MCV ISSUE 945 THE BUSINESS OF VIDEO GAMES APRIIL 2019
n CAN STADIA SUCCEED? 01 MCV945 Cover_FINAL.indd 1
n POC IN PLAY CHAMPIONS DIVERSITY
n HEAVEN’S VAULT IMPRESSES AT GDC
n JASON RUBIN ON OCULUS’ NEXT-GEN 04/04/2019 11:43
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05 The editor
The joys of spring
06 Critical Path
The key dates this month
10 Income Stream
Our market analysis
12 Ukie goes to LGF
Celebrating the contribution of games
Real life events from the industry
18 Industry Voices
Our platform for the industry
20 30 Under 30 2019
The industry’s brightest young minds
20 30 Ins and Outs
And all our recruitment advice
Is cloud gaming ready for take off?
46 POC in Play
Breaking the walls down
50 Heaven’s Vault
Jason Rubin on Oculus’ next-gen
56 When We Made...
60 The Sounds of...
63 Creatives assemble!
What makes for a great design
64 Casting the runes
The dos and don’ts of live title updates
66 The final boss
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“Each of our own springtimes is a little bolder and brighter than the one before.”
TheEditor Spring loaded Spring is most definitely here and there’s a definite sense of new possibilities in the air. It’s a busy time of year for the industry, with some even having done the full grand tour: SXSW, GDC, Pax East and then back in time for London Games Festival and EGX Rezzed. Phew! While our industry is cyclical in many respects, just like the seasons, its continued growth means that each of our own springtimes is a little bolder and brighter than the one before. This spring’s newest bouquet is of course Stadia. Google’s cloud gaming platform could produce yet another growth spurt for the industry, one that could even rival the impact that digital distribution has had to date. We look into the possibilities for everyone on page 38. Meanwhile, VR looks to set to flower for its second season. The first Oculus headset was created with a start-up mentality, at a price which only engaged enthusiasts. Now with its second generation, far simpler to use, with no external sensors, and in both PC-attached and mobile-based flavours, Oculus has a truly mature product for the mass market. We talk to industry veteran Jason Rubin about all of that on page 54. And while on the subject of the new, or the fairly new at least, this month the MCV 30 Under 30 returns on page 20. Now with a remit that covers every aspect of the games industry, we’ve selected the 30 brightest young talents from hundreds of entries. Congratulations to everyone included and thanks to all for making the effort to apply. To sum up, it seems to me that the years are whirling around faster and faster than ever. But that’s in part because we all pack so much into each and every one. This spring in particular seems to have set us up not only for the rest of the year, but maybe for many years to come as well. With such incredible talent in the UK, an industry that’s better organised than ever, and exciting new technologies bringing immense potential growth, I think we can all be confident that whatever those idiots in Westminster finally decide, our combined talent will win through. Seth Barton firstname.lastname@example.org
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Here are the key upcoming events and releases to mark in your calendar...
Unreal Fest Europe 2019 Hilton Prague, Czech Republic Prague will be the capital of Unreal development for a couple of days in April, thanks to the nomadic annual event. Unreal Engine’s director Nick Penwarden will be giving a keynote, while other talks include two sessions on Ark: Survival Evolved for iOS (by War Drum Studios’ CEO Thomas Williamson and art director Morgan Hughes), Enabling a Look Development Workflow for UE4 (by Ninja Theory’s principal technical artist Matt Stoneham), Automated Testing at Scale in Sea of Thieves (by Rare’s software engineer Jessica Baker), and much more.
London Games Festival London The 2019 edition of the London Games Festival will be bigger than ever and run from April 2nd to April 14th across the nation’s capital. LGF 2018 brought in some 65,000 people, attending 40 different events across 20 venues, and featured around 400 games in total being shown off. The festival, run by Games London (an initiative from Film London) and Ukie, has so far attracted in the region of £40 million in potential investments to games businesses across the UK. London Games Festival 2019 will see plenty of events returning, such as the LGF Hub (featuring summits, galleries, demo zones, international pavilions, networking spaces and more) and Now Play This, which allows visitors to play experimental styles of games. The Games Finance Market will also be back, connecting 60 games companies and 60 investors, publishers and media funds. On April 6th, the annual Games Character Parade will return, journeying through the City of London.
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Days Gone SIE Bend Studio’s zombie-filled survivaladventure game is finally releasing at the end of the month, and will be launching exclusively on Sony’s PS4, with various collector’s editions available. Days Gone has been in development since 2015, officially announced at E3 2016 and is now ready to fill The Last of Us-shaped hole in everyone’s heart – though The Last Of Us 2 is supposedly releasing this year.
Games Education Summit 2019 Ko-Host and the National Videogame Museum, Sheffield The BGI is launching a new conference to “bridge the gap between games educators and games sector.” The event will bring together games courses leaders, studios, recruiters, HR staff and more to start a dialogue on games education, with a focus on “employability, diversity, skills required by studios, apprenticeships, how industry can collaborate with educators, best practice, course design and starting up from university.” Speakers include Ian Livingstone CBE, Mike Gamble from Epic Games, Philip Oliver from GameDragons, Ian Goodall from Aardvark Swift, Marcia Deakin from NextGen Skills Academy, Marie-Claire Isaaman from Women in Games, and many others.
Mortal Kombat 11 27 years after the series’ inception, Mortal Kombat is about to see its 11th entry launch. Developed by NetherRealm Studios and published by Warner Bros, Mortal Kombat 11 will include brand new character Geras, as well as new moves such as Fatal Blow and Krushing Blow. It’s releasing on PS4, Xbox One, PC and Switch, with the latter launching digitally on April 23rd and then physically on May 10th.
Anno 1800 Anno 1800 will be the seventh entry in the beloved city-building franchise, and it’s going back to historical settings for the first time in a decade. The PC-exclusive title, developed by Blue Byte and published by Ubisoft, will launch digitally only. It will introduce new mechanics such as blue prints, which allow players to plan a city even when they don’t have the resources to build, and city attractiveness, which will impact the gameplay.
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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
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My ‘to play’ list is huge but I’ve still had trouble getting traction with anything this month. I have been playing The Witness, via PS Plus, which is a great reminder of what a varied artform we work in. It’s an incredibly focused piece of work, and one that feels like a genuine piece of auteurship.
Things have been so hectic lately that I’ve been unable to settle for a new game for a while. I binged 15 hours of Two-Point Hospital in one weekend though and did an umpteenth Baldur’s Gate playthrough, which lead to playing some Pillars of Eternity. I did start Yoshi Crafted World though – it’s adorable and very relaxing. Marie Dealessandri, Senior Staff Writer
Seth Barton, Editor
I’m not sure if I’m suffering from live-service fatigue, but I’ve been defaulting to battle royales a lot lately. It’s the perfect pick-up-and-play balm to live-service grind, and right now I’m loving Apex Legends. I wish randoms would stop stealing my supply drops, though – at least give Lifeline first dibs! Vikki Blake, News Writer
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Pet: Iko Owner: Cédrine Décoret Owner job’s: Product manager, Curve Digital Iko is the ultimate gaming companion. She’s a French native but she’s a proper Londoner now and is partial to a full roast on Sundays.
Pet: Roy Orbison and Momo Owner: Lucy Boxall Owner’s job: Head of corporate communications, Creative Assembly Roy Orbison (pictured above left) and Momo (right) impatiently await the release of Mortal Kombat 11.
Pet: Maggie Owner: Martin Lindell Owner’s job: Brand manager, Raw Fury Maggie loves long and calm sessions of single player games that allow her to sit undisturbed in her owner’s lap while resting her head on one arm.
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Income Stream The numbers, stats and market stories that matter and why they do
PRE-ORDER TOP 5 TW
01 02 03 04 05
Days Gone (PS4) The Last of Us: Part II (PS4) Pokémon Sword (Switch) Final Fantasy VII (PS4) Mortal Kombat 11 (PS4)
Publisher Sony Sony Nintendo Square Enix Warner Bros
UK games market grows 10% to a record £5.7bn The UK games market has grown over the last 12 months to record size, from £5.11bn in 2017 to £5.7bn in 2018, a rise of ten per cent. The figures were revealed by UK trade body Ukie to kick off the London Games Festival last week. The annual figures (see right) showed growth across the two key categories: software sales were up by 10.3 per cent to just break through the £4bn barrier for the first time. Hardware growth almost exactly mirrored that growth, up 10.7 per cent to £1.57bn, another record. While the far smaller game culture category shrunk slightly from £117m to £109.6m this year. Behind those upbeat headline figures, though, there are both winners and losers. Retailers of physical games had a tough time, as boxed software saw a 2.6 per cent dip, despite the stellar fortunes of Red Dead Redemption 2 and numerous Switch titles at retail. Competitively-priced digital sales look to have been the main cause of slashing preowned sales by a massive 30.8 per cent, which is worrying given that such sales are a big earner for bricksand-mortar retail in particular. On the flipside of the physical-digital coin, digital and online sales have been booming with a rise of 20.3 per cent on the previous year, and accelerating from 2017’s 13.4 per cent growth figure. That figure supports both the growing popularity of digital stores for console games and the further growth of incremental income from specific titles, namely Fortnite. Mobile games also grew by 8.2 per cent, up from 7.8 per cent last year and showing that while the huge boom years may be over, there’s still lots more potential in the sector. Moving onto hardware, the Switch’s first full year on sale helped console hardware figures rise by a tidy 6.5 per cent. While that’s well below last year’s bumper 29.9 per cent growth figure, it’s a good result at this stage in the cycle – with no new console launched in 2018. Those figures were also boosted by strong growth in the PC hardware market of 18.4 per cent. VR hardware sales slumped by 20 per cent, though a new headset from Oculus might turn that around in 2019. Event revenues were up as well, as both community and showcase events such as EGX and esports-specific events grew, with the segment up 5.5 per cent in total. So while digital shift will continue to worry some sectors, the industry as a whole had a great 2018 with booming revenues overall. While the advent of game streaming, subscription models and new console hardware will bring a less predictable future, none of those should dampen overall growth in the sector through 2019.
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SOURCE: IHS MARKIT
SOURCE: KANTAR WORLDPANEL
PC GAME HARDWARE
SOURCE: GFK ENTERTAINMENT
SOURCE: GFK ENTERTAINMENT
PERIPHERALS & ACCESSORIES
INDUSTRY 2018 MARKET VALUE SOURCE: GFK ENTERTAINMENT
A M E S OGFATMW E A CR U LET:U R E :
GITAL & NLINE
SOURCE: IHS MARKIT
MOVIES & BOXED SOUNDTRACKS
& 2.01bn BOOKS MAGAZINES
SOURCE: IHS MARKIT
SOURCE: OCC & BFI
SOURCE: NIELSEN, ABC, UKIE
1.17bn PSVR’s SOURCE: IHS MARKIT
SOURCE: KANTAR WORLDPANEL
state of play
SOURCE: GFK ENTERTAINMENT
SOURCE: IHS MARKIT
OYS & ERCHANDISING
PC GAME HARDWARE
GAME on +18.4%
OOKS & 10 11 MCV945 Income Stream V4 FINAL.indd AGAZINES
SOURCE: IHS MARKIT
SOURCE: GFK ENTERTAINMENT
SOURCE: IHS MARKIT
SOURCE: GFK ENTERTAINMENT
MOVIES & SOUNDTRACKS
£23.6m EVENTS & VENUES
£770m £770m PREPREOWNED OWNED -30.8%
SOURCE: IHS MARKIT
SOURCE: KANTAR WORLDPANEL
SOURCE: IHS MARKIT
SOURCE: KANTAR WORLDPANEL
SOURCE: GFK ENTERTAINMENT
SOURCE: GFK ENTERTAINMENT
SOURCE: GFK ENTERTAINMENT
SOURCE: GFK ENTERTAINMENT
PERIPHERALS ACCESSORIES & ACCESSORIES +19.9%
£355m £355m G A M E C U LT U R E : SOURCE: GFK ENTERTAINMENT
SOURCE: IHS MARKIT
SOURCE: GFK ENTERTAINMENT
SOURCE: IHS MARKIT
G A M E C U LT U R E : TOYS & TOYS & MERCHANDISING MERCHANDISING -23.7%
£72m £72m £109.6m
£109.6m MOVIES & MOVIES & SOUNDTRACKS SOUNDTRACKS +34.0%
SOURCE: OCC & BFI
SOURCE: OCC & BFI
BOOKS & MAGAZINES MAGAZINES -1.3%
£445m £445m VR
VR HARDWARE HARDWARE -20.9%
£59.3m £59.3m BOOKS &
£1.57bn £1.57bn PC GAME PC GAME HARDWARE HARDWARE +18.4%
GAME HARDWARE: CONSOLE CONSOLE HARDWARE HARDWARE +6.5%
The second-hand market has-1.3% seen better days at GAME. Preowned sales at the High Street retailer fell by almost 21 per cent ukie.org.uk @uk_ie compared to the same periodukie.org.uk in @uk_ie 2018, though this drop is actually below the national average (see the UK games market figures far left). GAME has also seen its revenue fall by 4.7 per cent year-on-year to £492.9m while profit was mostly flat year-on-year (down 1.2 per cent). It also saw a drop in hardware sales, which dipped by over nine per cent. One area of success was its Belong arenas, which will continue to be “core to [its] transformation strategy,” CEO Martyn Gibbs said.
SOURCE: OCC & BFI
MOBILE GAMES GAMES +8.2%
A M E C U LT U R E :
Sony has confirmed during its new direct livestream video broadcast State of Play that it has sold over 4.2m PSVR systems worldwide as of March 3rd. Sony’s director of social media Sid Shuman added on the official PS blog that “PSVR owners have a lot to SOURCE: get excited SOURCE: GFK ENTERTAINMENT GFK ENTERTAINMENT about,” revealing 14 games coming soon to the platform including Marvel’s Iron Man VR, Everybody’s Golf VR, Blood and Truth, Trover Saves the Universe, Mini-Mech Mayhem, Vacation Simulator, Five Nights at Freddie’s VR: Help Wanted and No Man’s Sky Beyond.
ERIPHERALS & CCESSORIES
£702m £23.6m £702m PERIPHERALS &
EVENTS & £770m VENUES
SOURCE: GFK ENTERTAINMENT
£4.01bn £4.01bn BOXED BOXED SOFTWARE SOFTWARE -2.6%
£1.17bn £72m £1.17bn GAME HARDWARE:
£ 4 .£0110 9b. n6 m
TOYS & MERCHANDISING
GAME SOFTWARE: GAME SOFTWARE: DIGITAL & DIGITAL ONLINE & ONLINE +20.3%
£2.01bn £445m £2.01bn MOBILE
UK GAMES +19.9%
£5.7bn bn £5.7
UK GAMES INDUSTRY UK GAMES INDUSTRY 2018 MARKET VALUE 2018 MARKET VALUE
£23.6m £23.6m EVENTS & EVENTS & VENUES VENUES +5.5% +5.5%
SOURCE: NIELSEN, ABC, UKIE
SOURCE: NIELSEN, ABC, UKIE
Die harder Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice - Activision Activision Blizzard’s Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice debuted at the top of the UK weekly charts on March 25th. Sales for FromSoftware’s new IP were impressively on a par with what Dark Souls sold back at launch in 2011, when physical sales were much stronger. Sekiro was down 29 per cent compared to Bloodborne’s launch sales in 2015 though but Sekiro is likely to have done much better digitally. Going back to physical sales, the title sold mostly on PS4 at launch (80 per cent of the copies shifted). It’s worth noting that it’s only FromSoftware’s second No.1 in the UK charts – the previous one being Dark Souls III back in 2016, which sold twice as much as Sekiro.
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Ukie: Festivals are a great way to celebrate the culture of games With London Games Festival in full swing, here’s why Ukie thinks celebrating the economic and cultural contribution of games is so important THIS week marks the half-way point of this year’s London Games Festival – the biggest yet, with over 40 events for businesses, consumers and curious first-timers. The fourth annual celebration of games culture features thousands of playable games and free outdoor activities for all, while more than 30 international games businesses and investors will descend on London to network and share insights. The Festival kicked off last week with the LGF Hub, two days of summits and networking space for games businesses. We also had the annual Games Finance Market which connected games businesses with potential investors. But the festival also seeks to promote the wider cultural economy and contribution of games. It attempts to demystify them to people who don’t play regularly as well as promote the breadth of content that this valuable sector now represents. Celebrating the impact and contribution of games to the cultural economy and to the world has never been more important. As the reach of games gets bigger and more diverse, and we become undisputedly the biggest entertainment medium in the world. What we do, how the sector operates and how people enjoy games will continue to become more scrutinised by those who don’t. This already prompts lots of questions from consumers, policy makers and the industry, and poses some reputational risk, as we’re seeing with the WHO’s premature proposed adoption of a ‘gaming disorder’. But this scrutiny also presents us with an opportunity to empower and educate people in partnership about the amazing positive impact that games can have on passionate, globally connected communities of players. We should be proud and confident of the story we tell about games, and festivals can be at the centre of this, providing a spotlight for events, thought leadership, skills initiatives and engagement with the wider public about games.
Exhibitions like this weekend’s Now Play This (a festival of experimental game design, part-funded directly by Ukie), the take-over of iconic cultural spaces like Trafalgar Square, events like last weekend’s Games Character Parade through the City of London and the BAFTA Games Awards all shift perceptions and help show games as publiclyconsumed, tangible, understandable, sociable, creativelybrilliant and hugely enjoyable. And while the London Games Festival aims to put the spotlight on the wider UK games sector and games-playing public, game clusters and other existing organisations around the country also have a major role to play in promoting the business and culture of games. The National Videogames Museum in Sheffield, Leamington Spa’s Interactive Futures festival and the recently announced Guildford.Games Festival (see right) are just some initiatives that are bringing games to the attention of their communities locally and nationally and helping to put the UK well and truly at the heart of the worldwide games sector. From the earliest days of the industry, the UK has had a talent for making games and a deep cultural engagement with the medium. We have the best technical talent, the best creativity and the best business landscape in the world to make games. We’ll be ramping up the positive news around the UK games sector through our 30 Years of Play campaign this year and want to give people from the industry the chance to tell their stories. Games are now incredibly diverse, capable of tackling complex issues and expressing them in new, innovative ways that other media just cannot do. The UK games industry should be celebrated not just for its economic contribution but for its creativity and the positive impact it makes to culture and the lives of the millions of people who enjoy playing British games here and around the world.
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Meet the Ukie team Here, we’ll be introducing a new Ukie staffer every month Leon Cliff, Member relations officer Leon Cliff’s here to help games businesses get the best out of their Ukie membership. If you want to find out more about joining Ukie or are already a member then drop him a line: firstname.lastname@example.org
Coming soon: Celebrating the Guildford.Games Festival Ukie is delighted to be working with members of the Guildford games community, Guildford Borough Council, The University of Surrey and Enterprise M3 LEP to launch the Guildford.Games Festival – a major new consumer, cultural and business event that will take place from June 27th to June 29th 2019. Guildford is a recognised epicentre for games development, games publishing and technology in the UK. The region has a long and highly respected track record for delivering globally successful and industry defining video games, earning its reputation of being the ‘Hollywood of Games’. The weekend long festival is designed for the general public, media and international games businesses to learn about the dynamic nature and importance of games companies located in Guildford, UK. It will highlight Guildford’s creative talent and contribution to a market that globally is worth around $81bn (£61.6bn). Key highlights of the programme include an opening night industry charity fundraiser, an industry and business day, a consumer expo and the first ever Guildford Games Awards. The festival aims to showcase to the public and wider sector the cultural and economic output of the Guildford games community: a hotbed of creative talent with a huge amount of potential to expand and grow. More information will be coming soon on Guildford.Games/festival
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MCV Awards Sponsored by:
Real Life Events from the industry
MCV AWARDS 2019 Thanks very much to everyone who attended our MCV Awards 2019 at The Brewery last month and contributed in making it such a success. Special thanks to WiFi Wars and Steve McNeil for putting together a very special interactive multiplayer warm-up and congratulations to all the winners for an amazing year in the UK games industry! The awards this year were spread broadly, with no single company picking up more than one trophy. That’s a testament to our award-specific, specialist judging panels, picking the best teams, products and campaigns in their respective categories. We’d like to take this opportunity to thank our sponsors and event partners: Amiqus, Bespoke Arcades, Frontier Developments, Gamescom, Heaven Media, Little Big PR and Ukie – plus our charity partner GamesAid. The MCV Awards couldn’t happen without the continued support of the industry!
Pictured above: The Wired Productions team with its award for Gaming Campaign of the Year (under £500k) for Grip
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GAMING MARKETING AGENCY
Pictured right from top to bottom: Award winners Seedee Jons, Renaissance PR and Ukieâ€™s CEO Dr Jo Twist OBE
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Pictured left: Awardwinning teams from Frontier Developments and Warner Bros
YOUR MCV AWARDS 2019 WINNERS PUBLISHER AWARDS In-house PR Team of the Year Capcom Marketing Team of the Year Playstation UK Sales Team of the Year Bethesda Community Management of the Year Frontier Developments New Games IP of the Year Two Point Hospital – Two Point
RETAIL AND DISTRIBUTION Distributor of the Year Koch Media Major Retailer of the Year GAME Independent Retailer of the Year Seedee Jons
Studios & Sega Indie Games Publisher of the Year Curve Digital Major Games Publisher of the Year Epic Games
CAMPAIGNS AND EVENTS
PR AND MEDIA Major PR Agency of the Year Indigo Pearl Boutique PR Agency of the Year Renaissance PR Creative Agency of the Year Diva
Gaming Campaign of the Year – Over £500k Warner Bros
Interactive Entertainment UK – Hitman 2
Gaming Campaign of the Year – Under £500k Wired – Grip Games Event of the Year Gamer Network – EGX Rezzed
Industry Hero Dr Jo Twist OBE Person of the Year Tim Sweeney
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GDC 2019 GDC 2019 achieved record attendance with 29,000 industry professionals making the journey to San Francisco for the event. This year was loaded with big events too, with Google’s Stadia announcement (more on that on page 38) and Unreal’s keynote being joined by offsite events such as the Oculus Rift S launch (see page 54) and Unity’s game-packed show. Back at the conference, attendees were treated to an entertaining and informative lineup of 780 panels, roundtables and speaker sessions, including Siobhan Reddy from Media Molecule (pictured right).. The expo boasted 550 exhibitors on a buzzing show floor, including a centrally-located Ukie stand. As always the show covered everything from indie showcases, such as Day of the Devs and the Indie Megabooth, right up to immense stands from the big platforms and engines.
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Getting a Grip on an MCV Award Leo Zullo, Wired Productions
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!
IF I’m honest, I was a little surprised when we heard Wired’s name called out for Best Gaming Campaign (under £500k) for Grip at the MCV Awards 2019. Not through lack of faith in our work or my team, but our only goal for the night was to have a good time and celebrate with our peers in the industry. Plus I’ve never won a thing in my life, so… low expectations! Being independent is not easy. And even more difficult as an indie publisher. The calibre of those who were nominated alongside us shows what we face. Deep pockets where creativity is easy – and that’s not knocking them at all. Going it alone is much more difficult, but can also be more rewarding. People throw ‘creativity’ around a lot, but being really creative is when you have to be much more clever with smaller budgets and think outside of the box. I’m proud of my team for delivering a campaign that flipped retail upside down – we literally sent hundreds of fans in stores to flip the box upside down! And utilised key strategic partners to help showcase and highlight key elements of the title. Of course, a campaign is nothing, if what you’re trying to flog is an out of date apple. With developer Caged Element and Grip, we knew we had a hit. Something ripe and ready. Caged share the same ethics as Wired and have been a pleasure to work with. First parties loved the early demos and were engaged really early. We managed to ship physical copies worldwide and even had to grow our distribution networks to do so. The game succeeded because of people. And people are really at the heart of what
Wired stands for. From our internal teams, our partners, developers and of course our players. This award also goes out to the numerous partners who got stuck in and helped the campaign. The campaign changed a lot for Wired. It challenged and highlighted opportunities. In fact, from starting the project to right now, we’re 70 per cent larger than we first were in head count. We expanded our QA team, further strengthened our marketing and production teams, and it really shows in the quality of assets and campaigns we’re producing. We adapted and made clever decisions. In less than a year from announcement, we’d attended every show possible, from events in the US, to England and to Poland. We’d connected with one of the biggest independent record labels, who had just finished working on Forza, and got an incredible set of tracks for Grip. We even reached out to 90s combat fans with a series of placed editorials and viral videos (our Scalextric trailer still makes me laugh hard!) We’ve been transforming ourselves over the past two years, building on success and gaining scale with each release. We’re incredibly excited for Close to the Sun and can’t wait to share the other IPs we’re cooking. Awards weren’t something we really had on any to-do list. If I’m honest now, however, after hearing our name and seeing that razor on the big screen, it’s kind of giving me the flavour for more… Leo Zullo is managing director at indie publisher Wired Productions, which won the Gaming Campaign of the Year – Under £500k Budget for Grip at the MCV Awards 2019.
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The grey market
Grant Hughes, Fanatical
GREY keys are hurting the games industry and at Fanatical, an online store which has always resisted selling anything except officially sourced product, we’re making a stand against them. With many consumers simply looking for the lowest price when it comes to buying a new digital game, grey marketplaces and unscrupulous online retailers are often quick to cash in. Why should you care? Because grey keys are a major factor in driving down the price of a new game. So why are they so cheap? In countries where market economics dictate lower pricing, publishers have to sell their products at the local going rate. Grey key distributors then prey on these markets. They buy up cheap stock, in many cases stripping keys from boxed copies, and they scan them ready for mass digital distribution. These grey keys are then sold cheaply around the world using an extensive network of online retailers and marketplaces. Our customers demand official keys, and they demand that we charge competitive prices. We don’t believe in a race to the bottom, whereas grey key sellers will often drastically undercut legitimate retailers and each other. All that does is drive down everybody’s profit margin and it adversely affects the entire food chain. Unlike many of our competitors, Fanatical has gone the extra mile to combat grey key resellers. By blocking VPN access of any kind, we’ve put a stop to traders who try to buy products for resale using fake geo-IPs. Fanatical’s bespoke technology platform also has other checks and procedures in place to police the sale of its game keys. Advanced AI algorithms prevent resellers from buying products in bulk, for example if they want to stock up on limited-time discounts.
Where there’s profit to be made, there are always going to be people who will try to take advantage of pricing loopholes, so we’ve built a loyal customer base who have rejected grey keys. They want the reliability and the peace of mind that they can only get from an official retailer. Many gamers feel this way, but too many people are still blasé about buying grey keys because they’re lured in by the low prices. But these low prices come with risks attached. Grey keys can potentially give customers a frustrating shopping experience, leading to negative sentiments being aimed at the reseller. There are stories of customers being sold keys which were previously used and no longer work, or receiving region-locked keys which won’t operate in the customer’s country. Certain grey key marketplaces even charge customers an extra fee which promises ‘customer support’ if the supplied key doesn’t work, such is the question mark that hangs over the provenance of resold grey keys. Customers are effectively gambling with their own money. It would have been all too easy for Fanatical to acquire grey keys, or to mix them into our licensed key pool in order to enhance profit. But we don’t condone this behaviour at all. For us, it’s all about offering the best customer service. Education is vital. Ultimately, grey keys put less money in the hands of game developers. These are the people who earn a living by making the games we all want to play tomorrow, and you should never bite the hand that feeds. Grant Hughes is PR and partnerships manager at digital retailer Fanatical, which has sold over 60m game keys to customers in over 200 countries since its launch as Bundle Stars in 2012.
“Grey keys are hurting the games industry. Why should you care? Because grey keys are a major factor in driving down the price of a new game.” April 2019 MCV 945 | 19
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o say we’ve been inundated with entries for this year’s 30 Under 30 would be an absolute understatement. Yes, we said it last year, and probably the year before... But really this year we have been absolutely blown away – we received over 10 times the number of entries we needed to put the list together and to witness such an outpour of talent was incredible and humbling. Opening our list to development talent for the first time, the competition to make it to the final shortlist was fierce – and frankly quite heartbreaking
at times. We've done our best to represent every aspect of our increasingly broad and eclectic church: from data analysts to influencers, artists to business developers, product managers to game designers. It just remains to congratulate those of you who made it and thank everyone who entered and nominated their peers – you’re the future of the industry and based on everything we’ve read in those entries, that means the UK games industry has a very bright future ahead. Congratulations to you all!
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EMMANUEL AMARDIE-MENSAH Senior key account manager, Click Entertainment
LOTTIE BEVAN has been going from strength to strength since her debut in the industry in 2014. Having previously worked at BeefJack and Failbetter Games, she co-founded indie studio Weather Factory in December 2017. In 2018 she became a BAFTA Breakthrough Brit, won Forward Ladies’ London Start Up of the Year, founded Coven Club (a monthly women in games support meet-up) and launched BAFTA-nominated and commercial success Cultist Simulator. “There’s seriously no challenge she can’t overcome,” said one of her supporters, highlighting Bevan’s helping hand, “incredibly rare in this industry,” and her “love for spreadsheets.” They concluded: “Before you know it she’ll be tackling resurfacing Mars or time travel.”
ONE of two senior key account managers at Click Entertainment, Emmanuel Amardie-Mensah has been promoted three times in the past three years, having joined in 2015. His work has been described as “critical” during Click’s early expansion, successfully opening up regular business with the distributor’s biggest American clients, which culminated in the development
LOTTIE BEVAN COO, Weather Factory
ALEX CALVIN Editor, PC Games Insider
AFTER starting out in the industry as a staff writer at MCV, and working with Games London on the second annual London Games Festival, Alex Calvin joined Steel Media in 2017 to launch B2B site PC Games Insider. Described as a “leading voice in games business journalism,” Calvin has also brought together a diverse range of voices to discuss the issues of the moment in his work programming content for Steel Media’s PC Connects events. As a freelance writer, Calvin has had bylines in outlets including Eurogamer, Kotaku and The Observer. A supporter, whose identity we’ll protect, has asked us to report that Calvin, at 29, is also a relic.
and incorporation of Click Entertainment USA. On top of finding a large number of clients for the company, he’s been successfully coaching and developing other sales people, all while completing his Masters in Strategic Marketing & Sales Management. Described by his peers as a “key figure within the team,” he was praised for his maturity, work ethic, tenacity and huge potential.
JASON BENTHAM Head of analytics and data science, Jagex
TAKING a placement during his university degree, Jason Bentham first started at Jagex in 2010 to work in the player support department. Passionate about RuneScape and the industry, he made his mark and was offered to return at the completion of his degree. On return, Bentham joined the analytics department as a reports developer and has worked his way through the department to become the head of analytics and data science at the age of 28. Now responsible for a multi-disciplinary department of data analysts, scientists and engineers, he’s contributed to Jagex’s continued growth and has set the vision for the department going forward. Bentham also invests in people via training and mentoring, nurturing future analytical talent in the game industry.
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JAMES CHEW Writer and narrative designer, Failbetter Games
AT only 29, Charlotte Cook already has almost ten years experience working in the video games industry, having gained a head start towards the end of university life. Before joining Genba Digital in 2016, Cook worked as digital distribution account manager at Sega for four years, having found her calling during her time working in digital sales at Take-Two Interactive. She quickly made her mark on the commercial side of the Genba Digital business, thanks to her wealth of industry insight and knack for relationship-building. Now heading up the commercial team, she continues to have a significant influence on how Genba’s digital game distribution business is conducted.
WRITER and narrative designer James Chew has made extensive contributions to Sunless Skies, which launched to critical acclaim earlier this year and was praised for its writing. His input ranged all the way from item and shop descriptions to companion storylines, to entire ports. Chew also took the lead on overseeing the ongoing operation of Fallen London, Failbetter’s free-to-play browser game, writing seasonal content to keep players
CHARLOTTE COOK Head of commercial, Genba Digital
GEMMA COOPER PR manager, Bandai Namco
HAVING just joined Bandai Namco, Gemma Cooper started her career as a volunteer for esports gaming events while studying for her degree. She then worked for Warner Bros, Swipe Right PR and most recently as associate PR manager on Creative Assembly’s Total War. A Women in Games Awards nominee and one of GIBiz’s Top 100 Future Talents, Cooper’s recent successes include contributing to manage the campaign for Total War: Three Kingdoms. A strong advocate for women in games and engaging the next generation of talent, she was described as a “role model,” with this supporter adding that “it should be clear to anyone that she’s a growing force of nature within the industry.”
engaged. He also assumed creative responsibility for Fallen London’s monthly subscriber stories, which involved working with a range of freelancers to deliver an extensive piece of interactive fiction every month. We were told that Chew’s work with freelancers is “exceptional” as he was praised for his “diligence, patience, deft knack for character writing, and empathetic approach to collaboration.”
STEVEN DILLON Games designer, Rare
STEVEN DILLON started off as a community intern at Rare, before being promoted to community manager, then community experience designer and now game designer. Since joining the Sea of Thieves studio in July 2017, he has helped get its verified Discord server up and running, worked on TwitchCon 2018 and designed some of the studio’s latest content. Dillon has had quite an inspiring journey to the games industry, having been expelled from secondary school at 14 and then working in retail (including at GAME) for about ten years. Having no grades to go to college, he eventually managed to convince a lecturer to take a chance on him in 2015 and started studying Game Design at Plymouth City College. Now having his dream job, he’s a prime example that it’s never too late to pursue your passion.
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LAURA DODDS Senior artist, The Chinese Room HOLLIE EMERY Freelance producer
AFTER leaving teaching to follow her dream of working in games, Laura Dodds graduated from the NFTS in 2017 and was quickly snapped up by Dream Reality Interactive. There, she was rapidly promoted to head of art working on Arca’s Path, Orbu and Hold the World, with her colleagues praising her “amazing interpersonal skills, collaborative management style and natural visual flare.” Now at The Chinese Room, she’s believed to “make a big impact in character and environment-driven storytelling,” with others adding that she’d be an “indispensable asset to any team.”
OLIA FADEEVA joined Riot Games UK in 2018, after four years at Wargaming as product manager where she was the link between the dev team and the players. At Riot, she has quickly become indispensable, her coworkers told us. As the product lead for Riot’s grassroots esports offerings, she works directly with the head of UK esports to grow the UK League of Legends Championship, help further the esports ecosystem and ensure players have an opportunity to rise through the ranks, thanks to her “calm but authoritative manner, attention to detail, product knowledge and people skills.”
STARTING in QA at Team 17, BAFTA member Hollie Emery worked her way up to eventually be the producer on Overcooked and Yoku’s Island Express, having also contributed to Worms W.M.D. and The Escapists franchise. Emery has recently taken the leap into freelance production and is assisting indie developers in finding publishers and consulting on projects. She’s already helped to secure work on a licensed IP for one of the largest game studios in Europe and developers working with her said she’s been a “lead pillar of their core development team” and “one of the best young producers in the British industry.” She was also described as a “talented, focused and diligent producer” whose energy, creativity and optimism cannot be matched.”
OLIA FADEEVA Associate product manager, Riot Games
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DAN FOSTER Development lead, No More Robots
AFTER a six-year stint at Team17, where he had a hand in numerous big-name projects including Overcooked, Worms and The Escapists, Dan Foster joined indie label No More Robots in November 2018, providing technical support for small teams. In only a few months, he’s completely rewritten PC title Not Tonight to work across Nintendo Switch, Xbox One and PS4, and has been helping development team RageSquid with Descenders’ online multiplayer aspects. His colleagues “can’t believe [they] managed to steal him away from Team17” and said he’s “capable of raising the spirits of any team he’s a part of.”
DAVID JONES Design director, Bulkhead Interactive
HOLLY GORDON Senior QA tester, Rocksteady Studios
A master of multi-tasking, Anne-Lou Grosbois-Favreau is PQube’s marketing team leader, managing some of the firm's most successful products such as Cat Quest, while also being its event manager and its voice on social media. Going fresh into the games industry three years ago, not long after her move to the UK from Paris, she has since risen through the ranks, being promoted time and again to tackle bigger and bigger projects. She is known for her creativity and determination to make her products a success, hiring cats for a marketing stunt, or dressing up as an octopus for a trailer.
DETERMINED to be a career advocate for QA, Holly Gordon started her career in games at Sony Interactive Entertainment in 2015, before landing her first onsite tester role at Guerrilla in Cambridge in 2016. Now at Rocksteady Studios, where she was quickly promoted to senior QA tester, Gordon has been a shining example of the critical role QA has in games development. Part of BAFTA Crew Games 2018/19, Gordon has been said to work “diligently and tirelessly” with an “exhaustive understanding of game design and technical requirements.”
ANNE-LOU GROSBOISFAVREAU Senior product manager, PQube
“FROM a farm on Wales, to games university course, to start-up game studio, to an investment from Square Enix” is how David Jones’ career so far has been summed up to us. Jones is one of the founders of Bulkhead Interactive, where he designed, wrote and programmed critically acclaimed title The Turing Test. Jones helped the studio grow from six students in a room to a 35-strong team with
multiple studios in different countries – a growth that ultimately led to an investment from Square Enix. While he will be leaving Bulkhead this summer to pursue indie ambitions, Square Enix said his work was “a key part of why [it] chose to invest in the studio.”
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GREG LOCKLEY Business development manager, Fanatical
GEORGE OSBORN has had a successful multifaceted career in the industry so far. Having begun his career as a journalist with bylines appearing in The Guardian, Eurogamer and GIBiz, he’s also collaborated to broadcasts for BT Sport, BBC and BAFTA and successfully organised business conferences such as PG Connects in 2015 and Games Forum London in 2018. On top of that, he co-founded Games4EU, a grassroots movement to fight against Brexit, is an ambassador for SpecialEffect, created charity event Gamerbake and still found the time to become Ukie’s 30 Years of Play campaign manager this year.
RIA PATEL Influencer relations manager, Square Enix
AFTER graduating from the University of Worcester with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism, Greg Lockley started his career writing for PCR and then MCV. In June 2014, he made the leap into online retail, joining Fanatical (then known as Bundle Stars). Through “hard work, dedication and a willingness to learn,” as his colleagues have told us, Lockley has
GEORGE OSBORN Founder, Go Editorial
RIA PATEL worked at Microsoft/Xbox for over a year before joining Square Enix in 2015 on the marketing team, working across a bunch of major titles including Final Fantasy XV, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Dragon Quest Builders and Kingdom Hearts 2.8. She has since joined a team working specifically with influencers, working as a point of contact for them for all things Square Enix and quickly becoming an “indispensable member” of the team, her colleagues said. They added that she’s been ”playing a key role in the success of Square Enix’s campaigns” and that she has “a very bright future ahead of her.”
quickly risen from the role of licensing executive to business development manager. Working with external developers and publisher partners to create exclusive deals and bundles for Fanatical’s rapidly growing global customer base, Lockley’s work is said to have been instrumental in the growth of the retailer's product range.
KIRK QUILAQUIL Concept artist, nDreams
CONCEPT artist and illustrator Kirk Quilaquil most notably worked on Sea of Thieves, on top of a successful freelance career, before joining nDreams last year as part of its growing 2D team. In a short space of time he has proved to be an essential asset to the company, we’ve been told, inspiring the development teams with his stunning work. He was particularly praised for his “easy-going positivity and abundant creativity” which “shines in all his art from sketches right through to polished key art pieces.”
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ANTONELA POUNDER Senior brand community manager, 505 Games AARON ROOK Social media manager, Ubisoft Reflections
“ANTONELA POUNDER would hate to be on this list,” one of her supporters jokingly told us – so not only are we putting her on the list but we also want to reveal that she’s been one of the most nominated people of this year’s 30 Under 30. With previous experiences at studios such as Ubisoft Reflections and NaturalMotion since her debut in the industry in 2012, Pounder is now the spearhead of 505 Games’ community management team, having been promoted to this position a year ago and now working on a global scale, taking leadership on the company’s social guidelines and training new CM across the world. Passion, enthusiasm, never failing to impress, will to go above and beyond, drive, compassion and inspiration are only a few of the many things that her peers have told us about Antonela Pounder.
DANIEL SCALES Co-founder, Four Circle Interactive
HAVING worked in the gaming industry for just over three years, Ruby Rumjen just joined Warner Bros as international PR manager and is now responsible for eight different territories in Europe. Rumjen started her path in the games industry at Rubber Road back in 2015 after a few years in tech and finance and worked at Bandai Namco as its UK and Ireland PR manager for almost two years, executing an array of creative ideas and strategies.
WITH a previous career in Formula 1, Aaron Rook transitioned to the games industry in 2017, with Codemasters being a natural fit to start with. He moved to Ubisoft Reflections in 2018, working on The Division 2's launch. He’s been described as “an excellent live-stream presenter and a wonderful ambassador for the brands he works on” with some of his former colleagues at Codemasters saying he’s “inspired some of [their] best campaigns with his ideas and can-do approach.” His new Ubisoft co-workers added that he “is poised to become a world-class communications expert.”
RUBY RUMJEN International PR manager, Warner Bros
WE’VE been asked to add Daniel Scales to the “list of people who should be considered a national heritage” but we only run 30 Under 30 so here he is. As a programmer, Scales worked on Nunnageddon and 10 Second Ninja X, having co-founded Four Circle Interactive with Dan Pearce back in 2013. He's also one of the masterminds behind the Norwich Games Festival.
His work on the latter has been praised by everyone who nominated him, with “his optimism, passion, and unerring commitment to opening games to all” being a key aspect. A supporter added that he’s “helped many people through the anxieties of exhibiting and overcome the inevitable imposter’s syndrome” and “has selflessly done so much to help new talent reach the next level.”
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SOPHIE SMART Producer, Coatsink
BAFTA Games Crew member Sophie Smart has worked in the games industry for the last five years and has released multiple games in that time, including Kingdom Two Crowns and BAFTA nominated Gangbeasts at Coatsink, having previously worked at Hammerhead VR for nearly three years. She also actively works with women and queer people in games, supporting them with their first steps into the industry and has ran multiple workshops for Stemettes, an organisation that helps young girls into STEM based subjects.
JONATHON WILSON Lead designer and producer, Pocket Money Games
DANNY SWEENEY Character artist, Creative Assembly
STARTING in the industry as an intern at Sumo Digital as a motion capture animator on Hitman 2, Abbie Willett’s proactive attitude led to taking on the day-today responsibilities of running the Sumo animation team and becoming an integral part of the development of Hitman 2. Her colleagues at Sumo have told us that she strives for quality, always going the extra mile, not taking “that’ll do” for an answer and excelling in leadership despite being a junior. Part of the BAFTA games crew, Willett also strives to inspire young game designers and gave her first industry talk at the Yorkshire Games Festival this year.
WE received so many nominations for Danny Sweeney that the word count could have filled two pages of MCV. Described as “an essential member of the character team at Creative Assembly,” Sweeney joined the studio in 2014. “Hardworking, passionate and totally dedicated to his work,” Sweeney has made an impact not only inside CA but also outside, with one of his characters used as part of a tutorial in 3D Artist magazine and another of his models added to the game as a Make-A-Wish Foundation wish. A speaker at various events such as EGX, he’s also involved in school outreach to help teach and lift young potential game makers up.
ABBIE WILLETT Junior animator, Sumo Digital
JONATHON WILSON joined the industry in 2013 as level design and QA intern at Nosebleed Interactive. He joined Coatsink in 2015 as lead designer before moving over to Pocket Money Games in August 2018. His “commitment to aiding young and fresh talent is inspirational,” one of his supporters said, with Wilson being involved in organising game devs meetups in the
North East, delivering talks at Unite Berlin 2018 and EGX 2017 and volunteering to give portfolio reviews. Both a member of the BAFTA Crew and a STEM ambassador for games, Wilson has been praised for his “knowledge, enthusiasm and willingness to teach and inspire.”
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LIZ WRIGHT Build master, Mediatonic
IN under three years, Liz Wright has pioneered and built tech innovations that have accelerated development across Mediatonic’s entire business, helping projects run more efficiently and predictably. Despite not having any experience in games before joining, Mediatonic was impressed with Liz Wright “right from the start,” with colleagues describing how she “quickly became aware of the challenges faced by project teams, gaining knowledge at a truly incredible rate.” Wright has single-handedly unified all Mediatonic’s projects into one single build system and she has been so successful in her role that the firm had to invent an entirely new role within the studio for her – build master.
LANA ZGOMBIC Associate producer, Bossa Studios
DESPITE a relatively short four and a half years in the video games industry, Lana Zgombic has helped produce seven games in that time, including Chilled Mouse’s Warhammer Quest and Chime Sharp, 22cans’ The Trail: Frontier Challenge and Bossa Studios’ Surgeon Simulator CPR. She’s also sat on the jury for several BAFTA Games Awards (on top of being a member of the BAFTA crew), volunteers as a STEM Video Game Ambassador and has organised the Guildford Global Game Jam three times running.
“...artists, game designers, animators, writers, testers, producers, community managers...” LILY ZHU Lead artist, Splash Damage
HAVING worked in the games industry for over a decade at the likes of Realmforge and Ubisoft, Lily Zhu has shipped numerous PC and mobile titles including Assassin’s Creed Identity. Since joining Splash Damage in 2016, she “has made the transition from passionate artist to inspiring leader,” her colleagues have said. Engaged in advocacy for women in games within the
studio, Zhu also supports women across the industry via mentoring, and was nominated for our Women in Games Creative Impact Award in 2018. One supporter said they had “yet to meet someone as hard working and dedicated to their craft as her.”
Honourable Mentions Will Buck King / Nicholas Bull Ubisoft Leamington / Alasdair Hibberd Wired Productions / Pip Hoskins No More Robots / Izzy Jagan Indigo Pearl / Joe Kinglake Sumo Digital / Sean Oxspring Dambuster Studios / Nicolas Pirot Rocksteady / Joe Skrebels IGN UK / Pete Stewart Creative Assembly / Michelle Vinall Mediatonic /
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Ins and Outs: Industry hires and moves 1
Former marketing coordinator at Rewind BEN MALTZ-JONES (1) has been appointed social media and marketing executive at Rebellion. He previously worked for the likes of Nintendo, OMUK and Ripstone. Improbable’s former chief creative officer, BILL ROPER (2), has left the company for a new role at indie studio Author Digital as chief creative officer. In an interview with VentureBeat, Roper explained he wanted to return to making games. HALEY UYRUS (3) has returned to Mediatonic as marketing and communications manager, five years after a stint there as QA tester. Her previous experiences also include working at BeefJack and, most recently, at Failbetter Games for three years. Codemasters has a new director of communications as former EA head of communications SHAUN WHITE (4) has joined from Gfinity. He commented: “I’m excited to have joined the highly talented team at Codemasters. Their racing
titles set the benchmark for quality within the games industry and I’m looking forward to playing my part in the company’s continued success.”
Dead Good PR has a couple of new recruits. JAKE KULKOWSKI (5) is the agency’s new media and influencer consultant, having previously been a content creator since 2015. Meanwhile, LILIAN ESCOMEL (6) has also joined the Montreal Dead Good PR team as junior PR consultant.
JADE RAYMOND (7) has joined mega corp Google as a vice president ahead of the Stadia launch. Raymond left Ubisoft in 2015 to found EA’s Montreal studio, Motive, but left in a shock departure in October 2018 after its first project – Visceral’s Star Wars game – was cancelled. Pole To Win International has promoted DEBORAH
KIRKHAM (8) to the role of CEO. Previously, Kirkham was president and COO – a position she held for eight years. In her new role, Kirkham will be responsible for the company’s continued growth, focusing on R&D, and customer acquisition and retention. Former executive producer at Rovio and director of product at Big Pixel Studios WILL LUTON (9) has announced the launch of his management consultancy for games, called Department of Play. It was actually silently founded back in 2018 and has already delivered projects for companies such as Jagex. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds creator, BRENDAN GREENE (10), has stepped down from the battle royale’s development team to launch PUBG Special Projects. Relocating to Amsterdam for this new venture, he’ll be focusing on “building out an entirely new division to focus on research and game development.”
Valve alumni CHET FALISZEK (11) has partnered with former Riot Games’ principal technical designer KIMBERLY VOLL (12) to launch new studio Stray Bombay,
which will focus on cooperation. The team wants “to create games that give players a place to breathe and live in the moment. Games that tell stories knowing you are going to come back again and again, that change each time you play them without feeling completely random, and that help you feel like a real team that supports each other.”
Associate editor SAM LOVERIDGE (13) has been promoted to editor of GamesRadar. Formerly gaming editor of Fandom, Loveridge previously held similar positions at Digital Spy and Trusted Reviews. GamesAid has appointed Altered Gene’s DES GAYLE (14) as its new vice-chair. Gayle first joined GamesAid in 2015. As a video game producer, Gayle’s professional experience includes work with EA, Microsoft, Crytek and Square Enix. He replaces outgoing vice-chair Christian-Peter Heimbach. DAVID BOWMAN (15) has joined Creative Assembly as studio development
director. Formerly the VP of product at Darewise Entertainment and the VP of production at Telltale Games and Crytek, Bowman brings over 20 years of industry experience to this new role. Curve Digital has hired MICHAEL FISHER (16) as product manager. Fisher has over six years of experience working in product management, QA and community management and joins from PQube where he had a focus on the Japanese games market. Marketing director Rose Buahin commented: “Michael is a strong addition to the team and we’re so pleased to have him on board.”
GameStop has named GEORGE SHERMAN (17) as its new CEO and member of the board of directors, succeeding Shane Kim, who has served as interim CEO since May 2018. Former associate PR manager at Creative Assembly GEMMA COOPER (18) has joined Bandai Namco UK as a PR manager. She said: “I had an amazing time at CA, but I’m incredibly excited to be moving on to Bandai Namco to work on a variety of fantastic titles.”
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Every month, we pick the brain of an up-and-coming talent
Katie Clark, product manager, Sold Out colleagues who have helped me learn that my opinions are vital in the work I do. What do you enjoy most about your job? So many things! It’s great to be able to see all the facets of game development, from marketing to production and everything in between; it’s been a great way to learn how the industry works. It’s also really exciting to work on such a huge breadth of games, such as the hilarious Overcooked 2 from Team17 and the adorable pet sim Little Friends: Dogs & Cats. Meeting other people in the industry and the fans at shows is also fun and super inspiring.
How did you break into games? I run a guild in Final Fantasy XIV, and love organising and running events for the community. Due to this, I became well known by Square Enix and other members of the industry. Then, while I was in Japan lapping up all of the incredible video game culture, I got the call from Sold Out asking if I was interested in a product management role. They heard of my proactive nature running the guild and also what a passion I had for video games as a whole. I was thrilled to be given the chance to turn my hobby into a career. What is your proudest achievement so far? I joined Sold Out while they were gearing up for their biggest year yet. During my probation I was entrusted with some big responsibilities,
such as helping to organise the first company corporate event and helping with the boxed version launch of Jurassic World Evolution for Frontier Developments. I was promoted from associate to product manager within six months and I feel really proud that I was able to do the company justice during the first steps of my career. What’s been your biggest challenge? The biggest has been validating my thoughts and opinions on video games and the industry, and the confidence to have more of a voice on them. It’s not something that has come naturally to me in the past, as I’m always thinking of other people’s perspectives and how they might have the ‘correct’ one. Luckily I have a great manager and a great company of
What’s your big ambition in games? I would love to carry on learning and working my way up in the marketing, PR and community fields as I have a strong interest in these sectors. Hollie Bennett, former PlayStation Access Channel Manager, is a huge inspiration for me because of this. She is such a strong representative of female gamers in the industry who are passionate about what they do and have excelled in all these fields. I’d love to be able to get to the point where I can actively inspire others with my work. What advice would you give to someone trying to get into product management? The main thing is making sure you let your passion for games run away with you. Want to organise a video game event or meet up? Do it! Want to meet like minded people for inspiration and ideas? Go for it! If you let the passion drive you into action, get out there and meet people, and don’t fear rejection or feel like you’re not good enough, you’ll be surprised how far you can go and where your ideas can take you.
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Cherry picked advice to help you reach the next level in your career
Benjamin Ellis, business development executive at Team17, tells us about the importance of a commercial mindset and an understanding of the business of games communication, organisation and workload management amongst other things. If you have a solid understanding of business development, coupled with a passion for video games, then you’re in a really good spot.
What is your job role and how would you describe your typical day at work? My job title is business development executive, which for myself is split into two areas: managing the accounts of the digital distributors and working as part of our product acquisition team. Depending on the time of year, my day-to-day workload can change quite significantly. Typically, I’m either speaking to developers, organising promotions with our partners, getting everything in place for game launches or organising our attendance of events. We’re a relatively small team so rather than having a very defined role you get the opportunity to involve yourself in many aspects of game publication. The variation is something that I really love about this role. What qualifications and/or experience do you need to land this job? There are no specific qualifications needed
“Communication skills are vital, we spend a great deal of time speaking to people from all walks of life.” for the role but it’s very important to have a commercial mindset and a fundamental understanding of the business of sales. My time at university taught me great lessons in how to manage time, how to manage projects and how to collate information and make it presentable. Additionally, having spent almost ten years in business development and account management, I’ve managed to acquire a solid knowledge of areas such as sales,
If you were interviewing someone for your team, what would you look for? The commercial team is still growing at Team17 so it’s important that anyone who joins is affable and can work well within a smaller team. Communication skills are also vital, we spend a great deal of time speaking to people from all over the world and from all walks of life so it’s important that a candidate should have the confidence and poise to be able to conduct face-to-face and phone conversations with CEOs, developers, platform holders or whoever it might be. It’s also crucial that you understand video games, how they’re developed and the people that buy them, as well as a good knowledge of Team17 and our values. What opportunities are there for career progression? I believe that if you’re in an industry that you’re passionate about, and you’re willing to learn, then the sky is the limit. There are several branching paths from business development, from working your way up within the department, to moving into licensing, to moving into more strategic roles and long-term business planning. There are also people I know that have found that their skillset is better served in another department and have moved into things like marketing. It’s an industry with a lot of options and plenty of people willing to learn.
Want to talk about your career and inspire people to follow the same path? Contact Marie Dealessandri at email@example.com
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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 Coatsink to come and join them? I am very passionate about video games and more specifically indie games. Naturally, I was excited when I saw what games Coatsink develops and publishes. Before I applied for the community manager role, I had played Phogs at Gamescom. I really enjoyed playing it back then and kept track on their social media channels. This is one of the reasons why I was really keen to join them! What’s the culture like at Coatsink and what’s your experience been like in terms of fitting in? It’s an incredibly relaxed and friendly environment. We’re an ambitious team that works very closely together to achieve our goals. I didn’t struggle to fit in because of that. Whenever I have questions my colleagues are more than happy to help me. Communication is incredibly important and helps in solving all issues. I felt comfortable in my new position right away. What are you most excited about bringing to the role? I am excited about bringing new ideas and creativity into our team. I cannot wait to meet new challenges and master them as best as I can. There really is no right or wrong in social media management, it’s about trying out new things and seeing how the community reacts to it. Sometimes a quick post does much better than a post you worked on for a while. Most importantly, you always have to try out new things to keep your channels interesting. What will working at Coatsink do for your career? I am still very new to the games industry and I am looking forward to gaining more experience in managing communities and running social media campaigns. I can’t wait to create content with my colleagues and get to know gamers at events like PAX or EGX and show them what we’re working on! What I really like about Coatsink is that I will get to meet people all over the world who will play our games. This is also why I enjoy being a community manager: you get to meet people who share your passion. What would you like to say to anyone thinking about or undertaking a job move in this industry? The most important part is being passionate about games! I couldn’t imagine managing social media channels for games if I didn’t enjoy them. Another piece of advice I could give you is that you shouldn’t give up. The right opportunity will come for all of us!
Name: Selina Schrimpf Studio: Coatsink Job Title: Community and social media manager Education: BA English Studies & Philosophy, University of Cologne
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Iterating for Better The way you write job ads will have a significant impact on whether or not women will apply for the positions. MCV investigates AS far back as 2011, research by US academics Danielle Gaucher, Justin Friesen and Aaron C. Kay revealed that the types of words used in job advertisements have a direct effect on the recruitment process. The name of the research paper says it as it is – Evidence That Gendered Wording In Job Advertisements Exists and Sustains Gender Inequality – and it will come as no surprise that words such as ‘assert’, ‘lead’, ‘dominant’ and ‘confident’ are termed as male-coded. Sadly, eight years on, it would appear that things have changed very little, with new data suggesting that 60 per cent of UK industries show male-bias within their job ads and overall job ads contain 17 per cent more male-coded wording than female-biased text. Of course, this doesn’t mean that women don’t identify as assertive, confident or as leaders. It’s about how they respond to job ads on an unconscious level – they will be put off applying for a position if the ad or job description uses a disproportionate level of male-biased words. So, what are the words that women – subconsciously – identify with? That’s anything from ‘collaborate’ to ‘committed’, ‘interpersonal’ to ‘loyal’, ‘supportive’ to ‘trust’. If you want to encourage diversity, the advice is not to avoid masculine words, but to ensure that plenty of feminine-coded words are used too. Recruitment specialists tell us more.
Tamsin O’Luinaigh CoSec and talent director, nDreams The language and tone of a job advert is incredibly important. It is a window into the culture of the studio and the attitudes of the hiring manager. There is certainly scope to communicate a role in a way that is not accessible, or less appealing, to everyone. A simple example is that women can be put off when an advert is full of words typically associated with dominant or assertive language. Focusing on wording that evokes collaboration can potentially be much more accessible. At nDreams, we are fortunate to have a management team committed to wanting to increase the gender
diversity within our studio. We have worked with the team to help them understand how language in job adverts can unconsciously impact applications so that they consider it when writing adverts.
Meg Daintith Recruitment manager, Codemasters I am particularly aware of this at Codemasters, because, as racing specialists, so much of the motorsport vernacular can be male-oriented as well as the games job itself – it’s a doublewhammy! We need lots of talent to make our games and we certainly can’t afford to put off half the population. As a woman I have a natural learning toward a female tone, but I still use tools such as the Totaljobs gender decoder to do regular checks. To a degree, adverts will inevitably reflect the current status within the industry. It’s key to remember it is unintentional however – the blame-game isn’t helpful or necessary. It’s important that proactive industry reach-out work continues so we can rise above video games being seen as a boys club. Visiting schools and careers events is particularly valuable to raise awareness that with the right passion and talent, a career in games is open to everybody.
Claudia Cooney Lead director, RightTrack Learning Until we raise awareness of unconscious bias and teach people strategies to mitigate their effects, we will continue to see an impact. If, for example, we unconsciously associate admin roles with female candidates we may, without necessarily realising it, write the job advert with female-biased words. The opposite might be the case for sales roles or senior positions. We need to raise awareness of unconscious bias and the importance of being vigilant, in order to create a double-check situation that ensures a fast ‘gut-feeling’ is followed by slow analytical thinking. There is merit in using an online tools to scan the job advertisement for male or female biased language in order to flag, identify and edit the copy if necessary.
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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STADIA Is cloud gaming finally ready for take off?
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The death of consoles! The next billion gamers! The Netflix of games! Cloud-based gaming has all the hype. With Google finally showing (most) of its hand at GDC, Seth Barton talks to critics, supporters, analysts and those working in the still-fledgling sector about its potential
oogle has bided its time when it comes to entering the core gaming market. The tech goliath has long been involved in gaming of course – Android being arguably the biggest gaming platform on the planet. It also provides cloud services for many games and hosts an incredible variety of gaming-related content on YouTube. But even so, Stadia is a big, big step forward in its gaming ambitions. Of course, Google isn’t alone in this space. Cloud gaming, or game streaming if you prefer, is where the big boys of tech are getting their kicks at present. Microsoft demoed its xCloud technology just before GDC, Tencent is ready to launch its service in partnership with Intel, while Amazon reportedly has its own technology set to
join the party – plus EA has made noises about its Project Atlas. Google looks like it’ll be the first to launch but it’s still very early days in this new gaming battleground. Tot all those efforts up and that’s an awful lot of heavyweight financial firepower being aimed at the incumbent ecosystem. So just what has the humble games console, which has faithfully served the market for so many years from beneath our TVs, done to deserve this incoming salvo? PUBLIC ADDRESS Friction is the key term here. Mobile gaming succeeded in bringing millions, if not a billion, new gamers to the
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Pictured above: Herman Narula, Improbable CEO
industry, and all thanks to the trojan of smartphone ownership. The core games market, though, still requires that you buy dedicated hardware to play, which is a significant hurdle when it comes to expanding your audience. While some cloud gaming services will undoubtedly look to take market share away from current platforms (Stadia for one will definitely target core console players) the biggest draw for those investing in the technology is to create a much larger addressable market altogether. Explosive growth is evident to Piers Harding-Rolls, director of research and analysis of games at IHS Markit: “Cloud gaming is relevant to all gamer use cases and screens. In the future gamers could play triple-A games across TV, PC and mobile device screens, and play when they want. Will all mobile gamers want to play high-end games? No. But it could potentially expand the audience of console games from 150m to several hundred million.” Javier Polo, CEO of PlayGiga, which provides cloud gaming services to publishers and telcos, agrees with that assessment: “Publishers like Ubisoft, Microsoft or EA have recognised that there’s a big gap between the 150m or so ‘hardcore’ gamers and the 2.3bn people worldwide who play video games in one form or another. Microsoft is more cautious but has said that the cloud-based video
Gorillas in the cloud Stadia’s hardware is a silverback-like heavyweight, the headline figure being its powerful ten teraflop GPU, which easily outmuscles the current six teraflop Xbox One X and four teraflop PS4 Pro. It also has a fast, server-class CPU, in order to handle more complex game worlds and higher frame rates, and it comes in a fetching orange. For the more technically-minded, the currently-available specs are listed below: ■ Custom 2.7GHz hyper-threaded x86 CPU with AVX2 SIMD and 9.5MB L2+L3 cache ■ Custom AMD GPU with HBM2 memory and 56 compute units, capable of 10.7 teraflops ■ 16GB of RAM with up to 484GB/s of performance ■ SSD cloud storage
game platforms could expand the total addressable market by at least four times.” Joseph Knowles is director of communications at Hatch, which is offering a cloud-based, mobile-first, allyou-can-play subscription. He tells us: “[Cloud gaming] has the potential to radically grow the addressable market. We estimate an addressable market worth about $20bn (£15.3bn) by 2023. That’s according to research by PwC, Newzoo, Statista and our own internal research.” Growth could be huge then, and if Google specifically is looking to sway players away from ever buying another games console, then it’s already got a sizeable beachhead in consumers’ homes. “IHS Markit data shows that there were an estimated 71m Google Chromecasts active in the market at the end of 2018,” Harding Rolls tells us. And each and every one of those devices is now a potential route for Stadia to reach consumers’ TVs. Inevitably, even such inexpensive hardware dongles will surely become unnecessary. Google already has YouTube and its Play Movie store on millions of TVs, including most Samsung and LG models to name just two manufacturers. It seems inevitable then that TV apps for Stadia will come to such TVs as well, and Google’s long-standing relationships with TV manufacturers could prove key. PLAY ANYWHERE Stadia and other streaming services aren’t just targeting TV-based gaming however. Stadia has been demoed across pretty much every device with a reasonably-sized display, while Microsoft’s xCloud was first demoed live on a mobile phone. Being able to play the biggest games on a phone is a big boon of course. But then arguably the biggest game in the world already runs on a phone, as Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney reminded us when we asked him about his initial take on Stadia and the possibilities for Fortnite on that platform: “It brings up some very interesting trade offs. With a platform like Stadia you have over ten teraflops of GPU power but then you have bandwidth and latency that you have to cope with. Alternatively you could perform the game directly on the device, so you have a lot less computing power, but you’re not constrained by bandwidth. “I think the point is, that opening up more services and more possibilities to gamers just enables everyone to pick the solutions that work best for them. I think in a rural area where you don’t have good internet you’re going to run a local, wired device, and in a place with an awesome 5G network, a streaming solution might work better for you.” That raises the question of whether consumers will pick a pure cloud gaming service, such as what Stadia is offering
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with its low-friction approach, or whether a hybrid service, with both cloud gaming and a console will prove more popular – which seems to be Microsoft’s approach. Digital Foundry’s Richard Leadbetter, a veteran journalist and technical expert on gaming technology, agrees the company is looking to expand its current local approach: “From Microsoft’s perspective, [cloud gaming] is about expanding the potential audience by primarily targeting mobile devices. From my perspective, the missing part of the puzzle is the control interface as touch screens suck for console-style games.” HANDING IT OVER Yet, even with the high-end technical issues of latency and the huge investment that such services require, cloud gaming still has a far more prosaic problem: getting a suitable game controller into the hands of all those new players. Even console games streamed from the cloud require a proper controller and with typical models costing upwards of £40 it could be a very simple, but still very significant, stumbling block. Tellingly, both Google’s announcement at GDC and Microsoft’s recent xCloud demo utilised traditional-looking gaming controllers. And at first Microsoft looked to be somewhat ahead of the competition here, having seeded millions of potential controllers to Xbox and PC gamers around the globe already. So Google’s masterstroke was to co-opt those very controllers, and millions more, by supporting essentially any PC-compliant gaming controller that your laptop or desktop will recognise. For tablets and phones, consumers will simply need a Bluetooth-compatible controller – and again, look no further than Microsoft’s current model. Finally, Google has announced its own controller: the only consumer-facing, Stadia-branded hardware in the entire ecosystem. And while it may look pretty ordinary, it’s actually very clever indeed, as Harding Rolls points out: “Google’s novel approach to include
wireless connectivity in its game controller so that it can communicate commands directly back to the cloud server is an interesting solution. Rather than connect the controller through Bluetooth and open up a return channel from the connected device, a direct connection with the internet removes some latency and also enables controller support for connected devices that do not have Bluetooth.” That means most notably Chromecast. On the downside it’s still a piece of hardware that consumers have to buy in order to play games streamed to their TVs, which muddies the waters of the cloud gaming dream somewhat. But Google is still off to a good start in this area – so good in fact that others will likely have similar approaches. STRUCTURAL ENGINEERING Based on initial hands-on testing by Leadbetter, Stadia looks to have the problem of latency fixed, at least for those with suitably fast internet connections. Realworld testing in more challenging conditions looked positive when Google ran its Project Stream test late last year. In short, it looks like the technical issues that plagued previous cloud gaming services have, for many at least, been solved. To achieve that Stadia uses a discrete high-powered server blade in a nearby data centre for each and every current player. In relation to that, Leadbetter talks us through a possible scenario: “If we’re talking about mass adoption of streaming, this is primarily an issue of infrastructure. Let’s say that a title with the importance of Red Dead Redemption 2 hits a streaming platform. Whoever is hosting the game needs to be able to spin up hundreds of thousands of servers concurrently – perhaps even millions if the platform really takes off. The cost implications for this are staggering. “If you’ve paid for access to a game and you can’t access it owing to a lack of servers, the service will fail. So, fundamentally, the mass adoption of streaming is more about logistics than technology issues. Before we talk about image quality or latency issues, the
Pictured above from top to bottom: Hatch‘s Joseph Knowles, Digital Foundry’s Richard Leadbetter, Network Next’s Glenn Fiedler
“Will all mobile gamers want to play high-end games? No. But it could potentially expand the audience of console games from 150m to several hundred million.” April 2019 MCV 945 | 41
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Pictured above from top: IHS Markit’s Piers Harding Rolls and Epic Games’ Tim Sweeney
Pictured below: The Wi-Fi connected Stadia controller
games need to be actually available – and also from an infrastructure perspective, the user needs decent bandwidth for the system to work effectively.” Glenn Fiedler is CEO of Network Next, which looks to improve the responsiveness of traditional online games. Though before that he wrote network code at Pandemic, PlayStation and Respawn. He comments: “The internet is not really ready for game streaming yet, but the good news is that companies are building new infrastructure and edge data centres closer to users all the time, so it’s heading in that direction.” Although Fiedler warns: “You’d have to put in so many data centres so close to players that I wonder, wouldn’t it just be easier for players to play games on a PC or console? It’s going to come down to the business case. Will enough gamers want to stream games?” Putting a price on the infrastructure required is difficult, with so many variables to consider, even in terms of the product being served, as PlayGiga’s Polo notes: “The investment required depends on a number of parameters, including the type of service offered. GPUs have been a key cost item in this business. PlayGiga is GPU agnostic. This means that we can use the traditional Nvidia cards, but also less expensive general purpose cards, such as Intel or AMD cards, to achieve the same performance but at a much lower cost.” Thanks to that, he says, the price of the service to a provider is around $10 a month per subscriber. The price of providing Stadia’s high-end service to consumers may be considerable.
Olivier Avaro, founder and CEO of Blacknut, which is already streaming a catalogue of over 250 games to numerous devices, also champions the public cloud over dedicated hardware services: “Blacknut is running on the public cloud with partners such Amazon, Microsoft or Google. This infrastructure is already deployed and growing everyday. Luckily, the market for AI has been driving the compute requirements towards more powerful GPUs in the cloud. Likewise, in the past five years, network operators have been accelerating the deployment of fibre making the bandwidth required for cloud gaming available in every home.” All that said though, the current numbers of GPUs in the cloud would certainly struggle to support a game launch on the scale of Red Dead Redemption 2, returning to Leadbetter’s earlier scenario. The Register reported just last year that AI researchers had maxed out the current GPU capacity at times. And the investments required to bring game streaming to the mass market go well beyond that, as Leadbetter expands: “GPUs, CPUs, storage, memory – you name it, a service provider is going to need to supply it. The cost implication is vast, limiting the amount of companies who can handle a truly mass market platform to the likes of Microsoft, Google and Amazon who have vast cloud setups in place. Or companies like Apple, who have the funds to compete with those three.” IHS Markit’s Harding Rolls agrees: “Building and maintaining a cloud gaming infrastructure is not cheap, so those best placed will have deep pockets or their own data centres… I think the commercial implications of operating cloud gaming services means that this is a slower transition than many expect.” A two-tier system then seems inevitable, with the biggest players having their own networks, while others use the ever-improving public cloud. PlayGiga’s Polo tells us: “To have two massive technology companies [Microsoft and Google] announce a move into streaming games suggests the scale of the opportunity and has put the spotlight on independent and neutral technologies as a solution for publishers that don’t want to cede control to [them].”
“You’d have to put in so many data centres – wouldn’t it just be easier to play games on a PC?”
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE It’s worth noting at this point that historically console manufacturers have invested huge sums in selling consoles at little or no profit to consumers in the past. So
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the industry is hardly unaccustomed to investing now in order to accumulate later. Inevitably it’s consumers, and publishers via their platform fees, which shoulder that cost in the end. While placing hardware in the cloud is expensive upfront, it’s potentially more efficient than helping seed hardware into gamer’s homes, with no idea of how much they’ll use that hardware and how many games they’ll buy. All but the most dedicated gamers will only play a relative handful of hours out of their week. So the current 150m-odd PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles lie dormant the vast majority of the time. Stadia or xCloud hardware would be utilised in a far more efficient manner by numerous gamers over any given week. Plus, either service could put that same GPU to work for AI, financial services and scientific research when no one is playing games on it. Of course, increasingly, gamers are playing games in the cloud already in some respects, with huge numbers of dedicated servers required for running battle royale and other technically challenging online games. In which case moving the client there, alongside the server, makes a lot of sense. For that reason, Improbable CEO Herman Narula enthuses when we ask him about Stadia’s impact on gaming: “Huge, huge, huge. It’s an incredible step and I would say it means that people who are using Stadia have almost no reason not to use Spatial OS because you’re already doing all the cloud-based stuff. I think it will be a big win for everybody.” QUITE CONTENT The great unknown for major cloud gaming services, and Stadia specifically, is just how they will charge consumers to use them, and how developers will get paid. Cloud gaming is often conflated with subscription services, as there are strong synergies. “Beyond infrastructure, it’s more about curating a range of great content and getting a good Netflix-style deal together for the consumer. You can see where Microsoft is heading here with Game Pass, and I’ll be interested to see how the others compare,” Leadbetter says. However, such a payment model isn’t the only option, and it seems likely that Google will go with a straightforward retail strategy at launch, simply because it’s a huge challenge to negotiate a suitably-competitive content library in time for launch later this year. Martin Reeves, CTO at online retailer Fanatical tells us: “The Google Stadia announcement was hugely impressive from a technical perspective. I suspect the lack of information on a business model is at least partly due to Google realising that getting the right publishers and games onto the platform is going to be critical to
gain traction. Therefore the triple-A publishers may have more of a role in shaping Stadia’s initial business model than Google would like. “Some form of subscription model seems inevitable but it is conceivable that Google is forced by publishers to take a more traditional approach at launch with pricing on a per game basis. Another possibility is something similar to mobile phones, with a pay-as-yougame model in addition to subscriptions.” Content is obviously a concern Google shares, as the company has launched its own first-party studio to help bolster its offering: Stadia Games and Entertainment. That’s a pretty typical move for a new platform, but it doesn’t follow the company’s usual pattern. After all Google doesn’t make mobile games or movies for instance, it provides digital retail space, but it does not (to date) compete in that space itself. Harding-Rolls comments: “While its new first party studio is a step in the right direction for Google to build its own content exclusives, it will still need to negotiate timed exclusives with third parties to start to compete more significantly with those with major games portfolios. If Google is serious about competing, the likelihood that the company will acquire studios or even a publisher must be considered high.” All that said, the most likely strategy out of the gate is a retail one, with the same 30 per cent fee that Google charges developers on the Play Store at present – the same base figure as Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo charge. Though it may need to sweeten that deal as the newcomer. Overall, Google’s Stadia is deeply impressive. It’s set the bar for anyone brave enough to follow in the footsteps of the search giant. It’s arguably the biggest move since Sony announced the first PlayStation and it looks set for similar success. And we haven’t even had space here to discuss YouTube, possibly the greatest single marketing tool any company could bring to bear in support of a new gaming platform. With hardware required and with a well-populated subscription service looking unlikely at launch, Stadia can’t quite live up to the long-hyped ‘Netflix for games’ mantra, but it’s arguable no one really can. Still, the fact we’re mainly discussing business issues shows just how far we’ve come in the ten years since OnLive was the first of many high-profile failings in the sector. Will cloud gaming be good for the industry as a whole? It’s too soon to make any serious predictions but if we see the kind of overall growth that analysts are predicting then that would be a very big yes. However, in order to maintain a healthy and competitive industry, we’re hoping at least one serious competitor to Stadia is unveiled by this year’s E3. So stay tuned, because these clouds are going to whip up a storm.
Picture above from top to bottom: Blacknut’s Olivier Avaro, PlayGiga’s Javier Polo and Fanatical’s Martin Reeves
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www.gamescom.global International Business Media Services Ltd. 42 Christchurch Road Ringwood BH24 1DN | United Kingdom Tel. +44 1425 48 68 30 | Fax +44 1425 48 68 31 email@example.com
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Pictured below, clockwise from top left: Chella Ramanan, Mike Anderson, Jodie Azhar, Des Gayle, Nida Ahmad, Moo Yu and Adam Campbell
Breaking the walls down Following the launch of POC in Play, Marie Dealessandri discusses representation and inclusion of people of colour in the games industry with co-founders Adam Campbell and Chella Ramanan
s we go to press, technical producer at Harebrained Schemes JC Lau just finished giving her GDC talk. But before she reached that point, she had to queue to pick up her speaker badge – nothing unusual here you might think. But when you’re a person of colour in the games industry, even something as mundane as that can be a hurdle. While queuing, on three separate instances, security guards approached her to point out the line was for speakers only. She explained on Twitter: “I didn’t see any security asking the white men in the line if they were speakers. I asked the guard if he also asked the guy in the line behind me if he was a speaker. He vaguely announced that it was the speaker line. Yes, I know I’m in the speaker line. Because I’m a speaker.” She continued: “Now, I’m a short woman of colour with pink hair. I probably dress young for my age. But despite that, I can’t help but think: do I not look like a game developer, let alone one that would speak at a professional conference?”
JC Lau’s experience at GDC was shared thousands of times on Twitter, with the hashtag #WhatAGameDevLooksLike getting hundreds and hundreds of reactions – with many sharing similar stories. She then highlighted the irony of the situation: she was at GDC to speak on a panel about building an inclusive game studio culture. And that is why we need organisations like POC in Play, which launched in the UK at the end of February. Co-founded by Azoomee’s games manager and BAFTA member Adam Campbell and indie developer and games journalist Chella Ramanan, in partnership with Ustwo Games, it aims at addressing the lack of representation and inclusion of people of colour in the UK games industry. But in order to increase diversity, it would help to have the right data upon which we could build practical measures. And that’s where it starts getting sour already. “One of the big problems with diversity statistics is that they’re very outdated. Not many organisations actually commission this kind of
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research partly because the priority is not seen as very high,” Campbell starts explaining. “The last UK-based thing we had was a Creative Skillset survey back in 2015.” In an industry as fast paced as games, four years feels like a lifetime – picture this: 2015 is pre-Overwatch games industry. Back then the Switch was only known as the ‘NX’ and Hideo Kojima was still working at Konami. That Creative Skillset survey from 2015 stated that four per cent of people in the UK games industry were black, Asian, and minority ethnic. “That was actually a reduction of half a percent on 2012,” Campbell points out. “A more international-based survey by IGDA in 2017 stated there was less than one per cent black people in the games industry globally. “In terms of what I’ve seen over the years it’s quite interesting because I’ve seen some improvement but at the same time none at all. When I started in games back in 2009, I remember the first ever games job I had, in a fairly big studio – about 300 or 400 people – I think I was the only black person. One thing that’s been very persistent over the years, even though I’ve started to see more diversity, is that people of colour in leadership positions are still very much absent across the board. So there hasn’t been a huge change over the years but I think there’s a lot more visibility about the issue in general.” Ramanan’s work history is in the same vein. “My experience in the industry is I’ve usually been the only woman and the only person of colour in the room often times,” she tells MCV. “In terms of journalism, I did a shout out last year to find more women of colour in the UK games media and there were basically three black women, which I was really shocked by. So it’s not just in terms of development and production of games, it’s actually writing about games as well. There are a lot of areas where we need to make inroads, and of course that leads into representation in the games themselves.” Representation on screen is one of the many steps that should be taken that could lead to better representation behind the scenes, Ramanan continues. “There is no ‘first step’, there’s got to be multiple steps,” she says. “We have to accept the status quo that the current gatekeepers of the stories we’re telling and the characters that are in those stories are primarily white middle class guys. So we need to ask them to write more representative stories, to not only put black men in urban, American gang culture types scenarios, to not perpetuate stereotypes of east Asian women being submissive or being really good at kung fu... Just being mindful of the way they’re telling stories or even just thinking about their character being, I don’t know, Afro-Brazilian or
Egyptian. That’s just a key step because then when people see themselves represented in games they’ll think: ‘Well, maybe I can write a game!’ and that’s what we want – we want more people entering the industry and to create an industry that supports them once there are here.” To achieve this, the role of the education pipeline is crucial, to encourage young people of colour to join the right curriculum but also make sure the games industry is depicted as a viable career path to them. “The education pipeline is super important, if not the most important thing to get more people in the industry,” Campbell agrees. “There are a lot of good colleges and universities that do fantastic digital and games courses but unfortunately there are still fundamental structural issues which exist within the industry, within the education pipeline, perhaps within the approach of educators.” There’s an easy response to this though – and it has to come from the industry. “One of the potential solutions is trying to get more people from the industry into schools that have underrepresented people,” Campbell says. Connecting with schools would also allow studios to help with getting rid of “cultural pressures which may also influence the type of careers that people are going to choose,” he continues, adding that speakers could “explain to the population who don’t see video games or programming in games as proper careers” that they indeed are.
“Recruitment and retention of talent are a key focus.”
BRINGING PEOPLE TOGETHER The first practical step for POC in Play is to organise monthly meet-ups, with the inaugural meeting happening right as we go to press, at Ustwo’s London studio. “By having a major monthly meet-up we have this direct hub where we can bring people of all walks of life to learn more about the industry, to connect to each other. Even if you don’t work in the games industry, it’s a place where you can have that sharing of knowledge and experiences and ideas,” Campbell explains. “And that will help inspire people to get into the industry. We’ll bring on speakers as well, to pass their knowledge, and we’ve also got plans for workshops where you can directly tackle some of those fundamental skills gaps that some individuals entering the games industry will potentially have and also look into things which specifically affect ethnic minorities and people of colour.” Ramanan is keen to highlight that POC in Play will not only be London-focused, with the monthly meet-ups stepping outside of the capital as soon as possible: “We’re looking for support, regional partners who might have a studio or a space, maybe in Birmingham or Manchester,
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or one of the major hubs outside London, because that’s a really important aspect of reaching more people,” she says. Companies who are interested in partnering with POC in Play can get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org, whether that’s to offer a space to organise a meet-up or to get involved in a workshop. “We’re interested in practical solutions for developers as well as recruitment,” Ramanan continues. “Recruitment is one step of the entire process which then leads towards culture change within the industry so that there isn’t a loss of talent. Recruitment and retention of talent are a key focus. We can offer our perspective about things like where to use your advert, as the games industry tends to share job opportunities within its own confines, which means that access gets lost to a lot of people. “POC in Play can help bring down some of those walls. For instance, the language you use in your job adverts can also mean that people self select themselves out. Maybe the faces you’re using to represent your studio in your advert, if they’re overwhelmingly white men, then you’re going to get that self selection process again because it might not be a welcoming space. Things like that are practical tips we can offer.” Campbell adds: “When it comes to recruiting diverse talent, it’s always one of those things about which many games studio managers constantly say: ‘I just don’t know how to recruit enough people of colour’ or ‘I don’t know how to recruit enough women’. And I think directly engaging with these guys and organisations is the strongest avenue we have. We can definitely help with those perspectives.” Adam Campbell and Chella Ramanan are not alone to carry out this mission, of course. POC in Play’s launch team also includes freelance UX analyst Nida Ahmad, Ustwo Games’ Mike Anderson, Teazelcat Games’ Jodie Azhar, Altered Gene’s Des Gayle and Foam Sword’s Moo Yu. As we briefly discuss Mike Anderson’s experience as a BAFTA winning producer for Monument Valley, and being the only black person on stage that day, the discussion broadens to other entertainment industries and whether or not the film industry, for instance, is doing better than the games industry in terms of inclusion. “I think the film industry is not as far ahead as it sometimes appears,” Ramanan tells us. “I mean today on Twitter I saw black actors complaining that they have to do their own hair because the hairdressers provided can’t do that or can’t do their makeup. Even though it’s a fundamental step. Cinema is 100 years old and you can’t
put makeup on people…” she says with a sigh. “I think there are lessons to be learnt but we turn to Hollywood so much and repeat their mistakes.” In the music industry, it’s a different story altogether, but one we can definitely learn lessons from as well, as Campbell highlights. “The age of those industries perhaps changes things slightly. Music is interesting because the background in culture has really strongly influenced some of the genres that became popular,” he starts explaining. “So if you think about R&B or dance hall or reggae, you can see different regions which have exported these powerful genres. And the diaspora of those different communities have continued it and adapted it. But the difference is that we don’t really have that in the video games industry. “Not that long ago there wasn’t really much of a video games industry in Africa for instance. The industry is mostly dominated by the USA and Japan, with Europe inbetween. So you don’t really have that same kind of: ‘Oh this is a unique genre that comes out of this region’. ” Mentioning how the games industry is “more insular” than music or film, he then continues: “One of the things that is good is that people often say that if you have a video camera you can make a film and that opens up access to everyone via YouTube. And games are starting to go in the same direction. There’s a democratisation of games in terms of how we can make them. It’s a still a privilege to have access to a computer but if you do have access to a computer you can now get major game technologies for free. That’s a powerful change in our industry.” Ramanan nods: “If you look at the strengths of the UK games industry, the voice it produces is not quintessentially British.You know, we’re not producing Downton Abbey: The Video Game. If you look at TV and film, there is a certain Britishness quite often in the films we produce but it’s not the same in games. It’s quite a different beast – we don’t have a sort of world games sector like cinema has. Everyone expects it to conform to this western cultural ideal.” Maybe that’s one of the steps that need to happen then: the games industry hasn’t reached that level of maturity and globality for it to be more inclusive. But we’re hopefully getting there. “I have a feeling it won’t happen naturally,” Ramanan however points out. “We need to help it... Smartphones, access to technology and game making tools are going to create those thriving indie markets hopefully, which will then ingrain in the bigger industries.”
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MCV-MAR19-GAME CONNECTION:MCV-MAR19-GAME CONNECTION 22/02/2019 09:15 Page 1
Heaven’s Vault was the Ukie UK Game of the Show at GDC this year, judged by the MCV team. Seth Barton catches up with developer Inkle’s co-founders to talk about their passion for language, in all its many forms
nkle loves words. The studio has approaching 30,000 lines of dialogue in its upcoming PS4 and PC game, Heaven’s Vault. All of that text is then managed by a custom scripting engine which generates narrative on the fly by mixing and matching conversational topics from that huge library of lines. But that’s not all, for Heaven’s Vault also contains an entire invented hieroglyphic language, which the player, as far-future archeologist Aliya, must decode as the game progresses. With the title coming out in less than a week, after four years in development, we had a chat with Inkle co-founders Joseph Humfrey (art and code director) and Jon Ingold (narrative director) to discuss the game, the powerful scripting technology behind it, and all those lovely, lovely words.
A game in which you play an archeologist is a pretty unusual starting point – that is discounting Lara Croft, who spends more time shooting things than she does digging for relics or translating ancient languages. Humfrey tells us that the idea for a sci-fi archeology game came to Ingold in the middle of night – possibly related to binge-viewing Stargate. Ingold laughs and notes: “That’s a coincidence. I do like Stargate but it’s not really about archaeologists, it’s mostly a military show. But the hook is space archaeology,” he accepts. So Ingold researched the “golden age of archeology” in the early 20th century: “But the more you read about it the more you realise it’s a complete marketing spin on a bunch of very rich people who paid their academic friends to go and steal stuff from other countries.”
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“I definitely don’t want to suggest that our character is Dr Hanna,” Ingold however notes. “She’s a real person with a real life and she probably doesn’t want to be dragged into the game’s spotlight.” Humfrey adds: “When we came off the back of 80 Days, which was itself massively focused on diversity, we both had this sense of: we’ve just done a game about two dudes travelling the world so let’s see if we can tell a story about some other kind of person.” What persists is the two-hander structure, with Heaven’s Vault’s Aliya accompanied by her talkative robot sidekick Six.
But this kind of acquisitive colonialism didn’t appeal to the eight-strong team. “Then I started trying to read about more modern archaeologists, I found this lady called Dr Monica Hanna, who is an Egyptian Egyptologist, who has been working since the Arab Spring uprising to prevent looting,” Ingold says. He goes on to explain that Hanna was trying to prevent Egpytians from looting their own museums, which represented to many the widelydespised government of the day. And it was that which made Ingold realise that “archaeology could be relevant politically, in the modern world.” He continues: “It’s not just cultural tourism, it’s actually live political matter right now and that made me think: ‘Actually, this is something I can write a story about’.” This also, in part, explains the studio’s motivation behind its choice of protagonist: “Having drawn from that, the idea of casting our archaeologist as anyone apart from a woman of colour seemed just absurd really.
VAULTING DIMENSIONS The shift of protagonist isn’t the first thing that strikes you about Inkle’s latest title though. Its previous titles, the Sorcery series and 80 Days, are text-based adventures at their cores, evolved from, but not entirely dissimilar to, the Fighting Fantasy choose-your-own-adventure books (which the Sorcery series is based upon). Heaven’s Vault is still predominantly text-driven in its storytelling, feeding you conversation options constantly as you explore. However it has a wholly-different presentation, with a full 3D world to traverse. Though it didn’t start that way, Humfrey explains: “We started off thinking we were going to make a 2D graphic novel, essentially the next step up from 80 Days, which is very prose-based. I’m a very visual person, I’ve always been keen to add more illustrations. So we were originally thinking we’ll make a graphic novel where each panel is semi-procedurally generated, dynamic and interactive. “So we started creating 3D worlds, but purely so that we could position the camera and dynamically compose comic book panels. We still loved the idea of having 2D character art which is hand illustrated and really emotive. We love that.” That moveable camera, though, meant the illustrator had “to draw [Aliya] from every possible conceivable angle,” Humfrey recalls. “We moved the camera around and in Unity we got this quite nice sort of comic book that comes alive.” Which is why the game has a somewhat unusual style, with full 3D environments overlayed with hand drawn 2D character art, which animates only in keyframes as you move. The effect is somewhat divisive at first glance, looking akin to a flipbook animation. The upside of the method is the beauty of 2D art in a 3D environment, but without the potentially huge workload. “Instead we used that time making more characters, more gestures, more human beings and more environments – stuff that actually gives narrative juice,” Ingold explains. “It’s a funny one, because people coming
The UK Game of the Show at GDC was organised by Ukie and supported by VR development studio Fallen Planet
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Pictured above: Inkle co-founders Jon Ingold and Joseph Humfrey with their UK Game of the Show award at GDC (top) and the full dev team in Cambridge (bottom)
to the game quite often say: ‘You’ve got a really unusual look’. But when they play the game, if you ask them after 30 minutes what’s going on, they’re like: ‘Oh, we went to this place, and talked to this person and there was this...’,”quickly forgetting the art style as they get caught up in the story. Humfrey adds: “We’ve also leaned into that art style because it’s a game about history and about memories. We did little extra touches so if she stands still for more than a moment then you move off then there’s this image of her that slowly fades away. Which all ties into that theme of archaeology and history quite nicely.” INKING OUT LOUD The graphics may be cause for comment, but driving this futuristic tale of archaeology forward are hundreds of thousands of words of dialogue. Ingold is the writer on
the project, which is created using the studio’s own Ink engine. It’s open source scripting software, which here is working alongside Unity. But moving from a structure of interrelated text entries in their previous titles to a full 3D world required some serious thinking, Ingold explains: “You can’t make a branching narrative and put it in a 3D world because I could go from you, to him, to you, to the door,” Ingold points in rapid succession around the room. “And the branching narrative falls over because it doesn’t know where you are. You have to solve this problem.” The key was to create a system that could give dialogue to the player in a less rigid, but still relevant manner as they traversed the game world. “The big innovation that we have in Heaven’s Vault is the narrative director, it’s the way that we feed conversation in all the time. So in something like Firewatch you have that radio that you can talk to while you’re walking around. In Heaven’s Vault, we do that but the conversation is always available, you can always talk to the robot [Six] at any point when you’re walking between locations,” Ingold explains. “It took a while to set up the right pattern to make the conversation system work. But now if you think of a line of dialogue that we want them to be able to say, then you put it into the system, and you say that under these conditions it’s relevant and under those conditions it’s no longer relevant,” Ingold explains. He gives an example: “So you’re walking around and Aliya says: ‘That wood looks a bit like the wood on my boat’. And the robot will find a conversational topic about your boat: ‘How long have you had your ship Aliya?’. And then they’ll spin off a conversation from that. It’s making sure it is relevant to what you’re doing, so it’s not just random side chatter, it’s core storytelling, all the time, at any time.” The technology to achieve this feat has been built up over eight years. The company’s games started as traditional branching narratives, with specific text for specific situations. Dream sequences inserted into the later Sorcery games proved that they could plug in extra parts of storytelling in a less rigid manner. Meanwhile, 80 Days had a bank of ocean-crossing tales, which where then tweaked to fit circumstances at that point in the narrative. “Heaven’s Vault does the same thing with all of its dialogue, feeding it in when it needs to,” Ingold says. “But if they don’t have anything meaningful to say right now they’ll look into a wider bank of more generic topics and if they don’t have anything there then they’ll look into a bank of slightly semi-procedurally generated topics.” Humfrey continues: “Heaven’s Vault is the first time that we’ve really meshed them, in that one can spark
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“The idea of casting our archaeologist as anyone apart from a woman of colour seemed just absurd really.” the other, going from specific to general and back again and it just comes together as one,” he tells us proudly. The pair call this ‘narrative tweening’, filling the gaps between the keyframes of the story so to speak, in direct contrast to their approach to animation. Speaking of visuals, Ink also directs the camera, making sure it’s appropriately-placed for the exposition at that point and this, combined with the text-driven storytelling, means that Ingold has been able to make major script alterations, rewriting entire scenes as desired, even in the last few months of development, when most games would have long locked down their story beats. “I have been redrafting content on quite significant levels. This whole scene? I don’t like any of it, I’ll rewrite all of that. That takes a day, but it’s now 100 per cent better. I can do that. Whereas if we are a Rockstar, then that’s just not possible, everything’s a cutscene.” And Ink is being used well beyond Inkle: “Where the Water Tastes Like Wine and Falcon Age are written in Ink, and we just discovered today that Sea of Thieves is written in Ink,” exclaims Humfrey. HEAVENLY SYMBOLS With so much to discuss in this intriguing game, it’s taken a while to get around to talking about (though thankfully not in!) Inkle’s own invented language. The pair just refer to it as Ancient, and decoding the hieroglyphic language is the key gameplay element of Heaven’s Vault. “We spent a while thinking about what archaeologists actually do,” Ingold begins. “It’s quite a lot of digging stuff up, and quite a lot of gluing pots back together and none of this actually sounded as good as it did in the middle of the night. But the idea of translating hieroglyphs was one that really stuck with us.” Humfrey continues: “We started it more like a traditional cryptogram puzzle. But the more we developed it, the more we wanted to push it in the direction of real linguistics and making it a pictogram puzzle as well, so that you can use all these different sources of information, like what does the symbol look like. Does it look like something from the real world?” Because of that, they were “influenced quite a lot by Chinese glyphs,” says Humfrey, which are more pictorial
than say Egyptian glyphs. “There are other influential languages, such as German, because a lot of its words are built out of smaller words. But we go way further than German, as all of the words are made out of little bits,” Humfrey reveals. The dictionary for Ancient is now up to a sizeable 3,000 words. “Linguists say that once you have a thousand words it’s a useful language. Once you learn a thousand words of say German then you can get by,” Humfrey tells us. Ingold adds: “And just recently it clicked for me, so that when people ask me to translate things into Ancient I can basically type them in and we have it.” But like the fluid dialogue system, the translation process isn’t hard-gated, so players aren’t forced to come up with the right answers to proceed, Ingold explains: “It took us about a year and a half to build a mechanic which gently levels up, so it’s more like the puzzles in The Witness than anything else: you get an idea, you expand your idea, you make a translation and what you choose feeds into the narrative. She’ll say ‘this is a temple’ or ‘this is a mausoleum’, based on the translation you guessed. What we don’t tell you is if you’re right. “So your assumptions, your guesswork, is usually pretty good,” he continues. “People tend not to go completely wrong but if you do get a wrong idea somewhere it can feed into the narrative, feed into your later translations and maybe you might clarify it later when you find another inscription and think: ‘This is definitely not a graveyard’.” Humfrey enthuses: “It’s a lovely process. And it really is similar to when you’re trying to work out what a word means in another language. If you see that it has commonality, you might say: ‘Oh it’s a bit like this Latin word’ or ‘it must have something to do with this’. And you have the exact same feeling playing Heaven’s Vault.” And in just a few short days, on April 16th, players will be able to experience that for themselves.
Pictured above: Aliya’s sidekick Six is always up for a chat
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VR GOES NEXT-GEN
Oculus’ $399 Rift S and Quest headsets are a huge leap forward in the VR platform’s maturity. Seth Barton talks to Jason Rubin
hree years on from the launch of the original Oculus Rift, Facebook’s VR division recently announced its next PC-based VR headset: Oculus Rift S, coming this spring. The new, much-improved headset will cost just $399 (no UK price yet). That’s the same as the outgoing model costs today, but $200 less than the original at launch. With a competitive price, inside-out tracking with no external sensors to setup, and controllers included as standard, the Rift S should be key in helping grow the VR audience. But just as important is that the Rift S sits alongside the recently announced Oculus Quest, the company’s all-in-one, mobile-chipset driven device, with both sharing the same controllers and Oculus boasting of the ease with which titles can be ported across, creating a single, mature platform for VR for the first time. We sit down with Jason Rubin, VP of AR/VR partnerships and content at Facebook, and Naughty Dog
veteran, about how Oculus has matured as a platform and the opportunities it brings to developers and publishers. How did you hit upon that $399 price point for both headsets? $399 is a price point that gamers accept – that’s often what consoles come out at, whereas the $699 price point we came out with, when we didn’t know how to optimise for price point, was not acceptable. 3DO figured that out! Consumers are used to paying a certain amount for hardware and then they expect a certain amount of software value to offset the price they paid to get the opportunity to play in that ecosystem. $399 is that point at which they say: ‘Oh, yeah, okay!’ It’s like an Xbox or PlayStation. I think over time we will constantly be trying to bring prices down. But right now this is the right price point for the two headsets.
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Pictured left: Jason Rubin, VP of AR/ VR partnerships and content at Facebook
With that price point do you think your predictions about how many units you’re going to sell are going to be more accurate? Rift was our first hardware product at Facebook, period. So our predictions as a company were not as accurate back then as they will be now. We’ve had three years since the Rift came out to really see what drives people and understand the things that consumers want us to deliver. We know that there are things we need to do, we’re on a path to get VR adopted by the mass market. So you’ll be able to give developers a much clearer idea of the size of the market? Yes. It gives us a much easier story about what the future looks like and we’re also a bigger organisation. We have the right people in place to understand two, four, six years from now, what the hardware will look like, what the impact of that hardware will be on the ecosystem, and we can have those conversations. When Oculus was young, when I started, it was a startup. We were doing everything we could to get the thing in the box and not paying attention to where we would be in three or four years. Now we have a plan. VR has never lacked diverse titles, but a more standardised platform should allow for even more experimentation? It does. I think a lot of that experimentation will happen on Rift. Then we’ll take the best of the experimentation and bring it to Quest because we believe the Quest user wants to go to the store and say: ‘Everything here is good’. Whereas on Rift, the users are just in love with VR and they want to try everything. And we find that people are more than willing to go into half-finished software. Early Access is not really a console mentality. It’s a PC mentality: ‘I know this thing’s busted but I’m buying it anyway.’ Do you have any examples of converting older Rift titles to Quest? It really depends on the title. So in a lot of cases my team in Menlo Park gets access to code from developers. In some cases we do the first pass because a lot of developers say: ‘I don’t know, it’s a mobile chipset, can it work?’ And we’re like: ‘Send us the code’ and then we send back something and they’re like: ‘Wow! You actually got that working’. And then they take it and they go from there. Presumably if they’re working on Unity or Unreal the process is more straightforward than with a proprietary engine? So if you look at the two PC games that are here today:
Stormland is built on Insomniac’s proprietary engine that is used for Spider-Man. It’s a very different task to take that and bring it to Quest, as it would be with Asgard’s Wrath. Both of them are graphic tours de force but Asgard’s Wrath is in Unreal and so has a path to port to a mobile chipset. So for them it’s just a question of: what do we lose? Or what do we need to change? But it can happen. If you look at Crytek and The Climb, Cryengine is not something that’s known for being low chipset intensive. It is cutting-edge, state of the art, pushing the limits. The Climb is coming – will it look exactly like it does? No, of course it won’t, but it’s coming to Quest. So if I’ve got a Rift title, what do I need to do to update the title for Rift S? There is no update for Rift S, it just works. It’s extremely low amounts of work. If any at all that needs to be done between Rift and Rift S. If there is something, it would be that there are differences in where you can and can’t see your hands for inside-out tracking. For example this is a very tough pose, right? [he puts both hands behind his back] Rift ecosystem to Quest ecosystem is often a much larger move, although if you’re using Unity and you went for a cartoony art style sometimes that isn’t that hard a transition either.
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When We Made... Baldur’s Gate
Marie Dealessandri takes a look behind the actually look atof you.1998 And even with that little bit of scenes at the development classic work, with the help of the animation and really smart Baldur’s Gate with Trent Oster, who discusses designers and engineers, with everybody working working in a team who hadn’t shipped a game together, you could tell from the very beginning that before, being outsmarted AI andthat building thereally gravitate she wasby a character people would toward.” game’s incredible cast – and yes, that includes Quill really becomes a fullydynamic fleshed out character with talking Minsc and Boo’s
Pictured above: Bioware co-founder and now Beamdog CEO Trent Oster
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 BALDUR’S GATE is thesetting. game It’s I’veaplayed the intimate most in lives her life in her familiar strangely my life, theone onewhich consistent of joint my gaming history. feeling, and gives pillar way to apprehension a clock ticking in my head, aareas. perpetual asThere’s both the playerconstantly and Quill enter new, unfamiliar countdown next time I’ll be playing it. There’s now “When you to gothe through Mousetown and you see Quill reassuring about me, going runsomething through there and you see Baldur’s that she Gate has afor hometown, to the Sword Coast almost therapeutic – I already theback feeling of her leaving it, ofis that town maybe being in know gives who’syou going to be my party (playingsays. Baldur’s danger, more of ainbond,” Alderson “If Gate andwouldn’t Jaheira isfeel notlike playing that partwithout was leftKhalid out, you thereBaldur’s was Gate), already know I’m going to losedone, all mythe reputation much to Ifight for. Everything that we’ve mood by killing DrizztQuill to get hisone scimitars, already I’m settings, taking from area to Ithe next know and letting going pretend won’t take the ring It’s of wizardry that’s you rest to and take inI this environment… all supposed outside Friendly Arm (because my brother to hidden exaggerate andthe accentuate thatInn mood that you’re told me when I was into a kidhow thatyou it’s are “cheating” and itwith stuck feeling. It all ties back connecting with me) but I then won’t be able to resist it. Quill and her world.” Knowing every nook and cranny of its universe already, you’d think I’d getWAYS bored of it after 20 years. SAME QUESTION EIGHT , But that’s the magic of Baldur’s Gate for me:ofit Moss doesn’t Collaboration was key during the development notget just within the team itself, but with the help of external old. So when Skybound Games announced a playtesters. People were oftentobrought in to feedback on partnership with Beamdog bring the game to PS4, Xbox One and Switch later this year, I thought this was just the perfect opportunity to look back at what made the classic RPG so memorable. And Beamdog’s CEO and founder Trent Oster sounded like the perfect person to ask, being BioWare’s co-founder and part of the original 1998 Baldur’s Gate development team. “I think first and foremost the key driver was to ensure we could capture the integrity of the Dungeons
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 the game, would be the thingabout that you’d &finish Dragons rules,”what he says when asked the fix?’ “Those bring”We a playtester intothat theirthe comfort game’s keyhelp pillars. understood wholezone, becausewas no one to play that people put system very wants complex and something that its character and its a lot of came care and love into and then turn around say flavour from that complexity. So we reallyand wanted ‘This is what like about it’. a little while to wade into Iitdidn’t and implement theSo ruleit takes system in such get that the playtester comfortable, we found atoway it would behave as youand would expectthat it to finding different ways to ask thesessions. same question means behave in pen and paper D&D you eventually get the force really as good the fourth or “Part of the driving wellstuff wasafter to have a fifth time you it. more mature, almost politicallyplausible and ask slightly “I don’t think anyone in our studio has that everplausible made a – I flavoured, plot. You could argue it’s not game the like guy this, is soessentially I think it’s important that you trust the mean trying to create a massive process. sure that war so heYou cantrust rise playtesting to becomeand the you Lordmake of Murder. Butyou allowdoing yourself some time and freedom to try something he’s it through political machinations. At that point and thenstories keep going. Try something fantasy were pretty soft. Younew wereand thebranch hero, out, but also usething, your experience you’ve you did the and in this from gamegames it wasthat much more made before It’s andayou’ll be fine. long as you’re having interesting... political thing,Asyou’re investigating. fun too! Wealso enjoyed playing There was a strong desire to throughout allow people play Moss thetoentire the archetypes thatthat theyreally imagined, process and I think helps.”that they held high.” This ability to play the game however you want, including as an evil character, is certainly part of the appeal. And then there’s what is, in my opinion, the most important pillar. “I think another part was really having an interesting cast of fun and engaging characters,” Oster says. “The entire cast is actually characters from [Baldur’s Gate’s lead designer] James Ohlen’s pen and paper campaign that he ran – so my business partner Cameron [Tofer,
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Beamdog’s co-founder and former Baldur’s Gate programmer], his character was Minsc and one of the other guys his character was Sarevok and somebody had Edwin and somebody was Shar-Teel... All these characters came out of this pen and paper campaign.” What made those characters engaging is they all had very unique personalities. Slow-witted, sweet but brutal Minsc for instance has to be one of the most memorable characters of the game – alongside his pet hamster Boo of course. “I think one of the big things was coming up with kind of a theme and having every character stick to their core beliefs,” Oster comments when we start chatting about Minsc and how the team made the world and its characters feel alive. “So Minsc is not very smart but he wants to do good. He doesn’t really think through what doing good requires, he just does the obvious thing that he thinks will do good. So he’s almost like an arrow that just go straight after what he sees. He’s really consistent and he’s fun because of that. And there’s always that question of: is Boo a miniature hamster with an incredible intellect that’s directing this character or is the character quite mad? We’ve never really cleared that up,” Oster laughs. I of course immediately ask if he wants to clear that up now, 20 years down the line: “Talking with James [Ohlen], because it’s his story and he kind of controls
it, he never wanted to empirically speak out about it,” Oster starts with a smile. “But I get the feeling he was leaning toward Minsc being a little insane. But I think the big thing is that a lot of the characters were created with flawed statistics. So Khalid is a fighter but his strength is only 12 whereas when you roll a fighter you’re maxing your strength. So Khalid is this fighter but he’s not very strong and that kind of lends a lot to his character and dictates who he is whereas his partner Jaheira is very assertive, very set in her beliefs as to what is right. I think being able to stick consistently with these themes of how the characters view the world and how they behave in that world really added a sense of richness that really hadn’t been done before.”
Pictured above: Nothing says retro PC gaming like a floppy disc-shaped save button, here rendered in lovely shiny gold
LET’S DIAL IT BACK With such a rich cast of potential party members and NPCs, nailing the game’s AI was instrumental. “I’d hesitate to use the term AI when talking about Baldur’s Gate,” Oster laughs. “So Baldur’s Gate script – called BGScript – is kind of a reverse Polish notation and it’s hard. It takes a while for it to make sense but once it starts to make sense you’re able to get it to do actually reasonably advanced things considering it has no math. It can’t do any complex math. It’s essentially a big If-then statement and you just kind of process through it. So the scripts actually became quite
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Pictured right: Jaheira is a good example of what BioWare wanted for the Baldur’s Gate cast: flawed characters who are consistent in how they view the world
complicated to just carry out what we wanted from advanced behaviours. And the funny thing is when we initially built the AI, it was too smart, it just tore the party apart. You’d get down to the bottom of the Nashkel Mines and you’d run into those Kobold commandos and they would target your spellcaster and boom, one turn down your spellcaster is dead, turn two the cleric’s dead... And it just destroyed the party and we were like: ‘Oh wow okay, let’s dial it back!’,” he laughs. “I think the goal was that there were normal combats – where you would engage and it would be a satisfying combat experience. And then there would be more challenging, almost boss-like, fights. The boss fights would be like a puzzle where you had to deconstruct what was happening.” What the team (and the AI) didn’t anticipate is so many players using the undead strategy: summoning lots and lots of skeletons in front of the target to serve as shields, with party members then using ranged weapons from a distance. “I think that’s one of the strategies that we never thought of early on. We didn’t think about how many
people would summon that many undead,” Oster confirms. “I think if I were to go back and rewrite it today I would specifically build an enemy just to take down the army of the dead defense – have a cleric that would just turn them all and suddenly they’re on their side,” he sniggers. Another innovation Baldur’s Gate popularised at the time was pausable real-time combat, replacing the more traditional turn-based approach. And if this seems like a given for isometric RPGs now, it certainly wasn’t back in 1998. “I think at the time we were really heavily influenced by Warcraft, we were playing a lot of it and it felt really good,” Oster starts explaining. “But when you threw a party in with the second edition D&D rules it turned into a hairball so fast, things were happening so quickly you couldn’t really control it. And we got talking about it and the feeling was that by going strictly turn-based it would just slow the gameplay down too much. So we kind of thought about it almost more like an [American] football game where it’s going and then you stop and you make a call, you make a play, and then the game continues on. As long as the game’s flowing well, don’t interrupt it. So that’s really kind of where the pause-in-play came out, it was us trying to keep the game flowing but at the same time trying to allow that additional element of tactics, thinking through your strategy and executing your strategy.” HOW HARD COULD IT BE? What makes BioWare’s success even more impressive with Baldur’s Gate, even 21 years after its release, is the fact that the team was inexperienced, with most of them having never shipped a game before. Oster worked on the studio’s debut title, Shattered Steel, before joining Baldur’s Gate’s development, making him one of the most experienced team members at the time. “So there were a few of us, two or three, who moved on to help on Baldur’s Gate, who had actually shipped a game,” he recalls with a smile. “But at the same time it was our first game and we had just shipped it and it was radically different technology so we were all just a bunch of farm kids going; ‘Eh, how hard could it be to make a video game?’ and very quickly we were like: ‘Oh my god, it’s so hard!’,” he bursts out laughing.
“There’s always that question of: is Boo a miniature hamster with an incredible intellect that’s directing this character or is the character quite mad?”
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On top of this, not only did the team have to build the game, but also its engine. “At the time you didn’t really have a choice, if you wanted to make a game that was different than what was out there, you had to build the engine,” Oster says. “Baldur’s Gate actually grew out of a DirectDraw demo that Microsoft put out. So the very original concept was a game called Battleground Infinity and it was like a Ragnarok of all the various deities coming together for an end of days battle. And that was the rough concept behind it. Lead programmer Scott Greig took the DirectDraw sprite demo for drawing 2D sprites and he basically hacked into it so that you could run a character around and you could have these little AI creatures wandering around. In the demo all you could do was right click them and smite them and then they would die. “So it was a very very primitive demo and when you look back at it it’s pretty staggering how Baldur’s Gate came out of that primitive thing but really the superpower of the Infinity Engine is that it was made by a team who is very Windows-centric, very database and data centric in terms of its approach. I mean historically video games have been made by very technical, hard core, hacker-y teams and this team was much more about data structure and really that’s what Baldur’s Gate does that other games didn’t do at the same period. Baldur’s Gate is throwing around hundreds of thousands of assets. There’s voice files, there’s scripts, there’s items, there’s sprites, there’s all these things that at a time when most games had 2,000 to 3,000 elements, Baldur’s Gate had 100,000 or more. And as a result that kind of data-centric
architecture that everybody focused on at the start really allowed that capability. There was literally no other engine at the time that could have done a game like Baldur’s Gate.” A HAPPY ACCIDENT Needless to say that Baldur’s Gate was a learning moment for everyone involved, reinforced by its incredible critical and commercial success that lives on even 21 years later. When asked about what he learnt that helped him later on during his career, Oster answers: “I think the key learnings were that data really matters, that you really need to think about how you’re going to say things and how things are going to be accessed. “And I think the other thing is to start with a fairly clear intent of what you want. Understand that you’re never going to know exactly what game you’re building when you start. But if you have an idea of what you want it to be, you can at least make little course corrections on the way there. “One of the other key learnings probably is to aim high. Because sometimes it gets even better than what you think it could be. You have this idea: ‘Oh yeah, it’ll be like this, there will be this character, they’ll say some words, it’ll be fine’. And then, working with [Baldur’s Gate publisher] Interplay at the time, they brought in great voice actors, like Jim Cummings to do Minsc, and the first time we heard those voices in game, our concept of what the game could be grew so much. It was like: ‘Oh wow, rather than being just kind of neat, this could be amazing’.” Overall, Oster wouldn’t change anything if he had to do it all over again, he says. “Considering the team we had, considering the experience we had, I don’t think there’s a lot of things I would change. It was the right approach at the right time with the right people to make it happen. And I don’t know if people really realise how lucky we were to have all of those things kind of fall together at the right time. You had video games moving from 32-bit extended DOS to Windows 95. You had a database background team available to hire in Edmonton. You had an art team that had never made anything before kind of built piecemeal and educated by the School of Hard Knocks: trying to do it, failing, trying to do it again, failing. “There is just so many little pieces that happened to come together at the right moment. I look back at it and if you changed one or two things, the whole game might fail. It’s just one of those amazing happy accidents that actually happened, we were lucky enough to pull it off and make a fun game that 20 years later people still enjoy.”
Pictured left: Minsc and his pet hamster Boo have become an iconic duo, with the fighter always trying to do good without really thinking things through
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The Sounds of... Olivier Derivière
Every month, we discuss the unique process of making music for video games. This month, Marie Dealessandri dives into the musical universe of composer Olivier Derivière, who’s behind the soundtrack of BAFTA-nominated 11-11 Memories Retold, plus The Council, Vampyr, Get Even, Remember Me and more How did you get involved with 11-11 Memories Retold and when in the development process did you get on board? I heard about the project when I was in Sweden giving a talk at Nordic Game Conference. I met with Yoan Fanise, who is the creative director, and he talked to me about the project – he was already working with Aardman but they were trying to find a publisher and the people that I was working with from Bandai Namco on Get Even got involved at the same moment. So it was like a reunion of the Get Even team to work on Memories Retold – very weird circumstances, where all the stars align! So this is how it started. I was involved at the early stages where nothing was yet done. So how does that compare to your previous projects? Do you usually start working on the music later in the project or is it the same kind of approach? It depends. Of course you want to be involved at the very beginning of the project to understand what the core of the game is but also to make sure the team understands that music is more than just music. For Memories Retold, it was quite unique because I was writing the music as they were writing the script, as they were doing the visuals, because time was very short.
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What type of material do you usually request from the studio before you start writing the score? Mainly talks… It is very difficult for people who do games to envision their own game because video games are very difficult to make. So of course you can request guidelines, artworks, references, you can understand what’s the very core of the intention, but it’s a long process for the people who are making the game itself. It’s very long and it’s based on failure. So this is why you want to be very close to them so you understand all of the steps.
For most of the games that I’ve been doing the sooner the better, and the deeper the involvement the better the results. Do you feel like you had an impact on the game’s development? Yes, I think it’s a team work. 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 them to express their concerns for the music. You know we had moments where it was like: ‘Should we do this for the music? Should we do that?’ It’s a conversation. Using a choir in Memories Retold gave the game a different dimension. Why did you make that decision? 11-11 is about kids going to war and becoming men. And the idea was that it would be good to capture this with the music. We couldn’t get a children’s choir because it’s very complicated to hire but what we did is that we hired specific voices, female voices, that are very close to young boys and girls, to sing. And the idea was that you would have those textures, those children-like colours, to capture what is in the actual game. It was kids going to war – they were like 16 years old, that’s crazy if you think about it.
Pictured above: Aardman and Digixart’s 11-11 Memories Retold, scored by Olivier Derivière. Using a choir, he wanted to capture the idea of kids going to war and becoming men
You mainly have experiences in games music when some other composers may have done a bit more films or documentaries – why were you attracted to video games music in the first place? Because I’m a gamer. And I think what video games are offering to players 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. So it’s very interesting to explore and push the boundaries as much as possible. 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. Do you have any tips for developers and how they can best help composers to make music for their game? Number one: music is people. And you need to talk to these people, you need to make them part of your own team. You don’t want them to be external from to development team because then it feels like they will never understand the substance of what you’re doing. So I think the developers need to go towards the composers but they need to have composers that speak their own language too. They 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. But what’s funny is that the core gameplay is a very basic Tetris game. And that’s exactly what I’m talking about: when you see a gameplay mechanic, what you can do with music can transform the experience into something completely different and that’s something that is very underrated, misunderstood, by a lot of people. When you understand that, you can extend [the devs’] vision, you can enhance the experience.
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DESIGNING a game is like designing a bridge. A great design combines beautiful form with robust function. Anyone who has seen a bridge can draw a picture and call it a design. It may even look good, but if you gave it to a construction worker and told them to build it, they would laugh at your childish efforts. Triple-A game design isn’t something anyone can have a go at and succeed. If it wasn’t infuriatingly difficult, bad games wouldn’t exist.
“Designing a game is like designing a bridge. Anyone who has seen a bridge can draw a picture and call it a design. But if you gave it to a construction worker and told them to build it, they would laugh at your childish efforts.”
The team at Creative Assembly helps us debunk some common development role myths. This month, Mike Simpson, creative director of Total War, explains how game design isn’t just something anyone can do
A game design must have both substance and style. Without style no-one will play it, but without substance there is no game. Making a game with charm and style is an art, but making it function perfectly is a science, and great designers combine artistic and scientific skills in equal measure. This allows them to get their designs right first time more often, so the whole team needs fewer iterations. Our universities produce thousands of graduate designers every year, a high proportion with first class degrees, but very rarely do they have both aesthetic and engineering skill sets, and even more rarely do they enter the course with the inquisitive passion for dissecting designs that will help them become great designers. So we generally recruit from any degree subject, looking for talent and an obsessive interest in games rather than specific skills. We build up our designers’ skills, so they get their designs right first time more often and don’t waste team time on unnecessary iteration. Everyone has an opinion on design as we all know what we personally like or dislike about a game. In addition, we have the expertise of our marketing and community teams in predicting player reactions to issues and highlighting trends. Generally, feedback should be treated as equal regardless of where it comes from – it’s whether it’s true that matters, not who said it. That’s an ethos which we hold at Creative Assembly; everyone’s opinion is valued and heard. But deciding how to act on that feedback using metrics and a deep understanding of what is happening under the hood, including cost and sequence of change, should be left to those with the strongest design skills in that area. That may be a programmer or artist, but most often it will be a designer-led collaboration across the disciplines. Without the full skillset and a deep understanding of the context, you’ll end up treating the symptoms rather than the cause, and the problem is just masked or moved.
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Casting the Runes
GAME updates are a weekly affair at Jagex. For the last 18 years, we’ve updated RuneScape and, for the past six years, Old School RuneScape, on a weekly basis. Last year, this meant adjusting our processes to include updating our iOS and Android clients for Old School RuneScape and RuneScape, currently in closed beta, so we could keep the updates rolling across both desktop and mobile. With that amount of experience behind us, the game update process is a comfortable part of continually expanding each game. But no matter how used we are to updating, we remain alert to the risks of an update not going to plan, or an issue cropping up in the live game which needs to be fixed quickly. We’ve found that there are two key measures of the quality of a launch pipeline: how safely you can launch an update, and how quickly (and safely) you can fix an issue if it arises.
Jagex’s developers visit us from Runescape’s Gielinor to talk about their latest adventures. This month, senior game engine developer Chris Knowles shares the company’s experience of over 18 years of live title updates
As with many processes, humans are often the weak point in the system. Even with a script to follow, we’re liable to make mistakes – therefore, the launch process should be automated as much as it sensibly can be. A fully automated process may be a step too far; there may be situations where a technical issue means an update needs to be aborted, and relying on a fully automated process to handle every possible failure case and stop when needed is probably unwise. Having a few breaks in the process where a human can check that the universe is as it should be is a great safety net. You probably don’t want your players downloading the new version of the client until you’re sure the new servers are up and running. But one vital question to be asking yourself before pushing the first Big Red Button is: what will I do if this doesn’t work? If the deployment of the new version of your game is only partly successful, or the servers won’t start, are you able to redeploy the previous, working version of the game and get your players back in, or are they going to have to sit and stare at the login screen while you work out what’s gone wrong? Even trickier is the question of what you’ll do if the update works but players find a game-breaking issue. This is where the speed at which you can do an update becomes important. When you’re just releasing the latest content a quick process is handy, but not strictly required. When you’re trying to patch a live issue, however, being able to deploy a solution quickly is far more important, particularly with player sentiment at stake. With RuneScape, backing out an update that’s gone live and reusing the previous version is rarely possible. Suddenly players would be carrying items that didn’t exist or be in some other broken state. What we can do is use our hotfix system that allows us to update content scripts without having to do a full deploy or shut down the game. This allows us to either fix an issue or, if need be, simply disable the offending bit of content while we produce and test a definitive fix.
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Our nightmare scenario for either version of RuneScape is a live issue that, even once the problem is fixed, has had a detrimental effect on the game’s integrity; perhaps players were able to gain unreasonable amounts of XP or gold in a very short time. In this scenario, the only option is to perform a save rollback – shutting the game down and restoring everyone’s state to the point just before the update. Our thorough code review process and QA testing means that these are extremely rare events for us. Between RuneScape and Old School RuneScape, we’ve only had to perform three rollbacks in the past nine years. If you do find yourself in this unhappy boat, it’ll be a real test of whether your backup strategy is worthy of the name. We take regular
“One vital question to be asking yourself is: what will I do if this doesn’t work? Even trickier is the question of what you’ll do if the update works but players find a game-breaking issue.” snapshots of players’ savegames, and so we’re able to retrieve saves from almost exactly the point that the servers shut down for the update, so that the only progress lost for the overwhelming majority is what they did after the faulty update went live. The most important piece of advice if something goes wrong is don’t panic. Better that the game remains offline or buggy for a little longer than you jump to a solution and make things worse. But our ability to avoid panicking in a situation is often affected by how much we trust the systems that allow us to dig ourselves out of our current hole. Time and effort invested in an update process and, crucially, an update recovery process, will pay dividends at some point. But hopefully, not for today’s update.
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The Final Boss Every month an industry leader wraps up MCV with their unique insight
You founded State of Play over ten years ago now, how does it compare today to how you first envisaged it? I’m not sure we ever had a grand plan for State of Play. As with most of the things we do it all happened quite organically. The market has changed a huge amount since we started. We were making solely web games as well as animations. Now we are completely independent making games for predominantly the mobile market. Looking back at the breadth of our work from then to now, the thread that runs through them is the handmade element that has become our signature throughout our games. With the greatest respect to your current role, what is or was your dream job? Apart from playing lots of video games when I was a kid, I didn’t even know there was a games industry to work in, let alone be part of! My first passion really was film, I was the kid at school that had all the film posters on her bedroom wall, and I’m still hugely passionate about it. Working in film or TV production would have been a dream job for me. However, I think the freedom I have as an independent game developer is huge. I never feel like a small cog in a large machine, I’m able to have an input in every area of that production and I’m able to tell a story that engages an audience in a very personal way. I feel that games can tell narratives in new ways, building on and combining the kind of things films, novels, graphic design and animation do, and that’s what we are constantly trying to evoke at State of Play. You once said you were “disillusioned by the output” of the industry – have things improved since then, do you find games to play that you’re passionate about? There are loads of great games I feel passionate about. I guess for me if I’m playing an immersive game, I always want to feel an emotional connection to a game, and I want to care about my character. It’s the same if I’m watching a TV drama or film. I find sloppy clichés in games frustrating and I think the players deserve better. What was the greatest single moment of your career to date? Winning a BAFTA in 2015 for Artistic Achievement for Lumino City, and in the same year we were nominated for British Game and Innovation. We were the classic underdogs in the category we won, in terms of size of team and budget. Our parents watched at home in tears. I think you can still see the clip online of my complete shock when they called out our name, it just meant all the hard work was worth it. It was a very special time for us.
Katherine Bidwell Founder, State of Play “As an industry we have to adapt. The current market is tougher now for independent studios starting out, but there are always troughs and peaks and it’s about finding ways of riding them out.”
Do you feel the games industry is headed in the right direction? Naturally I’m an optimist so you have got to think that, yes, it’s going in the right direction. As an industry we have to adapt and I do think the current market is tougher now for independent studios starting out, but there are always troughs and peaks and it’s about finding ways of riding them out. The one thing I think the industry is currently doing well is recognising games as an art form. The recent V&A exhibition Design/Play/Disrupt is an example of this, and I’m looking forward to seeing more. Who continues to impress you in the industry? Jo Twist OBE, CEO of Ukie. When we were starting out she was a mentor and supporter of myself and State of Play. In my current position on the board of directors of Ukie I have an insight in how hard she works and her passion and love for the industry is infectious. She is a truly impressive person and a true asset to the industry.
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