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MCV ISSUE 948 THE BUSINESS OF VIDEO GAMES JULY 2019

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REGIONAL SPOTLIGHT: BRIGHTON So much more than an annual conference!

MEDIA MOLECULE

What are made of ■ SHARKMOB TALKS TENCENT ACQUISITION 03 MCV948 Cover_V8 FINAL.indd 1

■ PQUBE’S BIGGEST YEAR TO DATE

■ THE BOOM OF LOCATION-BASED VR

■ WHEN WE MADE... YOOKA-LAYLEE 26/06/2019 16:33


JULY

05 The editor

Brexit and other games

06 Critical Path

The key dates this month

10 Income Stream

Our market analysis

12 Ukie

Let’s shout about our trade success

14 IRL

Real life events from the industry

18 Industry Voices

Our platform for the industry

22 Media Molecule

What dreams are made of

32 Ins and Outs

And all our recruitment advice

22 38 Regional spotlight

38

Brighton: all pride and no prejudice

46 Sharkmob’s bigger bite

The studio talks its Tencent acquisition

50 PQube’s triple-header

Celebrating PQube’s tenth anniversary

56 Centre VR

50

The boom of location-based VR

60 When We Made... Yooka-Laylee

64 The Sounds of...

Gareth Coker

67 Creatives Assemble!

Bringing Total War to life with audio

68 Casting the Runes

Diversity: where there’s a will...

70 The Final Boss

56

Gavin Raeburn

60

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“It’s failing utterly to comprehend simple aspects of an entertainment format enjoyed by millions of voters.”

TheEditor It’s not just Brexit game that MPs can’t play Regular readers of my monthly ramblings will recall my recurring ineptitude at predicting future events. This I attempt in order to make this column seem topical, despite the delays that the print process puts upon it. Most notably I was painfully wrong when predicting both the Brexit referendum and the last US election. God this has been a tough three years! And now I quickly have to add a trigger warning for the sensitive, as I’m going to mention Tory politicians for the second month running. Finally here’s one prediction that even I can’t get wrong, with Boris Johnson looking certain to be our next Prime Minister, aside from the possibility of further domestic trouble in the candidate’s household, which is no laughing matter whatsoever. But then neither is the idea of Johnson getting control of the entire country. Thankfully, that actually looks quite unlikely to happen in practice. Anyone trying to ‘take control’ or even ‘take back control’ of the UK recently has quickly come a cropper, as our long-running two party system is ironically incapable of the kind of European-style compromise politics that would actually allow it to leave Europe. Meanwhile, down the corridor from that shitshow, the recent performance of MPs at the select committee hearing on games wasn’t any more reassuring. Once again there were two sides talking but the MPs really didn’t seem to have a grasp on even the subject they were trying to tackle – couldn’t they have found someone who at least understood the basics? It would be laughable but, as with Brexit, a bad outcome here could be the beginning of something quite damaging for our industry. They didn’t have the right people there even. Epic and EA were good choices, but surely they needed someone from Xbox or PlayStation as well, as the publishers repeatedly noted that it was the platform holders that dealt with various aspects of the MPs questions – such as parental controls, as the inevitable focus from MPs was ‘will anyone think of the children’. Sigh. So while our government fails to come to any conclusion whatsoever on a huge political issue that it really should grasp, it’s also failing utterly to comprehend simple aspects of an entertainment format enjoyed by millions of voters in this country. At the same time, Facebook, along with such heavyweight partners as Visa, Mastercard, PayPal, eBay, Uber, Vodafone and many more, is launching a new cryptocurrency that looks set to revolutionise the concept of money itself and potentially wrest it away from the control of nation states. Meanwhile, our lawmakers can’t even get their heads around Fortnite. We’re doomed. Seth Barton seth.barton@biz-media.co.uk

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Critical Path

Here are the key upcoming events and releases to mark in your calendar...

Sea of Solitude Inform, Inspire & Share with Creative Assembly

After Fe and A Way Out, Sea of Solitude is the third EA Originals game set to release. Announced back in 2016, it’s developed by Berlin-based studio Jo-Mei Games and coming to PS4, Xbox One and PC, digitally only. It’s quite a shift for the studio, which has previously specialised in free-to-play browser games. Set in a metaphorical world, Sea of Solitude explores the theme of loneliness.

Lighthouse, Brighton Creative Assembly will be hosting a small event on the first day of the Develop conference in Brighton, a “smart networking event showcasing inspirational women leaders.” The free-toattend gathering runs from 15.00 to 17.30 and is organised in cooperation with The 9% Event and Women in Games. There will be speakers and portfolio reviews.

JULY 8th

5th

9th

Unity Developer Day: Brighton 2019

Game Dev Heroes

Komedia, Brighton

Komedia, Brighton

Unity’s Developer Day returns to Brighton for a second year running. The city is home to Unity’s big UK office and so the event will bring together Unity staff as well as local developers. There’s a full-day conference track, a networking lunch, and a showcase of local projects made with Unity. Speakers include Innogames, Intel and Magic Leap, as well as Unity-led sessions.

Game Dev Heroes returns to Brighton for a second year, with the awards taking place on the first day of the Develop:Brighton conference from 17:30. The 2019 Game Dev Heroes awards categories cover every aspect of development, from programming to narrative and leadership.

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Develop:Brighton Hilton Metropole, Brighton Develop:Brighton is back for another year of talks and keynotes, with the inaugural Develop:Star Awards taking place on the evening of July 10th. Over 100 speakers are set to attend the two-day conference, including keynotes from Hello Games’ Sean Murray, Media Molecule founders (more from them on page 22), Frontier’s CEO David Braben and Rebellion’s Kingsley brothers. The various sessions will be split between eight tracks this year: Art, Design, Indie, Audio, Evolve, Business, Discoverability and Coding. On top of this, the Indie Bootcamp and Roundtable series will return – and they are both free to attend. There will also be plenty of opportunities to network, with online tool Meet@Develop returning so you can pre-arrange meetings with other attendees.

9th-11th

12th

26th

Fire Emblem: Three Houses Nintendo’s Fire Emblem: Three Houses will be releasing at the end of the month. The Switch’s hybrid nature means it’s the first Fire Emblem to release on a home console since 2007’s Radiant Dawn. The series is also getting a new developer for this entry, co-developed by Intelligent Systems and Koei Tecmo Games.

Dragon Quest Builders 2

Wolfenstein: Youngblood

Dragon Quest Builders 2 is finally releasing in the west, having launched in Japan back in December. Square Enix’s follow-up to the 2016 sandbox introduces multiplayer elements for up to four players, as well as a first person mode. Dragon Quest Builders 2 is set to release on PS4 and Switch.

Wolfenstein’s spin-off, Youngblood, marks the debut of the franchise on Switch, thanks to porting specialist Panic Button, while MachineGames and Arkane Studios otherwise co-developed the title. It’ll also release on PS4, Xbox One and PC – with the Bethesda game also set to be a Stadia launch title in November.

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CONTENT

We’re Playing...

Editor: Seth Barton seth.barton@biz-media.co.uk +44 (0)203 143 8785 Senior Staff Writer: Marie Dealessandri marie.dealessandri@biz-media.co.uk +44 (0)203 143 8786 Designer: Mandie Johnson mandie.johnson@biz-media.co.uk Production Manager: Claire Noe cnoe@datateam.co.uk

ADVERTISING SALES Business Development Manager: Alex Boucher alex.boucher@biz-media.co.uk + 44 (0)777 853 8431

MANAGEMENT Media Director: Colin Wilkinson colin.wilkinson@biz-media.co.uk +44 (0)203 143 8777

SUBSCRIBER CUSTOMER SERVICE To subscribe, change your address, or check on your current account status, please contact: subscriptions@bizmediauk.co.uk ARCHIVES Digital editions of the magazine are available to view on ISSUU.com. Recent back issues of the printed edition may be available please call +44 (0)203 143 8777 for more information. INTERNATIONAL MCV and its content are available for licensing and syndication re-use. Contact Colin Wilkinson for opportunities and permissions: colin.wilkinson@biz-media.co.uk

MCV has an exclusive media partnership with Famitsu – Japan’s leading video games analyst and news source

I’ve entered a period of gaming indecision, with Xbox Game Pass providing a glut of content that I can’t possibly keep up with, so I’m just picking at wonderful things before guiltily moving on, like a gaming nomad. Ori and the Blind Forest, Void Bastards, Wolfenstein II, Forza Horizon 4. It’s a buffet of delights.

E3 left me so sleep-deprived that I wasn’t able to finish God of War this month – turns out you need to focus a bit to fight. Instead, I’ve been spending a great amount of time lazily creating trees in Dreams (there was a lot of swearing involved before it clicked) and flailing my sword around as Zelda (FINALLY) in the amazing Cadence of Hyrule. Marie Dealessandri, Senior Staff Writer

Jumped head-first into Koji Igarashi’s Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night over the weekend and haven’t looked back. Gorgeous visuals, a stunning score and incredible enemy designs make every new area a treat to explore. This spiritual successor to Castlevania is wonderful in almost every way – the wait was well worth it! Vikki Blake, News Writer

Seth Barton, Editor

Paws the game Adorable pet sim Little Friends: Dogs & Cats is out now on Nintendo Switch™! What better way to celebrate than to go “aww” over the industry’s furry little friends? Send yours to marie.dealessandri@bizmedia.co.uk

Printed by Buxton Press Ltd

Biz Media Ltd, Axe & Bottle Court, 70 Newcomen St, London SE1 1YT All contents © 2019 Biz Media Ltd. or published under licence. All rights reserved. No part of this magazine may be used, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any way without the prior written permission of the publisher. All information contained in this publication is for information only and is, as far as we are aware, correct at the time of going to press. Biz Media Ltd. cannot accept any responsibility for errors or inaccuracies in such information. You are advised to contact manufacturers and retailers directly with regard to the price of products/services referred to in this publication. Apps and websites mentioned in this publication are not under our control. We are not responsible for their contents or any other changes or updates to them. This magazine is fully independent and not affiliated in any way with the companies mentioned herein. If you submit material to us, you warrant that you own the material and/or have the necessary rights/permissions to supply the material and you automatically grant Biz Media Ltd. and its licensees a licence to publish your submission in whole or in part in any/ all issues and/or editions of publications, in any format published worldwide and on associated websites, social media channels and associated products. Any material you submit is sent at your own risk and, although every care is taken, neither Biz Media Ltd. nor its employees, agents, subcontractors or licensees shall be liable for loss or damage. We assume all unsolicited material is for publication unless otherwise stated, and reserve the right to edit, amend, adapt all submissions.

www.biz-media.co.uk

Pets: Storm & Sinnamon Owner: Amber Silcock Owner job’s: Live operations coordinator, Excalibur Games

Pet: Rambo Owner: Karl Jones Owner’s job: Lead designer, Lucid Games

Pet: Bam Bam Owner: Iain Garner Owner’s job: Co-founder, Another Indie

Don’t be fooled by this pair of Siamese’s peaceful cuddles, once awake they crave constant attention and hold deep conversations!

Rambo has been labelled as Lucid Games’ “stress reliever and waste disposal unit.” MCV is considering relocating to Liverpool to be closer to Rambo.

Bam Bam is acting CEO at Another Indie. All these juicy indie partnerships? The team can thank Bam Bam for them! I mean: look at this boss chair!

+44 (0)203 143 8777

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Income Stream The numbers, stats and market stories that matter and why they do

PRE-ORDER TOP 5 TW

TITLE

01 02 03 04 05

Pokémon Sword (Switch) Zelda: Link’s Awakening Limited Edition (Switch) Pokémon Shield (Switch) The Last of Us: Part II (PS4) The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Switch)

Sports Direct gets green light to take over GAME Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley this month launched a successful £52m bid to secure full control of the UK’s only large High Street video games retailer, GAME Digital, in a move that could have huge ramifications on the sale of consoles and physical games in the UK. GAME’s board accepted Sports Direct’s mandatory offer of 30p per share, which compared to a market value of 23.55p per share at the time. And recommended that all shareholders accept it too. Ashley first took an interest in the retailer in 2017 securing a 26 per cent share in the company, which he then expanded to 38.4 per cent to become the biggest single shareholder. He also invested a further £3.2m for 50 per cent of the Belong gaming arena brand. Sports Direct has announced a review of GAME’s 540 stores across the UK and Spain, along with other companies within the Sports Direct Group, including House of Fraser, and has warned there could be a reduction in GAME’s staff headcount. “The review will focus on whether the existing GAME sites should be consolidated with others in the Sports Direct Group [including House of Fraser], repurposed or closed,” the company said. “The review could result in consolidation or closure of GAME sites and a consequent reduction or relocation in the employment of GAME’s employees and management. “The retail and gaming sectors are fast moving and currently subject to challenging conditions,” the company added. “Sports Direct does not believe that, as a standalone business, GAME is able to weather the pressures that it is facing. Sports Direct’s aim is to ensure GAME’s long-term sustainability and to escalate the evolution of the Belong business to accelerate the next stage of GAME’s development.” While the news of store consolidations will come as a huge blow to GAME staff, being part of a larger organisation could be just what the chain needs in order to continue in what has been a torrid period for High Street retail in general. The double-whammy of declining physical game sales, while those that remain have increasingly moved to online retailers, such as Amazon, has left the chain in a structurally difficult position in recent years, despite its best efforts to diversify its offering with Belong. To that end, with GAME and Sports Direct now fully combined, it will be intriguing to see at what speed new Belong arenas are rolled out in House of Fraser and Sports Direct stores – with over 100 such locations now planned by the parent company.

SPONSORED BY

Publisher Nintendo Nintendo Nintendo Sony Nintendo

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UK BEST SELLING 2019 RELEASES (UNITS SOLD IN TOP 40 - YEAR TO DATE)

01 Rank 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10

DAYS GONE WEEKS ON SALE (WOS): 9 PUBLISHER: SONY

WoS 15 22 24 15 18 9 17 14 19

Title Publisher Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 Ubisoft Resident Evil 2 Capcom New Super Mario Bros U Deluxe Nintendo Kingdom Hearts III Square Enix Anthem EA Mortal Kombat 11 Warner Bros Far Cry New Dawn Ubisoft Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice Activision Metro Exodus Deep Silver

Source: Calculated from GfK/Ukie data, Period: January 1st to June 22nd 2019

Are you a Libra? Facebook unveiled its own cryptocurrency this month. Called Libra, it will launch in 2020 and has the backing of not just Facebook but also Mastercard, PayPal, VISA, eBay, Vodafone, Spotify, Uber and a raft of investment banks and blockchain firms. The cost for getting involved is a sweet $10m and you have to be valued at least $1bn too. Facebook will be setting up an independent governing body to run the new currency, with all its members getting a say. It’s surely only a matter of time before gaming companies get involved too.

$10m

Crash! Bang! Wallop! Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled - Activision Crash Bandicoot went back to the top of the charts with Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled debuting at No.1 in its launch week. Sales were hugely skewed in favour of the PS4, which took 67 per cent of the copies shifted, against 17 per cent for Switch and 16 per cent for Xbox One. Sales figures for the Crash Team Racing remake were decent but they did not reach the heights of 2017’s smash hit Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy – in fact the latter sold twice as much on PS4 in one day than Team Racing did on three platforms in the same amount of time. That said, GfK noted it’s the second biggest launch for a Crash Bandicoot title, behind the N. Sane Trilogy. Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled was the fourth biggest launch of the year so far.

$70m Game unknown PUBG Mobile launched internationally in March 2018 but due to challenges with government regulations its in-app purchases were blocked in China. Tencent has now released a clone game called Game for Peace and while it plays in almost exactly the same way, changes to curtail violence and promote patriotism now mean the game can be successfully monetised. Chinese brokerage Great Wall Securities noted that while PUBG Mobile generated $76m (£59.9m) in revenue last month, Game For Peace – which is only marketed in China – generated a whopping $70m (£55.2m) on top of that.

Bloody Nora Blood & Truth - Sony Sony’s cockney gangster VR shooter Blood & Truth shows that there’s plenty of love still for PSVR games – provided someone is willing to invest a hefty budget in creating them. It topped the UK weekly chart (ending on June 8th) and held onto the No.5 spot in its second week. GfK also noted that recent price drops on both the PSVR Starter Pack and the Mega Pack rocketed sales for PlayStation VR Worlds and Astro Bot Rescue Mission, which means they both reappeared in that week’s Top 40. That goes to show there’s still life in the PlayStation VR headset too, at the right price and with the right games.

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Why the industry must shout about its international trade success Driving trade has become something of our raison d’être at Ukie

Pictured right: In 2019, Ukie’s trade programme helped 160 businesses exhibit across the world and delivered £113m worth of deals A little over half a decade ago, we founded our trade programme to help our members access global finance and international markets. It has grown significantly since it first started. Last year alone, our programme helped 160 businesses exhibit at three major trade shows across the world. The trade programme featured an outbound mission to China and inbound missions from Germany, the USA and China. We also organised, with support from the Department for International Trade (DIT), our first visit to the Intel Extreme Masters esports event in Katowice, Poland. The programme was supported by additional elements in the UK. Initiatives such as Games London, a Ukie and Film London scheme backed by the mayor’s office, has supplemented the trade plan at a local level through events like the London Games Festival. And with the support of £115,000 of grants from the DIT, the scheme produced a great return for the

sector at large. Across our events, the trade initiative delivered £113m worth of deals for businesses. It also generated 4,600 new business connections for companies who were part of the programme. Meanwhile, the likes of London Games Festival has had a two-fold benefit for the domestic industry. As well as supporting inward investment and job creation in the capital, its success has inspired other initiatives across the country – such as Interactive Futures in Leamington Spa and the Guildford Games Festival (see far right) – to encourage international business to support our local economies. Yet despite all the evident success of our outward approach, we must make sure that we talk about it loudly and proudly to ensure that the UK remains the best place to make, play and sell games in the coming years. On a practical level, there is real value in continuing to make the case for supporting UK intellectual property and businesses overseas. We know that

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Come and meet us at Develop! OH, we do like to be beside the seaside... And that’s why the Ukie team will be heading down en masse to enjoy the delights of the Develop conference in Brighton. The highlight of our trip will be Dr Jo Twist’s state of play talk on Thursday 11th July. Featuring the usual mix of cutting industry insight and carefully curated GIFs, it promises to be quite something. But there’s much more than that too. George Osborn, the 30 Years of Play campaign manager, will be on site to support a panel and record interviews with the industry’s great and good. We’ll have plenty of the Ukie team in attendance too, including our membership and commercial team, to give you a chance for a full catch up. So, would you like to arrange a meeting with us at Develop? Our schedules are pretty packed, but if you drop an email to leon@ukie.org.uk letting us know you’d like to say hi then we can arrange something. even a relatively small amount of investment from the government into the UK interactive entertainment industry has helped our sector grow. From small trade grants from the DIT to the wider flagship Video Game Tax Relief scheme, games and interactive entertainment businesses have continually punched significantly above their weight. Ensuring the government hears this will help companies maintain access to support in the long term – driving growth in our thriving industry across the country. But we also need to argue our case assertively because the changing policy environment could have an impact on our businesses. The UK is once again entering another summer of political uncertainty. Underpinning this instability is a broad debate about the extent to which our country and society should be open or closed. For our sector, we know which side of the debate we need to be on. Keeping the UK open for global business and for the international talent we need to continue to create and innovate is essential to maintain our position as one of the biggest markets for games in the world. We do believe this message is currently being heard in government and that the value of supporting an open approach has been demonstrated to policy makers. Our international trade programme is one such example. But additional developments, such as the Migration Advisory Committee’s recent recommendation to include a swathe of industry job roles on the shortage occupation list, has shown our collective voice is heard. However, we also know

that, as the policy environment changes, we need to be prepared to argue our case again to ensure our voice continues to be heard. We believe that we have demonstrated the economic value of our sector’s modern, ambitious and global outlook. We must now make sure that we continue to win the cultural argument too, even as the political sands shift around us.

Member of the month The Guildford Games Festival The Ukie member of the month this July goes to a collective of exciting members who took part in the recent Guildford Games Festival. This was the first festival of its kind to be held in Guildford, featuring consumer engagement activities, business networking, an awards evening and a charity fundraiser event. Well done and congratulations to all the Ukie members who were involved in this exciting day!

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IRL

Real Life Events from the industry

1 2

E3 2019 And that’s another E3 in the bag – with this year’s edition providing numerous cool announcements and reveals. It kicked off with Baldur’s Gate 3 breaking cover on PC and Stadia. Then Xbox’s press conference told us that the next Xbox (Project Scarlett) is coming alongside Halo Infinite in 2020 and that Keanu Reeves (1) should be “breathtaking” in Cyberpunk 2077, while Tim Schafer (2) announced Microsoft’s acquisition of Double Fine. Square Enix finally revealed Marvel’s Avengers (and more of the gorgeous Final Fantasy VII Remake), we saw Watch Dogs: Legion in action (where you can play as any character), found out there’s a new Zelda in development, and much much more. It’s been a successful one for British teams as well, with Bithell Games presenting John Wick Hex (3), Mediatonic (4) unveiling its partnership with Devolver Digital on Fall Guys, Ninja Theory (5) showcasing Bleeding Edge, and Rebellion (6) unveiling Zombie Army 4, Evil Genius 2 and Sniper Elite VR.

3

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4

5

6

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Pictured above from top to bottom: Capcom showcasing the Monster Hunter World DLC, Sega’s Genesis/Mega Drive Mini (?!) and Fortnite inevitably putting in a big appearance

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XXXXXX

Industry Voices

The discovery business

James Binns, Network N

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!

NETWORK N is in the discovery business. We help players choose the right games and gear… And we help businesses reach our audiences. The discovery business has never been more challenging than it is today. Business is booming. Lots of problems for the modern games publisher have been solved. Middleware is too humble a phrase for the suite of tools, which powerhouses like Epic supply, that help you prototype, develop and publish your games. Technology, speed to market and access to enormous audiences are all very old-fashioned challenges. And yet. And yet. Everyone looks pretty miserable, because of how grim discovery is. Things have actually gotten much worse. For a short time we had solved discovery. If you looked at Steam a decade ago you’d see a handsome store, with a few games, well presented. A single dominant place to buy PC games. That problem has since been unsolved. There’s the proliferation of digital stores – good for customer choice, but harder to manage and to make an impact on and with the risk of leaving some customers behind. Subscriptions like Twitch Prime and Discord Nitro are jostling alongside products like Xbox Game Pass and PlayStation Plus to fill gamers time. Games take longer to play than ever before. They’re more sophisticated and online elements mean players keep coming back. Huge IPs like Fortnite and PUBG suck up players. Market entrants into crowded genres like Apex Legends can win a burst of fame – but maintaining it is far harder. The fire hose of games that PC publishers had to contend with is now being felt on Switch, Xbox and PlayStation as costs and timelines

for porting titles have dropped. Meaning more games than ever. And there’s a bigger focus on paid discovery on digital stores. PlayStation and Xbox have long charged. Steam stubbornly clings on to patronage and community curation. It’s not an easy riddle to solve. But what you can’t do is ignore the problem, create beautiful art and hope that it will be discovered! Psychologists have a phrase: ‘survivor bias’. It is a logical error where you concentrate on successful stuff rather than failure. Your attention focuses on what has worked rather than what hasn’t and you think that is an exact recipe for success. Conferences are full of folk standing on stage talking about how their glorious game found an audience. They’ll say how they did it all thanks to great art and finding an authentic voice on Twitter. After all, nobody would turn up to 200 speeches in a week from developers whose games failed to find an audience. So hidden gems remain hidden. Developers are generally the smartest people in the room, but there’s a bunch of stuff they may not know. How to create product and market fit. How to build a community. How to engage at scale. How to curate audiences for marketing. How to design advertising that works. How to traffic it to the right people. How to track results. Developers: if you do one thing after reading this, go ask somebody about marketing. Network N is in the discovery business – come find us. James Binns is CEO at games media business Network N, which he co-founded back in January 2012 and now has 40+ staff while remaining independent.

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What publishers really want Rob Crossley, PlayStack

HERE’S a question I didn’t expect: “What game should I make?” I must admit it felt pretty bizarre the first time a game developer put that to me. You’re asking me? I’ve been assessing games for PlayStack for two years and you’d probably be shocked by how many times it’s come up. I’m not arrogant enough (not yet) to assume the meaning behind the question is: “Oh oracle, what game ideas will shape the future?” I’m perfectly aware the question is in fact: “So what game will you actually fund?” The short answer is Pilotwings. The long answer is a little more turbulent. Today, anyone developing a PC and console game for commercial purposes has an entire galaxy of challenges to navigate. The most obvious to everyone is the sheer volume of competition: 30,000 games on Steam, 7,500 on console, more than half a million on mobile. Adding your next project into that ocean of games still presents an opportunity, but with the pervasiveness of digital stores and their infinite shelf space, legacy titles are legitimate competitors. At the time of writing, only six of the 25 best-selling Steam games were released this year. It’s not just their mere presence that’s the challenge, but also how brilliantly they’re managed. Catalogue games are strategically discounted, often quite significantly, especially on PC where for instance Borderlands: The Handsome Collection is currently 95 per cent off and costs around the same as an Americano. Discounts and deals are hardly limited to games that need traction. In February, The Witcher 3, probably one of the greatest games of all time and certainly one of the best-selling, was on offer for less than £10. Meanwhile The Witness, another true landmark of this generation, was recently given away for free

during an Epic Games Store promotion. As an indie publisher selling new IP at an honest premium price, this absolutely terrifies me. I’ve obsessed over these developments for years. The conclusion I always return to is that directly competing with a library of discounted world-class games is a strategy reliant on luck. That is unless you can truly match those standards or have a sizable following. Which is why I’m constantly amazed that, of the 1,620 game pitches I’ve assessed at PlayStack, more than half can be reduced to “recently successful game but with my art assets.” I’d not go as far as to label them clones – they’re not. But they are cover bands. I do look out for games that can directly compete in terms of quality in a cost-effective way, but in my two-year search I’ve found... two. Fortunately that’s not the primary objective here. The games that light my fire more frequently are those that don’t comfortably blend in with today’s libraries. That’s always my answer when devs ask me the question: build something different. It doesn’t need to be profoundly, transformatively, seminally original – and honestly what truly ever is. But it should bring something wonderful to a market that hasn’t seen it before, or at least hasn’t experienced it for a long while. It’s an elementary strategy that’s worked perfectly for 40 years, from Mario Bros to Crazy Taxi to Slay the Spire to Auto Chess to Archero. The audience already knows what it loves, and there’s an archive of games competing for those desires. Give people something they don’t yet know they love. So yeah, Pilotwings. Rob Crossley signs games for PlayStack, a London-based publisher for all players and platforms. His talk at Develop:Brighton on July 10th will offer advice on pitching games.

“I’m constantly amazed that, of the 1,620 game pitches I’ve assessed, more than half can be reduced to ‘recently successful game but with my art assets’. They’re not clones. But they are cover bands.”

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se, Marie Dealessandri ccess relea a y l r a e ams’ e’s Mark Healey and Kare to Dre n i s h lecul t em E o n o M ttoun edia M Two m o t n e . y T e h h k ey e t y i n l o w o o t k p b h ack at ig su r e B h : c p t t h o a e roa c evel d tr y’ve learnt and look at t f their D e o h t d ave t a e a h h ah e w path re lled a h s n d a , n l i r mitle ahe ssio a p so fa s g s am ad in with bitio s um n o n c l l a

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ver since its announcement in 2013, Dreams has always been an oddity in the games landscape. A wonderful oddity mind you, redefining creativity, reinventing the very definition of what games are and what players can do within them and oh, so ambitious – so ambitious in fact that when the early access release date was announced, it felt like a relief: Dreams was well and truly coming. Dreams is one of these industry stories for which you really hope for a happy ending because it’s been ongoing for so long that you feel personally invested in it. Dreams’ story is far from finished of course as there are hundreds of amazing things coming to the title (a full release being just one of them) but we couldn’t help but feel, once again,

very relieved when we asked Media Molecule about how the early access was going and creative director and cofounder Mark Healey answered that things were “as good as [they] could ever hope for.” Dreams’ community of creators is key to the title’s time in early access, as this version doesn’t include a campaign. So Media Molecule’s Dreamers, as they’re called, are currently shaping what Dreams is, using the title’s creative toolset, from sculpting to painting, animating, composing and much more, to make anything from silly character drawings to fully functioning games and everything in between. Is Dreams a game, animation software, a graphic design suite? Well, it’s all those things and more, with the

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community size growing slowly but surely – and in line with what Media Molecule planned for. “We want to do a bit of a slow build up so that we can iron out any obvious problems before we put it in front of too many people’s faces really,” Healey says. “And the quality of the community is amazing, which was something we’d really hoped for and something that we put particular effort into, targeting certain people that we knew would be right for Dreams – primarily a lot a LittleBigPlanet creators for example but not just that. My experience is that it’s very good-natured, lots of people [who] are willing to help each other out and collaborate. So I think there’s a nice happy feeling in the community we’ve got so far.”

The community at the moment is massively skewed towards creators rather than players – but Healey reckons that eventually players will take over, especially when the full release launches. “The big challenge that we already knew we’d face, and it’s already become quite evident in my opinion, is how you help people find the good content,” he continues. “So we’re slowly chipping away at that and adding more features to make it easier for people to find things.” Curation is also happening organically within the community as Kareem Ettouney, Media Molecule’s co-founder and art director, touches upon: “We tried to blur the lines between creation and playing by having curation features – Collections, as we call them

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Pictured right: An example of art tutorial in Dreams, showing an Imp, the title’s little helper that’s part cursor, part avatar

Pictured above from top: Kareem Ettouney and Mark Healey of Media Molecule

in Dreams, is a huge feature in the project and you can be known for your taste rather than your skills in animation. So we also want that side of the community to prosper and enjoy their experiences... I have been finding people’s Collections so thrilling,” he enthuses. “I call people’s Collections ‘Weird Dreams’. Weird is a very hard word to have an algorithm for. So it’s got to be a human taste that puts together things like that and we’re starting to see that kind of user also in Dreams.” Ettouney’s enthusiasm is very infectious and, alongside Healey’s dry sense of humour, the duo is a delight to listen to. “Me and Mark have been best buddies since the previous job, so we’re like an old couple,” Ettouney laughs. The “previous job” being Lionhead Studios, where they also met other Media Molecule co-founders Alex Evans and David Smith, before now studio director Siobhan Reddy joined a few months later. The team’s passion is palpable in everything they say and do, and that’s what makes Dreams so unique as well. And they very much intend to retain that aspect. “In an ongoing project like Dreams having a particular vision is very important,” Ettouney says. “Once you open something up to be a community service, the biggest challenge is to maintain the particularness and not turn slowly into a bit of a vanilla product which does a bad job on everything rather than a good job on a few things. So the important thing to try to straddle is making people happy by responding to trends and requests while still continuing building that particular skyscraper.” Another side of the community service coin is moderation – working on a product that thrives off usergenerated content means you need to have the resources

so everything remains nice and polite. That’s where the support of publisher (and parent organisation) Sony is highly valued, with a moderation team working around the clock. Some mature content is inevitable on a platform that gives so much freedom to its members so different approaches are being considered to deal with that aspect. Communications manager Abbie Heppe chips in as she works directly with Sony’s moderation team: “We’re an art game, so there will always be things that fall into a grey area but [Sony’s] been really helpful in sorting this out. We want Dreams to be a safe place for families and younger audiences and we’re working with them to develop what we do going forward. So maybe that’s putting mature tags on content and allowing people to self sort the kind of things that they’re making.” Healey adds: “We didn’t want to do pre-moderation because that would just be a nightmare,” before Ettouney adds that IP infringement and all those “worst case scenarios” actually happen very rarely. ‘JUST’ MAKING NICE TOOLS Even if Dreams’ campaign mode is not out in the public eye yet, Media Molecule has been very much hard at work polishing it, and had collections of mini-games readily available when the early access version launched, demonstrating what its creative toolset is capable of. But when we ask Healey and Ettouney how the process of developing tools while developing games differs from traditional games development, Healey replies: “Compared to other games I’ve worked on in the past, it’s not actually as different as you might think.” He goes into details: “Traditional games that aren’t creative tools will have a set of creative tools that are made for the team anyway. It’s just that they’re not

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“Once you open something up to be a community service, the biggest challenge is to maintain the particularness and not turn slowly into a bit of a vanilla product which does a bad job on everything rather than a good job on a few things.”

usually public facing so there’s always some bespoke software that gets written for assembling worlds and things like this. But traditionally that stuff is a nightmare to use because it’s not public facing. So the [developers] just normally suffer essentially,” he grins. “So the only big difference here is that we have to actually polish and make those tools really nice.” As we’re busy thinking about how that still sounds like a ton of work, Ettouney echoes our thoughts, exclaiming: “Which is a huge deal!” And Healey continues in his very relaxed tone: “I mean obviously you’re still making console, sit-on-thesofa-friendly, tools. But my point though is that those kind of tools do get made anyway for traditional games but they just tend to be really horrible to use.” So for almost a decade, the ‘only thing’ Media Molecule had to do was to make very technical tools very user friendly. Then use those tools to make a few video games. Healey’s detached tone does not fool us: this sounds like a huge challenge – which he does admit. “One of the tricky things to deal with when you make something like this is we’re making new tools but then we’re also making an example game. The important point is that the story itself is a genuine example of what you can make with the tools. “But because you’re developing the tools at the same time, if you make a fundamental change to them and change what’s possible to make with those tools then you have to change the content too, because that content has always got to be a reflection of what you can do with those tools,” Healey points out. “So the thing that really suffered the most in terms of starting again or going back to scratch was the actual content of the story that we’ve been making. That’s been through more iterations than you could possibly imagine and the first version of that is completely unrecognisable from what we’ve got now.” Ettouney takes this opportunity to highlight that Media Molecule very much remains a game development studio though, and not an engine maker: “What Mark said is crucial to make us not become academic tool developers. We are not Adobe or that sort of company that’s 100 per cent tools makers. We are a game developer and we like making worlds and

characters and fun stuff and stories. So I think the change of heart that designing software, designing tools and then in the same day going and making a character and environment and a level keeps it real and makes us second guess what the tools will do – we literally are very practical in our design side. So I am very grateful we made that choice even though it’s been more work and you have to iterate a million times.” Healey continues Ettouney’s thought: “Yes, and that’s certainly contributed to the length of the development process I would say. I think at the beginning of Dreams the only thing that you’d probably recognize now is the sculpting to be honest with you! So right from the year dot, we always knew that we weren’t going to be using a traditional polygon engine. We needed something that was more bespoke and it always kind of grew around that really. But in terms of what the tools look and feel like now – we never had any of that in mind at the beginning I don’t think. It’s very much evolved rather than being designed from scratch.” And this evolution went through some drastic turnarounds, with Healey telling us that “the current version of Dreams is actually Dreams mark two.” He explains: “Halfway through development we got to the stage where we felt like we finally knew what it was we were trying to make… “I remember there was a distinct point where Alex [Evans, technical director] said: ‘Right, we’re starting again from scratch’ with the build literally set to zero.

Pictured above: Dreams’ tools permit any style you can imagine

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Pictured above: Media Molecule’s office in Guildford – we can spot a Develop cover and a few Develop Awards, which warms our hearts

Pictured below: The PlayStation’s Move controllers are a better match for Dreams’ sculpting tool, though you can do everything with a simple DualShock 4

“We used the old version as the design document if you like and it just meant that we’d end up with a much cleaner code base that was much more geared towards exactly what we wanted to do. So at that time there’s a kind of like: ‘Oh do we really want to start again? Is this the right thing to do? ’” Ettouney interrupts with a big laugh: “We love starting again!” Healey bursts out laughing too, before continuing: “The decision was mainly driven by the fact that we accepted we would want to do multiplayer online. To get that to work was going to be a technical nightmare because nothing was deterministic. So the main factor was building it again to be more friendly towards the future being multiplayer online. “For example, in the first version every asset was live. That means that let’s say you’ve sculpted some trees and I’ve used those to make a forest. If you somewhere else in your original tree change it, I would have literally seen those changes happening in my forest to your tree, live. It was kind of fun and an interesting thing to look at but was very impractical because you couldn’t really make anything, because anyone could break it really easily. So it was an interesting idea but it just wasn’t really what we needed for Dreams.” ‘WE WENT CRAZY’ Dreams is a perfectly logical next step for Media Molecule after the already creatively-supercharged LittleBigPlanet (LBP) franchise. “The foundation of Media Molecule was around creative gaming,” Ettouney confirms. “We wanted all our products to celebrate user expression and use the power of the consoles

to bring thousands of people out, make the community contribute to the big R&D of making games and join the party. So that was our genesis. In LBP, we tackled the appeal and accessibility aspects of content creation and tried to make it familiar and pick-up-and-play. But that still ramps up and allows you to do triple-A quality experiences as well. When we approached Dreams, we went crazy,” he smiles. “We were like: ‘We not only want it to be appealing to the users and accessible for gamers to be able to make games. We want some of the package to be even better than the PC, off the shelves, maker tools’. It’s quite an arrogant ambition to try to do better animation tools than Maya or Mac or to do better painting tools than Photoshop but I think we at least had that dream, had that aspiration of quality, and we didn’t let go of it…” he pauses before taking a step back. “LittleBigPlanet, with all its might, still looks like LittleBigPlanet, no matter what. Unless you are the one per cent of the community who can hack that and get it out of that shell. While Dreams allows users to really create in their own style and their own tune and make music that sounds like their own jam, their own flavour. So it’s quite deep and versatile and matches off-the-shelf professional tools out there.” Dreams is certainly one step up compared to LittleBigPlanet but the studio kept some aspects of it and learnt a lot from its development, Ettouney continues: “We carried some of the solutions that we did in LBP forward in Dreams, like for example our logic system,” he says. “But one of the things we knew we wanted to depart from, from the very beginning, is that there is a growing style of user friendliness in CG in some competitive products we’re using, which I think are very dependent on procedural assembly and materials and things that look right from the very beginning. “But we wanted to go deeper. So we tackled deep modelling tools, deep animation, deep music, while a lot of projects like this start from the assembly of pre-made

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“It’s quite an arrogant ambition to try to do better animation tools than Maya or to do better painting tools than Photoshop but I think we at least had that dream, had that aspiration of quality, and we didn’t let go of it.” elements. For instance, the elements in LittleBigPlanet were not made in LittleBigPlanet. They were made externally and assembled; Dreams started more atomic.” And because the elements in Dreams are made in the game, that means Media Molecule had to nail the controls as well, with the studio supporting both the PS4 DualShock and PlayStation Move controllers. And that’s another aspect of the project that went through many iterations, Healey tells us. “When we first started the project, in the R&D kind of phase, it was really all centred around the Move controllers. But then at some point during development Sony stopped making Move controllers. VR is the sort of thing that made them desirable and relevant again I think. But at one point we were like: ‘Hold on, we’re making a whole game here for a device that Sony won’t make anymore, this is a slightly mad business plan’.” Ettouney was very fond of the Move controllers, he says: “The Moves were one part of the project that I personally connected with. Even in the darkest hours when Mark was saying that it became commercially very risky and it wasn’t being made anymore and stuff... I was clinging onto it still,” he smiles. But Dreams’ ambition has always been to appeal to a large audience, to democratise game development and creation. So Media Molecule needed a plan B as it was becoming more and more obvious – at the time at least – that the Move controllers might not be readily available for much longer. Healey continues: “So we just got one prototype for how we could use what we’d already got using the DualShock, which was a really important thing because that’s the thing that everybody’s got. It was like: we have to make this work with the DualShock because otherwise we’re only going to sell about five copies. But then because VR happened, the Move controllers got a lot more love again. So it’s good that we’ve carried on supporting both things I think.” Healey and Ettouney agree that the Move controllers still remain better for some aspect of Dreams, such as sculpting, but that “the point is you can do everything with either.” Looking back at it, Healey admits that now it’s kind of obvious that they had to support the DualShock in a way, as it’s the PS4 primary controller.

But as the team is currently hard at work to make Dreams PSVR-compatible, with Healey saying he’s “had the envious position of being able to surf the community content in VR,” the Move controller support is as relevant as ever. PSVR support has still not been dated though, with Healey adding that it “already works” but that they’ve “just got to make it presentable to people.” THE JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE On top of VR, there’s another aspect that still remains a bit of an unknown in Dreams: monetisation, with some voices out there asking for remuneration for creators. As we start chatting about this, it’s clear that it’s something that the team is keen to explore and adopt, but they’re also keen to find the right way to do it before they commit to it – hence not being able to confirm for certain that monetisation is coming. Some aspects are completely out of Media Molecule’s control to start with. Healey comments: “We definitely want to be able to reward creators somehow. We are just currently exploring all the possibilities,” with Ettouney adding that “it’s a lot of design work.” Healey continues: “We’re just looking into the different ways that we can possibly do that and at the same time preserve the sort of delicate nature of wanting to keep the community very sharey and collaborative. So it’s something we want to do, for me that’s just a nobrainer ambition, but we’ve just got to do it right.” Sony obviously has to be on board with everything here, and “you can imagine how much that entails,” Abbie Heppe points out. Healey adds with a big grin: “It involves talking to lawyers is probably all I need to say.” Heppe settles the matter: “[Monetisation] would be a very very big thing. It’s absolutely something that we want to explore but nothing that we have any update on for now.” We can feel it’s time to change the topic so we go back to talking about other aspects of the title that are expected to evolve. One of them is the tutorials and how the community can learn the ropes of Dreams’ creative toolset, with Media Molecule wishing to go further with that aspect, involving the creators even more. “The tutorials that we put out so far clearly don’t cover everything that you can do in Dreams,” Healey clarifies. July 2019 MCV 948 | 27

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Pictured above: Media Molecule’s comms manager Abbie Heppe

“Because of the way social media is now, we’ve always known that there’d be some people that were interested in just teaching anyway. So there’s already a whole bunch of community lessons and streams and things like that. So we’re kind of looking for ways to engage with those people as well. “The sort of approach that we’ve got with the current tutorials is teach people enough so they can do something and get rolling, but the more detailed stuff we’re going to let that be discovered and we slowly educate on those things.” Ettouney adds: “There is another type of education that is very separate from that, from the ‘how do you do art’ or ‘how do you do a game’ – what makes a good game? What makes a successful character? What is a nice recipe for making a catchy song in a horror genre? It starts getting very specific and that stuff takes a whole planet to build up. YouTube now is full of knowledge, but it took the world population to reach that level of knowledge exchange.” Because Dreams can not teach all the gaming knowledge in the world in one place, Media Molecule does have to rely on external support, on its community, on other resources. Especially because even the team has its limit concerning its own creation. “There are things about Dreams that we ourselves don’t know,” Healey points out. “What I mean by that is that already we’ve seen examples of people teaching or explaining stuff that we didn’t even realise was possible or was a thing. And that’s really exciting. We always had the aim with the tools to sort of…,” he pauses to think, looking for the right way to explain his thought. “You know Kareem would often use the analogy of a pencil for example or a musical instrument like a piano. I’ll go with a guitar – I love guitars! And you think when the guitar was first invented, the person that made that guitar never envisaged Jimi Hendrix doing what he does. So really we want to get the tools taught in the genuine sense,

so that people can learn their own techniques and teach each other.” DREAM BIG Dreams is a very ambitious project that it’s been in development for a while, but Healey reminds us that it really hasn’t been that long considering everything that’s in it – a full sculpting package, a full music creation package, digital audio workstations, animation tools, programming, a publishing platform, and I could go on. But as the pair pointed out, there’s been dark times and as I ask them if they ever doubted themselves and their ability to deliver on their Dreams, Healey’s tone gets very serious for the first time of the conversation. “I mean absolutely,” he answers immediately. “I doubt myself every single second of the day to be honest with you. But Sony has been really supportive, that’s been the sort of foundation of it I think – they have given us the sort of support we need to carry on doing it.” Having a tight-knit team at Media Molecule also certainly helped when times were hard, with Ettouney adding that it’s also all about keeping in mind what they could do better. “One of the strengths of Media Molecule is, you know, we go through all the drama of creation and the torture of it all, but we always improve. Every mindstorm that we ever had is going to be better than the one before, I can guarantee that 100 per cent. It’s very very rare that people would come and go: ‘Oh my God last time was so much better!’ “So I think that pursuit of evolution and improvement is something that kept the project alive and kicking. Every update we had, people seeked progress and developed something that was not there and is now there. So I think the march was always upwards.” And whatever happens, even in the days of doubt, we get the feeling that Media Molecule won’t forget its grand ambition: it’s all about providing great tools for creators, for would-be developers, for people who only want one thing – to become tomorrow’s game makers. “I’m confident there’s going to be people in the Dreams community now that are going to be big names in the future,” Healey says. “I’ve got no doubt about that. Half the people that work in Media Molecule were plucked from the LittleBigPlanet community for example. If anyone wants to get into game development, for sure it’s a great place to go because you’re going to learn a lot and meet some great people.”

“When the guitar was first invented, the person that made that guitar never envisaged Jimi Hendrix doing what he does.”

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Brought to you by

RECRUITMENT

Ins and Outs: Industry hires and moves 1

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Marketing agency Heaven Media has made a few appointments. BRIAN JOYCE (1) has joined the firm as global accounts director. Joyce has over 25 years’ experience in sales and marketing and has contributed to the growth of major brands including Alienware and Dell. Joining after ten years at Razer is DARREN ROBERTS (2), as new business development manager. He also has previous experiences at AMD and Nvidia. Last but not least, Heaven Media has a new head of events in the form of DARRYL FLINDERS (3), who has 25 years of experience in running global marketing campaigns and events. MD Mark Reed said: “Expanding our team allows us to provide our clients with a range of services which are tightly targeted, engaging and results orientated.”

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JAMES RUIZ MCNERNEY (4) and MEGAN GARRETT (5) have joined the Genba Digital team. Ruiz McNerney previously worked on retail compliance at Sony Interactive Entertainment Europe – he joined the firm as business development manager. Meanwhile, Garrett was previously at Activision Blizzard as a digital account associate and has been appointed commercial manager. Both will be based at Genba Digital’s new London office.

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Eurogamer’s video producer of nearly five years AOIFE WILSON (6) has been promoted to head of video at the publication. In her new role, she will lead a “soft reboot” of the channel alongside video producer Ian Higton. This follows the departure of senior

video producer JOHNNY CHIODINI (7) for Gamer Network’s new tabletop games publication, which hadn’t been named at the time of writing. He’ll be the new brand’s head of video.

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Ustwo Games has appointed MARIA SAYANS (8) as its new chief executive officer, with former head of studio DAN GRAY (9) now assuming the position of chief creative officer, overseeing the output of the studio and directing Ustwo’s latest title, Repair. Meanwhile, former head of development PETER PASHLEY (10) has been promoted to chief development officer. Sayans was previously a board advisor to the company with 20+ years industry experience, including 15 years at EA. She will be responsible for “driving the studio’s continued growth and

“We want to make sure our most creative people have the space and freedom to focus on making great games.” Maria Sayans, Ustwo Games

leading company strategy,” the announcement said, with Gray commenting: “Our unique approach to making games has produced truly memorable experiences for players over the years. But we’ve never really formalised this process or even had a creative director. As the studio expands to make multiple games at once, I want to spend my time ensuring that we continue to make games with heart and personality.” Sayans added: “The games industry is going to change in the coming years, and we want to make sure our most talented and creative people have the space and freedom to focus on making great games.”

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JOHN VIGNOCCHI (11) has left Gearbox less than a year after joining the studio as executive producer. The former Disney Infinity VP has moved on for a “dream opportunity” to work with Nintendo of America to drive developer and publisher relations. Vignocchi commented on Twitter: “I plan to help continue the tradition of

building memories through Nintendo that will last a lifetime. I certainly have a lifetime of them already and can’t wait to make more.” Electronic Arts has appointed SAMANTHA EBELTHITE (12) as its new UK and Ireland country manager. Ebelthite takes the reins from Shaun Campbell, who has been moved into an alternate, and unspecified, position at the time of writing, after almost five years leading the company’s UK activities. Ebelthite joined the publisher in February 2018 as head of sales for UK and Ireland and was promoted to country manager in May 2019. Before joining EA, Ebelthite held various positions at pharmaceutical company GSK. Sumo Digital has announced the hire of GARY EDWARDS (13) as studio director of its Nottingham premises. Previously production director, and with Sumo since 2005, he has played a key role in the company’s growth. He will now lead Sumo Nottingham, which was founded in 2016. Sumo Digital’s MD Gary Dunn commented: “I am delighted that Gary is taking the helm in Nottingham. He’s been with Sumo for 14 years and has been responsible for delivering some of our most significant work; it’s great to give him the career opportunity he deserves.”

Got an appointment you’d like to share with us? Email Marie Dealessandri at marie.dealessandri@biz-media.co.uk 32 | MCV 948 July 2019

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Rising Star

Every month, we pick the brain of an up-and-coming talent

Georgina Felce, studio operations manager, Big Pixel Studios What is your proudest achievement so far? Big Pixel has allowed me the freedom and autonomy to build its operational processes from the ground up in collaboration with WarnerMedia. Since joining the team last April, I’ve had the opportunity to install and shape an effective recruitment process which has enabled us to grow not only rapidly but thoughtfully, ensuring new employees are aligned with our highly collaborative company culture. Growing from five to 35 within the space of 11 months hasn’t come without its challenges, but we’ve built a really lovely and remarkably passionate team that I’m incredibly proud of and have just moved into shiny new studio to match!

How did you break into games? I didn’t realise games was a viable industry for me until I met my partner who was a game designer for King at the time. I started attending events with my partner and felt more connected to the people I met there than I had in my current industry so I started looking for a way in. I was working as a project coordinator in the operations department at the time and was struggling to find roles that matched my skillset, but it just so happened that Rovio was looking for an office manager and wanted to recruit out of the industry! That position was unfortunately short-lived when the studio was shut down in March 2018. That was when I was really exposed to the true spirit of the industry: I was inundated with support and that’s how I progressed into my current role at Big Pixel Studios.

What’s been your biggest challenge so far? I suffer with anxiety and have fought to hide it for most of my career. The past few years we have taken huge steps in breaking the taboo about discussing mental health in the workplace and it’s more relevant than ever. The team at Rovio London was refreshingly open in talking about it which gave me the confidence to continue the conversation with my current boss and colleagues. What do you enjoy most about your job? I love working with people. My job enables me to work and communicate with every single member of the studio and I really enjoy it. It’s great to get to know everyone on a deeper level, we grew at such a fast pace I think it’s really important not to lose the human aspect of being a smaller studio. I also enjoy that every single day is different from the last, despite my efforts to forward plan! I’m involved and run several projects across the

studio which allows me to constantly learn new skills and test my current abilities – it’s definitely not a boring desk job! What’s your big ambition in games? I’m not sure if my big ambition is completely realised in my head yet, but I’d like to become more involved in improving the accessibility of the gaming industry, especially at school-age. I know for sure when I was at school I had a very limited knowledge of the industries available for me to pursue a career and I believe that lack of education contributes to the diversity debt we have in the industry at the moment. I think studios can and should do more to improve this issue, and it can be as simple as opening up our studios and inviting schools in or sending employees into schools for careers days. What advice would you give to someone expanding a studio at great speed? Accept failure as a lesson learnt and learn quickly. I don’t believe there is a right way to handle growth, but you’ll most certainly learn what doesn’t work for your company and if time isn’t on your side you need to be fast to react. Constantly evaluate and question your processes; just because it worked for five people doesn’t necessarily mean it’s scalable and will work for ten, 15 or 20 people. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for advice both internally and externally, your employees are your greatest resource and the best feedback always comes from those who have experienced it. I’ve found that reaching out to similar companies that have similar experiences is a great way to avoid pitfalls in rapid growth. This industry has been incredibly open to sharing knowledge.

If there’s a rising star at your company, contact Marie Dealessandri at marie.dealessandri@biz-media.co.uk July 2019 MCV 948 | 33

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RECRUITMENT

Cherry picked advice to help you reach the next level in your career

Kieran Nee, lead client engineer at Mediatonic, explains why being technical is not necessarily what matters most and how you should always be able to justify your code across a variety of titles and served me well when I applied to Mediatonic back in 2016.

What is your job role and how would you describe your typical day at work? My job role is lead client engineer on Gears Pop, a real-time multiplayer mobile game we’re working on in collaboration with The Coalition and Microsoft. My days change based on where we are in the process of shipping a new update. Generally my day ends up split between time spent with other departments to help work out how we can actually make the game, or working directly on the code itself and reviewing other people’s changes before they make it into the build. What qualifications and/or experience do you need to land this job? In terms of qualifications, I have a degree in Computer Science from St. Andrews and a postgraduate diploma from Abertay (from

“We look for experience and the ability to communicate that experience.” a long long time ago). When it comes to senior and lead positions though, it’s usually experience that gets you in the door. I spent the first eight years of my career at Lionhead Studios before leaving to co-found my own mobile games company (Bit By Bit Games). After that, I mixed working on our own games with contracting for other companies and startups in mobile, PC and VR gaming for a while. That gave me a nice broad range of experience

If you were interviewing someone for your team, what would you look for? Surprisingly, the most important thing isn’t technical – it’s about being someone who will work well with others. We’ve got a great culture at Mediatonic, so hiring friendly, humble people who are passionate about what they do is really important to us. Next, it’s experience and the ability to communicate that experience. It doesn’t matter if you’re a graduate or a triple-A veteran, someone able to talk through their code and concisely describe their problems in a clear manner is generally a sign of a good candidate. Last but certainly not least, it is technical knowledge: you need to show me that you can understand core principles of software engineering and will be able to hit the ground running in a Unity project. What opportunities are there for career progression? At Mediatonic, we’ve got a fairly clear structure for junior/standard/senior engineering roles and we also have progression within those roles, too. If an engineer is interested in mentoring we can offer that opportunity. Similarly, for those that show interest in management and project planning, we can provide the opportunity to act as a lead of a small sub-team to develop the skills a lead engineer would require. We try not to force those that aren’t interested in managing into management roles though – progression is based on their preferences. It’s important to us to find the best fit possible.

Want to talk about your career and inspire people to follow the same path? Contact Marie Dealessandri at marie.dealessandri@biz-media.co.uk

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Brought to you by

RECRUITMENT

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 What inspired you about Gram Games? I like the company story and their game development process. They started doing hyper-casual games and slowly moved to do the Merge games that now represent Gram Games. They had a great success with Merge Dragons, but this hasn’t changed the roots of the company and the way new games are created. Game prototyping is still being done in the company and this gives everybody the opportunity to share ideas and to experiment with game design. Also, I was interested in having the opportunity to work with people who have impressive careers in the games industry, the very people who inspired me to study game development. What’s the culture like at Gram and what’s your experience been like fitting in? I enjoy that Gram have an open structure amongst the employees and that I have the chance to be a part of a united team. Everybody is kind and make you feel like you are working with friends more than co-workers. They believe in creating a great working environment that promotes cultural exchange and ways of working. I feel really lucky to be a part of Gram’s culture, and a part of the Zynga family. What are you most excited about bringing to the role? I’m excited about being able to show Latin-American experience in game development to the major leagues of the game industry. I have the opportunity to share my expertise in game architecture design and game engines that I have gained through my years working in video games. What will working at Gram Games do for your career? It is a great step because it gives me the opportunity to keep growing. In Argentina, the games industry is still too small and it doesn’t have too many opportunities, but now I can gain more experience in a global company, with more users, resources and demands. What would you like to say to anyone thinking about or undertaking a job move in this industry? I would like to say that this is a great moment to join and work in the games industry. We are living in a time where games are growing, with serious competitions and professional gamers. Today, games can reach all corners of the world, thanks to the ways they are distributed in stores and the people who do game reviews on YouTube, Twitch, and so on. If you are new and you feel that you aren’t capable enough to do the job or you don’t have the necessary knowledge, I would tell you that you can learn more (for free, often!) from a lot of sources on the internet.

Name: Sergio Agustin De Vita Studio: Gram Games Job Title: Senior game developer Education: Bachelor in Video Games Development – Universidad Abierta Interamericana

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Brought to you by

RECRUITMENT

Iterating for Better This month, MCV looks into flexible working conditions and the growing importance for companies to promote a healthy work-life balance to increase overall happiness and boost productivity COMPANIES within and outside of the games industry are becoming increasingly aware of the need for flexible working conditions. And with good reason. The Meaning of Work report published last month by Indeed revealed that searches for terms including ‘working from home’, ‘flexible work’ and ‘remote work’ were up 116 per cent on its site since 2015. It also claimed that between 2014 and 2019 there had been a 136 per cent increase in the phrase ‘flexible working hours’ in job listings, suggesting employers are responding to the growing demand. Interestingly, the research suggests that workers who prioritise worklife balance would be happy earning £6,000 less annually than those who are not as concerned with the issue. 57 per cent believed their

Lottie Bevan Director, Weather Factory “Weather Factory is a fully remote five-person studio. We offer flexible working to everyone: we all work from home, and we’ve all agreed to work eight-hour days around core working hours of 10.30 to 16.30. This means people can start earlier or later, so long as they’re working and contactable during that central six-hour window. We want people to have the flexibility to take their kids to school, go to the dentist or just pop to the shops for some milk. Flexible working makes employees happier and doesn’t set work up as the antagonist of your personal life.”

“Workers who prioritise work-life balance would be happy earning £6,000 less annually than those who are not as concerned with the issue.” salary was the most important factor in their work, followed by work-life balance (55 per cent). Work-life balance was considered more important than job security (45 per cent), colleagues (40 per cent), the commute (34 per cent) and more. Flexible working is particularly important for women who tend to be the primary carers for children. In fact, getting women to join – and stay – in the workplace often requires this flexibility. But it’s increasingly becoming an important factor across the board. A new report from parenting website Daddilife in association with Deloitte has revealed that more dads than ever (58 per cent) are now actively involved in day-to-day parenting and are looking for workplace flexibility. Meanwhile, research by Perkbox shows that 83 per cent of new graduates from Generation Z (those born between the mid 1990s and 2000) are looking for flexible hours when researching jobs. The facts speak for themselves, but it’s also worth noting that multiple pieces of research have proven that employees who are offered alternative working options report higher levels of overall happiness and greater productivity.

Claire Boissiere Co-founder, Harbee Studios and VC, BGI “A key factor of good company culture is treating each employee as an individual. But you can’t do that if you don’t offer flexible working, as no two employees have the same life situation. I’ve witnessed a shift in the games industry from office-only to flexible working over the past 20 years and I’m a huge advocate of it. One game development team I’m currently working with is almost entirely remote. It presents challenges for sure, but they’re no worse than the traditional office-based challenges, they’re just different. It takes trust though, if you’re not the sort of manager that respects and trusts your team, then offering flexible working is going to be challenging for you.” 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 liz.prince@amiqus.com.

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Brighton:

all pride a

Over 3,000 of the games industry will travel to the vibrant south coast city for Develop:Brighton this month. But given they have such a lovely time here, why do so many of them still live elsewhere for the rest of the year? For this second regional spotlight, Seth Barton talks to a handful of the games businesses that call the city home, to see why Brighton is so much more than the seaside

B

righton, or rather Brighton and Hove to give the city its full formal title, is Britain’s biggest seaside resort, with well over a quarter of a million inhabitants. And alongside Blackpool, its northern sibling, it’s the original UK party town. When I lived there, just after leaving university in 2002, it was a nexus for the remains of the free party scene and the setting of Fatboy Slim’s epic 250,000 person beach party, the last such free-to-attend event on the beach. It still remains a favourite for stag and hen dos and the seafront buzzes on summer weekends. Of course, the city is best-known for its large and vibrant LGBTQ+ community, crowned by arguably the biggest Pride event in the UK. But that’s not its only

counter-culture claim to fame. Brighton has the UK’s first local council to be led by the Green Party and recently the city has seen a series of large-scale climate change protests. Less crucially, it also had the highest number of proponents of the Jedi faith at the last UK census. Which all adds up to exactly the kind of fun-loving, bohemian, anti-authoritarian and liberal outlook which attracts creative companies. And those have long included a healthy number of games industry studios and businesses. Ask a bunch of contemporary games studios in Brighton why they set up shop here and the answer is often “because I was here already,” with the town’s dev scene and associated fields stretching back some decades.

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e and no prejudice

Caspar Field, who headed up That’s You developer Wish Studios until its recent closure, tells us: “We founded Wish Studios in 2012 in Brighton because, one, we all lived here with young families, and two, there was a good scene around, with lots of indies and interesting things happening in the wake of Black Rock being closed down in 2011.” Black Rock’s closure comes up repeatedly as a key moment for many in the local scene. While eventually Disney-owned, the racing game specialist spent most of its life as part of the Climax Group. It was the single largest studio in the region, and its closure made some 300 staff redundant, who went on to found and work at Studio Gobo, Boss Alien, Hangar 13 and many more.

One such ex-Black Rock employee is Adrian Brown, who is now head of UK recruiting at Unity’s Brighton office, which was established as a reaction to the thriving local scene: “I worked for Climax, which then became Black Rock Studios, and then became a dozen other studios, so I know quite a few folks who work in the industry within Brighton. It’s a close-knit community and you’ll find a large number of people at Unity Brighton who, at some point, worked with a local studio.” Ben Lavery, commercial director at Keywords-owned The Trailer Farm, also namechecks the defunct studio: “Founders Dan and Tony Porter were at Disney’s Black Rock studio and made Brighton their home. When Black Rock closed, they set up The Trailer Farm and

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Pictured above: The Hilton Metropole, the home of Develop:Brighton

Pictured above from top: Ben Lavery and Caspar Field

the start-up games companies that also emerged from Disney became the first customers.” Before Wish, Field spent five years at another oftenmentioned Brighton studio, Relentless. It developed the hugely popular Buzz series, before eventually closing in 2016. Field moved to the city and the studio back in 2007 and recalls that its liberal outlook was key: “I hugely value those things, and they did play a part in my wife and me choosing to move here, back in 2007.” Others set up their studios here having used the city as a way to break into the industry, such as James Marsden, owner and director of Futurlab: “After graduating with a Fine Art degree in 2002, I was practically unemployable and hoping to join the games industry, I knew the barrier to entry was high so I had little chance, so I figured a ladder-jump from Flash development would be a viable path. “Brighton was the leading producer of Flash games with the likes of Kerb, LittleLoud, Plugin Media, so I moved here, got two part-time jobs in a record shop and bar, and taught myself Flash programming in my spare time. Back in 2003 it was possible for me as a graduate with only a rudimentary knowledge of programming to earn £300 to £500 a day, which was enough to rent a small office and hire a small team. Those days are long gone sadly.”

Pictured right: Staff at work at Hangar 13’s Brighton office

Flash’s heyday may be over but Brighton remains far more suited to small teams, such as indie and mobile studios, than it ever was to Black Rock’s big team, big game production model. And that’s not just down to the creative outlook of its inhabitants, Field explains to us: “Brighton was built as a tourist town, so it never had those large, former industrial-type buildings that house new businesses in places like Manchester. So, as more and more business move to or start up in Brighton, they’re competing for a limited set of office spaces – many of which were built cheaply after WWII, and either lack character, or have very dated designs. “There are some new blocks going up, but they are usually the most expensive places to rent. Add to that the increasing number of ‘shared space’ companies that are hoovering up office space – and then subletting it to you for three-times the price – and you have an expensive place to run a business.” With the sea on its doorstep and the gorgeous steep hills of the South Downs wrapping around the city from behind, it’s undoubtedly an attractive locale. However, both mean there’s little space for the city to easily expand into. Though obviously things do get a little cheaper as you move out of the very centre. Futurlab’s Marsden agrees: “Office space has always been a challenge in Brighton. We’ve never had an office in Brighton [proper] as a result. We’ve mainly moved about in Hove. Regarding living costs, I think people are generally willing to sacrifice the extra disposable income in exchange for the general sense of well-being that comes from being in a city full of friendly and openminded people. The sunshine and beach helps too.” So it’s a wonderful locale to live in, but it’s not just its geography that make the town, it’s also its close connection to the capital. SOUTH SOUTH LONDON? Brighton has often been referred to as ‘London by sea’ and while it’s lazily aggravating if you live there, the easy transport links between the city and London are undoubtedly a part of its ongoing success. An additional boon is Gatwick Airport which sits half-way between London and Brighton on the main train line, though it’s worth noting that said train service has suffered terribly in recent years from delays and mismanagement. Things seem to be improving now, but then they couldn’t have gotten much worse. The proximity of London is another key reason why prices, both for homes and office space, are so high in the city. But overall the closeness appears to be a boon for studios in the area. Véronique Lallier, global VP marketing and GM Europe at Hi-Rez Studios, feels that it helps keep the business connected to the wider industry: “Getting in

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and out of London easily is a massive plus for us. With many of our industry events, bodies, partners and associations based there it’s important for us to stay connected and feel part of the broader UK gaming scene too, which the proximity facilitates.” She adds: “While it’s not cheap compared to other smaller cities on the south coast, Brighton still has a much lower cost of living than central London.“ Ed Daly, studio director at The Chinese Room, notes it attracts talent both from the capital and beyond: “Proximity to London can be a positive factor in attracting overseas talent, who naturally are interested in being within range of the capital. At the same time, we recruit people working and living in London who are keen to escape and for whom the, even slightly, lower cost of living and easier more laidback quality of life is a winning combination.” Moving away from development studios, other games industry businesses in the city certainly appreciate being close to the capital. The Trailer Farm’s Lavery travels in to work for instance: “I commute down via the M25 two to three times a week, and spend evenings on Rightmove

dreaming of a coastal move – the studio is going from strength to strength so the call of the sea may win very soon.” Sebastian Long, director of Player Research, another Keywords-owned business in the city, adds: “Our business certainly benefits from being commutable. London-based developers can easily catch an express train to watch playtesting sessions for the day, and for those developers who commute in the other direction, spending the day with us is a welcome alternative to the rat race. “From a recruitment perspective, our staff have such an unusual profile – typically Masters or PhDs – there’s huge competition for hires across all major European game hubs and cities. Of course the proximity to London and Gatwick is a boon, but it’s Brighton’s unique charm that sells; I’d defy anyone to walk the North Laine in the sunshine, or the beachfront promenade at sunset, and not be endeared to this city.” UNIVERSITY TOWN Those charms have also attracted numerous students to the town, with both the University of Sussex and the University of

Pictured above from top: Adrian Brown and Ali Fearnley

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Pictured above: A team meeting at Futurlab’s office

Brighton based in and around the city. Beyond providing a stream of talent for established businesses, alumni have also set up new firms in the city. Long continues: “Player Research started as a small playtesting consultancy spun out of the University of Sussex in 2012, and the university is still close to many of our hearts. We have four Sussex alumni on staff, and we return each year to give talks and careers advice. We regularly bring in the local university students as research assistants for projects, providing valuable games industry experience that’s otherwise nearly impossible for them to obtain, but highly valued by employers.” Dr Paul Newbury runs the University of Sussex’s BSc Games and Multimedia Environments degree. He explains how it was created: “We set up the degree ten years ago with the aim of mixing our core Computer Science teaching and interactive 3D/VR research into a teaching offering that we hoped would be interesting and exciting to students wishing to enter the industry. “We had some contact with local companies once the degree was running, and found that many of our students would go into jobs in the local game development community and several others would start up on their own, many with help from our careers centre and Sussex Innovation centre. “However, we also found that we lacked the resources to keep up with all the students who had graduated. What has really helped us over the last few years is the introduction of our industrial placement year. This runs between the second and third years and gives us stronger links to the industry. A significant number of these students will return to their placement company for a full job after graduation. We are ever expanding

this placement opportunity, but have done good work with companies such as Unity, Feral Interactive, EA and Disney and hope this will now be a core way in which we engage with the local game development industry.” There’s still undoubtedly work to be done in expanding the programme, with a number of the studio heads we talked to saying they hadn’t had formal contact with either Sussex or Brighton universities in their time in the city but instead had placed students for a few weeks here and there on an individual basis. Get in touch with MCV if you need contact details to help build such relationships. Meanwhile, Hi-Rez is moving in the right direction, as Lallier tells us: “We are keen to engage with educational institutions in the area so we’re holding a student open day at our Brighton offices on July 10th between 10:00 and 12:00 – we’ll be inviting the next generation of gaming talent to meet our teams and play our games.” LIBERAL OASIS Brighton’s LGBTQ+ community is arguably the most vibrant in the UK, with its Pride festivities running for a full week across the city. And the community provides a bedrock upon which a far broader, cosmopolitan and creative community has thrived. And though the city remains close to the national average when it comes to racial diversity – with 80 per cent of the Brighton’s inhabitants being ‘white British’ according to the last census – it remains far more welcoming than that statistic suggests, with a more liberal and accepting mindset than you’ll find in almost any English city of its size. It’s hard to quantify these things, but 68 per cent voted remain in the EU referendum, one of the highest proportions outside of London. As Futurlab’s Marsden explains: “In Brighton very few people bat an eyelid at how you look or how you choose to live your life. It’s an oasis in that respect, and I believe that the LGBTQ+ population in Brighton acts as a protective shield, stopping small-minded people from moving here.” Hangar 13’s general manager Nick Baynes, a Black Rock veteran who has spent almost 20 years in the city, certainly believes that Brighton’s attitudes inform the studio’s attitudes: “We are a modern, inclusive studio that strongly believes that our differences make us stronger. We’re vocal champions of women, BAME and LGBTQ+ representation in the industry, and this is a mindset that permeates through Brighton as a city, its universities, who we enjoy partnering with, and its culture.

“In Brighton very few people bat an eyelid at how you look or how you choose to live your life.”

Pictured above from top: Ed Daly and James Marsden

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“At Hangar 13 we believe that the diversity of our teams leads to more believable worlds and immersive experiences for our players, drawing from the various backgrounds of the amazing developers we have working at our offices around the world.” Field agrees, telling us that Brighton was a key part of why Wish Studios had such a great culture: “We won a ‘Best Places to Work’ award in both 2017 and 2018, and I think being able to draw on a talent pool of diverse, creative, liberal people played a part in that. We had a fantastic team – I miss working with them.” Field goes on to tell us that the city’s outlook directly affected the studios output: “Wish invented the PlayLink concept for Sony back in 2013, and a strong element in the early design meetings, and the initial pitch doc for the franchise, was around inclusivity and accessibility. I’d say that the Wish crew were very typical of the kind of open-minded and easy-going people that you often meet in Brighton, and that some of that vibe will have inevitably filtered through to what we made. That’s You was specifically and deeply designed to be as inclusive as possible, in some very clever and quite subtle ways.” Continuing the chorus of praise is Matthew Hemby, general manager of Boss Alien, which is currently working on a mobile Star Wars title. He cuts straight to the point: “Brighton’s values are Boss Alien’s values.” He then continues: “They drive everything we create here together, and define the character and mindset of the people and partners we want to work with. Too often, games are small-minded – in tone, themes, or accessibility. We make games for everyone. Brighton is our home, and we could not operate, find and grow the right talent, or be inspired to do the work we do anywhere else in the UK. “On every level, from the bottom up, our team champions diversity and inclusivity in the development of our characters, worlds, stories and gameplay, and how we collaborate with each other. Progressive ideals guide everything from our creative vision to our business practices; we want to put joyful, hopeful experiences in the hands of players that reflect who we are – and which are enriching, not exploitative.” The Chinese Room’s Daly is next up to the pulpit: “Brighton’s earned bohemian reputation is important, the city is a draw to creatives, and so to creative businesses. It’s important to have a diverse team, there’s clearly more to be gained when adding someone to a team with a different background and perspective

than by accumulating from a narrow group.” Though Daly does also note that the town’s inhabitants have a certain Shoreditch-bysea stereotype of their own: “I appreciate there’s also an irony here, with a certain Brightontype, though games dev studios will never be cool enough go fullhipster – fortunately, might I add!” And he agrees that all this has a direct impact on the studio’s output of fresh IP: “The Chinese Room is here to make the games we want to make, we’re not working on other people’s IP, and so the stories we want to tell, the direction we take will follow from who we are. Of course, we don’t directly make games to reflect our ‘values’ in that sense, but certainly there are plenty of games it wouldn’t occur to us to make.” Or to put it another way: you probably wouldn’t set up a studio in Brighton to make a military shooter. Lallier continues: “Hi-Rez is a forward thinking, diverse and creative studio so the values of equality, inclusivity and acceptance, with an open-minded approach to challenging the norm, all of which beat at the heart of Brighton, align perfectly with our own. “A diverse workplace is a far healthier, positive, productive and more creative environment from which to stimulate new ideas and fresh thinking. Hi-Rez has never shied from taking risks on ideas that are more than a little leftfield. A workplace and living environment which is a hub for alternative and creative thinking in all areas of arts, culture, technology and music only inspires us more.” Futurlab’s Marsden takes a more holistic view of Brighton’s creative spirit: “It’s important for life outside

Pictured left: An artist at work at Hi-Rez Studios

Pictured above from top: Matthew Hemby and Nick Baynes

Pictured below: Staff at Hi-Rez working on Unreal

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Pictured above: The team at the Chinese Room

Pictured above from top to bottom: Véronique Lallier, Paul Newbury and Sebastian Long

of work. If people feel supported, engaged and generally nourished outside of work, they have more energy, focus and patience at work. Over the decades this overwhelmingly liberal mindset has given Brighton a collective conscious that is forward-looking and readily accepting of new ideas, which was immediately apparent upon moving here.” For Long at Player Research, such diversity is a must if the company is to properly assess the way that games interact with their increasingly diverse audiences. “Diversity is hugely important to everyone here; our diversity initiatives aren’t just top-down, they’re thought about every day by every member of staff, from the demographics of the playtesters we recruit, to asking each playtester by which pronouns they’d prefer to be addressed, to reducing gendered language in job descriptions, to building diversity into our company values. “Diversity isn’t just sought, it’s celebrated in Brighton – perhaps even more so at Player Research, where our staff of psychologists are commonly themselves an atypical voice in the development studios we partner with.” COMMUNITY VALUES While development studios’ core work can be quite insular, Brighton at least provides a more compact shared space than those spread across say the Cambridgeshire countryside. That closeness was certainly key for Player Research when it was getting started, Long recalls: “Our collaborations with Brighton studios were so important in getting our company off the ground in 2012, working with Boss Alien, Relentless, Mind Candy, Paper Seven,” he says. “Being so local allows us to work very closely with these local teams, almost embedded in the studios, learning what player data their games needed and when. We’re now part of the Keywords Studios family, strengthening our collaborations with our sister-companies Studio Gobo, Electric Square and The Trailer Farm.” The latter has close relations in the city, Lavery confirms: “We talk to [the Keywords Studios family] all

the time, sharing people, knowledge, events and space. We also have customers like Hi-Rez and Warner Bros TT locally here in Brighton.” Futurlab’s Marsden didn’t have the usual network from a previous role in the area, but built contacts at local events which proved invaluable. “I sought advice and input from individuals at key milestones, such as our first pitch to PlayStation, in which we consulted Relentless Software,” he recalls. “A few years later, after missing the open sharing of information that is characteristic of the web industry, I set up a mailing list for Brighton game studio owners for knowledge sharing, which has added some value to Brighton studios over the years. I wish there was time to do more.” Field also notes Marsden’s initiative: “I’m on the mailing list, we share information about events and ask for help if we need it. There’s a good sense that we can be pretty open with one another. FuturLab were good friends of Wish, and we got along well with others like Electric Square – quite a few of the Wish team went to work at those two places after we closed. Unity having a big office in town is good too, although they did play a part in an escalation of salaries that we perhaps could have done without, as a business!” Hi-Rez’s Lallier tells us that relationships in the city go beyond development studios: “The Eurogamer network is an important media and event partner for us so having them on our doorstep is a particular positive. Our creative agency 05 Creative, who works with multiple gaming clients, is also just around the corner in Hove, while our PR consultancy The Treks, and PR agency ICO Partners, are also based here in Brighton. “There are ongoing industry events and networking activities both professional and social which take place and we are keen to participate as often as we can. We also host our own events from time to time which this year will revolve around Develop.” CONFERENCE CALL Many cities have hubs of games development, and even their own local events, but nowhere else in the UK has a development conference on the scale of Develop:Brighton, when a sizeable chunk of the rest of the industry, from the UK and beyond, joins the local community for a few days by the sea. The relationship between the local development scene and the conference is strong and warm, as Hangar 13’s Baynes points out. “Welcoming the Develop conference here every year is great for the city, and at Hangar 13 we love spending time with developers from around Europe as they discover how vibrant, exciting, and occasionally sunny, Brighton is.”

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Conference director Ali Fearnley explains why Tandem Events originally chose the city for the event, covering off many of the city’s pluses: “Brighton has always had a diverse cultural, music and arts scene, which has made it a hub for creative industries including game development. So this and the relaxed, non-corporate, setting by the sea made it the perfect fit for Develop. Plus, of course, it’s within easy reach of London with good transport links to the rest of the UK and Europe. Brighton also offers a wide range of accommodation to suit every pocket, which is important for our event because we have everyone from start-ups and micro indies to studio heads from global publishers attending.” And for those on the conference’s doorstep, one very immediate plus is that there’s no travelling and accommodation worries. “We love Develop, it means we can go hang out with our friends in the games industry, learn from our peers and still sleep in our own beds!” enthuses Daly from The Chinese Room. For those looking to recruit, it’s also a huge advantage, as potential candidates literally come to you, adds Unity’s Brown: “We love having the event in our backyard because we can invite candidates to our office to showcase our workspace and a glimpse into what working at Unity is like.” While many Brighton studios will choose to present sessions at the conference, Hi-Rez is going one step further this year and running its own partnered esports track at its offices, Lallier tells us: “We’re very pleased to be working ever more closely with the conference and to be increasing our presence to new levels in 2019. For the first time Esports Insider will be running a dedicated esports track, which we’ll be hosting at our Brighton offices. Having partnered with the conference itself, anyone with a Develop pass will be able to attend. The track will include a series of talks and a roundtable with influential voices from the UK and international esports scene.” Field too is hugely supportive of the event, though he’d like to see a few changes: “Of course it helps that the Develop conference is in Brighton, although like a lot of people I’ve spoken with, I’d like to see it change to a different venue, to freshen it up a bit. But having a large chunk of the industry descend on the city to talk shop and have fun is great, and long may it last!” And the conference has already lasted a long time. Having clocked up 13 years in the city to date, it’s seen the local community grow and change, Fearnley notes: “Develop:Brighton has been running since 2006, the dev community down here has definitely grown but it has also evolved – in the early days of the conference there were a few larger studios like Black Rock and Relentless employing big teams whereas now you’ll find many more smaller studios and indie developers. But it’s really just a reflection of what’s happened in the industry as a whole.” And those broader industry changes sound like they’re right up Brighton’s street. It’s an industry with a growing acceptance of the part that smaller and more agile teams can play. An industry than can grow by making games designed to be more attractive to diverse audiences. And one which should increasingly reflect the cultural outlook and passions of its creators. Take all that into account and Brighton’s development scene seems perfectly positioned to punch well above its weight in numbers.

BRINGING TOGETHER C-LEVEL DECISION MAKERS FROM ACROSS THE INDUSTRY

SAVE THE DATE 25th and 26th of November

E 360, D U T I T L A NK, MILLBA N LONDO Please contact Alex Boucher (alex.boucher@biz-media.co.uk) for sponsorship opportunities and Tracey McGarrigan (tracey@ansiblecomms.com) in regards to the conference programme

www.futuregamessummit.com @FutureGamesSMT

#futuregamessummit

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Sharkmob’s

bigger bite

Creative impact, tech support, business rationale: Sharkmob’s CEO tells Marie Dealessandri about what happens when your studio is being acquired by Tencent

S

harkmob is the latest games company to have been acquired by Chinese internet behemoth Tencent. The studio was set up in the Swedish city of Malmö by ex-Hitman and The Division developers from IO Interactive and Ubisoft Massive back in March 2018. Many of these senior developers have been working for a decade or more in the industry and are looking to use that experience

on a new multiplayer title based on a ‘cult classic’ IP, they announced back then. Now that Tencent has entered the game, the studio will continue to work on its secret title, but also take on “several new projects” with the Chinese firm, the team said when the acquisition was announced last month. Sharkmob’s CEO Fredrik Rundqvist (pictured above) answers our questions about the studio’s new partnership with Tencent.

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Sharkmob was founded by triple-A veterans with a desire to get closer to games with smaller teams but now has a staff of over 50 and has been acquired by a giant – how do you reconcile these two aspects of your identity? We share the view that a high level of autonomy and creative ownership is a necessity for developing great games. At the same time, to be launching and operating multiplayer games on a global scale, you need a strong partner, and Tencent is one of the biggest tech and internet companies in the world. So we see it as getting the best of both worlds. How and when did your conversation with Tencent started? We have been keeping in touch over the years, and at some point it started to get serious. Even though we are a very small company and they are a very large company, there is a lot of common ground in the way we view online games and the future of gaming in general. We really clicked on a personal level, but the business rationale is great. We get to retain creative control and at the same time we can access their vast resources and knowledge. There is so much we can learn from them, and it will speed up our evolution. Will the acquisition have a creative impact on your work? It is still early days for us. But they are very supportive and trying to help us with the knowledge and resources they have. How important are acquisitions for the growth of a studio? Do you think you couldn’t have gone further without Tencent’s investment? Well, growth in and of itself is not a goal for us. We just want to be able to produce our games with as high a level of quality and precision as possible. Being part of Tencent does give us a significant boost though – that’s for sure! What are the main advantages of being part of the Tencent family? Will that facilitate partnerships with other European Tencentrelated studios – Fatshark, Frontier, Supercell, Paradox, among others – and is that something you’d be interested in?

There are a lot of things to learn from all these great companies, and I would certainly be open to different levels of collaborations. And as we already working with Unreal Engine it is great to get a closer relationship with Epic.

Pictured above: The Sharkmob team in its office in Malmö, Sweden

Very social, very competitive, multiplayer: these are the three terms you use to describe the type of games you love and want to make. Do you believe these games represent the future of the games industry? There will always be room for great single-player games, no doubt about it. We love multiplayer though and that segment is literally booming right now. It has taken the industry from a mass-market type situation to super mass-market. Being able to play with whoever you want, whenever you want, on any number of platforms is an idea close to our hearts so that is what we are pushing for. That’s where we see our future. How is Tencent going to help you with that objective? What support can they provide? Tencent is leading in terms of online, crossplay gaming with a huge player base of monthly active users. They have a wealth of knowledge and experience in user behaviour, trends and market development. All of this is immensely helpful for our developers when working on our projects. Beyond that, there is also the technical side of backend systems, servers, and so on, that allow us to run the games. Few companies in the world can rival Tencent in these areas.

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MCV-JUL19-DEVELOP BRIGHTON 2:MCV-JUL19-DEVELOP BRIGHTON 2 25/06/2019 16:46 Page 1


PQube’s

triple-header With an eclectic line-up of promising titles, PQube is celebrating its tenth anniversary with what looks to be its biggest year yet and three key titles are leading the charge. Seth Barton reports

P

Qube is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. And quite a year it’s proving too! The company has seen the release of its first IP in Kotodama, has a big anime-spin off title launching this summer in Kill la Kill – If, plus it’s following up on its indie smash hit Cat Quest with a sequel. The company, which started out as solely a distributor (of racing titles among others), has now also become an established mid-tier publisher, with an eclectic line-up centred mainly around Japanese imports and indie games. It was the first of those, though, that provided the company’s springboard, David Pain, founder and CEO, recalls: “We quickly moved into publishing when we saw the opportunity to bring Japanese titles to the west. It’s been a long process and we’ve learnt a lot throughout it… The next challenge for us now, is to be in a position where we have our own successful and stable IP, our own development projects – we’ve got the team and processes in place to do this now.”

He explains further: “We’ve just developed and released our first ever own IP, Kotodama, and it’s been really successful for us already – so much so that we also have a second new IP development project on the horizon, which we hope to announce very soon.” Kotodama is a Japanese visual novel co-developed by Art Co that blends puzzle-based gameplay with a narrative in which the player must uncover the dark secrets of their fellow students. Visual novels are a genre that the company has a lot of experience with already, having published numerous examples. However, developing a game “was completely new ground for us,” says Pain. “So we needed to think carefully about what kind of game we would make – and also what kind of game we’re capable of making. We spend so much time in Japan and we have such an extensive knowledge of the visual novel market, that this route felt like the most natural genre for us to contribute to. We also wanted to make sure we created something which was very different, offered players something they might not expect.

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“Kotodama is a game which lulls you into thinking it’s staying within known genre conventions, but then twists and subverts that. We wanted players to finish the game and feel: ‘Well, I wasn’t expecting that!’ It’s been really heartening to see our community get behind us, support us, and enter into the spirit of what we were trying to create. We’ve also learnt so much about developing our own project. It was very much a baptism of fire, and we’re looking forward to taking that experience forward for our next title.” In recent years the visual novel genre has exploded, with Steam being the key driver of bringing these types of games to a far broader audience than ever before. So how does PQube go about choosing which visual novels to localise for a western audience? Geraint Evans, head of publishing, answers: “Fundamentally it’s about the games we like. We have a fairly stringent internal selection process. While overall quality is naturally at the forefront, it’s as much about what a title can evoke for us in terms of fun, or

curiosity – does the game have the potential to stimulate something different in the player, to experience something unexpected? “What might tick a box in terms of quality, may not necessarily tick another in terms of offering something we like, and vice versa. Whether it’s a big budget title, or an indie made by a one man team – we feel it’s important that every product has a fair shot in being selected and then to throw everything behind it.”

Pictured above: PQube’s 2019 line-up is led by Cat Quest II, Kotodama and Kill la Kill

DRESSED TO KILL Staying in Japan, but moving onto something with more action, the company will be releasing Kill la Kill – If in the west later this month. Based on the hugely popular 2013 anime, the brand got a big boost in the west when it was among the first big-name series to appear on Netflix. Andy Pearson, group strategic marketing manager, tells us: “It’s going to be huge – arguably our biggest launch of the year and we’re putting everything behind it. What’s great with this is the perfect cacophony of

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Pictured above: Cat Quest 2 is all set to top the first game

Pictured above from to bottom: Andy Pearson, David Pain and Geraint Evans

ingredients. It’s a new story, for the first time since 2015, so fans will need to play the game in order to experience the long awaited extension of that universe. “It’s also being developed by Arc System Works, most recently known for their phenomenal work on Dragon Ball FighterZ. It’s that perfect fusion of eccentric anime style but based in real quality and polish, both visually and mechanically.” Kill la Kill’s plot revolves around the revealing outfits of its protagonists. However, it’s a comment upon such genre tropes and it plays with them better than most – to the extent that the rebel forces in the game wear no clothes at all in protest against the world’s rulers, with comedic coincidences which keep them covered up. It may be self-aware, but it’s still somewhat challenging to mainstream western tastes. But that’s not something that bothers Evans: “Mainstream western is, in many ways, the antithesis of our identity as a publisher. It’s more of a case of liking the games we like and therefore finding the audiences who are like us. “We do publish games which you could consider mainstream, or ‘safe’ for western tastes – PlataGO, Songbird Symphony, All Star Fruit Racing and Earth Defense Force come to mind – however, in taking the approach of publishing games that are meant for everyone, you also have to market for everyone and that’s not a philosophy we naturally gravitate towards. “We take real pride in publishing games and making them a success where other publishers have not seen the opportunity. From Fight of Gods, to Steins;Gate and Gal*Gun, they’re all games which we knew would succeed and absolutely believed in them. Many didn’t, were perhaps a little scared of them, considering them too risky – but the numbers, the financial success of those games, speak for themselves.” And PQube believes that market is continuing to grow, both more broadly and for the publisher specifically.

Evans says: “Over the years we’ve definitely seen that audience grow and evolve, but we’ve also become very adept at identifying and serving niche audiences. We’ve continued to develop a massive community for these games which gives us a unique position to deliver success for our development partners in this market. “Our taste in games has always been a little more leftfield, it’s fair to say. We personally like to play games which have a unique positioning or quirky twist or in genres we feel are under-represented or appreciated. We work very closely with partners from Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Singapore, Taiwan to find games which consumers will be surprised by and help expose them to a wider western audience.” And increasingly, it’s not just one way traffic from east to west, with PQube successfully taking western games and bringing them to Asian audiences, Pearson tells us: “Reversing our usual pipeline sounds like something that would be challenging for us, but we have found it very simple. We’re able to tread a lot of the same paths that we established over the last few years (just in the opposite direction!) and the reception has been phenomenal. “For example, our recent release Nippon Marathon, a Japanese game show style party game, was actually developed in the UK and the leading sales territories were Japan and China. To support this we are in the process of establishing a permanent local presence in Japan.” That would come in addition to the firm’s current presence in the UK, Paris and Los Angeles. INDIE QUEST Speaking of things being turned around, the last couple of years have seen something of a return to form for small and medium-sized publishers, as the trend for selfpublishing has dissipated to a large extent. Pain expands: “I think the trend was pretty short lived as self-publishing looks great on paper, but there’s a reason publishers exist. Publishers are there to take the developer’s idea and to give it the best possible chance for success. We have a seasoned and dedicated team who know how to keep everything moving smoothly. “We’re able to demonstrate to developers when they work with us that, although they give up a share of the revenue, the uplift in sales through full distribution in digital and physical channels and all markets more than outweighs this and the end result for them is more profitable than the self-publishing model. In addition, we take away all of the pain of dealing with dozens of channels to market and handling all the various, complex marketing and PR challenges that are needed for success, so they can really focus on developing the best possible games.” One indie title that PQube has had huge success with is Cat Quest, from the Singapore-based The Gentlebros

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“Mainstream western tastes are, in many ways, the antithesis of our identity as a publisher.” – a game which bridges both the Asian and indie publishing aspects of PQube’s strategy. Pearson tells us about the firm’s part in the title’s success: “Cat Quest was completely unknown when we discovered it, but was something we were passionate about from the minute we saw it. The quality of the game is undeniable and our objective was to bring it to the widest possible audience we could, while retaining a dynamic marketing budget that we scaled up and down based on performance. It quickly established itself as one of our best sellers, having seen success on every format.” Cat Quest 2 is due for release this year, with Pearson saying: “We believe it has even more potential than the original, with the introduction of a feature that countless fans of the franchise asked for: two-player mode. We’ve taken it to numerous events this year and the feedback has been fantastic as a result.” HYBRID STRAIN To its Asian and indie segments, you can also add the distributor’s long-running releases of Milestone’s racing games such as the annual Moto GP series, more motorbike thrills from the Ride franchise, WRC-licensed rally titles and more. That makes for a rather eclectic line-up, which comes down to the company’s wide range of services, Pearson explains. “The mix of titles is due to our hybrid mix as a publisher-distributor,” he says. “By doing this we can offer partners exactly what they need for their products, without them having to overcommit. For example, we might work with one partner on local sales in the UK only, another we might work with them on local sales, full marketing and PR plus operations-logistics in all territories, and another we might offer the full service – which would be supporting product development, localisation, compliancy, QA, manufacturing, marketing, PR, events, sales and trade, plus ongoing support worldwide. “In terms of how we operate this internally, our team has expert specialisations and then we have

individual product managers. This allows experts to focus on the technical aspects of their fields, for example digital marketing and the product manager to focus on specific elements relevant to that product. “It’s a good system as we get the best of both worlds,” Pearson continues. “Everybody involved is also included in the product selection process – this ensures we pull on our entire team’s interests, knowledge of the market, audiences and current trends to sign the best and most relevant games for us, regardless of genre. The focus is always: is this something we collectively like as a team?” As a full-service publisher, the company then still has a big footprint in physical distribution, so how does it see digital shift proceeding? Pain replies: “In terms of splits, we’re at about 60 per cent physical and 40 per cent digital but the gap is narrowing and we expect digital to surpass physical in 2020 as we increase our development and publishing business faster than distribution. “Our digital sales have been growing at an astronomical rate, however we’ve been able to maintain solid physical sales by consistently winning new business with partners looking for our hybrid offering. It’s been especially interesting to see how the digital market has grown and even how it has changed over the last few years, as Switch for example has gained share of our digital sales, whereas historically it would be led mainly by Steam,” Pain continues. With the company searching for more titles to sign, Evans finishes up by telling us what PQube is looking for from its next game: “First and foremost it has to be something that the publishing team would want to play themselves. That’s always the starting point of anything that we sign. However, one thing unifies all of our releases and that’s a drive to find something unique, a quirk, something unusual mechanically. “We’re also not particularly risk adverse in our product selection – we like to be able to champion something which may be a little more leftfield. We enjoy the challenge of bringing games to market which people may not expect.”

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Out of the home Out of this world Location-based operators are now the frontline of VR adoption. Seth Barton speaks to one such operator, Centre VR in Bournemouth, about its learnings from running VR games day-in, day-out on the south coast

Home VR seems to have stalled somewhat, while location-based experiences like Centre VR are doing well, why do you think that is? Most people’s first VR experience is at a locationbased VR centre like ours. Unless you put on a headset it’s impossible to ‘get’ VR, so no one wants to spend a ton of their hard-earned cash on something they don’t understand. In addition, it’s lonely in VR with just one headset in the home. Almost no one can afford more than one, so a family can’t experience it together, not like the Wii for example, so it hasn’t caught the attention of families. At Centre VR, all the family can play in VR and experience it together. We are only just getting started too, with tournaments around the corner, once our customer-base has grown sufficiently.

I

t’s not news that VR’s penetration into the home has been slower than many had hoped. But the rollout of location-based VR services has continued to boom, with VR headsets being seen increasingly in consumer-friendly locations across the country, largely run by independent operators. Such operators are garnering valuable insights into consumer experiences of VR usage on a day by day basis, seeing what works, what doesn’t and what kind of software pulls in the crowds. Plus they’re seeing increasing educational and corporate use. Centre VR in Bournemouth is one such operation. MCV catches up with managing director Colin Parnell (pictured above) to speak about the sector.

How large is your operation currently and what hardware are you using? We currently have two sites in Bournemouth: a smaller attention-grabbing location in the town’s most popular leisure complex with seven VR stations, and then our flagship location, with 31 VR headsets, just three minutes walk from the smaller one in a large shopping centre. We use Vive Pro and Samsung Odyssey headsets. We use the Odysseys for driving, flying and seated experiences, and the Vive Pros for the 4mx4m play areas, some with wireless connections. We have big open areas ready for large format experiences and escape rooms. What kind of experiences are proving most popular, and what’s coming up? Job Simulator and Beat Saber are obviously popular, and our UK exclusive Tower Tag has proved to be a big hit, being specifically designed for the multiplayer audience we want to appeal to. It’s a laser tag style

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game which features haptic vests and hardware gun accessories. We provide an option we call ‘Your Choice’ – a menu-driven service that provides the guest with over 100 titles to choose from. We also offer driving and flying options using Project CARS 2 and Aerofly – plus coming soon, we have two Digital Combat Simulator-powered experiences: The Battle of Britain Experience and Top Gun. Big brands are a great way to draw new users. Angry Birds VR: Isle of Pigs has proved popular, and we are expecting the upcoming Game of Thrones and Walking Dead titles to make us very busy. We very much hope to get John Wick Chronicles on our platform, and perhaps some Star Wars titles – plus the launch of Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed escape rooms will be popular I am sure. What kind of experiences would you like to have but can’t get hold of? It’s the education and business side that I would really like to see more titles become available for, specifically educational titles that address the UK curriculum, and, for business, training titles for health and safety – common machines like welding and fork lift trucks, as we would be able to provide corporate organisations with a place to send their employees for specific, effective training. The future of training in VR is so amazing and exciting. The US police, UK police and fire services are all using VR to train in very specific areas. Normal businesses will eventually be able to benefit from this type of training. What needs to be considered when addressing those education and business segments? For education, the key is that we have 30 stations. so that we can accommodate an entire class. We have some schools that have booked to ensure every pupil attends a VR session with us this term, and others who have sent some classes, with more planned. We also hope to develop educational software with our own developers in the future. For business users, we now have all the facilities of a conference venue and have already hosted a business networking event with more conferences booked. At these we usually find other business opportunities and are providing on-location VR gaming activities for corporates, with one due to happen in Monaco early next year.

Pictured above: Laser We have teamed up with two VR software tag style title Tower Tag developers in the region to offer VR content has proven to be a big creation, and we expect that to become a larger hit at Centre VR, being part of our business going forward. We also host specifically designed for many corporate meetings, parties and team building a multiplayer experience activities, as we have a board room that seats 12 and has AV facilities. The education segment is intriguing, how big could it become? It could be huge, we are helping to develop it in Bournemouth. But with education budgets being what they are, I don’t see it moving forward without more places like us. Schools are not going to rush out and buy the kit, they struggle to afford base computers, so VR will be the last thing on their minds, even though in the future, I am sure, this will be seen as a mistake. Ask the children who have visited us about their time in VR with the Apollo 11 astronauts and I am sure they will astound you with their knowledge and enthusiasm for an event that happened 50 years ago. VR has that effect. There’s a lot of games development on and around the south coast, what can developers gain from using a location such as yours? Many VR developers don’t have the space for more than one VR headset, so for showing clients their progress or developing in teams, I would hope that devs will take advantage of our many headsets and play areas, meeting room and corporate facilities. We are able to offer a unique opportunity for teams and groups to play, learn, test and develop together in VR, in comfortable surroundings.

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When We Made... Yooka-Laylee

actually look at you. And even with that little bit of work,takes with theahelp of thebehind animationthe and really smart Marie Dealessandri look designers and engineers, with everybody working scenes at the development of Yooka-Laylee. together, you could tell from the very beginning that Playtonic talks aboutshe the challenges of building was a character that people would really gravitate upon Banjo-Kazooie’s heritage, having 73,000 toward.” Quilleverything really becomes a fully fleshed out character with people looking out for you do and the help of the game’s strongwant world-building. dealing with 6,000 T-shirts when all you to As an interloper in Quill’s world, the player experiences it not do is develop a game

Pictured above: Chris Sutherland, Playtonic

through her eyes, but as an observer watching as she lives her life in her familiar setting. It’s a strangely intimate YOOKA-LAYLEE theway kindtoofjoint story that we love to feeling, and one whichhas gives apprehension here, with all Quill the ingredients for a greatareas. When asdissect both the player and enter new, unfamiliar We Made: well-known, experienced coming “When youago through Mousetown andteam you see Quill a beloved studio an she incredible heritage to runfrom through there and you(Rare), see that has a hometown, upon (Banjo-Kazooie), onetown of the mostbeing successful thebuild feeling of her leaving it, of that maybe in Kickstarter for a Alderson video game (over danger, gives campaigns you more ofever a bond,” says. “If £2m raised)... And somewhat trying feel release – or rather that part was leftaout, you wouldn’t like there was a two-step launch, with a big patch tidying themood issues much to fight for. Everything that we’ve done,upthe a few months afterfrom release. settings, taking Quill one area to the next and letting But and one take refreshing about talking to supposed the team you rest in this thing environment… It’s all developerand Playtonic is thatthat they’re not shying away to at exaggerate accentuate mood that you’re from the experienced at with launch, feeling. It allsetbacks ties backYooka-Laylee into how you are connecting instead using these to provide insights on the life of a Quill and her world.” Kickstarted studio and the pressure that entails. ButQUESTION we’re tryingEIGHT to run before SAME WAYS we can walk here – let’s first go backwas to Yooka Laylee’s inception. of Moss, Collaboration key during the development not just teamofitself, but with thebut help of of external “Wewithin had athe bunch different ideas one them playtesters. People were often brought in to feedback on was to really revisit things from the games that we love from the past and try to bring them back,” starts Chris Sutherland, Playtonic’s co-founder, Yooka-Laylee’s project director and software engineer, and a Rare veteran (as well as the voice of Banjo, Kazooie, Yooka and Laylee!). “We believed there was a demand, seeing what people were saying on Twitter and other platforms online. So we thought: these games do have an audience and we’d like to bring them back.”

Xxx

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 that you’d fix?’ “Those help bring a playtester into to their comfort zone, The underlying concept was easy decide then, because no one wants to play with something but the specifics were trickier, one ofthat the people core put a lot of care and to love into and then turn and say questions being choose between 2Daround and 3D. ‘This whattoI didn’t it’. So itintakes little while “Weis had weighlike up about these things termsa of to get thecomplexity playtester comfortable, weteam foundand that technical and the size and of the finding different to the asksimpler the same question means we should have ways picked one to do first,” you eventually get the reallyatgood after the fourth or Sutherland laughs, hinting The stuff Impossible Lair, fifth time you ask it. Yooka-Laylee’s largely 2D spin-off that the team has don’t think anyone our studio hasthen? ever made a just“Iannounced. So whyinstart with 3D game this, so I think it’s important trust the “Welike thought that it would resonatethat withyou people process. You trust playtesting and many you make sure kind that you more because there weren’t that of those allow yourself and freedom try something of games out some there,”time Sutherland says.to “Collectathons and then keepdissipated going. Try something new and branch out, seem to have or maybe more mature games but also your experience fromBut games you’veas now haduse those aspects in them. theythat vanished and you’llsobethere fine. was As long as in you’re having amade thingbefore in themselves a gap the market fun too! We enjoyed and we talked aboutplaying how it Moss wouldthroughout help to stand the out entire more if we made that process and I think thatgame reallythen.” helps.” So that’s what the team set up to do. A ‘Rare-vival’ they called it – a 3D platformer that’d be a spiritual sequel to Banjo-Kazooie. And it turned out that they were right: people did really, really want that game. But that came with unexpected consequences. RARE-VIVAL There were a few gameplay and design pillars that were firmly implanted in Banjo-Kazooie that Playtonic

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Pictured left: Yooka-Laylee looked to recreate Rare’s early successes with N64 platformer Banjo-Kazooie

really wanted to recreate in Yooka-Laylee: “One of them was the humour and the fact that it was fun to play on different levels – the text and the voices, the noises the characters make, there’s a kind of underlying humour there, a silliness that we wanted to bring back to people,” Sutherland says. Technical art director Mark Stevenson adds: “One of the big pillars for us was characters. Back in the Rare days, our games were very character-based and one of the pillars going forward for [Playtonic] is to create a universe with characters, to see those characters again and again in different games. Each one has the potential to star in a game.” Designer Hamish Lockwood joined Playtonic about a year after its inception, he tells us, and worked on Yooka-Laylee for a year until its launch in April 2017. When talking about the game’s pillars, he mentions the exploration of these large worlds, “collecting a lot of crazy stuff and talking to a lot of weird creatures” as well as the humour Sutherland already mentioned. He continues: “They were definitely things that we tried to push throughout the game. And then as we developed it, we were trying to streamline a lot of the older mechanics. Like in previous games there were a lot of – in fact, possibly too many – collectibles, so we tried to streamline that, and have the energy bar and

then just write out a few different things. But certainly taking Banjo as the blueprint.” Sutherland takes over: “We obviously tried to capture the feel of the original, with the characters, and the characters’ controls... I was trying to have something that felt familiar to people. “Where it didn’t work so well maybe was the camera because we were trying to bring back the style of the camera that we had when those first 3D games were coming out… The cameras tended to take the approach of trying to sort things out for you and trying to position themselves in intelligent places. “So we went along that route because the way the camera frames the player [is part of the] feel of these games. But the way that works means it could actually end up disorientating the player and I think that’s something that we realised maybe slightly later on. “We addressed it in a patch where we introduced different camera options so people could take control, as people now do with cameras in most 3D environments. If we were going back and redoing it all over again we would probably start off with the other camera options in there.” The camera was one of two key criticisms around Yooka-Laylee’s launch with the other being the characters’ voices. Such early criticism could have easily

Pictured above from top: Playtonic’s Hamish Lockwood and Mark Stevenson

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Pictured above: The titular pair have complementary skillsets with which to navigate the world

been seen as unjustified or going against what the team was trying to achieve. But that’s not how they saw it, as Sutherland explains. “If someone has an issue with something then I can’t say it’s unfair if that’s how they felt. They felt that for a reason so I often try to think about why that is,” he says. “So we had that with the camera and with the voices as well. It was interesting because it’s something that back in the 1990s was probably amusing people and it didn’t irritate them so much. Or maybe it’s just because there wasn’t the internet back then so people couldn’t tell us how much they hated things,” he laughs. “It was again something that we addressed in the patch. It was interesting because some people said: ‘Oh it’s great because it recreates the original feel’ and that’s one of the things we were going for but at the same we didn’t want to wind people up either so we had an option in the update that allowed for a more restrained form of the voices than the one we shipped with.” Stevenson adds: “I guess things have moved on so much since then. Voice acting is very much the norm now and maybe they saw it as a backwards step. The other thing is a lot of the fans, that were funding this project into life, were kids when they were playing [Banjo-Kazooie] so I don’t know, maybe their tastes have changed,” he laughs. This highlights a very interesting aspect of YookaLaylee’s journey: Playtonic worked hard to create a game that would feel like the good old Banjo-Kazooie era. Over 73,000 backers gave money so they could do exactly

that. And yet the game was under criticism for… creating a game that would feel like the good old Banjo-Kazooie era. While that certainly doesn’t mean that Yooka-Laylee was perfect at launch, it’s an intriguing dilemma. And while he accepts and agrees with criticism, Lockwood does admit he was a bit surprised by some of it. “A lot of the criticism we probably expected and were aware of from the day it came out. We all knew where the issues were. Mostly because we didn’t have a lot of time to do everything that we wanted and how we wanted it. So a lot of criticism people had we probably agree with. “I think one of the only things that did surprise me was the voices because as I was playing I was like: ‘Yeah this is fine it’s just like what the old one used to be’ – and that’s kind of the point of this game. So the voice thing for me was a surprise but a lot of the other criticism I just accepted and that’s fine. It was a tough project I think.” This is the first mention of another challenge Playtonic met during development: time constraint. And that’s one of the massive downsides of having such a successful Kickstarter campaign. THINK TWICE When we ask the team if the Kickstarter campaign added a bit of pressure, as people were following the development of Yooka-Laylee very closely, Sutherland immediately says “yes” with a smile and it’s the most genuine and tired yes I’ve heard in a long while. “The games that we worked on in the past, we just used to sit in a room for years building something and then we’d go: ‘Here it is!’ What you are not used to doing is going: ‘Oh, we’ve done this now, have a look at this’. That can be great if people like what you’ve done but they don’t often see it in context of the full game. So sometimes people might react to something that you’ve thrown online and then [if people react] negatively you have to change it. It’s just a different way of working that we weren’t quite familiar with,” he explains. On top of the pressure to deliver exactly what people expected them to deliver, Playtonic was also drowning in tasks that had nothing to do with games development. “It was an enormous amount of pressure I think,” Stevenson starts saying. ”There’s lots of other things work-wise, like having to provide regular updates to the community, and all the rewards that we had to

“Maybe it’s just because there wasn’t the internet back then so people couldn’t tell us how much they hated things.”

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produce in-house like booklets, posters, T-shirts… I had to produce artwork ready for print, something I’d never done before in my life! “So everybody was just all hands on deck with all this different stuff that we did have to come up with on top of making the game and I look back at the game now, look at the size of it… Roughly we have made that game with what would be an average of 15 people for two years and I think: ‘How the heck did we do that?!’” The three colleagues then burst out laughing, sharing memories of all these mundane tasks they had to do – they’re joking about it now but it’s pretty clear that it wasn’t all a labour of love back then. Sutherland reminisces: “We were using a shipping container to store something like 6,000 T-shirts and I remember taking delivery of those and having to put these boxes in the shipping container and then coming in on the weekend because we needed them to be in a particular order so we sorted them out and shuffled them around and took some boxes and counted them all up and then listed them all in a spreadsheet…” Lockwood adds with a grin: “There were days where we would all go into these rooms and sort out all the T-shirts because they all had to be in groups of large and small or whatever. That was time where I could have been working on the game!” So it doesn’t come out as too much of a surprise when we ask the team for some advice for fellow developers who are tempted by a Kickstarter campaign that Sutherland replies that they should first “really think carefully about doing it.” They all start laughing again and it’s all very good-natured and obvious there’s no hard feelings here but it’s also obvious that Playtonic probably won’t turn to crowdfunding again for quite a while. Sutherland continues: “[If you’re doing a Kickstarter campaign] I’d probably not promise too much because if you promise many things – particularly lots of physical things like T-shirts – it’s quite likely that the point you’re going to be producing those could well be the point where you’d like to ship the game. Try not to do that at the same time. It ended up at the same time for us for various reasons and we’d try to avoid that in the future and get things out of the way or just find someone we can partner with so they can do that stuff for us. But of course we just thought we could do all this ourselves,” he smiles. Lockwood adds: “If I were to do one myself I would say: ‘This is the game we want to make. We’re not going to make any promises other than we want to make this game so any money goes into the development of the game and making it as good as can be’. Whereas with the Kickstarter we did we made all these promises and trying to keep those in the game in some form made the development quite difficult.

“For example we did bosses and minecart sections as well as arcade games – all these extra things where, if we hadn’t made any of these promises, we could say: ‘You know what, this isn’t really working so well so we’ll just ditch it and spend more time on the more core areas of the game’.” Stevenson is very much in agreement: “That’s one of the worst aspects. You have to promise stuff up front and then you’re kind of commited to it. For better or worse. With games it’s an inherent difficulty that what sounds great on paper may not work that well in practice and often times things have to be iterated on again and again or even just scrapped. One of the worst things as well is that Kickstarter requires you to put a launch date on. So I would advise people to be very conservative with that because it puts so much pressure and expectation on you.” With The Impossible Lair, it looks like the development has been much more relaxed. There’s no Kickstarter to add pressure and when Playtonic announced the YookaLaylee spin-off, it’s interesting to see that the studio didn’t set a release date beyond a vague ‘2019’. But that’s not the only thing the team learnt from developing Yooka-Laylee, as Sutherland highlights. “There’s lots of small things that we’ve learnt in terms of how we organise ourselves, organise our work. As the team’s grown in size, we try to be more organised and coordinated in the things that we’re doing,” he says. Lockwood mentions how they can also be much more focused on this new title: “I think making a less ambitious game with more people allows it to be just a better game in all areas. Like Mark said before, we had so many different things to do with so few people in such a short amount of time that it spread us thin. Whereas with this one we can really focus on making everything really good and taking all the time it needs, announcing it when it’s much much closer to finished.” Stevenson adds that they’ve learnt about staffing requirements as well, with Playtonic now having a full time producer which it didn’t have for the first game as well as a full time community person and someone “that just deals with all the non development stuff.” It very much sounds like Playtonic is in a perfect position to deliver the spin-off Yooka-Laylee deserves.

Pictured above: The team were committed to the game’s minecart sections by the terms of their Kickstarter campaign

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The Sounds of... Gareth Coker

Every month, we discuss the unique process of making music for video games. This month, Marie Dealessandri dives into the musical universe of Gareth Coker, who’s behind the soundtracks of Ark: Survival Evolved, Ori and The Blind Forest and Ori and the Will of the Wisps, which will release in February 2020

What would you say are the typical challenges of writing for games as opposed to more linear narrative forms? Games mix in linear and non-linear writing and it still has to sound like it’s part of a grand cohesive whole. In the opening ten minutes of Ori and the Blind Forest, we switch regularly from linear scenes to non-linear scenes where the player has control, yet it all has to feel seamless and transition as smoothly as possible. And that’s just in a ten minute prologue! This mix of linear/non-linear writing is designed to help the player really feel like the score is being tailored exactly to what they are doing. Sometimes in long segments of nonlinear gameplay you don’t actually need to accentuate everything the player is doing because it can feel like a gimmick. But perhaps during a boss fight (which also might be non-linear) the way to dial up the intensity would be to follow everything the player is doing. It greatly depends on the situation in the game, and even more importantly, the context. When do you go big? When do you go interactive? When do you go macro? When do you go micro? These are all questions that have to be asked throughout the process. And then you have to play the game in different ways to make sure that these questions are answered in multiple different ways, as best as possible. With TV, films, documentaries, you have a fixed length of time, and a fixed outcome. The questions posed are far less numerous. The challenge here is to absolutely maximise what you have been given from the editor.

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Does your approach differ between writing for a multiplayer title vs a single player narrative-driven game? (or big triple-A title vs indie) This is a great question, possibly one of my favourites ever asked to me! The expectations of what music should do and how it should serve the game in a multiplayer title are very tricky. In the case of an MMO, you’re catering to hundreds, thousands, possibly millions of people all with different tastes and you’re dealing with unscripted action. Many will play with the music off. Many will want music to help them get immersed in the game and enhance the feel of (for example) being in combat. Many will listen to their own music! I feel like my job with a multiplayer title is to worry less about the ‘moment to moment’ and make sure that the major events are really captured in a way that provides a memory for the player. You can’t predict every great moment in a multiplayer game but with the help of the designers, you can make an intelligent guess at what will need to be enhanced with music, and that for sure is your starting point.

Pictured above: For the upcoming Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Gareth Coker wanted to “combine both old and new together,” as he’s also scored its predecessor, Ori and The Blind Forest

Examples of types of multiplayer games where you can have a greater deal of control over the experience is where the outcomes are more fixed. In fighting/dueling games like The Unspoken, there are always different stages to the duels that can accurately be predicted by the composer and the design team. For example, when the player’s health gets below 25 per cent, you could increase the intensity of the music for that player. In racing games you can increase the intensity of the music on the final lap. With a single player game you have a far greater level of control over the player experience. With Ori, I scored the game horizontally, transitioning the music whenever a significant event occurred in the gameplay. For example, the majority of combat in Ori does not have its own combat music because it’s over so quickly after starting. However, when there is a mini-boss or segment where you have to defeat an enemy to continue, the music reflects that. Most people don’t realise that you can actually complete Ori without defeating hardly any enemies at all! The decision of where to transition was made by me, based on several hours testing the game and figuring out the most logical place to transition that didn’t feel gimmicky, wasn’t intrusive, and also matched what the player was doing. I’m adopting the same approach for Will of the Wisps to an even greater degree, while also using some vertical layering systems to enhance certain segments. Do you feel like your work as a composer can impact a game’s design? If so, can you provide examples? I think all departments have the capability of influencing each other. Music is a huge part of a game, the very nature of its existence in any form of media means a composer is going to be part of a design team, it’s just that it isn’t our job title! The Inception horns are a big part of that film’s feel. Psycho’s iconic shower music is the key to that famous scene. Additionally, I think these things can happen subconsciously. If the design team has access to music from an early stage, they are probably going to put it in their early builds and use it to design around. Our approach for cutscenes in Ori, whether they are linear or interactive, depends on a massive back

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MUSIC COMPOSITION AND SUPERVISION www.eclectic.tv Eclectric Banner 182 x 30mm_v2.indd 1

18/04/2019 15:35

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using are correct to the part of the world I’m evoking, the production quality and aesthetic is usually my own. However on games where the world is ‘new’ such as Ori, The Unspoken, or Ark: Survival Evolved, I’ve been very lucky to be able to do what I want. I’m occasionally given temp tracks but those are a crutch, and last resort. I prefer to write something that the director has not even thought of, whether it’s a melody that they hadn’t imagined, or a sound they haven’t heard, or a composition with all kinds of layers and instruments that shouldn’t work together, but somehow do. This is a benefit of being brought on early: you have time to experiment, and make ‘mistakes’!

Pictured above: The soundtrack cover art for Ori and the Blind Forest

and forth between music, sound, animation and art departments. Instead of me just receiving a video of how the scene plays out, I get storyboards and I can always ask for more or less time based on what I feel is best for the pacing of the music and the pacing for the game. The animation then will adjust to the music, and the back and forth continues until the scene is tightened up. Often, when adding music to scenes, whether they are interactive or non-interactive, we can find out a lot about the pacing. Adding music and sound tends to speed things up, so we are trying to find the right balance. In the case of Ori, adding music also ends up being the first editing pass because we can clearly feel what moments drag and what don’t. A couple of quick examples from the gameplay side of things: there is hardly any percussion in Ori’s core gameplay music because we use the sound effects to act as the percussion section in the music. This makes things feel very tactile and gives a lot of feedback to the player on what they are doing. How free are you to experiment when you take on a mandate from a studio usually? It obviously depends on the project and what is required. My work on the mythology series for Minecraft (Greek, Chinese, Norse and Egyptian mythologies) has been very defined for obvious reasons. We are working in a set environment based on ancient history and a specific established sound is required or expected. That said, even with that series, I’m still able to do my own spin on things. Even if the scales and harmony I’m

Do you feel like game soundtracks get the same recognition as film scores? If not, why this difference? I regard it as a generational thing. Eventually we’ll live in a world where pretty much everyone will have played a game at some point, and the comparison won’t even need to be made. Films have a long and rich history and legacy. Games do too, but it just doesn’t have that length of time behind it. I don’t ever worry about getting the same kind of recognition as films. We are our own community and I think it’s more important to be able to stand alone and not be compared with anything. The most important thing is that composers working in games keep pushing what they are capable of doing. There’s such a huge amount of variety in what is being created in game music today, if composers keep doing what they are doing, the legacy will naturally take care of itself over time. What was the most inspiring game world you worked on and which aspect did you most want to bring into your score and how did you reflect that? Honestly this may seem like a cop-out but they are all inspiring in different ways. The most inspiring game world is the one I’m currently working on. I tend to live ‘in the moment’ with the scores I do and then move on. Currently, I’m working on Ori and the Will of the Wisps, and I think the most exciting thing is getting to revisit a world whose musical language I was able to create in the first game, but now having the resources, experience and knowledge to try and enhance that, give the game something new, but also take something from the original game and try and combine both old and new together. The absolute best part about working on these games is fusing the visual and aural landscapes together to create a cohesive whole, thus I spend an insane amount of time choosing the palette for each level, as the choice of instruments and sounds has, I think, the biggest impact on making a certain environment feel the way it does.

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Creatives Assemble!

OUR business has evolved and is still evolving. As we move forward, embracing and supporting the games-as-a-service model, we continue with the big trend that has been happening on Total War audio – one of refined specialisation. Gone are the days of the lone sound designer who assumed all roles of game audio in a team. As the UK’s largest triple-A studio, we now rely on super specialised and talented audio practitioners, experts and masters of their crafts. Our latest release, Total War: Three Kingdoms, presented new challenges across the audio team at Creative Assembly, as it’s the first time the series has travelled to China. Our large core internal team consisted of nine sound designers, four dialogue engineers, three programmers, a music designer and an audio director. Musically, taking the opportunity of the game’s beautiful setting, we extended our systems to allow for both a wider dynamic palette with the music, while at the same time adding more granularity to enhance immersion. This resulted in arguably one of our most colourful musical experiences in a Total War title to date. The soundtrack blends the essential elements of Chinese music into a cinematic package supporting the modern feel of the

“Gone are the days of the lone sound designer who assumed all roles of game audio. We now rely on masters of their crafts.”

The team at Creative Assembly debunks some common dev role myths… This month, Richard Beddow, Total War audio director, talks on the advances required to bring Three Kingdoms to life

game, having been recorded with some of the UK’s finest session musicians, Chinese music specialists and orchestras. Working with a large pool of actors and the Chinese community we delivered characterful performances, aiming for them to be sensitive to modern day portrayals of ethnic cultures. In addition to this, we created an enhanced group vocalisation system to simulate large scale warfare. The sound designers grappled with the challenge of enhancing a traditional setting with a sense of the fantastical, yet without it feeling superimposed or fake. The depth and scope of titles like Three Kingdoms have seen our sound designers focus on obtaining high resolution assets for maximum tweakablity, growing custom asset libraries for original content and furthering our mix and technical efforts to produce dynamic, adaptive and clear mixes. Technological development moves along at a frenetic speed and offers us new ways to deliver things that we couldn’t have easily done in the past. These have been vital for improving our own efficiencies, quality and getting better returns on our investments. Many games now directly embrace great audio technologies, such as custom in-house audio engines, implementation tools or advanced third-party solutions – such as our investment in the Wwise platform [Audiokinectic’s cross-platform audio authoring tool and sound engine]. Wwise, coupled with our internal audio tool development, has helped us transform the sonic landscape of Total War giving us extensive control and ease of implementation of our audio. Outside of the game environment, for asset production, we are embracing new workflows and tools to improve the speed of operation, plus offering a wider array of sonic choices to multiple project teams. We are able to make extensive use of templates and software with custom scripting and additional plugins like Serum, Morph and Envy. One hope for the future is that we see more commercial audio plugin developers embracing game audio technology and provide wider choices in the tools/plugins that we can use, such as those used outside of the game environment. This will all help us raise that quality bar even further.

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Casting the Runes

HIGHER levels of racial and gender diversity have a positive impact on business. This has been shown time and time again, such as in the well-known McKinsey study, which showed that companies with greater diversity outperformed otherwise similar firms. Even if you ignore the morality of it – which you should most definitely not – diversity is commercially advantageous. This is a reality that the games industry – despite its traditional roots as a nerdy white boys’ club – is slowly waking up to. Now the doors are gradually inching their way open for women, people of colour, LGBTQ+ and other minorities.

Jagex’s developers visit us from Runescape’s Gielinor to talk about their latest adventures. This month Susanne Bauer, senior localisation specialist, tells us that when it comes to diversity, where there’s a will there’s a way

At Jagex, this change began in January 2018 when Cassia Curran, who had recently joined the company as head of business development, felt “weirded out” by the lack of women. A chat room was set up and was quickly followed by a lunch meet-up. These soon evolved into monthly meetings which the company supported in the form of food vouchers. Our initial goals were quite straightforward: we wanted more internal support for women, and to help inspire young women to seek out a career in the games industry. The first external event we attended was a career fair at an all-girls school in London, where we shared insights about the many different career paths in our sector – coding, game design, art, leadership roles, translation, analytics, IT, web development and so on. In time, the first few male co-workers joined the group, keen to learn about the issues we faced. We soon realised that there were other minorities that would also benefit from better support. Soon after, ‘Women at Jagex’ was reinvented as ‘Diversity at Jagex’. Obviously chat channels for women and LGBTQ+ groups alone didn’t magically create a big shift in company, but it did at least help us feel validated – the importance of which should not be downplayed. And as the group grew in size and confidence, a change in internal attitudes did indeed followed. International Women’s Day is a good example. For IWD 2018 we suggested celebrating women on our games’ social media channels. It was a last minute suggestion and the internal reaction was negative. People were afraid of touching on what they viewed as a ‘political topic’. As disheartening as it was to hear that gender equality was somehow still regarded as divisive in 2018 (exactly 100 years on from women being given the vote in the UK!), the lack of time meant that we were unable to push back. In the end the only action was a light-hearted tweet about some female game characters on our social channels. For IWD 2019, however, we came prepared. We’d won support from key staff members and with the help of our lovely community management team we organised a Reddit AMA (that made it to the

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Pictured: Jagex staff at the first Cambridge Pride in June, which the firm also sponsored

front page!). It featured women, from all kinds of positions within the company, answering questions about their jobs. We also published a video featuring some of the awesome ladies working at Jagex. And to celebrate with our game community, we published some new lore about one of the game’s popular female NPCs. Female staff also received a copy of Women in Gaming by Meagan Marie, along with fitted jackets and shirts. Receiving some suitablytailored swag meant more than you might assume – after half a lifetime in male-dominated spaces, seeing game clothes that weren’t unisex or sized for men was quite special. Other initiatives have followed, too. We sent an entourage to the European Women in Games Conference in London (which was also co-sponsored by Jagex) last autumn. Jagex also sponsored the first Cambridge Pride last month – there was even a last-minute rainbowcoloured company logo shirt that our group wore on the day. The most gratifying achievement, however, has been the noticeable shift in the company culture. The freedom to talk openly about these issues has led to many positive developments, such as a code of conduct for internal chatrooms, improved use of inclusive language in internal documentation and better identification of potentially offensive in-game material. When asked how all of this has had a positive impact for them, one colleague said that Jagex is “the first workplace where I’ve felt welcome for who I am” and another that forums such as the LGBTQ+ group “have been one of the places I’ve felt able to open up a little.” Looking to the future, we aim to raise awareness even further, gain more allies internally and to increase the amount of work we do

for BAME groups. There is also an aspiration to appoint a ‘diversity champion’ – ideally a salaried role – to work with HR on initiatives such as internal and external mentorship programs. I hope our success can serve as a template for others who feel like their workplace environment is very homogenous, and who yearn for change. All it takes is some will and some togetherness. From there who knows how far you might go.

“The freedom to talk openly about these issues has led to positive developments, such as a code of conduct for internal chatrooms, improved use of inclusive language and better identification of potentially offensive in-game material.”

July 2019 MCV 948 | 69

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The Final Boss Every month an industry leader wraps up MCV with their unique insight

You have over 30 years of games industry experience, what have been the most surprising changes in the industry, and what’s stayed unchanged? Well, there wasn’t really an industry when I started my career developing video games. It was more like a mutual club of hobbyists, selling games to each other. Since then the industry has grown in size to rival that of movies, TV and music combined. That’s an incredible achievement for such a young industry and shows the power that gaming has to reach and connect with so many people around the world. You’ve probably made more car games than anyone – do you still have a passion for cars? Yes, absolutely, I love making car games! We’re constantly riding the wave of new tech, evolving audiences and, of course, new cars, so the excitement and passion are always there. With the greatest respect to your current role, what is/was your dream job? I can’t imagine doing anything other than games development, though music creation played a large part in my life during my 20s. I had a full recording studio at home, though it ultimately couldn’t compete with my passion for games. Do you find much time to play games still? I typically play 15 to 20 hours per week, but often much more if I’m totally engrossed in a game. I find it a great way to relax and I think it’s super important for anyone working in our industry to play and experience as wide a variety of games as possible. And does all that play feed into your work? If you want to make good decisions in any business, I think you need to understand intimately the things you make and how they are made. My Xbox and Switch even join me on my holidays. Including my honeymoon back in 2004… I just had to complete the awesome Thief: Deadly Shadows! What’s was the greatest moment of your career to date? There have been many great moments, but I’d have to say signing and then releasing the original Forza Horizon, for which we were all very proud.

Gavin Raeburn Studio director, Playground Games

You’ve been very busy setting up a whole second studio in Leamington Spa! How did that go? I couldn’t be happier with the new offices and the fantastic team we’ve assembled there. It’s a privilege to be working with such awesome talent.

“There wasn’t really an industry when I started my career developing video games. It was more like a mutual club of hobbyists, selling games to each other. Since then the industry has grown in size to rival that of movies, TV and music combined.”

70 | MCV 948 July 2019

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Profile for Biz Media Ltd

MCV 948 July 2019  

MCV 948 July 2019