of an artist – his passion and work ethic is pure electricity. Groups come and go, but when you really find a team that you can make magic with, you become unbelievably close. When a work meeting goes for one hour but the call lasts for three because we’re crying with laughter at memes and jokes you’ve got something golden. What have you learnt at your previous roles that you are bringing to development of The Station? My absolute love is working with small creative teams. I’ve worked with game teams all over North America and
you quickly see that the good leaders hire generals for their army and trust them without limit. I’ve seen that teams flourish when you enable them to perform and get out of the way. Agree on the goal, then get out of the way. This might sound a bit insane, but about a year in advance of starting the project, I sought project management professional training because I wanted to make sure I could lead the development with an industry skillset. It ended up having a massive impact on how every aspect of production was planned and approached. Outside of the professional training, I’ve pursued mentor relationships all my adult life and it’s these incredibly individuals who have shaped and taught me – I honestly can’t thank them enough for their impact.
Pictured above: The Station’s creative director Kevin Harwood
Can you talk around the focus on storytelling in the game? What are you trying to emulate and what holes in the market are you trying to fill with The Station? What new storytelling methods are you employing? Our method was to start with a premise and a story that we loved and wanted to show. It wasn’t about designing
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Remotely successful THE STATION’S creative director Kevin Harwood swears by a digital office: “Remote work is unbelievable! We honestly don’t even notice the difference compared to the traditional studio setup – we instead all have our own individual studios.” Here’s the the good, the bad and the ugly of a remote office according to him: Pros of remote work: n Incredibly cheap with so much overhead removed. This project would have been two to three times more expensive if we had pursued the traditional mode. n Build and dedicate specific space for your work. My office is covered with screens, speakers, a drum kit, consoles and controllers so that everything required to jump into the project each day is available. n Live somewhere that balances you in contrast to your work. This line of work is hyper stimulation heavy, so I enjoy living in a small retirement town where just by living here I bring the average age by 20 years. It’s therapeutic to read at a coffee shop where no one would even understand what I do for work. I urge people to find a balance and not extremes on either side.
Cons of remote work: n You need to be mature socially and understand how to communicate effectively. I can’t point, gesticulate or mimic what we want on screen so the number of times I was drawing in Microsoft Paint or was on WebCam imitating the concepts were what compensated for this setup. n Get an strong work/life balance. I’m grateful because I had a small army of mentors speaking into my life to make sure I didn’t fall into the common traps. At the end of the day, get out of your work space and disconnect from the project. Make sure you have some form of exercise to exhaust you each day. Ensure you cultivate relationships with friends and family so you can recharge. This one was huge for me – I’m the level of extroversion therapists worry about. n Work addiction is a serious and real threat that you should respect. Crunch time is a given that your life will sink, but in the regular production cycles you need to build routines and schedules so you don’t finish a 12 hour day and keep staring at your computer screen lifelessly.
mechanics and building a sense of purpose around them – it was about story. With an understanding of what the mood, tone, atmosphere and style of story we were telling we developed everything (art, audio, mechanics, tech frameworks, and so on) around enhancing the way in which players experienced the story and not the other way around. I’m obsessed with not just creating a good story, but developing the atmosphere and composition that provides the immersion for players to step into the world that we build. Our work on The Station was not just the production of a game, but a test of new development
frameworks so that we can continue developing more ambitious games at a higher standard of quality. This might be a bit of a departure from the storytelling genre meta, but our goal is to ‘show’ the story and not simply ‘tell’ it. The player is a witness to the events and experiences rather than an audience being told what to think. I’d like to learn more about the dozen re-writes for the game. Over what period of time was that? When did you start writing in relation to developing the game? The project really started taking shape in mid-2014 when Dave Fracchia and I got together to discuss the premise and narrative of the story. We both have the perspective that ‘story is king’ and we didn’t want make a good story, but a great one – we wouldn’t leave it alone until we had chills from the intrigue. We had our first script by the end of 2014, but – and I’m not joking – we were still debating the story while the voice actors were in the booth. This probably won’t sink in until one plays the title, but we both felt that a story shouldn’t be one-dimensional. At the very heart of any mystery is a question – but The Station offers numerous answers that relies on the player to make sense of. How has your focus testing improved the narrative of The Station? What are your methods when it comes to focus testing story? I’m so glad you asked this question! Outside of just the writers and creative team, our entire team lived and breathed the story we were building. When changes and expansions to the story were proposed, it was to the entire team since they were just listeners, but citizens in the world we were creating. After getting to a place where we all felt a deep love for the story, we began running focus groups and tests at some of the academic institutions we’re very close with. We didn’t stop iterating and testing until players felt a personal connection to not just the characters, but the themes they were immersed in. The team ran side-by-side script readings, A/B tests with scoring and Dungeons & Dragons style roleplaying sessions. It was the variation between telling the story in a personal format compared to a technical heavy focus that really brought us to the final place.
“I’m obsessed with not just creating a good story, but developing the atmosphere that provides the immersion for players to step into the world that we build.”
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Fresh Meat BY JEM ALEXANDER
Each month in Fresh Meat we check in with a new and upcoming developer. This month, we chat to Wushu Studios about the formation of the Liverpool-based studio, the state of the UK skills market and the role of corporate culture
EARLIER this year a new UK developer revealed itself. Wushu Studios announced its existence after a few months of gestation in a studio space on the Baltic Triangle in Liverpool. While it’s way too early to be discussing its project, a game that’s still very much in the early stages of development, we already know it is “absolutely not a racing game.” Considering the initial team consists of ex-Evolution tudios staff, known for the DriveClub and MotorStorm franchises, the company is already subverting expectations. “We started Wushu with the goal of ensuring the experience we have of triple-A development isn’t abandoned or forgotten; rather that it fuels our passion to create new and interesting experiences for gamers,” says studio head Alan McDermott. “The founding members and myself have known each other for almost two decades. We’ve worked together in the past on projects like WRC, the MotorStorm franchise and Driveclub in the past. When we came together again in August 2017, it was refreshing how quickly we fell into a groove with concept development and prototyping.” Being an industry veteran, hardened and calloused from the world of triple-A, isn’t a requirement for the studio’s members, however. “We started talking to a few more familiar faces,” says McDermott. “Including Alex Figini who was working at BioWare as a senior concept artist on Anthem and previously Mass Effect , and was eager to work with the crew once again. We were also keen to ensure we had a healthy dose of fresh thinking in the mix, so we turned to some of the UK’s universities
in search of emerging talent to keep us honest and on our toes.” Thankfully, the UK is a great place to draw from when it comes to new and emerging talent, as McDermott explains: “The UK skills market is nothing short of astounding. Not only are we rich in established and experienced talent across all skill disciplines here on home soil, but our universities are producing some of the most creatively talented individuals I’ve encountered throughout my career. I’m frequently floored by the level of innovative thinking we see from emerging talent in the UK and it’s hard not to get excited at the prospect of working with those individuals someday.” Perhaps more difficult than finding talent is finding the right name. o why Wushu “Not an easy question to answer! We wanted a name that was going to stick in people’s minds and eventually become a household name,” says McDermott. “We also wanted a name that could make for a visually striking logo too. A part of competitive Wushu Kung Fu is about performance art which is absolutely mesmerizing to watch. I guess there are some parallels with how video games marry art and interactivity to create beautiful and mesmerizing things. All that aside, naming stuff is super difficult, and Wushu sounds pretty cool!” Now that the initial team is in place and the studio has officially announced itself, it can begin the process of nurturing the sort of corporate culture it’s looking for. Something that represents every member of the company. “I think fostering a positive studio culture takes full-time effort, but it’s not a tangible
Despite several senior members of Wushu coming from Evolution Studios (developer of DriveClub, pictured above, and the MotorStorm franchise), studio head Alan McDermott (pictured right) is een to s th t the st d o’s rst ro e t s “absolutely not a racing game.”
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thing,” McDermott says. “You can’t just decide ‘hey, we’re gonna be super-fun and friendly and creative and awesome’ – it’s great to want those things but to make them a reality is difficult. ltimately, your studio culture is created by the people that work together. Here at Wushu, we believe that great ideas can come from anywhere, so we do our best to promote the notion that everyone has a voice and will be heard regardless of your level of experience. This encourages more creative collaboration throughout the team. “We also think that to make great games, it helps if you play great games, so to work here you have to be into something. It doesn’t have to be video games either. Board games, D&D, tabletop – whatever your jam is – but to craft ‘fun’ you need to have a perspective on what is fun. The desire for diversity in what we bring to the table as gamers extends to who we have at the table too. Female gamers make up 48% of the global gaming market now, but that statistic is not reflected in development and it should be. As we expand our team and grow our studio, we see women playing a fundamental part in that process. “We’ve ended up with a really exciting project that’s absolutely not what you’d expect from us given the team’s heritage and we can’t wait to talk more about it!”
“The desire for diversity in what we bring to the table as gamers extends to who we have at the table too. As we grow our studio, we see women playing a fundamental part in that process.”
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NEW OR IMPROVED The most fascinating facets of the latest games, focusing on how developers continue to innovate and push the boundaries of the medium
They Are Billions Released on December 12th Published by Numantian Games
They Are Billions makes failure fun, twisting the zombie survival genre and making it a real time strategy, Jake Tucker sends back notes from the apocalypse
om Robbins wrote in philosophical 1973 novel Even Cowgirls Get the Blues: “Cries for help are frequently inaudible.” This is lucky, because I’m so often up to my neck in disaster while playing Numantian Games’ They Are Billions that I’d scream the house down. The defining feature of They Are Billions is desperation. The game is a single player real-time strategy asking you to carve out an existence in a map filled with zombies. In play it feels something like classic Blizzard RTS Starcraft, but with constant pressure from zombies, and a ticking clock that heralds yet another monster wave of zombies, each bigger and scarier than the last. For turtlers, those who play RTS games looking to build a massive fortress and defend it from all sides, this is a dream come true. But it quickly becomes a nightmare as a mistake made 20 minutes ago leads to your inglorious death at the hands of the horde. They Are Billions could well be the first effective RTS horror game, and the sense of achievement you feel when you manage to survive one of the assaulting waves is a huge, solid thing. Seconds later, you remember the next wave is coming and dig in again with grim resolve.
Unlike many of the games that are praised for being hard, the systems and controls are clean and intuitive, with most of the problems with difficulty coming from the everpresent horde of zombies who seem determined to ruin the day. Currently, the only mode available is survival, which ends when you survive for 100 days (on normal difficulty) or when you die horribly. It’s been entirely the latter for me so far. I don’t think players are even meant to survive. Things get worse by degrees, so when zombies breach your defences, each building they assault spews forth more zombies, creating a snowball effect that throws zombies after you every time you let someone through. The effort here is Sisyphean, with my only reward for keeping my colony alive is to start a new settlement and hope that that doesn’t get eaten too. I love it. Expect several of the lessons here to flood into the market in 2018. This is one of the first survival experiences to hit the RTS genre, but probably won’t be the last. The tense desperation and growing dread here is doing wonders for the tiny indie game, and in an industry where your chance of success is a billion to one, this game is punching way above its weight.
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Monster Hunter World Released on January 26th Published by Capcom
Monster Hunter made it debut on the PS4 and Xbox One, but why did Capcom wait so long? Jake Tucker reports
he jump from tiny handheld to a bigger screen couldn’t have come at a better time for Monster Hunter. Console audiences are hungry for huge online experiences, and huge is definitely the best word to describe Monster Hunter. Monster Hunter World feels impossibly vast, an impenetrable tangle of complex systems for rookie hunters to bounce off, even with some steps taken to make it easier to pick up. Monster Hunter World plays out like your character has supped from the ‘drink me’ potion from Alice In Wonderland, letting your tiny avatar climb through oversized trees and do battle with impossibly large monsters, slicing away at their ankles with vigour, or leaping down onto a beast’s spine from above to bury your tiny weapons into its hide.
You feel small. You are small and that creates an immediate impact. You don’t feel like the hero, but a journeyman plying your trade. Hunting monsters is, for your avatar, a business decision, and business is booming. The first monsters you hunt are tiny like you, easily dispatched with a flurry of attacks. Later, the things you’re tasked to hunt shake the ground when they walk, scattering smaller creatures as they stomp around. These hunts are similarly scaled up, and rather than 15 minutes of action, you could be tracking your prey for 30 minutes, only for them to run off into a hidden cave, requiring more investigation to give them a battering. Monster Hunter World’s combat is elegant, a series of blows that requires a working knowledge of the combinations and perfect timing to achieve, making you look like a stone-cold master when you get it right. Fight a wyvern, though, and your avatar looks like a drunk attacking a double decker bus. A flying double decker bus that wants to eat you. Enemies don’t stagger under your blows but do start to show damage over time, armour looking cracked and legs starting to limp under your assault. You’re here to conquer this new world of monsters, but you’re such a tiny cog in Monster Hunter World’s machine that amassing enough strength to exert your dominion and cut down the huge beasts feels like a real achievement. It’s this sense of scale that makes Monster Hunter World feel like a big hitter on consoles, but it also delivers a sense of spectacle that has been missing in other recent always-online games and that, combined with the drip-feed of new content, should win it an enduring audience.
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Metal Gear Survive Releases on February 22nd Published by Konami
Can Metal Gear Survive without Hideo Kojima? Jem Alexander chec s out the rst ga e in the series since his departure
kipping past the tutorial, the first hour of Metal Gear Survive involves strategically building fences to bottleneck the zombie hoard while poking at them through the mesh with a large stick. In all but appearance, this not your daddy’s Metal Gear. ‘Your daddy’, in this instance, being Hideo Kojima. “This game comes from the Metal Gear team, led by Yuji Korekado, and this is the first title that they’ve worked on in their current form,” says product manager Richard Jones. “The idea was to create a spin off from Metal Gear Solid V, in a similar way to Metal Gear Online from Metal Gear Solid 4 and Snake Eater previous to that. This was a way to have some more fun in the Metal Gear world.” ‘More fun’ comes in the form of zombies, base building and a hunger/thirst meter that no number of freshly caught gerbils or bottles of dirty water can truly satisfy. There’s also an ability to build structures, like the aforementioned fences, using the many bits and bobs we hoover up along the way, like a kleptomaniac trapped in a B&Q. Chairs can be nicked wholesale to provide us with wood and nails, while more sturdy items like crates might need a few prods from our zombie killing stick before they expose their innards to add to our collection. None of this screams ‘tactical espionage action’, and that’s okay because this is a ‘fun, non-canonical spin off ’. Even the protagonist’s movement has been pared back from Solid Snake’s Metal Gear Solid V era athletic tumbling (as opposed to his Metal Gear Solid 4 era geriatric tumbling) to focus on your basic walk/crouch/ prone combo. This despite extensive visual similarities (read: reused assets) throughout the game, from minute-to-minute gameplay to menu UI.
Early mission structure involves being directed to a specific point on the map to collect an item, to increase base building capabilities, to unlock the next map waypoint to collect an item… And so on. Between the player and each objective is always a collection of – sometimes predator, sometimes prey – crystal-headed zombies. These crystals are the game’s currency and can be harvested from fallen foes. Later on, players are sent into the fog, a harmful environment that will sap away at oxygen supply and health, essentially giving a time limit before having to return to homebase (your base of operations, not the DIY store). It’s a constantly oppressive atmosphere. Whatever world the protagonist has fallen into through that wormhole in the opening cutscene, they’re not welcome here. Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the game will be its always-online requirement, even in single player. The reasoning for this is the strong link between the campaign and the online co-op modes, with a persistent character that retains all loot, skills and equipment across both game modes. Co-operation involves defending a resource extractor (a drill, basically) with two other alternate-reality Mother Base survivors against waves of zombies of various shapes and sizes. Though there are hints towards further modes being available in the final game or being released post-launch. Success in this game mode will literally shower your character with loot, colour coded to the industry standard from grey to purple and beyond depending on rarity. The cynic in me says that this is a way of gating progress within the campaign by hiding supplies behind necessary online play. Aimed at an audience that for twenty years has enjoyed the linear, batshit crazy story in a solely singleplayer environment. Balancing a game that is essentially two games is likely to err on the side that will be continually updated and monetised. That’s the online mode. Hardcore co-op players returning from a hefty multiplayer sesh will have a much easier time of the campaign than solo-only players. There’s space in the market for a game like this – one that combines 2014’s flavour of the year (survival) with the current hotness (online multiplayer gamesas-a-service). But selling to a die-hard fanbase like Metal Gear feels like a way of countering a lack of ingenuity by slathering zombies and hoard modes with That Thing You Love. It’s a logical response to recent market innovations by a team tied inescapably, for good or bad, to a franchise that never did anything logically. A combination of market forces that are the very antithesis of Metal Gear Solid’s historic auteurship.
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IncomeStream The numbers, stats and market stories that matter and why they do
Q3 results are rosy across the board Gaming is looking pretty healthy, at least if the spreadsheets of the biggest firms in the industry are anything to go by. The end of anuary’s deluge of financial results were almost uniformly positive, with gains all around from 201 . NINTENDO What a difference a year makes. No one was in any doubt that the witch has turned Nintendo’s fortunes around, but some hard figures from yoto underline just what a great year the home of ario has had. Nintendo revealed that the console had shifted 12.1 m units during a nine-month period, while software sales reached .10m units. Super Mario Odyssey led the charge with .0 m copies sold, followed by Mario Kart 8 Deluxe with its . m units and Splatoon 2 with . 1m copies shifted. This “brings to eight the number of million-seller witch titles for this fiscal year including the titles of other software publishers,” the report said. The witch also boosted digital sales for the company, which were up 8 per cent year-onyear, reaching .1bn 0.28bn . omething that many publishers and developers have also benefited from. MICROSOFT icrosoft had a strong last quarter to the year with growth of eight per cent in gaming revenue. box ne was a big part of that success, giving it back that sense of hardware superiority that has been notably lacking since the start of the box ne generation. box ive did well but growth was tempered by the muchdebated lack of exclusives, “ box software services revenue grew four per cent from continued momentum in digital distribution, partially offset by prior year first-party triple-A title launches.” ff the back of these results things are looking up, there’s a new man, att ooty, in charge of first-party development, record numbers are playing Minecraft, Sea of Thieves had a successful beta test and box Game Pass made its own kind of waves. box is looking somewhat resurgent at present.
PRE ORDER TOP 5 TW
01 02 03 04 05
hadow of the olossus P Red Dead Redemption 2 P God of War P Ni No uni II ollector ings Edition P Days Gone P
Publisher ony Rockstar ony andai Namco ony
CAPCOM apcom’s income is also on the up, after nine months of solid game performance. The company has revealed an operating income of billion m . This increase comes on the back of a strong performance from apcom’s games business with an 8. per cent increase in net sales and a 28.2 per cent jump in operating income. The company described Resident Evil 7, Monster Hunter XX and online Monster Hunter title Frontier Z sales as “strong” while Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers, a witch-only release, was described as a “smash hit.” EA EA somewhat spoiled the party with Battlefront II sales of 9m being well below its ten to 12m estimate. E Andew Wilson called the game’s loot crate problem: “A learning opportunity.” Despite that it was optimistic about its full-year earnings.
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UK PHYSICAL RETAIL JANUARY (UNITS)
01 TM LM 02 02 03 NEW 04 05 05 04 06 03 07 09 08 08 09 RE 10 06
CALL OF DUTY: WWII P
ER: ACTIVISION BLIZZARD
Title I A 18 onster unter: World Grand Theft Auto Assassin’s reed rigins tar Wars attlefront II ario art 8 Deluxe Player nknown’s attlegrounds egend of elda: reath of the Wild uper ario dyssey
Publisher EA apcom Rockstar Take-Two bisoft EA Nintendo icrosoft Nintendo Nintendo
IE Gf , Period: December 1st to anuary 2 th
Digital boom Global digital games sales were on the rise in December 201 , nearly reaching $10bn across all platforms, according to the latest report by uperData. Revenue was up 1 per cent from December 201 , and the whole quarter also saw an impressive growth a 1 per cent increase year-on-year. P titles saw the most important growth year-on-year in December, with sales up 28 per cent, while console games grew 1 per cent.
A Monster hit around the World Monster Hunter World - Capcom
apcom cemented its place as the masters of the anuary release, and once again endeared themselves to retail by bucking up an often torrid month for sales. Monster Hunter World flew out the gate, on a big pair of scaly wings we imagine, with five million sales around the world on its opening weekend alone. It scored a No.1 on it launch week, with sales skewing heavily to P over box ne. Its been 12 years since the series appeared on Play tation, we doubt we’ll have to wait that long again.
5% Physical gloom EA lake orgensen said the industry is close to 0 per cent for digital full game sales and “I think at a minimum we should see five points of increase each year.” ased on that prediction alone the industry will have shifted entirely to digital in 12 years. orgensen doesn’t see that shift slowing either: “We don’t see a cap anytime soon because we know more and more players are realising it’s a more convenient, easy and engaging way to play.”
October 26th 2018
Red Dead Redemption 2 sets a date EA’s decision to shift Anthem back to spring 201 is now looking rather prescient, as just less than two days after that announcement, Rockstar let the world know that Red Dead Redemption 2 will be making an appearance in ctober. It’s the second time the game has been delayed and something of a setback for Take-Two, whose release slate has been somewhat bare of late. Expect the rest of the big publishers to quietly edge their products out of the way. The real question with RDR 2 is not whether it’s big but can it possibly get close to being GTA big?
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WhenWeMade... Hyper Light Drifter Jem Alexander takes a look behind the scenes of the development of gorgeous indie darling Hyper Light Drifter. Heart Machine founder Alx Preston and the game’s coder/designer Teddy Dief explain the importance of the indie dev community and how to wake up to find your game fully formed
Pictured above: Heart Machine founder Alx Preston and Hyper Light Drifter coder/designer Teddy Dief (photo credit: Rim AJ)
ack in 2013, before the Kickstarter bubble burst, the service was a hotbed of fresh indie games that otherwise wouldn’t have seen the light of day. Hyper Light Drifter is one such game, and developer Heart Machine saw great success on the platform. It zoomed past its initial $27k goal and eventually received almost $650k of funding. This was the first sign of the game’s appeal and popularity, which would continue beyond launch with many hundreds of thousands of sales across multiple platforms. The story of Hyper Light Drifter is also the story of the indie development community. Talking to Heart Machine founder Alx Preston and the game’s coder/designer Teddy Dief, it’s clear just how important the close-knit dev scene was to its success. Preston and Dief already knew each other as founding members of Glitch City, a collective of independent artists and game makers in Los Angeles. “We would come together as a group of various types of media creators,” Dief says. “There was a monthly jam called trawberry am that was run out of coffee shops, and that’s how I met a number of other people who ended up coming around the table to start Glitch City. There was some breaking point where people were getting tired of not having power outlets. And unreliable coffee shop Wi- i. onversation started around whether we had enough people to actually rent a space.”
efore renting an office together, the group worked out of Preston’s house. “Glitch started for me out of our garage, hosting art events or working nights where we’d invite people over,” he says. “We were doing that for a few months and we were always discussing the idea of a co-working space.” The majority of the Heart Machine team that worked on Hyper Light Drifter came from this collective and even though Dief was a founding member, it was only through serendipity that he ended up working on the game at all. “We had founded Glitch City and I was deep in my own indie endeavour and was considering doing a crowdfunding campaign of my own,” Dief says. “I had judged that I needed a few months of runway, because it takes time to build those campaigns, to make sure I was financially soluble. o I had emailed all of Glitch City the day of the Hyper Light Drifter Kickstarter launch,
asking ‘Hey does anyone know of any short term gigs?’ When Alx reached out the Kickstarter had already started to have really strong momentum. It was not at all what I had said I was looking for. I was working on a very different type of action RPG. I was like oh man, this is so beautiful’ and I hooked up with Alx. Although it was not what I was seeking, the timing really worked out.” As for Dief’s game? Long dead, but he has no regrets. In fact, ‘no regrets’ is a recurring theme when talking to the pair.
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“I don’t know if I would really change anything about development because a lot of it was such a huge learning experience that was really valuable and I took those lessons to heart,” Preston says. “Sure, there are plenty of things that, at the time, a tiny insight would be nice to have done them perfectly, or not to have fucked up, but I wouldn’t have learned some lessons otherwise. It’s not to say that there aren’t things that we could have done better. Just the things that we didn’t do better at first, we learned from. They are part of the project and I’m okay with that.” The team declined to work with a publisher, so with no one setting development tasks for the team, Heart Machine took it upon itself to manage its schedule. The team took advantage of the games events circuit to set deadlines and gather valuable playtesting insight at the same time. “We treated events as big internal milestones for a deliverable,” says Preston. “After deciding we were going to head out to PAX, for example, we’d spend time thinking ‘okay we’re going to build out some [areas in the] North [of the map] here and have this playable chunk ready for the demo,’ and that gives us a set of tasks and a goal. And we know that we have to deliver on this date, so it was super helpful and it was also great to be able to finally show some people and watch them play. Because that’s always kind of scary. “It’s always a new experience when you’re watching somebody play a level that you’ve been designing and you know inside and out. ou play very differently to how anybody else can play, because you understand the roots and it’s constantly on your mind. There are so many reasons why it’s extremely helpful and a positive experience overall. Mostly it was great for us internally to understand ‘oh yeah, we can make things and we can finish them’. At least to the extent that we’re happy enough to be showcasing.” The first public demo for the game was at ine on in Orlando, and it was a particularly eye opening experience for Dief, who flew out there on his own. “It was about a month after the Kickstarter,” he says. “They had reached out to us and we thought this would be a cool opportunity, but also everybody was wrecked. Alx was exhausted from running the Kickstarter and we were trying to do a ton of work just to figure out what the game could be. But we decided it could be worth doing. o I flew out to rlando alone. And I remember we were making that demo en route. Like, in the hotel room the night before the show. “I was putting a level together with the pieces that we had with GameMaker’s basic editor. White boxing it until three or four in the morning. It was around midnight
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back on the west coast, so I go to sleep in Orlando saying ‘Okay, it’s done. Alx can you make it look good? I’m gonna go to sleep. I’ve gotta get up at eight to go to the show floor’. And I remember waking up and pulling from the repository and Alx had done his work on it. And while I was sleeping the white box level became this gorgeous piece of the very first Hyper Light Drifter demo and I just remember feeling as though I had made the right choice. Joining this guy. All you have to do is go to sleep. When you wake up your game is finished.” Not having a publisher meant that Heart Machine had to think on its feet when it came to the more mechanical side of game publishing, such as QA and porting. or Preston, this only added to the curriculum: “We did everything by hand and it was a great learning experience.” But that’s not an easy thing to do, and it’s here that we see the value of being surrounded by an incredible indie developer scene. “It helped a great deal that we had so much of a community around us,” says Dief. “Not just in Glitch City but in a larger indie games community because having avenues for all the things a publisher can take off your shoulders was a huge help. That we could ask people we respected and who have been through this before us, ey, we need to do A. Real A. Who do we work with?’ And get recommendations through that. inding people you wouldn’t otherwise be able to find was a huge thing in making sure we could do all that ourselves.” So what if you’re not in such a privileged position? “My philosophy has always been to just keep showing up to everything as much as possible,” Dief says. “We were lucky with Glitch City, but the larger indie games community is always broadcasting itself. There’s an event every week, if you’re really looking. They may not be where you are and getting there is a logistical problem, but hopefully for anyone trying to get started there is an event close enough to you that you can start going. And making it not only a habit but considering it part of your career to show up to those events to learn from people and make friendships.”
“While I was sleeping the white box level became this gorgeous piece of the ery first yper ight rifter demo and ust remember feeling as though had made the right choice. oining l . ll you ha e to do is go to sleep. hen you wake up your game is finished.” 76 | MCV 932 February 2018
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A Rare treasure
Sea of Thieves is among the most distinctive triple-A games of recent years and eanstalk has done it proud, curating some wonderful published pieces for the launch “WE first spoke to Rare around Rare Replay time,” Daniel Amos, from Tinderbox, the gaming division of brand extension agency eanstalk, tells us. e’s a big fan for the company’s N days and immediately wanted “to do stuff in blue and gold with the logo on,” though nothing came of it. ut Rare came back to Tinderbox later to talk about Sea of Thieves. “They didn’t have a consumer product team, but they really love consumer products,” Amos says. ooking around their office it’s clear “they are collectors of games merchandise,” he adds. They were already producing promotional product for E and the like, but they wanted a full range. “Sea of Thieves is a new IP but it has a Rare handwriting to it, it feels familiar.” owever, with player-created avatars, and no in-game characters being pushed front-and-centre in the marketing as yet, there’s not an easy hook to hang products off. ut that’s also why the Tales from the Sea of Thieves lore book works so well, by adding stories and characters to this pirate playground. Amos tells us that Rare talks about the “Sea of Thieves universe” and “so the product had to feel as though it came out of that universe.” And removing the band from the book certainly leaves something that looks and feels as if it’s fallen out of that world. The texture work on the cover, with its sea-salt sprayed, metal textured corners really is superb. “Everything in Sea of Thieves has to have history, everything has to feel like there was an event. o if there’s a dent or a cut you have
T-shirt from Bioworld Europe’s apparel range
Microsoft’s Xbox Wireless Controller – Sea of Thieves Limited Edition
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Tales from the Sea of Thieves, book by Titan Books
The Art of Sea of Thieves, book by Dark Horse
to feel like there’s a reason that happened, it’s not about something being wonky for the sake of it, it has to be weathered or damaged.” The book is designed to bring that world to life, “informing players’ experience of Sea of Thieves.” Titan ooks worked closely with Rare, because “there’s a huge mutual respect of each other’s work,” says Amos. “It has diary entries and it ties back really nicely to the game.” And it’s only coming out for launch, because there’s stuff in there that no one has seen yet. It’s a publishing led line-up at launch. There’s a concept art book, from Dark orse, going back into the dev process to show the behind-the-scenes progression. “It really gets under the skin, there’s some great interviews and some great imagery in there,” Amos says. Plus a comic which has different interpretations of the core art style, with Rare being involved in the process of selecting artists. There’s apparel coming as well, from ioworld Europe, and “the game is loaded with iconography we can use for inspiration.” A webstore is up-and-running, which soft launched around the game’s insider program’ of early access demos and sneak peeks. The webstore is linked from www.seaofthieves.com and will be a destination for exclusive items, with stuff “not necessarily for retail.” ooking forward, “there’s a pipeline of products to come, there are themes and elements of this game that the world isn’t aware of, but that we need to have some understanding of so we can plan. tuff is locked to launch later this year, both because of the development time for certain collectibles and for strategic reasons.” It sounds like there’s a lot to come from Sea of Thieves then, but it’s key that the consumer product grows with the game-as-aservice to reflect the title and its community, but then that’s just the challenge of working on a title with such huge potential.
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MechanicallySound by Jake Tucker
This month: Roll7’s John Ribbins talks us through OlliOlli’s most memorable mechanic, ‘press x to land’, and why the team ultimately decided to make it more forgiving
2014. Skateboarding was in the wilderness. The Tony Hawks series’ heyday was over, and the wheels had come off EA’s Skate franchise. Enter OlliOlli, a two-dimensional skate ‘em up that saw players rocketing through levels trying not just to hold a combo for the entire line, but also to stay upright. A large part of the challenge was OlliOlli’s landing mechanic, which meant players would need to press the X button before landing. It was a bold new approach for skateboarding games, but to understand Roll7’s take on the future of skateboarding games, you have to look to the past. When Roll7’s creative director John Ribbins was a teenager, he’d skate most Saturdays, before coming home to play skateboarding games on the PSOne. His favourite was Thrasher: Skate and Destroy. It came out just a month after Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, meaning it was developed at the same time as Neversoft’s enduring skate series. But due to the overlapping development time it was free of being influenced by the Tony Hawks, with Thrasher instead putting a much higher emphasis on realism. “Thrasher had a bunch of stuff in it that we really wanted to do with OlliOlli,” Ribbins says. “There’s a lot
about the game that I loved, and as a skater it always felt to me like the truest skateboarding game.” Something that stuck with Ribbins was Thrasher’s Expert mode: “ nce you finished the game on Normal, you could play it again in Expert mode, which made it significantly harder. ne of these changes was the landing, which required you to hit square on the PlayStation controller to land a trick after pulling it off. ail to press square between nailing the trick and hitting the ground and you’ll bail, slamming into the ground. “No other game did this!” Ribbins exclaims. “It always felt weird to me because in real life, landing a trick in skateboarding is the hardest part, but no-one else did it.” PRESS X OR DIE While prototyping games in the early days of Roll7, the team made a mobile game emulating Thrasher’s landing mechanic, an infinite runner full of staircases, handrails and gaps with players hitting the left side of the screen to jump and the right side of the screen to land. Miss a landing and you crater into the ground. This went on forever, with the aim to get as far as you could before wiping out. Ribbins describes the concept of nailing your landing as the core pillar
“It felt like players were failing not because they didn’t have the skill but because they had no more mental bandwidth, the thumb didn’t know what it should be doing.”
Pictured right: Illustration by Sam Richwood
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of OlliOlli, and this remained the case through the game’s development: “What we thought made it fun was you’d press a button to land, and if you don’t, you waste all the effort you put in up until that point, like a gambling game. During the two and a half years we were making it, everything either changed or got altered but that was the core part of the game.” Slowly this started to mutate into the form of the original OlliOlli, making the jump from mobile to console. Around the core landing mechanic, the rest of the game started to fall into shape, as the team got rid of most buttons and stripped the control scheme back to just the X button for most interactions and the sticks and shoulder buttons to modify tricks. “When you have barely a second to react to any obstacle, it felt like players were failing not because they didn’t have the skill but because players had no more mental bandwidth, the thumb didn’t know what it should be doing,” says Ribbins. Originally, the team wanted players to hit the button perfectly in time to land the trick. It was a playtest at Sony’s offices that galvanised them to change the system: “When we gave our first playable version of the game to Sony, if you didn’t get the timing perfect you slammed. ne of the A guys playing it was just sitting in the corner of the meeting like uck! uck!’ trying to get through levels.” Having to survive the run wasn’t capturing the gambling feel that Roll7 were so fond of, so they changed things again, introducing a sketchy landing system that punished you for getting your timing wrong by cutting the majority of your points. “It was still a harsh punishment but not as brutal as saying ‘right, start the whole thing again’,” Ribbins says with a grin. “We added in a Rad mode, so you could play the game as we originally intended, and maybe 10 to 20 people ever finished it in OlliOlli, so making it more forgiving was probably the right choice.”
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S a a a e a reate oﬀ t e a o e era e o W en i o rea i e o r or on o a oin to e o e o r ti e o I had travelled out to QuakeCon 2000 in Dallas from London. On the flight, I realised Quake had taken over my life. I ran one of the UK’s most successful Team Fortress clans, I was a presenter on one of the world’s first esports T shows, uake Republic, I was the administrator for a couple of leagues, an IR op on uakeNet and a columnist on arrysworld. We land, and suddenly we were surrounded by ,000 other Wolfenstein and Quake fans who were just as passionate as us. I instantly knew that I’d found my life’s purpose. o o t in t e o er to ro at a i ti ia e to a Absolutely! It has constantly changed guise from total conversions of other people’s games, to making free add-ons using publicly released game engines, to where we’re at today when you can create a completely stand-alone title without upfront costs on nreal Engine , release it on team, box ive or P N, then later charge for new content once you’ve built up a fanbase. We started off without any business experience and have, to date, achieved eight consecutive No.1 hits. If we can do it, you can. Is there anything in your career you wished you had one iﬀerent Nothing, but I made a lot of mistakes that I would love to share with others. I spent more than ten years in IT, and while it grew boring towards the end, I developed a great understanding of servers and networks. y obsession with Quake got me fired a lot and my esports T show seemed pointless to many, but those three pillars networking, gaming, and public speaking were a great foundation for being a games E . o o ee a re on i i it to tr an reate an at o ere t at e ot er e e o er an o a er ee I think that those wanting to get into the games industry are already well catered for. owever, I grew up on a ondon ouncil estate, was expelled from school at 1 , and written-off by the careers advice office. I’ve now sold plash Damage in a deal worth up to $1 0m, and although I’m staying on as E until at least 2020, I’ve decided to dedicate some of my time to helping similarly underprivileged kids escape poverty. I’m funding and heading up a new foundation called ootstrap, that will share all the techniques I’ve discovered, to help others on their path to fame and fortune.
The Final Boss Paul Wedgwood, Splash Damage
“Networking, gaming and public speaking were a great foundation for being a games CEO.”
W at a een t e i e t an e in t e a e in tr o e een in t e a t e a e We’ve had so many disruptions the transition from retail to digital distribution, mobile gaming, free-to-play sweeping from the east, the huge growth of team, the death, rebirth, and new rise of console gaming, but only one change has affected all gamers, developers, publishers, business models, and platforms the complete pivot to games-as-a-service. It changes everything. The shift challenges developers to create much higher quality games, it allows us to support a title, properly, for many years after its release, and it allows a developer to recover from a mistake, and rebuild the trust of the community, or to self fund its own title. o o ti a an a e re t ere an o re rea en o in I’m certainly not playing shooters for 18 hours a day anymore, but I love playing the biggest hits of the year. owever, right now I’m sidetracked showing friends and family my ive, binging on ob imulator, Audioshield, pace Pirate Trainer, The ab, ombie Training imulator, and interactive experiences such as niverse andbox, Richie’s Plank Experience, theBlu, and Tilt Brush that’s when I’m not playing inecraft with my seven-year-old son.
2 e r ar
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Register your interest at www.esportsproawards.com An
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