MCV ISSUE 940
THE BUSINESS OF VIDEO GAMES
‘GAME DEVELOPERS ARE TECH COMPANIES BY NECESSITY NOT DESIRE’
CELEBRATING TWO DECADES OF MCV SERVING THE GAMES INDUSTRY SINCE 1998
05 The editor
20 glorious years of MCV
06 Critical path
The key dates this month
Highway to LA
20 Ins and outs
And all our recruitment advice
26 Industry voices
Our platform for the industry
25 years of Koch Media
34 Bandai Namco
The conquest of the Wild West
38 Golden Joysticks
Why the awards are as relevant as ever
42 YoYo Games
Creating more game makers
46 Green Man Gaming
Between retail, publishing and IPO
50 Robot Cache
Disrupting the games market
54 Supermarket Shriek
Screaming goats and retail hopes
58 When we made...
Starlink: Battle for Atlas
62 AI and games
Plan of Attack!
64 Income stream
Our market analysis
66 The final boss
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Hi-Rezâ€™s VĂŠronique Lallier
“To have ended up as the editor of the same magazine I read as an know-it-all retail drone is something I could never have predicted.”
TheEditor Happy 20th birthday MCV! 20 years of MCV is a huge testament to each and every person who has worked on the brand over those two decades. To everyone who wrote an article, laid out a spread, sold an advert or got the thing to the printers week after week, since 1998, I salute you. This is your achievement and I hope you all have as many fond memories of working on MCV as I have already, and likely many, many more. You can read some thoughts from MCV godfather Stuart Dinsey on page 26 and look at some covers from yesteryear on page 12. This landmark issue is all the more remarkable considering the constant competition and change that our industry engenders. MCV has succeeded throughout it all, and is still going strong today, now under Future’s steady hand. Speaking of our Future colleagues, the Golden Joysticks are approaching fast (read more on page 38). The Joysticks is one of the few things on the UK gaming landscape that makes even MCV look like a young whippersnapper, with the awards dating all the way back to an almost-incredible 1982. I was still at primary school then, so I have little to say about the early eighties, but thankfully I don’t need to go quite back that far to remember my first encounter with MCV. I was a shop assistant in an Electronics Boutique when I first read it and the combination of job and mag was when I really started to comprehend the huge, complex business that brought me the games I loved to play so much. And 1998, the year of MCV’s birth, was truly a gaming classic. As the first issue rolled off the presses, the gaming public was being treated to Resident Evil 2, Starcraft, Metal Gear Solid, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Baldur’s Gate and HalfLife. Amazingly most of these franchises are still with us today. To have ended up as the editor of the same magazine I read as an know-it-all retail drone is something I could never have predicted, but I’m deeply satisfied with the strange way things work out. It’s a huge honour to be taking MCV into its third decade and we have big plans for next year. Not least a proper celebration of MCV’s birthday at the MCV Awards in March – after all, it’s not a real birthday party without a few hundred friends. Finally, for however long you’ve been reading MCV, thank you very, very much for your ongoing support. Seth Barton email@example.com
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BAFTA Games Lecture 2018 BAFTA, London
Here are the key upcoming events and releases to mark in your calendar...
The annual BAFTA Games Lecture, this year taking place on October 4th at BAFTA’s London HQ, is being delivered by Media Molecule’s Siobhan Reddy. The studio director at the team behind LittleBigPlanet and the upcoming Dreams joins a list of luminaries such as Jade Raymond, Will Wright and Supercell’s Ilkka Paananen in holding the marquee spot at the event. The lecture aims to deliver insight from established, noted professionals across the industry and allows them to share experience and vision with those attending.
Red Dead Redemption 2 After years of hype, Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption 2 will finally be here this month, on PS4 and Xbox One only. Set 12 years before the original game, it is easily the most anticipated game of the year – and is expected to also become the best-selling.
Resonate SEC Centre, Glasgow Scotland’s biggest games festival is coming back for a third year. With nearly 10,000 attendees last year, Resonate is getting even bigger this year, taking over three halls at Glasgow’s SEC Centre. There will be an esport arena and various tournaments, workshops including the BAFTA Young Game Designer workshop, as well as panel talks and discussions on the main stage. The festival will also feature the usual indie zone, kids zone and retro zone, as well as Meet & Greet with YouTubers.
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Assassin’s Creed Odyssey Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is hitting shelves for PS4 and Xbox One early this month, with a PC edition releasing digitally. Featuring more RPG elements than the previous iterations, Odyssey also lets players choose the main character’s gender.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 This year’s Call of Duty is coming without a single player campaign for the first time in the franchise’s history. This multiplayer focus also comes with a battle royale mode, called Blackout – the latest in a long list of games trying to glean players from Fortnite.
Starlink: Battle for Atlas Ubisoft’s Starlink will be releasing mid-October, hoping to revive the toys-to-life genre. Battle for Atlas is the first step in what should be a franchise and every ship component can also be bought digitally, while the Switch version comes with exclusive Star Fox content. Read more about it on page 58
Super Mario Party Time for some silly mini-games with your mates this month, as Super Mario Party is releasing on Switch. There’s also a limited bundle with a neon green/neon pink Joy-Con pair releasing on November 23rd, just in time for Christmas.
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CONTENT Editor: Seth Barton firstname.lastname@example.org, +44 (0)203 871 7388
I’ve historically always hated Spider-Man. I didn’t want to play the new game because, well, I don’t like the guy. And then I had an opportunity to play it. And before I had time to realise what was happening, I was spending my weekends playing Spider-Man. I now don’t hate the guy anymore. What a brilliant game!
Senior Staff Writer: Marie Dealessandri email@example.com, +44 (0)203 889 4910 Content Director: James McKeown firstname.lastname@example.org, +44 (0)207 354 6015 Designer: Sam Richwood email@example.com Digital Director: Diane Oliver firstname.lastname@example.org, +44 (0)207 354 6019 Production Executive: James Marinos email@example.com, +44 (0)203 889 4907
ADVERTISING SALES Sales Manager: Sophia Jaques firstname.lastname@example.org, +44 207 354 6025
MANAGEMENT Managing Director/Senior Vice President Christine Shaw Chief Revenue Officer Diane Giannini Chief Content Officer Joe Territo Chief Marketing Officer Wendy Lissau Brand Director, Games Tony Mott Head of Production US & UK Mark Constance
SUBSCRIBER CUSTOMER SERVICE To subscribe, change your address, or check on your current account status, go to www.mcvuk.com or email@example.com ARCHIVES Digital editions of the magazine are available to view on ISSUU.com Recent back issues of the printed edition may be available please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. INTERNATIONAL MCV and its content are available for licensing and syndication re-use. Contact the International department to discuss partnership opportunities and permissions International Licensing Director Matt Ellis, email@example.com
Shadow of the Tomb Raider this month. On one hand I love the slick gameplay and having Lara take ludicrous selfies while in mortal peril. On the other her ‘woe is me’ act has grated at times. Still, we’ve been friends a long time and I’m determined to be there for her in her time of need.
Marie Dealessandri, Senior Staff Writer
Seth Barton, Editor
Apparently I’m on a quest to just play weird old stuff, as recently I’ve been busying myself playing a bunch of original Xbox games that are unlikely to be remembered or ever revisited. So what am I playing at the moment? Gunvalkyrie, Otogi: Myth of Demons, and Brute Force, obviously. Ian Dransfield, News Writer
Paws the game The best furry friends the industry has to offer. Send in yours to firstname.lastname@example.org
MCV has an exclusive media partnership with Famitsu – Japan’s leading video games analyst and news source
The Emerson Building, 4th Floor 4-8 Emerson Street. London, SE1 9DU All contents © 2018 Future Publishing Limited or published under licence. All rights reserved. No part of this magazine may be used, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any way without the prior written permission of the publisher. Future Publishing Limited (company number 2008885) is registered in England and Wales. Registered office: Quay House, The Ambury, Bath BA1 1UA. All information contained in this publication is for information only and is, as far as we are aware, correct at the time of going to press. Future cannot accept any responsibility for errors or inaccuracies in such information. You are advised to contact manufacturers and retailers directly with regard to the price of products/services referred to in this publication. Apps and websites mentioned in this publication are not under our control. We are not responsible for their contents or any other changes or updates to them. This magazine is fully independent and not affiliated in any way with the companies mentioned herein. If you submit material to us, you warrant that you own the material and/or have the necessary rights/permissions to supply the material and you automatically grant Future and its licensees a licence to publish your submission in whole or in part in any/all issues and/or editions of publications, in any format published worldwide and on associated websites, social media channels and associated products. Any material you submit is sent at your own risk and, although every care is taken, neither Future nor its employees, agents, subcontractors or licensees shall be liable for loss or damage. We assume all unsolicited material is for publication unless otherwise stated, and reserve the right to edit, amend, adapt all submissions.
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Chief executive Zillah Byng-Thorne Non-executive chairman Peter Allen Chief financial officer Penny Ladkin-Brand Tel +44 (0)1225 442 244
Pet name: Amy Owner’s name: Ian Dransfield Owner’s job: Freelance writer Amy loves to get out and about but thankfully walks no longer last three hours. She went for a training session and was startled into obedience by a whistle.
Pet name: Chico Owner’s name: Minna Eloranta Owner’s job: Communications and PR manager, Rovio A charming adopted cat who specialises in looking handsome on daily outdoor strolls and playing with butterflies.
Pet name: Frank Owner’s name: Dave Aubrey Owner’s job: Freelance writer Frank likes to drink water while his human is on Skype calls until people on the call ask if his owner is using a typewriter. Good job Frank.
Real life events from the industry Ukie AGM - Birmingham NEC Ukie’s AGM crowned another year of great work by the industry body – a year which saw it fighting the potential impact of Brexit on our talent pipeline, pushing back on the WHO move to medicalise gaming addiction and handling the uproar around loot box monetisation. The next 12 months will see a new logo, with a new website, and plenty of events around Ukie’s 30th anniversary. The event also hosted the GamesAid cheque-giving ceremony. The industry charity, with the help of many of you, raised £213,120 over the last year. This total was split between nine charities that were voted for by the members of GamesAid and will result in vital support for young people across the UK.
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EGX 2018 - Birmingham NEC EGX returned to the Birmingham NEC this year, once again marking the biggest event in the industry calendar. All the biggest releases for Q4 were available to play, except for Red Dead Redemption 2 of course â€“ though given the queues that would have created, that might be more than a small mercy.
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CELEBRATING TWO DECADES OF MCV Serving the games industry since 1998
Pictured: The first MCV cover (left) and Stuart Dinsey (below), launching MCV back in 1998.
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OVER 10M REASONS TO WATCH UNITE Unity’s big conference is only a couple of weeks away. Seth Barton visits Copenhagen to get an exclusive look at what Unity’s engineering and demo teams have lined up for the keynote
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CV is back in Copenhagen and Unity is giving us an exclusive look at what’s coming up at its Unite LA conference in just a couple of weeks. The last time we met Unity’s engine team, the conversation was all about runtime performance. Unity unveiled its new C# Job System, its Entity Component System (ECS) and its Burst Compiler, all with the ambition of realising a new core principle for the company: ‘performance by default’. While the realisation of that ideal is ongoing, runtime performance alone isn’t the end-all-and-be-all of trying to make Unity the best game engine around. Instead we’re here today to talk about improving the capabilities of the tool itself with Brett Bibby, VP of engineering, leading the way. “Game developers are tech companies by necessity not desire,” Bibby states. It’s a powerful argument, and one that’s easy to overlook amid the endless technical complexities of modern games development. But if you could make a game, say as easily as I’m typing this article, then what game developer would pass that up? For now the reality is somewhat different, but that doesn’t mean Unity isn’t dead set on improving the workflow of developers, revolutionising it even. And Bibby is the man driving that change forwards. Well him and a veritable army of some 600 engineers.
LA Pictured above from left: Martin Vestergaard Kümmel, Joachim Ante, Brett Bibby
FEELING CONTENT Runtime performance is great and it’s certainly the sexier side of any given engine. Show the masses an incredible world, with an amazing render pipeline, lots of great effects, and all running on accessible hardware, and you’ve got one hell of a demo. And Unity does those kind of demos, of course. Look at last year’s Book of the Dead for instance. But what Unity is showing us today is designed to wow developers more than consumers, it’s an out-and-out demonstration of what the company’s new editing tools can achieve on a truly mind-boggling scale. But let’s wind back a little first. “At their core games need some kind of level editor. And if you go back historically, Unity provided a good solution at a time when people often used their art tools along with extensions and exporters, which wasn’t a great experience,” Bibby explains. “As the complexity of content and experiences has increased, so has the need for more holistic and sophisticated tools, and people need not only to achieve that complexity but it needs to be accessible too. And that means that it’s not just throw the content in and position it around, and then switch to your code tool, but you actually need to do rich things inside that editor. “But it’s always been a kind of programmers tool. It was a level design tool, but it wasn’t really a level editing tool. It wasn’t like [Valve’s] Hammer editor, or any of the old tools you used to use.” And that programmer-centric tool is becoming an ever bigger problem he explains. “[Teams] have gone from all programmers, to split 50/50 programmers and content creators, to now today, it’s like one to even ten, so you’ve got all these content-related people and far fewer programming people. So how do teams collaborate together to build something amazing?” Bibby asks. ”What is the campfire that everyone can gather around, to take them from idea to release, what is that
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thing that enables people to go from zero to hero? That for me is the starting point of what problem Unity is trying to solve.” A LEG TO STAND ON To efficiently build and maintain hugely complex game worlds, content-centric teams of developers need a three-legged stool to sit upon. Yes, it must provide great run-time performance as we’ve discussed, but the worktime environment must be just as performant, to allow developers to work upon these hugely complex worlds, and it must offer the kind of data hierarchies needed to manage such a huge number of interrelated objects. Without all three, the stool falls. “As Unity exceeds all of your requirements technically, as we eliminate those roadblocks, we then let everyone else in, to be more creative,” Bibby extols. “We’re doing massive amounts on the performance and technology front, so we hope our programming community doesn’t feel like we’re ignoring them at all. “But what we’re doing now is giving a bear hug to creators, and we consider programmers to be creators as well as content people, that’s really the message we’re about now – welcoming creators, because the world is a better place with more creators in it.” So the company is doubling-down on “anything related to performance, efficiency, effectiveness, getting to the gameplay and then rapid iteration,” Bibby tells us, adding: “Scale is another theme that Unity is all about in this way, we have to allow people to leverage their content creation skills, we’ve got to allow people to work in teams, we’ve got to allow massive numbers of objects – and that’s what Martin has been driving for Unite LA.” CYBERPUNK 10,000,077 Martin Vestergaard Kümmel is technical art director at Unity and the man behind a startling demo that we’re the first to see. Kümmel announces: “This is the demo for Unite LA.” The scene is a massive cityscape, modelled upon the now demolished Walled City in Kowloon, Hong Kong, to which Kümmel has added a distinct cyberpunk twist. Gigantic tower blocks loom above us, each one studded with balconies, satellite dishes and air conditioning units. Kümmel estimates that there are well over 10m objects in the scene, though it may be much higher. “The count is just napkin math,” he smiles. “This thing here is an individual object,” he says selecting an air conditioning unit, “and that satellite disc has four different LODs [levels of detail], so it’s actually four objects. “And this is all running in the editor,” he exclaims. And it’s running very smoothly too, we might add. “It’s doing a lot of other stuff as well, and we don’t even have LOD for the cars yet, so they’re brute force rendering right now.”
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It’s running on Kümmel’s pretty-typical desktop workstation and drops into play mode without any noticeable stutter. “Not only is entering play mode instant, but when you close the scene and open it from scratch, it’s practically instant to load, you can move the camera straight away and everything streams in. “It’s streaming in now out of the new streaming system. The air conditioners, the satellite dishes and these large buildings, and we’re going to have tens of thousands of vehicles flying about. We have a traffic system, and we’re going to set up proper lanes. There will be crazy amounts of traffic. Hopefully a sort of Fifth Element thing. Plus we’ll have volumetric lighting and beautiful lighting.” Even without those aspects in place, it’s still a deeplyimpressive example of the power of Unity’s new editor technology – and a huge leap forward. Kümmel pauses the demo and dives into the menus to explain. “Typically in Unity it would not really run that well because [objects] were not stored in an efficient format, so right now you have the entire world here, and basically I have a collapsed group for each city section.” He selects one of the many buildings and then one of the air conditioners on its side. “I open that, and unfold that with the classic Unity game object representation. That one AC unit, you want to move that up, and then collapse that into the streaming ready representation of the city scene. “Now you’ve got this workflow. This is a big city, but it could be an incredibly dense narrative environment, an interior with all the objects that would be in the real world. The point is not that it’s a big city, we’re environment artists and this was just something we could do in a reasonable amount of time. “The demo was assembled by just two people working part-time on it,” Kümmel reveals. “It’s just me and Janus [Kirkegaard, environment artist at Unity]. With a relatively small amount of effort going in from the art side.” And that’s why this demo is a great example of the third leg of our run-time, editor, workflow stool. “The idea is we’re using nested prefabs to tier down all the content,” Kümmel adds. NESTING TIME The Unity faithful has long desired nested prefabs and Unity has long promised them. To boil it down, prefabs let you take an object or asset, with all its properties, and use it repeatedly throughout your game. Make an edit to the prefab and these ripple out to every example in the game, allowing you control across massive hierarchies of objects. Nested prefabs simply let you place one prefab inside another, but the possibilities that offers for creating complex scenes are hugely significant.
Pictured above: The Unite LA demo is epic in scale, this work-inprogress screenshot doesn’t do full justice to the sheer enormity of the game world
“We just started off with really basic assets, and as assets were finished and dropped in, everything came together,” Kümmel explains. “It wasn’t a very structured workflow, but you can easily setup a dependency hierarchy and a nesting hierarchy. That allows many people to contribute [to the project] without actually having to touch the scene, or obstruct each others workflow. They can just drop in the air conditioner model and it trickles down.” Kümmel shows us one of various slabs that make up all the tower blocks, a nested prefab containing numerous other prefabs: “That’s what really enables two people to build this kind of thing, because they can do this incredible amount of reuse and have really fast workflows.” Bibby contributes: “There’s a great analogy here. If you update a pixel on a texture it will obviously appear everywhere, the same if you updated a mesh, but what Martin [Kümmel] is driving at is it’s all about the metadata that you imbue on the stuff, and there’s no way to do that. [Now you’re] able to change that metadata in one place and have that flow through.”
And it’s that which lets you more effectively control huge hierarchies across your entire game. Kümmel adds to the point: “You want to structure it in a way where you have a lot of inheritance between those objects, properties and settings, things spread through hierarchies and dependencies, in a good way. “Otherwise when you get so many variables you have a huge maintenance task at hand. When you have that much content, you also have to keep that content alive day-to-day with code changes and whatever – everything gets dirty and needs to be cleaned up. So inheritances are at the core of what we’re doing now with nested prefabs. “It’s one thing to nest things inside other things, and that’s practical from a very low level point of view, but the bigger picture is maintaining permutation in a game project, making sure you have deep inheritance, so you have global control over as much as possible. And only permutate the settings you actually need to change, while the rest are inherited.” The team behind the demo is just one of an increasing number of internal production teams within Unity.
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Co-founder and CTO Joachim Ante explains the need for such teams: “It’s difficult to get feedback from customers if the basics of the workflow aren’t there yet. So it’s super useful having internal production teams making sure there’s a really solid foundation. This demo is using our nested prefabs, which is in 2018.3. So we started when it was in alpha and that means we gave [the team] a lot of feedback from pushing that system like crazy, and making sure all the production workflows are really good. And then customers pull it in all kinds of directions. We see what they say, and react to it.” Bibby adds: “Our goal is to be as aligned with our customers as possible,” he starts before commenting on the competition: “Hats off to Epic. They make games and then they make that technology available to others, which is great.” But he adds that if you’re not making something in a similar vein to Epic, “you’ve got to bend it quite a bit to your will.” For a core PC and console developer that point is more arguable, though with Unity creating everything from the most lightweight browser games, to VR experiences, to real-time linear productions, it’s easy to see where Bibby is coming from here. “We’ve been really trying to enable everybody to create stuff,” he says. “So we have to have a more central viewpoint and way of thinking in order to support everyone, but we also have to be performant. That’s really the trick: how do you reach all the different use cases in the best way possible but also be one solution?” That’s a much bigger question of course, but internal production teams are key to the product’s ongoing success. With two very different kinds of teams working within the company. “One is very explorative, pushing boundaries, just exploring storytelling, new visuals, new ways to be creative with the tool,” Kümmel explains, referring to the Unity Demo Team, creators of Book of the Dead and originally based out of Stockholm. “And then we are more down and dirty, dogfooding the basic features, making sure that they work and are performant, making sure that they scale. “The Stockholm team is about exploration, while the internal production teams are about being prescriptive – how do you actually make this work and still achieve that result in a real-world production scenario? Maybe not every possible combination, but all the most likely ones.” GENRE GAMES Which brings us to the question: which are the the most likely ones and how does a company known for
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providing a tool with such a breadth of usage decide where and when to concentrate its efforts? We ask whether Unity ever says no when a new platform or opportunity rolls around? Ante is adamant: “We’ve said no to a lot of things. Of course we have. How can you do anything without saying no?” he states, explaining: “If you say yes to everything, you’re not actually saying yes to anything. You only have a limited number of things you can say yes to. “We’ve set ourselves very specific types of games that we want to focus on across the company,” he says. “The way we’re going to approach it is in having themes every year. Next year, something like RPGs for mobile games, first and third-person shooters for PC and consoles, and for the tiny games just simple 2D. “And then the year after we’ll figure out what then is the most important thing. The whole point of these things is we want to change them, I would imagine that once we’re done with it, we’ve actually solved the problems, and then it’s time to solve other genres.” HIGHWAY TO LA Bibby comes in to remind us again that the whole process must be customer-centric, it must not just serve the needs of their users, but also engage them in the process. “That’s the key, making sure we’re as aligned as possible to our customers, some want tiny, some want broad reach and some are looking for the pinnacle of the experience. Those are the three buckets, but within that are game genres, where people might play them, and how you might produce them. “We can look for the best customers, the best examples in each of those areas per genre and we work with them and partner with them. We can bring them into [our company’s] Slack channels and we can make sure we understand their use cases really, really well. “One of the nice things is because we have so many users, making so many different things, we’re aware of all the pain from all the creators. We’ll meet customers wherever they want to meet us. Every single bug that’s reported we still look at, we look at 100 per cent of that. If users are willing to give us energy, then we’re always willing to listen.” And it’s those users that remain key to Unity’s success, as Bibby explains with a comment which could be taken as an attempt to clearly differentiate Unity and its main competition: “We’re only successful if our customers are successful, which I love, we have no other source of revenue apart from successful customers.” And in two weeks the company will again be listening and talking with its users as Unite LA kicks off on the 23rd of October. We recommend you watch the keynote.
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Ins and outs: Industry hires and moves 1
QA and localisation firm Pole to Win has restructured following a “significant growth.” Three regional poles have been created, with a president appointed to each. KASTURI RANGAN (1) has been promoted to president of North America & India, WINSTON WONG (2) is now president of Asia and ANDY EMERY (3) is the new president of Europe.
commented: “We’re delighted that Matt is joining us to head up Kuju as we embark on an exciting period, with work beginning on Narcos and Zumba Fitness, and expansion plans underway.” White replaces industry veteran BRYNLEY GIBSON (5) who has left the UK to become senior producer at Avalanche’s new Malmö studio. He said on Twitter: “Good luck to Matt White taking over Kuju. Great to be able to hand over to such a creative and passionate developer. I look forward to seeing the studios continued growth and success.”
Kuju has a new head of studios: MATT WHITE (4), former game director at Codemasters. He also previously worked for Exient, Microsoft, Infogrames and Games Workshop. CEO at Kuju’s parent company Catalis, Dominic Wheatley,
Senior PR manager TOM GOLDBERGER (6) has left Ubisoft after three and-a-half years to become Red Bull Racing’s head of games and esports. Ubisoft has hired KATIE LAURENCE (7) to replace him. She joins as UK PR executive. Senior PR manager Stefan McGarry commented: “Katie joins Ubisoft from
“I believe that SpatialOS is going to transform how people make and play games.” Aaryn Flynn, Improbable
Fender Musical Instruments Corporation where she was an EMEA digital marketing coordinator. With experience in PR, digital marketing and events management, including content creation for a number of music events such as Fender Undiscovered and The Great Escape Festival, Katie looks set to be a fantastic addition to the Ubisoft family and joins us just in time for the run-up to the launch of Starlink: Battle for Atlas.”
Twitch has made three senior hires. KATRINA JONES (8) joins as the streaming giant’s first head of diversity and inclusion. She held similar positions at Vimeo and Accenture and has a decade of experience in human resources. Also joining the firm is SUDARSHANA RANGACHARY (9) as chief human resources officer. Her most recent role was VP of human resources at Gap and she has 20 years of experience in HR. Last but not least, MICHELLE WEAVER (not pictured) was hired as Twitch’s new CFO. She most recently worked at Hired and previously was EA’s CFO for six years. COO Sara Clemens said their expertise will help Twitch to “deliver the best experience in multiplayer entertainment.”
GEORGE COLLINS (10), former account executive at Alfred London where he helmed the PR for 505 Games among others, is now heading up international PR and events throughout EMEA and NA for Melbourne-based indie publisher Fellow Traveller Games. He commented: “I’m excited to be part of the Fellow Traveller indie label. Having previously worked on indie games such as Laser League and Last Day of June, I see this as a great opportunity to further my experience in games outside the triple-A remit and explore the creative game development that the world has to offer.” Mobile studio Outplay Entertainment has hired industry veteran PHIL WILSON (11) as its new VP of operations. Wilson is one of the original creators of Crackdown and was most recently business and development director at Earthbound Games. Improbable has made its way to Canada, bringing on-board AARYN FLYNN (12) to head up its new Edmonton office as general manager. Flynn
was previously GM at Bioware, where he spent almost 12 years in lead roles in franchises such as Mass Effect and Dragon Age. He commented: “I believe that SpatialOS is going to transform how people make and play games, and with this new office we want to help that to happen. “We’ve chosen Edmonton because of Alberta’s experienced development talent, and the new developers produced by several excellent schools in the province. We have some plans for our next steps, and we’re looking forward to talking more about them as we grow.”
Nintendo UK veteran ANDY YATES (13) has been promoted to deputy general manager. Yates has been at Nintendo for over 20 years and will continue to lead the UK sales team as well as report into GM Nicolas Wegnez. GamesMaster’s editor ROBIN VALENTINE (14) is leaving the publication to become a freelancer. “Being editor has been the most amazing, fun, weird, stressful, ridiculous thing I’ve ever done, and I’ll really miss the mag – but new adventures await,” he said on Twitter.
Got an appointment you’d like to share with us? Email Marie Dealessandri at email@example.com 20 | MCV 940 October 2018
Rising Star Becky Mullen, account manager, Bastion
players (in just over a month), that was a great moment. You can’t help but feel proud when a game you’ve worked on does really well. It proves that all that day-to-day comms work – running pressers, social campaigns, giveaways, copywriting, printing t-shirts – it all adds up! What’s been your biggest challenge to date? Moving from the world of big tech companies to games was a bit of a culture shock. The way the games industry works is much more open and friendlier than what I was used to. I’m sure I sent really awkward, formal emails to press in the early days. Please don’t dig them out… Also, dealing with fake key requests! It can take so long to check who’s real and who’s not. And they always misspell my name. Always.
A childhood spent talking about games led Becky Mullen into a career where she spends a lot of time talking about games. She had to (politely) pester a few people along the way to get here, but then that just makes her even more suitable for a stellar career in PR. How did you break into games? I’ve always wanted to work in the games industry. As a kid, I was always playing, making, talking about games. Real life pushed me into big tech PR, but I knew it wasn’t for the long-term. So I kept going to games events, kept harassing people in the industry (sorry!), until finally the right job came up. And now no one can get rid of me. What is your proudest achievement so far? I’ve worked on so many fun launches and events at Bastion, but one that stands out is the launch of H1Z1: Battle Royale on PS4. We ran the European launch, so when we hit ten million
What do you enjoy most about your job? Unsurprisingly, all the games! Working at an agency, I get to work on all kinds of games – from indie, to triple-A, to esports, mobile, VR, everything. I’ve learnt so much about whole genres of games that I hadn’t played before, or maybe wouldn’t even have heard of. Of course, that means I now have an even bigger backlog of games to play… Also, it may be a cliché, but working at a comms agency really does mean no two days are the same. Every game is different, so every campaign is different too. You’re never bored. And the people are great, obviously.
“I’m desperate to run an event on an abandoned sea fort, so please hit me up if your game is even remotely appropriate for this.”
What’s your big ambition in games? I really, really love RPGs, so I would love to launch a game by one of the infamous RPG studios. The sillier and more cliché the fantasy world, the better. I’ll do a Ye Olde Presse Toure if it kills me. I’m also desperate to run an event on an abandoned sea fort, so please hit me up if your game is even remotely appropriate for this. What advice would you give to someone trying to get into games? Be patient, because sometimes these things take time. Keep applying for jobs, but make sure you’re also developing your skills and getting experience in your discipline – even if it’s not directly in games. It really makes a world of difference when you do eventually go for your dream job.
If there’s a rising star at your company, get in touch with Marie Dealessandri at firstname.lastname@example.org October 2018 MCV 940 | 21
Cherry picked advice to help you reach the next level in your career
Atomhawk’s Matthias Kapuvari explains the day-to-day work of a concept artist. A job that requires no qualifications, but is no less demanding for all that. In the past he’s worked on Injustice 2, Horizon Zero Dawn and numerous undisclosed projects What is your job role and how would you describe your typical day at work? I am a senior concept artist at Atomhawk. My typical day at work starts at around 8:30am. I generally work on one or two art tasks at the same time; while I am waiting for feedback from one client, I can work on the other task. These might be tasks on the same project or on a different project which could be concept art, illustration, marketing art, key art, and so on, as the projects are often very different. As a senior artist on average I also have one or two projects which I am leading as well as the projects I am working on myself. During the day there are usually some meetings to attend. This could be internal project meetings, a meeting where I am briefed about a new task/project, a catch-up with our art manager or with clients about ongoing or potential projects. I usually spend my lunch break in our games room, where we have many video and board games. What qualifications and/or experience do you need to land this job? To get a job as a concept artist the most important thing is a good portfolio. What exactly should be in the portfolio depends on what role you are applying for: is it in a development studio, outsourcing, games, film, stylised, realistic? Qualifications are not a requirement. There are many concept artists who are self-taught and never attended an art school or university. Although it’s not necessary to go to one of these schools, it can be a great experience and a good place to learn. The best route very much depends on the individual. It’s good if you already have experience working as a concept artist when you are looking for a job in this area. If you haven’t worked in the industry before, it might be a good thing to work with some other people on personal projects. This can be a great way to gain more experience in working with other people and helps in producing portfolio work. Internships are another great way of getting insights into the industry and gaining work experience. They can give you the opportunity to show a studio what you can do, which can then lead to a full-time position.
“To get a job as a concept artist the most important thing is a good portfolio.” If you were interviewing someone for your team, what would you look for? Good art fundamentals are the key. At Atomhawk we work on a large variety of projects in various different styles and themes. Having a good understanding of art fundamentals is crucial to being able to deal with all kinds of different concept art and illustration tasks. Creativity and the ability to design are other things I would look for. I also think personality is very important. Finding somebody who fits into the studio is really important. It’s not only about art and design. What opportunities are there for career progression? I began my career at Atomhawk as an intern in 2016, then was offered a role as a junior artist and am now a senior artist, involved in leading projects and helping to train other artists in areas such as 3D, hardsurface modelling and texturing. At Atomhawk the different levels of concept artists are junior, intermediate, senior and principal concept artist. There are plenty of opportunities for training and development, learning from other artists in the team and attending events such as industry workshops, all of which helps artists to develop their skills and progress to the next level.
Want to talk about your career and inspire people to follow the same path? Contact Marie Dealessandri at email@example.com 22 | MCV 940 October 2018
“VTime isn’t your typical tech start up – we’re all ages and all backgrounds. I think that’s why it’s been such a great company to settle into.” Name: Kit Goode Studio: vTime Job Title: Production Assistant Education: MSc Production & Enterprise
28 DAYS LATER
Taking 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 specialist Amiqus Congratulations on the amazing new job! What inspired you about vTime to come and join them? I’ve wanted to work in XR (extended reality) since I did my first VR games jam as a post-grad in 2015! I’d followed vTime’s progress since I heard about them through a couple of different industry podcasts and got pumped at the idea of working on a social network just as XR is on the cusp of rolling out to the mainstream. What’s the culture like at vTime and what’s your experience been like fitting in? VTime isn’t your typical tech start up – we’re all ages and all backgrounds. I think that’s why it’s been such a great company to settle into, as we’ve each come to the table with ideas that’ve been borne out of different experience. I’d say joining vTime was the quickest I’ve ever fitted in anywhere – that’s probably a mix of the Liverpool spirit and the culture we have as a studio for caring and checking in on each other. What are you most excited about bringing to the role? One of the things that’s steered me away from bigger studios has been
the very prescriptive methods that a large project needs, so now it’s great to see an area that I can fill and know there’s that flexibility to pitch in. And obviously I’m also just really great at my job and it’s exciting for everyone here to get to see that in action! What will working at vTime do for your career? It’s hard to tell, and that’s what’s exciting! We’ve had people here pivot into different roles, get promoted, or get to steer features. Working in XR means you don’t know exactly where you’ll be in five years, but with vTime’s wealth of expertise and being at the forefront of the industry I’m sure it’s going to be a wild ride. What would you like to say to anyone thinking about or undertaking a job move in this industry? Know your worth and find the right studio for you. Don’t let anyone think it should be normal to get paid half as much for working twice the hours! And think so carefully before you commit to a games-specific university course, as you can often get a more solid skill foundation from a general course backed up by doing R&D on best industry practices.
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ME ANYTHING This month’s question: What do all the recent gaming IPOs say about the confidence the UK industry has in itself and its own decision making?
Richard Wilson OBE, CEO, TIGA
The IPOs are a testament to the high performance, prospects and potential of the UK video games industry. The IPOs speak of the excellence of studio heads and the creativity of their teams. The IPOs demonstrate the considerable value created by UK games developers and the supportive environment afforded by Video Games Tax Relief.
Jason Kingsley OBE, CEO, Rebellion
I think it shows the City and other investors have finally woken up to the incredible value that the UK games industry brings. It’s great to see so many of Rebellion’s peer group companies doing so well.
Nicholas Lovell, Director, Gamesbrief
The recent flood of IPOs comes as investors who were burned by a string of failures a decade ago have retired or left, coupled with the changing nature of games as a service. Investors see that games companies are less hit-driven than they used to be, with games routinely making more money in Year Three than in Year One. They seek exposure to a sector which has performed extremely well globally for a long time, but where UK investors had few opportunities to invest. The risk is that investors may be underestimating the differences between many different models ranging from IP ownership to publishing, game services to retailing.
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Dr Jo Twist OBE, CEO, Ukie
There are more than 2,270 games companies in the UK making some of the very best games in the world. And the UK’s games industry continues to grow, with the number of UK games businesses raising funds through IPOs being a real sign of the confidence in the sector and its ability to attract high level investment.
Sebastian Wojciechowski, CEO, People Can Fly
“Investors see that games companies are less hit-driven than they used to be, with games routinely making more money in Year Three than in Year One.”
The recent spate of IPOs is a fantastic vote of confidence in the UK that we’ve always known to be a hotbed of game development talent. Considering the ongoing uncertainty over Brexit these IPOs represent a ringing endorsement. This is why we’ve recently opened a new People Can Fly development studio in Newcastle so that we can continue to attract the high level of game-related talent that’s so prevalent in the UK.
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!
20 years of MCV: making history (and her story) Stuart Dinsey Curve Digital
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EARLIER this year, I found myself discussing MCV history with senior execs from within its new owner. Future had thankfully stepped in to save this much-loved trade title from previous incumbent [Stuart added some choice words here - ed] Newbay Media. Steeped in games media history itself, Future is radically different, and broader, than it was 20 years ago. So it is surely understandable that the people I sat with hadn’t heard of predecessor Computer Trade Weekly (CTW), and didn’t realise that MCV’s cumbersome full name comes from its German past as Markt fur Computer & Videospiele. By 1998 I had been CTW editor for over 10 years, but wanted to do more – as did the team around me. So MCV was launched against, and born out of, a newspaper that had served the market since 1984. It was initially funded by Computec, which had just floated on Frankfurt’s (now defunct) Neuer Markt. They already had a monthly MCV for their domestic market, but it closed a decade or so ago. Launches in the US and France also failed. But not our MCV, driven by the vibrant UK games industry. What a lot of people may also not realise is that two women were essential to the launch. Lisa Carter (then Foster) and Alex Moreham (then Jarvis) came across from CTW as deputy editor and sales manager on the new weekly. These two, plus longtime trade writer Dave Roberts (now a leading music journalist) were the dream team. Lesley McDiarmid joined in 2002 and she was a relentless driver of commercial success as MCV drove into digital and events
after our management buyout from Computec. And yes, of course, we had many key writers over the years: Steve Merrett, Michael French, Chris Dring, James Batchelor, Tim Ingham, Ben Parfitt… MCV quickly spawned Develop, ToyNews, PC Retail, Mobile Entertainment and was the foundation of a group that eventually boasted 100 staff with brands across music, licensing, TV and even cycling. The UK is lucky to have strong trade media which, alongside trade bodies Ukie and TIGA, act as platforms for information, discussion and promotion. When MCV launched, we intended to kick on from CTW’s legacy and become the definitive voice of a business that was obviously going to grow. MCV glued together a channel made up of developer, publisher, distributor, retailer, media and services. Everyone was in it together and, mostly, the UK was our world. These days, with the rise of digital routes to market for smaller companies and the huge size of bigger players, there is slightly less fraternity and more ‘thinking global’. Industry support of MCV from that very first ECTS enabled our small team to build something enduring, and it was of course the industry itself that made it all so exciting. In good hands now with Future, MCV can continue to evolve alongside the business it serves. More history awaits. Stuart Dinsey launched MCV and left in 2013 after selling it a year earlier. He is currently chairman of Curve Digital and a board director of Ukie.
Making learning and development key to your success Chris Bewick Testronic
OVER the past 18 years, I have provided services to the video games industry and, while doing so, witnessed huge change in procedure. The depth, variety and complexity of today’s video games are vastly different from when I started servicing them, way back in 2000. Through our strong client partnerships we get to experience and work on industry changes as they happen. When a client requests help from Testronic, they want to feel confident they are being serviced by professionals who are ‘up to date’ and able to tackle modern QA. It is imperative that we deliver QA professionals as required, with the correct skillset and flexibility the client deserves. For that it is essential to support and grow your internal teams and their external partnerships by utilising a smart, evolving learning and development (L&D) solution. L&D is key when building a partnership with a new client, it is essential that any bespoke skillsets or culture are assimilated. Without dedicated L&D, it’s very easy to lose this client side knowledge through natural staff promotion or attrition. Building contingency for these bespoke practices is essential and should be tracked by a dedicated team. For example, if a client wants Testronic staff to join their daily Scrum meetings, it is up to L&D to make sure that all relevant staff are trained in Scrum methodology. Additionally, the L&D team has a responsibility to approach less forthcoming clients and ask if they have any culture or practices they would like absorbed and included in our syllabuses. As QA professionals, we should be able to give support to clients, new or existing, from the very start of the partnership – for that we must develop
a consultant mindset. This support can range from standard compliance advice, data driven testing solutions, advice on spending QA budgets wisely and much more. Any service provider cannot expect to develop a QA consultant mindset by only utilising initial training and a buddy system followed by ‘on the job learning’. Instead a more structured L&D approach needs to be applied. Staff should be part of an academy that makes them feel rewarded at all times. Using gamification and other methodologies can assist in making the learning experience even more rewarding. Without a L&D department, your business may struggle to adapt and absorb the intricacies of the changing QA landscape and consistently deliver flexible QA professionals. At Testronic we have a great team of QA professionals that are prepared to give extra effort to ensure success. In my experience, if a company does nothing in return to, not only reward, but encourage hard work then staff may suffer from moral issues or nurture a disrespect. I am not talking about pizza and beer (for sure these help!) but a mature approach to learning in order to incentivise the individual, team and group. I have found that a team who is informed, developed and encouraged is less likely to become disgruntled. We should feel like we are all part of a positive group that contributes to a common goal. Chris Bewick is a 18 year veteran of the games and interactive entertainment industry. He is known for swift operational delivery, quality assurance and stellar team management.
“Without a learning and development department, your business may struggle to adapt and absorb the intricacies of the changing QA landscape and consistently deliver flexible QA professionals.”
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25 YEARS OF KOCH MEDIA:
“It’s still very much a passion”
With Koch Media’s big anniversary just a few months away, CEO Klemens Kundratitz talks to Seth Barton about the THQ merger, Xbox Game Pass, Shenmue III and his continuing enthusiasm for the industry
och Media is an incredible success story, not just for itself but for many, many others in the industry as well. From its co-publishing partners, such as Square Enix and Codemasters, to the development studios working with publishing arm Deep Silver, Koch Media has made an awful lot of very good friends over an almost 25 year lifespan – an anniversary coming up this February. “It’s true that over the years we’ve established ourselves as a partner-orientated company,” says CEO Klemens Kundratitz. A great example of how those friendships can synergise is apparent on the very day we meet, with publishing arm Deep Silver announcing a release date for Shenmue III, which comes some 18 years after its predecessor. As well as publishing the third game for Ys Net, Koch Media is partnering with original rights-holder Sega for the retail versions of the remastered Shenmue I & II. “It’s a symbiotic business relationship and we enjoy it a lot. We’re glad to see Sega going back to their classics and we’re happy to publish them physically in Europe,” Kundratitz tells us. Shenmue III’s release date is surprisingly precise for a game to be launched next summer. “We owe it to the fans to not leave them in uncertainty,” Kundratitz explains. “But we must all be aware some games take longer than others and some wines need to mature. I would say you need to give that game the care, attention and time to really come to its full potential. For that reason, we said today our release date is August 27th next year, but at least it is clear. They have to wait, but they know how long they have to wait.” Being involved on both sides of the Shenmue renaissance is just one example of how Koch Media can sometimes feel like it has more industry partnerships than anyone. But Kundratitz is keen to note that it’s still very
selective: “We’re trying to be with the right partners, we’re not trying to be everything to everybody, that can be dangerous.” Indeed with multiple partners all looking to Koch to handle their precious titles, plus the company’s own games, it must be something of a juggling act to keep everyone happy. “We need to give justice to every single game we handle and every single partnership we nurture,” Kundratitz says. “We’re very proud of our track record, working with big companies like Sega or Square, Bethesda or Codemasters. They trust us. We do a lot of business with them. We’re quite famous for having very longterm partnerships. If you mess something up then normally you don’t stay with them for a long time!” And Koch Media’s longevity is becoming increasingly impressive in an industry that is well-known for its rapid changes. From distribution, into publishing and then into development, Koch Media has certainly changed with the times, but while it’s expanded, it hasn’t given up on any part of its foundations. “Unlike other companies we have different business models that we can apply to different partner situations,” Kundratitz tells us. And that means that just because a partner wants something different, it doesn’t need to go elsewhere. A COMFY KOCH And speaking of staying put, it’s worth bringing up that Kundratitz is still around. After the recent buyout of Koch Media, by THQ Nordic, it gave him an obvious opening to make a move, either immediately or in the near future. So is he still excited and challenged by both the company and the industry? “It’s still very much a passion,” he states. “I wanted to take the company into this new phase, coming out of private ownership to being a public-owned company, being part of a
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bigger family, full of great IPs and with a greater number of studios. It’s just a bigger play that we make,” he smiles. “And I like to make bigger plays.” It certainly sounds like he’s here to stay for the foreseeable future then. To date, the changes following the acquisition have been relatively minor, with THQ Nordic in Vienna and Koch Media in Munich remaining as “operationally seperate units,” Kundratitz explains. The biggest change being that Koch Media now distributes THQ Nordic products in Europe. “We are quite complementary, and we both have a full slate and a full pipeline of products going forward. We’re very challenged by our own throughput of products, there’s no need or immediate reason to think about more than just soft synergies.” He tells us that the companies are “trying to learn from each other” and that the studios are “fostering collaboration.” He accepts that “it makes sense” for them to avoid each other’s release dates to some extent. GREAT DATES And that’s no bad idea given that the publishing arms of both companies look to be stepping up. THQ Nordic has both the open-world, post-apocalyptic kung-fu RPG Biomutant and Avalanche Studios’ new title Generation Zero coming up. Meanwhile, Koch Media’s Deep Silver has had recent success with Kingdom Come: Deliverance and of course there’s Metro Exodus coming early next year. Speaking on Kingdom Come: Deliverance, which was launched earlier this year, Kundratitiz is happy to tell us that “it exceeded [their] expectations,” though it wasn’t without its issues, being a huge and ambitious title for Warhorse Studios, its Czech-based developer. “Critically speaking, we could have launched it in a better state than we did, but the community was briefed about the situation. We just said to the community, very honestly and clearly: ‘Guys, this is an amazing product, bear with us’, and they were very kind to us, which doesn’t happen always.” We ask upfront whether Metro Exodus is the most expensive game the publisher has ever had on its books. “Emotionally maybe!” Kundratitz laughs, adding: “It’s an amazing looking game, it may even be the best-scoring game of all time, we’re betting on that. We shouldn’t talk about budgets, [developers 4A Games] are known for extreme quality, they are also known to take their time – not only with this game, it was always this way.” In addition, Koch Media picked up the Timesplitters license recently, “a great acquisition,” says Kundratitz. And one which it can pair up with Nottingham’s Dambuster Studios, a direct descendent of the franchise’s original developer: Free Radical Design. And that’s not a one-off as Kundratitz tells us there’s an ongoing strategy to acquire more IP for the company’s studios.
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Looking at Deep Silver’s line-up, the publishing arm still largely concentrates on single-player titles: Metro Exodus and Kingdom Come: Deliverance are two, and then there’s Shenmue III as well. That could be seen as a strategic decision, especially given that THQ Nordic has numerous co-op titles on its books. “We have multiplayer games and we certainly aren’t avoiding multiplayer games in the future,” Kundratitz tells us. “On the other hand we still believe there’s an awful lot of gamers who love single player experiences. If other people leave that space, there’s more room for people like us to fill it,” he smiles. “It’s not a philosophical question for us, being here or being there, we just want to offer the best entertainment for gamers, and as an organisation we will gradually
Pictured above: Koch Media CEO Klemens Kundratitz
Pictured above: Deep Silver has had recent success with Warhorse Studios’ Kingdom Come: Deliverance
learn and get more involved in multiplayer games,” he explains. And he’s happy to talk about the current live game darling too: “I find it fascinating how new brands come in, offer something new, and take the gaming community by storm, like Fortnite. Yes, it takes gaming time away from other games, but I think it’s great to see not only the established players always at the top. The unpredictability of our business keeps us all interested and engaged.” TAKING A PASS One new area of the industry in which Koch Media has been keen to get involved is the subscription model, in this case Xbox Game Pass specifically. Though Kundratitz does have some reservations. “As an industry I think we need to be careful about how we approach this new business model,” he tells us. “It’s a good additional source of income, a good way of keeping brands alive, and touching audiences that we normally don’t touch so easily, so I’ve got a very positive attitude toward this.” Most notably in Koch’s case is the presence of Metro: Last Light on Game Pass at present, providing a way into the franchise for players keen on the upcoming Metro Exodus. “But I’m adding a caveat to that: as an industry we need to be careful of following the example of firstparties to put front-line products into it. I would think long and hard about that,” he adds.
EXIT STRATEGY Koch Media’s continuing success, especially in physical formats, has come in part due to its mastery of the complex European region. Arguably, in fact, as physical retail shrinks, Koch has and will continue to do better still, as large publishers look for a single pan-European partner for distribution and co-publishing, rather than running numerous local offices of their own. Of course that brings us around to Brexit, a particular consideration for Koch Media with its sizeable office near Reading. Kundratitz is as concerned as anyone. “On a personal level I’m sad to see Britain exiting the EU,” he says. “It’s an unfortunate decision and I would have loved to have continued to have the voice of Britain in the concert hall of the EU. But we need to respect the decision and deal with the reality.” From his position, the reality is that the company remains committed to the UK. “We are invested in England as a company and we will continue to grow and support our UK entities… We still love England and we travel to London more than any other European city,” Kundratitz says. Before we get round to March, though, things are looking bright for the industry in 2018. “I think it’s going to be an amazing Christmas,” he says, adding that “as an industry we’re in an altogether very healthy state.” And based on past-performance, a healthy industry almost certainly means a healthy Koch Media as it nears that big 25th birthday.
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The conquest of the Wild West Bandai Namco is doubling down on its western efforts, signing new IP with the likes of Supermassive and Dontnod. Marie Dealessandri talks to Hervé Hoerdt and Lee Kirton about the firm’s strategy and how it relies on its perennial franchises to try new things in uncharted territories
andai Namco is getting out of its comfort zone. The Japanese firm’s strategy to focus on titles for a western audience is not exactly new – it kicked off with the release of titles such as Get Even and Little Nightmares in 2017. But now it’s taking it even further. “We want to do 50 per cent of our business with new IPs within a decade and that’s the reason why we created Get Even, Little Nightmares and Dark Pictures,” says Hervé Hoerdt, VP of digital and marketing at Bandai Namco Entertainment Europe. The Dark Pictures Anthology is the firm’s latest project, announced at Gamescom earlier this year and created by Until Dawn studio Supermassive. The first installment of the anthology will be the five-hour long Man of Medan, set to release in 2019 and focusing on a group of young people trapped on a ghost ship. “The best way of explaining [Dark Pictures] is they’re individual games. So the future could be long in terms of how many of those games there are,” Bandai Namco Europe’s PR and marketing director Lee Kirton says. “I think the clear thing is not to associate it with episodes. It’s not episodic. These are unique games. It’s a bit like Black Mirror in the sense that they’re individual stories. So we treat this title, Man of Medan, as one game. There’s horror, there’s supernatural, it’s very much in that Until Dawn area. But there’s lots of new gameplay mechanics that separate it from what’s been done before.”
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Black Mirror’s latest episode, Black Museum, does connect previous episodes across seasons though, with very subtle clues. “Absolutely,” Kirton nods, before we ask if Dark Pictures could follow a similar pattern. “Who knows?” he smiles. “There could be a link. At the moment they’re completely individual titles, individual stories, individual characters.” And the Supermassive team down in Guildford has ideas for years to come. “They said they’ve got over 30 ideas and concepts for stories,” Kirton says. “So it could be two games, three games, four games, it could go on like Black Mirror has. Obviously building a game is not an easy thing to do. So it takes time. But if people enjoy what we’re doing with Supermassive, then they are going to want more of this supernatural-horror anthology type of thing.” Kirton is keen to emphasise how The Dark Pictures Anthology finds its place in Bandai Namco’s western strategy. “We’re super excited because it’s a title that Bandai Namco is not used to working on. We’ve been known as more of a Japanesecentric company, with titles that appeal to the west like Ace Combat, Soulcalibur, Tekken, and we’re trying to get a broader share in terms of western products. So this is one of those titles, among others.” So Man of Medan will be the first step towards Bandai Namco’s goal of getting 50 per cent of its business out of new IP. But finding
“We want to do 50 per cent of our business with new IPs within a decade and that’s the reason why we created Get Even, Little Nightmares and Dark Pictures.”
the right IPs and working towards this goal won’t be a quick or easy task, Hoerdt continues. “We’re skimming more than 200 opportunities a year. So choosing the best three, four, five is already taking time and using a lot of bandwidth. Then you have time to market, time for development, which takes months, two years, three years. So I don’t see this happening before the next eight to ten years. It’s about quality and the brand ecosystem first. We don’t want to fill a pipe with games, games, games and then that’s done. It is an overall strategy and the strategy is to align resources and do proper executions. “If there is the quality, if it’s sustainable, if consumers are excited about what we have created, then we will be fine. But I think we’re in pretty good shape to be honest. Little Nightmares has sold about 1m units. Twin Mirror (pictured top) is going to be successful. I mean it’s Dontnod, if you look at the size of the community behind Life is Strange for instance... So we can kind of foresee the blocks we are building and the size of those blocks. I think we’ll be [at 50 per cent of new IP] probably before [a decade] but quality comes first. Most important is finding a community; if people like what we do, we’ll be motivated, we’ll get some money back and reinvest it.” This new strategy, to create more IP that appeals to a western audience, is only sustainable because Bandai Namco can leverage resources coming from its perennial licenses.
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Pictured above, from top: Bandai Namco Entertainment Europe’s Hervé Hoerdt and Lee Kirton
“In Japan we’re super successful,” Kirton starts explaining. “Bandai Namco is a stable company that owns many many companies. We’re structured in a very successful way in the sense that some risks can be taken, which allow us to do things differently and not copy other publishers. So the whole idea as well is to stand out. Do things that are slightly unexpected.” Being a big Japanese company relying on licenses can also have its downsides though – you don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket. And that was very much one of the motivations behind this shift in strategy, Hoerdt tells us. “When you look at the content, we own half of the IP, things like Tekken, Pac-Man, Ace Combat and so on and so forth. For the other half we are licensing the games, like Naruto or One Piece. Our job and responsibility is to make sure the company is still there in five, ten years. This is our reason to be: to anticipate what happens in the future. So at some point if we lose one of those IPs or all of them, the company will be in danger.” He continues: “The second reason is, when we license an IP, there’s nothing more we can do than a video game, we’re not allowed to do anything else. Whereas, talking about Little Nightmares, we can explore this IP, we can do escape rooms, we can do movies, series, talk to Amazon, Netflix... So that’s the second part. “And the third part is that the group’s content targets the same marketing segment: RPG, fighting, JRPG. But there’s much wider and bigger market segments out there to take. Something we didn’t mention so far is the partnership with Slightly Mad Studios, a great UK studio, with Project CARS. Obviously tapping into this racing market segment is a very important strategy for our long term sustainability. So these are the reasons.” THE NEXT LITTLE THING Diversifying its offer is at the core of Bandai Namco’s strategy then, and that also means not focusing on games only, as Hoerdt hinted at, with Little Nightmares being the first in line. We mention the TV series based on Tarsier Studios’ title, that was announced last year, and ask how it’s going. “It’s still open. Nothing is signed yet,” Hoerdt answers. “Discussions [are still ongoing] on both sides of the world actually, in the US and in Japan. Something will happen for sure, it’s not that we don’t want to discuss it, we just haven’t decided the best option. Should we go for one big shot with a lot of content or should we go for a series? Which art direction should we go in? How is this content changing the way we envision the game? It’s not that we don’t want to, but we are learning. We are very humble to be honest. We have a lot of projects and ideas but we are also humble, there’s only 24 hours in a
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day. We’re very committed to this ambitious strategy, but there’s only so much we can do. I’d love to tell you: ‘Yes, we’ve signed with these guys, we’re doing this’. I would love to, especially with this one because this is really our next big thing. We really want our IP to be in theaters or on Netflix.” This strategy of expanding its IPs outside of the world of games could very much apply to other titles in Bandai’s portfolio, Kirton continues. “They talk about this ‘360 campaign’ which can be seen as a typical marketing speech, but the experience at Bandai Namco Entertainment is we’re not a games company, we’re an entertainment company. We have business units in visual, in live events, in music, in film production, in every single area,” he says. “So having that experience within the business enables us to create a game and then have a comic, a TV series... And you can’t do it with everything of course but it’s picking the right titles and making sure they grow in the right way, while doing it cleverly and carefully. We don’t want to just say we’re going to do everything. It’s very easy for people to do that. But I think we’ve been very careful in the titles we are developing. The quality is there.” This brings us back to discussing more of Bandai’s line-up of new IP. “We’re working on 11-11: Memories Retold which is a really important title set around the backdrop of World War One,” Kirton says. “It’s launching [for the] Centenary this year, in November. We’re working with Aardman, the world famous BAFTA and Oscar winning studio responsible for Shaun the Sheep and Wallace and Gromit. And it’s a title that you wouldn’t expect to connect to a studio like Aardman. So having a relationship like that and working on a title like that was really important. “Hervé mentioned Twin Mirror and obviously working with Dontnod is great. We’re sort of harbouring talent and working with really talented individual people to make special projects come to life. But also to separate ourselves from a typical games company.” Dontnod-developed Twin Mirror will be Bandai Namco’s first episodic release (coming out day-anddate at retail and digitally in 2019), revolving around investigative journalist Sam going back to his hometown and trying to recall a possible traumatic event. In typical Dontnod fashion, there will be some supernatural elements, with the main character being able to go into his ‘mind palace’ to try and find clues. “If you take Life is Strange, it touched an audience in a certain way. It touched on teen angst and themes around this generation – a younger audience. If you look at Twin Mirror, you can see it’s a Dontnod title but it’s very different in the sense that it’s driven by more
mature themes, that you’d expect from a Netflix drama,” Kirton explains. Between Get Even, Little Nightmares, Man of Medan and Twin Mirror, it sounds like a new type of Bandai Namco game has emerged, more focused on stories. But when we ask Hoerdt about whether or not that’s a thing, it doesn’t seem to be that intentional. “That’s an interesting question,” he starts, pausing and then adding: “Yes and no. No because to be very honest it’s also a question of the project and the strategic fit with the company and if we foresee a crossmedia expansion or not with this IP and if we own the IP or not... “But then, yes, it appears there are some kind of similarities. Which is fine. Our ambition and our DNA is between Disney and Nintendo. So, yes, I would like to have this very unique atmosphere, emotional experience, that is different. But in the end I would also love to have something family-oriented, more for kids. We grow in two different macro-categories. But it’s true that for the moment the opportunities we’ve been presented are almost within the same area.” Kirton expands on these thoughts: “I think we provide content for everyone. No doubt. We’ve done work with Pac-Man Stories on Alexa. And that’s something designed specifically to educate and provide kids with some fun on a completely new platform that we’re testing. The publishing titles, the third-party titles, yes, they’re narrative-driven, story-based, because we want to explore that with a more mature audience. And narrative-driven titles are very popular titles. It’s very
easy to say we’re going to do a first-person shooter... Because everyone is making a first-person shooter. What makes it different from other things? I think you can explore difference in narrative, story-driven titles.” And Hoerdt to conclude: ”What we want is to deliver a great experience, also make some money or at least break even, but what’s also important to us is the learning. I guess we won’t do another episodic game back-to-back but we will have learnt this. We tried anthology, we tried Pac-Man Stories with Amazon, we tried [many] things in entertainment and I think we’re on this course where we’re giving ourselves some years to enlarge the prism of our possibilities and to improve our skills.”
Pictured above: The first Dark Pictures release, Man of Medan
“What we want is to deliver a great experience, also make some money or at least break even, but what’s also important to us is the learning.”
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The Gold Rush As voting opens for this year’s Golden Joystick Awards, Seth Barton talks to both the organisers and the industry about changes for 2018, and how the event continues to be relevant for gamers today
he games industry rarely stands still, there’s always a new franchise, a new platform, a new way to reach consumers and endless new ways to entertain them. Over its relatively short history it’s fair to say that its constantly reinvented itself, with the old making way for the new over and over again. However, there is one institution that’s lasted the test of time, for a whopping 36 years: the Golden Joystick Awards. The reason for that longevity is pretty clear, as the Golden Joysticks are the original ‘People’s Awards’ where the winners are largely decided by the votes of gamers. And in an industry that increasingly wants to engage with and listen to its fanbase, that’s a crucial factor. “As an industry we have an incredibly passionate group of fans and the Golden Joysticks provides a platform that allows them to have their voices heard in a meaningful and positive way.” Square Enix’s PR manager Ian Dickson tells us. Rich Eddy, director of communications and events at Jagex, adds: “The Golden Joysticks is a key moment in the year when the industry empowers the players to have their say on the releases that were most entertaining, most enjoyable and most important to them this year. It’s player democracy and engagement that gives our audience a voice.” And for organiser Dan Dawkins, global editor in chief at Gamesradar+, the public vote is hugely important, he tells MCV: “Every year, people worldwide vote in their millions and we’re always looking for ways to better reflect what – and how – people are playing, plus adapt to their feedback around the voting process and show itself.” This year, that means changes to the biggest award of them all: Ultimate Game of the Year. The Joysticks always happens immediately after the Q4 release flurry (November 16th this year), being perfectly timed to key in with the biggest few weeks of the industry’s year. However, that in itself is something of a problem, one that Dawkins is looking to fix. “Traditionally, a number of huge games were released near the end of our regular voting window and it became challenging to know whether to include them in our shortlists,” he reveals. “The biggest change we’ve made this year is to separate out one of the most prestigious awards, Ultimate Game of the Year, into its own voting window at the end of regular voting,” he explains. That voting
window will run as a one week special from Friday 26th of October to Friday 2nd of November, “to give people more chance to play, and vote on, the year’s biggest games. “We want people to make a more considered decision on the Ultimate Game of the Year,” Dawkins explains. And the new voting window will give gamers more time to play the likes of Forza Horizon 4, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 and Red Dead Redemption 2. Other changes include splitting the Best Multiplayer Game award into Best Competitive Game and Best Co-Operative Game in order “to better reflect how people play,” Dawkins adds. Plus there’s a new Outstanding Contribution award “to celebrate games, people or technology that have changed our industry for the better and moved the medium forward.” STREAMING IT The 2018 ceremony is returning to the Bloomsbury Big Top in the heart of London for a second year. However, it’s not just about the industry in the room. There’s a huge audience spread across numerous platforms, whether that’s watching the stream, following on Twitter, or catching up with the results and highlights later online. With all that going on, the event is something of a balancing act for the organisers, “our biggest challenge,” Dawkins agrees. Suraya Adnan-Ariffin, SVP of communications at Green Man Gaming, comments: “With the industry as global as it is today, it can be a challenge sometimes to get everyone involved together for the ceremony in London. But having it live on Twitch is a great way to ensure everyone has a chance to be part of the celebrations. Jagex’s Eddy adds: “The introduction of streaming means we share the event live with a wide playerbase and really connect industry and players together.” Dickson agrees that “as each year passes the awards have continued to produce great content to appeal to the wider audience watching from around the world.” He continues: “We’re always listening to feedback for how we can better manage our event and broadcast experience.” This year “attendees can look forward to a remixed venue and – without giving too much away – a bigger after party, while broadcast viewers can expect a show packed with developer interviews, trailers and insight.”
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The final decisions are still being made, Dawkins admits: “We’re still working things out, but we don’t think we’ll be narrating over the awards themselves as we did last year. It was a fun experiment, but we’re intending to have more developer speeches on stage this year, and welcome the industry’s support in making this a celebration of everything that is great about video games and the people that create them.”
Pictured above, clockwise from top left: Ian Dickson, Rich Eddy, Dan Dawkins and Suraya Adnan-Ariffin
THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ‘STICKS RETURNING host, comedian Danny Wallace, makes light of our perfectly reasonable questions about this year’s Golden Joystick Awards. The Joysticks are the ‘people’s awards’, but after voting for both Brexit and Trump can we still trust in the will of the people? Absolutely not. Which is why I will be checking and re-checking every vote that comes in. But I have heard that the Joysticks have employed a brand new security team this year to ensure the veracity of the results, from a very reputable firm in Moscow. The event has to entertain everyone in the room and everyone watching online, does that make it something of a tough gig? ‘Everyone’ is a big word, and you’ve used it twice, which makes it twice as big. I will try. But ah, look, I have always had fun doing the Joysticks, because they mean something to me. I worked on games mags in the 90s, and the Joysticks have always been important and meaningful. It should be fun.
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Any standout memories from previous years? I remember seeing how happy someone was to win their award, and thinking I should allow them a moment to make a short speech, so I did – but then I realised he wasn’t ‘happy’, he was pissed, and that a moment in a drunk man’s mind is an eternity for everyone waiting for award 932. So this year every audience member will be breathalysed. I, however, will be drunk.
DRINKING IT The Joysticks is certainly something of a celebration. One made all the wilder by its Friday afternoon kick off time, with many a weekend’s plans thrown into array by a particularly ‘successful’ night at the ‘Sticks. Our MCV table last year rolled onto the pub, and then another pub, and then a bar… it gets a little hazy after that. Thankfully some others have better recall of previous years. Eddy remembers “running through the South Bank streets to Butlers Wharf with a whole bunch of industry chums to catch 2016’s boat to the O2 – because we all want to be on a boat on the Thames in mid-November… Brrrrr.” Adnan-Ariffin more fondly remembers the O2, starting “with drinks before midday” and rounded off by “beating my colleagues at bowling” after a few more. Of course, we urge everyone to please drink responsibly at this year’s event, especially if you’re potentially going to be on stage to receive an award (see The man with the golden ‘sticks, opposite). For Dawkins, of course, overseeing the big day is something of a pleasurable ordeal: “Once I was so emotional I left my bag and all my clothes in London. Then there’s the year I left my keys, leading to a 4am call out for the locksmith. I think there’s a trend there.” And finally, who can forget 2012’s Robot Stephen Fry, remotely controlled by the real Stephen Fry. Not Ian Dickson for sure who describes it as “absolute nightmare fuel.” Available on YouTube for the curious among you. LANDING IT Back on more serious ground Dawkins tells us that this year they’re “thinking carefully about how [they] support new talent, and how games can be a powerful force of community and positive change.” And getting the industry altogether is a great catalyst and motivator for that change, he explains. “For example, last year, I got chatting to Jack Attridge from Flavourworks who used to read a magazine I edited, PSM2, when he was a teenager. That made me feel six million years old – but also reminds you that this is all connected and a journalist’s critique can (and has) informed the developers of today – hopefully for the better!” The Joysticks then remains a great opportunity for the industry to gather and give players’ a voice. See you there.
Creating game makers YoYo Games wants to inspire and enable a whole new generation of game devs both through GameMaker Studio 2’s new features and with the launch of its publishing division. Marie Dealessandri sits down with the firm’s exec team
he last time we talked to YoYo Games was in April, one year after the launch of GameMaker Studio 2 (GMS 2), and CEO James Cox told us the firm had “another laundry list of features” that were not public yet. He certainly wasn’t lying, as in the following six months YoYo Games unveiled its publishing division, launched the Switch license open beta and announced its new Sequences feature. “Last year was our most successful ever,” senior marketing manager Andrew Turner tells MCV. “GameMaker Studio 2, because it’s an entirely new codebase, allows us to do more things than we were able to do with GameMaker Studio 1. As a consequence we’ve introduced a lot of new things that we weren’t able to previously do.” The Switch license, which was unveiled as an open beta in early August, has been very well received and YoYo Games has seen an increase in people signing up for GameMaker since the announcement. “There’s been a definite interest from the indie community in switching [to GameMaker] now we have all three major consoles. No question at all,” Cox says, with Turner adding: “We’ve heard of people that we approved for the Switch open beta actually having a game running on a Switch device within a couple of hours so it’s been really good. The feedback loop we had seen on social media has been really appreciative of the stability of it and the capability of the export that we have.” On top of “being able to sell more copies of GameMaker,” Cox sees a lot of opportunities in finally having the Switch license. “I think one of the big things is the stories that come out of it,” he says. “Developers who’ve been working on their passion projects – many of them are Nintendo fans and they want to get their passion project onto a Nintendo Switch. Stepping into another engine might be too big a step for them or getting someone else to port it might be too big, so now that we’ve completed our side of the bargain so to speak, they can do this so much more easily. “I think it’s somewhat aspirational as well particularly for those who are using it in schools. We do stuff at universities and colleges but we do stuff at schools as well. So with 11, 12-year olds. A lot of them are still very much in the Nintendo bracket. And so they start using GameMaker at school after they’ve come off Scratch and in the
back of their mind it’s like: ‘Oh, maybe one day I can put my game on to a Switch’. I think that’s almost an emotional feeling. It’s obviously business as well, for all of us concerned, but it’s an important feeling as well.” ARTISTS LEAD THE WAY We chat a bit more about the work YoYo Games does in schools, which would deserve an article in itself, with Turner saying: “We’re very much about creating game makers.” Which leads us to talk about Sequences, GMS 2’s new feature that will make game creation even easier, allowing artists to manipulate pixel graphics to add motion, without needing any expertise. CTO Russell Kay takes over to explain the new feature in more details: “This is a technology we’re working on internally that we’re starting to show to our larger developers. In GameMaker traditionally all the graphics and all the things that we see on screen come from pixel art. And that’s great, it’s allowed for so many fantastic games to be made. But it is tricky actually manipulating these things, you need quite skilled people. What we’ve added here is the ability to take graphics and add extra life to them without having to go and change every pixel that you actually want to move around. “So you can put together motions and animations and you can actually animate anything. And the whole point is it’s an easy to use tool that artists can use. You don’t have to be very technical to actually go and do this. It should be familiar to a lot people, people that we show it to immediately go: ‘Oh yeah it’s like Premiere’. But what you’re actually doing here is manipulating this sort of GamerMaker art data in the background and it gives a very powerful tool for being able to layer different things on top of each other.” Kay shows us a few example, a ghost moving around, a heart rotating on itself – simple elements but having motion instantly adds a bit of extra life to them. “We want to be able to layer those on top of each other,” Kay continues. “We’ve added the ability for you to embed each of those and to enlarge the animation so you could start to see how you could put together a game with this. And the next step that we’re doing is allowing you to add logic to all this, so you’ll actually be able to add code. That way if this thing for instance gets triggered here, then this
â€œFor a lot of engines the programmer has to lead the way. With GameMaker designers can lead the way. And with Sequences, it would mean an artist could be leading the way.â€? October 2018 MCV 940 | 43
thing will happen, which triggers that thing and animation across layers. You get variations very quickly within levels, very simply.” Cox is keen to emphasise that no code is needed at its simplest level. He adds that YoYo Games is looking to next year for a full release of Sequences, with Kay saying the team wants to do “a lot of testing with the userbase.” A closed alpha and then a beta are planned before the full release. “We will wait until it’s ready,” Cox emphasises. “We don’t have any big deadline. The thing that we like about it is for a lot of engines the programmer has to lead the way. With GameMaker, with the drag-and-drop, designers can lead the way as well. Now when we get [Sequences] added, it would mean an artist could be in the engine leading the way. So it gives people the options and the choices. We hope that, down at the lower level, it means more people will be able to make the games they want to make and learn and start, and then at the higher level, it means more autonomy and power to all the people in the teams.”
Pictured above, from top: Andrew Turner, Chris Trewartha, James Cox and Russell Kay
SOMETHING SPECIAL Outside of GMS 2’s growth and its new features, the other big thing that happened at YoYo Games was the announcement of its publishing arm in May. “Since we announced the publishing division, we’ve received a lot of submissions and we’ve been going through them and talking to developers,” says publishing manager Chris Trewartha, adding that they don’t have projects to announce just yet, arguing that “this isn’t something for which we set a timeline. We’re starting those discussions just now. You’ve got to remember all these developers are independent and maybe don’t have as clear a schedule.” Cox takes over, keen to explain how YoYo Games as a publisher will be able to make a difference for developers. “We think we’re very different from regular indie publishers, certainly from the bigger publishers,” he starts. “We’re only taking GameMaker games for starters so it’s part of our ecosystem. We hope that GameMaker helps people learn to become developers, to become successful. Then the next step is: ‘How could we help some of those, who need it, to be discovered?’ Because that is a real challenge. The golden days of Steam are over. You need to be publicising yourself, getting influencers involved. Whatever it is that’s good about your game and you as a developer, you need to amplify that. And that’s where we think we can really help. We have a huge community we can reach. We have the marketing muscle when we need it as well. We’re backed by a big corporation. So the money is there to invest when we find those great games.” He adds that they asked themselves whether they wanted a “YoYo Games publishing brand.” But that they ultimately decided against it.
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“We felt it was about just helping these individual developers or teams. It’s not about us. [The] real criteria is that each game, big or small, just needs to have something special about it. So no clones. But that special thing could be almost anything.” We ask Cox if he would consider opening the publishing division to games made using another engine one day: “Currently no, we would not,” he answers. “Because it’s about the GameMaker community and the GameMaker tool, and that positive sort of ecosystem feeding on itself in a good way. You can never say never but I think not.” THE LUXURY OF PATIENCE YoYo Games has the expertise and the tools to grow that publishing division, and that definitely sets it apart. “We’ve got a lot of experience with the hardware. Everyone here has been it in the games industry for a long time,” Cox says, pointing at Kay, Trewartha and Turner around him. “We have all made games as well as making tools. So we’ve got a lot of experience with the game side. And those that either ask for advice, help or feedback, where we think ‘Okay we could offer some’, we can have those very open conversations with them. And we’re not dictating to these developers. We’re trying to explain things that we think will make their games better. Or they might explain to us: ‘Actually I need this feature in GameMaker that will make my game better’,” he laughs. “We can learn from each other. We don’t know everything, they don’t know everything, it’s a two-way process. So we think that puts us in somewhat of a unique position. Within the developer community, nobody else holds that position. And we can use that in a positive way.” Being an established force in the industry and having contributed to the success of so many games (Minit, Hyper Light Drifter, Undertale, Hotline Miami, Nuclear Throne and many, many more were made on GameMaker) gives YoYo other advantages, Cox continues. “We have very good contacts with the stores, we can help other people through submission,” he starts. “We have a large community out there. And they love to make games but they also love to play games as well. So that’s also something we can take advantage of. Having good business tools gives us somewhat the luxury of patience. Because we don’t have to have a hit out by like November or we’re bust. We’re trying to get the right games and we’re bringing them out at the right time. And if we have a bit of a quiet time, that’s fine. We’re still going with the GameMaker business.” He concludes, talking to developers directly with a reassuring smile: “As a publisher, it’s also a big advantage that we are very stable. So if you sign up with us we’ll still be here in 12 months time when you finish your game. Or if you need another three months we’ll still be here. Don’t worry. Don’t panic.”
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Green Man Growing Green Man Gaming’s David Clark tells Seth Barton how the retailer is ready to step up its publishing game and embrace console platforms – as the company prepares for its IPO
igital retailer Green Man Gaming has been involved in games publishing for four years now, but David Clark, MD of Green Man Gaming Publishing, tells MCV that “now is the time to push forward. “2019 will see us become increasingly bolder with the partnerships we enter into and the platforms we publish on – including console,” he reveals. “We will have a strong focus on investing further in the publishing arm of the business which will see us become more aggressive in the market.” We talked to Green Man Gaming last year about its publishing arm, but since then Gary Rowe has moved onto Curve Digital, and Clark is heading things up. He’s not new to the business, though. In fact he was part of the 2009 launch team, returning full-time from a period running his own consultancy.
“If I was a small publisher, the chances are that they’re using external marketing and design agencies in some way shape or form. Here, those are my external agencies, right there,” he says pointing across the busy office. “So that’s why it’s taken so long to kind of dovetail all right together. “I’ve got a team of people that’s bigger than most other publishers out there, there’s a hundred people in this office. I can leverage that, there’s not many publishers of that size.” It’s an enviable resource of manpower for what could be considered a ‘small’ publisher. Clark gives us a recent example. “We took on a title over the summer called Destination Primas Vita, out of Canada. Now we picked up the title around two weeks before it was due to launch. So there was very little we could do with it [in terms of marketing]. But instantly we were getting it on to our emails out to our customer base and instantly our social media team was working on it. And I was able to implement, albeit a brief, marketing spend even.”
“Green Man Gaming Publishing can draw on eight years of retail data.”
NOT SO GREEN The obvious question is just why it has taken so long for the publishing arm to find its feet within the retailer. Clark tells us: “The synergies on paper match up quite nicely, it’s certainly something that you can exploit. But in practice a retailer marches to a completely different beat to a publisher. A publisher works in fairly long cycles whereas a retailer is coming out to sell whatever is hot at the moment… bam bam bam. “And so one of the things that we’ve been trying to do for the last couple of years is actually put in place a method by which the two can sit comfortably together and deliver on that promise,” he explains. In short it’s a matter of taking the business units of the retailer and making them more flexible, more able to serve the publishing business. “The design team has had to learn a new approach, as it’s far more brand orientated than on the retail side, where you’re taking existing artwork and repurposing it for the store,” Clark says. “Then we’ve got a media buying team. And again the buying requirements for a retail store are slightly different to those of a publisher. I’m more interested in establishing a brand identity, whereas a retailer is largely about conversion.
INTELLIGENT CREATION Of course, the key difference is that the publisher can draw upon the retailer’s experience and data, through its business intelligence team. “What truly makes us unique in the market is our ability to offer industry expertise and insight by leveraging Green Man Gaming’s store and community data as well as marketing and trading experience,” Clark tells us. “Green Man Gaming Publishing can draw on eight years of retail data – we know what has sold, how many copies have sold, what price it has sold for and where in the world it has sold,” Clark proudly explains. Plus it has considerable Steam data as well: “Currently 210,000 people have given us access to their accounts.” Effectively it’s the company’s own Steam Spy. “I would argue that actually the data that we got is a better reflection of the gaming ecosystem than just about anybody else in the industry. We’re monitoring sales and our sales data covers the likes
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of Steam DRM, Ubisoft’s DRM... In fact we’ve got 14 different DRM platforms on the site at the moment.” So how does he use that data to choose the projects he signs up, and how much of it is down to good oldfashioned experience? After all, predicting the desires of the industry two years in advance is an art not a science. “I’ve always said that video games are as much about fashion as anything else and, as with the music industry, you’re always taking a guess on what’s popular tomorrow. You can map trends but you can never know for sure. So ultimately the final decision is a gut decision. The bottom line is still: ‘Is the game fun?’ And that is actually often remarkably ignored,” Clark says. “You don’t base your business around the data, but the data helps you to develop your business. So our decisionmaking process, while data always has its limitations, is arguably better than anything that anybody else can come up with.” TAMING THE BEAST With that advantage, Clark is bullish about why developers should talk to him: “There’s a thousand and one self-proclaimed publishers out there. But what a developer should be looking for in a publisher is something different. What is it that sets them apart? “Whenever I go out to any one of these ‘meet the developer’ sessions, I always say to those guys that it’s a bit like buying a house. You’re walking through the door and you know whether you like the property or not. Instantly. And it’s the same with choosing a publisher.
“I always say it’s a bit like buying a house. You’re walking through the door and you know whether you like the property or not. Instantly. It’s the same with choosing a publisher.” 48 | MCV 940 October 2018
“They’ve got to offer something different, something unique, because that’s what separates them. It could be that they specialise in a particular genre for instance.” He namechecks Team17’s experience with development and the unified style of Devolver’s releases. “Green Man Gaming’s point of difference is we’re part of a retail beast. We can better help developers benchmark their titles and give them some sales forecasting, give them a better indication of what will happen with price over time. We know what sells, where it sells, when it sold and at what price it sold.” And that figure is made crystal clear: “It’s that £19 or £24 price point. I think, maybe as we go down our journey, the £29 price point might become feasible, particularly if we go onto console,” Clark says. “The sweet spot I think is £19.99 for now. It’s the slightly more established indie games. We’ve moved away from them when we first started dabbling – you know, the small one-man or two-man developed games. Now we’re moving into games developed by bigger teams, say around ten people.” IDENTITY PAPERS The company is in no hurry to pigeon-hole itself into a certain style or genre of games as many indie, or boutique, publishers have. “A publisher needs to have an identity, even if that evolves over time,” Clark says. “The definition of an identity varies significantly – Green Man Gaming Publishing currently sees itself as a publisher of mid-core indie games. “We have to sit under the parent brand identity and we’ve got to be part of that story. But at the same time I think we need our own identity as well and our own identity will be ultimately dictated by the type of games that we put out.” That may be the one downside of an otherwise beneficial relationship, as the Green Man Gaming brand will always be seen primarily as a ‘sell it all’ retailer, meaning the publishing arm might labour to establish itself in its own right. The company’s most compelling title to date is Stormworks: Build and Rescue, published in February this year, which let players design and pilot their own sea-rescue vehicles, in a dramatic physics playground. With retail data and a big consumer community, plus marketing and PR expertise, the publishing business certainly has a good platform to build from. “In summary, Green Man Gaming can deliver a totally unique package to our development partners,” states Clark. “We would encourage developers of all persuasions to contact us to present their game and to learn more about how we operate and could possibly work together.”
GREEN MAN FLOATING ALONGSIDE Green Man Gaming’s fresh push into the publishing business came news of the company’s IPO. We catch up with founder and CEO Paul Sulyok to discuss the thinking behind taking the company public. Why are you doing the IPO now? We’ve been working on Green Man Gaming as a team since 2009 now. When a business hits a certain scale, it becomes the right time to take a different approach to how you grow the company. For me this is all about growing the company, accelerating the company and widening what we do and where we can get to. [Around five years ago] we joined the Future 50, the 50 future technology companies that are going to join the London Stock Exchange. That for me was a pivotal moment in the evolution of the business. it made me realise that what I wanted to do in order to continue to grow my company was to gain access to those capital markets. So it was always going to be a float rather than looking for a single large investor? As an entrepreneur, my preference is to go down the capital markets route, where I will have multiple sources of capital coming into the business, from multiple investors. I have the ability to then apply that in order to grow my company and also give my longstanding shareholders the opportunity to exit the business. Green Man gaming is a global proposition, we’re not even doing one per cent of the total [potential] revenue, that we could do on a global basis. The opportunity for growth with Green Man Gaming is phenomenal. But the scale we’re looking at right now as a business means that we’ve actually got
a choice, we could go down the private equity route or we could go down the private markets route. If Steam was less dominant in the PC market would that benefit you? I always have to doff my cap to Steam, it’s a brilliant business. [Gabe Newell] is a brilliant entrepreneur and, as a PC gamer myself, he has kept the genre of PC gaming not only alive but made it such an exciting environment to be a part of.
base, we’ve got the reach, we’ve got a highly engaged customer base, who come on to Green Man Gaming with the purpose of purchasing a product, and if you want to get momentum behind your marketing initiative, someone like Green Man Gaming is the ideal partner. Yes, you can have your own platform, and yes that will do 70 per cent of your sale. That’s your own direct marketing to your customer base and your fanbase, but 30 per cent of your sales will come from someone like us. Why has the business concentrated on growth over profits? Any spare cash we invest directly back into the business, that’s how we’ve managed to grow. In April last year when we moved offices to a new pad here in Kings Cross, there were 72 of us, today there are over 100 of us, and that’s been fuelled by our ability to reinvest as we’ve grown, we’ve reinvested our margin.
But from our perspective there’s been a fragmentation of platforms, because it’s not just Steam anymore. When I was launching third-party DRM games on Green Man Gaming in 2010, 95-odd per cent of the games that I sold were Steam-based DRM. Now there are some months that go by where less than 40 per cent of games that I sell are Steam-based DRM. So there’s a total fragmentation of the market taking place. We now cater for 19 different DRM platforms for PC, all the major publishers are now taking on their own DRM, and working with a partner like Green Man Gaming for them is ideal. We’ve got the customer
And as you grow more globally, you’re still committed to staying in the UK? There’s no reason for us to move out of the UK. From an ecommerce perspective the UK is probably three years ahead of Europe, five years ahead of the US. So I get all the ecommerce support tools and technology I require and for the time being anyway, I have the opportunity to dip into a panEuropean workforce. At present 30 per cent of my team is European, 50 per cent of my technology team is European. I could not support that if I was only hiring domestic people. And then I have the capital markets here. The City of London is second to none... Particularly for a company of our size.
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I, Robot As Robot Cache is about to enter early access, Marie Dealessandri chats to CEO Lee Jacobson about the new digital storefront, which will give a higher margin to publishers while allowing gamers to re-sell their digital games
ince its creation in January 2018, Robot Cache has not been idle, recently securing $3m in funding from investor Millenium Blockchain and spreading the word on the new digital games storefront. Robot Cache needs as much good press as possible as the digital distribution and resale platform relies on a technology which is over exposed at best and actively despised at worst: blockchain. As on top of being a normal store, Robot Cache also give users the ability to mine cryptocurrency via its launcher. When we meet Robot Cache CEO Lee Jacobson, one of the first things he does is showing us the mining interface. “You see that this counter is counting up in real time,” he starts explaining, showing us a number going up at the top right corner. “So what we’re basically allowing gamers to do is to opt in – it’s not going to be turned on by default. And the idea is to mine Ethereum or whatever is the most profitable coin – Cardano, Dash, there’s 200 or something at this point. And we will convert it all on the back end into Iron [Robot Cache’s currency], and then they’ll be able to apply either all of it or a portion of it to simply get free games.” He continues: “This is simply an opt in and opt out system. As Ethereum, which is kind of low right now, goes up in price or as it fluctuates, the number of free games or Iron that they’re going to get is also going to go up. It’s market-based.” Jacobson even expects some users to set up accounts to just let the miner on until they have enough Iron to afford a couple of games. But just doing that would not be taking advantage of Robot Cache’s other qualities. The platform has a lot to offer, both from a consumer point of view and a publisher or developer‘s perspective.
publishers will get a much bigger margin on Robot Cache than they usually do on other digital storefronts. “Brian [Fargo, Robot Cache’s co-founder] and I have been in the business a long time. I used to run global business development for Midway Games and Atari and I also ran Atari Publishing for four years through 2009 and 2012,” Jacobson starts explaining. “So I realised what it was like to give away 30 per cent of your game revenues to somebody who had no vested interest in your game. We met with some early investors in LA, pioneers in the blockchain, and the conversation started like: ‘How can we really disrupt the business space of games?’ And the idea was that, given technology today, you don’t need 30 per cent to run a distribution business if you have scale. You just don’t. So we went to all the publishers and we said: ‘Hey guys, what do you think about a business model that will only take five per cent?’.” Not only will publishers take 95 per cent on all new game sales, but Robot Cache also introduces the ability for gamers to sell titles they don’t want anymore. And this second-hand digital market will benefit publishers too. The price for such ‘second-hand’ sales will match that of the current publisher-set price, so it won’t undercut new sales. “That’s the big trick and how we got all these games to begin with: publishers don’t want to race to the bottom [on price]. If gamers decide to list a game and sell it, it’s for that same price. So the publisher still makes their 70 per cent but the gamer now gets 25.” Notably it’s the same publisher cut per sale as if it had sold a ‘new’ game on Steam for instance. “Rarely do you get a chance to have publishers and gamers both win. This is the first time that that could happen. And that’s the biggest win that we’re excited about,” Jacobson says. Publishers will also be able to set a time period during which their games can’t be resold: “Publishers may say: ‘I’ll take 70 per cent day one because I want gamers to have the 25 per cent’, which is fine. Or Ubisoft for instance may say: ‘I want to have 90 days for Assassin’s
“Rarely do you get a chance to have publishers and gamers both win.”
DISRUPTING GAMES A dozen publishers are already onboard, with the likes of 505 Games, Maximum Games, Paradox Interactive, THQ Nordic and Versus Evil having signed up from the start. And there’s a reason for that:
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Pictured above: Lee Jacobson, Robot Cache
Creed and I don’t want anybody to be able to resell’. We’ll tell the gamer that before they purchase it,” Jacobson details. And the benefits for both players and publishers don’t stop there, Jacobson continues. “Imagine if you’re a gamer and you’re level 125 and it took you months to get to that point. Maybe instead of selling that game at $39.99, you’ll sell it at $199.99 [to] someone who wants to immediately be level 125. “For the first time, imagine a game being sold with all the grind that went into it and the gamer gets 25 per cent of it and the publisher makes 70 per cent. We think it will give publishers a whole secondary revenue stream that doesn’t exist. And we see some college kids making a living off of this stuff. This is something that can be really revolutionary.” Jacobson acknowledges that it’s unlikely a lot of people will be onboard to pay $200 on “levelled up content” but “there will be some,” he believes, which will generate “incremental revenue” for the publishers. THE GENIE IN A BOTTLE When a new digital store is about to launch, it’s almost inevitable to discuss Steam at some point. And as Jacobson shows us the shop and mentions the fact that each section will be curated, it’s too good an opportunity and we start chatting about Steam’s controversies regarding curation. Jacobson is very straight to the point when it comes to discussing Robot Cache’s policy on curation, taunting Steam in the process. “Basically we’re not going to allow any school shooting simulations. We’re not going to allow any pornography,” he says. “We’re not going to accept a crappy game that gets a 1 out of 10 and we’re not going to get a game that some kid uploads with some assets he licensed on the Unity store and sells for $1.99. We’re not going to have that. I would say that the lowest price we’re probably going to sell a game would be $9.99. We’re a five per cent margin business. So I’m not going to make a lot of money if…” he doesn’t finish his sentence and starts laughing. But the message is clear: not only Robot Cache will be curated of inappropriate content, but it seems like there will also be a quality bar to reach – and a price. Between the re-selling and the mining aspects, it also seems like Robot Cache has a specific audience in mind. “We see a lot of levers to pull with that and we think there’s a lot of gamers that aren’t steeped in the Steam culture yet, maybe 13, 14 or 15 years old, and they like the idea of selling their game so they can buy more and mining and getting sort of compensated for that.”
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We ask whether or not that means the target audience is young gamers then. “No, not necessarily,” Jacobson starts, before pausing to think. “You know we’re not naive. We know Steam, I’ve known Gabe for many many years and we’re not naive to think that we’re going to go take them out. Diehard Steamers are probably not going to do this because they’re so established. But every year there’s going to be that younger audience that may see this as a an alternative and this is just what it is: it’s an alternative to Steam. What I’m trying to do is provide an alternate place where people can buy triple-A and great indie games and then resell them and build that ecosystem for gamers and publishers.” Jacobson see digital reselling as the future, and it could be applied to many other products, he continues. “It unlocks an enormous amount of stored value. Whether it’s just games or other digital forms of content, it’ll be very hard to put the genie back in the bottle.” That doesn’t mean that Robot Cache will expand into those other forms of content, though: “We’re focusing on games because that’s where we come from, that’s where our relationships are, but certainly never say never,” Jacobson smiles. “We think there’s an enormous amount of opportunity here. For example, college books can cost $200 to $300. Imagine if I can take that and get a certain percentage back off my digital college book by selling it to somebody else. That alone is a huge opportunity.” But before getting there, Robot Cache needs to get off the ground, with early access starting this October. “We want to build the community up,” Jacobson says. “There are so many dials and levers that we can pull. Some publishers may say: ‘Instead of giving 25 per cent back to gamers, our game is so good, we think you’ll never want to sell it so I’m going to give you a 60 percent commission and I’ll only take 40’. “I think our userbase will organically grow as we sort of figure those dials out. And I think to a certain age group maybe more than others it’ll be very compelling. [Though] I’m not saying it’s not going to be for all demographics. “We have internal ideas of where we’d like to be. The first tranche we raised was $11m, our second tranche is another $19m. So we’re not in this for a quick hit. Publishers have entrusted us. We know them very well and they’re not going to give us the keys to their kingdom if we’re just going to be a flash in the pan. That’s not our goal, I think they see the vision. We’re in it for the long haul.”
At Gamescom, MCV awarded the Ukie UK Game of the Show to Supermarket Shriek – despite it proving a constant source of annoyance for our entire team. Seth Barton talks to director William Barr about screaming goats, his hopes for a retail version and the difficulties of pitching the project
ur time working off Ukie’s stand this year at Gamescom was punctuated by regular sonic assaults of shrieking from a nearby game demo. Not shrieks of pain, nor shrieks of laughter, but persistent shrieking all the same. Going to investigate we discovered it was the fault of Billygoat Entertainment and its game Supermarket Shriek. Supermarket Shriek has one of the most ludicrous premises of any game we’ve seen in recent years, with a man and a goat propelling themselves in a shopping trolley through retail settings purely by the power of their voices. William Barr, director of Billygoat Entertainment, explains how it came about. “It started off as a game jam idea, the genesis very much came from YouTube videos of goats screaming, and those being somewhat indistinguishable from human beings screaming. “You can use your actual voice to propel you through the game,” he explains, wielding a microphone, which explains our recent suffering at the demo’s mercy, though there are more standard control options. “We needed something for the player to be inside, something that didn’t have any other form of propulsion, so we thought: ‘Aha, a shopping trolley’.” From there the game evolved into an obstacle course race through shops and supermarkets: “We’re big fans of the late, great Dale Winton, and Supermarket Sweep was a source of influence,” says Barr. “Not too much influence it has to be said, in case the holders of that particular IP are interested in getting in touch in a legal capacity!” The game’s comic nature, and distinctly UK humour, isn’t a new thing for Billygoat, which has been around since 2011. “We did a lot of work-for-hire stuff and then we ran a Kickstarter campaign and that gave us the funding to make an adventure game [Her Majesty’s Spiffing], that we sunk about four and-a-bit years of our lives into, which is something we look back on with nothing but fond, joyful memories – perhaps not entirely sincerely,” he continues. Her Majesty’s Spiffing won the TIGA Culture and Heritage Award in 2017. It’s “a Brexit satire set in space” but Supermarket Shriek was a very different undertaking, Barr tells us: “We thought this would be something that would be fun to work on, probably wouldn’t take as long to make as an adventure game and we would hopefully not all hate each other at the end of it, as we did previously! I’m happy to say it hasn’t taken as long as an adventure game, but the hatred is still very much there,” he half-jokes. Supermarket Shriek is now “mechanically reasonably sound” and only “crashes horrifically” whenever there’s a journalist present to witness it, Barr explains wryly. “The only stuff that’s missing is just a bunch of levels.”
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Pictured right: William Barr receiving Supermarket Shriek’s Ukie UK Game of the Show award at Gamescom
The Ukie UK Game of the Show at Gamescom 2018 was supported by Little Big PR
“It’s very flattering, it must be said. It’s a very coveted award of course. I’m genuinely very happy about it,” he says more seriously, before adding: “I texted my mother to tell her the good news, and her one line response was: ‘Did you win any cash for it?’ But it’s nice to know she has my best interests at heart.” Speaking of money, Barr tells us: “We received a very small amount of funding from Northern Ireland Screen, to help develop the prototype version. We were reasonably fortunate the previous game did alright for us, and so predominately this has been funded through the revenue that we got off that. Which I believe is frankly unheard of for an independent developer.” He adds that their “previous game did reasonably well on consoles, but didn’t sell anything on PC, which was quite surprising for the kind of game it was.” So that means a release is imminent then? Well, not quite: “There are some complications, there’s another video game, Red Dead something, some little thing... Seemingly people don’t want to compete with that, and larger developers and publishers are now filling up the February release window, that we were very much intending to jump on ourselves,” Barr says. That means Shriek might be somewhat delayed, indirectly, by Rockstar’s opus. “We’re still set in that Q1 window, though, and we intend to self-publish the game on Xbox, PlayStation and Switch,” he states. “Fortunately when we self-published our previous game we made a lot of horrific mistakes during the process, and we very much intend not to make those mistakes again...” he smiles. “We intend to make completely new ones instead!” Supermarket Shriek certainly has some potential postrelease, Barr continues: “The nature of the game lends itself rather well to our western, capitalist, consumerist society, so whenever it comes to the holiday seasons: Christmas shopping, spring sales, Black Friday… there’s a lot of possible DLC. It’s art imitating life in that respect.” And, rather appropriately, a retail release is a possibility, Barr says. “We’d really love to put it in a box at some point. Switch is a platform we hope it will do quite well on, especially with the co-op mode. You can slide your JoyCons off and you’re playing together immediately. And a boxed copy would be great there. Ultimately we’d be looking for a physical partner for that boxed version.” Of course, winning the UK Game of the Show, should help bring the game to the attention of just such partners, with a sizeable trophy to show off back in Northern Ireland, where Billygoat hails from. “I’d like to think this will go some way to earning the credibility and respect of our peers that we’ve long since been denied,” he chuckles.
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TROLLEY DASH The move from comic adventure to a racing-cum-party game is quite a leap and Barr admits the new title wasn’t always the easiest to pitch to the press. “We’ve struggled to get them over to talk about it, we thought originally that our big pitch was the microphone [controls], which is something entirely optional in the game but we thought it would be an interesting hook. However, we found that alienated some people, who thought it was going to be complete nonsense and annoying.” Thankfully the game has a ‘conventional’ control scheme, where one trigger controls the volume of the man and one the goat, and by gently easing between the two you can scoot around any obstacle with some panache. “So there is that competitive aspect, where you’re constantly trying to better your time by fractions of a second,” Barr explains. To that end there are online leaderboards and you can download ghosts of other’s efforts or simply beat the developer’s best times. And speaking of the team, Barr smiles again: “Based in Belfast, we’re a small, yet perfectly formed video game developer. We fluctuate in size between four and six, so predominantly there’s been six people working on this.” That team is now focused on finishing the game for next year, in what has been a relatively straightforward development process: “If I said we planned this process meticulously, I would be lying. We tend to ride by the seat of our pants a lot – often in shopping trolleys while screaming uncontrollably. But because we’re quite a small studio, you can be flexible about things, things can happen very quickly, decisions-wise. “For our next project, we hope we’ll scale up from this, so a lot more structure will have to be implemented,” he admits. Let’s just hope that Barr doesn’t lose his wry sense of humour and the team its bonkers creativity in that process.
WhenWeMade... Starlink: Battle for Atlas
Seth Barton takes a look behind the scenes at the development of Starlink: Battle for Atlas and how Ubisoft game jammed its way to 2018’s most unusual release and straight into Nintendo’s open arms
Pictured above: Ubisoft Toronto’s Matt Rose
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IT’S often a dream of developers to be handed an open yet ambitious brief. But that’s just what happened at Ubisoft Toronto in 2013 when CEO Yves Guillemot charged a small team “to combine a technology breakthrough, with an innovative gameplay concept to make something we’ve never seen before.” Of course there’s upsides and downsides to such a mission. “I’ve been in the industry 13 years now and I’ve never seen this kind of wide open mandate, it was incredibly liberating for our team and incredibly terrifying – having so few constraints in place to come up with something brand new,” Matt Rose, a producer at Ubisoft Toronto tells us. With such an open playing field, Rose took a small, multi-disciplinary team of around ten, packed with triple-A experience, and got them iterating like indie developers or university students – they game jammed, hard. “We brainstormed and prototyped,” Rose explains. In two-week cycles, the team would split into pairs and come up with concepts. Then everyone would vote on the top three pitches. These three would then be made into prototypes by the team: ”We rinsed and repeated. And that way we made dozens of prototypes across different genres, different platforms, different technologies, and some of them were pretty cool.” Team lead programmer Matthew Severin adds: “And then we’d shelve them.
“It was about being agile and being able to adapt to different things, we weren’t developing these ideas further – just do a prototype and then leave it, don’t get hung up on anything early.” In this way the team created around a hundred different prototypes. “Some were board games, some used the Microsoft Kinect, some were more traditional, some focused on online play…” Severin recalls, with each cycle, like any good game jam, having a challenge or theme. “And for one of them it was ‘needs a physical presence’.” STARRING TURN And it was out of that theme, that the kernel of Starlink: Battle for Atlas was born. “It was this idea of a modular spaceship. What if you could replace the rockets, the cockpit, the wings?” Severin explains. “The very first prototype, me and a couple of other people on the team whipped it up out of construction blocks and an off-the-shelf circuit board. It was stuck together with tape and hot glue with wires sticking out, and we did it in an afternoon. Then we built a simple game that went along with it, so you could see the effect, and then we put it on the shelf with all the other prototypes and we moved on.” But when the time came to look back at everything they’d created it stood out, Rose remembers: “It wasn’t
Pictured top: Starlink’s very first prototype, built with construction blocks and an off-the-shelf circuit board
much to look at, but anyone who played with it, you could see their face light up, and they started to fill in the missing pieces – even making their own sound effects [as they played the silent demo]. This is something really cool, lets double down and look into this.” Starlink’s magic comes from that instant connection between the space fighter mounted on your controller and the one in the game world. You can switch out the pilot, the wing pieces and the weapons, and these changes are instantly reflected in the game. Because of that, the team set about building their own technology to power its vision. “That instantness was so important, right from the start, that we knew we were going to have to build something custom,” Severin says. “It’s a custom chip with our own circuit board and the connector is designed by our industrial designers. It has to have enough force on it that it doesn’t fall off but it has to be easy to build. It’s actually a really interesting design challenge in and of itself.” And that challenge required staff with enthusiasms beyond just games, Rose tells us: “We got all this attention [within the studio] from people with completely different skill sets, people who had backgrounds in industrial design. Vlad [Adamenko] joined the project [as an embedded engineer]. He was a major electronic enthusiast, he’d scratch built his own quadcopter and chemical etched his own circuit boards.”
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But even with the right talent in-house, it was a long road, Severin tells us: “It was a huge process of iteration and development. Going from that simple one with wires and tape, we moved to getting a 3D printer on the team and actually starting to 3D print things and after doing cycles of those, you run up against the limits of the 3D printer. So we’d get even better 3D printers and then eventually working with industrial model shops, who do these very professional results.”
Pictured above: Team lead programmer Matthew Severin
GAME, SET, MATCH With all that fancy technology, and with toys-to-life titles being something of a rarity these days, it’s all too easy to forget that there’s a video game alongside all this. And trying to make both together had its challenges – most obviously notable in Starlink’s relatively lengthy five-year gestation. We wonder to what extent the two aspects, toy and game, sat happily side-by-side in production? “There were certainly discrete phases and certain phases where you have to make decisions which are irrevocable and you can’t come back from,” Severin says.
For example, once you’ve settled on a weapon, designed the toy for it, prototyped that in plastic, then it’s not quite so easy to completely change tack later. The art team in particular was heavily impacted by the project’s dual-nature. “It was a hugely interesting challenge for the art team. In games you can essentially make anything you want, but for us all these pieces actually have to work as real objects,” Severin says. And then the game itself had its own challenges. Ubisoft Toronto hadn’t compromised on its ambition for the game just because it had a complex toy element. The key Severin tells us was “being a space explorer, being able to travel seamlessly from planet to planet and around these planets.” And those planets created a challenge for Ubisoft’s Snowdrop engine: “We’ve got these spherical planets, which is a difficult challenge in and of itself. Most games exist on a flat plane, but these are actually round, so a bullet travelling is going to leave the atmosphere, and the AI needs to behave on the sphere in a logical way.”
“The very first prototype, me and a couple of other people on the team whipped it up out of construction blocks and an off-the-shelf circuit board. It was stuck together with tape and hot glue with wires sticking out, and we did it in an afternoon, and we built a simple game that went along with it.”
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“It was a hugely interesting challenge for the art team. In games you can essentially make anything you want, but for us all these pieces actually have to work as real objects.”
Now, Starlink doesn’t attempt to create an endless universe, like No Man’s Sky for instance. Instead it’s a hand-crafted solar system with each planet having its own distinct feel, with flora and fauna, inhabited by factions that you can recruit to your cause. Creative director Laurent Malville explains: “Each world we’ve created is completely circumnavigable, you can go on the dark side of them, you can find places where the factions are setting up their outposts, we created the planets making sure they would be unique. The giant skeletons you see are remains of sea creatures that were once roaming the seas of this world when it was covered in water, before it evaporated, and new life forms took over.” But these thriving worlds are all under attack by the Forgotten Legion, a persistent enemy that threatens the world’s of Atlas even in the player’s absence. “The dynamic enemies were something my team focused on,” Severin explains. “While you’re not on a planet the enemies are working to take that planet over, they are advancing on their own and my team worked with the AI team and the missions team to make sure that system worked. It’s an interesting challenge – this is something that is constantly running in the background and the player is having to deal with it.” NINTENDO LINK Starlink: Battle for Atlas is an incredibly ambitious title then, even if it’s a game ostensibly for younger gamers. And there’s few other companies that put this much effort into family-friendly games. But Guillemot’s initial mandate “to combine a technology breakthrough, with
an innovative gameplay concept to make something we’ve never seen before” in retrospect, is very much the kind of lofty aim that Nintendo sets itself, with say Labo. It’s not surprising then that Nintendo was intrigued by the concept. Ubisoft unveiled their partnership at E3, revealing that the Switch version of Starlink would come with exclusive Star Fox content. And Star Fox, in retrospect, is a perfect match for Starlink. Laurent Malville explains to us that the initial jubilation at having Nintendo onboard, after a number of visits to Kyoto, was soon tempered by a gnawing fear of discovery, especially after the leaks of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle before E3 2017. That problem was compounded by the physical nature of the game, with prototypes that had to be manufactured. He recalls that fear was still with him even as he went on stage at E3 2018 to present Starlink for a second time. Walking to the wings as the Star Fox reveal video played, he realised with huge relief that they’d done it: “No one could leak it now, it was playing,” he says. And Starlink had just gained a huge advantage, not just on the Switch platform, but a PR coup of epic proportions for the game as a whole. And it’s one the game may well need, for while it’s undoubtedly brilliant, it’s still impossible to predict its impact at retail. Few companies make high-budget games for a young audience these days, fewer still make accessible space shooters, and practically no one makes toys-to-life games. Ubisoft, and its Toronto team, are well outside anyone’s comfort zone here, exploring the unknown – just like their tiny plastic pilots – and they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Pictured above: Laurent Malville, creative director on Starlink: Battle for Atlas, and an early 3D-printed prototype fighter
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AIandGames Plan of Attack! by Dr Tommy Thompson
With the last generation of consoles, we saw the first implementations of the key AI methods still in use in today’s games being deployed
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AS the seventh generation of video game consoles moved into full force around 2005, one of the most critical problems that has plagued AI in games was being addressed: processing power! Sure, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 were modest compared to current hardware – as graphical fidelity is paramount in this industry. But both offered a few more CPU cycles for developers to dedicate to AI decision making and behaviour, which was pretty handy, given games – and in turn the AI systems we build within them – were becoming even more ambitious. Arguably the two most notable games of the era that drove nonplayer character AI were Bungie’s Halo 2 and Monolith’s First Encounter Assault Recon (FEAR). The latter of which is still held aloft by many designers, developers and players as one of the pinnacles of game AI. FEAR’s AI adopts a process known as classical planning, which until then was only used in the likes of power stations and robots we send into space. It’s an adaptation of AI used in research to fit within a game engine. But it’s supported by several clever design-driven systems that allow characters to communicate and coordinate – even though they actually don’t, they just do or say things in proximity of one another to give the illusion of teamwork. Planning tech has grown over the years to become one of the go-to approaches for deductive and intelligent character AI, with many of triple-A titles supported such as Tomb Raider (2013), Middle-earth:
Shadow of Mordor, Dying Light, Horizon Zero Dawn and even Dark Souls embracing planning techniques for enemy behaviour. Meanwhile, Halo 2’s ‘behaviour trees’ are arguably the most prominent game AI tool used in triple-A games today, with the likes of Far Cry 5, Tom Clancy’s The Division and the critically acclaimed Alien Isolation being some notable examples in recent years. In each case there’s an element of drama management considered when handling these characters in their respective worlds. It’s a concept derived from the ‘director’ AI of Left 4 Dead – a system that targeted players based on their behaviour and perceived ‘stress’ levels. While groundbreaking back in 2008, directors and similar drama management systems are now commonplace in any open world game. However, outside of these ‘core’ technologies, we’re seeing machine learning coming to the fore in triple-A gaming in many areas for which ‘game AI’ is not well suited. Player modelling approaches – which build models to approximate and replicate a user’s performance – have emerged in the form of Forza’s ‘drivatar’ as well as the ‘shadow’ opponents in the 2013 reboot of Killer Instinct. Each continuing to record player data and feed it back into the existing approximation of the players ‘brain’ with each race or fight. Plus, the Total War franchise has since adopted the Monte-Carlo Tree Search method – one of many components used in Google DeepMind’s AlphaGo bot – in an effort to handle the staggering complexity of the series diplomacy and strategy ever since 2013’s Total War: Rome II. But these are just how machine learning is visible to the player. It’s having a much larger impact on how we build games and monitor player and community behaviour. A topic we’ll dive into next month!
“Planning tech has grown over the years to become one of the go-to approaches for deductive and intelligent character AI.”
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Has Lara lost her mojo?
IncomeStream The numbers, stats and market stories that matter and why they do
Lara’s third reboot outing came into the UK weekly charts in a respectable second position, behind Spider-Man. But as an established franchise it’s hard not to feel that Shadow of the Tomb Raider should have performed better at retail. Yes, it outsold its predecessor in week one, but that title was an Xbox exclusive, selling mainly on Xbox One in the console’s early days of November 2015. This new multi-platform title failed to get near its predecessor in terms of Xbox sales. And if you think it was just Spider-Man stealing its thunder, then comparing Xbox One and PS4 sales doesn’t suggest that to be the case, with a fairly typical spread of sales across the two formats. While we can’t quote actual numbers, the fact that Spider-Man in week two, on PS4 only, sold over twice what Tomb Raider did on both major formats tells a story: that Lara Croft may have lost her mojo. The weekly pan-European digital sales data from GSD did place the game above Spider-Man on release. Probably thanks to the inclusion of PC sales of the game, making it a three-to-one platform advantage for Lara. Even then that lead only lasted one week before Spider-Man retook the top spot in the European combined chart. It’s hard not to look back at the exclusivity deal for Rise of the Tomb Raider as part of the problem here, disrupting PlayStation owners’ attachment to the franchise (which it had flown so high upon in earlier generations) by making them wait 12 months for the second game in the trilogy.
SuperData: August’s winners and losers SuperData’s global roundup of top-grossing digital games showed little change in the top console titles (see below), with Madden NFL 19 being the big new entry with its best launch month ever. On the PC side, World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth reportedly made $161m (£123.8m) in August, with western subscribers hitting an all-time high since 2014, while Capcom’s Monster Hunter World took first place for topgrossing premium PC title. Meanwhile League of Legends revenue is down by 21 per cent year-on-year to date.
PRE-ORDER TOP 5 TW TITLE 01 02 03 04 05
Red Dead Redemption 2 inc War Horse/Survival Kit DLC (PS4) Rockstar Call of Duty Black Ops 4 plus Steelbook (inc Blackout) Activision Days Gone (PS4) Sony The Last of Us: Part II (PS4) Sony Red Dead Redemption 2 inc War Horse/Survival Kit DLC (XO) Rockstar
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01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10
TOP GROSSING TITLES
Fortnite Epic Games FIFA 18 EA Grand Theft Auto V Rockstar Madden NFL 19 EA Call of Duty: WWII Activision Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege Ubisoft Divinity: Original Sin 2 Larian Overwatch Blizzard Call of Duty: Black Ops III Activision NBA 2K18 2K
Source: SuperData, Period: August 2018
UK PHYSICAL RETAIL SEPTEMBER (UNITS)
FIFA 19 PUBLISHER: EA
TM LM Title 02 NEW Marvel’s Spider-Man 03 NEW Shadow of the Tomb Raider 04 01 Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy 05 NEW NBA 2K 06 04 Grand Theft Auto V 07 02 F1 2018 08 05 Mario Kart 8 Deluxe 09 NEW Pro-Evolution Soccer 2019 10 RE PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds
Publisher Sony Square Enix Activision 2K Rockstar Codemasters Nintendo Konami Microsoft
Source: Ukie/GfK, Period: August 26th to September 29th
PUBG: 1m+ players for over a year PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds has become the first game in Steam’s history to see over a million people play it every day for a year. Thanks to figures from SteamDB, the former golden child of the genre maintained a constant over the past 365 days, even with a marked drop in popularity over the past nine months. PUBG broke the million players in a day mark on September 8th, 2017 when 1,028,275 people played the game in a 24-hour period. Since then, no day has gone by with anything less than a million individuals booting up and playing the game. Those player numbers peaked at an astounding 3,257,248 on January
13th this year, while in the period since hitting a million the numbers bottomed out recently at 1,005,484 on September 5th. While a decline has definitely set in and numbers have been dropping steadily since the January peak, PUBG is still getting a lot of people through its doors on a daily basis. And of course, as these are Steam figures there’s no inclusion of players on Xbox One, which the title launched on late last year. Microsoft reported in the summer that the game had 8m players on the platform, though that’s a lifetime total, rather than an indication of daily use. And there’s mobile players too. How PUBG stacks up against its main competitor Fortnite, though, we’re not entirely sure. The latter doesn’t operate through Valve’s storefront, so tracking figures for player numbers aren’t readily available. It’s not too much of a push to assume its numbers are absurdly high too.
FI-FA Fo-Fum? FIFA 19 – EA Is the FIFA giant finally slowing? It seems impossible given the enduring popularity of football, but the latest release has underperformed at retail when compared to recent years. The annual goliath was a remarkable 25 per cent down on previous years. Now digital shift will obviously account for some of that, but with EA itself only estimating the trend to run at five per cent per annum, there’s still a big gap there. Now it might be that EA has scored a huge success here, converting physical customers into more profitable digital ones, but there was no press release to suggest this was a record-breaking release in order to back such a theory. So maybe, just maybe, the perennial franchise is seeing a little fatigue.
The Amazing Spider-Man Marvel’s Spider-Man – Sony Following on from all-round critical applause, Sony’s latest single-player epic swung into town and smashed records at UK retail. The PS4 exclusive had the biggest week one sales of any title to date in 2018 (until FIFA rolled out the following week that is). All superpowered, no doubt, by its high-profile protagonist. It smashed stablemate God of War, with almost twice the sales that Kratos racked up back in April, swept aside Horizon Zero Dawn with around 50 per cent more sales than Aloy, and incredibly sold almost as many units as the mighty Uncharted 4 in its first week at retail. It’s a towering achievement and proves that a highlyrecognisable character, in a great game, is still a way to shift units. Expect more Marvel games in the future.
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From Rockstar to NCSoft, Warner to Hi-Rez you’ve seen a lot of very different work cultures, what did you learn from that? Over the last two decades I’ve been fortunate enough to work with truly talented people amidst a diverse mix of company cultures. My experiences have taught me that the highest levels of success come from supporting diversity and the unique breadth of talent and experience that only it can bring to bear. At Hi-Rez Studios’ Brighton office, our team is made up of passionate gamers from all genres and platforms, who hail from all over the world. We have seven different nationalities, a good gender mix, varying levels and types of education and a multitude of backgrounds. In our diverse cooperation we are better stewards for our games and our communities as opposed to just summing our individual efforts. I’ve come to believe that it is paramount to empower independent thinking. There is not one single textbook way to achieve customer satisfaction and I have found that a group effort works best when engaging and supporting our fans. With the greatest respect to your current role, what is your dream job? When I was a kid, I wanted to create games to help people dream and to give them an escape. I wanted their gaming experience to provide positivity in their lives. As time passed, I realised my greatest talents didn’t lie in coding or creating stories. I decided to focus more on what I was good at: playing games, understanding gamers and influencing game developers to create the most compelling and engaging content they could. So ultimately, I did find a way to have my dream job and I love what I am doing today. What I want to tackle now is a far more ambitious task, one that’s a bit naively utopian. I want to make our world a better place. I’m not looking for sainthood – in a way it’s actually selfish because I have so many family, friends and people I love dearly, and I want to protect them and increase the happiness in their lives. So I’d say my dream job today is to continue what I am doing while influencing our own communities so they are more resilient, safer, healthier and more inclusive. I hope that will in turn radiate throughout our industry.
The Final Boss Véronique Lallier VP, global marketing, Hi-Rez Studios
“What I want to tackle now is a far more ambitious task, one that’s a bit naively utopian. I want to make our world a better place.”
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What’s the key to marketing live service titles in 2018? When you sell a service, you have to care about consumer feedback and how they engage with your content because you need to build an ongoing revenue stream. It’s only through empathetic listening that you can continue to bring innovation and fun content to your game. To be frank, online gamers have been very vocal communities for many years using early tools like mIRC or forum boards, so it’s easy to gauge their opinions – both the good and bad. As far as the nuts and bolts of marketing goes, we’ve all had to shift marketing tactics out of traditional advertising into working with influencers, focusing on word of mouth, gently cultivating pre-existing online gamer communities into potential fans and riding the waves of customer reviews via livestreams, YouTube, Steam reviews, Reddit and the like. Referral programs, in-person meetups, developer to customer social media interactions, encouraging cosplayers and celebrating content creators have risen in importance and show no sign of slowing down. What do you believe are the key advantages, and potential pitfalls, of the free-to-play model? In my opinion, there are three key things to master in the F2P model. First, creating content at a frequent and consistent pace. Then iteration is key – try things, change things and fix things; the goal has to be improving customer satisfaction. And listen to customer feedback and analyse your data, so that even if your customers are not directly vocalising their opinions, you can still understand if they like your content or not. Not mastering these things leads to potential pitfalls like a growing feeling of development abandonment, stagnation of design vision and walling yourself off from your users.