MCV ISSUE 946
THE KINGS IN THE NORTH Why the North East should be on everyone’s radar
BUILDING AN IMPROBABLE STUDIO THE BUSINESS OF VIDEO GAMES
SpatialOS’ creator backs Bioware veteran’s RPG revolution
JASON KINGSLEY would need a ‘bloody good reason’ to do an Epic exclusive
■ WHEN WE MADE... CULTIST SIMULATOR 01 MCV946 Cover_V4FINAL.indd 1
■ TEN YEARS OF ANGRY BIRDS
■ CORD’S MUSICAL MASTERPLAN
■ AARDVARK’S BIG UNI CHALLENGE 02/05/2019 13:41
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05 The editor
Getting all Steamed up
06 Critical Path
The key dates this month
10 Income Stream Our market analysis
12 Ukieâ€™s Must Play May Bringing families together with ERA
Real life events from the industry
18 Industry Voices
Our platform for the industry
20 Jason Kingsley A Rebellion alliance
26 Ins and Outs
And all our recruitment advice
20 32 Regional spotlight
The kings in the north
40 Happy Angry-versary! Rovio discusses a resurgent 2019
44 Spin that record
Cord Worldwide talks music and vinyls
50 Mission Improbable Building an in-house game studio
54 Search for a Star
Bridging the education and industry gap
56 When We Made... Cultist Simulator
60 The Sounds of... Elvira BjĂśrkman
63 Creatives Assemble! How to tame a dragon
64 Casting the Runes
Changing gear in the engine room
66 The Final Boss Harvey Eagle
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MCV-MAY19-TANDEM EVENTS:MCV-MAY19-TANDEM EVENTS 29/04/2019 10:56 Page 1
“Steam’s dominance of PC retail has been among the most benevolent of monopolies.”
TheEditor Getting all Steamed up It’s usually console hardware that causes the playground squabbles about our industry – or rather social media spats in this day and age. But then it’s somewhat understandable that people would want to defend their choices, given they’ve invested hundreds of pounds of their own hard-earned cash. In a similar vein, some supporters of Valve’s Steam platform have been spoiling for a row with anyone who’s even mildly ambivalent about the Epic Games Store. Epic’s perceived crime, putting to one side the ludicrous conspiracy theories about how its passing user data onto Tencent, is signing exclusive content to its store. Tim Sweeney told me this was the only way it could make inroads into Steam’s dominance in the sector, which seems about right. Now, Epic’s launcher is pretty thin at present, lacking even some basic features, but you have to start somewhere, and it does do its core job of letting you download and run games – after all there’s a few people playing Fortnite so I hear. And, as Rebellion’s Jason Kingsley notes on page 20, it’s not much hassle to install a new launcher on your PC. So why are some PC gamers so up in arms at the idea that they might have to do so in order to play every game under the sun? Well it’s worth considering that some consumers have never bought a game from anyone else than Valve. And even for those who have, Steam might well be their sole retailer since digital distribution became the norm on PC a decade or so ago. Now, resisting change is only natural, especially when you’re happy with the status quo – the Conservative party is proof of that – and Steam’s dominance of PC retail has been among the most benevolent of monopolies. Many of us like a neat, complete collection too. And the change could be likened to an eighties record collector finding out their favourite band’s new album is only available on CD – in this case it’s unlikely they’ll be able to wait 20 years for that oversight to be corrected (and if you do love vinyl then check out page 44). Still, it all seems somewhat odd in an industry where some consumers have for decades bashed publishers for taking a cut of what they feel is rightly theirs, or the developer’s, money. In this respect Steam is no different to Activision or EA, yet Valve is getting a far easier ride than either of those ever have. We can expect the rage of some Steam diehards to continue for the foreseeable future. They have valid points admittedly, but the fact is that PC retail has long needed more serious competition in order to better serve publishers, developers and consumers, and that competition is finally here. Seth Barton email@example.com
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Here are the key upcoming events and releases to mark in your calendar...
Rage 2 Avalanche Studios and Id Software have joined forces for Rage 2, following up on 2011’s Rage. Still published by Bethesda, it is much (much) more colourful than its predecessor and will be releasing on PS4, Xbox One and PC. It’s strictly single player and will get both free updates and paid DLC post-release. Early previews suggest similarities to both Borderlands and Doom.
Observation Devolver Digital’s first release on the Epic Games Store is out soon. Digital-only title Observation will also release on PS4 but will be skipping Steam altogether. Developed by Stories Untold studio No Code, Observation lets players embody a spatial station’s artificial intelligence called S.A.M., who is trying to figure out what happened to a certain Dr Sam Fisher and the rest of her crew.
A Plague Tale: Innocence Asobo Studio’s tale of survival during the Black Plague is finally releasing this month, having been announced back in 2017. The story of orphans Amicia and Hugo running away from the Inquisition in 14th century France, published by Focus Home Interactive, will land on PS4, Xbox One and digitally on PC. It is Asobo Studio’s first original IP, after 17 years working on licenced properties.
Team Sonic Racing Sumo Digital is at it again: after Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing and Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, the British studio is behind the latest Sonic karting title, Team Sonic Racing, releasing this month on PS4, Xbox One, Switch and PC. Takashi Iizuka, Sonic Team’s head, is acting as producer on the game, which is obviously also published by Sega. Team Sonic Racing will have one month to attract kart racing fans before Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled arrives.
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Nordic Game 2019 Slagthuset, Malmö
Blood & Truth
The 16th edition of Nordic Game will be held at the end of May, in Malmö, Sweden. Over 2,000 games industry professionals got together for the 2018 edition. This year, speakers include Matthew Compher (level designer at Little Nightmares dev Tarsier Studios), Adrian Cuevas (co-founder of Gris’ developer Nomada Studio), Sophie Vo (executive producer at Rovio), Julius Fondem (associate producer at Ubisoft Redlynx), Anna Norrevik (CEO at Antler Interactive), industry veteran and studio director at OtherSide Warren Spector and many, many more.
Blood & Truth, which we thought could be the “big PSVR exclusive we’ve been waiting for” back when it was announced, is out at the end of the month – we’ll finally see if it lives up to our expectations. Developed by SIE London Studios, it puts players in the boots of an elite special forces soldier for what seems to be some epic shooting action. It’s compatible with PlayStation Move controllers.
Little Friends: Dogs & Cats Remember the good ol’ days of the Nintendo DS and Nintendogs? Well, Little Friends: Dogs & Cats aims to recreate them on the Switch. The first virtual pet simulator for Nintendo’s hybrid console is developed by Imagineer and published by Sold Out. With players able to choose between six breeds of puppy and three breeds of kittens, it’s a guaranteed hit with kids – and more than a few adults as well.
Casual Connect 2019 Queen Elizabeth II Centre, London Casual Connect 2019 will be taking place at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in London at the end of May. The event features speakers from companies such as Ubisoft, Rovio, King, Wargaming, SpaceApe, Google Play Games, Miniclip, Facebook, and many more. Ian Livingstone will be giving a talk on video games funding, while Peter Molyneux will discuss innovation and how failure is “a vital pre-requisite to it.” The Developer Showcase and Indie Prize Awards return, highlighting the work of up-and-coming developers, while networking events will be a good opportunity to get together.
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Editor: Seth Barton firstname.lastname@example.org +44 (0)203 143 8785 Senior Staff Writer: Marie Dealessandri email@example.com +44 (0)203 143 8786 Designer: Mandie Johnson firstname.lastname@example.org Production Manager: Claire Noe email@example.com
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I’m alternating between being atrociously, frustratingly bad at Sekiro, as the game kills me at every possible opportunity, and feeling like some kind of serum-enhanced, super soldier in Sniper Elite 4. Honestly I’m not sure which experience I prefer, though I very much doubt I’ll actually finish either game. Seth Barton, Editor
I have played nothing but a real-life game of Tetris this month as I have been moving flats and had once again to fit all my possessions in boxes. Thank God(s) I had D&D every week to provide more than necessary downtime, where the only hard decision I have to make is whether I’m using my greatsword, my battleaxe +1 or my longbow. Marie Dealessandri, Senior Staff Writer
Still spending a little too much time in Kings Canyon playing Apex Legends, chiefly because it’s so easy to jump in and out of it and taking a few days off doesn’t mean I fall desperately behind my pals. That said, destiny is calling me – Destiny 2 to be precise... Vikki Blake, News Writer
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MCV-MAY19-SPLASH DAMAGE:MCV-MAY19-SPLASH DAMAGE 30/04/2019 10:04 Page 1
Income Stream The numbers, stats and market stories that matter and why they do
PRE-ORDER TOP 5 TW
01 02 03 04 05
The Last of Us: Part II (PS4) Pokémon Sword (Switch) Final Fantasy VII (PS4) Death Stranding (PS4) Pokémon Shield (Switch)
Publisher Sony Nintendo Square Enix Sony Nintendo
The latest financial results from around the industry SEGA REPORTS $17M LOSS Sega has announced it will be pulling back on its digital games business after holding company Sega Sammy reported a 33.7 per cent drop in its gaming operating income over the 2018/19 financial year despite a boost in sales. Sega Sammy’s latest financial reports reported “losses in Digital Games area” and while packaged sales in Europe and the US ”remained steady,” helping the company gross $1.86bn (£1.43bn) across its gaming business, operating income dropped to $88m (£67.4m). Consequently, this saw the digital games business report a $17m (£13m) loss across the period in spite of boosting its sales income by 5.9 per cent to $366.5m (£280.9m). The company attributed the loss to several factors, including a “slowdown of existing mainstay titles” and “a lack of hit titles,” as well as “intensified competition in [the] domestic market.” It also only launched eight of the 12 games it had planned. Looking ahead, Sega now plans to release just six new digital games across the financial year ending March 2020. It also intends to improve profitability “by adjustment of the number of developed/ operating titles,” decrease running costs across this sector of its business – although it hasn’t expanded on how – and transfer resources “to profitable areas.” FOCUS HOME INTERACTIVE Q4 UP BY 134% YOY French games publisher Focus Home Interactive has announced revenue of €24.5m (£21m) for the fourth quarter of its 2018-19 financial year (January-March 2019), increasing its fourth-quarter earnings by 134 per cent – €14m (£12m) – versus this time last year. It brought the company’s full-year revenue to €126m (£108.1m). The company attributed its record year to several key titles, including Vampyr, Insurgency: Sandstorm, Farming Simulator 19, and its MudRunner franchise. Back-catalogue sales accounted for 25 per cent of total sales over the fiscal year, with 90 per cent of sales now generated internationally, and 66 per cent of all sales now digital. “This fourth quarter underlines a remarkable year for the group as a whole, which once again demonstrated its breadth of expertise in establishing successful new brands in an ultra-competitive market and continuing generate profits from strong product licences,” Focus said in a statement. JAGEX SEES FOURTH SUCCESSIVE YEAR OF GROWTH Jagex has finished its 2018/19 fiscal year with a “record-breaking performance,” including a 9.3 per cent rise in income year-on-year, boosting revenue to £92.8 million and making it the company’s fourth successive year of growth. Jagex – which also saw its profits before tax grow to £46.8 million, up 3.8 per cent on last year – attributed the success in part to the RuneScape franchise securing its highest ever paid membership total, and Old School RuneScape’s launch on iOS and Android, which now boasts more than five million installs.
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UK RETAIL CHARTS – APRIL (UNITS)
01 TM LM 02 NEW 03 01 04 03 05 05 06 07 07 14 08 02 09 NEW 10 12
DAYS GONE PUBLISHER: SONY
Title Mortal Kombat 11 Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 FIFA 19 Red Dead Redemption 2 Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Yoshi’s Crafted World Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice World War Z New Super Mario Bros U Deluxe
Publisher Warner Bros Ubisoft EA Rockstar Nintendo Nintendo Activision Mad Dog Games Nintendo
Source: GfK/Ukie, Period: March 31st to April 27th
Steam is the GOAT According to the Steam ID Finder service, the PC gaming platform last week registered its one billionth account (reported to the username “amusedsilentdragonfly”). While, naturally, most of those accounts are dormant or bots and do not necessarily reflect Steam’s active user base, one billion accounts – which is equivalent to a seventh of the world’s entire population – is nonetheless a significant milestone. Valve itself put its active users at some 90m last October. Whichever way you look at it, the platform is undoubtedly the greatest of all time.
A good Days work Days Gone - Sony Many had written off Days Gone after an extended development period, two lacklustre E3 showings and some pretty negative press. However despite all that and mediocre reviews it still shot to No.1 in the UK physical charts in both its week and month of launch. And even became the biggest release of the year so far – beating The Division 2, Sekiro and Kingdom Hearts 3. In short, Days Gone came back from the dead. Now, by Sony’s own high standards it looks less impressive admittedly, shifting 38.8 per cent less physical copies at launch than Horizon Zero Dawn, also a new IP. Even Sony seemed to lack faith, with the game forced to share its outdoor marketing campaign, on billboards and buses, with last year’s God Of War.
2.7bn Twitch Q1 Twitch has hit a brand new milestone for Q1 2019, hitting 2.7bn hours of content viewed – up 38 per cent year-onyear. StreamElements’ and StreamHatchet’s State of the Stream quarterly report stated that January 2019 was also a record-breaking month for Twitch, marking 948m viewership hours despite rival YouTube Live’s viewership doubling from Q1 2018 to Q1 2019, and Microsoft’s Mixer platform quadrupling from 22m to 89m across the same period. Much of Twitch’s incredible growth in Q1 2019 (compared to Q1 2018) is down to its longtail of streamers outside the Top 1000.
Koining it Mortal Kombat 11 - Warner Bros The latest iteration in the long-running fighting series – its been an incredible 27 years since the original game hit arcades – shows it has no plans of slowing with old age. Warner Bros Interactive president David Haddad recently announcing that Mortal Kombat 11 put in the best launch of any Mortal Kombat title to date. And further to that it was the largest launch of any Warner Bros title to date in the US. It had to settle for No.2 in the weekly and monthly charts behind Sony’s Days Gone in the UK, while a 43.6 per cent drop in sales from 2015’s Mortal Kombat X is more likely attributable to digital shift than fading interest.
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Must Play May Ukie is working with ERA on its spring promotion, which is designed to bring families together to play the most appropriate and most enjoyable games for them
TO the wider world, the video games industry has never been more successful. More people than ever are playing games, they now tackle a broad range of topics and genres across a number of platforms and they offer positive benefits to the globally connected communities of millions who play them safely and sensibly every day. With this great success however comes ever greater scrutiny about how the sector makes and sells games and keeps consumers safe. And in reality, success in the games sector remains difficult to achieve with ever more services and content competing for players’ time. So it’s important that we keep reminding consumers about how amazing games are and how diverse their content is. And it’s equally important to make sure anyone playing games understands how game businesses make money, how long to play for, how age ratings work and what parental controls are. We need to make sure that anyone asking questions about games can find the answers that they’re looking for as easily and transparently as possible.
So we have helped put together Must Play May, a month-long in-store and online promotion run by the Entertainment Retailers Association (ERA) throughout the month of May, designed to bring family and friends closer together over the bank holidays and half term. Highlighting the biggest and best games on the market, the campaign shows there’s something out there for everyone, while celebrating the positive aspects of video games. The campaign has also commissioned a survey of 2,000 adults that further shows the reach of games and range of ages of people regularly playing them. The findings demonstrate that 85 per cent of under 35s regularly play games. And people do not grow out of the pastime with 75 per cent of 35-44 year olds regularly gaming as a way to relax or spend time with their children. 53 per cent of people of all ages (from young children to pensioners) have played video games in the past five years, rising to 60 per cent of men but also 45 per cent of women. While many do it for
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Gamescom 2019 Ukie will be managing the UK industry stand in the business area at Gamescom 2019 between August 20th and 22nd in Cologne, Germany. Last year’s British Funfair themed stand was also our most successful yet with over £25m of business wins reported by UK companies on the stand. This year we’re going even bigger and bolder with a 1,000 square metre stand and a 30 Years of Play theme. As always there will be awesome exhibiting, sponsorship, branding and marketing opportunities, available for all UK companies. So, if you’re looking to be a part of the biggest and best ever UK stand, please get in touch ASAP to register your interest. A small number of DIT grants are available for this event, on a first come basis. Ukie will take care of all aspects of stand management (design, build, furniture, marketing) and will have an experienced team on hand to run the stand and the reception area. All our exhibitors will need to do is turn up with their schedules and get to work! For more details and to book space on the stand, contact Sam Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org
fun or to keep their minds active, others admit it has become a crucial way to interact with their children and grandchildren, either face to face or remotely. This shows that playing games can enable a whole family to participate meaningfully in an activity that can test their knowledge, reflexes and puzzle-solving ability regardless of age. These findings show that it is important for games businesses and retailers to find a way of working closer together and ensure they are catering their campaigns at varied demographics. Retailers are changing the ways in which they use their existing space to enable new services and new formats. Because of that change, more opportunities are becoming available that greatly benefit the publishers who can be more creative in the way they are approaching their customers. We hope that the Must Play May campaign can bring more people to play games and help them to realise the breadth of content, creativity and fun for the whole family that games can offer today.
Askaboutgames.com As part of the Must Play May campaign we’ll be making sure that consumers are given all the information that they need to play games safely and sensibly via the askaboutgames.com site that we run in partnership with the VSC (who administer PEGI in the UK). Askaboutgames is where parents and carers can find out more about video games: how they’re made, how they’re played, what PEGI age ratings are and how to enjoy them safely and sensibly. Crucially, the site allows consumers to ask questions about things like what children should be playing online, what parental controls are, what games can be enjoyed as a family and how to engage with your child’s online behaviour. We want Askaboutgames to be a tool for games businesses to use, to give consumers confidence in the games that they and their children play. If you want to link to askaboutgames.com from your sites, you can find an asset pack on the organisation’s website.
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Pictured below: Overwatch’s D.Va, made from Lego, took centre stage in Trafalgar Square
Real Life Events from the industry
LONDON GAMES FESTIVAL 2019 The London Games Festival was another huge success this year. The Ensemble exhibition was brought back to the LGF Hub, once again highlighting the incredible work done by BAME creatives in the games industry. Meanwhile, Now Play This showcased experimental games for the enjoyment of adults and children alike. A 3m high D.Va statue also took over Trafalgar Square as the climax of the Festival – the 1,200kg figure was made up of 145,276 Lego bricks.
Pictured right: The Ensemble exhibition at the LGF Hub
Pictured left: Ukie’s Dr Jo Twist speaks on the LGF opening night
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Pictured right from top to bottom: caption
Pictured clockwise from top right: Experimental games from the Now Play This showcase
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BAFTA GAMES AWARDS 2019 Cory Barlog and God of War (1) won big at the BAFTAs in April, securing five awards including Audio Achievement, Best Game, Music, Narrative, and Performer for Jeremy Davies for his role as The Stranger. Return of the Obra Dinn, the puzzle game developed by Lucas Pope (2), won Artistic Achievement and Game Design, while Old School Runescape secured the EE Mobile Game of the Year – the only award that was voted for by the public, picked up by CEO Phil Mansell (3). Other winners included Florence (developed by Ken Wong’s (4) studio Mountains) for Mobile Game and Sarepta Studio’s My Child Lebensborn for Game Beyond Entertainment, with CEO Catharina Bøhler and producer Elin Festøy (5) taking the stage.
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EGX REZZED 2019
It was another packed EGZ Rezzed this year, with a diverse range of talks from the likes of John and Brenda Romero (1), Creative Assembly, Failbetter Games, Media Molecule and many more. Hundreds of indie developers showcased their titles, with Afterparty, Untitled Goose Game, Nanotale, Hamsterdam, Void Bastards and Phogs in particular gathering a lot of attention from the press. Tobacco Dock was once again an incredible venue, and we canâ€™t wait for next yearâ€™s Rezzed already!
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Running the production line freelance Hollie Emery, freelance producer
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!
WHEN I introduce myself as a freelance producer in the video game industry, there are a general set of questions I frequently get asked, aside from the usual: “Do you play video games all day?” There are questions asked within the industry too, especially around remote working, freelancing and the role of a producer in games development. The first one I hear is: “What does a producer do?” Like with other roles in games development, there are multiple facets to the production role depending on the project, requirements and stakeholder needs. The main varieties of producer are internal and external – both require an understanding of development, but apply production processes in different ways. Internal producers are generally more involved in day-to-day development and work closely with the project’s vision holders and leads. The internal producer works with the vision holder to ensure that vision principles are being followed by the team, the schedules have been created to fit this vision and that budget, the deliverables scheduled and deadlines tracked and being adhered to. This role is more commonly seen instudio, as there aren’t many freelance producers out there in the industry yet. External producers generally take a step back from the day-to-day management that an internal producer would do. They’re especially great for remote teams, with regular communication with developers ensuring progress is tracked towards goals and that the vision, scope or budget are staying in-line with the team expectations. Publishers tend to use external producers within their teams. In 2018, soon after the release of Yoku’s Island Express, I left my job at Team17 and
made the jump into indie to become a remoteworking freelance producer. A common question I was asked by old colleagues was: “How does freelance production work?” I’ve since been asked this regularly while networking, and people have been curious about how I’ve managed to handle it all with remote working. The truth is, in my experience, the role of producer hasn’t changed drastically between remote freelance and working in a studio. All of the above information regarding internal and external production applies to remote freelance production roles as well. For me, freelance production has been about applying production methodologies to the projects I’m contracted to, but making adjustments for remote working. For example, in my current contract, the daily stand-up meetings become a group call. Each team is different too, so what works for this team may not work for another. I’ve worked remotely with development teams for nearly four years now across my studio role and current freelance project, so it didn’t feel like a difficult transition. Production doesn’t change much between freelance and working in a studio – the principles are still the same. The biggest difference I’ve seen as a freelance producer is the business side, like invoicing clients and filing expenses! Hollie Emery is a freelance producer, currently working on an unannounced title from a large UK developer. Previously, she worked at publisher Team17 as producer on BAFTAaward winning titles such as Overcooked and Yoku’s Island Express.
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What WIN is all about and why we need it Lisa Carter, Mimram Media
WHEN I joined the games industry 25 years ago, there were very few women working in the business outside of the ‘traditional’ marketing and PR roles. In the games media (I joined MCV’s predecessor CTW) there were even fewer. I’ll be honest: it didn’t bother me, or possibly didn’t even register with me, as in my only other previous job (on photography magazines), the landscape had been pretty much the same. Do I believe I had a tougher time being a woman in the industry back then? Well, there were occasions of blatant mansplaining when I carried out interviews, and I had to swipe away wandering hands at parties more than once. I also got patted on the back – quite literally – by a publisher boss for “helping out” on MCV when I was made editor. Back then, I would have said no, I didn’t have a tougher time being a woman in the games industry. But recalling some of those moments, clearly these are things that wouldn’t have happened if I peed standing up. I was standing out for the right reasons though and was still in my twenties when I was made editor of MCV. When we recognised the need to address diversity, we launched the MCV Women in Games Awards (still running today – the 2019 event is taking place this June), as well as other ‘Women In’ awards. We were challenged: why do women need their own awards? “Because men win enough awards” was our standard answer. And it’s a similar challenge I heard about the WIN conference during London Games Festival: why a dedicated event to discuss women in games and tech? My answer: the WIN conference is exactly what is needed to address some of the challenges women in games and tech face today. Liz Prince, business manager at Amiqus, provided a keynote about G Into Gaming,
announcing plans to kick off an industry-wide drive to speak to primary school children and their parents about the career opportunities in games. Next up was the top tips interview, which saw industry newcomer Georgina Felce (Big Pixel Games) talk to Polystream’s head of business operations Michelle Rendall about the challenges and opportunities she has faced in her games industry career. Michelle admitted to work guilt (“I have two children and a husband – I give it all I can, but I can’t always shake off the guilt of being a working mum”), while Georgina revealed she suffers from imposter syndrome and struggles with networking. The Fireside Chat took place between BAFTA award winners Brenda Romero, Adele Cutting and a senior developer at Transport for London Dionne Connor-Farrell. Romero said: “How are girls hearing that STEM is for boys? The games industry was created by women, going right back to Ada Lovelace. Women invented programming and boys were just invited to the party.” If there had been an event like WIN when I was in my twenties, would it have meant I didn’t have to knock away wandering hands at parties? Probably not. But it would have let my twenty-something self know that I wasn’t alone. That there were other women in the industry who had the same problems, concerns and frustrations, and that together we could impact real change. And I would have realised sooner that imposter syndrome was actually a thing. Long live WIN and all other events that celebrate women in games and keep the conversation going. And good work to London Games Festival for hosting WIN! Lisa Carter is a director at PR agency Mimram Media and is involved in Amiqus’ G Into Gaming campaign, as well as Testronic’s 50% Initiative.
“Back then, I would have said I didn’t have a tougher time being a woman in the industry. But recalling some moments, clearly these are things that wouldn’t have happened if I peed standing up.”
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A ALLIANCE With four games studios, its motion capture business, a TV and film studio, plus a big franchise in Sniper Elite, Rebellion is growing fast. Yet it still remains independent in every measurable respect. Owner and CEO Jason Kingsley talks to Seth Barton
ith over a quarter of a century in business, and under the sole ownership of the Kingsley brothers, Rebellion stands out even among the few UK developers that have resisted the test of time. But despite that longevity, it’s not standing still, with a flurry of new initiatives and acquisitions since the beginning of last year. In that time the company has expanded to four studio locations, picking up both Radiant Worlds and TickTock Games, while also purchasing a huge film and TV production space and announcing an upcoming movie, plus a TV series, based on its 2000AD comic book properties. Its independence, longevity, variety and that recent flurry of activity, make it a great time to catch up with the company. And we’re not the only ones who think so, with Develop:Brighton hosting both Jason and Chris
Kingsley for one of its keynote talks at the 2019 edition of the conference. Today we just catch up with Jason, the undeniable front-man of the pair, who explains the thinking behind the company’s latest moves, and gives us his insight on Epic Game Store, Xbox Game Pass and Google’s Stadia. MERGING LANES First, we wonder if there was a grand plan behind the more recent studio acquisitions, but apparently not, Kingsley tells us. “It is not a policy to acquire people, we’re not going out looking for people to acquire,” he says. “But if we work with people, and we like them, and the opportunity pops up, and it’s a kind of win-win situation, then we’ll look at it positively and do it. “They are usually opportunistic, as with our most recent acquisition TickTock. We’ve worked with them in
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Pictured: Image by Kasumi
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Pictured above: An artist’s impression of the 220,000 square-foot facility Rebellion is turning into a film studio
the past and then there was an opportunity to work more closely with a talented bunch people,” he adds, noting that if Rebellion hadn’t acquired the company, someone else may have, putting their talents out of Kingsley’s reach. Rebellion’s independence, with Jason and Chris owning the company outright between them, makes such moves far simpler than they might be for many. “When an opportunity comes up, we look at it and go: ‘Yeah that kind of makes sense’. We won’t do millions of quids worth of diligence and scare ourselves, and then decide not to do it. We’ll do a sensible amount, look into it properly, and then decide whether we think we can make a go of it. Because we’re privately owned, it’s our money. Our money and our responsibility. We’re almost unique in the games industry in being like that. “There’s been opportunities that have come up that we’ve not moved on. But because we’re not publiclyowned nobody knows those opportunities came and went and we didn’t do anything about it. So we’re in a fortunate position. We don’t have to manage a relationship with investors in any way, shape or form.” Those moves have meant the company is spread across more locations than it originally intended, Kingsley tells us: “We never set out to have four separate locations. We wanted to just focus on the two, with Runcorn in the north and Oxford in the south. But then that’s very much how our business is: we operate a portfolio approach. We can be proactive in some areas and then reactive in others.” The acquisitions may have been opportunistic but there’s certainly a plan behind the increased headcount, with the additional staff helping both to support the
future ambitions of Rebellion’s flagship Sniper Elite series and to cement a broader portfolio of releases. “We want to do a few more smaller games as well as some of the big tentpole productions and we want to overlap them because we want to work on more than a couple of games at the same time,” Kingsley explains. “Ideally, we want to get to a position where we’ve got a big game coming out each year, plus a couple of smaller, arguably more interesting new titles, new IP, that kind of stuff. We want to test new things out, like we did with the hugely-successful Strange Brigade. But we’ve got to balance that out, we’ve got to keep going with Sniper Elite because lots of people want more Sniper Elite,” he exclaims. PASSING THROUGH Speaking of Rebellion’s biggest franchise, the current iteration – Sniper Elite 4 – recently appeared on Xbox Game Pass. A move that meant the game was brought back to players’ attention and I for one took the time to play the game on Xbox, despite owning a PC version that I had never got around to. We wonder if Kingsley’s experience has been similarly positive in terms of boosting engagement with the franchise. “It was a little bit daunting to make the decision to give your game away to a section of the general public like that. You go: ‘Hang on a second’. And all these questions pop up. But we did some analytics and we were convinced. “We like the Game Pass team and they helped manage us through the process. They can’t share data from
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other titles, but they gave us strong assurances that certain things were not likely to happen or at least hadn’t happened with other projects. “It’s been very positive from every angle,” he continues. “It brings a whole bunch of new people to the Sniper Elite franchise, so not only has it been commercially successful for us just in terms of the deal and how it works, it’s also very valuable as brand extension and awareness.” Which brings us around to that old chestnut of discovery, which is compounded by the high bar of quality the industry as a whole is now hitting: “Everybody’s trying to make good stuff and most people’s stuff is pretty damn good,” Kingsley says. “People have only got a certain number of hours to spend. If they play the Sniper Elite games they’ll enjoy them, almost certainly. But can we persuade them to have a go? The answer is yes we can, in lots of different ways. So it’s been great. It’s another route to the consumer. “We’ve got Sniper Elite V2 Remastered coming up. We’ve noticed a distinct bump in interest in that brand partly because there’s a whole bunch of people who are alerted to Sniper Elite through Game Pass.” THE EPIC QUESTION While Game Pass and similar subscription services may be the future of games, it’s something as simple as a new PC retailer that has dominated the headlines in recent months. So would Rebellion be tempted to do an Epic Game Store exclusive? “I’m not really a big believer in exclusives,” Kingsley starts. “For me the relationship I have with the consumer is important and it matters to me how many people buy and play my games… We listen to our fans as best we can. “It’s not just compensating us for lost sales on platform X or Y. Fine, that might derisk the project, but you also have to factor in the cost of the negative reaction from people who are upset by that decision. “There’s a kind of fairness aspect to this, and I want to be fair to the fans who want to buy it on the platform they want. So that’s sort of my feeling at the moment. I guess that could change but there would have to be a bloody good reason. “Our plans do not involve doing anything exclusive like that but I think it’d be dishonest for me to say we would never do it or rule it out. But I think it’s extremely unlikely. “I understand why Epic are doing the exclusives. I entirely understand the business case for it, because they’ve got to, because they’ve got to drive people to their platform. Do I support them in it? I have to say as a consumer it’s a bit annoying but it’s not that annoying
really, because it’s hardly any effort, having another launcher on your system.” Kingsley can see why an exclusivity deal might be attractive to some: “You could imagine a situation where someone took the exclusive because they didn’t necessarily have that much confidence in the game: ‘We’re going to be having all this negativity because it’s not going to be on Steam, on the positive side we’re going to get all our money back straight away from Epic. So our shareholders love us because we’re guaranteed not to make a loss on this product’,” he theorises a developer thinking.
Rebellion Warwick Rebellion HQ Audiomotion Rebellion Film Studios
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Chris and Jason Kingsley’s fireside chat, called ‘Rebellion - The Path to Independence’, will headline Develop:Brighton’s 2019 conference
Despite being largely against signing an exclusive deal, Kingsley is hugely supportive of the store in general. “I think competition is good... There’s a Monopolies and Mergers Commission for a reason. And I think for any business it’s good to have peers that are keeping you focused on improving your offering. I applaud Epic for doing this, I think it’s actually good for Steam too because the competition kind of makes them go: ‘Oh fuck, we better sit up, take notice and do something about it’.” CLOUD BURST While Epic Game Store is undoubtedly ruffling feathers in the PC space, Google’s Stadia is looking most likely to shake things up amongst the incumbent console firms. Though as with Game Pass and Epic Game Store, Kingsley sees it primarily as yet another welcome opportunity for gamers to discover his games. “It lets you play a game on any screen as long as you have an internet connection, which I think is wonderful. Again it comes down to discovery and more people could play games than can play them now, which is brilliant for us because we create content. So I’m very excited about the possibilities,” he enthuses. “I think the potential instant availability of a game is radically fantastic,” he continues, telling us that Rebellion is definitely interested in being on the new platform. “To go back to your question about exclusivity, we want our games to be available on every platform possible,” he adds. “Because we think the challenge is discovery, so we’re not that bothered what flavour of platform our games are on. What we care about is: can people get to play games wherever they are in the world?” The big secret with Stadia remains Google’s plans for how it will charge consumers for the service and content on that service, with recent comments from Stadia boss Phil Harrison merely confirming that the platform could technically handle any monetisation option. “I don’t know what the business model will be, they’re probably looking at all the options. What we do know is that Google has a lot of data to mine. So they’ll have lots of points of data in order to work out what the best solution, or combination of solutions, might be,” Kingsley points out.
Returning to Kingsley’s earlier mention of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, we discuss the possibility of the first hit of any Google search for a game name being a direct link to Stadia to play that game: “Or even a situation where you see the game and it is being played by somebody, somewhere, their game session being shown live to you,” Kingsley posits. THE REBELLION WILL BE TELEVISED The buzz around Stadia comes in part from the incredible success of Netflix in recent years in disrupting the delivery model for TV and films, areas that Rebellion is moving into in a big way, with both a feature film based around Rogue Trooper and a TV series about Judge Dredd. We suspect the boom in funding brought about by Netflix and its ilk motivated Rebellion to get involved in linear entertainment formats. “Partly, because it makes you aware there is an opportunity,” Kingsley answers. “Arguably it makes it harder though because lots of talented people are already on projects. In any industry there are only so many talented people that you want to work with, and it’s hard to find the right people at the right time.” Ironically, though, it was the difficulty in finding talent in the games space that lead in part to the new venture: “We’re maxed out and it’s really hard to find another hundred members of staff to make games,” Kingsley says. “We’ve got a fantastic group of people doing PR and admin, but to grow, to generate another big game a year, we need to grow the footprint of the company in lots of different areas, not just in games development. So we thought what could we do that might be supportive, both interesting and visual, and might overlap nicely with our audience for games. “And we felt film and TV content, linear content, might be an area where we’ve got some transferable skills: CGI, storytelling, that kind of stuff.” In fact, Rebellion has quietly been in the blockbuster business for some time, as it wholly owns motion capture studio Audiomotion – which has worked on the likes of Ready Player One, Star Wars: The Last Jedi and recently Netflix’s own Love, Death + Robots. “Audiomotion is our company, but as it’s used by third parties we’ve always kept it slightly separate from
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Rebellion. I don’t know what Audiomotion is doing on a daily basis, as that might not be fair to those using it,” he says, which makes sense given it also works with other games studios too. “So basically a division of Rebellion has done the components of many many big films already. We’ve seen how they do it. In a lot of cases we solve technical problems for people in film and TV, which is nice and gives us confidence to know we can do our own stuff.” Of course making your own TV series or film doesn’t usually require you to buy your own production facilities, as Rebellion has with its Didcot-based studio. Kingsley explains why: “We were looking around for where to film and we realised that there’s not much studio space left in the UK. The government said there’s a shortfall of 2 million square feet of space, there just isn’t anywhere to film. And [as newcomers] we knew we’d be low down on that pecking order too. “I wanted it to be to be fairly local to me too, because I want to be involved on a daily basis. And so in typical Rebellion fashion we thought: how do you square this circle? Can we buy somewhere? And that’s how we acquired the Didcot studios. And we’ve set about turning those into facilities that other people can use and we can use.” In fact, large parts of the studio are already in use, though Kingsley can’t say who by: “It’s not for us to publicise what’s going on there and we’ve got a lot of ongoing business with a lot of high profile companies.
It’s a huge 12 acre site. It’s 250,000 square feet of space, really, really tall and soundproof, it couldn’t be better. You could film a James Bond villain’s lair in it! “We’re hiring studios out, but that isn’t the main business plan. The main plan is to make our own stuff there but we’re not quite ready for that,” he explains. “We are still working on scripts for Mega-City One [the Judge Dredd TV series], and we have a script we’re very happy with for other things but we’re not quite ready to go.” So will the increased profile for both Rogue and Dredd circle back around and potentially kickstart new games based on those characters? “If we can do something about it, we will,” Kingsley says. “If we can join the dots up and if it makes sense – a good business case as well as a good creative case for it, then, yes, absolutely we’ll be revisiting these intellectual properties in games form as well.” Rebellion’s aim here is to find new outlets for its existing IP, not become a production house for hire. “While it’s interesting talking with Hollywood executives at a very senior level, what we don’t want to do, and what we’re not going to do, is get back into work-for-hire. We don’t want to reverse into a situation where we’re basically doing work-for-hire for movie studios. We got out of that a decade ago in games, we’re not going back into it. So what we’re doing is joint ventures. And we’re fully funding our own stuff as well.” WE DID IT OUR WAY “Our own stuff ” is the key here. Having moved out of work-for-hire Rebellion has exclusively worked on its own IPs – be they acquired or built from the ground up – for over seven years now. And it doesn’t see that as a one-way street either. “It’s a portfolio approach, we’ve got a ton of IP from comics, books, all sorts of stuff. But we don’t necessarily want to just make games from IP generated in other industries. We kind of want to keep a balance between game IP that’s going to be books, book IP that’s going to be a comic, comic IP that’s going to be a game,” Kingsley explains. And logically then, we might one day see game IP becoming a film – Sniper Elite: The Movie anyone? “It’s just fun to be telling stories, making games for other people to play. But Chris and I still make products that we want to consume too. We’re indie in that respect, yet big enough to be able to put 150 people on a game for two years.” It’s a rare and appealing combination and one that makes Rebellion an incredibly intriguing outfit – whichever sector, format or platform it chooses to work on – which at present looks likely to be just about all of them.
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Ins and Outs: Industry hires and moves 1
Atomhawk has appointed NADER ALIKHANI (1) as its new creative development director in Vancouver. Alikhani previously worked for the likes of Kuju, WildWorks (formerly Smart Bomb Interactive) and more recently Pixel Hero Games. Former Eidos Montreal art director JONATHAN JACQUES-BELLETÊTE (2), has joined Rogue Factor, the studio behind Games Workshop adaptations such as Necromunda: Underhive Wars, as creative director. Rogue Factor is based in Montreal and was recently acquired by Bigben Interactive. MARC MELTON (3), formerly Konami’s business director for Northern Europe and emerging markets, has joined Japanese
publisher Marvelous as general manager for EMEA, Australia and New Zealand. Melton replaces outgoing general manager Harry Holmwood, who started Marvelous’ European business in 2012.
POC in Play co-founder, indie developer and games journalist CHELLA RAMANAN (8) is Massive Entertainment’s new junior narrative designer. She will be joining her new team in Malmö, Sweden, in August.
Jagex has taken on DAN VARGAS (4) as art director and IAN THOMAS (5) as technical director. Vargas has nearly 20 years of experience in the industry, including Electronic Arts and Ubisoft. Thomas has joined Jagex’s publishing platform team from Glint, bringing with him more than 16 years of software solutions and engineering experience. CEO Phil Mansell said: “Jagex continues to attract and secure industryrespected expertise and Ian and Dan are key hires who will strengthen our creative and technical management teams. We recognise the importance of technical innovation and investing in exceptional talent, with almost 100 new hires targeted.”
Former senior marketing manager at BeefJack NICK MARSHALL (6) has joined Bossa Studios as PR and communications manager. Previous experiences also include marketing services manager at Warner Bros and product manager at Curve Digital. Sumo Digital’s new mobilefocused Leamington Spa studio has a new operations director as HARINDER SANGHA (7) has joined from Sega Hardlight, where she was operations director. She spent almost eight years total at Hardlight, having previously worked at Codemasters as operations manager. She said: “I’m thrilled to be joining Sumo and to be working with such a dynamic team. Building a new studio from the ground up is an exciting challenge.”
“I’m thrilled to be joining Sumo and to be working with such a dynamic team. Building a new studio from the ground up is an exciting challenge.” Harinder Sangha, Sumo Digital
NAOKI KATASHIMA (9) has been appointed as CEO of Bandai Namco Entertainment Europe and Bandai Namco Entertainment America. Meanwhile, ARNAUD MULLER (10) has become the company’s new COO for Europe. Katashima commented: “With our commitment to developing more new titles outside of Japan, being able to bring our teams on both sides of the Atlantic closer together is another step in the right direction.”
Former TV and radio presenter SIMON HILL (11) has been appointed as the new UK community manager for Koch Media and Deep Silver. He joins
from Machinima where he was brand PR executive. Amazon Game Tech has announced that industry veteran JEN MACLEAN (12) has been hired as the company’s new head of worldwide business development for small and mid-size developers. She is joining Amazon from the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), where she served as executive director. She said: “Whether developers need help building their games faster, launching and operating them more efficiently, or improving marketing and UA, I’m here to help. Amazon has an unrivaled collection of tools to help developers succeed.” Following a restructuring at Sega Hardlight, which has been “integrated into the Sega Europe pillar structure” alongside Creative Assembly, Relic Entertainment, Sports Interactive and Amplitude Studios, NEALL JONES (13) has been promoted to studio director. The firm believes the change “will see Hardlight working very closely with Sega Europe’s executive vice president of studios, Tim Heaton, and president/COO Gary Dale, to ensure a smooth transition.” Jones previously worked for companies such as Codemasters, Eidos and Traveller’s Tales before joining Hardlight six years ago.
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Every month, we pick the brain of an up-and-coming talent
George Perkins, head of doing stuff, Super Rare Games
How did you break into games? I left school after my A-Levels and my plan was always to take a gap year. By coincidence, porting house Warp Digital had just formed in South London. From about 7am to 3pm everyday, I would help out with whatever they needed. This started off as QA help and any office admin: responding to any random emails, organising Christmas parties, showing new staff around and so on. Anyway, this progressed nicely and I slowly worked my way up. I was there for about 18 months and by the time I left I was a full blown associate producer. I then left to be part of Super Rare Games and have been growing the business for the last 14 months! What is your proudest achievement so far? Being able to grow Super Rare Games from a pet project, to being one of the largest physical
Switch publishers. If I were to narrow that down further, I’m very proud to having been part of some massive projects. The three that jump out are Human: Fall Flat, Worms: W.M.D and Snake Pass. The three respective publishers of those games (Curve Digital, Team 17 and Sumo Digital) are probably three of the biggest in England, and it’s amazing to have worked with them on physical versions of their games.
“The first few months were difficult. We had only sold about 800 copies of our first two releases.”
What’s been your biggest challenge so far? The first few months of Super Rare were difficult. We had only sold about 800 copies of our first two releases and signing content was difficult because of that. At that point, I was unsure about whether we were going to be able to sustain the business. Fast forward a year, and we have released 14 games and they are all completely sold out. Through perseverance and a lot of hard work, we managed to really grow and develop our brand. It’s been exponential growth for the last 8 months or so, and our audience is now so much bigger than I ever would have imagined. Getting through that initial period was very important for us and we haven’t looked back since!
exciting to get to know the teams behind some of the best games on the Nintendo Switch.
What do you enjoy most about your job? How diverse it is! I tried to write my job specification the other day and its near impossible. I love being in a small company as there is so much different stuff to get involved in. I do all the biz dev, marketing, social media, production, influencer outreach and website stuff, to name a few. The other amazing thing about my job is the fact that I get to work with so many talented indie teams. We have worked on 14 games, and each one is made by a different developer. It’s so
What’s your big ambition in games? Definitely the end goal will be to be involved in an indie game from start to end. I love publishing games physically, but I would love to be on the other side of that one day! Seeing the amazing games coming out of so many talented studios makes me want to be involved in that side of things in the future. What advice would you give to someone starting a new games industry business from scratch? I think to be successful in a new business, you need to have a strong team with different experiences and skill sets. I am lucky enough to work with an incredible group of people who are amazing at what they do. The shipping, customer service, artwork and the finance/ general admin tasks are all vital to our success and the rest of the team are stunning at delivering those services. Alongside that, you have to have to live and breath what you do. Every second I spend on Super Rare, I enjoy it! Everyday I wake up excited to go to work and you need that passion to start something fresh.
If there’s a rising star at your company, contact Marie Dealessandri at firstname.lastname@example.org May 2019 MCV 946 | 27
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Cherry picked advice to help you reach the next level in your career
Anisa Sanusi, UI/UX designer at Hutch Games, explains what it takes to succeed in these fields and why you should collect resources from outside of video games own hours! I also love reading and collecting resources from UI/UX designers outside of video games – different perspectives help with a better understanding of the overall craft.
What is your job role and how would you describe your typical day at work? I work as a UI/UX designer at Hutch, where we make free-to-play racing games for mobile. Typically, for UI work, we tend to have sprints dedicated to specific features on the game we’re currently working on. We’ll have a kick off meeting with our product owner and game designers so that we all understand the feature we’re building and, from their design documents, we work out some functional UX wireframes to get a general feel of the game flow. Then we make some high fidelity UI mock ups, where we get to experiment with different visual styles, typography and colour schematics. Because we’re a small team, I also do all of the implementations of the UI in Unity, including the animation and sometimes visual effects. I love that my job is very involved with other departments like design, art and programmers – we have a great time working together.
“I favour a beautifully presented CV as part of UI work is making bland information look well presented after all.” What qualifications and/or experience do you need to land this job? I graduated with a degree in Animation, where my final year project was on 2D animation. I worked a lot with vector art which had a lot of overlap with UI work. I’ve always had a knack for graphic design and typography, so when I got my first games job as a 2D artist, it was a very natural progression to UI work. Soon after I started digging into UX – all of which was either learnt on the job or self taught during my
If you were interviewing someone for your team, what would you look for? Usually we can get the gist of an applicant’s technical abilities and artistic style through their portfolios. I favour those who have distinctly curated work and a beautifully presented CV. Part of UI work is making bland information look well presented through sleek design after all. Interviews are to see if you’re the right character fit. I am very sensitive to any form of arrogance, because if I need to work 40 hours a week with someone, we need to be able to communicate and get along. Enthusiasm, humility and the vulnerability to admit that you don’t know something, coupled with the eagerness to learn – those are the traits I like. What opportunities are there for career progression? UI/UX roles vary according to the size of your company. If you work in triple-A with hundreds of employees, you have a chance at advancing up that ladder to be a senior, principle, lead or even head of UI/UX. It’s not unheard of for people to branch off into other areas like game design, concept art or even user research. With smaller companies, you tend to wear multiple hats and have a bigger say in certain decisions. These days there’s a lot of freelance UI/UX designers who are hired guns for however long a project calls for them. It’s pretty flexible and you tend to find what suits you as a game dev somewhere along the line.
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 new job! What inspired you about Ustwo Games to come and join them? Ustwo has released two of my favourite mobile games. I believe Monument Valley and Monument Valley 2 are the most innovative narrative-driven games on mobile. I loved the craft and care they have put into polishing the experience. Previously, I worked at King London as a senior game programmer for four years. I worked on Farm Heroes Saga, an unreleased Farm franchise title and on the Call of Duty prototype at King Stockholm. Before that, I worked in visual effects for movies as an R&D programmer for four years. The company was Double Negative, which worked on big productions like John Carter, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Hercules, Hunger Games and so on. I worked on core tools for artists and specialised on fur and hair generation for creatures and digital doubles. For me, coming from big companies to a smaller studio was a new experience. I was also fascinated by how such a small team could manage to deliver such a great game. And I was attracted by their exploration of different platforms such as VR. What’s the culture like at Ustwo Games and what’s your experience been like in terms of fitting in? Fitting in has been the easiest and most enjoyable part of the process. I met my future colleagues during the interview process and that was what sold me on the culture. They are a small group of talented, driven, game passionate people. They are open and diverse but most of all so friendly. I have so much fun everyday that it does not seem like I am going into work. They are people first and care about the happiness of those in the studio. What are you most excited about bringing to the role? I’m excited to bring my experience of working in bigger studios. And having held a number of roles outside of games, I would hope to bring valuable insight to the gaming and production world. What will working at Ustwo Games do for your career? I believe it will help me grow in the industry as we face challenges in designing great games for a broader reach. I am also very interested in learning how to run a small successful studio. What would you like to say to anyone thinking about or undertaking a job move in this industry? Do it! Follow your heart, find something that excites you and you’ll never go wrong. Finding a studio that not only makes great games but surrounds you with friendly caring individuals helps your experience a lot.
Name: Gianluca Vatinno Studio: Ustwo Games Job Title: Senior games programmer Education: MSc in Interactive Entertainment Technology
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Iterating for Better No matter how fair-minded we believe ourselves to be, most people have some degree of unconscious bias. MCV examines what it is, and what can be done BUILDING a diverse workforce is a priority for many studios, but managing our unconscious bias during any recruitment process is a challenge. Firstly, to be clear, we all have unconscious biases. Scientists believe that stereotypes in general serve a purpose – clustering people into groups with expected traits helps us to navigate the world. The downside is that the potential for prejudice is hard-wired into human reasoning and, if left unchecked, unconscious bias can thrive in hiring, promotions and in feedback. Of course, the process of selection is all about reduction; exclusion is a vital part of recruiting. But bias has to be accounted for when making judgments about applicants. Here are some tips on how to avoid it: • Create a job description that includes only absolute requirements. Prioritise capability as opposed to person type. Make the job description your contract with yourself, because you’re going to use that document to control yourself later on in the process. • Once you have candidates at the selection stage, write down the priorities from the job description before you begin sifting through them. This will keep you on track when bias can creep in – for example, when you realise the candidate went to your university or that they like the same kind of music as you do. • Create a ticklist from the job description, then take information off CVs for a blind review – i.e. name, photo, personal stuff and consider removing university too. Make a scorecard for each CV. If you look for a ‘cultural fit’, what does that mean if the starting point is not a diverse workforce? We need to stop looking at cultural fit and start looking at cultural add. • Demand diverse shortlists, interview with people unlike you, use structure, scoring and notes. Do not form opinions in interviews. Your brain is powerful, so you have to outwit its instincts. Thwart it with structure, the support of colleagues, and practice over time. We have the easy choice of recruiting in our own image, to make decisions that are quick and easy, and solve problems with a short term
view. But if we recognise bias in the system and in society, we can play our part in making things fairer for everyone and give all talented people a chance to do rewarding work.
Natalie Tidey Senior recruiter, EA “I think there’s an element of unconscious or similarity bias in all industries, and I think many, including games, are waking up to that now more than ever. I have personally found the games industry to be a sector of incredibly passionate, welcoming and inclusive people. Perhaps this passion has, at times, led to an unconscious preference to work with, or hire, people with similar interests, similar passions, similar preferences. But I also believe that the industry recognises that the global playerbase should be reflected within the workforce and are consciously taking steps to address gaps. Change takes time, but I’m very optimistic.”
Paula Wheelan Head of diversity and inclusion, RightTrack Learning “Gaining a deeper understanding of how, why and when bias can occur is a great first step. Consider taking Harvard Implicit Association tests to find out if you have any notable bias for or against any particular group of people. An increase in understanding and self-awareness will better enable you to evaluate whether your decision-making is fair and unbiased, or not. If you are addressing promotions, performance reviews or recruitment, for example, perhaps include a panel of people or devise an approach that is 100 per cent objective; a clear set of criteria and a scoring matrix helps to ensure managers rely on evidence, rather than gut feelings or assumptions.” 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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THE KINGS in the north For this first regional spotlight, Marie Dealessandri looks into the thriving North East scene. A dozen northern games companies tell us everything there is to know about North East England, its cluster of talent, its quality of life and its booming immersive tech expertise
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here’s life in the UK games industry outside London. This was the headline of Kathryn Penny’s recent MCV piece, highlighting her work as director of the Yorkshire Games Festival and fiercely defending that, yes, there’s more to the UK games industry than just London. And this is certainly a statement that many north of Yorkshire will agree with too. That’s precisely why we decided to head north for our first regional spotlight – North East more exactly. From triple-A to indies, the region is a tight knit cluster of talented games studios: Ubisoft Reflections, Coatsink, Double Eleven, Hammerhead, Sumo Digital, High Tea Frog, Pocket Money Games, Atomhawk, People Can Fly, Cardboard Sword, Coconut Lizard, Fox Byte Games and many many more. And there’s a reason for that – or rather many reasons as David Pattison tells us. He’s inward investment manager at Invest North East England which, as the name gives away, supports investment and relocation into the region. “There really are so many answers to this question,” he says when we ask about the benefits of being based in North East England. “But for the games sector, in a nutshell, I’d say it’s the strength of the cluster, with over 50 specialist gaming companies here including a significant cluster of immersive technology businesses. Supporting that is the availability of skilled employees and the five North East Universities, who between them offer 90 bespoke courses for the gaming sector and 51,000 students studying STEM subjects. We’re also a very cost competitive location in terms of talent and property, with some world class facilities including the UK’s first industry-led centre of excellence for VR and AR – Proto.” Remember this name, as we’ll come back to it later. But before that, Pattison adds that another great asset for the region is how symbiotic the industry is: “One thing that we perhaps don’t shout about enough is the supportive ecosystem that exists here, involving the public and private sector, which can’t be underestimated. The North East’s can do attitude and hard working mentality are very much behind our shared success in this area, with everyone supporting each other. “Finally, the excellent quality of life and connectivity that the North East offers is very important. There aren’t many places that offer the balance of city life, surfing beaches and countryside on their doorstep, and within short distance of an award winning international airport and mainline train station.”
The North East’s quality of life is a recurring topic among our respondents, as John Nejady points out – now producer at Coconut Lizard, he has a wealth of experience in the North East, having worked at the likes of Ubisoft Reflections, CCP and Sumo Digital. “The lifestyle bonuses that are intrinsic to the North East are amplified by working in games,” he says. “Property prices, rent and the general cost of living is lower so you get more bang for your buck. The population is less dense, so you don’t have to endure anything like the London Underground at any stage, but we still have a lot of the culture, entertainment and appeal that you’d get in other, larger and more expensive cities. Also, because some companies are working on projects high profile enough to attract talent globally, the pay can also be competitive on a global scale. I was born and raised here but have worked around the world in another industry. I have chosen to settle here rather than any of those other places.” Chris Goodyear is creative director at Many Cats Studios – this community interest company (a government-recognised social enterprise) provides employment and training opportunities for people living with disabilities or learning difficulties, hoping to develop games with a better representation of disability issues. And he had a very good reason to choose the North East. “It was important for me to challenge the concept that you can only do well in the industry if you live in London. The North East has a high level of people living with disabilities which meant that I could have the most social impact encouraging more disabled people to get into games here,” he explains. “The amount of charities and groups supporting those with disabilities and learning difficulties is high in the North East and they are embracing the games industry and working with me due to the popularity of games in disabled communities. The North East also has an amazing mix of communities that rivals even London, which means there is every chance to improve diversity in your company.”
"...Over 50 companies, five universities, 51,000 STEM students...”
MADE IN THE NORTH EAST If that wasn’t enough to convince you that the North East is a great place to be (and work), then now is the right time to come back to Proto. It was mentioned left, right and center by everyone we talked to, as it’s rapidly become an essential asset for the games industry in the region, especially for indies. The £8m research and development facility, which opened in September 2018, is at the forefront of immersive tech.
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Artist and director Laura Millar recently moved into the Proto building, located in Gateshead’s Baltic Quarter, with her studio High Tea Frog. “We have access to mocap recording, photogrammetry, an audio booth and all the hardware we could ever want, even VR headsets,” she enthuses. “As a small company we never dreamt of having access to this kind of tech, and it’s such a great opportunity to learn how to use all that cool stuff.” She continues: “The North East is home to loads of great games companies. In our early days we relied on the local network to help us get certain hard to come by dev kits. People outside the industry might assume indie developers are in competition with each other, but up here it’s far from the case – it’s a great atmosphere of skill sharing and helping everyone out. We recently signed a publishing deal with Coatsink who are based nearby, in Sunderland too – they’re helping us make Cake Bash even better, so we’re a big fan of the locals!” Sophie Smart, producer at said Coatsink, details the reasons why the North East has embraced immersive tech at such a high level. “When you are a small company just starting out you have to find a unique selling point,” she explains. “As the North East’s tech sector was starting to grow, the first rumblings of VR and immersive tech started to happen. With so many grants to help companies try immersive tech it was a no brainer to explore it, and many companies have reaped the benefits. As a result, VRTGO/XRTGO, an immersive tech community hub, was setup with an annual exhibition and show, which brings in people from all over the country.” Owen O’Brien, studio director at Sumo Digital Newcastle (formerly CCP Newcastle), echoes Smart’s
explanation: “There’s definitely a pioneering spirit to the studios currently embracing this tech, partly due to the less established markets and more indie style approach to creating experiences. Maybe that resonates with the North East attitude to spot potential opportunities and get in there before it becomes too mainstream.” Olly Bennett, CEO at indie studio Cardboard Sword, adds: “There’s a real drive to push digital here. A lot of the old industries are all but dead, so councils are looking at what jobs can replace them for the new generations. Government and EU funding helped massively with these regions’ digital growth spurts, and that’s attracted very talented developers to start up companies here. Both were growing at the same time, so it made sense that many of them would embrace VR and the immersive tech sector.” Natalie Wicks, player engagement and content creator at Middlesbroughbased Double Eleven, tells us more about what the funding Bennet is referring to has done for them: “In the Tees Valley, we’ve got a strong and well established tech cluster called the Boho Zone, which is about to celebrate its ten year anniversary. It was part-funded by EU investment funds and local government as a way of offering very high quality workspace for digital companies. "The Boho Zone project is due to grow even bigger, with Boho Next Generation in the works, which will offer an additional 60,000 square feet of office space, making room for another 1,000 tech jobs. In our building alone, we’ve personally worked with digital marketing agencies, web developers and filmmakers on various projects.” What Pattison calls the North East’s “rich heritage of innovation” is also what makes it such an attractive place for indies, as detailed by Fox Byte Games’ CEO Aaron Preece, located in Teesside: “There are a lot of indie studios here. In the building we’re based in there are three indie studios at present. Across Middlesbrough that number increases, and looking towards Newcastle there are even more. These studios are all working on different projects, from their own IP to amazing contract work for non-games organisations. Gamification projects for people like the NHS are growing in popularity and offer games studios a chance to show the power of video games to people that wouldn’t usually be involved in games.” Many Cats’ Goodyear adds that “the North East embraces the entrepreneurial spirit of small studios. There is a lot of indie devs in the community that support each other. There is a real pride in having something ‘Made in the North East’.”
“There’s a pioneering spirit to the studios currently embracing immersive tech.”
Pictured above from top: Aaron Preece, Chris Goodyear and David Pattison
Pictured below: Inside the Sunderland Software Centre, where Coatsink is based
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MORE AND BETTER JOBS Being a booming region for games and tech comes with three challenges though: keeping the new skilled talent local, attracting people from outside the area and staff retention. For the first one, there are universities aplenty, which means there’s a lot of opportunity for internship programmes, as Sumo Digital’s O’Brien explains. “We have developed very close relationships with the local educational establishments so we try and scoop up the best talent and keep them in the region,” he says. “We run an intern programme and a very high percentage of our interns are offered full time jobs. For more experienced developers we find that people tend to stay in the region. A high proportion of our new hires are from recommendations from current employees.” Coatsink’s Smart confirms the invaluable link between universities and games industry companies: “There are so many universities in the North East that have specialist courses in games development. Coatsink works very closely with these universities, hiring their best talent and taking on interns and placement students. A large percentage of our staff attended the likes of Teesside, Newcastle or Northumbria University. We recognise that these institutions are working incredibly hard to push out talent which is ready to work in the industry and we are never disappointed with the dedication and new ways of thinking these individuals bring to Coatsink.” She adds: “We really care about taking care of our employees, and with that friendlier rapport we are able to work together to keep crunch to a minimum and really enjoy a good work/life balance which in turn keeps people at Coatsink for longer.” At Double Eleven, the collaboration with universities goes as far as “providing guidance to education providers on their specific course content and syllabuses,” Wicks says. The studio also offers paid work placements for students, which can lead to full time employment. “For senior staff, we focus on offering job security, meaningful work and advancement opportunities, and are working on increasing awareness about the industry in the wider community,” she continues. Fox Byte’s Preece also highlights opportunities that show young, local talent that the industry is a viable career path: “There are businesses, such as RAW Digital Training, that send professionals from various tech fields, including games, to run courses for college-level students, teaching them skills they can then use to learn more about the tech industry and the roles available. "Fox Byte Games often works with students from Teesside University either as playtesters or just offering support and advice on the places and companies in the area they can go to, when looking for work.
“Launchpad, Teesside University’s department to support postgraduate students starting out in business – especially in tech – is also a Tranzfuser hub. Tranzfuser is a UK Games Fund offshoot for graduate games startups, a competition that provides studios with a bit of funding and exhibition space at EGX. At the end of the competition the companies are able to pitch for further funding that can be used to help get the studios first game to launch.” As far as attracting people to the region goes, Invest North East England’s Pattison points out that, similarly to retaining talent, the significant cluster of innovative employers in the region is vital to providing careers at all levels: “There are a range of partners in the region all working to ensure that the North East LEP’s Strategic Economic Plan to create ‘more and better jobs’ is achieved, which will in turn ensure that talent is attracted to the North East and offer those who have perhaps moved elsewhere in the past an opportunity to return for an excellent quality of life, while also furthering their career.” Double Eleven’s Wicks adds that they’re working on “outreach with global universities as well as recruiters,” adding: “Where it’s feasible, we like to bring prospective employees into the office for a visit. By showing people around and introducing them to the area, you get the opportunity to fall in love with the region since there is so much to like.” THE $1BN RIVER TYNE This doesn’t mean that everything is perfect in North East England, as there are some downsides to consider. Tim Wilson, managing director at Atomhawk, having first and foremost mentioned the “high quality of life” in the region as well as its “high pedigree in design and video game development,” adds with regret: “The region isn’t as instantly recognisable as the likes of London,
Pictured above: The team at Sumo's Newcastle studio
Pictured above from top: John Nejady, Jonathon Wilson and Laura Millar
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Pictured above from top: Lucy Kyriakidou and Natalie Wicks
Manchester or major foreign cities. So there’s always a bit of a sales job involved when talking to non-North East candidates who we’re trying to attract to join our team in Gateshead. However, once they arrive, they’re very happy with their decision to join and we have several employees from overseas who have stayed to work with us for many years!” Lucy Kyriakidou, a veteran freelance 2D artist and animator based in Newcastle, adds: “With more and more big industry events happening in London, it becomes hard to attend many of them and on a regular basis. Planning to go also means accounting for the long travel and high costs but these usually balance out with the low living costs in the area. In terms of jobs, the North East is still growing, so opportunities are more limited. Since the biggest number of local studios are small indies, these opportunities are even fewer for more experienced talent who are looking for a role and pay that corresponds to this experience.” Finally, Coconut Lizard’s Nejady paints a grim portrait of the impact the unjust reputation of the region has: “I think the biggest downside of being based here is probably the stigma attached to ‘The North East’. On a personal level that belief is absolutely fine by me, because I know that for the most part it’s a fallacy; an
THINKING of moving your business to the North East or creating a new studio up north? We asked our resident experts for some tips. And the most important one is to get in touch with Invest North East England. “We have a dedicated team to help any studio considering the region and we’re here to support in any way we can,” inward investment manager David Pattison says. “We coordinate investment enquiries on behalf of our region’s local authorities to ensure businesses are able to make the best decisions based on a wide array of information and all of our services are completely free of charge. We can offer advice on availability of property, provide information and statistics on the local economy, demographics, infrastructure and labour market, organise visits to the region and meetings with key stakeholders and HR support. We find that whenever we get people to visit the North East, they always go away very impressed by what we have to offer. Come and see it for yourselves!” Fox Byte Games’ CEO Aaron Preece adds that you “can get a lot of financial support in the form of grants or even advice on finding work and helping to maintain a business,” while Coatsink’s producer Sophie Smart advises to “start by looking at all of the community studio spaces.” She continues: “Coatsink are in the Sunderland Software Centre, a building which houses multiple tech companies. There are similar places in Gateshead such as the Northern Design Centre and Proto. They’re a good place to meet other people who should be able to help.” Double Eleven’s player engagement and content creator Natalie Wicks echoes this statement: “Industry networks are all wide open so do feel free to reach out to existing studios. At the end of the day, we all want to see the local industry continuing to grow and build, because it makes it easier to engage local talent." Coconut Lizard’s producer John Nejady concludes: “Be ambitious: the outsourcing model is becoming increasingly attractive to publishers and IP owners, so roll the dice and make the call. Be reliable: transcend the expectations of all who doubt you through solid work. Be nice: treat your employees well.”
intangible fantasy borne of perceptual bias which people are more than welcome to have, because that means they won’t come and crowd up the place for us. “On a professional level, however, that stigma is problematic in that it can make people not want to visit, let alone interview for a job here. People still see the North East as some parochial wildland where the outlook is bleak and the people downtrodden. An old boss of mine moved to Newcastle from Cambridge. Upon hearing of the planned move a friend asked him: ‘How could you do that to your kids?! They’ll never be able to find a job!’. There are plenty of thriving industries up here, and in my career I’ve worked on eight games that have generated over $1bn dollars in revenue – from desks that were never more than half a mile away from the River Tyne.” SUPER NOVA By now you surely have understood that the games industry in the North East is a tight knit community where mutual assistance is second nature. To further that aspect even more, local meetups and knowledge-sharing events are thriving, as Invest North East England’s Pattison explains: “We’re blessed with a fantastic support ecosystem in the region. You’re never far from an event or meetup. Whether it be over a coffee at one of the regions specialist innovation hubs such as Proto, or at an arranged event, such as those organised by Digital Union, Dynamo or Sunderland Software City, there are countless opportunities to meet and collaborate.” Pocket Money Games’ lead designer and producer Jonathon Wilson is behind some of these events that help keep the community together. “There is a strong sense of community in the North East and it’s great to see it continuing to grow,” he says. “In Newcastle, there is a monthly game dev meet that runs on the first Friday of every month which is run by myself and [Pocket Money Games CEO] Frankie Cavanagh. This is a really chilled event where people can come and unwind after work. We have been running the event for almost two years now and we still get to see new people showing up, which is great as it means the community is growing. “There is also a Unity User group set up here which sees developers come together to share knowledge and learn about the latest Unity features and development techniques. Game Bridge is another meet-up run in Middlesbrough which also helps bring the community together. Teesside University also runs Animex every year which brings a lot of people from outside the region to the area. As you can see there is a lot going on here and that’s not all – new events and communities are cropping up all the time.”
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One of the newest additions to this roster of meetups is Women Making Games NE, “to support and promote the talented women in the area,” Lucy Kyriakidou says, before adding: “We have already had some relaxed events and are planning more, some on a regular basis and some focusing on game creation and skill sharing.” Coatsink’s Smart continues: “[Women Making Games NE] has been great with a whole host of different events from dinners out, crazy golf and even visits to the local dog café. It’s been wonderful to have the opportunity to go along to events with other women to help socialise, have fun and elevate each others' careers.” And the list of networking opportunities doesn’t stop here, as Jonathon Wilson explains: “As the development community has grown, Gateshead council and Proto have been very supportive working with local companies to help establish Nova [the official games collective for the North East of England], to help champion the great games and ideas that come out of the region. It’s bringing everyone together and linking designers, developers, gamers and studios through meet-ups, conferences, podcasts and online support. It’s still early days for Nova but it already has the support of a lot of local companies including Pocket Money Games, Hammerhead, Sumo Digital, Atomhawk, High Tea Frog and People Can Fly. These companies make up Nova’s steering group which is focused on bringing new gaming-focused events to the area.” The first one will be the Nova Game Conference, created “by developers for developers,” which will take place on June 27-28th.
Atomhawk was also established in 2009, with Wilson explaining: “Atomhawk was founded out of the ashes of Midway, and many other studios have risen from the same group of developers. The community has remained buoyant and now has offices for major developers as well as fantastic indie studios.” Sophie Smart confirms that the region has drastically changed in recent years, echoing Wilson’s story: “Since Coatsink was founded ten years ago, the community here in the North East has changed hugely. Midway Studios had just closed down and Eutechnyx and Reflections were the major companies in the area when Coatsink was first founded. "Over time more support has become available and the community has widened with more diversity in both people and games that they are working on.” It sounds like the future is bright for North East England, with the games industry looking all set to live there happily ever after. “I’ve seen an evolution in games courses to adapt to the changing industry, and seen and been a part of community growth across the region, as networks and events establish,” Cardboard Sword’s Bennett concludes. “There have been some indies that have survived, some that have not, some companies that have had rocky patches, but that now see great growth, and some big companies moving to the region or taking over from others. In my nine years here, it feels like the games industry has really buried its roots, and now we’re starting to see it flower.”
“There’s a tangible feeling that the tech sector is really important to the North East.”
A BLOSSOMING TREE These thriving hubs and fantastic meetup opportunities have been years in the making, with some studios having spent over a decade in the region. They can testify to its wonderful evolution – despite what mainstream media wants you to believe. That includes Double Eleven, founded in 2009, with Wicks saying that “everything is growing.” She continues: “While the narrative of the region’s past economic downturn has been popularised in the media, the reality is that the sector feels invigorated, with major projects such as Boho Next Gen, increased infrastructure spending and the near constant arrival of new and better equipped companies. There’s a tangible feeling that the tech sector is really important to the North East, and especially here in the Tees Valley. We’ve grown from around 25 direct employees in 2017 to now over 70, and we see other companies growing on similar trajectories.”
Pictured above from top: Ollly Bennett, Owen O'Brien, Sophie Smart and Tim Wilson
The Atomhawk team at the VR and AR-focused Proto centre
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ANGRY-VERSARY It’s been ten years since the first Angry Birds game catapulted Rovio to success and the brand is having a resurgent 2019. Seth Barton speaks to CEO Kati Levoranta and new EVP of games Alex Pelletier-Normand
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here were a couple of years between the launch of the original iPhone and the launch of the original Angry Birds, but for the vast majority of us, the game (in all its various forms) has been around for as long as we’ve had a smartphone. It’s a titan amongst mobile games, a first-generation release that’s become and remained a globally-recognised brand. As it enters its tenth year, the brand continues to lead the company. Angry Birds 2 remained the top dog at Rovio in 2018. The title was actually launched way back in 2015, although that’s pretty typical when you look at the top-grossing mobile games – it takes time to build success. “Angry Birds 2 is a good example of that,” CEO Kati Levoranta agrees. “The first half of the year didn’t look too promising for that game. But big changes were made and the game grew 49 per cent year-on-year.” That helped the company achieve “record gross bookings for games in 2018,” she adds. That has been key in the gradual recovery of the company’s share price – which nearly halved in a single day in early 2018 after a profit warning. It now looks to be heading in the right direction, having recovered almost half that loss in a steady, upward move. A lot of that comes down to the renewed strength of Angry Birds 2.
“It is a great honour to own a brand like Angry Birds,” Levoranta continues. “It’s something rare and I think many would be really happy if they had such a brand on their hands. We realised that when the competition gets tougher out there, as it does, having a brand that is so well known definitely helps you.” One area in which things have got tougher for almost everyone in mobile is increasing user acquisition costs. Though Levoranta is keen to note that UA costs for the company have remained within the 30 per cent of revenue that it predicted for the last year. The new EVP of games Alex Pelletier-Normand, who joined earlier this year, provides a little more detail: “We have a team that is very dynamic working on this game. They tried different things and it’s going together with our user acquisition team – they worked together to find the best ways to market the game as well. And you need to keep on improving the game, bringing value to the users, and with time things like that happen.” Getting Angry Birds 2 into tip-top shape in 2018 was critical too, as the company didn’t launch any new titles during the year, Levoranta tells us: “It was a year of servicing our existing games and making sure that we got those to the levels that we can. Of course we did invest in new game development during that time and as a result we’ve launched already one game in January. And we’ve said
Pictured above: Rovio’s experimenting with new tech such as AR with Isle of Pigs, just released
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publicly that we aim to release at least two games this year.” Two games a year seems to be the target going forwards then, we suggest, with Angry Birds AR: Isle of Pigs having released since our chat. “Let’s not constrain ourselves with that kind of statement,” Levoranta replies. “You never know, games should be launched when they are ready and not just by saying that we will do this amount every year, we need to see how the pipeline and portfolio develops. We must test the games and see which could succeed… And kill the ones that cannot. And then iterate and out of that funnel we hope that we definitely do get games out.”
Pictured below: Rovio’s first release of 2019, Dream Blast
DREAMS OF FLIGHT That first release this year was Angry Birds Dream Blast, a match-and-burst bubble game with a pleasingly organic feel. Now, there’s also the recently launched Isle of Pigs on iOS devices, where the catapult game is rendered in 3D in your environment, letting you get right around your target and attack from any angle. Pelletier-Normand tells us more: “We’ve been working on this game for a little while now. It actually started on Magic Leap. We experimented with it and it was quite clear that it would make sense to play it using ARKit in augmented reality.
“It brings a completely different experience than you would see on a screen in 2D. We wanted to bring meaningful content, a different experience. It was not about just adding a feature in one of our games that would make it look that we’re using AR technology. “I think it’s interesting to note that when [Angry Birds] started, ten years ago now, it was taking advantage of multi-touch support on the iPhone which made the game big. And now we’re bringing something very fluid to AR, something that is very meaningful. It’s bringing the game to a new place, because since you control the camera you can hide things in the 3D space. So in terms of game design it brings our teams to a different place and they can try new things. “I think naturally for AR we’re going to see a lot of games that are more core, that have an audience that is a bit more narrow, but with the Angry Birds license, everybody knows the brand and could play it. So I think it’s good for both promoting the AR platforms and for the IP,” he suggests. ACHIEVING LAUNCH VELOCITY In an increasingly competitive market, it’s very hard to launch new mobile games, and even harder to launch new IPs. That said, Rovio is set upon expanding its revenues beyond the Angry Birds franchise. “We want to both continue work on Angry Birds and make sure that the brand continues to evolve, because it’s such a huge brand,” Levoranta starts explaining. “But we want to have different things as well. And sometimes, in the genre of game that we’re doing, in our portfolio strategy, sometimes the [Angry Birds] brand doesn’t fit. “Each time we do a game, we need to ask ourselves: is this game bringing something to the brand? And in that sense we have a quite balanced portfolio where we do have some Angry Birds games that we’re working on and that will come out, but also we have games in development that are a little bit more mid-core, that wouldn’t perfectly fit with the brand. We’re developing new things and we’re very excited about those things as well. So I’d say that it’s probably half and half in our games in development. We have a pretty rich pipeline right now and they’re very balanced.” One part of that new mid-core strategy was the acquisition of PlayRaven in November 2018, PelletierNormand says. “They’re now with us and they have their game, which is a 4X strategy title, which is something that we wanted to do, that was important for us in our portfolio strategy. We were lucky enough to have those talented guys in the same city [Helsinki] that had an interesting take on this. “So we’ve been integrating them, they moved into our studio and it’s working super well because the culture is very similar. So we’re excited about this and it’s a totally
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different angle from what you would expect from Rovio games.” Pelletier-Normand adds that they’re looking at a soft launch for the title later this year. THE BIRDS Arguably, Rovio’s biggest launch this year isn’t a game at all but rather the Angry Birds Movie 2, which forms the tentpole moment of the brand’s ten-year anniversary celebrations. The sequel hasn’t been produced in the same manner as the first film though, Levoranta explains. “The first movie came out in 2016 and we financed it ourselves and then we partnered with Columbia Pictures [part of Sony] for the distribution of the movie. However, at the same time, many things happened in the company. We were really thinking about our strategy going forward and where our focus should be. We clarified our strategy as a games-first entertainment company, meaning that games is our core, in our hearts, and our focus should be developing games. “Since the first movie did so well though, we wanted to make another movie, but this time we saw that it was better to license the brand over to Sony-Columbia and that’s how we are running our other business around Angry Birds. So it’s all licensing – whatever we are doing, we’re licensing it to product developers or merchandising developers, so they make the products and deliver them to market.” IN THE PIPE Coming back to games and looking to the future, Pelletier-Normand tells us what’s in the works at present: “In our development team we have a quite healthy pipeline, we have 13 games at the moment that we’re developing.” Of course, most of those won’t ever see a full release, as only the very best stand a chance in the current market, he explains: “It’s getting super hard to release games, so what can we do internally to release games that are meaningful and can get to the top and stick around for years? “We work with the teams on making sure that we don’t only create games that are... Let’s call it evolutionary. Instead, we really take a stab at doing games that are game changers, that are very different to what exists on the market today. We have a couple in the pipeline that are going to be quite different and we’re looking forward to see how the market reacts to them.” Levoranta reminds us: “Alex only started at the beginning of the year as head of games. He’s been rolling up his sleeves and getting stuck in.” Pelletier-Normand spent 15 years at Gameloft before this, so we ask how much the culture differs at Rovio
from his previous role: “Oh my God, it’s so different,” he exclaims. “Rovio has a lot of independence between the different teams and also between the different studios. A studio at Rovio is not necessarily linked to a physical location, but to a genre of game that we’re doing, which allows us to have a very specific way to approach the market depending on the type of games that we do. “I feel like everybody is quite empowered to change things as opposed to a company that would control everything from headquarters and give strategic or even creative feedback to their team. Our teams are quite independent and so they feel that they can really make a difference – which they can. And it’s really great to see that, I feel that everybody is behind Rovio and wants Rovio to succeed. And it’s very energising.” Rovio looks headed in the right direction then, with Angry Birds set to have an upbeat anniversary year, the company exploring new technology with AR and new genres with the likes of PlayRaven. Yes, it needs to find that next big hit, as do many in the space, but with its core brand hitting the target, it can achieve that in a far more measured manner than many.
Pictured above: The Angry Birds Movie 2 forms the tentpole celebration of the brand’s ten-year anniversary
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T R A E H
Marie Dealessandri talks to the games music experts behind Cord Worldwide and Laced Records, Alastair Lindsay and Danny Kelleher, about how to choose the music for your game, the pros and cons of licensed soundtracks versus bespoke scores, and how the digital shift in games and game consumers’ need to collect has made the future of vinyls (very) bright
p until recently, Cord Worldwide was a provider of music and audio solutions such as sonic branding for the film and advertising industries. Meanwhile, record label Laced Records was delighting video games music fans with its great catalogue of indie and triple-A scores such as Doom and No Man’s Sky. These two worlds collided in April 2018 when games services provider Keywords Studios bought the two companies from Cutting Edge Group. This move enabled Keywords to branch out in music services and Cord to branch out in games, with Laced Records sitting perfectly at the end of the supply chain. Danny Kelleher, Laced Records’ CEO and Cord Worldwide’s MD, tells us that Laced was “already having bigger conversations with bigger publishers” when the acquisition happened, but having the Keywords’ label now further facilitates the firm’s business. “Publishers would say: ‘Oh that’s great, we actually already have a contract with Keywords!’ So that makes the process of collaborating easier. Businesswise, Keywords is very very different obviously – they’re a services business and Laced is
essentially a reseller and record label. But what we want to have with Laced now is kind of an extension to Cord services.” Enters Alastair Lindsay – this industry veteran has spent a whopping 20 years at Sony, most recently as head of audio, having first started as sound designer and composer then becoming music production manager and then head of music. He joined Cord in January 2019 as head of audio. “My passion is the creative side of music and audio for games so it’s just something that I wasn’t doing much over the past few years at Sony and I really wanted to get back into being able to find new interesting solutions and ideas for music, for games,” Lindsay explains about his move to Cord. Since the Keywords acquisition and now stronger with Lindsay’s expertise, Cord works with publishers and developers on trailers, music and audio direction for games – from working with composers to supervising scores to licensing music to recording sessions all the way through to Laced releasing the soundtracks and monetising the music. “I’m working a lot with Alastair on the Cord stuff now,” Kelleher confirms. “So obviously we want to provide
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Pictured left: The Dead Cells vinyl was a big hit, with the story leading to its creation involving Bethesda’s divine intervention
very good music from start to finish but with Laced as a bolt-on to that, looking at how we monetise the assets that [developers] have actually paid for. So it’s an end-to-end service where it’s not a client spending money on services: we can actually generate revenue for them off the back of releasing these soundtracks commercially as well. Cord has a proven history in other fields, in Hollywood, in television and advertising, and I think those skills are very transferable into video games.” THE WIPEOUT EFFECT If music and audio directions have similarities between film and games, there’s still one major difference between the two creative fields: developers, especially indie studios, don’t necessarily know where to start with music. And that’s when Cord enters the game, Lindsay explains. “They probably have some idea of what they want but this is where we really like to be involved and give them some suggestions or, if they do already have some suggestions, offering up some alternatives,” he says. “If they thought about licensing the music, we ask them: have you thought of working with a composer? Have you ever thought of working with the recording artists themselves to create something bespoke for your game? So basically anything’s on the table – and creative solutions too. “Video games is a creative space and it’s such a diverse world, so let’s try to offer something original, something different that’s going to make that game stand out, make it sound different from everyone else.”
Cord’s services don’t stop at creating a soundtrack for your game, it offers technical suggestions as well with Lindsay explaining that sometimes developers don’t see how they can implement music in certain ways that make it a more seamless and more engaging soundtrack. Said soundtrack can be licensed tracks or a composed score, with both having pros and cons – the choice will depend on what you want to bring to your game: cultural relevance and marketing push or a bespoke sound and interactive atmosphere? “Licensed music, if you have the budget for named artists, that can always be a little bit of a pull,” Lindsay says. “An example when I was working at Sony was the Wipeout franchise – it was always known and respected for its music. So there was a lot of work getting the right music in it. It brought some fans to us as well because people knew the franchise because of the music. The artists have their fans, they have their PR channels so you can then do some cross promotion, so it can help market the game, especially if it’s a smaller title. The downside of licensing a track is what you can do with it is limited. You can potentially get hold of stems [the individual instrument files and vocal channels] for the tracks and get permission to do some edits or some remixes, but where a bespoke, composed score trumps licensed music is you’re starting from scratch. “If you’ve got a very interactive soundtrack that you want to do, you can basically make the music to fit the system that you’re creating. So it’s going to be a more
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Pictured above from top: Alastair Lindsay and Danny Kelleher
seamless integrated experience. The composer could be a recording artist too, somebody that you would have potentially licensed the music from but who will then write something bespoke. The downside of composing music is it can take a very very long time. Especially the bigger titles where they’re wanting hundreds of minutes, maybe even eight to ten hours of music.” A licensed soundtrack can sound quite tempting to indies thanks to the potential marketing push – however, studios need to be aware of the challenges of licensing, as Lindsay highlights. “With commercial music, negotiations with the rights holders can be [challenging],” he says. “There’s been many occasions in my time at Sony where people wanted to license certain tracks, they know what they want, but you can’t license them for various reasons. There’s either too many rights holders involved and then the cost may be prohibitive as well. You can get some good deals but a lot of the time, if you want a big name, then you have to have the money – and budgets can be quite restrictive in games. So that’s the main challenge really. And then it’s just negotiating and having those relationships with the rights holders, the record labels, the publishers, the artists managers. You have to have everyone on board – so it’s part relationships, part good negotiation skills.” Cord’s job is precisely to facilitate these relationships though, whether you’re going the licensed or composed route, with Lindsay’s experience in the industry then becoming an invaluable asset for the company. “Over the years I’ve met and spoke to hundreds of composers so there’s a lot people out there very keen to work within video games,” he says. “So it’s about understanding who’s out there, what they have to offer and there’s also a bit of being at the right place at the right time because it’s been cases where someone would just get in touch with you and then it just so happens you’re looking for somebody for a particular title. That happens a lot.”
When you go down the composer route, Lindsay points out that you might want to choose to work with wellknown film composers, thinking that adding a big name next to your game will undoubtedly benefit it. Well think twice, as he warns that “that has its own challenges,” adding that he doesn’t think “it brings too much value to the game.” When we ask why, he answers: “I don’t think game players are generally that interested. I think game composers have a bit more credibility than film composers do in games. They’ve been around for a long time, they’ve built a fanbase and listening to video game music is very niche but very popular and it’s a certain crowd... They’re not necessarily people who are into film soundtracks I don’t think. They’re buying into a whole world, a whole game experience, they want everything. So it’s definitely an interesting audience. That’s something Danny could explain: the people who buy vinyl records and game soundtracks.” YOU SHOULD GET IT ON VINYL Danny Kelleher definitely has a lot to say about that and about the added value of releasing special edition soundtracks and vinyls. “The merchandise numbers seem to increase every year,” he says. “And people are obviously still very keen to get their hands on collector’s edition box sets. So I think with the vinyl side, as music gets better and better in games, it’s opening up another opportunity for the consumer to hold something physical for a franchise that they really love which they are now downloading from the PS4 or Steam rather than going into a traditional brick and mortar store and picking that game physically off the shelf. It’s just an additional thing which goes towards the game consumers’ need to collect.” But releasing your soundtrack on vinyl doesn’t mean instant success though, as Kelleher points out. “I’d love to say it all comes down to how good the music is, but unfortunately that’s not always the case,” he smiles. “In terms of commercially being viable, for a vinyl release especially, which is very expensive to manufacture, you do rely a lot on the IP and the franchise being a success. “We worked on a couple of great soundtracks where the music was absolutely beautiful and so much work and effort went into it but unfortunately the game wasn’t a hit with fans. So you had this beautiful element of music but unfortunately the franchise just didn’t get big enough for people to care about buying that merchandise.” That leads us to discussing one of Laced’s successes, the Dead Cells soundtrack, which I will literally take every opportunity to talk about. Its vinyl is sold out and that all comes down to... Bethesda. “[Dead Cells] was is in early access and we were working on Doom and there was a lot of back and forth
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on getting that vinyl together and the head of licensing in the US for Bethesda said: ‘Oh, I’ve sunk quite a lot of hours into this game Dead Cells and it’s got this amazing soundtrack, you should get it on vinyl!’ And I checked it and I thought ‘Actually, that’s pretty cool!’,” Kelleher laughs. “So I got in touch with Twin Motion and they were really happy to put something together.” Another type of release that’s meeting success is powered by nostalgia, with publishers getting in touch about older titles. “It’s not your traditional soundtrack album,” Kelleher explains. “Back in the day we were just being given a lot of cues basically. These could be 10 or 20 seconds long and then there would maybe be some pieces of music which would be more like a traditional music release of around three minutes. But mainly it could be 40 tracks of ten seconds. And when I first looked at these I thought: ‘Well how do you sell that on vinyl?’ That doesn’t sound to me like a listening experience that I personally would buy. But what we’re finding is actually the consumers are so attached to the IP, they hold on to that vinyl and listen to some of those songs – it might not necessarily be like listening to a whole album of singles but it’s these tiny bits of cues and music which they associate with that franchise and they really do want to own it.” Lastly, the success of Laced’s vinyls sometimes has literally nothing to do with music. “I wouldn’t want to hazard a guess on the percentage of our customers that don’t actually play our records...” Kelleher starts with a smile. “But I know for a fact that some customers don’t play the records. We have people contacting us regularly saying: ‘Can you recommend a good frame that would hold the vinyl? I don’t have a vinyl turntable but I want to display it as a piece of artwork on my walls’. “We’ve worked with Abbey Road Studios quite a lot in terms of mastering the music, remastering it again for the vinyl format which is obviously very different from digital. So we put so much effort and time into the music that it just makes us a little bit sad that people are like ‘I’m just going to put it on my wall’,” he laughs. “But at the same time, we put an equal amount of effort into the artwork and actually the artwork on any title we release probably takes longer to do than getting the music up to scratch for a vinyl. We try and steer away from using
traditional packs shots. We want to have a bespoke, unique piece of artwork.” BIGGER IDEAS When you ask the pair about their ambitions for Cord Worldwide, you can see the PR training showing through for one split second as Kelleher answers it’s to “be the goto agency for end-to-end solutions for music and sound in video games releases.” But in the bat of an eye, we’re back to happily chatting about what is obviously a work of passion for them - they’re both absolutely dedicated to music and games. Kelleher continues, touching upon licensed soundtracks: “One of the main obstacles is sometimes the music is a little bit of an afterthought so developers might have had a great idea but don’t have the knowledge of how complicated it can be, with the publishers and record labels and getting approved and so on and so forth, so some of those ideas just die. “There could be ten different writers on one song and they all have to approve the use of it. So the sooner you have those conversations the [more likely] we can deliver exactly what they want. But the main thing we want to do is actually come up with bigger ideas around that track: so how can we remix it? How can we integrate it into the soundtrack? Can we look at the artist doing something bespoke around that track? The more time we have, the more creative we can be.” And Lindsay to conclude: “We’re forward thinking as well and obviously with Google Stadia and games coming to streaming platforms, there’s definitely going to be some issues there with regards to music and rights. So we’ll be there to guide people through that process. We know what’s up and coming, we know the music industry and how it all works.You don’t want games pulled off shelves because of these things, so we look into the future of what’s happening within both games and music.”
Pictured above: It’s not just trendy indies that want vinyls, as Dawn of War 2 proves
“I wouldn’t want to hazard a guess on the percentage of our customers that don’t actually play our records...”
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MI S S I O N IMPROBABLE
Improbable has announced its first in-house game studio, in Edmonton, the home of Bioware. And it’s recruited the firm’s general manager to create a new RPG using SpatialOS. Seth Barton reports 50 | MCV 946 May 2019
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Pictured above: Improbable’s first in-house game studio in Edmonton
mprobable, the company behind SpatialOS, recently announced that it was entering games development for itself. Two teams are being created, one in London near the company’s headquarters and, arguably more excitingly, a team in Edmonton, Canada, lead by a Bioware veteran and working on a new RPG title in Unreal, which will leverage SpatialOS’ huge potential. That veteran is Aaryn Flynn, who spent 20 years at Bioware and worked on Baldur’s Gate 2, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire, eventually becoming the studio’s general manager and overseeing development of the Dragon Age, Mass Effect and Anthem franchises.
“We have a vision in mind that we want to create and we’re prototyping parts of that,” Flynn tells us when we ask how far the new studio has progressed. “There is a genre – we just want to build an RPG. I really think RPGs are due for another revolution. And I think SpatialOS offers so much in terms of technical things you can do,” he explains in his new role as general manager of Improbable North America. Helping Flynn achieve that are currently around 40 staff. With a good chunk of those having worked with him before. “Personally I’ve worked with about a third of the current staff,” Flynn reveals, though he’s keen to impress that the new studio isn’t just an old boys club for former
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Pictured above from top: Aaryn Flynn and Herman Narula
Bioware staff: “Absolutely not. I take team culture and team mix very seriously – diversity, a great mix of folks from different backgrounds and different experiences, is vital because when you’re problem solving you want diverse thoughts and experiences. “So while we’re very proud to have some great veteran developers from great RPGs of the past, at the same time we’ve got folks coming in from Ubisoft, from other studios around Canada and from the US. And it’s our expectation that they bring a perspective that we don’t have. We’re really encouraging them to do that because maybe they’ll see a use for Spatial that we haven’t considered. That’s the fascinating problem of new technology. What’s the really cool way you’re going to figure out how to use it.” In this day and age though, a forty-person team isn’t going to be able to create a huge handcrafted RPG of the like that made Bioware’s name for instance. Our guesses lean towards a game centred around player interaction or some procedural generation. Flynn indicates that those are possible approaches, noting that he’s putting his faith in the tools available today: “I used to be tools programmer. So I’ve always got a place for them in my heart. In many ways, SpatialOS is a tool. So we definitely are investing and thinking of ways that tools can either be a part of Unreal or a part of SpatialOS to provide those kinds of content systems that a player can experience and say: ‘Oh wow! That’s new and interesting, I haven’t seen that kind of thing before’.” He also notes that the team size will increase: “While we are 40 people, we’re still growing, still heavily recruiting. But it’s not about having the largest team in the industry. It’s about having a great team culture that is supported by amazing technology and that feels very empowered to do cool things.” SPATIAL TO BREATHE The idea of mixing SpatialOS’ ability to create vast, highly populated and persistent online worlds, married to the experience of veterans from Bioware (and elsewhere) is a tantalisingly prospect. Flynn won’t yet be drawn on the details of course but is willing to discuss what SpatialOS might bring to the table.
“It’s about ultimately empowering players to do really cool things. Because that’s what roleplaying used to be, back in the day, with pen-and-paper even. A good DM would help you understand what’s possible. What can I do? You can do whatever you want! The DM was great for that. I believe we’ve lost some of that in RPGs today, at least in certain mainstream RPGs, although I give a lot of credit to games like Divinity: Original Sin and those kind of things. But Spatial is a great force to help us look forward. It’s a lot of fun. It is a fantastic opportunity,” Flynn enthuses. Scale can come with its own problems, though. The game must make each and every player relevant in the world, providing a sense of agency, despite them being potentially just one of millions. Flynn responds: “We’re lucky that Spatial offers that ability to scale. But, as we’ve talked about around our team, if we’re going to get to a big number of players, for example, we want to achieve that via a series of intimacies with smaller numbers of players. We want to make sure that there are great mechanisms and great ways for those players to interact. And if we’re right about some things, having some really good relationships and connections between small groups of players will then allow them to congeal into larger groups of players. “Spatial lets us focus on making sure that we get these relationship mechanisms functioning, working, successful and additive to the gameplay experience such that then we don’t worry about what happens if X number of players get together. We benefit from being a first party studio in the sense that we get to focus on design and on the creative side of things, trusting that the technology is there and functioning. “And through our designs I think we’ll push the technology, we’ll stress it, I think we do things that as a first party team should really help our partners benefit.” EDMONTON CALLING To look at the broader picture of why Improbable has started its own development teams and how it hopes to benefit from the investment, we then turn to Improbable founder and CEO Herman Narula.
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“We’re not trying to compete with our customers, we’re working on stuff that’s fairly esoteric in comparison to what most people are making. We think it’s going to become something people look at and say: ‘You’ve taken that crazy risk, so now I might do it’.” “We’ve been wanting to do this forever,” he says. “We just haven’t been at the point of maturity where we could, in terms of tech, network, developers or understanding ourselves. The real reason is the same reason Epic is doing it, or anyone is doing it: because having studios is a great way to support your partners. It creates confidence. People are like: ‘OK, if Aaryn and a bunch of people are working on these things, then I know you’re dealing with the problems we’re dealing with’. “You need to be actively playing with it yourself to really understand how to make the best possible tool. We’re not trying to compete with our customers, we’re working on stuff that’s fairly esoteric in comparison to what most people are making. We think it’s going to become something people look at and say: ‘You’ve taken that crazy risk, so now I might do it.’ As an infrastructure provider we succeed when our customers succeed.” The timing was just right as well, Narula further says: “Frankly there was the opportunity, the turmoil we saw in the industry last year, with people leaving different roles. It created an opportunity to really build a studio quite fast and we got forty people in less than a year. And an incredible quality of people that normally you would just not be able to have. That’s amazing.” Narula explains that the London development team will be able to work closely with the core engineering team, who is also based in the capital. “However, Edmonton is really just down to the quality of people,” he continues. “It was an incredible thing to work on, recruiting people whose combined experiences: Mass Effect, Dragon Age... You’ve got people who are legends in the industry, who have built incredible games we are all passionate about, we have some incredible tech directors there as well. Being located in Edmonton meant we can tap into that talent pool. And with the RPG focus of the studio, it was the place to be.” Narula says that though some of the team are working on the platform in some respects, he strongly emphasises that “100 per cent of people there are working on the
game, but the act of working on the game actually creates tools.” TIME AND SPATIAL Coming back to Flynn, we enquire about the timescale for his team’s SpatialOS-powered RPG title. Does he have a series of milestones set, or is it more experimental in timescale too? “Good project management and business planning requires some focus,” he answers. “I’ve worked on games that have taken seven years and I really would not like that to happen this time! But I do think we feel a sense of excitement about what we’re doing. It’s a great time in the industry. The Stadia stuff is awesome for instance, there’s some really cool things coming out. To have some content, an experience that players could get to sooner rather than later is an important touchstone for me. “We have more flexibility now to put things out there and let players engage with the game. We can put out things that are segments, in certain forms, and then we can take feedback from them. And I’m actually really really excited about that,” he explains, unsurprisingly when compared to the huge stress of a big retail launch with a Bioware title. “Now there are alternatives that work for players and at the end of the day it’s all about them. If it works for players then let’s explore that, let’s engage with that. “I think we have an opportunity to really excite players and give them something that they’re going to hopefully appreciate. And I think that’s the ultimate measure. Herman and others at Improbable have been just wonderful about that, saying: ‘If we’re going to make a game, we want to make a game that is first and foremost for players’. “We wouldn’t do this if we didn’t believe SpatialOS had something to offer in that conversation. So the challenge for us is how we use that platform, use that technology, to do something that’s really going to excite players. And I think we’ve got some great ideas on that.”
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Graduate games Better bridging the gap between education and industry is a worthy cause. In April, Aardvark Swift’s full-day student-focused event and its trio of awards returned to Sheffield Hallam University. MCV caught up with both winners and participating studios
Pictured above, right: Ellie Brown (top), the Search for a Star 2019 winner in the Character Art category, and Jimmy Ghysens, winner of the Search for a Star Environment Art award
ardvark Swift’s annual trio of awards returned this month to Sheffield Hallam University as part of a full day of events to build relationships between students, education bodies and the industry. Just to recap, Search for a Star aims to find the best students in their final year at university, be that at degree or postgraduate level, while Rising Star, supported by Sumo Digital, looks to spot the best talent among those still in education. Both aim to bridge that tricky gap between education and an actual industry role in a very real way, with industry-like interviews of the finalists helping to decide the winners on the day. The student awards are run alongside Aardvark’s industry and academia Grad in Games awards. These
recognise individuals and companies who have made an impact in improving the relationship between the two. All the awards were presented at the end of the day at The National Videogame Museum. The awards were accompanied by a full-day conference with speakers including Tara Saunder, head of studio operations at Sony Interactive Entertainment, Jason Avent, who heads up TT Odyssey, d3T’s head of engineering Phil Owen, and many others providing their insight on how the industry works and how to get into it. All caught up? So let’s talk to some industry attendees for an update on the state of that industry to academia relationship and how the event is helping. Sony’s Saunders provides an overview of the event’s aims and impact: “It’s important that we all play a part in supporting the next generation of game developers, to ensure that the industry continues to attract passionate and well skilled individuals. Collaborating with Search for Star helps to connect strong industry role models to upcoming developers, giving them confidence, feedback and advice to pursue a career in games. I’m incredibly proud to have shared my journey with others, and hope that it inspires them to get started in their own careers.” Andria Warren, director of art production at Rare, and a judge on the day, looks at the positives of additional industry-directed work in a student portfolio: “The amount of students trying to get into the industry is massive. There’s so many universities around the
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country doing game art courses or game development courses so the competition is really high. So what you get out of university, your portfolio, doing competitions like this, just adds more work and it’s more experience of doing production-level briefs. It helps elevate your work and your portfolio, so when you’re going for a job you’ve got that extra piece that no one else has.” D3T’s Owen agrees, adding that it offers essential experience: “It also gives a fantastic insight to the student on how it feels to actually work in the games industry. The quality of work from the students is of the highest standard and I would hope that through Rising Star and Search for a Star, the relationships grown will only further bring universities and the industry together.” On those relationships, Greg Booker, lead programmer from Wargaming UK, tells us: “The challenge we face as the games development community is working with academia to find a balance – we appreciate there are challenges, particularly in the UK around funding, but to give students a fighting chance of finding a position in the industry they need to be prepared in ways that provide a strong foundation for what is a lifetime of learning on the job. I hope that together we can help focus university courses on the skills most important to us.” Even with those skills, though, the industry remains a tough nut to crack says Lizi Attwood, technical director at Furious Bee and judge on the awards: “Entry to the games industry is highly competitive and universities are producing far more games programming graduates than there are graduate programming positions available. It isn’t good enough to just do the work set for the course. Students need to find ways to stand out from their peers and this competition helps them to do that. “We try to give students an understanding of what the hiring process might be like, give them some interview practice and a taste of what Day One on the job might entail. No company ever hires a graduate and gives them a project to start from scratch: graduates have to be able to read and understand the work done by those who came before them, so we try to emulate that within the competition process.” And work and experience beyond what’s on the syllabus is also highlighted by Dave Roberts, creative director at Red Kite Games: “Obviously the work they’re doing at university is important but because there’s so many graduates and so much competition at
the moment. The portfolio is really important in order for applicants to really stand out. It’s not just the work they’ve done at university, it’s showing that motivation to develop stuff and work on stuff outside of university, and build a portfolio that really shows us they’ve got the enthusiasm to actually want to be in the games industry.” Roberts even wishes the competition had been running back in his student days: “I would have definitely entered when I was going to university. I recognise now that the competition for places is so high, so having that on your portfolio that helps you to stand out is so, so important.” Moving onto to some of this year’s winners, we talk to Ellie Brown, the Search for a Star 2019 winner in the Character Art category, who attends the University of Huddersfield. “The competition, for me, has been an eyeopener into how much I can push myself in a short amount of time to produce work that I’m proud of,” she says. “It’s helped me work faster, more efficiently, to produce work that I really like. I actually used this competition to practice what I’m researching for my dissertation which has been a major help because I’ve been able to get actual feedback from the industry.” We also hear from Jimmy Ghysens, who attends Howest in Belgium. He picked up last year’s Rising Star award for Environment Art, and made it a double in the same category with a Search for a Star award this year. We ask about his favourite part of the process. “Probably the interview, especially last year because it was my first time,” he answers. “After that I got contacted by some companies and it kind of helped me to prepare for that. I think that’s the most important part. And meeting people from the studios is always nice. “Even if you don’t have that much time, you still get feedback, and getting feedback from people who actually work in the industry is invaluable,” he advises potential entrants. The annual event continues to go from strength to strength then. All the industry members and entrants we heard from were positive about its impacts, with the event helping strengthen academic-to-industry links and provide essential portfolio-building and interview experience for graduates, before they hit the competitive reality of an often tough to enter industry. All the best to all of those involved, we look forward to seeing your 30 Under 30 entries in years to come!
“It’s important that we all play a part in supporting the next generation of devs.”
Pictured above from top: Andria Warren, Lizi Attwood, Phil Owen,Tara Saunder, Greg Booker, Dave Roberts
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When We Made... Cultist Simulator
Marie Dealessandri takes a look behind actually look at you. Andof even with that little bit of the scenes at the development Cultist work, with the help of the animation and really smart Simulator. Weather Factory’s co-founder designers and engineers, with everybody working Lottie Bevan discusses building together, you couldatellgame from thewhere very beginning that understanding the game the game itselfwould andreally gravitate she wasis a character that people how being a culttoward.” leader is not that far from Quill really being becomesa a fully fleshed out character with game dev
Pictured above: Weather Factory’s Lottie Bevan
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 ONE about Weather onintimate top lives herfantastic life in herthing familiar setting. It’s aFactory, strangely of being developer of one most fascinating feeling, andthe one which gives wayoftothe joint apprehension of enter thesenew, past unfamiliar few years,areas. is how asnarrative-driven both the player games and Quill founding duo Bevan and Alexisand Kennedy not “When you goLottie through Mousetown you seeare Quill to share detail ofthat theirshe journey, runafraid through thereevery and you see has aopening hometown, invaluable with community theanfeeling of herdialogue leaving it, of not thatonly towntheir maybe being in but also fellow There’sAlderson the fortnightly blog danger, gives yougame moredevs. of a bond,” says. “If updates, theleft clearly detailed roadmaps, tweets that part was out, you wouldn’t feel likethe there was that turn to into realfor. video games that (Thatwe’ve Library Game, much fight Everything done, thewe’re mood all waiting for Quill you!),from the retrospectives, in settings, taking one area to theand, nextback and letting February, longinblog looking back entire you rest andatake thispost environment… It’satallthe supposed year of the including sheets, sales to first exaggerate andstudio, accentuate thatbudget mood that you’re figuresIt and 5,064 of precious into the feeling. all ties backwords into how you are insight connecting withlife of an and indieher studio working on its debut title – the BAFTAQuill world.” nominated Cultist Simulator. “We really valueEIGHT transparency. SAME QUESTION WAYS It’s really odd that there , isn’t much transparency in the this development industry, particularly Collaboration was key during of Mossin notthe just within the team itself,Lottie but with the notes help ofwhen external indie space,” director Bevan we playtesters. were often brought to in share to feedback on ask aboutPeople their reasons for wanting everything. “I know that we’re all competing in one way but we can also help each other out and I think it’s a win when other people share data because it’s a bit of insight into this fast moving and mental industry. “It also makes us accountable and it teaches us to own up to mistakes and to learn from them,” she adds. “Now that we’re scaling up – we’re going to be six people by the end of this year – we’re also committing
the game and asked questions about their experience – even if most of these questions were actually very similar. “External playtests were mostly about ‘Okay, how do people feel when they play? Do they like it or not like it?’,” Alderson explains. “At the end of playtest we would ask the same question eight different ways. The question is really ‘What didn’t you like?’, but we would ask it differently: ‘What pulled you out of the experience? What took you out of the headset? If there’s one thing you could change what would it be? If you had two weeks to finish the game, what would be the thing you’d fix?’ to internal transparency. Everyone’s goingthat to know “Those help bringfor a playtester intoI their zone, everyone’s salaries instance and hopecomfort more people because noinone to play something that people put will do that thewants future.” a lot ofabundance care and love andisthen turn around and say The of into details an absolute blessing ‘This is what I didn’t like aboutinto it’. So it takestheir a little while for game developers looking launching own to get the comfortable, and we found studio andplaytester debut game. From a journalist’s pointthat of findingit different ways the samechallenge question means view, also makes fortoanask interesting – how youyou eventually getwith the questions really goodfor stuff after the fourth or do come up a post-mortem fifth time you ask it. interview when literally every aspect of the game has “I don’t think anyone in our studio has ever made a been discussed at length already? game this, so by I think it’s important that the Well,like you start clouding the issue to you gaintrust some process. and you make sure that you time and You ask trust aboutplaytesting what led to the game. allow yourselfinsome time and freedom to Bevan try something “It started an odd piecemeal way,” and then “So keepAlexis going.Kennedy, Try something newthe andfounder branch out, explains. who was butFailbetter also use at your gamesand thatwriter you’ve of theexperience time, is thefrom designer of made before and you’ll behad fine.been As long as you’re having Cultist Simulator. And he thinking about a fun too! Weexperimental enjoyed playing particularly narrative game for athe while. He Moss throughout entire set up Failbetter Games to dohelps.” one thing particularly well process and I think that really which is the kind of text-based RPG of Sunless Sea and Sunless Skies. And that was a great thing but he had an itch – a creative itch to go and do something more stupid and insane and risky. But he didn’t want to risk the jobs of everyone he worked with at Failbetter.” At the time, that represented 16 people – including Bevan, who was producer. “So rather than tethering the studio to do something that it wasn’t set up to do properly he decided to leave
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Pictured left: Originally a PC title, Cultist Simulator is now also available on Android and iOS
and go to do a ronin year of freelance all the while percolating this idea of cults... Our work at Failbetter has always been labelled Lovecraftian and Alexis has always recoiled from that. I think it was kind of a bad summary and it implied a bunch of things that weren’t there. But with Cultist he was like: ‘You know what? I’m going to lean in into the Lovecraftian label, I’m going to really think about the experience of being a cult leader’.” Depicting the realities of what’s going on in your life if you were a European 1920s cult leader is what Kennedy and Bevan set up to do with Cultist Simulator. “We really wanted to play with two particular ideas, one of which was the mundane versus the magical. So in Cultist Simulator you have to balance these things very carefully. On the one hand you have to engage in the real world, you have to make sure you have a job that pays enough money so you can buy the books you need to discover the lore that will get you in the magic house. But on the other hand obviously the cult is this aspirational, mysterious thing and that’s really where the excitement in the game resides.” This mundane versus magical aspect is also a comment on what it’s like to be an indie dev, Bevan explains: “We all do something that we really love and game dev is this wonderful, magical, incredible creative experience but it’s also kind of a nightmare! It’s very easy to fail, money is always very tight and you always
have things pulling in your time. It’s constantly this balance between being creative and the modern day demands of life.” The second key aspect for the duo was to present the narrative in an innovative way – Kennedy left Failbetter to do something different after all, to experiment. “What we found with other narrative games, including our own, is you will find yourself as a player doing things and then that will stop and the narrative will happen – that might be a cut scene or a dialogue exchange,” Bevan says. “But the effects are actually quite stop-start between the mechanics of the game and the story itself. So with Cultist what we wanted to do was work out a mechanic which would unite both of those together in one fell swoop. So what you end up with is this very simple card interface and the only real mechanic is combining these cards to create a new resource. But that also furthers the narrative because every time you create new resources you get a snippet of text, you get avenues opening up and your story itself advances.” FOLLOWING THE BREADCRUMBS Cultist Simulator is all about providing subtle guidance without taking the player by the hand and telling them everything they have to do. In his breakdown, Alexis Kennedy said Weather Factory “wanted to make a game where understanding the game was itself the game.”
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As a result, the team famously decided to have no tutorial – “unfamously” Bevan corrects me immediately in a laugh when I mention it. When you start the game, you’re on your own, trying to figure out what you’re supposed to do with the cards in front of you. That’s absolutely part of the charm of the game though and some cards do have brief explanations on how they function. So when nothing is clearly explained in a traditional, tutorial manner, how did the team decide when and how to include those explanations? “So we had this kind of… Not argument, but certainly a difference of opinion about a month before we launched,” Bevan smiles. “We were on a very tight schedule because this was developed in around 11 months. About a month from launch we got some feedback from our publisher, Humble Bundle, that they were particularly worried about not having a tutorial. Feedback told us that some people found the opening of the game very confusing and were not enjoying it and I was worried that, at launch, we were going to see a lot of people saying: ‘I wish I could get into it but I don’t know what I’m meant to do’. “Alexis felt very strongly that we shouldn’t have a tutorial because it goes against the whole design idea that you’re peeling back these layers of meaning and doing a lot of the work of the game yourself in your head, which should be a very rewarding game loop if it works properly. But we did realise that there was some middle ground between these two things. We didn’t
want to have people actually not enjoying the game because it was confusing. So basically the two weeks of work that we were going to spend on UI/UX polish before launch, we spent instead on going through the text and putting in these little narrative breadcrumbs because Alexis felt that that would give people some mechanical direction without making them feel that the game was going to lead them by the hand – which obviously it won’t. “The snippets of texts, these breadcrumbs, make you really read the text very carefully and that encourages players to continue to read the text really carefully. And that’s basically the best way you can work out what’s going on in Cultist and what you need to do next because there are all these hints, everywhere. There are hints within the narrative text itself as well, within the actual worldbuilding which tells you what to do next.” Bevan adds that players usually “end up learning the language of the game,” whether that’s figuring out the meaning of its colour scheme or deciphering the narrative’s breadcrumbs. Having to work on guiding the player in a subtle way instead of polishing UI/UX means these are areas where Cultist fell down, at launch at least, Bevan says. “Because it was such a short development cycle and because Alexis is essentially a designer and writer and I’m essentially a producer pretending to be an artist, we don’t actually have a wealth UI/UX skills,” she laughs. “We hired a bunch of very good freelancers to fix that. In a game where we ask the player to connect the dots themselves, the moment that there is anything broken in the UI, that immediately breaks the fun. So if people didn’t understand the Aspects [the icons depicting the cards’ properties] for example, that was a problem. Fortunately the Aspects were fine.” It feels like Weather Factory did succeed in making “a game where understanding the game [is] itself the game” then. “I think we did,” Bevan says with a smile. “I think where people get cross is when we haven’t made that clear enough before they start playing the game. If you go into Cultist thinking either it’s a card game or thinking it’s like another game you have played and you find that it isn’t, that is very frustrating. I think a lot of the user reviews that we’ve seen, working out what the game
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is, is basically the game. And I love that, even though it’s meta and bizarre. I think where we could improve is signposting it left, right and center so that nobody buys the game thinking that it’s going to be this easy ride.” That has certainly become even more important with the iOS and Android versions which launched last month, with mobile publisher Playdigious taking the reins on the port. Luckily, feedback since the mobile launch has been “really good,” Bevan continues. “We found out that it’s very successful in China, which is bizarre and great because we never localised a game before so it’s quite experimental for us to see where our potential markets might be. Everyone tells you you’re stupid to do premium indie mobile because obviously if you’re making mobile games the money is in free-to-play. But we had a great launch. “It’s not like the money is raining down because premium doesn’t have that big a slice of the pie, but it does mean that we are able to plan for future projects. For indies, having a variety of revenue streams is how we survive. It’s very important that we broaden our reach as much as possible.” THE HARDEST LESSON Cultist Simulator’s initial funding came from a successful Kickstarter campaign, which could have encouraged Weather Factory to self-publish. But in its Year One breakdown, the team noted that the Humble Bundle deal was worth it if they sold less than 17,000 units. Any more than that and it was better for them to go it alone. Despite estimating their Year One sales to about 20,000 units, the team still decided to go with the peace of mind that a publisher provides. Cultist Simulator had passed the 100,000 units landmark as of February 2019. So we naturally ask Bevan if they ever regretted not self publishing. “Yes, of course, because every time you give up 30 per cent to a publisher it’s like: ‘God damnit, did they deserve that?!’,” she laughs, before immediately adding that going with Humble Bundle was definitely the right call. “When we started Weather Factory, Alexis was a name because he made Sunless Sea and Fallen London so it brought a certain amount of cachet but fundamentally we were a small unknown narrative studio. So we needed all the help we could get in terms
of broadening our communications and audience and getting people to know that we weren’t just another bunch of random indies who are bit amateurish. “It’s easy in hindsight to look back and say: ‘Oh that worked out really well, I wish we hadn’t given [any money to a publisher]’. But it could have been very difficult and I can’t regret the decisions that we made which led us to being in such a good position.” Bevan does have one regret though: not broadening the team sooner, which would have avoided a bit of crunch at the end of the development cycle. “We never missed one deadline and that was great. But there was a hell lot of pressure particularly on Alexis in the last month. But now that we’ve grown the team, now that we have a little bit of distribution of responsibilities so it’s not all on Alexis’ or my shoulders, I hope that our next game will be better at that.”
Pictured above: The game’s colour scheme is just one way it explains itself to players without direct instruction
JUMPING SHIP The duo’s departure from an established studio to launch their own venture, and create a commercially and critically acclaimed experimental game, is quite some achievement. Being successful was far from a given. Yet in the balance sheet for 2018 that Kennedy shared, he mentions that, after just one year, Weather Factory is “where Failbetter was in its fifth year of operation.” There’s no secret recipe to get there, it’s a lot of hard work above everything else, but Bevan certainly has a piece of advice to conclude our chat. “I think the hardest lesson that we have learnt is the moment you’re in charge of a studio, you have a lot of things on your plate. I’m a producer so it’s about making sure I have a complete list of everything that needs to be done and making sure they get finished off. And when you are a founder of a studio every day there are hundreds of things that you could be spending your time on that could be beneficial. “But you need to get really good at finding the really key things that you need to focus on, and then making your peace with leaving 98 other things on the floor. And certainly for me I find that very difficult because that’s just not just how I work as the person and initially I felt that I was failing the company. But really you’re not. So I’d say be prepared to not be in control of everything and get really good at prioritisation.”
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The Sounds of... Elvira Björkman
Every month, we discuss the unique process of making music for video games. This month, Marie Dealessandri dives into the musical universe of Elvira Björkman, co-founder of composing duo Two Feathers, who’s behind the soundtracks of Angry Birds 2, Aragami, Hammerwatch, Apex Construct and more
What would you say are the typical challenges of writing for games as opposed to more linear narrative forms? Personally, I wouldn’t say the difference is that huge, but the established cultural heritage is different. Just like film music, game music has a history of how it sounds and we as gamers might expect certain things or are tired of hearing certain elements already. It’s important to have that knowledge and appreciation for the form to be able to present something refreshing. I believe it must be the same thing for film! It’s about knowing the medium very well to effectively write to it. Many would probably take the interactive part as the challenge, but I see it more as a tool rather than a challenge. In the end it just boils down to presenting something that can create some raw emotions together with the context of the game. How has the role of the composer evolved in games over the past years in your experience? One difference could be the technical knowledge that is expected from a composer. You can’t just compose and send a file anymore, but need to know your way around middleware, engines and I think also a bit of coding too. I can only speak from experience, but I also think we get more involved with the development as a whole. Since I have the technical knowledge working with engines such as Unity and Unreal on top of also knowing my fair share of C# scripting, I usually ask to be the one to implement the music too. That way I can plan ahead on how the music will act interactively and exactly
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entity, which I think is great and something I push for. Music needs to be a part of development, both for the music to get better, but also for the game to get better. How free are you to experiment when you take on a brief from a studio? In Aragami we experimented with breaking expectations of what a ninja stealth game should be about and changed it to try to make it something very beautiful and fragile sounding instead of something ‘cool’ and ‘sneaky’. With Angry Birds 2 I had the pigs and birds singing in the tracks and even had some JRPG inspiration in there, even though it’s far away from being an RPG. With Apex Construct we experimented with not having the typical organic sound we usually worked with, but instead chose the opposite, something completely synthetic. From my point of view, that is very much experimental since I’ve been allowed to develop the sound of the soundtrack, but also deviate away from what I’ve done before.
where it should trigger even before I write a single note. I really enjoy writing with my DAW [digital audio workstation] on one screen and the game on the other! Composer Marco Albano (who worked with Nomada Studio on Gris), once told us the studio saw him as a designer as much as a composer as his score influenced the game’s development – does this reflect your experience? Yes, definitely. Music and sound both have this magical power to make anything, from level design to animations, suddenly click and make sense. When Nicklas Hjertberg (my partner at Two Feathers) and I worked with [Lince Works] on Aragami they often told us that the music inspired them. Once someone even told us that “they now had to match the quality of the game with the quality of the music,” which we of course thought was one of the best compliments we can get! In our work with The Outsiders on Project Wight, they involved us very much in the design and execution of many parts. More and more [developers] see the music as part of the game development and not a separate
Pictured above: For Aragami’s soundtrack, Elvira Björkman experimented with what you’d expect a ninja stealth game to sound like and chose to go for something that would feel beautiful and fragile
What was the most inspiring game world you worked on and which aspects did you most want to bring into your score? I would say Aragami is one of my favourites. I really fell for the cell-shaded art style and that old Japanese meets magic vibe it has. There was also mystery, untold stories to tell and characters to develop. So a lot of work went into letting the music talk about things the player didn’t know yet. Who is Yamiko? Who are you? And even the untold story in the environment. One of my favourite examples is during the third level, you can hear versions of the character’s melody – Yamiko, which you haven’t learnt to know very well yet – that foreshadows what’s going to happen next. In the end you’ll see a cutscene about Yamiko and then get a bell as a skill to use to lure enemies. After you get the bell, you hear the same track but now with bells included. We did lots of little hidden things like that. In Apex Construct there was a lot of that too, but we played more with building silence in this abandoned world and then use mostly stingers [short clips of introductory music] rather than level tracks – which is very hard to confine yourself to as a composer since you just want to compose a lot! But it was inspiring in a way to try out a more minimalistic approach.
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Getting spatial in The Division 2 Simon Koudriavtsev, audio director at Massive Entertainment, discusses sound design and spatial audio in the recently released Tom Clancy’s The Division 2
AMBITIOUS as we are, we wanted to improve on everything from the first Division. Based on our experience from the first game and community feedback, we created new assets and audio systems, making sure that The Division 2 became a fresh sounding experience for our players. I’ll focus on three main areas where audio plays a big part.
I think supporting spatial audio helps sell the immersion into this world. We didn’t design for spatial from the start but instead developed it along the way, with support from both Dolby and Microsoft teams – the first time I heard the rain hitting a parasol above me in Dolby Atmos, I knew we were on to something.
THE WORLD Authenticity is extremely important to us. We travelled to Washington DC and recorded over 100GB of material including city ambiences, weather sounds and specific bird calls. We also explored urban farming and abandoned buildings of Detroit and went to Chernobyl, Ukraine, to record sounds specifically for the Dark Zones. This only covered half of our needs. We wanted to be authentic not only when it came to exterior ambiences, but also for our interior sounds. To achieve this, we looked at how our world was built, and found a way to utilise the already existing building geometry and propping to create procedural reverbs and ambient sounds based on the sizes and materials of the buildings. This means that anywhere the player goes on our map, they will always have a unique experience. We also spent a lot of time working on a realistic bird and vegetation sound system, where every tree has the sounds of vegetation and birdlife, all of which is connected to time of day and weather cycles. Speaking of weather, we spent a lot of time tweaking our rain and thunder system, making sure that small details like the sound of rain hitting a car to bigger details like the distant sound of thunder were all present.
THE VOICES A human voice is such a common sound, that it’s very easy to spot if something is a bit ‘off’. One of the things I love about Atmos is the enemy voices; it’s much easier to perceive where the enemies are positioned, be it above, below, or behind you. I feel that this is a huge improvement over the first game. THE WEAPON SOUNDS Weapon sounds are also important in our game and we collaborated with Pinewood in London to achieve the right sound. We recorded a lot of unique assets, captured different caliber guns, mechanical elements and determined how the weapons sound in different types of exterior urban environments. For example, the way the shot reflections and tails play back in NYC is vastly different than Washington DC. We developed a system we call ‘slapback’, which looks at the exteriors of the buildings and creates shot-reflections based on the buildings around the player. This feature is particularly awesome when playing in Atmos, since it gives a nice surround depth to the tails of the weapons. A big shout out to Martin Weissberg, our senior sound designer, who took on the enormous challenge of finalising all the weapon sounds, which our players today seem to enjoy a lot!
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THE character art pipeline has seen some dramatic changes throughout the last few years. There was a time when one artist would model and texture a character using no more than two software packages. Generations have past and now we see a diverse range of toolsets being used to incorporate elements of a character, from software that can simulate the effects of clothing wrapped around the human form to others that are purpose built for generating realistic hair. A character artist’s role has also diversified and, depending on how big the team and project is, more and more elements of a character are compartmentalised and generated procedurally in order to remove that ‘uncanny valley’ look and achieve an almost photorealistic visual fidelity.
“What I would love to see from character artists is more diversity in their work. I have seen the traditional knight in armour, orc and elf many times in portfolios but often they are similar to the point that it becomes tedious.”
The team at Creative Assembly debunks some common dev role myths. This month, Baj Singh, lead character artist, explains how he hasn’t yet found a tame enough dragon to scan
Fortunately, with how easily accessible much of this software has become, we are seeing many students who have already dipped their toes in, caught up to their industry peers rather quickly and to an incredible standard. Each year, as this software gets more and more ingrained into university curriculums, the calibre of student work improves dramatically. Unfortunately, you will find some students who forget that learning the software is only part of the process and in order to become a world-class character artist you need to also acquire the fundamental skillset of traditional artists/sculptors – knowledge of forms, gesture, anatomy and proportions being some of the main ones. A common myth that I have heard (particularly from students) is that so much of the process is automated now that they can focus less on anatomy and more on learning the software. However, at Creative Assembly, we haven’t found a dragon tame enough to 3D scan into the game and clean up, so I’m afraid this is misinformed information. For example, even though you have software such as Marvelous Designer which can help aid the generation of clothing folds, as an artist you still need to understand what that material should be made of and how it should function when it hangs off the human form and the process necessary to clean it up in order for it to become game-ready. What I would love to see from students (and character artists in general) is more diversity in their work. I have seen the traditional knight in armour, orc and elf many times in portfolios (with varying levels in quality) but often they are similar to the point that (from a hiring manager’s perspective) it becomes tedious. Every now and then, you get that gem whose work completely sidesteps the norm and introduces and implements ideas in a way that really stand out. A knight in armour? How about a fantastical spin on traditional Indian garb instead! Ideas and pieces like these help your work standout from a crowd and (if done to an acceptable quality of course) will really put you head and shoulders over the competition.
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Casting the Runes
CHANGE is a big part of life for our living games, RuneScape and Old School RuneScape. Being in the engine team, we already have a role as bastions of their beating technical hearts, pruning and nurturing code where appropriate, ensuring they continue to tick (literally). Facilitating that living aspect means we must strike a balance between maintaining their existing robustness and keeping our architecture lean, while also having an eye for opportunities to cultivate. This ensures ongoing health, makes room for growth and provides a baseline to introduce change.
Jagex’s developers visit us from Runescape’s Gielinor to talk about their latest adventures. This month, game engine developer Michael Lojko explains how the team has changed gear in the engine room
Our journey into mobile, bringing both Old School RuneScape and RuneScape to iOS and Android, brought with it a whole host of complications, fresh challenges to solve and additional platforms to evolve into. We were no longer designing, engineering and testing towards our own set of deadlines and update windows. It also became more difficult to tinker with our releases; we were developing well defined changes for the game client but now deploying them to three different outlets, with varying time frames for confirmation of completion, compliance and readiness. A change at this scale meant that we had to rework how we approached development, reshape how we handled our twice-a-week content additions and adjust how we released those enhancements into the world. Planning and carefully considering what we aim to have feature-complete and by when, has become more important than ever. There’s a new level of precision to our launch synchronisation. Despite already mastering the art of making our twice-a-week update days feel as much like any other work day, there is a lot of teamwork and crossdiscipline participation from across the studio in the run up to it. It can be easy to put pressure on ourselves and self-inflict an expectation to deliver flawlessly. With all that in mind, there are a few tenets that are key to our ongoing ability to ship cleanly and punctually while also managing the changes as they happen: • Collaboration: We are a team after all and resolving an issue with a sound solution almost always takes at least two people. Knowing that there’s someone else you can depend on to give you honest and subjective feedback is great, especially in a creative environment. We’re always focused on providing the best experiences and if it doesn’t meet our own high standards, then it’s back to the drawing board, together, for reassessment. • Communication: This is paramount. It was important that knowledge of what is going on is readily accessible to everyone, however even an abundance of refined information can quickly lead
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to overload and mutation into distracting noise. The development team is the first to feel it when something’s not working appropriately, so addressing this early and concisely is critical, particularly when it can make or break an immediate release or a longer-term plan. Ease of access and mutual understanding of where to go to for clarity and concision helps keep everyone in the loop without overexposure. • Commitment: Not being afraid to make the right call, even if it’s already in progress. The underlying anchor to all of this is trust. Introducing risk by making a sudden change might mean we don’t
“We win and lose together. We own our mistakes, learn from our misunderstandings and thrive with the challenge.” live up to our quality bar or completely alter our timeframe. This would require strong justification and some serious reconsideration. Likewise, an unprecedented problem or underestimated piece of work needs to be weighed up and dealt with effectively, even if it inevitably affects things in the short term. Ultimately, we are authoritative and accountable for the decisions we take and we make them as often as possible as a team. We win and lose together. There’s no time for blame; we own our mistakes, learn from our misunderstandings and thrive with the challenge. Change needs to be embraced and acknowledged as an everpresent variable. Learning how to deal with it effectively provides the opportunity to grow, to achieve and to become something better.
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The Final Boss Every month an industry leader wraps up MCV with their unique insight
You’ve been with Xbox UK since the beginning. What have been the most surprising changes in the industry and what has stayed unchanged? When I joined the industry in 1999, games were bought on a CD or cartridge and multiplayer gaming took place in the same room. Now games are downloaded or even streamed, receive constant updates to keep them fresh and are played online by millions of people. What hasn’t changed is that people are still united by a shared love of playing games, however those games are played. You came from the music industry. What are the parallels and differences? The parallel is that both the music and the game industries are borne out of people’s desire to be entertained by the thing they are passionate about. In some ways there are parallels in the way digital technology disrupted the music industry business model and the more recent digital disruption in gaming with game downloads and now streaming. The difference is that for many years the music industry felt threatened by its disruption, while the games industry genuinely embraces change and puts the player first. Can the industry possibly change as much over the next five years as it has over the last five? Maybe even more so. Who would have thought five years ago that games would be played across platforms, streamed from the cloud and consumed via a monthly subscription? It feels like the industry is at an inflexion point caused by digital technology broadening the ways games are discovered (via streaming), delivered (via the cloud), consumed (via a subscription service) and refreshed (via digital content updates). The global addressable market opportunity for gaming is vast and projected to grow significantly over the next three years and big tech companies not traditionally associated directly with gaming are entering this space. That increased competition, and changing consumer habits around consumption, are going to be great for the gamer as they will drive even more innovation over the next five years and beyond. It’s such an exciting time to be in the games industry right now and it’s going to be fascinating to see how it continues to develop. With the greatest respect to your current role, what is your dream job? Easy. Centre forward, Tottenham Hotspur. Although the current incumbent is pretty good and will take some displacing.
Harvey Eagle Xbox category director for UK and Ireland, Microsoft “I collected Moby from his hotel around 2am and we drove round the deserted streets of London on a sight-seeing tour of all the main landmarks.”
What’s was the most ludicrous single moment of your career to date? Around 1991, in the lead up to signing Moby to the record label I was working for at the time, he flew into London for one of his first visits to the UK. He arrived really late at night but wanted to see the sites of London and the only free time in his schedule was that night. So I collected him from his hotel near Ladbroke Grove around 2am and we drove round the deserted streets of London on a sight-seeing tour of all the main landmarks. I remember being star-struck but wanting to impress him that I knew London inside out without having to consult my trusty A-Z map too often. Do you feel the industry is headed in the right direction? I truly believe developers and hardware engineers are pushing the boundaries all the time – whether that’s Playground Games creating a game with a truly British canvas with a weekly change in seasons or Nintendo designing a dual purpose console. It’s also heartening to see how the industry is evolving and pushing for more inclusivity. To flourish we have to better represent the diversity of our players, whether that’s more women as lead characters, more opportunities for minorities to work in our industry or opening up gaming to more people through innovations such as the Xbox Adaptive Controller.
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REWARDING AND RECOGNISING THE CONTRIBUTION OF WOMEN IN THE UK GAMES INDUSTRY
FRIDAY 28TH JUNE 2019 FACEBOOK UK, 1 RATHBONE SQUARE, LONDON
VISIT THE WEBSITE FOR MORE DETAILS: WWW.WOMENINGAMESAWARDS.COM Sponsored by
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For sponsorship opportunities please contact Alex Boucher email@example.com
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