MCV ISSUE 941 THE BUSINESS OF VIDEO GAMES
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO UP YOUR GAME NOVEMBER 2018
Launch, monetize, and scale with Xsolla tools and services.
RECRUITMENT SPECIAL UNIVERSITY CHALLENGE RELOCATION, RELOCATION... CAREER ADVICE & JOB MOVES
CODEMASTERS “THE OPPORTUNITIES HAVE JUST EXPLODED”
n GRIS, THIS YEAR’S PRETTIEST GAME
n BBC GOES GAMING FIRST
n MANAGE YOUR GAME’S LIFECYCLE
n WHEN WE MADE... DEAD CELLS
05 The editor
The horse’s testicles
06 Critical path
The key dates this month
A formula for success
20 Ins and outs
And all our recruitment advice
26 Industry voices
Our platform for the industry
28 University challenge
Improving home-grown talent
Bringing talent from all over the world
38 Relight my fire
Toys for Bob on remastering Spyro
40 Calling the shots
Warner Bros on publishing Hitman
42 50 shades of Gris
Nomada Studio talks artistic ambitions
46 Self service
What Xsolla can do for studios
50 Strictly Come Gaming
The BBC’s Gaming First initiative
54 Sold Out
How to manage the lifecycle of a game
58 When we made...
62 AI and games
Thinking of you
64 Income stream
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Our market analysis
66 The final boss
Teazelcat’s Jodie Azhar
“Competing industries will tell you their TV show, album or book, is more important. They’re wrong.”
TheEditor The horse’s testicles The day before the release of Red Dead Redemption 2, my dad phoned to ask what the big deal was with “the cowboy game.” This never happens. I told him about the game and he mentioned picking up on a relatively incidental detail about how your steed’s testicles would shrink in cold weather. This amused us both very much, it’s not the most mature of relationships admittedly. It’s a testament to the achievements of Rockstar that the game’s release has been so widely reported that it’s even penetrated my father’s bubble of suburban bliss. He isn’t a huge fan of westerns, he’s not likely to buy a console, and even if he did I’m not sure Red Dead, with its epic scale and somewhat tricksy controls would be the ideal starting place. But putting all that aside, the industry needs more grandstanding titles such as this. More titles that catch everyone’s attention, even my dad’s. These are the titles that remind everyone that the form continues to evolve. That it continues to push at the boundaries of entertainment, of technology, of immersion. This game is, for the time being at least, our Ulysses, our Citizen Kane, our Sgt Pepper’s. Yes, there’ll be something better along before too long, that’s games for you, but for now let’s stop and marvel. There are other, competing, industries that will tell you their TV show, their album, or their book, is the most important cultural output of the year. They’re wrong. Critically acclaimed, technically groundbreaking, incredibly popular, and most likely highly profitable, a game such as this comes around only once every few years and truly advances the art form. With all that in mind, why doesn’t the industry create more games like this one? OK, so it’s obviously not as easy as all that, but given the improvements in design and tools in recent years, should there be more investment in such super-sized projects? After all it’s obvious there’s still a huge appetite for such gaming epics – even before any online mode is launched. If spending this much money on creating a game works for Rockstar, do we actually need more investment, do we need more teams to be given this opportunity? In short do we need more games that go all the way? More games that are truly the horse’s testicles? Yes, we do. Seth Barton firstname.lastname@example.org
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11-11 Memories Retold
CriticalPath Here are the key upcoming events and releases to mark in your calendar...
Developed by Aardman Animations in partnership with DigixArt, Bandai Namco’s 11-11 Memories Retold focuses on the story of German solder Kurt (Sebastian Koch) and Canadian war photographer Harry (Elijah Wood) during WWI. This narrative-focused title looks like a gorgeous impressionist painting and is releasing on PS4, XO and digitally on PC.
Football Manager 2019 The fan-favourite football management franchise is coming back to PC, with iOS and Android versions available too. Football Manager 2019 includes the Bundesliga license for the first time. VAR and goal-line technology also debut, to ensure it’s bang up-to-date with the modern game.
Golden Joystick Awards 2018
After a month delay, EA’s Battlefield V will release at the end of the month on PS4, XO and PC, focusing on a realistic approach to WWII. There’s the returning single-player War Stories and several multiplayer modes to enjoy. Oh and there’s also a 64-player battle royale mode (because Fortnite), the development of which was delegated to Criterion.
Bloomsbury Big Top, London
Pokémon Let’s Go! Pikachu & Eevee The first Pokémon game to launch on Switch is here, though it will differ from the main entries in the franchise. New mechanics are drawn from Pokémon Go, including the ability to transfer Pokémon from Go or use candies to strengthen Pokémon. Online trading and battling will be available for Nintendo Switch Online members. 06 | MCV 941 November 2018
The 2018 Golden Joysticks will take place on Friday, November 16th, with the event being live streamed for those who can’t make it to the capital. New categories include Best Competitive Game and Best Cooperative Game. Over 20 awards will be presented, including some chosen by critics and revealed on the night: Critics Choice Award, Breakthrough Award, Lifetime Achievement and the new Outstanding Contribution Award, which will recognise a game, a person/ team or a technology “that has changed our industry for the better in 2018.” Returning to host will be comedian Danny Wallace, who presented last year’s event.
Spyro Reignited Trilogy Following Crash Bandicoot’s footsteps, Spyro is getting the remastered treatment with this collection including the first three games in the series. Rebuilt from the ground up by Toys for Bob, it’s being published by Activision and comes exclusively to PS4. Read more on page 38
Following the new partnership between developer IO Interactive and publisher Warner Bros unveiled last April, Hitman 2 is now ready to hit shelves. Leaving behind the episodic format, it introduces co-op for the first time in the franchise’s history via its Sniper Assassin mode. Read more on page 40
Fallout 76 will be the first online multiplayer title in Bethesda’s franchise, coming from Fallout 4’s multiplayer prototype. Releasing on PS4, XO and PC, it lets gamers play solo or join a group (with up to three other players), but there is no single-player campaign. The only humans you’ll meet in the game are other players, while NPCs are robots, mutants and whatnot.
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Editor: Seth Barton email@example.com, +44 (0)203 871 7388 Senior Staff Writer: Marie Dealessandri firstname.lastname@example.org, +44 (0)203 889 4910 Content Director: James McKeown email@example.com, +44 (0)207 354 6015 Designer: Sam Richwood firstname.lastname@example.org Brand Director, Games: Tony Mott email@example.com B2B Production Manager: Matthew Eglinton firstname.lastname@example.org
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MANAGEMENT Managing Director/Senior Vice President Christine Shaw Chief Revenue Officer Diane Giannini Chief Content Officer Joe Territo Chief Marketing Officer Wendy Lissau Head of Production US & UK Mark Constance
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Howdy pardner. Red Dead Redemption 2 has been unexpectedly therapeutic for me this month. While real life always seems to be gogo-go, RDR2 has a far more relaxed pace. Finally there’s a game in which I’m happy to kick back, sup a tonic and watch the scenery roll by. Bliss.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey has kept me very busy this month as I have a serious problem of side quests addiction. Also I wish Kassandra and her no bullshit attitude could be the lead character in every single video game going forwards. Yes, even Red Dead Redemption 2 (which I also played this month because of course). Marie Dealessandri, Senior Staff Writer
Seth Barton, Editor
Everyone else is on horseback playing cowboys, I know, but I’m still battle royaleing with Call of Duty: Black Ops Blackout. While it lacks PUBG’s expansive map and armour options, the gunplay’s weightier, which is making my kill/death ratio marginally less terrible than it is on PUBG. Not by much, though. Vikki Blake, News Writer
Paws the game The best furry friends the industry has to offer. Send in yours to email@example.com
MCV has an exclusive media partnership with Famitsu – Japan’s leading video games analyst and news source
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Pet name: Winnie Owner’s name: Claire Sharkey Owner’s job: Founder, Sharkbit Winnie is part Pug and part Beagle – but completely adorable. She’s been labelled as the dog version of Kirby, as in she’ll consume anything not nailed down!
Pet name: Kitty Owner’s name: Katie Goode Owner’s job: Creative director, Triangular Pixels
Pet name: Pixel Owner’s name: Marc Aird-Mash Owner’s job: Managing director, Relish Creative
Kitty was not really into gaming until he went viral when a VR jacket was created for him so that he could be seen by the team while they were in VR.
Pixel, named after the dot on her head (not the phone) is an affectionate, loyal, stubborn, gassy, snorey lump of muscle, much like her owner.
Real life events from the industry
ONE SPECIAL DAY SpecialEffect’s annual One Special Day event saw over 50 games industry firms donating part of their revenue for the day and holding events to support the charity. Over £300,000 was raised this year, with events such as Sega’s cyclothon (1) that raised over £3,000, Andy Payne and his team walking the Thames Path (2), raising over £2,500, Sony (3) and nDreams (4) organising bake sales and, of course, the traditional Gamerbake (5) taking place at Ukie HQ – which was won by a lavender and blueberry Animal Crossing cake (6). Gamerbake will return at Loading Bar on December 19th to raise yet more funds for SpecialEffect.
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RUNEFEST 2018 If Runefest isn’t the largest singlegame community event in the UK then, with 1,700 attendees, it’s up there – and it’s certainly the most lavish. It kicked off on Friday evening with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra playing music from Jagex’s RuneScape, interspersed with comic skits for the assembled fans. The event then opened up on Saturday to reveal a large, detailed recreation of part of the world of Gielinor – all at the event’s spanking-new home of Farnborough International Convention Centre. “We’ve grown the event year-onyear and 2018 is probably the single biggest jump in size,” Jagex CEO Phil Mansell (pictured below) told us at the event. “We’re incredibly lucky to be part of an exclusive club of studios that get to run such big fan events.” And Jagex does actually run the event itself, only bringing in specialist technical services where needed. “We talk a lot about living games and I think this is one of our best examples of that. We have thousands of players, hundreds of our staff, we’ve got press, partners, people from the industry, and we’re bringing the game to life. “Although most of the people attending in person are fans already, it’s deepening their fandom and their level of loyalty and advocacy for the game, and that’s super important,” Mansell explained. “They are bringing their virtual selves into real life.”
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GAMES4EU AT THE PEOPLE’S VOTE MARCH With an estimated 700,000 attendees, the People’s Vote march was the largest protest of its kind since Stop the War in 2003. Members of the games industry turned out to support a second referendum on Brexit, with many collecting their efforts around Games4EU, the industry pressure group set up specifically to fight Brexit. George Osborn, Go Editorial founder and Games4EU co-creator said: “A hard or no deal Brexit will disrupt and damage the British video games industry. Brexit offers no notable benefits to a sector already operating on a global stage and this means we must oppose it as fervently as possible while we still can.” Co-founder Tracey McGarrigan, also Ansible Comms CEO, added: “Please take time out of your week to write to your MP, visit them at a constituency surgery or get in touch with them in any way you can. We have one last shot to make a difference; we must make it count.” Andy Payne told us: “In the case of a no deal or hard Brexit, UK based games businesses that do not have an office in the EU will have no choice but to open an office in the EU in order to fully function to the level we do now.” And Ian Livingstone commented: “In a highly competitive global market, access to the best talent is crucial. Hiring the best overseas talent does not displace British jobs – it helps secure them. Future growth of the best UK studios is dependent on the best talent to develop the best products which in turn attracts the best projects and the most investment from all over the world.” Games4EU has created a guide to help businesses cope in the event of a no deal Brexit – it’s available now on www.games4eu.com. You can also read more on page 27
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A formula for
success Codemasters has had a great few years and looks set to push on to even greater heights. Seth Barton talks to CEO Frank Sagnier and longserving producer Clive Moody about multi-platform opportunities, Onrush and its new F1 mobile title
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EO Frank Sagnier is straight to the point, telling us that “Codemasters equals racing.” And looking out across the expansive car park at its Southam site it’s easy to see that many of its employees love their cars. Few UK developers have the history of Codemasters and while the business is now a far cry from the one the Darling brothers created 32 years ago, one thing hasn’t changed: its HQ offices still sit alongside the Darling family farmhouse. It’s a beautiful countryside setting and a brilliantly sunny day as Sagnier gives us the grand tour. The company, long known for its racing games such as Dirt and F1, has over recent years doubled-down on all things wheeled and fast, figuratively driving the company forward with arguably greater consistency and focus than at any point in its long history. STOCK CAR “For the last four years we have grown top line margins and bottom line, year-on-year, there hasn’t been a single red number over four years,” Sagnier tells us proudly. And while he can’t talk about the publicly-listed company’s current year, the market’s outlook is for more of the same. “Within the past four years we’ve almost tripled our business in revenue,” he continues, adding: “And we went from losing money, to now making a significant profit.” The future is looking very bright for Codemasters, more so thanks to a historic quirk of the industry, where a racing title remains a key part of a console launch. Because of that tradition, Codemasters’ biggest competitors – Polyphony’s Gran Turismo and Turn 10’s Forza Motorsport – are both console exclusives. “The biggest [racing] games right now on each platform are exclusives, but a lot of people are very excited about multi-platform, and we’re multi-platform,” says Sagnier. And with cross-platform play looking to be increasingly key to building communities and brands, “that’s quite attractive,” he adds. “We are platform agnostic, we sell content, we want to reach as many people on as many platforms as possible. We don’t want to limit ourselves.” Clive Moody, senior executive producer, adds: “I can’t remember a time when there was so much platform opportunity.” And with eighteen years of experience on the studio’s key racing titles, that’s some statement. “In terms of what we do with racing product, the opportunities have just exploded over the last two to three years.” As well as the growth in PC gaming globally and a strong console hardware line-up, Sagnier points out expanding market opportunities such as live services, mobile, VR and esports. Many of which Codemasters is already involved in. And he only sees Codemasters share of “a $120bn industry, which is growing at seven to ten per cent a year,” increasing. THE FRENCH CONNECTION A key example of Codemaster’s genre-focused but broad platform approach is the company’s upcoming F1 Mobile Racing. We were surprised to discover that it’s the first free-to-play F1 mobile title, with the company holding the rights to console, PC and mobile versions. That makes a lot of sense as the mobile game can draw upon its console sibling, F1 2018, Sagnier continues: “We’ve used many of the
assets, so it’s truly representative of the real circuits, the cars and the sponsors.” The game isn’t being made by one of Codemaster’s own teams, though: “The game was developed externally by Eden Games in Lyon. They are a long established racing developer with a number of successful games and a recent focus on mobile – the right partner for us.” With this mobile title, Codemasters is hoping “to reach a far broader audience,” Sagnier says. “The mobile experience is more accessible, and will reach tens of millions of people, who are going to download the app for free over time.” And both F1 itself, and Codemasters by relation, stand to benefit from bringing F1 to a younger audience. “F1 is a sport that is keen to reach a younger audience. And games in general – console, mobile and esports – attract a massive audience of younger people.” As with any mobile title, the game will be updated regularly, but with no annual moniker on the game, it will also receive significant updates for each new season with all the latest developments. “This is here to stay, and we’re very excited, it will expose millions of customers to F1, which may not want to pay £50 upfront for the console or PC title,” says Sagnier. “It’s a complementary type of experience which will maximise the reach of both the game and the sport.” PACE CAR Moving on to the core console and PC versions of the F1 game, which are produced by two teams in the Birmingham studio, brings us around to the company’s approach on iteration for its flagship titles. In this case F1’s annual seasons are a key reason to maintain an annual release schedule of course, with Sagnier explaining that at present the company “does very well every year. “If you look at our F1 game, we’re not selling the same game to the same consumers every year,” he explains. “There’s only a proportion of consumers who buy it every year, and some people buy every two, every three. There is a big community of several million people who want to play a Formula 1 game, it doesn’t means we sell to that ten million people every single year.” While it’s a successful model, it’s one that Sagnier understands may change with the transition to digital services. “The ability to update content and create new features or organising events throughout the F1 season may lead towards a subscription business model particularly suited to streaming platforms. This would allow us to be less contrained by yearly iterations.” We ask what F1 would think of such a move, to which Sagnier replies: “I think the licensor would agree with this model if it resulted in growing their brand and maximising their long term value.” He then explains: “There will be several business models co-existing which will allow to maximise our audience and deliver the best gaming experience regardless of the platform.” From the hardcore F1 fan who’s happy to pay every season for all the latest content, plus watching and even attending races, all the way down to a casual gamer who simply wants to race a few laps around Silverstone, at a far lower price point. “We then have the ability to address a much bigger audience by providing them with the specific content they wish to consume. The
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consumer is king and we want to allow them to choose whichever way they want to play our games.”
Pictured above from top: Clive Moody and Frank Sagnier
LAPS AND SPLITS While the hardcore end of the racing genre has embraced games-as-a-service, with pay-per-track and pay-per-car models, Codemasters has largely continued with big oneshot releases. But surely more can be done to bring the live games model into the mainstream racing space. “There’s a lot more that can be done in that sense,” Moody agrees. “And we’re in a very privileged position because we created this incredible portfolio of racing games. If you look at that as a whole package, and you think about the opportunities for service around that, it becomes far more than just about one franchise or one product. It’s about how we can build that out into the greater whole, that’s the real opportunity for us.” He’s not talking about rolling all the games into one huge service platform quite yet. “Of course we want to support games on a per-game basis and service those titles, but we have to think a lot bigger beyond that, and that’s something no other developer can do in our space and genre, given our portfolio” A first step could be to reduce the number of big individual releases, we suggest. “I think you’re right,” says Moody. “I think reducing the cadence of brand new iterations versus being able to service them is a really good goal for us. “We would rather have [a title in a given series] every two to three years and enhance the title via service over that time. Because it allows you to reach more consumers on your franchise, and keep them engaged for longer, it also allows the leap to the next game to be much higher by giving us longer to develop the next greatest thing. “You get that step change, which we have always been looking for, that level of innovation. We’re all about innovation, we always have been about innovation… although you do need time to do that.” And that approach applies to the brands as well, Sagnier tells us: “We would rather have fewer but bigger franchises, it makes sense to focus and expand our biggest brands, rather than constantly create new ones, as development costs and customer acquisition are increasing. Growing existing successful franchises is what our gaming community is asking for and it is also the best return on investment for Codemasters. And we all know how difficult it is to create new IP.” A good example of that is how Codemasters took its Dirt franchise and span off a more focused, more
hardcore sibling in Dirt Rally, for which a sequel is launching in February of next year. “Nothing stops us from doing a slice of something else,” says Moody. “If you take a game like Dirt, we could easily have a Paris-Dakar expansion pack. We’ve got WRX within Dirt, and we’re very excited about this, we can bring more content, but it doesn’t have to be a separate game every time, it could be under existing brands.” So just how many titles is the company planning for? Sagnier estimates the company will release “two or three” major titles every year, with those coming from the five development teams that are spread across three UK locations. Two of those teams are here at the HQ in Southam, while the two F1 teams in Birmingham are about to be relocated to new, larger, more central premises. RUSHING AHEAD The fifth team, and the most recent to join, is in Runcorn, Cheshire, which, as Evolution Studios, produced Driveclub, plus the Motorstorm and WRC series for Sony over an almost ten year stretch. Sony closed the studio in March 2016, but Codemasters came in to resurrect it only weeks later. Just two years on, the team released competitive arcade racer Onrush in June. News coverage painted the title a failure and that narrative looked to persist with layoffs that came soon after, but Sagnier and Moody are happy to take the opportunity to clarify events around the game and the studio’s future. “We are always pushing innovation, and we are proud of what the studio has achieved and there is no doubt over the high quality of the team. Within just two years, the team engineered cutting edge technology, created a new IP and executed something that was well-received by critics.” Moody reveals. “It was a pretty stellar effort.” Sagnier adds: “Large parts of the tech will be included in our next-generation of our Ego engine. It’s really something that’s taking us to the next level.” He continues: “The game was very innovative, and brought a fresh twist to the racing genre. We had amazing feedback from some consumers but unfortunately, others were expecting a more traditional racing game. This resulted into a lesser commercial success than expected at launch but we believe in the product and hope to revive the franchise sometime in the future. “The company is doing well. So if there’s some small risks to take, we’d quite like to take them. If we know
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we’re protected as an overall business, we need to innovate, it’s important.” He adds: “Maybe it was too much innovation for a new IP.” That said, the company continues to support the game, and has delivered new content since its release. Onrush has also appeared on Xbox Game Pass and Sagnier tells us that it “may be featured on other subscription services in the future.” There’s a Chinese release upcoming, with partner Subor, which Sagnier hopes “can broaden its audience.” And he isn’t ruling out a move to free-to-play in the future following the recent addition of microtransactions. After all, Fortnite’s success did not come overnight, so there’s always hope for a critically-acclaimed title such as Onrush. “I can also confirm there were no redundancies,” Sagnier points out. “After each project you always have people that leave to pursue new opportunities. We took on a team of 50 plus people over two years ago and we are still at that level and growing. “People need to look at the bigger picture, we’ve got a team that is now going to work on one of our most important franchises, they’ve done a great job in two years, so imagine if they work on an IP that is proven and they can bring more innovation to it, we’re very excited about that,” Sagnier enthuses. Moody, who is now running the studio, agrees: “There’s a lot of excitement in Cheshire about what we’re doing next, there’s a lot of investment going back into that studio, to build that team to higher levels. I love getting fresh blood in, I think that mix of new people versus people who’ve been in the studio a long time really just keeps things fresh and functioning in a nice way.” We’re told that the team is now the lead development team on a major new title for the company, though it’s not yet time to announce what that is. Bu that should quash the rumours that the studio was working only as a subsidiary for other teams in the company. PEOPLE POWER Codemasters is looking to grow as a whole as well, Sagnier tells us: “We’ve got about 35 to 40 people that we’re looking to recruit over the three sites. We’re going to spend about £100m over the next few years on development… That’s a significant investment compared to what we’ve spent in the past. We spend more time on the games, so they are more polished. If you want to be competitive out there you need to be the best in class,” he states. The studio is keen to talk up its facilities and its expansive countryside campus at Southam will appeal to many. “We’ve got a 5,000 square feet brand new gym, a football pitch, a car park for everyone, a subsidised restaurant, and we organise BBQs and other social events. We care about our people a lot, because happy people make great games,” exclaims Sagnier. “In the new year, we are moving our F1 Birmingham team to brand new and larger facilities, a few minutes walk from the mainline train station. We are also planning to refresh the Cheshire studio facility. Not only do we want to make Codemasters a great place to work, we also want to make sure each office reflects the company values.”
A key advantage of having three locations is it allows people to relocate within the company, should they want to. We wonder if being a single genre publisher might make it harder to retain staff long-term. Moody points out that while some are dedicated to the subject matter, others revel in “the technical or artistic challenge… As long as they have that ability to challenge themselves, they’re working on innovative products, on the bleeding edge of technology, then they’re happy people.” As with many developers, the company has roles it’s always keen to recruit in, such as physics, graphics, AI and network programmers. “You don’t need to be from a racing background to join,” says Moody. “If you have a happy team it comes through in the game. You can tell games that are made by a happy well-bonded, passionate team, versus teams that are perhaps not functioning as they should be. I honestly think that shines through,” he smiles. POLE POSITION Sagnier feels the company is set for even greater success, which he ascribes to a new-found focus. He explains: “Our focus on quality racing games has proven very successful. You need to be best at what you do if you want to succeed. While we specialise in a single genre, the evergreen nature of racing, the continual growth of the gaming audience and their greater access to games through multiple devices is our recipe to continued success. “When you’ve got such huge opportunity, the risk is to go to the wrong opportunity, the risk is to try to do everything... I think we’re very careful, we’re focusing on what we’re very good at, console and PC. We’re now doing a little bit of mobile, but the focus is we can double our PC and console business by engaging consumers with better content. “We did get it slightly wrong this year, we didn’t anticipate digital would grow as fast as it did – good news. Maybe we were a bit conservative. And with digital revenue now over 50 per cent, there’s even more room for profitable growth.” With games-as-a-service and mobile titles helping to boost and level out the company’s already pretty predictable income stream, last year’s IPO was a success, securing the funding to invest in “people, franchises and tech for the future,” says Sagnier. “If you look at the UK market today, five games companies are publicly listed, all of them thriving, while offering different strategies, different skills, different games or services. It’s great to be a part of that healthy UK games development community,” Sagnier concludes.
“We’re going to spend about £100m over the next few years on development… That’s a significant investment compared to what we’ve spent in the past.” November 2018 MCV 941 | 17
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Ins and outs: Industry hires and moves 1
Eurogamer’s reporter intern EMMA KENT (1) has now joined the publication permanently as reporter. “Emma has impressed us since day one – before that, really – with her tenacity, willingness to ask difficult questions and nose for a good story,” editor Oli Welsh said. “I’m super excited to see what Emma takes on next – and very pleased to be expanding Eurogamer’s reporting team.” Meanwhile, freelance writer MATT WALES (2) has also joined Eurogamer full time and will still be in charge of the night shifts.
Square Enix has announced JOHN HEINECKE (4) as its new chief marketing officer, with the former Blizzard VP heading up marketing activities for all titles across Square Enix America and Europe. KERRY RIZZO (5) has been appointed as senior communications manager at nDreams. She joined from a similar position at GAME Digital and previously worked at BAFTA, where she was responsible for BAFTA Young Game Designers, among others.
Ubisoft has announced the appointment of FRÉDÉRICK DUGUET (9) as CFO from January 1st 2019. He will replace Alain Martinez, who’s retiring at the end of this year. Duguet has been at Ubisoft for the past nine years as chief financial planning officer. Meanwhile, on this side of the Channel, Ubisoft UK has hired ADAM MERRETT (10) as senior PR manager. He joined from PlayStation where he was European comms manager, having previously worked at 2K.
Industry veteran BEN COUSINS (3) has joined Swedish developer Isbit Games as CEO. He previously worked for the likes of EA, Sony and Lionhead. Under this new leadership, Isbit will “focus on premium platforms” and continue working on “a tremendously promising new IP already in development,” Cousins said.
Koch Media has made three new appointments. NAMER MERLI (6) has been hired as UK marketing assistant. He previously worked in QA at Sega and 2K. LEE HUNT (7) has joined as UK product manager from Green Man Gaming, where he was events manager. He also worked at GAME for nine years. Last but not least, JOSHUA BALL (8) has been appointed UK junior PR manager. Ball used to be a chef and this is his first role in the industry, after six years of working on a game news site as a hobby.
Former technical art director on Creative Assembly’s Total War franchise, JODIE AZHAR (11), has founded her own studio, Teazelcat Games. The studio is already at work on its first unannounced project, a narrative-focused title coming to both PC and consoles. Teazelcat aims to make games with inclusivity in mind and creates a welcoming, enjoyable space for everyone (read more on page 66). KAYLEIGH WATSON (12) has joined 2K’s UK team as senior PR manager – a
newly created role. Watson previously worked for the likes of PR agencies Substance Global, Emanate and Lunch. Simon Turner, head of UK marketing and comms, said: “Kayleigh brings a wealth of experience from the world of film and gaming and we’re thrilled to have her on board in this senior capacity within our PR and communication team.”
Focus Multimedia-owned online games retailer Fanatical has made two senior appointments. MIKAH MARTIN-CRUZ (13), formerly at Microsoft and Samsung, has joined in the newly created role of CMO. Meanwhile, games industry veteran PETER KING (14) has been hired as senior business development manager.
Former Disney Infinity VP of production JOHN VIGNOCCHI (15) has joined Gearbox Publishing. While Vignocchi has yet to confirm what project(s)
he’s been assigned to, he has confirmed he’ll be serving the studio as an executive producer “on a new tent-pole franchise for the company,” he said on Twitter. “We will be working on something that we hope will surprise and delight gamers of all ages, whether you’re six or 60... And I cannot wait to share more!” Team17’s CFO Paul Bray has stepped down and retired, leading to the appointment of JO JONES (16) as the firm’s new CFO. Jones has spent the last ten years at Experian, working across a number of senior finance roles. Team17’s CEO Debbie Bestwick commented: “Firstly, let me personally thank Paul for his significant contribution to Team17 over the last eight years. Secondly, let me welcome Jo into the Team17 family. She joins our business at an incredibly exciting time and we look forward to her contribution in continuing our successful journey.” Exertis has promoted RICHARD HINDS (17) to the newly created role of COO for UK and Ireland. Hinds was previously group finance director and will now have responsibility for the finance, purchasing, IT, logistics and customer services functions. He said: “I am delighted to be taking on this challenging role in what is an exciting time as we continue to grow our business both organically and by acquisition.”
Got an appointment you’d like to share with us? Email Marie Dealessandri at firstname.lastname@example.org 20 | MCV 941 November 2018
Rising Star Vic Hood, staff writer, TechRadar
of self-motivation and an awareness of your limits. Personally, I found myself taking on too much work originally out of fear I would never get it again and that I would somehow lose the momentum I gathered at Eurogamer, but eventually I realised it was having a negative impact on my mental health and that I was better suited to being a staff writer. What do you enjoy most about your job? I constantly have to remind myself that my ten year old self would be so proud of me because this was my dream job – and it still is. That’s a really good way to stay grounded. I love that the games industry is constantly changing and no two days are exactly the same. One day I could be in the office writing news and another I might be playing an upcoming game in a tiny studio in Paris. It’s the most wonderfully bizarre industry. What’s your big ambition in games? I made a list of the things I want to achieve in my career and at the top of that is just to be a well-respected and authoritative voice in the games industry – someone people admire. Apart from that, I would love to be an editor of a well-respected gaming publication someday, maybe write a book and write an investigative piece that makes a real difference to the industry.
How did you break into games? My degree is actually in traditional journalism and while studying I was writing games pieces on the side for a free site. When it came to my final year, I decided I would take the leap and try to break into games journalism – marrying my love of journalism with my passion for games. I was fortunate enough to land the Eurogamer internship straight after finishing university and then was kept on for a further two months when the internship ended. Luckily I made a good enough impression during that time to cement my place in the industry.
What is your proudest career achievement so far? Winning the Emerging Talent award at the Games Media Brit List. It still feels very surreal, but I think that was the moment I felt like I made it and it still makes me really emotional to think about. What’s been your biggest challenge to date? Freelancing full-time. It’s something which journalists either love or hate and I found myself the latter. It requires an incredible amount
What advice would you give to someone trying to get into games journalism? There’s so many things. One would be to know how competitive games journalism in the UK is – you need to be at the top of your game and things aren’t always going to run smoothly (especially as a freelancer). Staff writing jobs are few and far between, so you may have to freelance for a while – which I’ve mentioned isn’t easy. It’s important to find your niche and your strength. In a sea full of opinions and voices, you need to make sure yours stands out. Finally (though I could go on forever), work on your writing. I know that sounds like common sense but having a passion and knowledge for games does not necessarily make you a good writer so practice, practice, practice, whenever and wherever you can.
If there’s a rising star at your company, please contact Marie Dealessandri at email@example.com November 2018 MCV 941 | 21
Cherry picked advice to help you reach the next level in your career
Lead games designer at Sperasoft Steven Thornton, who worked on Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Rainbow Six Siege and over ten Lego games, explains how QA is still a route to games design and what he looks for in applicants What is your job role and how would you describe your typical day at work? I am currently lead games designer at Sperasoft, a Keywords studio located in Saint Petersburg, Russia. People say the ‘ideas person’ role doesn’t exist in triple-A game development, but that is sort of what I do. The lead games designer defines the game’s features at a high level and then delegates the ‘details’ to their games design team. During production, you will be constantly reviewing and approving the ‘in progress’ content, answering questions, resolving conflicts and solving problems; all of which means a lot of time in meeting rooms. This is a full-time management job and you are likely to never actually touch the engine or contribute so much as a single asset or line of code to the game yourself. A typical day at work begins with the morning stand-up meeting to check on the status of all ongoing tasks and identify any blockers that are preventing a task from moving forward. Although there is already a plan, every day is guaranteed to raise new questions, and every decision has ripple effects that must be chased and communicated. The rest of the time is usually based around content review. A triple-A development team will be producing assets and completing tasks constantly and they all pass through the lead games designer for a seal of approval. What qualifications or experience do you need to land this job? I went the university route and got my first design job at Traveller’s Tales thanks to a series of summer internships through my tutors. I got to prove myself on the job, which is unfortunately a rare opportunity. My advice to aspiring games designers without any formal experience is to find ways to show rather than tell. The strongest games design portfolio is one with playable content, even if the art is all sticks and spheres. There are plenty of accessible tools available now, don’t be afraid to make something. Another common route into design is still via the QA department. It’s a stereotype, but QA tend to work closely with the designers, which gives them an opportunity to demonstrate aptitude for the office environment and the studio’s specific games. They may even get to catch some simple design tasks during schedule overflow.
If you were interviewing someone for your team, what would you look for? I am looking for enthusiasm and confidence tempered with maturity and diplomacy. Regardless of your seniority within a design team, all designers are managers and morale captains. We set the tone of the project, we generate and explain the tasks, we provide the feedback that can change (or waste) hours of someone else’s work, so even at a junior level I am looking for strong soft skills and self-awareness. Sweeping unconstructive statements about whole franchises or studios being ‘bad’ or similar forum-gutter soundbites are red flags, as is boasting about poor work/life balance, since it suggests they would expect the same from any team you pair them with. There’s also a risk that junior designers will feel pressure to prove themselves by pitching big ideas, but actually the main things I want to see at first is consistency and reliability. Generally studios don’t hire new blood to ‘fix’ things, they want help finishing what they already started. If you approach the industry excited to contribute and collaborate, you will soon get the chance to leave your mark. What opportunities are there for career progression? At a large studio there may be an opportunity for you to become a creative director or the director of the design department, giving you influence or veto power over multiple projects. However, it is true for all departments that the higher you climb the ladder, the more you will drift away from the hands-on work. Finding a balance between influence over the big picture and focus on the details is a personal one, and something you need to feel out once you get there.
Want to talk about your career and inspire people to follow the same path? Contact Marie Dealessandri at firstname.lastname@example.org 22 | MCV 941 November 2018
Name: Ignacio Fuentes Talens Studio: nDreams Job Title: Junior Programmer Education: BSc, Computer Games Programming
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 nDreams to come and join them? I heard about nDreams through Amiqus and what appealed to me was the fact they are developing games for virtual reality and also their company values. It was always easy to communicate with them throughout my interview process and it felt like it would be a very friendly, but also exciting place to work. What’s the culture like at nDreams and what’s your experience been like fitting in? The company culture at nDreams is great, they really value their employees and the work-life balance is something worth outlining. I relocated from Spain to the UK for this job and they were very welcoming and helpful during the whole process, it all felt very natural. What are you most excited about bringing to the role? I hope to bring a lot of versatility to my role here and I’m a very fast learner… My tasks greatly vary from one another so being able to adapt quickly is very important.
What will working at nDreams do for your career? I think working at nDreams is an excellent opportunity to further develop my skills as a generalist programmer. I will get to experience the full development process of their biggest VR project yet! What would you like to say to anyone thinking about or undertaking a job move in this industry? If you feel passionate about developing games you should totally go for it. Remember that you want to learn as much as possible about the company during your interviews, make sure you understand their company culture and you feel you identify with it.
“The company culture at nDreams is great and the work-life balance is something worth outlining.”
November 2018 MCV 941 | 23
ME ANYTHING This week’s question: What makes a difference when hiring? Do benefits matter or is it simply about the project, location and salary?
Noirin Carmody, Founder & COO, Revolution
All of the above. However, the project is a really significant component. We tend to attract candidates who have worked on previous Revolution games. When we advertised for a producer role earlier this year we were surprised to receive CVs from applicants around the world who wanted to work on our new project. Salary is important but should reflect the appropriate skills level. Location certainly plays its part in attracting talent. The studio is based in a medieval street in the centre of Roman and Viking York that was recently listed as one of the top places to live in the UK. Most of the team walk to work.
Matt White, Head of Studios, Kuju
It’s about offering a package of a great game to work on, being part of a talented team combined with our understanding of the individual. When it comes to hiring we really believe that there is a healthy two-way conversation for us to understand what the candidate’s priorities are. For some it’s about the genre, the project and the team. For others it may be that the location is as important, flexible working hours or remote working. The whole is greater than the sum of all the parts!
“Increasingly, an employer’s perks and benefits are becoming a deciding factor for games professionals.” Chris Bewick Director Global Operations, Testronic
Salary, location or project? I would say it’s a mixture of all three, but I believe that career opportunities are also very important, particularly for those who are just getting started in their chosen area. QA is moving – it is no longer just a stepping stone into the games industry. Due to LiveOps, QA has become a career choice in itself. At the same time, we are proud to actively promote our ’50% Initiative’ to encourage more young women into the games industry. For women, it is often the environment at a company that is as important as anything else. By having initiatives such as this, we’re attracting more women to join Testronic and start an exciting career in video games.
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Alex Wright-Manning, Head of Recruitment, Splash Damage
As a studio, we can ensure our salaries are competitive, relocation options are available and that we choose to develop exciting projects that capture a potential employee’s imagination. But so can our competition! Increasingly, an employer’s perks and benefits are becoming a deciding factor for games professionals. As such, we offer comprehensive healthcare and dental packages, industry leading employee and leadership development programmes, exciting social events, gym membership and revenue share packages. We’re also very proud to offer ten weeks of fully paid paternity cover – something unique to the UK industry.
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!
Dealing with crunch, once and for all
Liz Prince, Amiqus
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RECENT revelations of 100-hour working weeks for staff at development studios have once again lit the blue touch paper on the debate surrounding crunch within the video games industry and how best to deal with it, once and for all. Historically, the long working hours associated with bringing a game to market were treated almost as a given for developers. But it’s now much easier for staff to share horror stories of consistent overworking practices and aggressive behaviour by bosses. And rightly so. There’s a growing school of thought among game development professionals that the only way to stop this kind of exploitation is through unionisation, which is causing enough ripples through the industry at a high level that positive action seems almost certain. First and foremost, the practice of regularly working long hours is supremely bad for an individual’s health. It’s also unsustainable in the long-term and catastrophic for business. Ultimately, to say those extra few hours aren’t doing anyone any good at all would be an understatement. We need to find another way to get stuff done and the answers lie in planning and people management. What can we do at the beginning of the development process to help ease any crunch later down the line? It would seem studios need to have a thorough and honest understanding of their own abilities in order to plan and complete projects on time and on budget. Appreciating the challenges of hiring into the team, knowing which skills are going to take longer to bring on board, will help to manage to realistic timeframes. If a
problem arises, it needs to be dealt with there and then. Senior members of the team can also help by leading by example, making their own work-life balance a priority, keeping staff motivated and offering support. Playing a video game is a fun thing to do – creating games should be a fun experience, too. And this is an important message for us to send out to potential employees, because attracting and retaining staff is crucial to all companies, and the industry at large. Thankfully there are very, very few businesses which can be described as the ‘toxic workplaces’ that have been discussed of late. However, there are some practical ways which can help all businesses attract and retain staff and work-life balance is right up there on people’s priority lists. We are passionate about encouraging more women into the industry through our G Into Gaming initiative and for women there are often different things to consider, especially if they are a primary caregiver. Stories of industry crunch don’t make for an attractive working environment when other industries bend over backwards to offer flexibility to working parents. We need to move on swiftly from the recent revelations, learn from them, alter working practices and show those outside of the industry that this is a great place to work! Let’s continue to work together to improve industry working practices, celebrate the good and strive for the ideal. Liz Prince heads up Amiqus, one of the leading recruitment agencies in the games industry. She has also pioneered the G Into Gaming initiative.
It’s time to get truly political
Tracey McGarrigan, Games4EU
THE day after the first advisory referendum, I cried. Like the games industry itself, I was born a few years after the UK first voted to stay in the EU and I’ve only ever known what it’s like to be European. I couldn’t comprehend how anyone would vote against the freedom to live, work, retire, study, travel, love and do business anywhere with ease. I quickly realised I, and many others, had been silently angry that this vote was happening at all and now the bubble had burst. On 26th June 2018, I joined more than 100,000 people threading their way noisily through London as part of the first People’s Vote march. One thing on that day did become strikingly clear: somewhere in the swell of people were many other folks from the games industry. Though we had all turned out to march, we hadn’t done so together. Seeing other industries and pro-EU groups organising themselves, myself, George Osborn, and Jas Purewal felt the games industry had been mute about Brexit. We founded Games4EU that same month, dedicated to explaining and fighting the impact that Brexit will have on us. After all, the UK games industry is one of the closest-knit in the world. The geography helps; we’re always fairly local to each other wherever we go. Rivalries, if they exist at all, are healthy, not destructive. Our skills as nurturers of upcoming talent and our ability to be champions of diversity makes us a network of creatives few other industries can rival. We’ve still got a long way to go, but I’m proud of the steps we’ve taken. Given our nature, it’s no surprise that the UK games industry predominantly voted to remain in the EU. So why have we been so afraid to get truly political before now, to vocally fight Brexit?
That’s what Games4EU is for – a grassroots, not-for-profit political campaigning group that is encouraging open debate and empowering people to take action. We’re comprised of volunteers from across video games, table-top games, esports, interactive broadcast, XR and more, who have gathered over 1,500 signatures on a letter to MPs, have hit the streets of London once again with 700,000 other marchers, and have addressed the fact that there was little practical guidance or in-depth analysis on the impact Brexit will have on interactive entertainment by publishing our much needed, and chilling to read, Guide to Brexit. As this phase of Brexit enters its final period, we need to be closer to each other than we’ve ever been and stand together to protect one of the most productive and culturally important creative industries in the world. I want to see the industry I love continue to prosper, grow and deliver meaningful entertainment to inform and enrich the lives of millions of people. I believe this can only be truly achieved if we remain in the EU or as close to it as we possibly can. As someone who would never have described themselves as politically charged, I now ask others to also find their voice. Now is the time to act; regardless of your opinion on Brexit, we should all be asking for a final, informed say on any deal. Because the threat to our industry and to our way of life is real, and the fear of not speaking out cannot be greater than the fear of doing nothing. Tracey McGarrigan is CEO of Ansible Communications and co-founder of Games4EU, a movement founded by members of the UK video games industry to fight against Brexit.
“As someone who would never have described themselves as politically charged, I now ask others to also find their voice. Now is the time to act; regardless of your opinion on Brexit, we should all be asking for a final, informed say on any deal.”
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Marie Dealessandri talks to universities and education-engaged organisations about supporting and improving UK-educated talent to better prepare the games industry for the impact of Brexit
28 | MCV 941 November 2018
n Ukie’s annual review 2018, CEO Dr Jo Twist OBE wrote in her foreword: “With Brexit threatening to further restrict access to the highly skilled, it’s never been more important to improve home-grown skills.” With that quote in mind, MCV decided to reach out to universities and companies involved in education to gather their thoughts on this very important topic and answer these burning questions: can universities step up to fill the potential Brexit gap in talent? To what extent can the UK games industry be supported by UK-educated talent? And what can be done to get as close as possible to being self-sufficient? The first issue raised being: should we actually aim for self-sufficiency? “It is difficult to accurately gauge what selfsufficient would be,” Bournemouth University’s head of department for Creative Technology Dr Christos Gatzidis replies. “It is also hard to envisage an eventuality, post-Brexit, where that would be entirely needed or indeed entirely healthy either.”
ready students. And some of it stems back to the student pathway before uni. “We’ve built a number of things into our courses to make sure that our students can start on a level playing field since there’s such a big discrepancy in what they may have studied before,” senior lecturer in Games Design at Staffordshire University Nia Wearn says. “But we sometimes note the self-starting aspects you’d hope university students have – applying for things, attending networking events – aren’t there. So we do a lot to build up the confidence of our students where we can.” Wearn highlights one of the main problems here: students not having the background that would give them a better preparation to follow uni games courses. Skills that can apply to games should be taught earlier on in the curriculum: that’s something many in the industry have been trying to encourage for years, Ukie for instance being at the forefront of this fight with its Digital Schoolhouse initiative.
Mario Michaelides, lecturer in Games Design at Brunel University London, adds: “I believe the UK games industry will survive post Brexit, but survival is not a target that any industry aspires to. The games industry benefits greatly from the EU in terms of employment opportunities, sharing of skills and talent, cultural and diversity enrichment. The creative industries in general gain from the ability to be far reaching and as an academic this plays an important part in teaching our students to be global citizens. Self-sufficiency in this regards is not a virtue, and neither is it coveted. Simply put, the games industry needs to be connected to the host of talent and culture the world has to offer in order to prosper, not just to survive.” So maybe being self-sufficient isn’t the goal – but it is important to think about how we can better support UK-educated talent nonetheless. And the path to get there was highlighted by every person who answered our questions: we need to encourage some topics to be taught earlier on, we need more diversity in the talent pipeline and we need more communication between industry and academia to make sure students are industry-ready. University games courses seem to have largely grown in the past years but that doesn’t mean they’re always able to create industry-
When asked to what extent the UK games industry can be supported by UK-educated talent, Tom Cole, course leader in Computer Games Design at the University for the Creative Arts Rochester, answers: “By all accounts of people I’ve spoken to in recruiting roles, not much.” He continues: “Several triple-A developers I’ve spoken to say they will have a 30 per cent dip in numbers applying, meaning it will be that much harder to get the right people. As far as education goes – it’s bleak as far as secondary schools are concerned and variable with higher education. “With secondary schools the arts curriculum is massively undersiege and under appreciated. It seems to me that if you can’t easily put a pound sign directly next door to the subject – for instance economics, maths, business and so on – then this government just isn’t interested. “Having said that, that’s been the case for the last ten years or so. This is a big problem for games development, which is a fusion between artistic foundations and technical abilities, particularly in the more generalist indie sector. They are forgetting the vast amounts of cash that the creative economy generates in this country every year, including video games!”
November 2018 MCV 941 | 29
Pictured: The NextGen showcase 2018 – an annual showcase where graduates get to present their work to industry professionals
Pictured above from top: Christos Gatzidis and Ian Goodall
Cole reckons that the removal of Computer Science decades ago and its replacement with ICT, and since then “the ridiculous haphazard way in how they’re trying to re-establish Computer Science,” is largely to blame for this blockage in the learning pipeline. He elaborates: “There is little to no education about technical aspects such as programming and certainly no teaching done about games design, production and business elements. I have to be broader in what I look for in a student – persistence and passion, because if I only took students that had previously had a good portfolio of games, I’d have no students! “Games design should be a fundamental part of the secondary school curriculum. It teaches a mass of social and group working skills and lots of other skills (systems thinking, analysis, research, testing, iteration, product development) that they don’t really get chance to cover in other subjects.” He adds that “the general level of education about how video games are made amongst the wider population (including avid gamers) is really poor,” especially compared to films and literature. Gatzidis says that there’s “a significant number of courses in UK higher education in games development which one could argue could support the domestic industry very well.” However, he agrees that there’s a lack of prior knowledge in some topics: “Ideally more students coming into higher education with a stronger maths and/or physics background plus problem-solving
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and also programming expertise could help, especially for the more technical roles in the industry.” Marcia Deakin, games partnership director at NextGen Skills Academy, agrees that the focus is often not where it should be. “NextGen works with an employer steering group across games, animation and VFX who are facing similar challenges in recruitment. The message, loud and clear, is that education needs to focus on the fundamental skills of art, design, sound and programming. Practically that means a student needs to understand the principles behind a subject, rather than just how to operate software packages.” TALK TO EACH OTHER That leads us to discussing another burning question: having a more diverse UK-based talent pool to counterbalance the impact of Brexit. “We face a number of issues, diversity being one, too many graduates leaving education without the skills the industry needs and also a low take up on apprenticeships which could help fill the gaps at entry level and upskill the existing workforce,” Deakin says. “We need to widen the talent pool and look beyond ‘graduates only’.” She reckons the games industry should look into how other creative industries are tackling the issue. “Games companies could do worse than to take notice of the example of Access:VFX. In just over a year a London-centric group of 16 companies have
had a national impact. A Diversity and Inclusion agenda has been the driver for Access:VFX. Employers recognise the benefits for creativity and the bottom line in drawing talent from as large as pool as possible. Companies like Ubisoft and Double Eleven have already joined in with Access:VFX. When that translates into regular engagement with students from 16+, the nature and quantity of talent that is work-ready will be fundamentally improved. “The games industry can be self-sufficient, but it needs the major players to pull in the same direction and plan to create a new nationwide talent pipeline with strategic partners like NextGen. The talent pipeline for the next decade needs to have multiple routes to work including Level 4 Apprenticeships, HNC/HND graduates from vocational courses, top-up degree apprenticeships and graduate recruitment that demands work-ready skills. “The more employers who can contribute to develop routes to work with us, the more likely that we’ll create a talent pipeline with multiple entry points to work. The graduate recruitment model is already failing to supply enough work-ready recruits and NextGen is promoting routes that will fill the gaps, and challenge universities to address the needs of the industry.” MD of Aardvark Swift Recruitment and Grads In Games founder Ian Goodall echoes Deakin’s thoughts on apprenticeships and the like: “Other industries are far more open to taking on juniors, trainees, interns and
apprentices, but in games it’s tough for studios to justify the time and resource spent on training, and ultimately it’s the sustainability of the industry that takes a hit. We need to be more prepared to take on prospects and provide them with the support and training to bring them up to a professional level.” Both Deakin and Goodall hint at how those new routes to the games industry could provide talent that is actually industry-ready. But that’s not saying that universities are not trying. Effort needs to come on both sides – employers on one side, academia on the other. Deakin adds: “The issue is not that there aren’t enough students studying games, the issue is that they are not studying the right things to get them work-ready.” However, on the other end of the spectrum, Wearn reckons that “uni courses on the whole could do with a wider recognition of the quality of work that is coming out from our graduates – and easier ways to promote this work.” She further explains: “We do a number of things [to prepare students for a career in the games industry]. Throughout their courses we focus them on specific goals, use real world briefs and assignments where we can – art tests or bids, working prototypes and group work. In the final year we have much great focus on practical employability skills and giving credit for integrating with the industry where they can, online or in person. We promote game jams and portfolio workshops to help the students develop portfolios that stand out and we work with employers to do mock interviews. We also don’t shield them from the realities of the industry as we see them portrayed and fed back to us from our contacts. We hope our students go into whichever field in the industry with their eyes open.” She gives a few tips on how employers could improve graduate hiring: “Make relevant jobs and job requirements transparent – get in touch with course tutors to see if we have any alumni we know might fit the bill for certain jobs you might have, or if we have graduate shows coming up. Also please communicate
Pictured above from top: Marcia Deakin and Mario Michaelides
“The issue is not that there aren’t enough students studying games, the issue is that they are not studying the right things to get them work-ready.” November 2018 MCV 941 | 31
Pictured above from top: Nia Wearn and Tom Cole
with us – things we’re doing well with (such as sending students out into the world with showreels and portfolios) and things you think we could improve on. There’s so much conflicting information out there for students and for us as tutors – but if you can help us address specific issues you might be seeing then please let us know. We’re always ready to listen.” She concludes: “So much of the games industry now seems very closed off to students – Discords and Slacks are great for communication, but they can put up barriers to students finding jobs, or having a clear idea of what the industry is actually like. The talent is there, it just doesn’t entirely know where to apply itself.” Gatzidis adds that Bournemouth University is always on the look out for “opportunities to partner with [UK studios] in funded research or R&D projects in particular, which can then create a long-lasting relationship that can ultimately benefit undergraduate students too.” This long-lasting relationship between academia and industry professionals is also something Goodall advocates and aims for with Grad in Games. He explains: “Employers need to be more involved in training future generations. Get into the unis and colleges, and provide real studio-backed guidance, use real-life examples to set assignments or give project direction, and get students learning the same tools and techniques that they’ll need in a studio. Work with the universities and course leaders to develop a plan that will leave students with the skills and knowledge you want to see in your studio. “A lot of studios are great at adopting this into their outreach programmes and own internal training, but there’s many larger studios that are in a position to create a great training platform for graduate talent, but will instead cherry-pick the best couple of students from a course each year and call it a day. That’ll work out fine for the studio, but it doesn’t provide long-term support for the industry and is partially why we keep having major skills gaps all over the place.” Cole echoes Goodall’s statement, talking about students being disregarded by employers. More communication, more training programmes is again
“Companies can have a huge beneficial effect on vocational education in the UK if they act jointly, rather than as individual businesses.” 32 | MCV 941 November 2018
highlighted as the solution: “Many developers rubbish graduates as being useless and there’s a real snobbery amongst some companies about hiring them. It really pisses me off,” he says. “If they were more professional and gave more thought to training schemes within their company then they and the sector as a whole stand to benefit. I can only think of Ubisoft who are doing this off the top of my head – have a grad training programme. This is what most other sectors do, why can’t games do it? “Employers and academia need to have a good conversation about agendas and what each is getting out of it. Often these needs don’t match up, particularly between triple-A companies and unis, and so time and energy is wasted in a bad marriage to begin with.” However, he tempers his thoughts, adding that it “doesn’t have to be that way,” and acknowledges that “there are faults on both sides.” Talking about a few companies getting in touch recently to start collaborations, he worries about their motivation though: “Most of the time that’s just because they want to hire cheap exploitable workers, not because they actually want to invest in the sector. Notable exception: Rebellion. They just want to encourage the new blood.” WORKING TOGETHER Everyone we talked to mentioned how finding the right timing is the bulk of why academia and industry don’t communicate enough, with Cole saying we “just need to work out times and schedules in the year when things can crossover.” He asks: “When’s a good time business-wise for industry people to take time out to come visit? When’s a good time teaching-wise for industry people to come and speak to students? Matching those up is the first port of call, and it’s sometimes there that things clash.” A joint effort and everyone pulling in the right direction could lead to the industry’s talent pool being wider and better educated, which ultimately would lead the industry to be better prepared to a post-Brexit UK. “There is an incredible pool of talent in our colleges and universities. We regularly visit the 11 colleges in the NextGen Skills Academy network and the employers we work with are astounded at what students can create at the age of 16,” Deakin says. “Brexit has sharpened the focus on the talent pipeline and how we fill the skill gaps and shortages we face. Industry and education need to work together practically to address the issues. What we do need to do is work with colleges and universities to support them to teach what we need rather than teach what they know! Companies can have a huge beneficial effect on vocational education in the UK if they act jointly, rather than as individual businesses.”
RELOCATION The perfect job, or the perfect candidate, is rarely just around the corner. Seth Barton talks to Creative Assembly and OPM about making the relocation process work for studios and staff alike
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ven putting aside the current political omnishambles, the competition for talent in development isn’t likely to recede anytime soon. And a highly competitive market means that studios will continue to look far afield for the right candidates. On the other hand, developers will continue to be tempted by the most exciting and rewarding roles, wherever they may be. So whether you’re a studio bringing staff in from the other side of the globe, or a developer simply moving across the country, relocation remains a key part of the recruitment process. So what should studios offer, what should candidates expect, and how best to settle new staff into the local area? CREATIVES ASSEMBLE! “The most important aspect to successful relocation is the hiring process,” says Emma Smith, Creative Assembly’s talent manager. After all, if the work side isn’t right then the rest of the relocation will be doubly stressful. “You need to take the time and care to make sure the individual is the right cultural fit for the team, and really make them feel settled, alleviating the stress that relocating can cause.” She tells us that relocation needs to be part of the discussion from the very start: “We are bringing talent from all over the world to join us and that often means relocating individuals and families. That’s a big decision for someone to make, so we start that discussion from the first stage of the interview process,” Smith explains. Kim Parker Adcock, owner of recruitment agency OPM Response, agrees: “In our experience, the sooner you bring this up the better. Relocation is one of the biggest barriers we face when it comes to offer stage. It’s important to be open about it from the beginning and get the buy-in from the applicant as soon as possible.” Smith continues, noting that it’s never one-size fits all: “If the candidate continues through that process, at each stage we go deeper to understand them, their lifestyle and their situation so we can provide the best support and alleviate any worries they may have.” Parker Adcock adds: “Studios that are good at this send an information package to applicants that details the local area. We like to use cost of living comparison sites such as Numbeo, so applicants can see how much it costs to live in different areas.” The face-to-face interview stage is a key point for the relocation discussion she tells us: “Usually the applicant will be going to visit the studio for the interview, so this is our chance to discuss the area. We even recommend booking an extra day or two if possible, to check out the local area while you’re there.” And Creative Assembly is also keen to ensure that the face-toface interview is used to its utmost: “We will always pay to bring the candidate over to our UK studios, no matter their location. We meet them face to face and give them a chance to get a feel for our culture and the local area. We want to be certain that they are the right fit for the team and equally, that they will be happy here.”
“You need to take the time and care to make sure the individual is the right cultural fit for the team, and really make them feel settled, alleviating the stress that relocating can cause.”
PACKAGE IT UP OK, so the candidate and the role are perfectly matched and first impressions of the local area are positive. Congratulations, you’re all off to a great start, but it’s only the beginning! Moving is always hard work. Even if you’re a single person with few belongings, moving across the country from one rented property to another, there’s still plenty to plan in order to make sure you have somewhere nice to live with all the various utility bills squared away. At the other end of the scale the task looks enormous. For a homeowner looking to sell and buy new property, who might be moving with their partner and have children involved, the emotional and bureaucratic hurdles can be considerable. But worry not, for incoming staff aren’t alone in all this. So just what help can employers provide? For starters, if you’re the one relocating then be sure that any financial assistance with the move is discussed and agreed in writing before you accept the job. And if relocation costs, often called a relocation package, aren’t mentioned at interview, then bring up the subject yourself. Remember that the company wants to hire you and that relocation is a one-off cost for it, so there’s often more flexibility here than there is with salary negotiations. Few companies hire well in advance of their needs either, so providing help to get you moved quickly and smoothly, so as to get you up-and-running on the project, is in its interests as well. And relocation packages aren’t just for the top jobs, as Smith explains: “We offer relocation packages, including visas, for all our permanent positions outside of a 35 mile radius of the studio, whether this is an entry level role or for a senior executive.” Parker Adcock continues: “It’s not always available, but usually is. Companies that offer this tend to have a better acceptance rate when
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offering jobs to staff abroad. This is a candidate driven market and some applicants won’t consider relocating if there isn’t a relocation package, no matter how big or small it is.”
Pictured above from top: Creative Assembly’s Emma Smith and OPM’s Kim Parker Adcock
JET SET PETS So what should a typical relocation package cover and how are they paid? “We’ve seen relocation packages from £500 to £10,000. On average it’s usually about £2,000. It really depends on the individual’s situation – partner, children, distance of relocation, visa, and so on,” says Parker Adcock, providing some ballpark figures. Smith adds: “It’s all about being flexible to the needs of the individual and, if relevant, their family. They decide on the level of service they would like. It may just be support with flights or it may be arranging pet transfers, shipping belongings and accommodation. In terms of costs being covered by Creative Assembly, this is negotiated on a case by case basis, depending on the individual’s circumstances and where they are relocating from.” Some relocation packages are simply paid in a lump sum upfront, so you can spend it as you want. Others will reimburse you for certain costs up to an agreed limit, while some companies will offer to organise everything for you and pay for it directly. Many are flexible too, depending on how involved you want them to get. And when it comes to those little extras there’s lot more studios can do to make new staff feel welcome, Parker Adcock says: “Companies can get a little creative here, such as reduced price or free temporary housing, free flights, agency fees paid for, shipping paid for, replacing like for like goods that can’t be shipped, and possibly the most important for some: helping to relocate pets.” Yes, pet relocation is a significant consideration and Smith gives us an example: “A couple from Canada relocated to a local city and we provided a guide to all
“Migrating to another country with a different language and culture can be daunting, throw in a little bit of homesickness and it can be too much for some. It really is up to the studio to help their new staff integrate.” 36 | MCV 941 November 2018
the local things to do and see for them and their dog. Yes, their dog. Their beloved British Bulldog even got his own welcome treat on arrival.” RELOCATION-AS-A-SERVICE There are dedicated relocation agencies out there, but that’s just one approach, as Smith tells us: “We have recently brought our relocation service fully within the studio. Our new relocation coordinator provides a fully bespoke service from initial job offer to their first few weeks at Creative Assembly, including greeting them upon arrival in their new home. “This level of support includes the general relocation, but also an additional level of detail which we believe really helps settle someone into their new home. This might be a hamper of essential foods, like coffee, tea, bread and milk upon arrival, guidance and tours of the local area, or even registrations for starting children at local schools. The support doesn’t stop there, we offer help with rental contracts, flat shares and more for everyone at Creative Assembly.” That’s a pretty impressive sounding service and one other studios would do well to match. After all, this is a talent-based business and anything studios can do to settle that talent quicker, and help retain it for longer, is money well spent. NEW KIDS A new job can be daunting enough, but moving for work adds extra pressure. So once the relocation is complete, what can the studio do to support new staff in those critical first few weeks and months? Parker Adcock answers: “Migrating to another country with a different language and culture can be daunting, throw in a little bit of homesickness and it can be too much for some. It really is up to the studio to help their new staff integrate. ‘Meet the team’ lunches, social evenings and regular check-ins from management go a long way to help integrate new staff. I have to say the games industry overall is very good at this.” Smith is clear that although the studio will do all it can to support them, all staff must deliver on the job: “It is obviously a big decision to relocate for a job, and we want to support people in that process, but our induction and probation period are the same for everyone. It’s important that they start off on the same foot as everyone else and can focus on creating the best games from when they step through the door.” We hope that helped if you’re thinking of moving. And remember that any sizeable employer or recruiter in the games industry has done it all before, and that experience is among the most important assets they can provide to you, so don’t be afraid to ask.
Relight my fire With the release of the Spyro Reignited Trilogy just around the corner, Marie Dealessandri talks to Toys for Bob’s studio head Paul Yan about working on the remasters
ver since the release of the Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy, players worldwide have been asking for a Spyro remaster. Their prayers have now been answered, with the Spyro Reignited Trilogy hitting shelves this November. “The team at Vicarious Visions did an amazing job on Crash Bandicoot – they’ve set a high bar!” says Paul Yan, studio head at Activision-owned Toys for Bob, the developer that was tasked with re-creating Spyro the Dragon, Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage and Spyro: Year of the Dragon for this remastered trilogy. Thankfully, it’s not Toys for Bob’s first rodeo – the 29 year old studio developed a good chunk of the Skylanders franchise, including 2011’s Spyro Adventure. “We’ve always had an affinity for Spyro,” Yan continues. “Even though the Skylanders universe is heavily inspired by the original Spyro games, when the time came to return to Spyro’s roots with Spyro Reignited
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Trilogy, we consciously decided these were two different characters. We want to make sure we’re returning to classic Spyro and making the distinction really helped guide our creative decisions.” Spyro might not be as popular as Crash, but that’s not saying he’s not famous. Activision’s president and COO Coddy Johnson said back in May that “pre-orders [were] well ahead of expectations.” With millions of fans waiting for this remaster to happen, the team at Toys for Bob was well aware of the weight put on their shoulders. “Whenever you have the pleasure of working on an iconic franchise there is going to be expectations and Spyro is no different,” Yan says. “Of course, fan expectations add a certain amount of pressure but we’re confident that they’ll be able to see the level of imagination and detail that has gone into the Spyro Reignited Trilogy, all the while staying true to the spirit of the originals.”
Remaining as authentic as possible compared to the original experience was obviously the studio’s ambition – and surely Activision’s mandate. But it’s one that feels very much fulfilled based on our experience. “Toys For Bob’s goal was to ensure that the Spyro in the Reignited Trilogy remained faithful to the same classic Spyro that fans remember back in the 90s. We listened to super fans inside and out of the studio to ensure we were paying close attention to the details that made the original game so memorable,” Yan says. “A remaster is a different beast compared to a new IP, but really all we ever want to do is give fans the best possible experience and a game that they want to pick up and play at any time. Any remaster is a challenge especially as you’re looking to modernise something from 20 years ago.” To reach their goal, the team had to dig into the original trilogy to rebuild the games from the ground up in HD, Yan continues. “We built a tool called ‘Spyro-scope’ that helped us deeply analyse the original games so we could extract hard data of all the original metrics, to help us accurately recreate key mechanics, controls, placements,
timing and size. This means that each level in Spyro Reignited Trilogy is mapped faithfully from the originals.” Back at Gamescom, we briefly chatted with Jeremy Anderson, production services associate specialist at Activision, at the Spyro demo booth. He confirmed Toys for Bob’s dedication to being as close as possible to the origin material. “[Toys for Bob] went back to a lot of the original artwork that was used for the original games. They did consult with some of the members from the original development studio and people who worked on the original title to create the same game experience. And they’ve shown the game to the original game team,” he said, before we asked if the Insomniac team liked the result. “They loved it, they’re in the same vein; if they had been able to create graphics like this back then, that’s what they would have gone for.” Talking about his favourite aspect of the new trilogy, Anderson continued: “I think the best thing about this remaster is the physics mechanic, how it feels to run around as Spyro. It just feels so good. I love how fast the game is. That was my first real experience with a character that felt that quick outside of a racing game.” If the Reignited Trilogy primarily will appeal to gamers who played the original titles, Activision very much intends to attract a new audience as well, Yan says. “This game is the perfect opportunity for new fans to experience why Spyro made such a huge impression on gaming history. New fans will enjoy the experience of playing a classic platformer that’s loaded with an incredible amount of new detail, updated controls and improved mechanics.” He concludes: “Seeing the community’s reactions to the various announcements and reveals has been really inspiring and motivating for us at Toys for Bob. It’s a real privilege to be a part of something that has been – and continues to be – a big source of joy and happiness.”
Pictured above: Paul Yan, studio head at Toys for Bob
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Calling the shots Hitman 2 is out next week, with publishing duties now firmly in the hands of Warner Bros. Seth Barton talks to Olivier Wolff, SVP of international games, about publishing the storied franchise
he Hitman franchise is now 18 years old and IO Interactive’s blood-soaked series is about to unleash its seventh major outing in the form of Hitman 2. But while the games have retained an icy-calm demeanour, behind the scenes the series has seen some turmoil. Eidos published Agent 47’s early titles and liked him and the studio enough to buy them outright. Then Eidos itself was subsumed into Square Enix, which funded further surgical hits and even developed a couple of mobile titles around the IP. Square Enix looked to have garroted the series, pulling funding after the episodic Hitman reboot. But mercy was granted as a successful management buyout kept the IP with IO Interactive. And Warner Bros was chosen to publish the latest title. So what attracted the publisher, which rarely leaves it niche of own-brand titles and family entertainment, to the game? “Hitman is an iconic gaming franchise and we are fans of the extraordinary work done by IO Interactive over the years,” Olivier Wolff, SVP of international games tells us. “Here at Warner Bros, we aim to work with the best talent to create the most exciting games possible so working with IO Interactive seemed like a natural fit.” It looks as though Warner must have had scant time to plan a release, but Wolff just says that “it’s something [they] have had planned for a while,” and that studio and publisher were keen to have the product out for Christmas.
“The seasonal period is a great window for games since they are the perfect gifting product. IO Interactive are known for producing high quality games and we all felt confident we could provide fans with the Hitman game they deserve, one that perfects the assassination sandbox experience.” The switch in publishing duties is unlikely to affect, or even be noticed by consumers, Wolff tells us: “Fans just want to experience the best Hitman 2 game made by IO Interactive. We are helping facilitate this process so that they get to enjoy what the studio has worked so hard to create.” Warner obviously sees something in the game that Square Enix could not, with Wolff commenting that “Hitman already has a vast fanbase and great potential for growth.” And with the Hitman: Definitive Edition release already chalked off, it has a clear idea of that potential. “We learnt [from the Definitive Edition] that there is a strong desire for more Hitman-related content. In fact, to date the franchise has seen over 16 million players interact with a Hitman game.”
“There is a strong desire for more Hitman-related content. To date the franchise has seen over 16 million players interact with a Hitman game.”
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DOUBLE TAP That Definitive Edition came about thanks to the episodic release schedule of the last title, which IO originally stated was designed to mimic TV seasons, though it underwent numerous changes during development. Sadly, that experiment wasn’t an unqualified success, as Hitman 2 is a more traditional release.
“Hitman 2 will have all locations available Day One in both physical and digital formats as usual for triple-A games,” explains Wolff. “We’re excited to bring the full experience to players all at once, so they can enjoy the main story at their own pace,” he adds. The idea of the game as a living, evolving title hasn’t been entirely jettisoned though. Providing all the levels from the off “will also allow the team to release more varied free live content across all of the locations,” Wolff explains. However, IO and Warner haven’t become entirely predictable with their content release schedule. The new game was promoted by a standalone experience: Hitman Sniper Assassin. “Sniper Assassin is our pre-order bonus and a new standalone mode that brings a co-op experience to the Hitman series for the first time, allowing two players to work together online to take down their targets,” Wolff explains. “Those who pre-order can play it immediately. It is a significant piece of content
and one that we feel rewards early adopters and fans of Hitman.” The game’s three levels add up to a couple of hours of solid content. And it looks to have been pitched perfectly to attract the players of those endlessly-popular mobile sniping games. As for the game itself, it’s looking like a treat for would-be assassins. “In Hitman 2, IO Interactive has created a game that brings players into the ultimate world of assassination with new, hyper-detailed locations, a new multiplayer element called Ghost Mode and online co-op through the new Sniper Assassin mode. As a fan I can’t wait to try it for myself,” Wolff enthuses. It’s great to see the game back for another outing, especially given the passionate fanbase and positive critical response for the last title. Let’s hope that a return to a more traditional, full game, boxed and digital release, allows the series to continue offing the rich, famous and disagreeable for many years to come.
Pictured above: Olivier Wolff, SVP of international games at Warner Bros
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50 SHADES OF
Marie Dealessandri talks to Nomada Studioâ€™s Adrian Cuevas and Marco Albano about soon-to-be-released indie sensation Gris, its artistic ambitions and how the studio decided to marry watercolour paintings and outstanding music to create a unique game
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hen you see Nomada Studio’s Gris in action for the first time, it’s impossible not to be blown away by its beauty. The art, the music, the atmosphere, the gameplay – all falls into place so perfectly that it’s truly breaktaking. During my demo at Gamescom, I was sharing the slot with two other journalists and we took turns to play. We quickly agreed how incredibly peaceful and relaxing the experience was – not only playing it, but also just watching it. To the point where we eventually stopped taking turns, with only one of us playing and the others just enjoying the atmosphere, giving occasional advice on how to beat a tricky moment. Gris is so beautiful that being able to just sit back, relax and watch it feels like a treat in itself – especially in the middle of a hectic Gamescom week. But Nomada’s platformer doesn’t shy away from its ambition of being a video game; it’s not just a pretty thing. And that’s exactly what the studio wanted to accomplish. “Our first ideas revolved around creating a game that evolved visually, not only mechanically, as the player advanced through it. With Gris, we try to go for an emotional, unique and accessible experience, something anyone can play and interpret personally,” Nomada Studio’s co-founder Adrian Cuevas explains. Composer Marco Albano continues: “The idea was to develop a narrative in which the player can get lost, in which the player can get his own idea of what’s going on the screen, but also to combine art elements, like when you’re standing in an art gallery looking at a painting, with gaming elements.” Albano is part of Berlinist, a multi-instrumentalist band that’s been creating the soundtrack and overall audio environment for Gris. Gemma Gamarra, another member of the band, is also the titular character’s voice. As Gris loses her voice, the player helps her on a journey to find it back, with her dress giving her new abilities to overcome the challenges ahead. With the music and audio environment being so instrumental to the game’s plot, it’s no surprise to learn that Berlinist has been involved in the development of the game from the start. But before getting there, we need to go back in time a bit.
Gris’ world comes from the imagination of Spanish painter Conrad Roset, known for his dreamy watercolour portraits. “It all started two years ago when Roger [Mendoza], Adrian and Conrad, the founders of the studio, met up in a bar,” Albano starts explaining, in what feels like the beginning of a joke. At that time, Cuevas had been working as a programmer at triple-A studios (IO Interactive, Ubisoft) for almost seven years, while Mendoza had spent the previous six years at Ubisoft Montreal. Cuevas explains this shift: “After six years in the triple-A industry I felt like engaging with a closer, more personal project that allowed us more creative freedom and presented new challenges to face,” he says, echoing what a lot of former triple-A developers have been telling us this past year. Albano continues the story: “They started talking about the idea of making an arty video game but with some challenge elements inside. So they talked and talked and in the end the idea became a real project. Two years ago, just here at Gamescom, they met up with Devolver and between them and Devolver it was love at first sight. So they started the project for real. They built up a studio, they hired people and Gris started to grow up.” With its watercolour aesthetic, Gris doesn’t look like anything Devolver has published before. So it sounds like the indie publisher is diversifying its portfolio. “The philosophy at Devolver is to hunt for very unique games, fun games that you will enjoy from the first moment of playing,” Albano reckons. “So maybe they saw our vision for the final product. It’s quite different from what you would expect from Devolver but in the end it’s a platformer with dimensional elements and a very unique style due the fact there is a painter here and his drawings are unique.” Cuevas adds: “We had meetings with several publishers, and though everyone was amazing, we really hit it off with Devolver. Both the treatment and creative freedom sealed the deal for us.” Unless Gris is the first video game you play in ten years, you’ll instantly get some references from the get go. While still being very unique, Gris also feels like an homage to some of the best indie games from the past decade.
“After six years in triple-A I felt like engaging with a more personal project. Our ideas revolved around creating a game that evolved visually, not only mechanically.”
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“If you play Gris you can notice a lot of elements from other games,” Albano says. “You know, we are a painter, a musician but we are also gamers. So we played a lot of Monument Valley, Journey, Child of Light, Limbo and Inside from Playdead... So the idea was to combine the core elements that we loved the most but try to interpret them, to make a different interpretation of those elements and make them unique.” For Albano, being able to reference other people’s work is a sign of the industry’s newfound maturity. “The masters from these other games were really helpful to us, to understand those mechanics,” he says. “We also make it explicit in the game, we called some of these games. In other mediums like cinema, literature, you can put references to other people, other directors. It’s a sign that it’s an art industry that the games industry can make references to other works.”
Pictured above, from top: Adrian Cuevas and Marco Albano (image by Tonje Thilesen)
PAINTING MUSIC Much like the games it looks up to, Gris is being brought to life thanks to its compelling audio environment and soundtrack. And much like some of the best platformers out there (Ori and the Blind Forest being one of them), the music
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was developed hand-in-hand with the game, with the two thriving on each other. “The first approach with music with just Conrad drawing a sketch on a paper – just a tree with a sun and some clouds. And he told me this would be the game: ‘start making music’,” Albano laughs. “From his perspective it’s like: ‘I make paintings, I want music for my paintings’. But then when we were working on the different phases of the development, we received builds. So I tried to combine digital songs with real songs, real voices. You know the game is filled with watercolours so I tried to add a cloudy, foggy atmosphere to the music. “In this case I looked a lot at music, sounds from [The Last Guardian’s] Trico and games from Fumito Ueda where every time it’s foggy it’s like you’re living a dream. So this was my approach. It was in part classic, as for an art gallery or museum, but also very dynamic because the music changes depending on the action you’re performing in-game.” He continues: “Nomada sees me as a musician but also as a designer for the game because sometimes the music has changed the game’s approach. So we worked really closely. In the end the music also changed a lot
until now. For example when you enter a puzzle zone, the music switches from intense or emotional to more relaxing to let you concentrate or if you pass through a zone and then you pass again with new elements, the music will also change. So I was interested, in a game like this, which is not 3D, with no fights, with no death, you just have to be part of the world... I don’t want the music to overcome the presence of the main protagonist and of the game.” THE BEST PLATFORM Gris is coming out on PC and Switch in December, and while this choice is not a surprise in a way, given the incredible popularity of Nintendo’s platform, it’s still intriguing that it’s not coming to PS4 or Xbox One. “In this precise moment, Switch is a great platform for this genre,” Albano explains. “So you know you have of course metroidvania titles like Hollow Knight, Dead Cells, but it’s also about how the platform feels when you play the game. We want to be on the best platform for this genre. And I suppose when talking about consoles, Switch is the perfect one. But we hope that the game will receive a good [response], that people will love the game so we can do a port for PS4.”
Cuevas confirms that it’s all about how Gris does at launch: “It depends on the reception the game gets at the beginning. If it goes well, sure, we intend to look into other platforms.” If early impressions are anything to go by, Gris should be doing well really, with Eurogamer and Polygon already labelling the title as “the most beautiful game you’ll play this year.”
“We want to be on the best platform for this genre. And I suppose when talking about consoles, Switch is the perfect one. But we hope that people will love the game so we can do a port for PS4.”
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Self service Self-publishing has revolutionised the industry but to make the most of it you need a range of tools and services to support you. MCV talks to chief marketing officer Nathalie Lubensky about Xsollaâ€™s efforts to become a one stop shop for studios
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Pictured: Xsolla has reimagined its security (right) and monetisation (above) services as game concept art
hat do Valve, Twitch, Epic, Hi-Rez and Ubisoft all have in common? They all use Xsolla’s tools or services to monetise their content, and in some cases much more. Gaming’s digital era has allowed many to self-publish their content, but just because you have a more direct relationship with your consumers, rather than reaching them through a publisher, distributor and retailer, doesn’t mean you can do it all yourself. After all, studios haven’t wasted their talents building their own payment and anti-fraud systems, and the same can be said of launchers, in-game item stores, web presence and even influencer campaigns and user acquisition. Xsolla supplies all those and more across 200 countries and territories, over 20 languages and in 130 currencies, so the company has a good overview of the state of play in the market. We catch up with Nathalie Lubensky, Xsolla’s chief marketing officer, to discuss the company’s expanded range of services. How would you describe Xsolla today? Xsolla today provides a comprehensive suite of tools and services that
makes it easy to launch and monetise games and products globally. We focus only on the gaming industry, serving developers, publishers and platform partners of any size – from indie to enterprise. We will always be in their corners, working and innovating the tools to best help them to eliminate the friction in distribution, promotion, sales and payments so they can increase their audience, sales and revenue. Xsolla is a big part of the gaming ecosystem, so you’re in a great position to tell us how the industry is fairing? The industry has never been bigger. However, the barrier to entry into the gaming industry has never been lower and the path to success has never been more difficult. This is where Xsolla steps in to provide the tools, services and expertise to act as an extension of developers’ teams. We’re here to provide knowledge and support in the last mile as developers and publishers head into launch and really need resources. We also can be brought in at the early stages if an indie developer needs advice on building a game with proper monetisation flows and so on.
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Your client list is extensive, why do you think they chose to work with Xsolla? Working with Xsolla allows clients to go global and take payments almost instantly with our flagship tool, Xsolla Pay Station. Our new suite of seamless tools and services can help any developer or publisher to go to market very quickly. Developers want to reach their audiences directly. Why is this so important to them and how are you enabling this? Xsolla Site Builder was built for game developers who need to launch and sell their games globally and want to save money and time by quickly building a website without expensive design studios or webmasters. In most cases, developers don’t even have a webmaster onsite. Site Builder can also be used as a combo with Xsolla Login and Launcher. Login lets players easily create a game account via 55 different social networks and game accounts. Launcher can be used to easily launch the game and download game updates, as well as provide an opportunity to engage with the existing audience – for instance posting news, building the store to sell in-game items and currency, streaming, friends system and so on. Launcher also has multi-game support which would work well for all size publishers who have multiple titles in their portfolio. Influencers are a huge part of game discovery, but can themselves be hard to reach business-wise. How do you sign them up and get the best from them for developers? We match the right influencers to the right games. In addition, we let the developers focus on the marketing activities around the games while we manage the relationships, payouts and all other details with the influencers. We find the influencers on multiple platforms, so we’re aggregating the best of the best. There’s a lot of talk around both blockchain and cryptocurrency in gaming at present, do you think it can make revolutionary changes to the sector? Yes, we think very much so. In fact, we have major partnerships with DMarket and MobileGo (MGO) that we just announced in October, with much more to come.
“The barrier to entry into the gaming industry has never been lower and the path to success has never been more difficult.”
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DMarket is an in-game items monetisation technology and service that helps developers generate revenue from selling in-game content to players and creates additional revenue flow if a game already has a monetisation system. MGO is an Ethereum-based cryptocurrency made for gaming, dubbed the ‘Bitcoin of the gaming industry’. For the first time ever, developers are able to receive royalty payouts in a cryptocurrency, MGO, on a sliding scale percentage of their choice. As more and more digital entrepreneurs move their savings and retirement investments to the blockchain, Xsolla is there to help its clients cash out in whatever currency is most convenient for them. What have you identified as the key challenges to developers and how are you supporting them? The world is overwhelmed with data and we provide volumes of data to our clients as well. We provide in-depth analysis for their data, as developers often don’t have data scientists on staff, so that they can get the most out of their information. As advertising prices rise on the big social networks, will the cost of traditional user acquisition continue to rise? Yes. The costs of going to where our customers are, creating more engaging and relevant content per segment, and doing it in a way that’s impactful enough to generate word of mouth and client referrals, is expensive. But ultimately, the best place we’ll spend money is on innovating and investing in our tools and services to best serve our clients and their every need. Transaction fraud is a problem for all online retailers, but the digital nature of games makes them a big target. What’s your solution? Our system is built specifically for games. This vertical has specific behaviour patterns different from other e-commerce types, which we have identified using over 13 years of game-specific transaction data. With this information, we built a strong and flexible system using a combination of pattern-recognising filters and review by our in-house team of experts. This ensures maximum security without compromising the quality of the user experiences. This is why we have the gaming industry’s No.1 anti-fraud solution. What are the key things for developers to get right from the start on the business side? From the start, the most important thing is to build a relationship with their global gaming community. Xsolla can then help with preorders, key distribution and creating their own commerce website where they can sell and engage directly with their gamers. They really need to focus on game distribution and monetisation of in-game items and virtual currencies.
Gaming Strictly Come
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The BBC’s commercial arm has a new name and a new outlook to games. Seth Barton meets industry veteran Bradley Crooks at Television Centre to judge its new moves
he BBC is planning to put games at the heart of what it does with a new ‘Gaming First’ initiative. Simply put, games at the Beeb have historically been licensed from TV properties, sitting alongside books, backpacks and pencil cases in this regard. The new initiative aims to elevate their status within the organisation, putting them on a par with other mediums. Beyond that, the BBC is now looking to games to be a leading light, a format that can create, revitalise and carry IPs to audiences that TV, for example, is finding it harder and harder to reach. So if you’ve got an idea for a new IP with mass appeal, are working on a new technology that break the boundaries of storytelling, or think you could do something incredible with an existing BBC brand, now’s the time to get in touch with Auntie. ALL TOGETHER NOW Auntie, in this case, is one Bradley Crooks, formerly of EA, PlayStation and Headstrong Games but now head of digital entertainment and games at BBC Studios. Which will leave those less familiar with our national broadcaster asking: what’s BBC Studios? And you’re right to ask. In short the BBC spun off its programme-making studios into a non-license fee-funded arm 18 months ago, so that they could produce commercial work for other channels – while still making core shows like Top Gear, Strictly and Doctor Who. Three months ago those studios were then merged with the longrunning commercial arm, BBC Worldwide. That’s the part which sold Top Gear around the world, published the Radio Times and, crucially, licensed out BBC properties to games publishers. Something I know well, having worked there many years ago. “So now you’ve got a combined entity that can take you right from financing and inception of a TV show, right the way through to production and distribution, and all the ancillary things, such as commercialisation of that outside of the UK,” Crooks explains. “It gives us an end-to-end commercial entity. That can take briefs from other places.” And it’s that merger, between open market TV production and commercial nous, which has kickstarted Gaming First. FIRST OF MANY Crooks has been at the BBC for approaching three years. “When I arrived, we were going to do licensed games based on TV IP,” Crooks recalls. “But even in the time I’ve been here the media landscape
changed rapidly and we found ourselves as a team quickly expanding our areas of interest, and innovating on how we put deals together, how we bring our IP to an interactive experience.” That said, the BBC has long been happy to innovate. Placing Top Gear into Forza Motorsport was a masterstroke of brand extension, then there were Doctor Who packs for Lego Dimensions, and it used its BBC Earth brand for the excellent Life in VR experience. The idea now is to get all the content pulling together to build the IP, rather than putting TV content at the heart of everything. “You have to think about it as having many strands, TV is one of those, but there are other channels to market, lots more ways of representing IP in content,” Crooks says. “Translating books into TV is a well-trodden path, there’s no reason why it can’t work with games,” he points out. My first thought is to think of the best narrative games and do adaptations, as is happening with Alan Wake in the US. Hellblade looks to be a winner, we agree, a period drama of sorts with some heavy but worthy themes, very BBC. But personally I’d love to see it take on Bake Off and resurrect the spirit of It’s a Knock Out with an Overcooked TV show. Getting us back on track, Crooks summarises: “It feels like if you can find the right IP and the right structure for it, there’s every reason to think you could create a successful TV show from gaming IP.” However, the idea isn’t simply to greenlight a bunch of TV shows based on gaming properties. It’s rather letting games stand on their own two legs alongside what we might once have called traditional media. “Life in VR is a good example, it’s interactive, it’s kind of game-like at times, but it’s not a game really. I think there are great opportunities around natural history content, but lots more as well, such as quiz games or our science output, it’s just a matter of finding the right vehicle and the right partners,” Crooks says. He gives a couple of key examples, both of which we’ve covered in recent months. E-Line Media’s Beyond Blue is a ocean exploration game which takes its inspiration from Blue Planet, but sits alongside it as its own work. Crooks explains why: “There are good reasons for sophistication in these relationships, rather than simply making a game of the show. That could be slavish in its recreation and therefore somewhat redundant in its ability to bring a new angle and message.” And there’s Tiny Rebel’s Doctor Who Infinity. This evolution of match-three style puzzle gameplay uses the Doctor Who brand, but goes off to tell new and original stories with it, expanding the canon
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of the long-running show, rather than being simply derivative of its latest iteration. “Eventually I’d like to think we could have characters from our games appear in other parts of the franchise. Possibly even the TV show. There’s no reason to think a proper franchise, done the right way, couldn’t have this cross-pollination going on,” enthuses Crooks. “And it’s a great way of bringing Doctor Who content to a broader audience. There’s no reason why eventually you couldn’t be a Doctor Who fan who hasn’t watched the series.” That may sound somewhat far-fetched, but we now have millions of Marvel fans who have never read a comic book. FIRST FOR PROFIT To be clear, the BBC isn’t about to start simply splashing around huge budgets, for either lavish game-to-TV conversions or vice-versa. “We wouldn’t want a huge empire of gaming devs,” Crooks tells us. This may not be taxpayers’ money but it still has to make commercial good sense for BBC Studios to make its investments. “It’s relatively early days, we do want to talk to people out there about ways to invest in new content, but I don’t think the BBC is going to be saying here’s millions of pounds to fund a big triple-A title. The majority of our work will remain licensing in nature,” he continues. However, the BBC is “definitely looking at investing in different ways in new projects. That could include cash investment, probably on a co-investment model. Or it might be marketing support.” The latter could potentially provide a new game or IP a huge amount of visibility. Then there’s access to a huge wealth of content and to household name talent. “If you’ve got the showrunners involved, senior writers too, you can begin to see what you can create in terms of the opportunity,” Crooks explains. “It could be R&D and tech because there is tech at the BBC and we could help support game devs bring product to market. There’s a lot of AR and voice [recognition] technology in development here.”
“We have an interest in companies that have transmedia experience or aspirations, or maybe technology or appropriate skills. That’s an area we’re looking at.”
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And Crooks is also interested in talking to developers who are creating new tools and technology in order to make new kinds of content possible. “The whole media landscape is going to change over time, and TV will change, there will be more interactive TV, more blurring of the lines,” he says. The interactive movie has certainly come a long way in recent years, with Splendy’s The Bunker and CtrlMovie’s Late Shift, and then of course there’s the upcoming interactive episode of Black Mirror, that Charlie Brooker is reportedly making for Netflix. “We have an interest in companies that have transmedia experience or aspirations, or maybe technology or appropriate skills. That’s an area we’re looking at,” he adds. The BBC also has strong relationships with some of the biggest technology companies in the world. “Google, Facebook, Intel, Dell – we have a whole host of relationships there,” Crooks tells us. And those companies often fund content and activations to support their long-term goals. For example, the BBC worked with Google on Life in VR, which was exclusive to Google Daydream. The ability to put together commercial deals between major tech
players and BBC IPs is an intriguing one, and it’s easy to see why developers in the AR and VR space would be keen to take on that sort of work. “Again we’re interested in talking to other brands out there. In partnership we’re interested to bring marketingbased activations to market, or even commercial products,” Crooks says. GLOBAL REACH The BBC has long been a big global player, but the success of Netflix has shown what is possible and the organisation is keen to further its reach. At the same time all broadcasters are finding some audiences harder to reach and are looking for other ways to let them access their IPs. Gaming First looks to help address that. “It’s taken quite a long time, but people are coming around to the idea that games can be quite compelling, with the ability to bring in new audiences to a franchise. They are a really good way to bring in target markets that are normally quite difficult to reach,” Crooks says. In short, mobile games could provide traction for the BBC’s IPs with youth audiences and those in developing territories dominated by mobile devices for content consumption.
And to achieve all this, BBC Studios is looking to move quickly: “Within two years we’d want some stuff out in the marketplace, we’d hope to have made those investments. Maybe start the process of bringing IP in, if not be in production with some of that stuff.” And Gaming First will help Crooks and his team internally at the BBC to get in earlier on the hottest new things: “We need to get into the discussion much earlier, about how an IP comes to be considered in the first place, how it’s evaluated and how we go through that whole process, as a business as a whole. That’s part of the new process, to have more visibility.” He goes on to explain that there are still times when you hear about something big too late, such as The Bodyguard. “It also comes back to rights management, sometimes we don’t have the games rights, they’ve gone somewhere else,” he says – which is something else that should be improved in future. So with that better grasp of IP coming through the BBC, a commercial brief to get the most out of that IP, and a more active desire to invest in outside technology and skills, the BBC is looking more open for business than ever before.
Pictured above: BBC Earth: Life in VR, which launched exclusively on Google Daydream
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A game is for life,
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For good reason, Christmas continues to dominate the gaming year. But it’s not the only opportunity around. Seth Barton asks the experts at Sold Out about how they manage the lifecycle of a game throughout the year across both physical and digital channels
hile the industry talks big about games-as-a-service, player engagement metrics and a bright future for subscription services and even streaming, the day-today reality is still somewhat more prosaic. To put it simply, if you want to make money from your game, the vast majority of titles are still being sold for an upfront price, whether that’s as a boxed copy or at digital retail. A huge proportion of those sales still come over the Christmas period but that doesn’t mean you have to release your game in the autumn in order to prosper. Sold Out has built its reputation on doing boxed titles in an increasingly digital era, though the company is now managing digital releases as well. MCV met up with marketing director Sarah Hoeksma and sales director David Walker to get their take on managing the lifecycle of your title across the year. “The important thing to remember is to always put yourself in the place of the retailer,” Walker tells us. “Whether that’s on a digital platform or at physical retail. Align yourself with their way of thinking and understand what their priorities are going to be.” From the outside those priorities may look like simply building preorder numbers for the very largest titles in the autumn admits Walker: “We’re hits-driven as an industry, so retailers’ focus will often be on the newest and biggest titles; they’re the main revenue drivers and those key titles will define their year.” However, the sharp end of the year also has space for games targeting very different segments he adds: “The beauty of Christmas is that it’s not only the gamers who are spending, but the gift-buyers looking for something to wrap up and the new console owners looking to start their gaming library.” In short the biggest blockbusters aren’t for everyone and many will buy multiple, contrasting titles over the period. Hoeksma provides some examples from Sold Out’s own line-up and explains that Christmas isn’t just about Q4 releases: “We’ve already released most of our 2018 titles and they’ve done very well, but we know there is still a lot of revenue to be made during the Christmas period. To maximise [that opportunity], we have to work out how to leverage our catalogue to make them stand out among the usual Christmas hits,” she adds. “For example, we’re conscious that many of our games released earlier in the year are perfect for families and gift-giving.” Hoeksma talks up both the couch co-op fun of Team17’s Overcooked 2 and the big movie license of Frontier’s Jurassic World Evolution, aspects which aren’t on offer even from this year’s biggest hitters, such as Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 or Red Dead Redemption 2.
The company will also “keep focus” on Rebellion’s Strange Brigade through price promotion. “Gift-givers love value for money and a great deal, so it’s our job to work with retail partners to encourage both planned and impulse purchases,” Hoeksma explains. And with canny placement the possibilities are huge: “There is every chance we will sell through more at Christmas than at release,” she predicts. “It’s about understanding the title and the audience. And that extends beyond boxed, even at Christmas. Take our new digital game Big Crown: Showdown, which is a pick-up-and-play four-player party brawler launching this December. It’s at a competitive price point and will be one of those party games greats perfect for this time of year. “For us, this isn’t about chasing big pre-order numbers,” Hoeksma reiterates. “Instead, it’s about targeting the correct audience and anticipating impulse purchases from players looking for something fun they can easily pick up and play with family and friends online or on the sofa during the holiday period and beyond.”
“The important thing to remember is to always put yourself in the place of the retailer. Align yourself with their way of thinking and understand what their priorities are going to be.”
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Pictured right: Sold Out’s sales director David Walker and marketing director Sarah Hoeksma
The holiday season still dominates the sales year but getting the most out of your game at retail, be it physical or digital, is a year-round effort Walker continues. “While Christmas is a busy time, it definitely isn’t the only time you need to actively manage the lifecycle of your game,” he warns. “Unlike some other companies, for us, lifecycle is often about maintaining a steady sales rhythm throughout the year. With the emphasis being on keeping stock in the chain at competitive prices rather than solely pushing Week One sales. “It’s about having consistent sales over a longer period of time, as we see with the Escapists, Worms and Sniper Elite franchises,” he explains. “Helping your retail partners to understand your game and looking for
“Know your customer, know when and where they shop, know what motivates them and plug that into your lifecycle plan.” 56 | MCV 941 November 2018
opportunities to include your game in different areas or promotions is important to encouraging visibility both online and in-stores.” He provides a rather timely example for us: “January is all about the sale-rail. Consumer-thinking changes rapidly after the holidays, so even if it’s a small reduction, making sure you’re included in that sale line-up can be important. The key mantra is ‘be visible’.” And don’t get too focused on Christmas and the sales either, as there are plenty more opportunities throughout the year to push your game, says Walker. “There are always paydays, bank holidays, school holidays, international holidays, important world events like the World Cup, and even the weather to consider. Don’t focus on one area, it isn’t just about Black Friday.” Black Friday was bound to come up sooner or later, as the increasingly internationally-followed US sales event has become somewhat of a blot on gaming’s sales roadmap. It was roundly criticised two years ago, as it was too close to comfort, coming just after the industry’s traditional early November release spree. The big guns have shifted to avoid it now, and even smaller titles “should beware competing with consumers buying TVs, tablets and all sorts electronics as well as games,” Walker agrees. Hoeksma sums things up with some advice: “Know your customer, know when and where they shop, know what motivates them and plug that into your lifecycle plan. You don’t have to be the biggest to box clever when it comes to selling physical and digital games. That’s how we’ve always operated at Sold Out. We create bespoke plans for every game and every retail partner to get the best visibility we can and make it work for everyone.”
WhenWeMade... Dead Cells Marie Dealessandri takes a look behind the scenes at the development of Dead Cells. Motion Twin’s lead developer Sébastien Bénard looks into the challenges of developing a roguelike/metroidvania hybrid, explains why the Prisoner doesn’t have a head and tells us how easy porting can be
Pictured above: Motion Twin’s lead developer and game designer Sébastien Bénard
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VIDEO GAMES development is all about iteration and for one good idea there will be hundreds of scrapped prototypes and failed projects. Dead Cells is no exception to the rule: before becoming the criticallyacclaimed roguelike-meets-metroidvania title we know, it started life as a multiplayer tower defense game. “It started something like three or four years ago,” lead developer and game designer Sébastien Bénard starts explaining. “At this time, Motion Twin was still making mostly web games and a few mobile titles but we wanted to make some kind of spiritual sequel to an older game that we made called Hordes [also known as Die2Nite]. It started as a free-to-play kind of game, a tower defense, something different. It reached the prototype phase so we did have an alpha version that we showed to people and it didn’t go well, because it really wasn’t fun, like really not,” he laughs. “At this point we decided it was maybe a good idea to cancel it but we made a single-player prototype to show at events like Gamescom. A friend of mine told us: ‘Maybe you should keep the single-player prototype because it’s actually more fun than the multiplayer thing’. And at first it was really just a joke but at one point we were like: ‘Wait, maybe he’s right, maybe it would actually be a good idea to cut everything’. And so that’s what we did! We removed a lot of elements from this old side-scrolling tower defense, including multiplayer,
mobile and free-to-play elements and it led to this Castlevania kind of game that we made.” Motion Twin has 17 years of experience in developing browser and mobile games, but Dead Cells is its first game of this scale, aimed at PC and console players. “It’s totally different because when you make a freeto-play game you really think about the lifetime of the game. When you make a PC game it’s more about, of course the quality, but just making good gameplay rather than a lengthy game or the tools to make people pay. But because we had also this kind of experience, it made things a little bit easier when we made the roguelike part. Because we wanted to have a game that hooks you, we did use this experience to make the gameplay of Dead Cells. It was a really different thing but it wasn’t that difficult, it was more like relieving for us because we actually brought everything that didn’t work so it was a good process.” But despite the experience of the team, marrying two genres as complex as roguelike and metroidvania is still not an easy task, with the former requiring procedurally generated levels and the latter a known environment in which you can evolve bit by bit. “The biggest challenge was really related to level design,” Bénard says. “You know when you make a metroidvania, you have to spend a decent amount of time making sure that the level design is built on this
good run because you have so many different items and most of them are not that powerful. That’s something we wanted to avoid as much as possible, to make sure that when you play, most runs should be viable.” As a result, Motion Twin decided to include “not necessarily fewer, but more impactful items” so every run can be played differently, but with the same odds of making it to the end. However, ‘making it to the end’ is obviously not that easy in Dead Cells, with death literally being at every corner. Which leads us to the next inspiration for the game – yes, you’ve probably guessed it by now. “As a joke, we wanted to put a jar in the meeting room so every time someone said ‘Dark Souls’ you should put £2 in it,” Bénard laughs. “Dark Souls was kind of an obvious reference for us, mostly because of its difficulty – and its fair difficulty. It not just about making a difficult game it’s about making a fair difficult game so Dark Souls was a good example. But also Risk of Rain which was a very good platformer roguelike because it’s a very simple one but it has lots of very clever ideas. And Diablo III also because of how they polished everything and all the changes from Diablo II to Diablo III, and how well they did that.” idea that you will progress. You will see things that you can’t use at the beginning but you will progress and you will come back. Especially this idea of backtracking, coming back to places that you already know. “But because we wanted to have a procedural world, we knew it would be pointless to actually have a place that you remember as impossible to cross. So that was really the most difficult part for us: to make sure that you actually have a world which is different every time you explore it but still have a good view on what you could do, what you can’t do and, when you get a new ability, where you should go to use it.” One of the ways Motion Twin solved that was by adding Runes, permanent upgrades that let you access a type of path initially blocked. That hole in the ground you saw in your previous run? You can now use it to grow a vine and access a new location. And there are of course weapons and items you unlock with each run, in typical roguelike fashion. Actually Dead Cells was often compared to The Binding of Isaac. Edmund McMillen’s hit was indeed a source of inspiration but not exactly for the reasons we thought. “The Binding of Isaac was a good reference but for
THE COMMUNITY WHISPERER Motion Twin chose Steam Early Access for Dead Cells back in May 2017, before a full release on both PC and consoles in August this year. But the studio was keen to avoid the oh-so-common trope of Early Access: leaving the game there for years in a semi-developed state. “We announced to players that we wanted to go into Early Access for only one year and we actually took six extra months because of the console port but we really wanted to make sure that, because we announced one year, it would be one year,” Bénard says. “So we had to push a few things out of the game. We wanted to have an alternative ending so that’s something we decided to keep for the free DLC that will probably be released at the beginning of next year. But still we wanted to make sure that the release version would feel complete, as much as possible.” Dead Cells evolved quite a lot during its time in Early Access, with the ability to forge stats on weapons having been abandoned for instance. Players feedback was hugely important in the making of the game. “At the beginning of the Early Access we thought it would be just adding content and balancing a few things
its flaws as well,” Bénard says. “It’s really a roguelike where you have tons of different items. But the thing is, because of that, when you start a new game in The Binding of Isaac you have a very low chance to have a
but we didn’t plan to change everything. But actually after the first month in Early Access, we had so much interesting feedback from the community. They actually really understood what the game was all about. So we
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decided to change tons of important things, especially how you build your character in the game, how you evolve and the structure of the world.” Something that also evolved drastically over the course of development, before Early Access, is the design of the main character, only known as the Prisoner and that has a mass of cells for a head. “Some of it was an accidental kind of process because we didn’t have a very clear plan for the character. So that’s something that we decided in a very iterative process. At the beginning, the character used to have a head but that’s something that we changed,” Bénard explains, adding that the team felt that the design didn’t stand out enough. “It led to tons of interesting things. Because the character has no head, he can’t talk and because he can’t talk he has a lot of very interesting animations and things to do. It still feels like he has a strong character, even if he can’t speak. So that’s something that wasn’t clearly decided at the beginning but it progressively appeared in the game.” MAKE ANOTHER ONE To create Dead Cells, Motion Twin used the language Haxe and Heaps as a framework. “Haxe is a custom language that we created years ago,” Bénard explains, which allowed the team to be in known territory and made everyone’s life easier to some respects.
“At first, this language was made to create crossplatform games. Because we are still making web games and mobile, we wanted to have a language that was able to make something for Flash or Apple or Android or any other platform we wanted. And when we decided to make Dead Cells as a metroidvania single-player game, we decided to stick to this engine because we knew at its core it was made to work on any platform. So it was Steam at first but also for consoles, so we could make a port quite easily. For example, for the Xbox version or the Switch, it took us maybe one month or two to make the basic port, so it was quite fast.” There were still a few challenges, with the hybrid nature of the Switch bringing the main one he explains. “From a technical aspect it was not that complicated because every console nowadays has pretty classic architecture. The most important challenge, especially for the Switch, was the [small] screen size or that maybe the screen is 3m away from you. So for the UI we did have tons of things to adjust to make sure that it was always legible and you can see all the details and everything at any distance. That was the most complicated part for us.” Soon after launch, Motion Twin revealed Dead Cells was selling four times faster on Switch than it was on PS4. So it sounds like the team nailed the few port challenges they had. With DLC and updates announced, including a greater focus on the speedrunning community, Dead Cells has golden days ahead. But Motion Twin doesn’t want to rely on this success too much. “We want to work on Dead Cells a little bit more because we still have ideas we didn’t have time to put in but, probably at the beginning of next year, we’ll start working on our next project. But we have plans for extra content so we may, from time to time, push an extra free DLC, a balance patch or things like that. So I can’t say for sure how long it will last but we want to make sure…,” he pauses, before adding they’ll keep working on it “until the game is complete. “Because we are an old company, we did have lots of different titles before and we know for sure that sticking to one game, one success, is not a good idea. So when you make a good game, the best thing to do is just to make another one,” Bénard smiles.
“Dark Souls was kind of an obvious reference for us, mostly because of its difficulty – and its fair difficulty. It not just about making a difficult game it’s about making a fair difficult game.”
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AIandGames Thinking of you by Dr Tommy Thompson
The big focus of AI in games is shifting from in-game agents to player analysis
Forza’s Drivatar is one of the biggest machine learning applications in triple-A games, or at least that’s what players think
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LAST month I concluded by looking at how we’re seeing machine learning come to the fore in triple-A gaming, with the likes of Total War and the Forza series adopting techniques for reacting to or modelling player behaviour. While the current generation of consoles has provided more power for larger and more expansive games, it’s the expansion of cloud computing provisions such as Microsoft’s Azure and Amazon Web Services that are helping push new AI features for games that you might not even be aware exist. Analytics is one of the largest driving forces in community engagement and retaining consumers in live services titles with microtransactions. To pull that off, it requires establishing who is playing your game, with whom, for how long and what activities they enjoy most. This can better support publishers in finding products or services that will satisfy those users – be they the core demographic or outliers who could be engaging with a game better than they are now. It can also influence future titles in a franchise as we watch players engage in a game, only to realise that large swathes of the audience don’t interact with content as anticipated. To achieve analysis of players at this scale, we need data. Lots of it. But once we start reaching scales of tens to hundreds of thousands, parsing them with spreadsheets and macros is not enough. Machine learning for analytics is a booming industry – and not just in games. Academic research is proving highly valuable in this field and dates to work on Tomb Raider: Underworld in the late 2000s.
Square Enix and researchers based in Denmark acquired data from over a million players playing the Lara Croft adventure on Xbox Live. By applying machine learning models to the data, they discovered clusters of players with unique play styles, completion rates and probability of failure. This data – while broken and incomplete – was still rich enough to enable AI to predict whether players ever finished the game based upon aspects of game design and player progression from the very first level. This practice is now commonplace, with Electronic Arts, Square Enix and Ubisoft being just a handful of the publishers with departments dedicated to mining player data to capture a more accurate model of player performance – which focus testing cannot. But it’s not just behind the scenes that this type of data can prove powerful, as is now being made evident in esports. In 2017 the University of York’s Digital Creativity Labs entered a collaboration with the ESL to continue existing work in building datasets that can be utilised for esports matches in games ranging from Dota 2 and League of Legends all the way to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and FIFA. This ranges from visualisations of real-time performance and playerspecific information for mid-game commentary all the way to post-match analysis of critical plays and MVPs, and has already been adopted in live-streams on the ESL circuit in 2018. Even Valve has taken this on board with the updates to the Dota 2 Battle Pass now including machinelearning powered recommendation systems for item and ability usage. While ‘game AI’ is working on ways to manage ever growing experiences by evolving existing tools, machine learning AI is discovering new ways to be useful, providing new opportunities for developers and publishers to better understand, engage and monetise their players. I’ll wrap up next month by looking further into the future: where does AI still carry untapped potential and some of the changes we could be seeing in the industry in the coming years.
The Dota 2 Battle Pass is providing recommendations for players on abilities and items that is powered by previous gameplay and machine learning analytics
“Machine learning AI is finding new ways to be useful, providing new opportunities for developers and publishers to better understand, engage and monetise their players.” Much of the contemporary research in game analytics for both triple-A and indie stems back to work on Tomb Raider: Underworld back in 2008
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IncomeStream The numbers, stats and market stories that matter and why they do
RDR2 is a $725m record breaker Rockstar’s cowboy epic finally went on sale after an equally epic development period, and boy was the wait worth it. Red Dead Redemption 2 smashed numerous records on launch, clocking up $725m (£570m) in sales over its opening three-day weekend. That made it globally the biggest entertainment launch of 2018 – take that Infinity War! Take-Two also announced a number of records, with preferred marketing partner Sony, though undoubtedly it was impressive on Xbox as well. Red Dead Redemption 2 was the most pre-ordered full game ever on PSN, had the biggest Day One full game sales on PSN and the biggest three-day full games sales. GRAND THEFT ALMOST The only title that could stand up to it was stablemate Grand Theft Auto V, which clocked up a cool $1bn on its opening three-day stint back in 2013. There’s no shame in that though; RDR2 was never likely to topple GTA in that respect. That it came close is a massive testament to the work Rockstar, as a whole, has put into this game. Critical response to the launch was incredible and it will inevitably sell in large numbers for many months to come, and sell consoles as well, especially given how good it looks on the more powerful PS4 Pro and Xbox One X. It feels a lot like the next-generation arrived early. GETTING PHYSICAL At UK physical retail the game was up there with FIFA and Call of Duty releases as one of the biggest games of this console generation. And that’s without standees in every Sainsbury Local and Tesco Metro across the land, as the big annual franchises benefit from. Excepting those series it was the biggest boxed game of this generation to date. And went straight into the charts at No.1 as expected. Sony will be happy too, with its marketing deal and huge install base paying off, with a 68 per cent share of UK boxed sales, leaving Xbox with 32 per cent. There’s no PC version confrmed by the studio as of yet. As we go to press, we await the European wide figures from GSD but there’s no reason to believe it hasn’t wiped the board for physical and digital across the continent.
PRE ORDER TOP 5 TW TITLE 01 02 03 04 05
PlayStation Classic Sony Days Gone (PS4) Sony The Last of Us: Part II (PS4) Sony Spyro Reignited Trilogy (PS4) Activision Fallout 76 + exclusive Steelbook (inc beta code) (PS4) Bethesda
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US CHARTS SEPTEMBER (VALUE)
MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN PUBLISHER: SONY
TM LM Title 02 NEW NBA 2K19 03 NEW Assassin’s Creed Odyssey 04 NEW FIFA 19 05 NEW Shadow of the Tomb Raider 06 01 Madden NFL 19 07 NEW Forza Horizon 4 08 RE Destiny 2 09 NEW Super Mario Party 10 NEW NHL 19
Publisher Take-Two Ubisoft EA Square Enix EA Microsoft Activision Blizzard Nintendo EA
Source: NPD, Period: September 2nd to October 6th
VGTR report New figures released last month showed us the huge positive impact of the games industry on the UK economy and reveal its true scale for the first time. We now know that the games industry directly employs 20,430 FTEs (full-time equivalent roles) which have a direct contribution of £1.52bn into the UK economy. However, factoring in indirect and spillover economic impacts, from those who supply us hardware or even make us a sandwich come lunchtime, and that rises to a staggering 47,620 FTEs and a grand total of £2.87bn.
Top of the Ops Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 - Activision Call of Duty shrugged off criticism of its ‘copycat’ battle royale mode and lack of single player campaign and coolly posted global sales of $500m (£393m) at launch. It’s setting numerous records for the series, such as being the best selling Activision Xbox One game on Day One ever. The grand total was actually around the same figure that Call of Duty: WWII had achieved last year, but the games are very different beasts. For instance Black Ops 4 only sold half the number of copies at UK retail as WWII. But then it not only released earlier in the year, to avoid RDR2, but it’s also a more service-style title, which players are likely to continue playing and Activision can continue monetising, for some time to come.
326k Japan royale Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 has been doing unexpectedly well in Japan. Famitsu tells us it’s set a record-setting pace for the series in Japan. It held the top spot for two weeks running, selling an estimated 326,000 copies at retail alone – that’s more than Super Mario Party! It appears that the game’s battle royale mode has gone down well – maybe not surprising given that the country invented the phrase with the titular 2000 film.
Achilles’ heel? Assassin’s Creed Odyssey - Ubisoft Assassin’s Creed Odyssey had to settle for No.2 for its UK chart debut, with Week One sales down nearly 26 per cent on 2017’s Assassin’s Creed Origins. Although globally digital sales were up ten per cent on last year, making up 45 per cent of all sales. Little to no overall growth then, despite a notably stronger critical reception for the game. We wonder if it may have suffered from looking fairly similar to its predecessor at a cursory glance. Of course Origins didn’t have to launch early in order to avoid going up against Red Dead Redemption 2. There must have been many consumers who chose to wait for Rockstar’s game.
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You’ve spent ten years working in the games industry now, has it improved in your eyes over that time? The industry has definitely matured during that time. Studios are starting to take their culture more seriously and there’s a lot more conscious effort to break away from the stereotypical passiondriven, boisterous environments. Companies are realising they need to create supportive environments that attract different types of developer of all ages, genders and backgrounds and allow good work-life balance to ensure sustainability. Problems in development culture are still prevalent though. Overtime in particular is still endemic inside some studios and too many developers are burning out. On the plus side, employees are starting to speak up more about it and the industry as a whole wants to see change. Your previous role at Creative Assembly, technical artist, seems to have grown in recent years, why is that? These hybrid technical roles are so important because they bridge the gap between content creator and programmer. You’re a problem solver, and often a translator, ensuring artists’ ideas are correctly implemented and helping deliver both a functionally correct solution and an intuitive one for artists. It’s great that many companies of all sizes are seeing the value in technical artists in an industry where technology is constantly changing and allowing less technically minded artists to focus on what they do best – creating awesome visuals. Congrats on setting up your own studio, it’s a big change, what were the immediate challenges? Time management is the biggest challenge in terms of balancing my roles as CEO and game director. My background meant I’ve had to learn new skills for running the company and I need to attend business meetings, while also needing to focus on the game, to ensure we’re realising the desired vision for it.
The Final Boss Jodie Azhar Founder and game director, Teazelcat
“Teazelcat Games aims to be a studio with inclusivity and representation as a core tenet both in the games we make and the team that creates them.”
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What are your ambitions for the new studio? Teazelcat Games aims to be a studio with inclusivity and representation as a core tenet both in the games we make and the team that creates them. While we’ll focus on games and player experience, it’s also important to build the right studio environment to effectively develop these games. I want a diverse group of developers from different backgrounds and with unique ideas, who aren’t just highly skilled but are the right fit for the team. We’ll aim to tell stories that aren’t prevalent in mainstream games and use the uniqueness of games as an interactive medium to share culture, ideas and promote empathy in games. What one game do you wish you could have worked on and why? Ironically Monster Hunter even though it’s the complete opposite of what we’re working on at Teazelcat Games – it’s a combat game that requires fast reactions and has minimal story. I really admire the level of polish in the gameplay and animations. They take each monster, make it fun, and make it work with the environments to give it a distinct personality and a new challenge when you encounter it for the first time. What’s the greatest single moment of your career to date? A pivotal point in my career was being selected as a BAFTA Breakthrough Brit in 2016 following my work as lead technical artist on Total War: Warhammer. The initiative selects around 20 talents in film, television and games each year and provides support and mentorship to help them develop their careers. The confidence I gained from being selected by BAFTA, who saw the work I was doing, has really helped me push myself further over the past few years.