MCV FEB19 FRONTIER:Layout 1 25/01/2019 15:27 Page 1 MCV ISSUE 943 THE BUSINESS OF VIDEO GAMES FEBRUARY 2019
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MCV-JAN19-FRONTIER IBC:MCV-JAN19-FRONTIER IBC 29/01/2019 12:50 Page 1
MAKE YOUR GAME SING! Composers reveal how to collaborate for inspiring results
Standing up for indies
■ PR EXPERTS TALK 2019 03 MCV943.house_cover_v5.indd 1
■ DEVOLVER’S PLANS TO REIGN ON MOBILE
■ MCV AWARDS FINALISTS
■ ROBLOX’S TEN BILLION HOUR YEAR 30/01/2019 19:41
05 The editor New year, new owners, new MCV
06 Critical path The key dates this month
10 Income stream Our market analysis
12 Ukie 30 Years of Play
Real life events from the industry
20 Private Division
Diamonds are a dev’s best friend
26 Ins and outs
And all our recruitment advice
20 32 The sound of music
Working with composers
38 PR panel 2019 PR’s ever-evolving role in the industry
44 Roblox The 10bn hour gentle giant
48 Devolver Digital
How Devolver plans to reign on mobile
52 When we made... Bomber Crew
57 Creatives assemble! CA debunks development role myths
58 Casting the runes Jagex on hearing the player’s voice
60 Industry voices Our platform for the industry
62 The final boss Miles Jacobson
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“Now there’s a proper boozer right next door to the office. Which makes me smile everytime I think about it.”
TheEditor New year, new owners, new MCV MCV isn’t about us, it’s about the games industry, about all of you. So please bear with me, as I explain that just before Christmas MCV was acquired for the second time in 2018. It turned out that Future was not the future for us, but instead has quickly become the past, a six-month blip in the brand’s long and storied history, so short that it’s really not worth dissecting the ups-and-downs of the period. We’re now part of a neat little B2B publisher simply called Biz Media, along with a handful of other brands, such as ToyNews, BikeBiz and PCR. We’re still based near London Bridge, but now there’s a proper traditional boozer right next door to the office. Which makes me smile everytime I think about it. It’s much more like MCV’s roots, with a small team that are just getting on with it. In terms of the games industry, MCV is once again independent, which I think is one silver lining at least. I’ll quickly note that MCV is both British-owned and operated again, that may seem an unnecessary little bit of nationalism given the current climate, but I think having your management in the same time zone is a huge boon. So it may have been a while since we last put out an issue of MCV, but with the switch we have been very busy indeed, despite that we’ve made some significant changes to the magazine for 2019. We’ve revamped our crucial recruitment section, with new designs and a new regular: Iterate for Better, which every month will look at the variety of initiatives trying to improve diversity in the games industry. Plus we’ve teamed up with Ukie in its 30th anniversary year to put a spotlight on the trade body’s work. Then we’ve added a section of developer-led content in the back of the magazine. Every month you can expect staff from a handful of the top UK studios talking passionately about the work they do – work that has incredible variety, well beyond the traditional silos of art, programming, design and production. Back to this month, and as ever, we span the games industry. Private Division’s team talks to us about the publisher’s huge ambitions in the triple-I publishing space. We gather a ‘score’ of composers to advise developers on how best to utilise music in their games, we talk to six of the best PRs in the business, we catch up with the 10bn hour Roblox platform, and we explore Devolver’s move into mobile. So while the name above the door has changed, MCV will continue to support and advise the whole games industry. We’re looking forward to talking to you soon. Seth Barton firstname.lastname@example.org
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Yorkshire Games Festival 2019 National Science and Media Museum, Bradford This year’s Yorkshire Games Festival will be jam-packed with keynotes. Two days out of the five will be dedicated to talks, masterclasses and Q&A, with Media Molecule’s Gem Abdeen, Broken Sword creator Charles Cecil, Motion Twin’s Steve Filby, Llamasoft founder Jeff Minter, Image & Form’s Brjann Sigurgeirsson and Vlambeer’s Rami Ismail among the speakers. Alongside the keynotes on February 7th and 8th, the festival will be running a B2B matchmaking event, Up Your Game, and will debut its Young Developers’ Conference in partnership with BAFTA.
Here are the key upcoming events and releases to mark in your calendar...
Dirt Rally 2.0 Codemasters is coming back with a new Dirt Rally – Codemasters’ most authentic off-road driving experience. Releasing on PS4, Xbox One and PC late this month, Dirt Rally 2.0 will focus on a realistic approach to racing, with weather impacting the driving more than ever and damage carrying over across events, among other features.
Developed by White Paper Games, The Occupation revolves around a rather unique concept: as an investigative journalist, the player has to uncover the truth around an explosion and its aftermath in fixed, real time – and there’s not a lot of it. It’s published by Humble Bundle on PS4, Xbox One and digitally on PC, with the physical editions distributed by Sold Out.
BioWare’s new game, published by parent-company EA, feels like Destiny meets Titanfall. Initially meant to release in late 2018, Anthem is a multiplayer-focused action RPG, though it will feature single player content, with the post-launch story DLC free-of-charge for all players. It’s launching on PS4, Xbox One and PC.
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Metro Exodus 4A Games is coming back with a new entry in the Metro franchise, following up on 2013â€™s Metro: Last Light. Published by Deep Silver, the FPS began development in 2014 and is once again inspired by the novels of Dmitry Glukhovsky. Itâ€™s coming out at the end of the month on PS4, Xbox One and PC.
Crackdown 3 The trials and tribulations of Crackdown 3 are finally coming to an end with the title releasing mid-February, almost three years after its original launch date. Mainly developed by Sumo Digital (with additional work from numerous studios), the Microsoft IP is releasing day-and-date on Xbox Game Pass.
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Editor: Seth Barton email@example.com +44 (0)203 143 8785 Senior Staff Writer: Marie Dealessandri firstname.lastname@example.org +44 (0)203 143 8786 Designer: Mandie Johnson email@example.com Production Manager: Claire Noe firstname.lastname@example.org
ADVERTISING SALES Business Development Manager: Alex Boucher email@example.com + 44 (0)777 853 8431
MANAGEMENT Media Director: Colin Wilkinson firstname.lastname@example.org +44 (0)203 143 8777
SUBSCRIBER CUSTOMER SERVICE To subscribe, change your address, or check on your current account status, go to www.mcvuk.com or email@example.com ARCHIVES Digital editions of the magazine are available to view on ISSUU.com. Recent back issues of the printed edition may be available please call +44 (0)203 143 8777 for more information. INTERNATIONAL MCV and its content are available for licensing and syndication re-use. Contact Colin Wilkinson for opportunities and permissions: firstname.lastname@example.org
MCV has an exclusive media partnership with Famitsu – Japan’s leading video games analyst and news source
A regular rotation of Super Smash Bros Ultimate, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Super Mario Party dominates my living room life now – Switch rules. Away from that, Monday night boardgames are back on in Ladywell, where we’re mainly playing pirate games and other nauticalrelated entertainments.
I’ve been all over the place lately – played a fair share of Super Smash Bros Ultimate, started and fell in love with Gris, finished the Spyro Reignited Trilogy, continued my journey in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and, most importantly, got Diablo III on Switch for Christmas. So that’s my gaming life sorted for the next six months then. Marie Dealessandri, Senior Staff Writer
Seth Barton, Editor
While I spent a lot of my misspent youth merrily skipping through Raccoon City’s Police Department in Resident Evil 2, the fear grips me so tightly now I can barely stand the remake for more than a few minutes at a time. If you want me, I’ll be cowering in a corner somewhere... Vikki Blake, News Writer
Paws the game The best furry friends the industry has to offer. Send yours to email@example.com
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Biz Media Ltd, Axe & Bottle Court, 70 Newcomen St, London SE1 1YT All contents © 2019 Biz Media Ltd. or published under licence. All rights reserved. No part of this magazine may be used, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any way without the prior written permission of the publisher. All information contained in this publication is for information only and is, as far as we are aware, correct at the time of going to press. Biz Media Ltd. cannot accept any responsibility for errors or inaccuracies in such information. You are advised to contact manufacturers and retailers directly with regard to the price of products/services referred to in this publication. Apps and websites mentioned in this publication are not under our control. We are not responsible for their contents or any other changes or updates to them. This magazine is fully independent and not affiliated in any way with the companies mentioned herein. If you submit material to us, you warrant that you own the material and/or have the necessary rights/permissions to supply the material and you automatically grant Biz Media Ltd. and its licensees a licence to publish your submission in whole or in part in any/ all issues and/or editions of publications, in any format published worldwide and on associated websites, social media channels and associated products. Any material you submit is sent at your own risk and, although every care is taken, neither Biz Media Ltd. nor its employees, agents, subcontractors or licensees shall be liable for loss or damage. We assume all unsolicited material is for publication unless otherwise stated, and reserve the right to edit, amend, adapt all submissions.
Pet: Bailey Owner: Laura Barnes Owner job’s: Editor, PCR Bailey has serious fomo and likes to get involved in everything, even gaming! He has the extra PS4 controller so he feels like he’s helping. If he had a chance, he’d eat poor Valtteri (see right).
Pet: Valtteri Owner: Antonela Pounder Owner’s job: Senior brand community manager, 505 Games
Pet: Midna Owner: Katharine Castle Owner’s job: Hardware editor, Rock Paper Shotgun
Valtteri is the fastest fish in the tank – he’d definitely outrun Bailey (see left) if he was being chased. He also desperately wants to check Abzu on Switch.
True to her Zelda namesake, Midna is a devious beast who never leaves your shadow. She’s learnt how to open any door by hanging off the handle.
+44 (0)203 143 8777
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Income Stream The numbers, stats and market stories that matter and why they do
Added value for European charts A long-awaited change was made to the Europe-wide GSD charts at the end of January. The charts have added value rankings to their weekly reports, providing us with a far better idea of what titles are really making the money. These charts provide digital-only, retail-only and combined data. The issue up to now was that sales of digital titles were hard to analyse, as the vast pricing disparities in digital meant that unit data was next to meaningless. Taking the week ending on January 20th as an example, the No.1 best-selling digital title in Europe by unit sales was Just Cause 3 – which was heavily discounted. But look at the value data and that title slumps down to a lowly No.32, with Bandai Namco’s Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown (see right) shooting up from a fairly anonymous No.9 to its rightful place in the top spot. In short, with digital charts, it’s value that matters, not unit sales. The GSD data now incorporates UK retail data as well, making its combined digital and physical value charts the best tool we have for tracking who is making money from selling premium titles across the region. The only major issue being a lack of digital data from Nintendo. With a secondary concern being that only major publishers are represented, so breakout indie hits won’t appear. That aside, here are the Top Ten digital titles by value across Europe for the week ending January 20th. The breadth of the data means GSD’s reports comes at the end of the week following, so we hadn’t yet seen Resident Evil 2’s Europe-wide chart impact by the time we went to print. TITLE
PRE-ORDER TOP 5 TW
01 02 03 04 05
Anthem (PS4) Anthem (Xbox One) Yoshi’s Crafted World (Switch) Days Gone (PS4) Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 (PS4)
01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10
Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown Grand Theft Auto V Red Dead Redemption 2 Call Of Duty: Black Ops 4 Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege Assassin’s Creed Origins EA Sports UFC 3 FIFA 19 Need For Speed: Payback Far Cry 5
PUBLISHER Bandai Namco Rockstar Rockstar Activision Ubisoft Ubisoft EA EA EA Ubisoft
Source: GSD, Period: January 14th to January 30th, 2019
Publisher EA EA Nintendo Sony Ubisoft
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UK RETAIL CHARTS – JANUARY (UNITS)
01 TM LM 02 01 03 02 04 NEW 05 03 06 04 07 07 08 05 09 08 10 RE
RESIDENT EVIL 2 PUBLISHER: CAPCOM
Title Red Dead Redemption 2 FIFA 19 New Super Mario Bros U Deluxe Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 Super Smash Bros Ultimate Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Battlefield V Forza Horizon 4 Grand Theft Auto V
Publisher Rockstar EA Nintendo Activision Nintendo Nintendo EA Microsoft Rockstar
Source: GfK/Ukie, Period: December 30th to January 26th
USA reports record sales US video games sales hit a recordbreaking $43.4bn (£33.1bn) in 2018, with consumer spending up 18 per cent on 2017. According to new data from the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) and The NPD Group, hardware revenue and software revenue have shown record growth in 2018. The increase is seen across both physical and digital sales, including in-game purchases and subscriptions.
Return of the living dead Resident Evil 2 - Capcom Capcom returned to one of its greatest titles this month with a lavish reworking of 1998’s Resident Evil 2. It may have been reanimated but this was no shuffling undead, instead the title zipped to the top of the charts, garnering universal praise along the way. Capcom shipped three million copies of the title in just four days globally, suggesting it’s well on its way to match – or even smash – sales of the original, which sold a little under five million in its lifetime. This takes the series’ cumulative sales to more than 88m units sold since it debuted in 1996. In the UK it was the biggest Capcom launch since Resident Evil VII. All that came off the back of an innovative one-shot demo for the game, which itself clocked up 2.4m plays.
+2% GAME Digital goes steady GAME Digital reported “solid sales and margin performance in a challenging trading climate” in a trading update on the seven weeks ending January 5th. Group like-for-like sales were up two per cent during the sevenweek Christmas trading period. The company acknowledged that “preowned remained challenging over the period” and announced it would continue to pursue a three-pillar strategy to improve its core retail, expand its live gaming segment and find further efficiencies.
Aces high Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown Bandai Namco The new entry in the beloved Ace Combat franchise debuted to strong sales given the time of the year, and became the biggest launch in the series. The last main entry in the franchise was way back in 2006 on Xbox 360. Despite that, physical sales of this outing tended heavily towards PS4. The game included exclusive PSVR missions as well on PlayStation to really put players in the pilot’s seat. The title performed well in the European digital charts, hitting the top spot in the week of release for sales value (see left for more on that).
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Ukie’s 30 Years of Play With Ukie celebrating its incredible 30th anniversary in 2019, we’ll be letting the trade body take over these pages of MCV every month this year THIS year, Ukie turns 30, making it the oldest video games trade body in the world. To mark the occasion, we launched the 30 Years of Play campaign a couple of weeks ago to celebrate the past, present and future of the UK’s games and interactive entertainment industry. The campaign is a year-long calendar of content, events and activities, spotlighting how the industry emerged from its roots in the 1980s, to become an established industry through the 1990s and 2000s and how it has become a globally influential cultural force today. And it’s a great story to tell: the UK games industry is one to be proud of. Historically, the UK has been a global leader, acting as the world’s workshop for some of the most beloved, top-selling franchises from Tomb Raider to Grand Theft Auto. It remains an international powerhouse today, with a whopping 2,280 games businesses from Edinburgh to Brighton. We won’t be shying away from difficult issues, some of which we are right at the coalface of, because Ukie’s own history is about the role it has played in shaping the regulatory environment. We’ll be producing podcasts exploring the stories and people – many of them untold and hidden – behind leading UK-made games. There will also be some key events throughout the year to share and come together in celebration, and we want anyone in the industry to get involved by contributing content, events, or activities. We want to leave behind an ode to the UK games industry by creating a digital archive – a lot of which will be unseen documents, reports, correspondence, images from our own archives – to help reveal the wider historical context of the UK games industry’s development. Finally, we not only want to celebrate the past and present, but the future of the sector as well. We want to encourage the next generation of diverse, representative and inspirational creators who will continue to drive our sector to ever greater cultural heights. Join in and get involved at 30yearsofplay.uk!
Meet the Ukie team Here, we’ll be introducing a new Ukie staffer every month George Osborn: 30 Years of Play campaign manager George Osborn heads the 30 Years of Play campaign, previously working as a freelance writer and journalist, he has written and produced content for organisations such as The Guardian, BT Sport, Eurogamer and Newzoo. Creative Assembly’s Al Bickham (right) was one of the first guests in Ukie’s studio. George Osborn (left) was especially excited and quizzed him on the making of the game Rome: Total War.
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Upcoming 30 Years of Play events
Upcoming regional events
Best selling games event, April 2019
February 6th: Ukie Hub Crawl: Getting Investment Ready, Guildford
The first official 30 Years of Play event will celebrate the best selling video games in the UK over the past 30 years. Taking place during London Games Festival, the event will bring together some of the most influential figures in the international games industry as they pick up awards on behalf of their studio. We’ll be announcing more details of the event shortly. But if you want to find out more about how you can support the event, email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Ukie’s 30th birthday gala, September 2019 Celebrate Ukie’s 30th birthday by joining us for an evening of glitz and glamour at our gala dinner. The black tie event will feature a delightful dinner, plenty of drinks and – most importantly of all – an auction to help us raise money for a valuable industry cause. More information about the event will be coming soon. But to enquire about purchasing a table at our gala dinner, contributing a prize to our charity auction or sponsoring the whole event, please email email@example.com.
February 6th: ESI Winter Forum Series 2019, London
February 13th: Building a Successful Crowdfunding Campaign, Ukie Office, London February 14th: Free-to-Play Deconstruction Workshop - A Mobile Game Design Masterclass, Ukie Office, London February 19th: Ukie Hub Crawl: Getting Investment Ready, Ipswich February 21st: Ukie Hub Crawl: Getting Investment Ready, Belfast February 25th: Ukie Hub Crawl: Getting Investment Ready, Cardiff February 27th: Ukie Hub Crawl: Getting Investment Ready, Newcastle February 22nd-24th: ESL One, Katowice, Poland
Member of the month STEEL MEDIA Steal Media’s Pocket Gamer Connects London helped kickstart the 30 Years of Play campaign. As well as playing host to a panel about the history of mobile gaming in the UK – featuring contributions from MiniClip, Mojiworks, Ustwo and Space Ape – it also acted as the first community partner for the campaign.
Meanwhile... George Osborn catches up with the mind behind Broken Sword: Charles Cecil. Being one of the most interesting podcasts we had done, and also the first, we were extremely excited to release it.
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Real life events from the industry
CES 2019 In early January, CES 2019 took over Las Vegas for five days. Among the memorable moments of this year’s edition, AMD CEO Dr. Lisa Su revealed the new Radeon VII graphics card during her keynote, “the world’s first 7nm gaming GPU.” She also surprised everyone by inviting Microsoft’s head of gaming, Phil Spencer, to join her on stage, where he touched upon the partnership between the two firms for “future platforms.” SUNLESS SKIES PRESS DAY Gothic horror RPG Sunless Skies released on the last day of January, after a year and a half in Early Access. The sequel to 2015’s Sunless Sea got Kickstarted in only four hours back in 2017. To celebrate the long-awaited launch, developer Failbetter organised a press day mid-January, which included what looked like the most delicious cosmic cookies. (photo credit: Lorenzo Berni)
Pictured above, from left to right: Liam McDonald, Adam Myers, Helena Morris, Lesleyann White, Hannah Flynn, Paul Arendt, Barry Hemans, James Chew, Chris Gardiner, Lucy Ann Jones, Haley Uyrus, Olivia Wood, Tobias Cook
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Partnership manager Danhua Wu accepting the Best Service Provider award on behalf of the Matchmade team
PG CONNECTS 2019
The Amiqus team receiving the Best Recruitment Agency award
PG Connects gathered the best and brightest of the mobile games industry for a couple of days in January and ended with the Pocket Gamer Mobile Games Awards 2019 on January 22nd. Fortnite won Game of the Year, while Voodoo was awarded the Best Publisher prize. Tommy Palm, one of the original developers of Candy Crush Saga and now CEO of Resolution Games, won the Mobile Legend award.
Epic Games was awarded the Best Developer prize at the Pocket Gamer Mobile Games Awards 2019
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RESIDENT EVIL 2: SAFE HOUSE MEDIA LAUNCH Capcom organised an immersive experience celebrating the launch of Resident Evil 2, recreating the Raccoon City Police Department, zombies included, at The Barge House in London. During the media launch event, we encountered dancing zombies, ate (delicious) beans out of a can in a great post-apocalyptic bar, drank all the Raccoon City beers (shout out to the hot toddies as well!), but didn’t come close to having the ‘real-blood antidote’ cocktails as everyone advised us against.
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MORTAL KOMBAT 11 REVEAL PARTY Warner Bros and NetherRealm Studios put together an impressive reveal party for Mortal Kombat 11 in January, taking place at iconic Camden music venue Koko in London. Partnered with an event in Los Angeles, the UK party, hosted by Simon Miller and Julia Hardy, was the kind of epic unveiling you rarely see these days. The venue was packed with celebrities, influencers, press and fans and the party ran on until late with DJ sets from Lauren Pope and Don Diablo.
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9 1 0 2 S T S I L A FIN Congratulations to all the MCV Awards finalists and thanks to everyone who entered this year, we hope to see you all at the Brewery on March 7th
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RETAILER AND DISTRIBUTOR
PUBLISHER IN-HOUSE PR TEAM OF THE YEAR Bethesda Capcom Frontier Jagex Sega Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment UK MARKETING TEAM OF THE YEAR Bethesda Capcom Frontier Future Games of London PlayStation UK Sega Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment UK SALES TEAM OF THE YEAR Bethesda Koch Media PlayStation UK Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment UK NEW GAMES IP OF THE YEAR Dead Cells - Motion Twin Kingdom Come: Deliverance - Warhorse Studios & Deep Silver Moss - Polyarc Games Subnautica - Unknown Worlds Two Point Hospital - Two Point Studios & Sega MAJOR GAMES PUBLISHER OF THE YEAR (EDITORIAL SELECTION) Activision Blizzard Epic Games Microsoft Nintendo PlayStation Take-Two Ubisoft Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment UK
Head to the www.mcvawards.com for table bookings and contact our business development manager Alex Boucher at firstname.lastname@example.org for sponsorship opportunities.
INDIE GAMES PUBLISHER OF THE YEAR Bossa Studios Curve Digital Kasedo Games Merge Games Sold Out Wales Interactive Wired Productions COMMUNITY MANAGEMENT OF THE YEAR Bethesda Curve Digital Frontier Jagex Jellymedia Future Games of London
CAMPAIGNS AND EVENTS GAMING CAMPAIGN OF THE YEAR – UNDER £500K BUDGET Bossa Studios - Surgeon Simulator CPR GAME - Red Dead Redemption 2 PlayStation UK - Detroit: Become Human Sega - Two Point Hospital Wired - GRIP GAMING CAMPAIGN OF THE YEAR – OVER £500K BUDGET Bethesda - Fallout 76 Capcom - Monster Hunter: World Frontier - Jurassic World Evolution PlayStation UK - Marvel’s Spider-Man PlayStation UK - God of War Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment UK Hitman 2 GAMES EVENT OF THE YEAR Bossa Studios - World’s Adrift launch event GAME - Insomnia Gaming Festival Gamer Network - EGX Gamer Network - EGX Rezzed Gfinity - F1 New Balance Esports Pro Series 2018 Jagex - Runefest
DISTRIBUTOR OF THE YEAR Click Entertainment Genba Digital Koch Media Link Distribution Sony DADC Super Rare Games MAJOR RETAILER OF THE YEAR Amazon GAME Sainsburys Argos ShopTo.net Very - Shop Direct Group INDEPENDENT RETAILER OF THE YEAR Go2Games.com Gamersheek Seedee Jons Super Rare Games The Game Collection
PR AND MEDIA MAJOR PR AGENCY OF THE YEAR Bastion Indigo Pearl Little Big PR Plan of Attack Think Jam BOUTIQUE PR AGENCY OF THE YEAR Big Games Machine BOPE Dead Good PR Decibel-PR Mimram Renaissance PR Swipe Right PR CREATIVE AGENCY OF THE YEAR Attention Seekers Diva Fourth Floor Creative Gamer Creative Heaven Media Ltd ICHI Worldwide Network N TAKEOFF Creative Agency
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Diamonds are a d
Pictured above from left to right: Ara Josefsson, assistant marketing manager Brian Roundy, senior comms manager Kari Toyama, senior producer Anthony Price, QA manager Allen Murray, VP of production Roger Kurtz, senior producer
Ed Tomaszewski, director, corporate development & strategy Michael Cook, executive producer Michael Worosz, SVP, head of strategy and independent publishing Brian MacKenzie, senior IT manager
Jennifer Ashiru, associate producer Jo Lammert, program manager Shana Bryant, senior producer Markus Wilding, senior director, international marketing and communications Tom Bass, VP of marketing
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dev’s best friend Take-Two’s newest publishing arm Private Division, and its diamond logo, are all set for a big 2019. Seth Barton talks to the team about redefining the publisher role, breaking new IP, subscriptions and streaming, plus the Obsidian acquisition and the rise of triple-I
he biggest publishers in the world have been somewhat reticent when it comes to new IP for some time now. The likes of EA and Activision by and large stick to their regular franchises; small publishers meanwhile try to unearth indie gems from fledgling studios. But that’s left a gulf in the middle. So it was a pleasant surprise to hear that one of the biggest publishers around, Take-Two, had decided to create a whole new arm, Private Division, to operate in that space. It’s not aiming to fund the next triple-A goliath but neither is it looking to sign unproven breakouts. It’s a year on from that launch and Private Division has recently become a more public division with the announcement of two big titles for 2019: Obsidian’s The Outer Worlds and Panache’s Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey. Though that’s just for starters.
In the last 12 months, the organisation has also filled out its staff with a core publishing team of around 20 and fast approaching 100 when QA is factored in. It also has a far more definite sense of what it is and what it wants to achieve. So we caught up with the team to discover how it’s trying to redefine the publisher role and banish the bogeyman image of the external producer. We put that stereotype to executive producer and VP of production Allen Murray, who tells us: “This is my first time on the publishing side and I knew that what I wanted to do when we set out was to be the publisher that I never had, or that I always wanted to have.” And having worked at Bungie, Popcap and run his own Atomjack studio, which had its big project cancelled by a publisher, he certainly speaks from experience. “Seattle is our game production and operations office,” Murray continues, with other functions based in New York, Las Vegas and
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Pictured above: Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey will be the first game from Panache, a new studio led by Patrice Désilets, creative director of the early Assassin’s Creed games
Munich. “So here in Seattle we have a staff of producers that work with all of our developers, and the vast majority of them come from the development side.” One example is Shana Bryant, a senior producer who recently worked on Hololens and includes EA and Capcom in her CV, who captures the mindset perfectly: “I’ve been a development producer and a publishing producer. But regardless, I believe my job is ultimately the same – to help empower teams to make cool games. That’s it. That’s the guiding light, whether you’re on the team or working with the team… We’ve got a huge opportunity here. If we can keep that up, we can build something really special and maybe even change the face of publishing. Or at least, give it a good nudge.” Murray adds: “We’ve been in their shoes, we’ve sat in that chair and given a pitch and we know what it’s like, we’ve tried to close out games on our own. We’ve been there. So my hope is that we bring that understanding and empathy to the process.” Of course tough decisions do still have to be made, though Murray is keen to approach them with an open mind and let the developer take the lead on finding solutions that work for them and their game. “I think it would be a failure for us to have to come in and say: ‘You have to cut those features’. What I would rather do is sit down with the developer and say: ‘OK here all the things that we’re concerned about,’ like it might be dates or cash flow, or there might be an
opportunity if we can hit a certain launch window, get them to really understand that.” Murray explains that it’s then up to the developer to decide what needs to happen and for him to say what they can do to help: “I want all that to be directed by the developer and have them be a part of solving the problem versus us just telling them what to do. Because frankly they know the game more than I do.” Bryant continues: “Creativity isn’t a process without limits. And milestones aren’t just about demo builds and payment schedules. Being able to properly articulate a plan, bringing dozens of cross-discipline professionals to bear against a singular creative vision is really difficult. “A milestone definition is just one way that developers and publishers communicate expectation with one another,” she expands. “It allows us to establish a ‘meeting of the minds’ on features and content that can be tricky to explain, but that we ultimately need to be able to. But we’re always mindful of how we can work with our teams to make a milestone process that’s additive, thoughtful, and explicit. It’s not always about ‘a milestone every X weeks’. Sometimes, that’s not what a project needs.” Murray concurs: “I want this to be a publisher that understands, that is along for the ride and can be supportive in that process because it’s never the straight line to get from concept to launch, it’s twists and turns all the way. Just being cognisant of that and having a lot of empathy for the development process.
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“And in our relationship with them they own the IP and they’re the caretaker of it, and we want to be a good partner and shepherd it into market.” THE SPECIAL SAUCE For a couple of years it looked as though publishers were on the back foot, crowdfunding and self-publishing were the big buzzwords, though the flood of content that followed brought the spectre of discoverability and suddenly a publisher, with its marketing and PR clout, seemed like a good idea again, but lessons were learnt in those transitions. Michael Worosz, SVP, head of strategy and independent publishing, who heads up Private Division, agrees: “We’ve looked at ourselves in the mirror. Publishers need to expand their value proposition with live operations, performance marketing, global marketing... Those are all things we feel we really need to offer, beyond just capital, straight marketing and production support. And I think we have now.” Murray adds: “Where a publisher comes in handy now is helping the developer understand that they’re building not just a game but a product, and how’s it going to work in the marketplace, stand out in such a crowded space.” Taking the lead in that area is Tom Bass, VP of marketing: “We are transparent and collaborative,” he asserts. “We don’t walk into a development studio and present a marketing plan that we did in a corner. We ask the team a lot of questions, we do a ton of research, and we hear out what’s important to them and what they believe is important to communicate. When it comes time to develop creative, we work on the brief together, we brainstorm together, bring creative talent on site and work hand in hand every step of the way.” A recent example of that approach impressed at the Game Awards: “In the case of The Outer Worlds’ trailer, every daily drop we received was shared with the developer. Working lockstep means there are no surprises, and we’re working hand in hand to ensure we’re delivering creative that’s authentic and that everyone is equally as proud of. ” The Outer Worlds, as with Ancestors, is a brand new IP, and that requires a somewhat different approach. “But we thrive on the excitement of launching something new,” Bass tells us. “There’s no playbook to an annualised franchise we are beholden to; every campaign is a blank slate. We approach every game with the goals of being authentic, demonstrating discipline in our strategies and planning, and developing incredible creative. Oftentimes that means taking risks, but we’re fortunate to be partnering with developers who are not averse to that.
“There are certainly challenges in breaking new IP,” he continues. “Breaking through the noise of bigger campaigns from established franchises, educating the audience, and managing hype versus buzz.” Managing expectations is increasingly a key part of publishing new IP, with the touchstone still being No Man’s Sky, a subject that we discuss with Murray: “We’re all aware of that and the problems with overhyping,” he tells us. He explains that “a real challenge for us is setting correct expectations” because the company operates in a very broad space between “triple-A and tiny indie.” PICKING THEM FRESH Speaking of that middle space brings us back to Private Division’s mission which Worosz describes as: “To empower the world’s best creators with the best publishing resources and help them bring their best ideas to market.” But finding the world’s best creators was something of a mammoth task at the outset: “We’ve seen a lot of interesting projects over the past 12 months. When we first started this venture, our business development funnel for new pitches was upward of 400 ideas. Over the last year its whittled down, and that’s not because we’re not seeing everything but rather that we’re finding our eye.” That eye appears to be settling on exciting new IP from developers with heavyweight experience – exactly the kind of projects that many have been calling out for more of from the industry. “We’re really looking at the cream of the crop,” says Murray. “We have a lot of wonderful developers we’re working with currently, and a lot on the horizon that we’re talking to.” New IP always comes with risk though, whatever the developer’s track record, so just how much risk is Private Division willing to take on? Murray is initially pragmatic: “We look for games with a commercial aspect to them because, to be transparent, we are a publisher and we’re both looking to make money and we hope that these games make money for our developers. Because of the budgets we operate in, they’re much smaller than triple-A but they’re not tiny indie.” But why are such undeniably-talented developers choosing such projects? Bryant explains: “Developers are opting in to the mid-size triple-I game for a reason. They want team sizes that are manageable, deadlines measured in numbers of months, not years and, most importantly, they want the kind of creative autonomy that it’s often challenging to maintain on big-budget stuff.
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“It sounds sexy but making the switch from hundredmillion-dollar budgets to not-that isn’t always easy. In triple-A, your resources can feel boundless. But in this mid-size game space, you can’t always solve your problems by throwing money or people at them. So, it’s scoping. It’s being strategic about risk. It really takes a complete shift in the cultural mindset to be successful in the space,” says Bryant. Those mid-range budgets aren’t suited for novices either, Murray tells us: “It has been hard for us to take that risk on somebody without a track record. So all of the groups that we are currently working with – and there are quite a few that we have not even announced yet – have some pedigree, some track record.” A track record doesn’t have to mean an established studio though. Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey is made by Panache Digital Games, “a brand new team” Murray notes. “But that team has a pedigree with Patrice [Désilets, founder] and his core group he’s been working with since the first Assassin’s Creed or even before that. So they have a good track record – even if as a studio this is their first title. “I think that one is quite challenging, quite risky… I think it’s somewhat genre defining in the survival genre and it’s been really really fun to work on, to work out what it is and what it will become. And how we educate people on what it is and get them interested in it.” The publisher’s other big title, The Outer Worlds, appears to be on better-known ground, but Murray points out that even with a team such as Obsidian, “two creators that have been doing this for decades, backed by a team that’s been doing this for over a decade,” new IPs always come with some element of risk. However, the team’s experience “helps mitigate that risk,” he adds.
And with Obsidian, and now Microsoft, owning the fledgling IP, it’s in everyone’s interest that the game does well: “We’re publishing The Outer Worlds, we’re incredibly excited about that, the reception in the market so far has been terrific. And this acquisition doesn’t change that,” stresses Worosz. Microsoft’s recent spending spree is directly-related to its desire for exclusive content to power Xbox Game Pass. Gearbox’s publishing arm was recently in the exact same situation after Microsoft purchased Compulsion Games, creator of We Happy Few. That could mean Private Division is going to have more competition than it expected in signing premium independent developers. “Right now it seems clear that Microsoft is trying to accrue value to their Game Pass value proposition, by having uniquely available content there,” Worosz opines. “I think that makes sense to a degree, I think they’re going to have to demonstrate Game Pass’s growth over time to be able to continue to do acquisitions like this, and if it does work for them, then I can see them doing more acquisitions to build out exclusive content.” That said, the glut of content currently available shows that there’s no great shortage of talent out there, and not all of them want to be bought up by a corporate goliath. “Certain developers want to be independent for that reason, they’ve worked at larger companies and want to be able to control their own destiny to a larger degree, they want more creative freedom. Having a larger corporate parent, particularly one with a trillion dollar market cap like Microsoft, sometimes gets in the way,” explains Worosz.
“There’s no playbook to an annualised franchise we are beholden to; every campaign is a blank slate.”
CONTENT COMPETITION It looks certain that The Other Worlds will be both the first and last game that Obsidian produces with Private Division, as Microsoft bought up the developer in early November. Worosz sees the positives of the change though. “Microsoft’s acquisition of Obsidian demonstrates that we are choosing the right projects and backing the right teams,” he tells us. “It’s good for the team at Obsidian, they’ve been on the indie road for a long time and it’s a really tough challenge, and this offer is an opportunity to take their game to the next level.”
CROSSING THE STREAMS Looking more broadly, we wonder how Worosz sees the potential rise of subscription and streaming services impacting both the development and publishing functions of the industry. “A lot of the market, particularly Wall Street is conflating subscription with streaming,” he says, clarifying that “one is a business model, one is a delivery or technology mechanism. “We’re treating them distinctly, I think the games industry overall is treating them judiciously, the way I see it is that we’re not going to ‘king make’ any subscription service in the way Hollywood did with Netflix. It’s to our benefit that we’re going last sequentially if you think about major media categories: music first, then video, and now
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video games. And we have the benefit of hindsight to think about services like this.” On subscription models, he is rightly cautious: “If subs services get the right business model to fairly remunerate developers and publishers for the high-value content they’re delivering into that service, I think we’ll value them, but I feel that we’re not there yet.” We suggest the ability to dip into titles at no expense could radically change how developers and publishers make games. “You’re right,” Worosz responds. “If the consumer has maximum choice and there’s little downside to trying new stuff, that could lead to discovery in a way that a la carte purchases sometimes prohibit. In terms of streaming we’re seeing a lot of interesting things coming to market, there’s many services and we’re going to evaluate those services on a case by case basis.” Those include Google’s Project Stream demo of Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey and Microsoft’s Project xCloud. LONG DIVISION Private Division looks well on the way to defining itself. The current structure of Take-Two certainly doesn’t hinder that. After all Rockstar and 2K are already clearly branded and neither of them will step on Division’s toes. And we can expect more than just two releases from the team this year, Worosz reveals: “I think we’re
well-staffed now to publish a wider portfolio, we have numerous projects underway and we’ve only mentioned the two that are shipping next year so far. We now have the capacity to take on more, there are numerous projects underway and that’s the only way you can make an overhead like this make sense, ” But the first big test will come later this year, says Bryant: “Making a game is hard, but shipping is handsdown the hardest part of game development. I often joke that games don’t want to ship; they want to stay snuggled up and warm in their incubation chambers. And a lot of them would if we didn’t wake them up and thrust them wild-eyed onto digital shelves!” And from that process, Murray reckons Take-Two as a whole will benefit too: “It should allow us to be really good champions internally, into Private Division and the Take-Two group, so we can champion and defend the position of the developer.” Bass adds: “As a label, we’ll be defined first and foremost by our games. Our goal is that the Private Division diamond is viewed as a mark and a promise that you’re getting a quality experience, developed by a team outside of triple-A, that introduces you to an incredible and creative new IP.” It’s a lofty goal, and an admirable one in an industry that tends towards the safe-ground of sequels all too often. This is one-publisher-powered initiative we’ll be watching closely.
Pictured above: The Outer Worlds should both be the first and last game that Obsidian produces with Private Division, as Microsoft bought up the developer in early November
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Ins and outs: Industry hires and moves 1
GamesRadar has made a couple of appointments, with former GamesTM deputy editor JOSH WEST (1) hired as the publication’s new features editor where he plans to “deliver a smooth blend of long-form features and scorching hot takes.” ROB DWIAR (2) has also joined as staff writer for both GamesRadar and PC Gamer.
Sumo Digital has hired RICHARD IGGO (3) as its new director of marketing. Most recently senior director of marketing at Telltale, he has over two decades of experience in games. RUBY RUMJEN (4), former Bandai Namco PR manager, has joined Warner Bros. She said: “I’m super excited to join WB Games as their international PR manager! And what a great time to join, as I now have the opportunity to work on two games I am most looking forward to playing: Mortal Kombat 11 and Harry Potter Wizards Unite.”
Exertis has appointed HOWARD INGLEBY (5) as programme director for the UK and Ireland. He’ll be in charge of “managing change and delivery of key strategic and infrastructure projects.” Relic Entertainment has a new COO: HEIDI EAVES (6), who previously spent 11 years at EA as senior development director, among other senior roles. In her new post, Eaves said she wanted to focus “on people, quality, development and culture.”
DANIEL KRUPA (10), GAV MURPHY (11) and RORY POWERS (12) have left IGN to launch their own YouTube channel, RKG, which will be offering livestreams, podcasts and a “new long-form Let’s Play series” called Retry, a spiritual successor to their previous work on IGN’s channel Prepare To Try. They’ve also lauched a Patreon to support their new adventures.
There’s been a few changes at IGN, with YAEL PROUGH (7) promoted from SVP and chief revenue officer to general manager and EVP, based in the publication’s San Francisco office. Prough joined IGN in 2009. On this side of the pond, JOE SKREBELS (8) was promoted to deputy editor of IGN in the UK, having previously been news editor for almost three years, while DALE DRIVER (9) was also promoted to senior video producer and studio manager, having previously been video producer for over three years.
IGDA Scotland board member JAIME CROSS (13) has been appointed audio lead at Monstrum developer Team Junkfish, joining from Blazing Griffin. He already worked at Team Junkfish from 2011 to 2017, as audio lead and director of public relations. Former PlayStation Access channel manager HOLLIE BENNETT (14) has joined
CD Projekt Red as UK head of communications. She said: “I am incredibly excited to join the CD Projekt Red team. My role will see me working with UK media, content creators, influencers and our community plus the incredible team at Bandai Namco Entertainment UK to help showcase our incredible library of games including our upcoming title Cyberpunk 2077.” MCV is off to a great start under our new owners at Biz Media with the hire of ALEX BOUCHER (15) as business development manager. Boucher is an MCV and Develop veteran, having managed the games portfolio at Intent Media up until 2015. Boucher remains managing director of his own Analog Ltd. He said: “I’m really excited to be working for MCV again, and can’t wait to share what we have planned for 2019. It’s an exciting time for the games industry right now and MCV will definitely be there to inform and collaborate with its audience.” Former community manager at Focus JAMES BARTHOLOMEOU (16) has joined ICO Partners. He commented: “I’m excited to be joining ICO Partners as a junior PR, working with UK and Scandinavian audiences. PR will be a new challenge, and I’m really looking forwards to seeing what the next few years bring.”
Roblox has hired LAURA HIGGINS (17) as its director of digital civility. Bringing over 20 years of experience, she will lead the new Digital Civility Initiative at Roblox, giving “children, teens, parents and caregivers the tools to create a safe environment for building strong life skills while also ensuring a fun, productive experience for everyone.” CLIVE MOODY (18) has been promoted from senior executive producer to SVP of product development at Codemasters. Former VP of product development Mick Hocking has left the company. Erez Goren, Hi-Rez founder and CEO, has stepped down after 15 years leading the company. He’s succeeded by STEWART CHISAM (19), former VP of operations. Ubisoft has a new PR executive, CALUM RIDGEWELL (20), who’s working across a range of titles, such as Tom Clancy’s The Division 2, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, The Crew 2, Ghost Recon Wildlands and Anno 1800.
Got an appointment you’d like to share with us? Email Marie Dealessandri at email@example.com 26 | MCV 943 February 2019
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Every month, we pick the brain of an up-and-coming talent
Samantha Webb, development manager, Riot UK
“I took a long time to move into the gaming industry because I wasn’t convinced my skills would be needed.” in a small office like ours: alongside my day job I grew our social media presence in the early days, launched and now run regular fan fiction contests for the community, became the diversity and inclusion lead for the UK and also wrote some prototype stuff for our central R&D team. No day is ever quite the same! How did you break into games? I was already working in tech doing the role I do now, and I started writing for games as a hobby. I ended up doing my MA in Game Design while working at the same time. I was following the studios that make my favourite games, and when I learnt Riot was looking to open a studio in London I found a few of their European talent people on LinkedIn, got in touch and was lucky enough that they were looking for a dev manager! What is your proudest achievement so far? Coming into the team and leading the Agile transformation was pretty cool – some of the team had never worked in an Agile way before, and they’ve been really receptive to the idea. I’ve been able to introduce a sustainable way of working for the team that allows us to juggle our numerous priorities and deliver on them as well as giving us enough flexibility to be able to work on emergency work as and when it
comes through – all while being able to finish at 6pm and switch off emails for the evening every night! What’s been your biggest challenge to date? The transition from tech to gaming was a big one actually. In many respects I think tech as an industry is like the older sibling, it’s been there and done that and has a tried and tested approach to many things; whereas the games industry is like the excitable youngster that is only just starting university and learning responsibility and accountability. What do you enjoy most about your job? My team is absolutely awesome, and as a dev manager you can’t ask for anything more than a great team! I’ve seen them take ideas that should have been impossible and run with them to produce great campaigns. There’s also such a great variety of work to take on
What’s your big ambition in games? I think for me it would be to co-found a studio. I love my job working with teams but I also love making games, especially the writing and narrative design, and have a lot of respect for small, indie studios telling great stories through games. Being able to do that myself with a talented team would be a dream! What advice would you give to someone who worked in software development and is trying to get into games dev? Firstly, recognising that your skills are transferable and desirable is a big step – I took a long time to move into the gaming industry because I wasn’t convinced my skills would be needed. Secondly, I’d advise making games in your spare time, and look for meetups and events near you – building a network and being able to prove you’re passionate about whatever it is you want to be in will be a big advantage.
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Cherry picked advice to help you reach the next level in your career
Matt Dear, audio engineer at video games recording studios OMUK, talks us through the skillset needed for such a position and how working for yourself teaches you a lot That said, I’d advise any freelancers to get out and work with larger teams where possible. It’s easy to get stuck in your own little bubble. Meeting and working with others in the field is an unmatched method of learning new skills and expanding your network.
What is your job role and how would you describe your typical day at work? My job title is audio engineer, which is a pretty broad brush stroke, but my general responsibilities include engineering recording sessions, dialogue editing, mastering edited audio, casting, managing freelance editors and miscellaneous ‘studio maintenance’. If we have a production on, I will usually be either engineering a dialogue session or serving as part of the editing team. If there isn’t a production on, I could be working on casting, putting together actors samples for our database, streamlining the studio pipeline or anything else that needs doing! We have a relatively small team so everyone wears quite a few hats. What qualifications and/or experience do you need to land this job? I have a BA in Music from BIMM in Brighton. This gave me a background in audio production that
“It’s important to understand the power that dialogue has in immersing the player.” I solidified with three years as a self-employed game audio specialist. During this time I composed music, created sound effects, recorded dialogue, cleaned audio, built Wwise systems and worked as a freelance editor for OMUK. The experience I gathered while working for myself, along with the familiarity I garnered for OMUK’s workflow while working with them, gave me the correct skillset for this position. I’d highly recommend working for yourself as it teaches you a lot about how you work and what the gaps in your knowledge are. Self-motivation is a skill that will help in any arena.
If you were interviewing someone for your team, what would you look for? We have quite a small team, so any prospectives would have to work well in a team, be personable and have a wide and flexible skillset. Computer literacy is a must as we work exclusively with Excel and Windows Explorer for our script and file management. If it is for an audio role we look for people fluent with Pro Tools and ideally experience with Audition 3 or similar editing software. We also want people who are passionate about video game dialogue! It’s important that they play games and understand the power that dialogue has in telling a story and immersing the player. What opportunities are there for career progression? I’ve already mentioned freelancers. Most engineers start here and move from trainee or junior roles to regular engineers. Further down the line are senior positions, studio managers and dialogue/audio leads. I’ve also seen several companies specifically hire director-engineers – and I mean director in terms of directing an actor – in order to have someone who can inhabit both roles within a team, and run a whole session on their own. I know of several dialogue specialists who have carved niches for themselves by being able to serve two or more roles within a dialogue team.
Want to talk about your career and inspire people to follow the same path? Contact Marie Dealessandri at email@example.com 28 | MCV 943 February 2019
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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 Rebellion to go and join them? Rebellion is a studio which is becoming well known for top quality games and always striving for new and innovative ideas in the games creating process. What’s the culture like at Rebellion and what’s your experience been like fitting in? They have a very relaxed and open mind to all things and always take people’s suggestions on board, no matter what position they hold. I talk to the technical and production teams here, as well as the design department, so this is giving me an even greater understanding of the business. We are actively encouraged to discuss our ideas and thoughts, which is really great and makes you feel like you have a valuable input. Working with so many people in different areas means that you can develop your personal skills as well as your professionals skills. What are you most excited about bringing to the role? I am hoping to help develop the visual design and styles of the games I am working on, and will try to push the boundaries to create innovative ideas to drive games forward and make them more enjoyable to play. I previously worked at Hasbro and worked on toys-to-life categories, creating apps for physical toys. I think that experience means I have strong ideas of how to develop products that we can expand, and sell additional experiences to consumers. I also worked with the teams responsible for the Star Wars, Transformers and Marvel brands in the US, so I guess that has given me the experience of, and confidence in, dealing with major licence holders. What will working at Rebellion do for your career? I believe it will open up many avenues and possibilities for the future as it is a great place to learn and develop. What would you like to say to anyone thinking about or undertaking a job move in this industry? Some people think that working in the industry means spending eight hours a day playing games. I wish that were the case – I’ve not even had chance to fully play the game I’m working on so far! It’s hard work at times, but of course it’s fun and we’re all passionate about what we do. But ultimately, I would say do it! You won’t regret it!
Name: Alex Gibson Studio: Rebellion Job Title: GUI art and designer Education: (BSc) Computer Games Design & CGI
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Iterating for better New year, new MCV! For our first issue of 2019, in partnership with Amiqus, we’re introducing this new regular section supporting and promoting companies that champion diversity. Introducing this new format is Amiqus’ Liz Prince herself, telling us more about the G into Gaming initiative IT’S a year since we launched the Putting The G Into Gaming initiative – a campaign which is working with similar bodies to address the gender imbalance in the games industry. If you’re not up to speed with G Into Gaming (GiG), the idea is to drive diversity forward – just 20 per cent of the games workforce consists of women – with actionable steps, promoting gender balance to the top of the agenda in games companies. We want to encourage women and young girls to consider a career in games and we want to support and nurture that talent going forward. Since launching a year ago, the response we’ve had has been overwhelming and we know that there is clearly a desire by games studios to make a difference. They just don’t necessarily know where to start or the practical things they can do… …Which is where initiatives like Putting The G Into Gaming can help. This is not just about rhetoric – although opening industry-wide discussions about topics such as unconscious bias and harassment is important. GiG has a remit to provide practical help and advice, and to this end, we are embarking on a series of workshops and talks at studios and events across the UK. Our first took place last month at Codemasters and provided a great afternoon of learning and debate, including talks by Paula Whelan from learning and development specialist RightTrack about how unconscious bias can impact our hiring decisions, as well as a discussion by nDream’s Tamsin O’Luanaigh about the positive steps taken to increase the number of women working at nDreams. We have more planned for the coming months and we’d love to hear from any games company who would like to host a similar event. Meanwhile, this month also sees us kick off this new monthly piece in MCV which will be focused on championing all areas of diversity.
We look forward to tackling a range of topics that we hope will both keep the debate going and provide useful advice. We’ll be welcoming guest contributors too. G Into Gaming is an industry-wide initiative, it’s a platform that’s open to all to contribute positively with the aim of making real change. We would love to hear from individuals too about the challenges they face, the obstacles that they’ve overcome and the differences they have made to their organisations. And we’ll be highlighting some of the great work taking place to tackle the gender imbalance, both within the games industry and beyond – such as GCHQ’s recent positive action in launching women-only training courses to encourage more young women into the intelligence community. We have only just begun with GiG and we look forward to working with you all to take this important initiative further forward to achieve real change.
Putting The G Into Gaming is a pro bono initiative founded by and in association with recruitment specialist Amiqus. To find out more email G-IntoGaming@amiqus.com or contact firstname.lastname@example.org
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MCV-JAN19-SPLASH DAMAGE:MCV-JAN19-SPLASH DAMAGE 23/01/2019 11:46 Page 1
Pictured from top to bottom, left to right: Alyssa Menes, Jack Wall, Gareth Coker, Elvira BjĂśrkman, Olivier DeriviĂ¨re, Elitsa Alexandrova, Winifred Phillips, Inon Zur, Penka Kouneva, Paula Ruiz
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The sound of music Marie Dealessandri discusses the unique process of making music for video games with indie and triple-A composers and how developers can improve their collaboration with them
’ve always been obsessed by soundtracks. I tend to discover films and games though their music rather than your typical trailers and demos – Bastion, Dead Cells, I’m looking at you. It took me a shamefully long time to realise I was not the only one with this obsession though. Seeing the Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses concert, with all 3,723 seats of the venue taken, finally convinced me that, yes, I was definitely not the only one. So needless to say I’ve been wanting to write a feature about music in games for a long time. Here we’ll focus on how devs can work better with composers and how that role has evolved, but the responses to this feature have been so overwhelming that this will also kick off a brand new regular format in MCV, where each month we’ll focus on one of the talented composers I’ve talked to. THE TIME IS RIGHT Working with a composer on your game’s music brings an awful lot of questions. The first one usually is: when do you actually start working on the music? Well, composers’ typical answer is: as soon as possible. But the reality is that it varies greatly from project to project. “Usually I’m brought in when there is a playable build, visual aesthetics, some maps, a few levels, and a cogent vision for gameplay,” game and film composer Penka Kouneva (The Mummy VR, Prince of Persia: Forgotten Sands, Transformers) tells MCV. “The most important factor for me is that the game developers have a clear vision of what their game is, and a feeling for the overall experience. These elements are the springboards for my collaboration with them.” Olivier Derivière (Get Even, 11-11 Memories Retold, Vampyr) stresses that “you want to be involved at the very beginning of the project to not only understand what the core of the game will be but also to make sure the team understands that music is more than just music.” He continues: “For most of the games that I’ve been doing, the sooner the better, and the deeper the involvement the better the results.” Winifred Phillips (God of War, Total War, Assassin’s Creed) highlights the wide differences between projects: “For a really largescale project like LittleBigPlanet 3, I’m brought into the development team early on, and my collaboration with the sound designers and audio directors lasts for years. “For other projects, such as Total War Battles: Kingdom, I’m hired more towards the end of development when everything about the game is nearly complete, and those kinds of projects can take a year
or less. For projects developed by indie teams, I might have a few months, or even a few weeks.” Even within triple-A, the moment the composer is brought in can vastly differ depending on the title. Inon Zur (Fallout, Dragon Age, Prince of Persia) started working on Fallout 4’s score in 2012, he tells us – a game that entered full production in 2013. “Usually I’m working on games three to four years prior to their release,” he details. “I believe this is a really smart way to create and develop the music as the game is being developed, so the game’s creators, writers, artists and I are being fed and inspired by each other throughout the process.” Meanwhile, Jack Wall (Call of Duty, Mass Effect) says he usually works on Black Ops’ score in a fragmented way across a year. “[Treyarch] has three years to build the game and the last year of those three, they are ready for music to do its thing. We don’t write music for the full year, but it starts with concepts then usually something substantial for Zombies or main themes. “After we get those things done, we can take a break until E3 where I’ll write music for a level they are showing. Then around June, it’s a sprint to record in August where I’ll write the bulk of the full score during that time frame.” So needless to say that flexibility is a key aspect of being a game composer as the way they work, both around and with the dev team, changes vastly depending on the project. However, while you do want to involve composers as early on as possible in your project, there is such a thing as ‘too early’. Most of the composers we talked to said they require concept art, story treatments, character descriptions, screenshots, gameplay videos, and the ability to play early builds in order to start writing the music, so make sure you have all of those. All of them stressed how important communication is. And some of them had additional preferences that devs should consider when hiring a composer. “Art-wise, early scenery mockups and colour palettes are the things that help the most, and everything else comes from speaking with the rest of the team about the character’s personalities, feelings and motivations, and what kind of emotions we are trying to convey in each scene,” explains Paula Ruiz (Gods Will Be Watching, The Red Strings Club). “That usually leads to early sketches of music that we end up playing over early builds so we can decide if it really works, or if there’s something else we should be trying.”
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PLAYING A DUET: COMPOSERS’ TIPS FOR DEVS
• Elitsa Alexandrova: “The best results come with trust and a lot of conversation; during development, the game content changes many times and it is important that the composer is involved in the whole process as part of the team.” • Elvira Björkman: “Treat the composer as a fellow developer and involve them deeply in the project and decisions that is going to be made.” • Gareth Coker: “Bring them on as early as possible, give them all the information they could possibly need and all the builds they could ever want so they can get closer and closer to the game. Familiarity breeds comfort, and comfort breeds ideas, and that’s what you hired the composer for: their musical ideas!” • Olivier Derivière: “Music is not a service. It’s people. You need to talk to these people, you need to make them part of your own development. You don’t want them to be external because then it feels that it will never reach the substance of what you’re doing.” • Penka Kouneva: “Have a great concept presentation with your design, vision board, audience expectations. Have a playable level. Have a handful of music references, and for each reference say why you like it, and how you think the style will work in your game. Feedback is crucial. Be honest with your collaborator. Be clear and communicate well all the deadlines and milestones.”
• Alyssa Menes: “Listen to your composers. Value and trust their input. Don’t micromanage them or tell them how to write their music. Find a composer who understands narrative. They can really help you tell the story behind your game, because the music has to work with the visuals/ dialogue in order to tell a story. You need all of it.” • Winifred Phillips: “Game design documents are helpful, as they can provide lots of insight and inspiration. Concept art and screenshots can greatly assist in defining the emotional mood and character of the project. Gameplay videos are essential.” • Raffertie: “Please give the music as much time to develop as the rest of the game, the results will be so much stronger.” • Paula Ruiz: “Start as early as possible, so we can better plan what kind of role the music is going to play and what kind of emotions we are trying to convey in each scene.” • Jack Wall: “The best example would be my audio director at Treyarch, Brian Tuey. He trusts me, as a composer, to come through. He treats everyone in his work orbit with respect and values their viewpoint.” • Inon Zur: “What is the actual emotion you want to create for the game, what are the feelings you’re trying to relay to the player? Secondly, I think it’s important to create a unique musical signature for the game. Give your project its own distinct identity.”
Penka Kouneva adds: “Also just as important is to get a sense of the musical expectations of my collaborators, so I ask for ‘style guides’ – mp3s and YouTube links. These are models and inspirations from past game and film scores.” Elvira Björkman (Angry Birds 2, Aragami, Apex Construct) tells us that for her “videos and screenshots don’t convey the feeling of actually playing the game very well.” She adds: “Since I have technical knowledge working with engines such as Unity and Unreal on top of also knowing my fair share of C#-scripting, I usually ask to be the one to implement the music too. “That way I can plan ahead on how the music will act interactively and exactly where it should trigger even before I write a single note. I really enjoy writing with my DAW [Digital Audio Workstation] on one screen and the game on the other!” Björkman’s answer highlights a very important evolution here: as the industry’s matured, devs can now find composers who not only like but also understand the medium they’re working on. And this is something that has evolved drastically in recent years, with composers being more and more involved in the development process of games, to various degrees. TEAM SPIRIT Elitsa Alexandrova (Assassin’s Creed, Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars) tells MCV that composers are not simply here to make music anymore: “Over the past few years composers have started to think not only about the quality of their music, but how to implement it in the game in a smarter way, so as to better support the action.” To achieve that, “a close collaboration between the composer and sound designers is a must,” Inon Zur says. “Together we can decide where the music will take over, and where it stays in the background, for the most impactful and meaningful experience. Sometimes there are even more specific collaborations. For example, if I’m writing music for an area in the game where there’s, say, an engine noise running, I will tune the music to the tone of the engine’s sound. If machines are emitting sounds around the note of ‘E’ then I will write a score based on the note of ‘E’, so there is cohesion between the score and sound effects.” Meanwhile, Raffertie (Arca’s Path VR) likes to play with the boundaries between music and sound design. “I’m interested in the idea of sound design as music (or visa versa) and [Arca’s Path’s] score has had lots of sound design elements right from the early sketches,” he explains. “I like the idea of the score playing in a middle ground between music and sound effect and part of the charm of scoring an imaginary world is that you have
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total creative license to say this is how these chords sound in this world.” In some cases, especially for indie productions, the composer is also the sound engineer, as is the case for Paula Ruiz and Elvira Björkman for instance, with the latter adding: “It’s not only the sound designers I work closely with, but also artists, game and level designers, narrative writers, creative directors and so on, to make sure I don’t miss a beat. We’re all part of that whole after all, audio isn’t an isolated part.” And that’s very much a sentiment Olivier Derivière agrees with: “It’s teamwork. It’s a sort of a mutual involvement, from me to express my concerns, if there are any, and from them as well. I want [the devs] to express their concerns for the music.” Of course, you can’t always have that direct collaboration and feedback when you work in triple-A, Alyssa Menes (Just Cause 4, Doomwheel) points out: “With indie games, I work with the developer directly. In triple-A, there are so many people down the pipeline, from the publisher, to the development studio. The music for Just Cause 4 was outsourced to YouTooCanWoo, a studio in Brooklyn. And then I was subcontracted through that studio. So I worked for the lead composer (Zach Abramson) who worked for the music studio, who worked for Avalanche, etc, etc.” Regardless of how close the composer is to the dev team, their role has still greatly evolved over the years, Gareth Coker (Ori and The Blind Forest, Ark Survival Evolved, Minecraft) agrees. “I get the sense that there is an even greater willingness to get a composer on board as early as possible. No longer is it regarded as a post-production process. Game music is not ‘just’ background music, even in a game that is a strategy game like Civilization or Stellaris, the music can really add a huge amount of immersion to the game.” He continues: “I think all departments have the capability of influencing each other. Music is a huge part of a game, the very nature of its existence in any form of media means a composer is going to be part of a design team, it’s just that it isn’t our job title! The Inception horns are a big part of that film’s feel. Psycho’s iconic shower music is the key to that famous scene. Additionally, I think these things can happen subconsciously. If the design team has access to music from an early stage, they are probably going to put it in their early builds and use it to design around.” He gives an interesting example of how a composer can impact design: “Our approach for cutscenes in Ori, both from Blind Forest and Will of the Wisps, depends on a massive back and forth between music, sound, animation and art departments. I can always ask for
more or less time based on what I feel is best for the pacing of the music and the pacing for the game. The animation then will adjust to the music, and the back and forth continues until the scene is tightened up. “Often, when adding music to scenes, whether they are interactive or non-interactive, we can find out a lot about the pacing. In the case of Ori, adding music also ends up being the first editing pass too because we can clearly feel what moments drag and what don’t.” Another great example of the impact of music is outlined by Olivier Derivière: “[Developers] need composers who understand how a game is made but also what is a game. One example is Tetris Effect. People are like: ‘Oh it’s a music game, like Guitar Hero’ because they feel that music is totally part of the experience. But what’s so funny is that although they say this, the core gameplay is a very basic Tetris game. And that’s exactly what I’m talking about. It’s when you see a gameplay mechanic, what you can do with music can transform the experience to something completely different and that’s something that is very underrated, misunderstood, by a lot of people. When [developers] understand what you’re doing, that you want to extend their vision, want to enhance the experience, they start feeling ‘Wow’ and you can help them do this,” he enthuses. That also means that a lot of composers have a technical knowledge that goes beyond what was
Pictured above: In Moon Studios’ Ori (both Blind Forest and Will of the Wisp), composer Gareth Coker worked closely with the dev team, resulting in music being a part of the game’s first editing pass
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expected of their roles a few decades ago, as Elvira Björkman points out: “You can’t just compose and send a file anymore, but need to know your way around middleware, engines and I think soon also a bit of coding too. I can also only speak from experience, but I also think we get more involved with the development as a whole. “Music and sound both have this magical power to make anything from level design to animations or just clarity issues to suddenly click and make sense. When me and Nicklas Hjertberg, my partner at Two Feathers, worked with Aragami, someone told us that ‘they now had to match the quality of the game with the quality of the music’, which was one of the best compliments we as composers can get! It needs to be a part of the development, both for the music to get better, but also to get the game better.” IMPROVISE, ADAPT, OVERCOME The nature of games means there are various lurking challenges that developers should be aware of prior to starting a collaboration with a composer so they understand why the score takes time. “Since the action of a game is dependent on the player’s choices, events play out in unpredictable ways. The music can’t be composed in a traditional, linear fashion. Instead, it needs to be able to adapt to changing circumstances,” Winifred Phillips says. Paula Ruiz adds some details: “The usual challenge is mostly that a scene duration depends on the player’s ability, how they progress through the scene, or how
quickly or slowly they read the dialogues. Dynamic music is usually the go-to method to fix some of these problems, but that also depends on what tools you’re using or the game’s engine. Sometimes you just have to try anything you can come up with: from incredibly long tracks that seem like they never loop or a series of small songs, or maybe just composing something so good that players don’t even care about it!” Alyssa Menes agrees that you do have to “structure your music differently,” adding: “The music needs to be able to switch on the fly to accommodate for sudden changes, but thanks to musical middleware technology, things like that are fairly easy to implement. But you have to structure your music so it all fits together cohesively, and that musical shifts make sense no matter what part of the cue you depart from.” On top of that, “the music always needs to work together with sound, organically dovetailing with frequencies and diegetic sound” and “the arrangement needs to be distinctive and malleable so that layers from it can work on their own,” Penka Kouneva continues. If that wasn’t enough, multiplayer adds layers upon layers of challenges, as Inon Zur points out: ‘“A composer needs to take into consideration where there are multiple players interacting and need to communicate with each other. Then we sometimes consider playing the music in a different way to accommodate the communication between players.” Gareth Coker goes into more details: “The expectations of what music should do and how it should serve the game in a multiplayer title are very tricky.
Pictured above: Deconstructeam’s The Red Strings Club, scored by Paula Ruiz, who wanted to “avoid cyberpunk music tropes and try to make something unique” while working on the title
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“In the case of an MMO, you’re catering to hundreds, thousands, possibly millions of people all with different tastes and you’re dealing with unscripted action. Many will play with the music off. Many will want music to help them get immersed in the game or enhance the feel of being in combat. Many will listen to their own music! I feel like my job with a multiplayer title is to worry less about the ‘moment-to-moment’ and make sure that the major events are really captured in a way that provides a memory for the player.” OUR OWN COMMUNITY The specificities and evolution of the composer’s role means the overall recognition of games music has also evolved for the better, especially compared to its older sibling, film. “Back when I started as a game composer, there was certainly a difference in the respect afforded to film and television as compared to the way in which game music was regarded,” Winifred Phillips reckons. “Considering that game music began in the ‘bleeps-and-bloops’ era, it’s understandable that people might have a misguided impression of what game music is. But now, things have been rapidly changing for the better. Game music now enjoys a loyal and enthusiastic fanbase.” All the composers we talked to agreed that game music is now getting better recognition, and most of them think it even goes beyond film now. “I personally think game soundtracks get greater recognition and have a more passionate fanbase than anything else,” Penka Kouneva says. “Game soundtrack fans are legendary. They create remixes, fan albums and so on. Video game music is the most interesting, innovative, emotionally rewarding and creatively fulfilling music of our times.” Jack Wall adds: “I’m starting to feel like film scores are less important than they used to be. I think that TV is No.1 and games are No.2, followed by a distant No.3 with film scores. I do love film music. It’s just that the market is shifting with binge watching of TV and the game market continues to reach more people and generate more business.” For Raffertie, it’s all about what you consider as recognition: “It depends whether you mean recognised and known, or recognised and respected as art. The Super Mario Bros theme music is a good example of the former, being ubiquitous for a certain age group, but perhaps not recognised for it’s virtuosity outside of the gaming community. The nature of reactive music in games is that it’s often not tied to a particular narrative point but rather it signals that things are going well, or badly, or there is danger, you’ve survived, or it may be there simply to create an atmosphere or mood. Perhaps
this makes that music less memorable than it would be if it were tied to a particular plot point in a film.” Elvira Björkman points out that the “the established cultural heritage is different” between films and games. “Just like film music, game music has history of how it sounds and we as gamers might expect certain things or are tired of hearing certain elements already. It’s important to have that knowledge and appreciation for the form to be able to present something refreshing.” Gareth Coker adds that the games industry is still very young compared to the film industry: “I regard it as a generational thing. Eventually we’ll live in a world where pretty much everyone will have played a game at some point, and the comparison won’t even need to be made. I don’t even worry about getting the same kind of recognition as films, we are our own community and I think it’s more important to be able to stand alone and not be compared with anything. “The most important thing is that composers working in games keep pushing what they are capable of doing, whether it’s that new melody that no-one’s heard before, that new instrument that is placed at the forefront of the mix, or a new way of implementing the music dynamically. There’s such a huge amount of variety in what is being created in game music today, if composers keep doing what they are doing, the legacy will naturally take care of itself over time.” Inon Zur agrees that “over the years the importance of music for games has grown tremendously,” with Raffertie adding that he sees some “fascinating opportunities that VR will provide to allow the score to be something the player can interact with in a VR world.” Zur continues: “We see a lot of resources for today’s music in games and, as a consequence of the industry’s continued growth, we also now see many concerts of game music and a lot of successful game soundtrack albums released, which you couldn’t really imagine in previous decades.” And Olivier Derivière sees that continuing for a long time, with games being the final frontier for music: “I think what video games are offering to players and to the audience is much wider in terms of universe, worlds, stories, characters... Much more interesting to me than anything else, except maybe literature, nowadays. Because it feels like there is a lot of freedom into what we’re doing in games. It’s very interesting to explore and push the boundaries as much as you want. The end point is the player experience. It’s not about the music itself. It’s not about the visuals. It’s about how we convey refreshing new experiences for players. It’s a very unique time for video games and I hope it will last as long as possible as freedom is a word that is almost only possible in games.”
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Company name: Bastion Has worked with: Epic Games, Ubisoft, ESL, ArenaNet, Warner Bros, Develop:Brighton Key contact: Dean Barrett, managing director Email: email@example.com Recent successes: Continued growth of OneVoice, our global network of gamesfocused agencies, recently responsible for the successful European launch of H1Z1. And the expansion of our esports division, recently working on the Rainbow Six Paris Major.
Company name: Indigo Pearl Has worked with: Blizzard, CCP, Devolver, Epic, Supermassive Games, Good Shepherd, Niantic, Focus, Square Enix, BBC, Sega, Atlus, Keywords, Wargaming Key contact: Caroline Miller, owner Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Recent successes: Having a diverse portfolio is really exciting for us as an agency. Working on mega titles such as Fortnite and Pokémon Go but also Devolver and Square Enix’s titles mean we are constantly challenged and constantly improving.
Company name: Little Big PR Has worked with: Frontier, Grasshopper Manufacture, Jagex, Mad Catz, Techland Key contact: Gareth Williams, COO Email: email@example.com Recent successes: We’ve recently launched Travis Strikes Again, No More Heroes, Uno, A Fisherman’s Tale and the R.A.T series for Mad Catz – and all of that in January 2019
PR PANEL 2019 Welcome to our PR Panel 2019! We’ve taken six of our MCV Awards 2019 finalists and asked them all to hold off on pitching their clients for just a few minutes in order to answer our questions on the industry and PR’s ever-evolving role within it
Company name: Mimram Media Has worked with: Testronic, Kuju, Reality Gaming Group, Rising Star Games, The Koyo Store, Amiqus, Jägermeister, Shure, Ralph Creative Key contact: Lisa Carter, director Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Recent successes: Launched a pop-up ‘crypto only’ store for Reality Gaming Group at Soho Radio, and hosted a series of games/ crypto themed radio shows throughout the week. The initiative generated significant editorial coverage and awareness.
Company name: Renaissance PR Has worked with: Bulkhead Interactive, Green Man Gaming, Private Division, Skybound, Typhoon Studios, Revolution Software, Rising Star Games, Square Enix Collective, Team17 Key contact: Stefano Petrullo, founder Email: email@example.com Recent successes: Launching Forgotton Anne and Battalion 1944 worldwide, from Square Enix Collective. Being appointed as EMEA PR agency for Skybound, plus started working with Private Division on Ancestors and The Outer Worlds.
Company name: Vertigo 6 Has worked with: Electronic Arts, Koch Media, Jagex, Asus Key contact: Mike Hendrixen, founder Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Recent successes: Vertigo 6 won the New Kids on the Block award, the award for the best young agency in the Benelux and we won Fonk’s Best Small Agency award, based on a Benelux customer satisfaction survey. The FIFA launch was awarded Cross Media Event of the Year at the Cross Media Awards and the Ziggo F1 ebattle was shortlisted for an European Excellence Award.
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“There has been a move away from a pure product focus towards developing the sense of community within a game.”
How have live service games changed the PR sector?
Ongoing titles, with some running for well over a decade, pose unique challenges, especially when the press is always on the lookout for something new. We wondered how our panel approached these perennial clients. Bastion’s Barrett explains key shift: “There has been a move away from a pure product focus towards developing the sense of community within a game and the heightened experience that comes from playing within a passionate community. We’ve worked extensively on building MMO brands and there is a distinctive art in creating multiple compelling stories about a live world.” Petrullo, from Renaissance PR, agrees that multiple ideas are needed for such titles: “The idea is to create mini campaigns and themes that go over and above the usual news cycle of ‘announcement, preview and review’ and instead focus on game updates for the community and influencers, plus make full use of themes and seasonal events for traditional media.” Indigo Pearl’s Miller explains that “returning to traditional media with the same story all the
time” is challenging but both being creative, and finding allies, is the way forward: “We always try to find a more interesting narrative that will keep the press on board and to find the journalists who are fans of the franchise – and therefore naturally interested.” Miller continues: “Of course, influencers are key here as well and if they are already engaged, then going back with updates is typically a lot easier. We also believe it’s very important to try to maintain a regular dialogue with communities while also utilising all relevant social media channels.” When it comes to measuring success, “there are clear metrics on community engagement and growth,” Barrett says, adding that “a great creative story can also bring softer rewards.” Petrullo notes the need for a coordinated approach: “We’re heavily data driven so we monitor the reach compared to the other elements of marketing and sales to evaluate how successful we are. We consider crosschannel coordination between social-PR and marketing-sales one of the biggest factor of success of a campaign.”
“Ultimately, we still believe it’s about creativity and thinking beyond press releases, previews and reviews.”
Is PR becoming increasingly data-driven, as with marketing?
We live in an increasingly data-driven world, and marketing increasingly values accurate ROI in its campaigns, but is PR moving the same way, or are gut, creativity and who you know still the key factors? Mimram’s Carter strikes a balance: “It’s a bit of everything to be honest and it really depends on how the client likes to work. We use data to track coverage, reach, and so on, of course, and some of my cleverer colleagues here use it to predict news cycles and peak times for social media engagement in different sectors. But ultimately, we still believe it’s about creativity and thinking beyond press releases, previews and reviews.” It’s not simply about data vs creativity though, but an integrated approach, says Vertigo 6’s Hendrixen: “It’s not only about being more data-driven. It’s become increasingly important that PR is part of an overall integrated marketing communications plan. PR does not sit on a separate island anymore and earned output is totally irrelevant if it doesn’t contribute to the overall campaign goals.” And that’s a feeling which Bastion’s Barrett agrees with: “The silos of PR, marketing and sales are beginning to fall away. Truly integrated campaigns achieve greater success and provide much deeper insight into player attitudes and desires, but creativity will always
win out.” And the best examples of creativity are “ideas that achieve cut through, attract both players and non-players and drive forward greater understanding of a title and brand.” For Little Big, GDPR was a turning point in its approach to data: “GDPR was a big financial investment for us, but it’s one we’re glad we made,” Williams explains. “This led to the creation of our distribution system, which allows us to work within GDPR rules to use the data we acquire more effectively. Not just how many people read emails, but who and when, to gauge success rates dependant on the product, genre and many other factors. Having the data isn’t as important as how you analyse and utilise the data.” He adds there’s more to PR than such systems though: “It’s still about relationships, ideas, and the ability to see an opportunity – they make stories travel and propagate.” Renaissance works on “an accurate combination of data together with gut, creativity and strong relationships” with Petrullo adding: “I am personally a great fan of data since if you read it properly, it will help a lot. On the flip side, I see too many examples of data driven campaigns that do not deliver due to an imbalance of those two sides of the same coin. Also, when we look at media landscape, we prefer to work with people than with brands.”
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The PC space is hotting up with Epic Games Store. What are the opportunities and challenges?
The PC retail space has become more fragmented, with major publishers moving to their own storefronts, and now Epic Games taking on Steam in a big way. So what do these changes mean for PR? “Epic is definitely going to shake things up which should make the PC retail space more competitive,” says Indigo Pearl’s Miller, who goes on talk specifics: “Steam curators are a valuable PR source for us and we pay keen attention to them, but it feels like Epic will be using their influencer partnership program, in which case we would naturally be looking to target them.” The new store may also ease one of Steam’s perennial issues says Bastion’s Barrett: “Discoverability is always an issue, but it’s particularly true in some of the more bloated online offerings. Getting players past the front page is a challenge that we all have to work on and PR, in its many guises, has a part to play.” Discoverability is also foremost for Little Big’s Williams: “Some of the titles being
promoted via the store in exclusivity deals are going to fare much better than the crowded marketplace of Steam,” he notes. “There are some downsides, though, in that PR needs to talk to all audience targets, regardless of where they’re buying games.” However, Mimram’s Carter has learnt that fragmentation shouldn’t trouble good games: “It’s a cliché, but a great product will always find its audience. Some of our team worked through the early days of mobile games in the mid-noughties, and you’d be hard-pushed to find a market more fragmented than that in terms of both distribution channels and technology platforms. But the best games performed well across them all.” Petrullo reckons that the early signs are good: “Epic’s PR machine has so far being great in promoting this new space and our experience with our clients using the new platform has been excellent,” the Renaissance PR boss reveals.
“Events aren’t goals in themselves anymore but a means to offer press, influencers and community a platform to create content.”
Events look to grow again this year, how do you approach event PR?
Gaming events are bigger than ever, and more varied too with public, community, influencer and press – or some blend of any and all of the above. So what did our panel advise when it comes to running and promoting such events plus benefitting from them? When it comes to running events, be they awards ceremonies or experiential press nights, Mimram’s Carter is clear on the key: “It’s all about timing. From when the event itself takes place, to when the invites are sent out, to how things are run on the night. We also run logistics and operations, and having that ‘360 view’ of an event is extremely useful.” Of course events can be powerful drivers of social engagement, says Hendrixen from Vertigo 6: “Instead of ‘only’ celebrating a release, the purpose of events have changed. Events aren’t goals in themselves anymore but a means to offer press, influencers and community a platform to create content.” And that engagement stretches well beyond the event itself says Bastion’s Barrett: “The ability to have a prolonged conversation with players or the media – before, during and after an event – means they provide a perfect platform from which to build awareness and desire and then continue the dialogue. Every event provides a unique opportunity to drive deeper understanding and passion – the trick is to create an event that genuinely makes a difference to the brand or product.” And that’s a point Petrullo at Renaissance is keen to pick up: “An event needs to show real
added value in engaging the media over and above the content of the game. We use a KPI driven and pragmatic approach to events. If we gauge tangible value in terms of coverage, or we can reach an audience otherwise not interested in our product, we are happy to go forward. What is vital is setting the objective at the beginning of the campaign and then, once decided to do an event, ask clearly what the goal is.” With EGX, Rezzed and London Games Festival on its books, Indigo Pearl has experience with the biggest UK events, Miller tells us: “Event PR is not for the faint-hearted, it’s a lot of hard work and the deadlines can be brutal. Dealing with nationals, broadcast and news outlets means that the coverage tends to come together at the last minute, and naturally, doing PR at the event can be very hectic! But it’s extremely rewarding and there is nothing quite as bonding for your team as getting to the end of a big, successful event.” And it’s that out-of-office experience that Williams from Little Big also values: “Events are the best thing about PR, because we get to step away from our desks and hug people. In a world where phones and emails are becoming less important to game-specific journalists, these events continue to be a vital cog within the wheel of relationship management. It doesn’t matter if it’s a preview event, a showcase event, or activity around a trade show. There is no substitute for face to face discussions and editorial planning.”
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“If an influencer doesn’t love your game then no amount of money will make them seem convincing.”
How involved are you with influencers and influencer marketing, and is there a clear line there?
What are the big challenges and opportunities in 2019?
While the influencer sector bridges the traditional divide of editorial and paid-for marketing, PRs are still key to their use. So how do our panel view the hugely popular yet still evolving segment? Hendrixen, from Vertigo 6, sums up its growing importance: “Where influencers were ‘nice to haves’ in 2017, they have become the starting point of many integrated comms campaigns in 2018 and we expect them to be even more important in paid and earned media campaigns this year. Relevancy and authenticity of content are crucial for collaborations and we expect that more brands will demand long term relationships and category exclusivity.“ Miller is also keen to seek out authenticity: “At Indigo Pearl we always strive to find authentic voices in this space: if an influencer doesn’t love your game then no amount of money will make them seem convincing. We are also constantly looking for up-and-coming voices, to complement the usual suspects who tend to have fairly commercial deals with publishers anyway.” Bastion’s Barrett says: “This year, we’ve made the move to define and separate our influencer work from our overall PR service.
We’ve created a platform called Pulse which helps clients build a targeted influencer campaign without budgets spiralling out of control. While we’d always suggest a 360 approach to any campaign, we’ve found it helps clients budget more effectively.” “The market is certainly more mature than it was 12 months ago,” he continues. “But it still has some way to go. There is space for more PR skills and disciplines to be added to campaigns whether working with top tier or micro influencers. For us, we see 2019 as the year more process and structure will be established within the influencer community.” Miller agrees: “We do feel that this space is maturing and companies such as Fourth Floor are a joy to work with when it comes to organising paid placements. As with all new disruptive media, it will eventually become more sophisticated, as brands seek to avoid fall-out from off-message YouTubers and streamers, and they start to monitor and research them much more closely. We will also see the mirror of this as influencers try to limit damage to their own brand, say by supporting shoddy offerings – Fyre Festival anyone?”
Looking forward to the rest of 2019 our panel sees a wide variety of challenges, both for the industry and PR specifically. The sheer wealth of content remains both a boon and a concern. “Discoverability as an issue has not improved – Switch started getting saturated last summer,” says Petrullo from Renaissance. “There are a lot of games, so our challenge is trying to assess the value of every single one that approaches us to establish what we can do to help the launch.” Mimram’s Carter says: “The opportunity is always the huge amount of games that are coming to market from an increasingly diverse range of developers, publishers and platforms. No two projects are quite the same, which means creative thinking is vitally important. The major challenge is making sure a message cuts through the noise at a time when journalists are extremely time poor and bombarded from so many directions.” And a lack of time is just part of the changing media landscape, says Little Big’s Williams: “Publications are pivoting to inventory-led editorial versus audience-leading editorial. This is the biggest challenge PR faces, and we’ll all need to work more closely with editorial leads to figure out what works and what doesn’t.” Petrullo agrees: “The media landscape is changing again and so we are actively shifting our focus to social media PR, such as video
content production on Facebook in partnership with traditional media and influencers.” To which Vertigo 6’s Hendrixen adds: “Media consumption within one generation has never been as diverse. One-size-fits-all marketing approaches don’t work anymore and messages and campaigns need to be better hyper targeted than ever.” And then of course there’s Brexit, says Bastion’s Barrett: “The B word can’t be avoided. Uncertainty is the enemy of successful business planning so not being able to see clearly past March 29th is a challenge. On the up side esports continues to thrive, and historically consumers have turned to games in uncertain times, so maybe that’s the silver lining we have to look forward to.” While over in Europe itself, Hendrixen is anticipating a boon in localised campaigns: “With the growing popularity of local influencers and changes to local media consumption, a local marketing and PR approach is becoming increasingly important.” And to round off, Indigo Pearl’s Miller thinks the big challenge always stay the same though: “[It’s] keeping up with the most dynamic entertainment industry in the world and making sure we come up with creative, yet authentic, messages to get the attention of gamers.”
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“The games industry, specifically within the UK, is going through a less creative time at present.”
What PR campaigns have inspired you in the last 12 months and do clients need to take more risks to succeed?
Finally we asked out panel what campaigns had struck a chord with it, and all without the very tricky task of blowing their own trumpets. Most but not all succeeded. “Greggs, always Greggs,” says Indigo Pearl’s Miller admiringly, before adding: “It does feel that some games’ campaigns are a bit formulaic and conservative, considering they are after all, games! At Indigo Pearl we have enjoyed all the ‘woke’ campaigns such as Nike using Colin Kaepernick and campaigns that harnessed the power of social media such as #MeToo and #TimesUp.” She also singled out Fortnite: “We loved Epic putting a Durr Burger in the desert and waiting for people to find it.” Carter, from Mimram, also has a soft spot for the bakers: “Greggs deserves a massive shout-out for their campaigns over the past year – whether that’s offering Valentine’s dining for two, going undercover at foodie festivals or ‘winding up’ Piers Morgan with their new vegan sausage roll. And we love their steak bakes too.” Closer to the industry, Carter picks out Sony’s Lost In Music brand campaign: “It’s an ambitious project that seeks to combine live events, TV shows and digital media to reach Gen Zs and is almost certainly a benchmark for how brands will need to approach PR and marketing going forward. This means following the audience and ensuring messages are in the media spaces they inhabit, which is often not where you think they will be. The initiative has tied together the best of Sony’s music artists
and technology brands, generating significant coverage and cut-through for Sony.” Little Big’s Williams feels something is lacking: “The games industry, specifically within the UK, is going through a less creative time at present. There’s no Leo Tan promoting a game with stories involving Heather Mills, no Air Guitar funeral, no zombie weddings, and a general trend towards spending budgets on events rather than ideas. Ultimately, I can’t name a single campaign that has amazed me with its creativity, which is disappointing. “However, I will compliment the work that Indigo Pearl did with Minit, the dedication that Bope, Dead Good and Renaissance are bringing to the business and the incredible hard work and passion from teams at Bandai Namco and Square Enix specifically.” Renaissance’s Petrullo says: “I am a big fan of experiential campaign and personally really like the great stuff Capcom did with Monster Hunter, following the trend I believe started with Resident Evil a couple of years ago.” He’s not keen on the word ‘risk’ but feels the industry should “try new things instead of being stuck in a template we all use.” He continues: “This applies to both clients and agencies, sometimes due to lack of planning we end up to being too reactive instead of trying new things that inevitably take time. This comes back to something I keep saying to my team and clients: plan as far in advance, and try to be as creative, as possible but still driven by KPI.”
“Sony’s Lost In Music campaign is a benchmark for how brands will need to approach PR and marketing going forward. This means following the audience and ensuring messages are in the media spaces they inhabit, which is often not where you think they will be.”
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Marie Dealessandri talks to Roblox’s chief business officer Craig Donato about the platform’s incredible 2018 and its international expansion plans for 2019, as well as its ambitions of being the first step for would-be developers and how it empowers its young community
ven someone with little gaming interest knows how big Minecraft or Fortnite are. Roblox? Best case scenario, parents who’ve seen their kids play it are aware of its existence. But it seems like very few people in the mainstream are aware of exactly how big Roblox is. As of September 2018, Fortnite had 78.3m monthly players, while Minecraft exceeded 90m monthly active users in October 2018. Roblox sits in the middle with 80m players on the platform each month, chief business officer Craig Donato tells us. And its success lies not only in its playerbase but in managing to turn its players into creators, as every single game on the platform is created by members of the community, with 10bn hours spent playing Roblox in 2018, if you’re into figures. Roblox has been around for much longer than both Minecraft and Fortnite too, going from strength to strength since its inception way back in 2006. So what is it exactly that makes Roblox so successful with kids without having to rely on big ad campaigns and viral marketing? “We’ve always very much been a word of mouth phenomenon,” Donato says. “The No.1 way that kids find out about Roblox is through other kids. And that’s just always how we’ve been. We’re not a flashy company. “I’d say one of the things that distinguishes Roblox is our mission of bringing the world together through play. And we believe that play, like sleep, is an essential human need. There’s lots of research that shows that play is how we learn to take control of our lives, how to adapt to new challenges, how to collaborate with our peers. And most of all play is also fun, right? It makes them happy. A world at play is better for everyone, not just children. A traditional game has very specific rules, where you have to follow a narrow path, you have to win... That’s not really the experience that you have in Roblox with these wide open worlds that you can just participate in.” He gives a few examples: “One is Bird Simulator where you become a bird and you fly around the world. Another one is called Work at a Pizza Place, where you literally just work at a pizza restaurant,” he smiles. “I mean they’re all very very wide open experiential kind of worlds, versus ‘I’m going to score 100 points by shooting 100 people’. So I think that’s what we’re really doing, that’s why we’re so attractive: we’re tapping into this kind of instinctive need for self-directed play, using your imagination interacting with friends. Even one of our top games, which is about breaking out of jail, really just is a modern day version of cops and robbers.” You rarely find that sort of genuine and positive ambition in a games company this big and it certainly feels refreshing. And Roblox
doesn’t stop at wanting to bring joy through play, it also encourages imagination, learning and creation. “We’re just a very unique company,” Donato says when we point out that it’s surprising that Roblox is still independent considering its success. “So when you think about gaming... The industry is based on publishers publishing games from large studios. And that’s just not who we are. Roblox doesn’t produce any games, we’re a platform. Not only are we a platform, we’re a platform where all the content is produced by young adults. I’d say, we’re just kind of odd I guess…,” he smiles, before immediately adding in a laugh: “Odd might be the wrong word to use in a conversation like this I guess, but we are a very unique company, there aren’t many companies like us. We have a very clear mission and a very clear sense of purpose on what we want to do and we just put our heads down and quietly go about that business. We’ll see where that takes us but I think we’re just super focused about what we need to do and how we want to do it.” EMPOWERING CREATORS And what Roblox wants to do is support and grow its huge roster of creators, as it’s by keeping those creators engaged that the platform keeps its players engaged. “We paid out over $70m to creators on our platform [in 2018],” Donato says. “We’re a platform, not a game. So we want to make sure that the experience is different every time someone comes to Roblox, that there’s new games for them to see. It’s evolving. Just to give you a sense of it, our creators in Europe alone published over a million and-a-half games last year. So there’s constant amounts of content being published. “Moreover we make it super simple for our creators to make constant updates to their games. Successful game creators are updating aspects of their game on a weekly, monthly basis. So we want to create this dynamic experience for our audience, so that when they can log in they’re always going to be experiencing something different.” He continues: “When you look at the total number of people in a given month that are actually creating something, last month we had over 4m. So that’s a huge portion and that’s because the way people get inspired to create is through playing.” Donato sees Roblox as a very important first step for would-be developers: “Some of our creators are developers that are making millions of dollars a year,” he stresses again. “They all tend to follow a very similar path. They start off as players on Roblox, they get inspired, they want to create something. And this makes them want to go on and become a game developer or it might
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Pictured above: Staff relax in Roblox’s new HQ in San Mateo, California
inspire them to pursue a career in technology or to just have a positive attitude towards technology. “So we think it is a good way for them to just embrace technology in a positive way, inspire some of them who don’t just want to play with technology but to actually create and build on technology. We think that’s very positive.” An extension of that ambition is Roblox’s investment in education programs. The company created an educational curriculum that reached over 48,000 students in 22 countries last year and participates in Hour of Code – a movement created by Code.org to help people learn computer science. “If you have any desire to start learning how to build, whether it be coding or graphic design: we will help you with that,” Donato says. “And we do that in two ways. We have a team that builds curriculum for teachers on how to teach coding and other principles on Roblox. We distributed it to many many summer craft camps all over the world and after school programs already. “We also periodically run self guided online curriculum, where we encourage kids to build their first game and we make it very simple. We provide a lot of self guided tools and prizes and had hundreds of thousands of kids complete that last year alone.”
MAKING IT SIMPLE Roblox won’t stop there of course, as the firm received $150m (£115m) in funding back in September. “International growth is our big focus as a company in 2019,” explains Donato. “We started 2018 being available in English and we left the year having translated the platform into French, German, Portuguese and we’re rolling out other languages very soon. So a lot of work there. For Roblox to roll out internationally it’s not just about translating the platform. There’s a lot of infrastructure we need to put in place to actually manage our platform successfully on an international basis. “For us to be available in French or German isn’t just to translate it, we need to have 24/7 moderator teams and customer support teams in place who speak that language. We need to train our algorithms that are constantly monitoring all the communication between players looking for bad behaviour to be sensitive in French and German languages. “We stream all of our content from the cloud, so we need to basically put in data infrastructure so that we can stream around the world in a very performant way. So there’s just a lot of human infrastructure, technological infrastructure that we need to put in place as we expand it around the globe. And that’s what we’re
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doing aggressively, what we started rolling out last year and we’ll continue to roll out this year.” Due to its unique nature, Roblox isn’t short on challenges then, and that also applies to other aspects of its business, for example allowing for crossplay between so many different platforms – it’s currently available on Xbox One, PC, Mac, iOS and Android – all while making sure it looks super simple to its users. “One of the things that we’ve spent a lot of time on – and this goes back to the ethos around young creators – is how do we remove all the friction from enabling a teenager to not only build a game but to publish a game that’s played by millions of people on our platform?” Donato starts explaining. “And there’s a lot of things that need to be done right. We need to give them the tools. We can’t charge them. We need to make them really easy. We need to teach them how to use them. We need to not just enable them to build a game but we need to host that game. We need to moderate that game and provide customer support. We need to handle things like payment processing. So it’s a ton of infrastructure that needs to be built around that to enable that to happen. And one of the things that we’ve done is to simplify something that’s typically very complex which is cross platform development. “So kids can build one set of code for their game and then we render it on different platforms. So there’s tremendous complexity that we have to put in our system to enable that to happen, and then obviously tweaking and optimising it for those platforms. That’s something we very quietly have done that’s incredibly complex. And we want to hide that complexity from our creators. So out of the box if you build a game, it should work on everything from an iPhone 4 to an Oculus Rift headset.”
Hearing Donato talk so transparently about Roblox’s cross platform play makes Sony’s posturing on the issue a bit laughable. Which leads us to ask Donato if there’s any plan to expand Roblox’s availability to PS4 and Switch. “That’s something we’re always looking at,” he replies. “We’d love to bring our platform to other platforms like that, it’s a trade off for us about investing in new features versus taking into new platforms. That’s always something we’re evaluating.” EXPRESS YOURSELF In addition to the company’s core expansion plans of features and territories is its toy line – but Donato doesn’t see it as business strategy. “We don’t do [the toy line] for revenue, it’s a celebration of our community. All the toys that we create are based on creations that our community built. How cool is it if you’re a young creator and not only did you build a game but it got turned into a toy! That’s freaking awesome right?,” he enthuses. “We want to reflect the diversity of our community. We look at the kind of things that are trending in our community and we find ways to turn them into toys and allow them to be purchased by our community.” Nurturing its community seems to be Roblox’s first and foremost motivation then, as is reflected by Donato’s conclusion to our chat: it’s all about providing tools for kids to boost their creativity. “We’re always trying to figure out how to make our platform more immersive and entertaining. We recently launched an update to our avatar system to enable a wider range of characters as we’re starting to expand into new looks that enable kids to use their imagination in more broader ways.” Pictured left: Roblox’s educational program reached 48,000 students last year
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How Devolver plans to reign on mobile Devolver Digital is getting serious about mobile games, having appointed Mark Hickey as VP of mobile publishing. Marie Dealessandri talks to him about Devolver’s ambitions for its new mobile division
t went a bit unnoticed, perhaps because it was around the time Devolver Digital launched Gris and announced Ape Out, but late last year the company doubled down on mobile games. Emboldened by the incredible success of Reigns, which has since branched out into the Game of Thrones world, Devolver hired Mark Hickey, its first VP of mobile publishing, in December. And with his impressive record of mobile experience, he looks to be exactly the right person to help the publisher take the next step. “I started working in mobile games way back in 2002 in Canada working for Gameloft where I was responsible at first for business development because none of the agreements or infrastructure to really distribute
mobile games even existed,” he starts explaining. With a medium as young as mobile games, it’s impressive to have experience dating back so far. Hickey continues: “In 2007 I relocated on behalf of Gameloft to San Francisco and became responsible for the relationship with Apple... To do games on the iPod click wheel, thank you very much,” he laughs. “And then of course in July 2008 the App Store launched and that completely changed my life and certainly changed the world in terms of mobile games and what’s possible on mobile devices.” After experiences at startup Kiip and Canada’s biggest work-for-hire studio Behaviour Interactive, he joined Apple in November 2013.
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“I first started with the worldwide developer relations team as a partnership manager and so I was responsible for a whole host of partners – everyone including EA, Activision, Blizzard, Epic, Square Enix, 2K, the list goes on,” he says. “There was a whole bunch of medium and small size companies – one of which was a very special company called Devolver Digital.” Hickey continued to climb the ladder and became the App Store business manager for games in 2015 – then the opportunity to work with Devolver arose. “So I’d been at Apple for five years and I had a really wonderful time working there. But that being said, while I was empowered to do things that had a meaningful impact on people’s lives, I always felt that it was more pronounced within the indie space because when an indie or small team has success you know that is really meaningful, not only for them personally but for what becomes possible for their careers. “So Devolver brought a couple of really awesome games to us: Downwell, Reigns – and subsequently after the success of those games, those developers have gone on to have very meaningful careers. Ojiro [Fumoto, Downwell’s creator] went on to work at Nintendo. So if you take that impact, combined with my own tastes and interests as a consumer... There was kind of a perfect storm. I had done five years, I was looking at new opportunities, Devolver was really near and dear to me both in terms of the relationship that I have with them but also the products they were doing and the icing on the cake was that they were also interested in looking at mobile as a more serious opportunity. And so that just allowed the stars to align. And now here I am.” EYES ON CHINA Even if Hickey doesn’t name it per say, it sounds quite clear that Reigns’ success has quite a lot to do with Devolver’s newfound interested in mobile. “I think it’s off the back of initial success that’s been had with some partners,” he replies mysteriously when asked about why now is the right time for Devolver to take more interest in the mobile space. “I’ve been sitting
in the mobile industry my entire career and I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a lot of different talented and creative teams that I think in some cases could do very well under the Devolver flag. And so for those reasons it just felt like the time was right.” However, Devolver is still mostly known for its PC and console releases and Hickey is keen to highlight that his appointment is not going to change that approach. “It’s going to widen the lens. My joining the company doesn’t signal Devolver changing focus from PC and console: that continues to be the company’s primary focus. But with the success they’ve found in mobile and given that there’s 2bn devices out there in the world and growing, the market opportunity is undeniable. “So in the same way that Devolver has been able to bring games that have a unique, fresh, kind of funky vibe to the PC and console space, that has been true with some of the titles that they’ve done in mobile and adding me to the team is going to make it possible to bring more of that kind of cool, original, Devolver-style content to more customers.” Hickey adds he’s leading mobile publishing globally, “which includes China,” he emphasises. “My main responsibility is the management of Devolver’s existing catalog of mobile games and developers, as well as finding new games from talented teams who have fresh and new ideas. In addition I’ll be focusing on unique ways in which Devolver can help developers get their games out to larger audiences. And as I mentioned China is going to be a more important focus for us going forward.” With China’s mobile market having generated $23bn in 2018 (out of $37.9bn for its gaming market in general), the country is certainly a place that any mobile developer or publisher should be eyeing. PARTNERS IN CRIME So let’s say you’re a mobile developer with a cool game on your hands, waiting to find a publisher: you may wonder whether or not Devolver is the right fit for you. So we ask Hickey what he’s looking for in a mobile title?
Pictured below and left: a selection of characters from Devolver Digital’s various incarnations of its Reigns franchise
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“Is saying: ‘We’ll know it when we see it’ an appropriate answer?,” he grins. “I say that because if you look at the games that we’ve done so far on mobile: Downwell is about this cute character that is forever falling down a well with guns strapped to his boots which he uses to kill enemies. That is very different from a game like Spaceplan which is about potatoes,” Hickey laughs. “Which is again very different from a game like Reigns which employs a Tinder mechanic to a chooseyour-own-adventure type of narrative gameplay. “So you have these three kinds of games that are vastly different but that are special and unique in their own ways. And so as we communicate more broadly to the community that we’re interested in mobile, our hope is that we’ll be seeing developers approach us and certainly us approaching them to see what they’re working on. As ideas come to the surface, it will be made more clear which ones have us excited and that we think are fresh and new and are worth pursuing as new products.” Developers wanting to pitch their ideas to Mark Hickey and his team are “more than welcome to email email@example.com to submit their ideas,” he says, before giving a few tips on what you should and shouldn’t be doing. “We’re open to looking at everything but if it’s a developer’s first time making a mobile game, maybe there’s some high level things that are worth keeping in mind. The first is that it’s important to understand that the behaviour in mobile is different from PC and console. “Mobile gaming tends to be a lot more five minute sessions throughout the day rather than a single session of multiple hours so designing for that reality is important. I think it’s also important to be mindful that the App Store and Google Play are global stores. The App Store is live in something like 166 countries. So localisation is important to start; culturisation in certain cases is even more important. And then lastly Apple and Google invest billions of dollars in making these devices an operating system. So when cool new features, either hardware or software or both, are introduced it’s important to think about how those can make a game better. I’m not talking about shoehorning a feature just
to say that you’re doing it. But in Reigns Game of Thrones they started making use of the iPhone X TrueDepth camera to employ facial recognition so that when a character you can trust is looking at you they’ll make eye contact with you. But a character who is trying to deceive you or lie to you will look away. That’s a real benefit and a differentiating and cool feature that they were able to leverage.” In terms of business model, Devolver’s mobile titles have historically been premium experiences, but Hickey is not closing the door to free-to-play. “All options are on the table,” he says. “It’s true that Devolver games up to this point have been premium and they’ve been remarkably successful with over 2m copies sold lifetime for Reigns alone. We’re more interested in the kinds of original and unique game ideas developers come up with than business models. “Some games make sense for premium others make sense for free-to-play and we’re open to both models. But especially when it comes to free-to-play, we want to do it in a way that’s both fair to customers and to the developers’ creative vision.” If the type of mobile game Devolver is going to publish remains to be seen (with Hickey saying ports are also on the table), his ambitions for mobile are very clear. “One way of measuring success for me personally would be to have mobile contribute a significant portion to Devolver’s overall business,” he says. “But there’s a second kind of soft goal which is to also increase the number of developers who’ve come away from working with Devolver with a positive experience. “If you look at some of the partners we worked with in the past, like Dodge Roll, who made Enter the Gungeon, or Free Lives who did Broforce, they’ve been very successful. One could argue they don’t need to work with a publisher anymore but they choose to continue to work with Devolver because there’s such a solid relationship there and there’s such a camaraderie that they’ve kind of become partners in crime. “And so I hope that the mobile partners with whom we’ll work will come away wanting to have a long term relationships with us as well.”
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When We Made... Bomber Crew
actually look at you. And even with that little bit of work, with the help of the animation and really smart Marie Dealessandri takes a look behind the scenes at the designers and engineers, with everybody working development of Bomber Crew. Runner Duck’s co-founders together, you could tell from the very beginning that Jon Wingrove and she Dave explain how they was aMiller character that people would really found gravitate the courage to strike toward.” out on their own and which 90s Amiga Quill really becomesCrew’s a fully fleshed out character classic inspired Bomber colourful artwith style the help of the game’s strong world-building. As an interloper in Quill’s world, the player experiences it not through her eyes, but as an observer watching as she BOMBER one of those success intimate stories lives her life in herCREW familiarissetting. It’s a strangely that’s more incredible you discover that it’s feeling, andeven one which gives waywhen to joint apprehension thethe achievement only twonew, people. as both player and of Quill enter unfamiliar areas. Runner Duck was and created January “WhenDev youstudio go through Mousetown you in see Quill 2017, Bomber wasthat released onaSteam ten run through there andCrew you see she has hometown, months later, hit $1m sales twomaybe weeks being and on the feeling of her leaving it, of that in town in July 11thyou 2018, after Alderson the game’s consoles danger, gives moreone of aday bond,” says. “If release, Runner Duck won thefeel New prize at that part was left out, you wouldn’t likeStudio there was Develop Awards 2018. muchthe to fight for. Everything that we’ve done, the mood Bomber Crew reaching end of letting its life settings,Now taking Quill from oneis area to thethe next and cycle, lastenvironment… console DLC releasing in March you rest andwith takethe in this It’s all supposed and physical editions making their way shelves to exaggerate and accentuate that mood thatonto you’re soon we thought it was theconnecting right time towith ask feeling. It allafter, ties back into how you are Runner Duck co-founders Jon Wingrove and Dave Quill and her world.” Miller to look back on its development story. And it turns EIGHT out thatWAYS without the hurdles of SAME QUESTION Moss, developing mobile titles, there Collaboration wasfree-to-play key during the development ofwould not just within be theno team itself, Crew, but with the help of external actually Bomber playtesters. werewhile oftenworking broughtatinRelentless to feedback on “JonPeople and I met
Pictured above, from top: Dave Miller and Jon Wingrove, co-founders of Runner Duck
Software in Brighton and we worked really well together. Eventually we ended up at a company which did free-to-play mobile word games and I think we kind of woke up a few months into that and realised this was never in the plan,” Miller starts explaining. “This wasn’t the thing we dreamt of when we were kids, programming on our little Spectrums.
the game and asked questions about their experience – even if most of these questions were actually very similar. “External playtests were mostly about ‘Okay, how do people feel when they play? Do they like it or not like it?’,” Alderson explains. “At the end of playtest we would ask the same question eight different ways. The question is really ‘What didn’t you like?’, but we would ask it differently: ‘What pulled you out of the experience? What took you out of the headset? If there’s one thing you could change what would it be? If you had two weeks to finish the game, whathated wouldit.be theday-to-day thing that you’d fix?’ We hated it, actually Our work was “Those bring a playtester into their zone, figuring outhelp ways to make our games kindcomfort of annoying because one wants to playtosomething that people put so peopleno would pay money make them less a lot of care love into on andfree-to-play, then turn around say annoying. I’mand a bit harsh not alland games ‘This is that, whatbut I didn’t like it’. Soto it takes a little are like there is about a tendency fall into that while trap.” toWingrove get the playtester comfortable, and we foundprocess that agrees: “It’s just not an enjoyable finding different ways tohaving ask the question meansyou and that’s what you’re tosame do each day. When you eventually get the really good the fourth or really want to make something as stuff goodafter as you can, and fifth time you what ask it.drives us, it’s very hard to be doing that’s usually don’t think anyone in our studio has ever made a the“Iopposite deliberately.” game liketheir this, free so I think important that youstarted trust the During time, it’s Wingrove and Miller process. You trust toying around with playtesting an idea. and you make sure that you allow and freedom to try something “I’veyourself alwayssome been time fascinated by WWII bombers,” and then keep“My going. Tryuncle something and branch Miller recalls. great was a new navigator on a out, but alsobomber use yourduring experience that his you’ve Whitley WWII.from I’ve games read some letters made and you’llstuff be fine. as you’re and it’sbefore just incredible theyAs didlong because the having crews fun too! playing were likeWe 19 enjoyed – they were kidsMoss really.throughout And they’d this thehave entire extremely strange one night they’d be in process and I thinkexistence that reallyofhelps.” a pub in England, the next night they’d be over Berlin and then they’d come back and go to the pub again the next night. It’s such a strange existence for someone so young so I think that the setting in itself is interesting and kind of extraordinary.” From this theme, which was the core idea for the title, Runner Duck had to decide on game mechanics. “There were a few games back in the day, like B17: The Mighty 8th and a few bomber games that I
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played when I was younger... You can still get B17 on Steam and I got it again and I was disappointed because you were kind of the plane, you weren’t really the crew... There was a crew there but you didn’t have much of a connection with them. With rose tinted glasses I remembered more of a connection with the crew. So I thought it would be a great idea to make a game where it really is about the crew inside this machine. So that was basically the idea and then Jon and I worked the mechanics out from that idea and over the course of the development what we ended up with was far more in-depth and complex than my original basic idea.” KEEPING IT SIMPLE Runner Duck had to carefully balance both aspects of the game: taking care of the crew and carrying on with the bombing mission. They wanted players to feel like they were looking after the crew, not the plane, which is why they avoided giving players too much direct control. “We really wanted a lot of tension but a good pacing to each mission. You’re always telling the crew what they’re doing. I think that was the balance we had to find,” Wingrove explains.
“At first when we were prototyping it, they were doing almost too much and you weren’t doing much at all. The crew was just able to do all the stuff by themselves. Then we moved more towards: ‘You got to tell them to do almost everything’. We introduced the tagging mechanic just because we wanted to make sure it really is about the crew management side of it and getting to know who’s doing what in your bomber. And then in between the missions there’s a lot of customisation you can do – you can name them differently, you can give them different equipment. I think players then really start to engage with the crew they got and it becomes a lot more important when they’re in a tight spot, to make sure they save the ones that they’ve played a lot of missions with. It was a long process to balance it.” Miller goes into detail about fine tuning that balance: “We had to be really disciplined with what we added to the gameplay. When we first got a prototype to our publisher Curve, it was really kind of on rails. The plane would take off, you’d wait, press the button to drop the bomb, and then you’d wait until they go home. And it was really tempting to do stuff like allowing the player to actually aim the guns and fire the guns
and put them in control of a single character. But if we did that, it would have taken away from the whole idea that the crew were individuals that you’re looking after. It took a lot of discipline to not give the player too much direct control.” With Wingrove being a programmer and Miller an artist, the tasks were divided quite naturally between Runner Duck’s two cofounders, with “a lot of crossover on the design.” Some of the music was outsourced, most notably to Petros Sklias, who wrote the soundtrack. But with such a small team, efficiency was key in most tasks, which is partly the reason why Bomber Crew has a cartoony art style. “The whole art style of Bomber Crew is designed so that it can be done by one person,” Miller says. “It’s very simple pixel art and that was a conscious decision to make sure we embarked on something we could actually finish without having to bring loads of people on board.” As a result, Bomber Crew has an unusual combination of a bleak setting and very colourful art style. Although there’s also another reason for that, Miller explains. “Aside from it being efficient, I was a big fan of a game called Cannon Fodder back on the Amiga in the 90s. It had a really strong anti-war message. You got this start screen and in the background there would be this hill and as you lost your characters throughout the game, little white crosses would appear on the hill. So after you’d been playing for a while, this hill would be dotted with a graveyard of all your lost souls. It’s actually strong and the fact the art was simple allows you to project your imagination on it a little bit. That works for Bomber Crew because the characters are very simple and we give them names, and an age and occupation. So people tend to project more depth onto them, because it gives them the space to do that.” THE PARADIGM SHIFT Keeping the art simple meant the team could focus its efforts elsewhere. When asked about the challenges along the way, Miller instantly replies in a laugh: “Doing it in ten months.” He continues: “It first came out on Steam ten months after we started full time on it and that was pretty tough because it’s fairly complex. So
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Pictured right: Bomber Crew, as the name suggests is about looking after the crew, not flying the plane yourself it was just about being disciplined and getting on with it, getting through the tasks, hitting the milestones.” Once the PC version was out of the door, the challenges didn’t stop though, as Wingrove explains: “We spent a long time working on the control system for the consoles, getting it to play with a controller. That was probably one of the bigger challenges but I think we got something really good now to the point where I actually prefer playing that way.” Looking back at Bomber Crew’s development process, he adds that if they had to do it all over again, they’d try to get the control system in place earlier. “I think we’d try and allow ourselves a bit more time, relatively, as well,” he continues. “We just released an update which added more languages – Japanese, Chinese and Korean. And I think, looking at that, we’d definitely try and get the support in for that earlier.” Miller adds: “I don’t think we underestimated UI but it still ended up being more work than we would have liked. I think that always happens in games. UI is such a huge task, it’s really easy to not quite understand what a big task it is.” Apart from that, both agree that it actually went well and ”nothing terrible happened” in ten months. In the end, the biggest challenge Runner Duck faced wasn’t the develoment, it was realising that they could run their own studio in the first place. “Clearly you have to do loads of work – you have to do work in the evening, try and build a prototype, get
it going and have something to pitch before you quit your day job. But the biggest thing for us was making that leap... Realising that we could pitch a game to a publisher and get paid to make a game ourselves. “It just felt like an impossible dream and then as soon as we got on and said: ‘Well, let’s just give it a go’ and we started sending emails, we realised that, no, it’s totally possible. The publishers are there and you send them an email and they will respond to you. Just realising that it was a possibility was one of the biggest paradigm shifts for us.” Sometimes the most difficult thing you have to do when creating a game is to get rid of those doubts, get over that impostor syndrome. Having managed to do exactly that, Runner Duck was rewarded by having millions of players engaging with Bomber Crew. And it got another reward, crowning years of hard work and dedication to Bomber Crew’s setting. “One amazing thing that came from making Bomber Crew was in September last year,” Miller tells us – and you can definitely feel the passion in his voice. “I was chatting with a guy who is an engineer on the Battle of Britain Memorial site, which has the last flying Lancaster in the country, and we got an invitation to go up. Unfortunately Jon couldn’t make it but I actually got to go on board a Lancaster bomber in the pilot seat, which is something I thought would never happen because there’s only one flying one in the country and one other in Canada. That was an incredible end to it.”
“It just felt like an impossible dream but the publishers are there... Send them an email and they will respond.” 54 | MCV 943 February 2019
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The team at Creative Assembly helps us debunk some common development role myths This month, Total War art director Kevin McDowell talks about the trends and myths in art teams
WE’RE seeing some trends that are slowly but firmly entrenching themselves in the art department. First, games-as-a-service is changing the way we think about games. It affects the way we plan and organise our projects, it’s a technical challenge to define how to provide continuing support for a game, as well as a challenge to be continually providing interesting and varied content. Then, in terms of the game art talent we are seeing, year-on-year, we have higher quality graduate portfolios, which is of course a positive trend. However, the percentage of graduates whose work is developed enough to make that first step into employment with a
“The actual level of awareness of the different roles in game art is not universal. It’s so important that aspiring game developers understand the opportunities available and the best paths to take.”
triple-A developer remains small. We are seeing five or ten universities that are producing the top grads, yet so many in the UK offer broad ‘game development’ courses that are not preparing students for the industry. Possibly the biggest myth we are seeing is students who believe they should demonstrate all aspects of game development or a variety of different styles in their portfolio. Except in the smallest indie teams, artists specialise, and we always want to see that in-depth specialisation. With the portfolios, environment art graduates are over-focused on prop modelling and not focused enough on the complete picture: set dressing, lighting, texturing (i.e. substance designer). I’d like them to be thinking about creating a small piece of a world rather than individual props or models. With concept art graduates, there is generally some confusion as to how concept art is used and what the purpose of it is. It is no coincidence that more than half of our concept artists studied architecture. The goal for much of the work is to create model sheets that the 3D artists can build from. We see too much illustration in concept art portfolios, and not enough developed well thought through ideas. Concept artists are sometimes called upon to illustrate, but that’s not the core of the job. More broadly, the actual level of awareness of the different roles in game art is not universal. Everyone is aware of animators, concept art, environment art and character art, but there is less awareness of some of the slightly more specialised roles – UI art, realtime VFX, technical art and technical animation. Which means that some roles that we advertise get an overabundance of applicants, and some very few. It’s so important that aspiring game developers understand the opportunities available and the best paths to take. That’s why I would always encourage students to come to industry events and take the opportunity to speak to experienced developers and get feedback on their work.
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Casting the Runes
Jagex’s developers visit us from Runescape’s Gielinor to talk about their latest adventures This month, Kelvin Plomer and Steve Wilson discuss how the studio makes the voice of the player heard
KELVIN PLOMER, DIRECTOR OF PLAYER EXPERIENCE Connecting, engaging, inspiring and empowering players is a Jagex mantra. This year, as RuneScape marks its 18th year in operation, we find ourselves in a remarkable position for such a venerable title: the franchise’s playerbase is at an all-time high. The team here at Jagex has more than doubled the monthly active users of RuneScape and Old School RuneScape in the past 12 months and reported big gains in Q4 2018. The franchise achieved its highest ever paid membership total over the Christmas period, surpassing a previous record set in 2008, and Old School RuneScape’s debut on mobile has driven an additional five million installs. Commenting on RuneScape’s peak player performance, our CEO Phil Mansell recently stated: “We find that the more we listen to, engage with, and empower the community, the more if fosters a true connection with each other and with the games.” So as the franchise’s now multi-platform player base grows, how should we listen at scale to inform future updates and the direction of its RuneScape titles? Beyond Jagex’s well-documented approach to player empowerment – through surveys, player voting and its collaborative live streams – our always-on player support team provides a further invaluable feedback loop for the studio: the ‘voice of the player’. Informed by our in-person and online player support systems, the voice of the player collates, cements and informs the studio of key player feedback, enabling studio leads to prioritise specific areas of development. While a necessary service area for any studio, the player support function can often be an under-empowered and under-resourced one. However, our player support mirrors the titles it serves: it is live, always on and reporting in real-time. In addition, with the RuneScape titles seeing their biggest year ever, it’s no surprise that the player support team reported 2018 as its busiest year ever.
With a team of 35 people operating in the heart of the RuneScape studio, we are accountable to our community and remain live and online 24/7, 365 days a year. Through the course of 2018, over six million players sought support from us. For a number of years now, we’ve engaged with our community, giving insights into the service we provide, and ensuring we listen to ideas and respond to important player feedback. We recently published an infographic, telling the story of player support in 2018, and you’d be surprised at the level of interest from players to hear about things behind the scenes. Player support is involved in many areas – from tech support, account help, billing and payment assistance, to anti-cheating, industry leading
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community safety, and even system monitoring – in order to ensure any potential issues are identified and resolved before they even become a problem for players and the live game stays live. In addition to the live team, an online support centre for key RuneScape and Old School RuneScape queries has been built up over a period of some ten years. In 2018, of the six million player enquiries, just over five million players found their answer using the self-help centre.
STEVE WILSON, PLAYER SUPPORT MANAGER The effectiveness of any player service is key to a player’s perception and investment in a game and Jagex knows that response time is a key driver for player satisfaction and retention. Players expect and deserve their queries to be answered quickly and effectively. If a query isn’t responded to successfully in under 24 hours, we know that players can lose interest, or they don’t check back for a response, leading to a reduction in their investment in, and connection to, the game. We see a 60 per cent drop off in retention after 24 hours. We are also aware that the level of service any player receives, whether positive or negative, can go viral and cause ripples throughout player communities. Consider the viral reach of a single player who happens to be a clan leader, with a clan of 500 listening to them, or a streamer with audience of millions. This is not about prioritising those players but having an attitude of treating every single player with same level of effective and efficient service.
KELVIN PLOMER Even with investment in its player support resource, Jagex has sought to be creative in the way it provides support to manage its growing playerbase. Over the years, we have engineered solutions that enable us to assist players at scale. We use AI, machine learning, heuristics and tools to
“The effectiveness of any player service is key to a player’s perception and investment.” assist our live team in making make informed decisions quickly and to deal with the scale of enquiries. This enables us to deal with millions of players and across multiple areas – be that account recovery, chat moderation, cheating or offence appeals. The scalable tools we’ve developed can apply automated, semi-automated actions and guidance to assist our specialists in quicker decision making to speed the live team’s response time while maintaining accuracy and quality. The combination of a live team, supported by machine learning tools, saw a 95 per cent success rate in meeting our target response time of under 24 hours throughout 2018.
STEVE WILSON We invest three months of skills and knowledge training for everyone who joins our player support team to support players. For every ticket response, there’s a link to satisfaction of service and, in 2018, 83 per cent of players were satisfied with the assistance provided. Should a player not be satisfied, we then reach out and dig deeper into their query and take any learnings back into our training and processes for future effectiveness. This deep dive means we know why our players are unhappy, and through our Voice of the Player initiative we retrain, work with devs and tech teams to improve system limitations, revise our policies and processes and share ideas to improve for the future. For Jagex, the benefit of having player support embedded within the studio is the ability to communicate directly with studio teams across all areas of development. Everyone in the player support team has links across the studio to flag and resolve player issues. We take the view that one single player query could be regarding an issue that may then affect thousands, or tens of thousands of players. It’s our role to identify this and work with other studio stakeholders to mitigate it before others are impacted. Everything player support observes and learns from the services we provide to players is wrapped up in our Voice of the Player feedback to the wider studio to aid improvement to the benefit of our community. The key pillars of our living game philosophy are focused on the player experience – both in-game and out of game. We know that any issue can interfere with a player’s game experience, so we work proactively to avoid these surfacing in the first place and, when there is an issue, we endeavour to resolve it quickly through making sure that the Voice of the Player is heard in all areas across the studio. That’s our role, and one we take extremely seriously.
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Are you being served? Luis De La Camara, Outplay Entertainment
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!
Games-as-a-service is the dominating force behind the current success of mobile and PC gaming, and is also a trend in console thanks to triple-A franchises like Call of Duty, GTA, Red Dead, Battlefield and Fortnite. It was not long ago that everyone was fixated on their Metacritic score and building enough hype to get as many Day One sales as possible. However, there is now a new obsession: the player’s experience. Whether your model is free-to-play, subscriptions or an extension of a premium product – every strategic decision should be focused on how to offer additional value to players. Candy Crush Saga and Clash of Clans are well into their sixth year, maintaining a strong foothold at the top of the charts, and World of Warcraft recently reached 100m registered players. Back in my console days, publishing was often in a different location than development, but in mobile I have had the fortune to manage marketing teams that are fully embedded in games studios, allowing for streamlined collaboration across marketing and development. The key to games-as-a-service is alignment across all teams on one or two north star metrics, and then building and improving optimal journeys for players – from discovery, to install, on-boarding, engagement, conversion and hopefully evangelism. Engagement and stickiness must start off with a fun, intuitive gameplay mechanic which hooks players from the start, which is then supported by a robust and dynamic meta. Extending engagement and reducing churn then depends on the tools in your toolbox, as well as the ability to
run solid AB tests, and being able to interpret data about your specific player cohorts’ behaviour. At Outplay, we use a mix of live ops, CRM communication, gifting, sales and new content to target players both broadly and through hypertargeted flows, offering enhanced experiences to sustainably increase session length, frequency and spend. In games with a strong social component, such as Gameloft’s Asphalt series or Eight Pixels Square’s Sniper Strike, increasing engagement has an aggregate effect, as players go on to build up their clans, compete more in PvP or events, and even share content online. Even with all these tools, your ability to succeed in games-as-a-service will be impaired if you do not understand your player, putting their motivations, UX and communication front and centre. You may have a generous offer, but if they don’t easily understand the value proposition, it’s highly likely that it will fail. If you’re constantly spamming players with pop ups and players get accustomed to swatting them away, how will you get them to take part in the next big event? From time to time, audit your UX flows, as huge wins can come from some of the most simple and obvious changes. After all, games-as-a-service is not a change in business model, it’s a change in mindset. Luis De La Camara has over ten years’ experience in the games industry and is the VP of global marketing for the UK’s largest independent mobile game developer, Outplay Entertainment. He previously was responsible for Candy Crush Saga’s product marketing at King.
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Crypto collectibles are going to revolutionise video games Morten Rongaard, Reality Gaming Group
The market for virtual items and DLC is huge – the segment was worth upwards of $80bn (£61bn) in 2017 according to IDG. However, the ‘traditional’ market for in-game virtual items (digital assets, or DAs) can be restrictive for end-users, with publishers and platform holders retaining ultimate ownership of those goods, which have limited use or value outside the game world. But we’re on the cusp of a technological leap forward that will unlock the potential of DAs in a way that will create significant financial upside for game creators and real ownership for end users. Cryptocurrency and the blockchain, specifically Non-Fungible ERC-20 and ERC 721 Tokens (NFTs), will enable a ‘crypto collectibles’ market in video games, all managed using smart contracts connected to the blockchain. It’s a tiny market right now, but the signposts are there. The premium commanded by crypto collectibles means the potential revenue could far outstrip what we see now for DLC. The reason for that is simple: crypto collectibles are by their very nature rare, transparently ownable (via NFT contracts), incorruptible (ditto) and they exist regardless of whether the game they were bought in/for is still available. We actually had our heads turned to the possibilities of crypto collectibles after funding development of our mobile AR combat game, Reality Clash, via an Initial Coin Offering (ICO). We immediately focused on developing a platform where investors and gamers could spend their in-game currency on buying unique, limited-edition weapons for use in the game – our very own crypto collectibles.
But we also had to make sure the 99 per cent of the world that had no clue about crypto or the blockchain could buy our coin without having to struggle through endless jargon. We think we’ve done okay, so far. Crucially, players can choose not to interact with the blockchain side of the project and simply play the game ‘as is’ – it’s important to present blockchain utility as a choice rather than forcing gamers to engage with it. We’re also launching a trading platform that allows people to buy and sell our limited-edition crypto collectible weapons among each other and, importantly, keep any profits from demand in the in-game economy by simply exchanging their Reality Clash coins for fiat currency – gamers will become virtual arms dealers on our marketplace. We’re only just scratching the surface. Once there’s a critical mass of games that use blockchain technology it will be possible to create crypto collectibles that are cross-game compatible, players will be able to share in-game items and we’ll even use AI to track usage of the collectible in order to optimise performance and help users find compatible games. Crucially, our team is comprised of gamers and games industry veterans – we’re not crypto traders and neither is our core audience, and we’ll need to keep that in mind in order to take advantage of this amazing new opportunity. As a Reality Gaming Group co-founder, Morten Rongaard is the brain behind the original Reality Clash game concept and an online marketing veteran from his days as CEO of Wehoo.
“Players can choose not to interact with the blockchain side of the project and simply play the game ‘as is’ – it’s important to present blockchain utility as a choice rather than forcing gamers to engage with it.”
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The Final Boss Every month an industry leader wraps up MCV with their unique insight
You’ve been at Sports Interactive almost 25 years – how much has changed? What’s stayed the same? As a studio, we are constantly changing and evolving. The growth has been very organic over the years. There were just a handful of us when I first got involved about 25 years ago – first as a part-time beta tester, then as a researcher, then business manager, then MD, through to my current role. And we’re now a studio of more than 100… And planning a major recruitment drive over the next 12 months. Your passion for football is obvious, can the industries learn from each other? We do learn from each other all the time. Football video games have been largely responsible for a big push on the statistics side of football, which the sport has largely embraced, and has become part of the day-to-day business of football now. Our relationships with real life clubs show that – not just on the obvious partnership and sponsorship side, but also behind the scenes with us working with lots of clubs on data projects and providing data to them. With the greatest respect to your current role, what is/was your dream job? When I was a kid, I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life. I was never going to make it as a footballer and I wasn’t going to be a rock star as, despite being a performer as a child, my voice wasn’t the same once my balls dropped. I fell in love with the music industry when working in a record shop, and was very lucky to have a successful career in it. That transitioned over time into games. I’m incredibly thankful that I’ve had dream jobs and still love the vast majority of minutes of what I do now, straddling video games and football. There aren’t many (non-mobile) developers in London proper. Why are you based in the Olympic Park? We’ve always been based in London, ever since Oliver and Paul Collyer (the founders of SI) moved here from Shropshire. When we were getting ready to leave our previous Old Street base, we did look at options outside of London, but when we went to see Here East we fell in love with the space and the possibilities for the future there. It’s been a great move – it’s a really creative cluster of businesses. The only thing it’s missing is a Pokémon Go Gym.
Miles Jacobson Studio director, Sports Interactive “I was never going to make it as a footballer and I wasn’t going to be a rock star as, despite being a performer as a child, my voice wasn’t the same once my balls dropped.”
What’s was the greatest single moment of your career to date? I think the move from Championship Manager to Football Manager – and subsequently selling more copies of the second Football Manager release than any previous CM – was a really important part of our story. We were told we were crazy by the vast majority of the industry – and we probably were – but it worked out really well and gave us so much more freedom that we didn’t have previously. As part of that, signing with Sega, despite them being the least obvious partner at the time, was really transformative as they were so hungry to get back to success after the problems they’d had with Dreamcast. We’re very proud to have been a small part in their resurgence and the way they treat us and their other studios is something everyone in the industry can learn from. What continues to impress you about the industry? I continue to be impressed with the industry’s ability to reinvent itself and hit every challenge, technical or business, head on. We need to be mindful, though, to not make the same mistakes as some industries who haven’t embraced new technology or business models in the way we have. We also need to make sure that we set the agenda when it comes to these things, as other industries have failed to do this and it’s hit them hard, both financially and creatively.
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