MCV ISSUE 949 THE BUSINESS OF VIDEO GAMES AUGUST 2019
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REGIONAL SPOTLIGHT: HAMBURG Welcome to Germany’s epicenter of gaming
QUALITY CONTROL The QA teams improving your game one build at a time
POLE TO WIN’S
DEBOR AH K IRKHAM is building for the future of games
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■ WHEN WE MADE... BABA IS YOU
■ WHAT WE LEARNT AT DEVELOP:BRIGHTON
■ KEYWORDS GETS BIGGER IN JAPAN 24/07/2019 17:03
05 The editor
A question of quality
06 Critical Path
The key dates this month
10 Income Stream
Our market analysis
The positive power of games
Real life events from the industry
18 Industry Voices
Our platform for the industry
22 Better, faster, cheaper
Pole To Winâ€™s bold ambitions
30 Ins and Outs
And all our recruitment advice
22 36 Quality control
QA experts discuss their field
42 Sega Searchlight
Are you what Sega is looking for?
47 Regional spotlight
Destination: Hamburg, Germany
52 Develop:Brighton 2019
What we learnt from the conference
58 Keywordsâ€™ Wizcorp
Bigger in Japan
60 When We Made...
Baba is You
64 The Sounds of...
67 Creatives Assemble!
The future of animation
68 Casting the Runes
A clear process for making games
70 The Final Boss
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“Brexit is one release that will be in dire need of some quality assurance itself.”
TheEditor A question of quality While Brexit continues to plague the UK, I’ll be getting some sweet relief from the endless news cycle of misery by spending a chunk of my summer in Europe. Ironic I know. A couple of relaxing weeks in Holland and Belgium will then be followed by a far less relaxing one in Cologne. Yes, MCV will be back at Gamescom this summer. There we’ll be producing three daily magazines to keep the show up to date with everything happening, plus this very issue will also be making the trip, so hello if you’re reading these very words in a bustling Koelnmesse right now! Gamescom continues to grow, both as a consumer event and a key business opportunity. It really shows E3 how it should be done, with separate areas which are well suited to their differing purposes. Of course E3 will always have the big pre-show announcements. Or will it? Geoff Keighley’s decision to take on the new pre-Gamescom show, Opening Night Live, could take an event that already has a massive attendance and bring it to a far bigger audience. A few suitably-sized announcements will help kickstart the whole week for audiences online – with all marketing activity around the show then benefitting from increased mass market recognition. Another area of the industry that often needs more recognition are the increasingly large and flexible outsourcing companies. This month in MCV we’re focusing on the QA process particularly (page 36) but are also discussing other often-outsourced services which come hand-in-hand with that. We speak to the likes of Pole to Win (page 22), Keywords (page 58), and Virtuos (page 70), all of whom are key to delivering quality products across the industry. Apologies to return to the subject of Brexit, but with the project having had an unclear original design document, and having missed all of its key milestones to date, it’s pretty obvious that this is one release that will be in dire need of some serious quality assurance. The UK government however can’t simply outsource that debugging process as the industry would, instead its down to our own MPs to pass or fail what must surely be the final build of Brexit this autumn. In short the Houses of Parliament have become the UK’s ultimate QA team – let’s just hope that the government listens to them, rather than trying to take legal shortcuts to push out a terrible release without their blessing. Seth Barton email@example.com
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Here are the key upcoming events and releases to mark in your calendar...
Gamescom 2019 Koelnmesse, Cologne Gamescom will take place from August 20th to 24th this year, with Geoff Keighley to host a new live event, Opening Night Live, on August 19th. The “spectacular game showcase” will be livestreamed from Cologne as it kicks off Gamescom 2019. It will feature “announcements from major game publishers and independent developers, world premieres of new game footage and special guest appearances from the stars of the gaming industry.” During Gamescom itself, you can once again expect the biggest publishers and developers to take over the show floor, with an increased representation of indie devs and esports, organisers Koelnmesse told MCV. And of course our MCV@gamescom daily issues will be there too so keep an eye out for them!
Control Devcom 2019 Koelnmesse, Cologne Devcom will once again gather the best and brightest from the development world for two days before Gamescom kicks off. Speakers this year include staff from Eidos Montreal, Insomniac, Ubisoft, Valve, King, Microsoft, Playground, Remedy and more, who will discuss topics as varied as game design, leadership, production, narrative design, sound & music, art and team management.
Remedy and 505 Games’ supernatural shooter Control is hitting shelves at the end of the month, for PS4, Xbox One and digitally on PC. The title focuses on protagonist Jesse Faden’s telekinetic powers, as well as gun combat, with its soundtrack the result of a collaboration between Petri Alanko and Martin Stig Andersen.
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Astral Chain The latest collaboration between PlatinumGames and Nintendo will soon land on Switch. This new IP was directed by Takahisa Taura, who was a lead designer on Nier: Automata, with Platinum co-founder Hideki Kamiya acting as supervisor. In Astral Chain, players are part of special police unit Neuron, in charge of fighting creatures that have invaded the world.
Gears 5 Microsoft’s muscle-bound cover shooter returns with a woman in the lead role – and a newly-shortened name – though neither change appears to have affected the core brutality of the series. The new co-op Escape mode joins the usual Campaign, Versus and Horde modes. Still developed by The Coalition, it’s coming to Xbox One and PC, as well as Xbox Game Pass day-and-date.
Borderlands 3 After a seven years wait, Borderlands 2’s successor releases in September, with players leaving the familiar sight of the Pandora wasteland to go planet hopping. Borderlands 3 is set to land on PS4, Xbox One and digitally on PC, and will be a launch title for Google Stadia come November. Gearbox Software is still behind the wheel, with 2K Games re-enlisting as publisher too.
The Dark Pictures Anthology Man of Medan Horror is at the door, as the first chapter in Supermassive’s Dark Pictures Anthology, Man of Medan, will soon release on PS4, Xbox One and digitally on PC. Published by Bandai Namco, it’ll feature multiplayer modes, including a Shared Story Mode for two players online and a Movie Night Mode for up to five players sharing the controller.
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Editor: Seth Barton firstname.lastname@example.org +44 (0)203 143 8785 Senior Staff Writer: Marie Dealessandri email@example.com +44 (0)203 143 8786 Designer: Mandie Johnson firstname.lastname@example.org Production Manager: Claire Noe email@example.com
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MCV has an exclusive media partnership with Famitsu – Japan’s leading video games analyst and news source
I’ve admittedly strayed from the fold this month, playing more board games than anything else: dungeon-crawling goliath Gloomhaven (for a whole weekend), colonialist treasure race El Dorado and cycling masterpiece Flamme Rouge. Fitting in the Tour de France highlights hasn’t helped. I promise to do better in future.
I played Super Mario Maker 2 non-stop for two weeks following its release at the end of June, amazed at the wonderful new options available, delighted at the fresh troll and Kaizo levels but also already getting tired of the ON/OFF switch speedrun courses. So I went back and finished God of War – what an absolute masterpiece! Marie Dealessandri, Senior Staff Writer
I’m back on the Destiny 2 grind! I played the predecessor daily from release but lost momentum when Forsaken’s myriad of bounties and missions overwhelmed me. Now I’m back and while I’m having fun I have to admit that, yes, I’m more confused by the story than ever… 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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Pet: Smudge Owners: Gabrielle Hibberd (publicist, Little Big PR) and Alasdair Hibberd (product marketing manager, Wired Productions) Smudge likes to have a good time, really, even if he gets caught off guard.
Pet: Oscar Owner: Johnny Wallbank Owner’s job: Founder, Team Cats & Bears This is producer Oscar. He’s the only other full time member of Team Cats & Bears. He’s very chill and laissez-faire towards the inclusion of new features.
Pet: Starbuck and Bubbles Owner: Louise Chamberlain Owner’s job: Producer and studio manager, Cooperative Innovations Now retired from their freelance life, double trouble twins Starbuck and Bubbles impatiently await boop time.
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Income Stream The numbers, stats and market stories that matter and why they do
The latest financial results from around the industry GAMING REVENUE DOWN 10% AT MICROSOFT Microsoft’s hardware revenue dropped 48 per cent year-on-year for its fourth fiscal quarter, as much of the industry enters the usual lull between hardware generations. It seems likely the decline comes as players hold back from purchasing an Xbox One following the announcement of the company’s next-gen system at E3 2019, codenamed Project Scarlett, which is expected to release at the end of 2020. It wasn’t all bad news, though, as the company reported that 65m monthly active users were now subscribing to its Xbox Live services – a boost of 14 per cent YoY, up from 57m. Gaming revenue as a whole was down ten per cent and Xbox software and services were down three per cent. That appears to show that online service revenues, as hoped, make the industry far more resilient to generational changes than before. FOCUS HOME INTERACTIVE REPORTS RECORD RESULTS Focus Home Interactive has announced record full year results for the group for its 2018/19 fiscal year, reporting “solid business and profit levels” and a revenue of €126m (£113m), which exceeds its original guidance by more than 20 per cent. The company attributes its record year to several key titles, including Vampyr, Insurgency: Sandstorm, Farming Simulator 19, and its MudRunner franchise. Back-catalogue accounted for 25 per cent of total sales over the fiscal year, with 90 per cent of sales generated internationally. Digital sales represented 66 per cent of total sales. The report added: “This increase in business did not come at the expense of profitability as the group’s operating margin held steady from the previous year at 11 per cent, thereby illustrating its excellent control of operating expenses. Operating income was €14.1m (£12.6m), up 47.6 per cent.” A strong start to the present fiscal year with the launch of Saber’s World War Z – which exceeded 2m copies sold a few weeks after its release – means the group anticipates an increase in its threeyear projection, with sales expected to jump from €150m to €200m by March 2022.
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Pokémon Sword + SteelBook (Switch) Pokémon Shield + SteelBook (Switch) Zelda: Link’s Awakening Limited Edition (Switch) Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Switch) The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Switch)
Publisher Nintendo Nintendo Nintendo Nintendo Nintendo
NO MORE ROBOTS’ SECOND YEAR BRINGS $2M REVENUE Publishing label No More Robots celebrated its second anniversary by announcing it secured $2m (£1.6m) in revenue over the last financial year, smashing the performance of its inaugural year by 350 per cent. Founder Mike Rose said the success came from “multiple strong game launches,” including Hypnospace Outlaw, Not Tonight and Descenders. The latter reportedly has over 600,000 players, while Not Tonight has also “far surpassed [the company’s] sales expectations”. “The last two years have been better than we ever could have hoped for,” said Rose. “It turns out that people really do want to play weird and wonderful genres, like fake operating systems, Brexit-bashing sims, and downhill bike riding games.”
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UK RETAIL CHARTS – JUNE (UNITS)
01 TM LM 02 03 03 NEW 04 01 05 NEW 06 05 07 08 08 RE 09 NEW 10 07
CRASH TEAM RACING NITRO-FUELED PUBLISHER: ACTIVISION
Title FIFA 19 Super Mario Maker 2 Days Gone F1 2019 Red Dead Redemption 2 Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Forza Horizon 4 Blood and Truth Team Sonic Racing
Publisher EA Nintendo Sony Codemasters Rockstar Nintendo Microsoft Sony Sega
Source: GfK/Ukie, Period: May 26th to June 29th 2019
King rules on mobile Candy Crush developer King has announced that combined Candy Crush Saga players have clocked up an impressive 73 billion hours – 8.3 million years’ worth – of gameplay since the game launched back in 2012. Players have swiped over 167 miles in total – “the same distance as travelling from Earth to Mars five times.” Collectively, King games are now played by 272 million active users a month worldwide.
Making the most of it Super Mario Maker 2 - Nintendo Nintendo’s long awaited Super Mario Maker 2 finally released on June 28th – and very much found its audience as it debuted at the top of the UK weekly physical charts that week. The Switch exclusive also performed much better than its predecessor. Sales were up 85.5 per cent compared to launch sales for Wii U’s Super Mario Maker, released in 2015, and 241.4 per cent up compared to the 3DS version that launched in 2016. Even adding up launch sales for both the Wii U and 3DS versions, Super Mario Maker 2 still sold 20 per cent more copies on its first week than the two SKUs combined. Such as the power of the Switch, which is only set to grow with the upcoming Switch Lite.
86% A Stream or a trickle? A new survey conducted by Broadband Genie in collaboration with Eurogamer found that 73 per cent of the 3,165 gamers interviewed believed Google should be providing unlimited access to a Netflix-like library for Stadia’s monthly fee. 86 per cent of those polled would be unwilling to buy games for cloud streaming if the price was the same as digital or physical releases, and a further 62 per cent were “put off” purchasing games on Stadia as the service was “not tangible.”
Better than the real thing F1 2019 - Codemasters One of the big physical releases over recent weeks was Codemasters’ F1 2019. It didn’t take the chequered flag but came in a solid No.3 the week it launched (week ending June 29th) and then posted a very respectable No.5 in the monthly charts based on only two days of sales. Launch sales were on a par with F1 2018’s, only slightly down 2.9 per cent compared to last year’s entry – which given ongoing digital shift is pretty impressive. And that’s all despite an actual F1 season that hasn’t exactly set the world on fire, with uncompetitive races which look likely to force the sport’s ruling body to shake things up.
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The positive power of games Ukie’s Digital Schoolhouse, powered by PlayStation and sponsored by Sega, Warwickshire County Council and Ubisoft, has had another landmark year reaching over 26,000 students
Pictured right: The grand finale of Digital Schoolhouse’s annual esports tournament at the Gfinity Esports Arena in London UKIE’S Digital Schoolhouse, the not-for-profit programme which uses play-based learning to engage the next generation of pupils and teachers with the computing curriculum, reached more students than ever in the past academic year. 34 Schoolhouses and over 2,500 teachers helped engage over 26,000 students across the UK, showing the positive power of games in the classroom. But what went into the making of another successful academic year? And what is coming next for Digital Schoolhouse? Let’s take a look.
KEY PARTNERSHIPS We couldn’t be as successful as we have been without the support of a number of crucial partners. Since the programme’s inception, we’ve been fortunate to benefit from fantastic relationships with a number of bodies including PlayStation, who enabled the programme to be rolled out nationally since joining in 2016. In the past academic year, we’ve continued to grow with government and industry support.
First, the Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS) has provided the programme with £200,000. This funding has been provided to us to accelerate our growth, with the government initially aiming for us to recruit 50 schools and an extra 7,000 pupils in the coming academic year. Second, Ubisoft signed on as a Digital Schoolhouse sponsor. As well as providing financial backing for the programme, Ubisoft worked with us to create a special ‘Just Dance with the Algorithm’ workshop to combine dance and video games to teach core programming concepts. We were also thrilled to work with BAFTA’s Young Game Designer programme. We participated in a workshop led by them at one of our Schoolhouses at Woking High School – featuring a careers panel too.
ESPORTS EXPANSION The Digital Schoolhouse team also delivered its biggest annual esports tournament to date. The tournament, which encourages students aged 12 to 18 to develop practical and soft skills through an
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Pictured left: Some of the 2,500 teachers who helped engage 26,000 students across the UK through Digital Schoolhouse in the past academic year
immersive careers experience, reached over 5,000 pupils across the country. Featuring school heats, eight live events and one epic grand finale at the Gfinity Esports Arena in London, the competition was truly national in scope. And while much of the focus fell on the tournament’s winners – the Scorpions from King Edward VI school – it proved to be an inspiration for so many students looking for careers in the industry. With the help of Ukie’s 30 Years of Play campaign, our #myfirstgamesjob Twitter campaign – which coincided with our career panel at our esports panel – trended across the world. Furthermore, the excitement generated around the esports tournament at one school led to a direct partnership with the industry. St John Fisher Catholic Voluntary Academy, one of the first schools to join the programme three years ago, has partnered with Amiqus to ensure that they can maximise the opportunity on offer.
GROWING THE TEAM Digital Schoolhouse’s success wouldn’t have been possible without the help of its growing – and pioneering – team. There were three key hires into the team last year. Estelle Ashman joined as curriculum content developer, leading the way in a new role that combines being a teacher with an industry practitioner. Mike Barnes became Digital Schoolhouse’s esports programme manager, seeking to use his experience teaching through play-based and task-based learning in Japan to help grow the programme. And Sophia Aker has become the team’s programme coordinator, having recently graduated from Durham University. There has also been recognition for the great work done by the existing Digital Schoolhouse team too. Shahneila Saeed was featured as one of the top 100 most influential women working in the UK games industry in April. And last month, Laura Martin won the Rising Star for Business accolade at the MCV Women in Games Awards.
ONWARDS AND UPWARDS The past year has been a great one for Digital Schoolhouse, but we’re aiming to do even more in the coming year. Already, we’ve exceeded the target of signing on 50 Schoolhouses. Next academic year, we currently have 55 Schoolhouses on board including
one in every county of Northern Ireland. Our target is to reach more than 32,000 pupils and 4,000 teachers to ensure that the Digital Schoolhouse scheme reaches further than ever. We’re also aiming to bring our work to 350 primary schools in the coming academic year, helping deepen our support for the next generation of students. But there is always more that we’d like to do and more that we could do, so we’re always open to talking to more potential partners. If you’d like to find out more about our work, please email Laura Martin at email@example.com.
REMINDER! UKIE MEMBERS’ DAY COMING SOON It’s just over a month until Ukie’s Members’ Day rolls into town and all our members are invited to come on down. It’s taking place on Wednesday, September 4th at the Barbican. As well as playing host to our AGM, we’ll also be hosting meet ups of all our sub groups, running an expo space on site to help meet members and having a keynote speaking session from Jurgen Post, head of Tencent Europe. There will also be a number of socialising opportunities – including a free lunch and a post-event party – and a range of interesting announcements that’ll show how Ukie is supporting your business in the coming year. Would you like to attend the members’ day? Or find out about commercial opportunities at the event? Email Sam Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
Member of the month TANDEM EVENTS
It might be August, but we wanted to give a quick shout out to Tandem Events for their work on the ever-excellent Develop conference last month. Seven members of the Ukie team headed down to Brighton to talk about the future of the industry, discuss the state of play in the sector and get down to business with the UK sector. We also participated in a number of sessions too. Dr Jo Twist gave a talk about the challenges facing the industry (and how we need to pull together to overcome them), while George Osborn, our 30 Years of Play campaign manager, hosted a panel about the history of the British industry. If you’d like to talk to Tandem about next year’s sojourn by the seaside, which will take place from July 14th to 16th 2020, head to tandemevents.co.uk for more information.
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Real Life Events from the industry WOMEN IN GAMES AWARDS 2019 Our Women in Games Awards returned at the end of June for the fifth year in a row. We were inundated with hundreds and hundreds of fantastic entries and we were really pleased to be able to once again celebrate the huge contribution of women to the UK games industry. Thanks very much to everyone who attended the event at Facebook London and contributed in making it such a success, with special thanks to our fantastic host, Ukie’s CEO Dr Jo Twist OBE, and to Rare’s executive producer Louise O’Connor (1) for her inspiring opening speech. We’d also like to take this opportunity to thank our event partner Facebook, as well as our headline sponsor Rare, and our partners Amiqus, DK, Gamescom, Hangar 13, OPM Jobs, Ukie and Women in Games. And thanks to Insert Coin too for providing some cool apparel for our goodie bags! The awards simply wouldn’t happen without your continued support! We’re already looking forward to an even bigger and better event next year. Please get in touch with the team (details on page 8) if you’d like to get involved.
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Pictured left: Comms Impact of the Year winner Hannah Flynn
Pictured above: Campaigner of the Year winner Jay-Ann Lopez
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YOUR MCV WOMEN IN GAMES AWARDS 2019 WINNERS! RISING STAR OF THE YEAR – DEVELOPMENT Daisy Fernandez, State of Play
BUSINESSWOMAN OF THE YEAR Kirsty Rigden, FuturLab
RISING STAR OF THE YEAR – BUSINESS
JOURNALIST OF THE YEAR
Laura Martin, Ukie/Digital Schoolhouse
Danielle Partis, InfluencerUpdate.biz
CREATIVE IMPACT OF THE YEAR
CAMPAIGNER OF THE YEAR
Luciana Nascimento, Bunnyhug
Jay-Ann Lopez, Black Girl Gamers
TECHNICAL IMPACT OF THE YEAR Duygu Cakmak, Creative Assembly
MENTOR OF THE YEAR Caoimhe Roddy, Girls Make Games
COMMS IMPACT OF THE YEAR
OUTSTANDING CONTRIBUTION Siobhan Reddy, Media Molecule
Hannah Flynn, Failbetter Games
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DEVELOP:BRIGHTON 2019 July saw another very sunny and very successful Develop:Brighton conference! Congratulations to the winners of the inaugural Develop:Star Awards, and particularly to Weather Factory, which picked up three awards for Best Micro Studio, Best Games Design, and Best Innovation, with head of marketing and PR Claire Sharkey (1) accepting the awards on behalf of the team. Sean Murray (2) was awarded the big prize of the evening, the Develop Star Award. To read our highlights from the talks, head to page 52 1 2
Pictured below: Siobhan Reddy and Kareem Ettouney during the Media Molecule keynote
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Should you crowdfund your game in 2019? Thomas Bidaux, Ico Partners
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!
SEVEN years ago, Tim Schaffer went to Kickstarter to crowdfund a project codenamed ‘Doublefine Adventure’. Before this campaign, the record for a video game campaign on Kickstarter was $90,000 (£72,000), and it was questionable whether or not it was a viable platform to raise money to make a video game. Doublefine Adventure (now known as Broken Age) went on to raise $3.3m (£2.6m), and it put Kickstarter on the map for a lot of indie game studios as a source of funding. Seven years later, Double Fine productions has been acquired by Microsoft, so what is the state of crowdfunding for video games? Through our research at Ico Partners, scraping data daily on the Kickstarter website, we are able to draw a pretty accurate picture of the state of the platform, and how well video games perform on it. All the numbers presented here for 2019 are for the first six months of the year. In the first half of 2019, video games projects successfully raised more than ten million dollars. To put this in context, this is the most money raised for video games on Kickstarter, for a six-month period, since 2015. More interestingly, this amount was raised by 193 separate projects, making those first six months of the year the fourth most active for video games projects since the launch of the Kickstarter platform ten years ago. There is a steady flow of video games raising money on the platform, and it has not slowed down. If anything, without a lot of the attention of large projects raising millions,
the projects launching on Kickstarter at the moment seem to be more mature and to be taken more seriously. The ratio of projects getting funded is at its highest ever, with 28 per cent of the campaigns meeting their goal in the first half of 2019. Of course, a lot of projects are humble and aimed at relatively low goals, often for a complementary budget to help hobbyists increase the quality of their home production. About half of the successful video game campaigns of the first half of 2019 have raised less than $10,000. In the other half, though, you can still see projects raising money north of a $1m. Among the most successful projects of the first half of 2019, there is Subverse, a UK game project, which managed to raise more than $2m (£1.6m), a third of that amount coming from Chinese backers, a region not usually very active on crowdfunding platforms. The ‘adult’ twist to the game seems to have had a strong appeal there. It also seems like the long-held notion that a project needs to be launched through the platform’s American system to thrive, in order to show its prices in USD, is being proven wrong. Only one out of the four projects that raised more than $500,000 in 2019 did so in USD. The other three were respectively in GBP (UK), JPY (Japan), and EUR (Spain). Thomas Bidaux is a consultant in the video games industry and CEO of Ico Partners. Prior to starting Ico Partners, he was involved in publishing multiple MMORPGs, and he is now also considered an expert in crowdfunding.
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Let’s be honest, you’re going to skip the advert Vishaal Vadher, PlayStack
IT’S about time that brands sit up and start taking note of what is going on in the games industry. A sector that has seen such growth and engendered such cultural influence makes it a genuine tool for marketing, and an effective force for engagement. What’s painfully ironic to me is that advertisers are desperately trying to reach gamer audiences and yet they still don’t notice what methods work for that market. Surely if games have taught the advertising world anything, it’s that interaction lies at the heart of this market. Yet brands still try to infiltrate with traditional means – banner ads, auto-play videos, pop-ups. That’s not interaction, that’s interruption. Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t one of those cliched campaigns for ‘gamification’. Really it’s not. This is about understanding the viability of enjoyable and genuinely engaging marketing campaigns that give consumers what they want. Not what they try to avoid. The high street is changing, and brands are looking to create real physical footfall in what is an increasingly competitive marketplace. They need to leverage creativity and uniqueness to capture the attention of a skittish clientele. This audience is savvy and suspicious of corporate influence. They love to explore the new and optimise their world, closely looped into culture and lifestyle. Their clarity about the things they love and the brands they covet are obvious, and they are impatient with anything that contravenes their interest. So why are brands missing the obvious? Stop annoying your audience! While targeted ads serve a purpose, they are intrinsically unwanted, and exceptionally ignorable. Take a leaf out of the games industry’s book and start giving people things that they want to see. At PlayStack, we really believe in the power of games to deliver tangible change to the
brands that we work with. We’ve optimised our next project, Snatch, to grab this opportunity. Snatch is a new mobile game that uses augmented reality. It offers an enhanced and playful view of people’s world, where players hunt for parcels in real-world locations. These parcels contain mystery prizes from Snatch’s brand partners. It can be high street discounts, products, experiences, subscriptions and exclusive offers. Once a parcel has been collected by a player, they’re challenged to protect and defend it from others for six hours in order to unlock the reward, ensuring the consumer stays engaged and loyal to the brand before accessing the hidden prize. Crucially, these prizes are from brands that the player has chosen to interact with, immediately increasing engagement rates by ensuring the product or campaign is relevant to each player. That’s our philosophy laid bare: we want Snatch to reinvent marketing by rewarding consumers for interacting with their favourite brands. Snatch also allows brands to transform their physical retail spaces into digital safehouses, encouraging increased footfall and dwell time in high street stores and pop-ups. The game’s pilot run drove over 500,000 retail store check-ins. Engagement statistics from our pilot also proved how brands reap the benefits from this approach: those who piloted Snatch reported up to 12.5 per cent sales conversion from users landing on their website directly from the app. The average ROI was five times more effective compared to more traditional digital channels. With some great brands on board, we are excited to show the power of games for marketing. Vishaal Vadher is product owner for Snatch, a new AR game from London-based games publisher PlayStack.
“Why are brands missing the obvious? Stop annoying your audience! While targeted ads serve a purpose, they are intrinsically unwanted, and exceptionally ignorable.”
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Pictured above from left: Pole to Winâ€™s Andy Emery and Deborah Kirkham
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“Better, faster, cheaper...” Pole To Win’s ambitions are pleasingly simple but achieving them is still no easy task. Seth Barton talks to CEO Deborah Kirkham and European president Andy Emery about running a company that enables a lot of the industry to go global
ith 2,000 employees across 17 sites in ten countries, Pole To Win’s (PTW) CEO Deborah Kirkham certainly has plenty to keep her busy. The company promises to “bring your story to the world.” Though as with any outsourced service provider in the games industry, its own story is somewhat obscured, as it keeps the names of its clients very close to its chest. That secrecy can make talking up the company’s achievements somewhat tricky, which is part of the reason Kirkham is in London speaking to MCV. Having recently been made a board member of PTW’s parent company PPHD, she’s on a mission to build the company’s profile, a mission that dates back to her promotion to CEO from COO earlier this year. With six months under her belt, we start by asking the key differences between running the company day to day as COO compared to leading the company as CEO? “I was actually surprised at how different it was,” she says. “Yes, I had definitely been running the company for years, as we had grown, but it’s very different focusing inward as opposed to on strategy and vision and trying to raise PTW’s profile. A lot of people around the world still don’t know who we are, even though we’re a big
multinational company. It is different, I love it,” she smiles confidently. That big multinational provides a big range of services: customer support, quality assurance, localisation, audio production and engineering. With over nine years at PTW and approaching 20 in the industry, Kirkham has plenty of experience across those services, but the games industry never stays still long enough for anyone to get comfy on their laurels, she explains. “PTW has been in business for 24 years and things change constantly. The games industry is probably the fastest changing, most innovative industry on the planet. We always need to stay ahead of trends so that we can be there when our clients need us. The industry is going through lots and lots of changes now, if you look at streaming, esports, 5G or VR.” With its roots in Japan, the company once specialised in bringing games from east to west. But today Kirkham rejects even our use of those terms: “East and west? That depends on where you’re standing on the planet,” she notes sagely. AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 BUGS “We are a global company and our clients are global... You’re not just talking about translation anymore, you’re talking about localisation and
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Pictured above: The opening of PTW’s London office in September 2018
culturalisation. As more and more companies develop their games for a wider audience, and really want to take their games global, it multiplies what we need to do.” Kirkham explains that the company now supports 30 languages and that’s its work is a criss-crossed global web of localisation, with clients spread across China, Japan, the US, Europe and beyond, all of whom want to reach every territory possible. “[Localising] everything to everything is a pretty accurate description,” she agrees with us. Andy Emery, PTW’s president for Europe, adds: “That increasingly complex web isn’t as predictable as it once was. It’s quite often surprising. You think: ‘Oh that’s going to be western localisation,’ we’re going to do the European languages for this Japanese title for example. But in fact no, actually it’s going to be two Chinese dialects and Korean. And then another project, from the same team, has totally different requirements.” To achieve all this, the company is ever expanding, as it must keep up with its clients changing needs. Kirkham recalls: “There was one case a couple of years ago, when one of our clients here in the UK all of a sudden needed a high volume of traditional Chinese [localisation] and we couldn’t get the capacity in Shanghai. So within three weeks we were incorporated in Taiwan and up and running.” Of course the company usually expands in a more measured manner than the Taiwan example. Kirkham explains the key reasons behind opening a new office. “So it’s either on a cost basis, or to give us access to talent, whether they be multilingual or a specific
engineering language. We have an expansion strategy for each of our regions, so we already know where we’re going next, based on what we see coming. Now that may change, we’re not signing any leases, but we have an idea.” In short, the company is planning for the future but remaining as agile as possible in doing so. And Kirkham stresses that the company doesn’t make compromises to its employees’ workspace in order to keep pace with demand. “I’m very passionate about our people and how we treat our people. If you walk into any PTW or Side [PTW’s audio-focused arm] office anywhere in the world, they look the same. Like when I was in Taiwan recently, I think I looked at two or three sites that day. I turned them all down simply because I didn’t like them, the ceilings were too low or the location was wrong. “If we are going to open up an office that has an empty shell, we can build it however we want, that’s fine. But there’s been a couple of cases where we wanted to sublease and if I walk into a building where the offices are along the windows and the employees sit in the center, I walk right back out, because that’s not who we are,” she stresses. “We’re not about hierarchy, we’re about treating our people right.” CRUNCHING CLEVER Crunch remains an everyday occurrence in the games industry, and companies such as PTW are often at the hard end of deadlines that are beyond their direct
“One of our clients all of a sudden needed a high volume of traditional Chinese localisation. Within three weeks we were incorporated in Taiwan and up and running.” 24 | MCV 949 August 2019
control, potentially making it difficult for the company to handle such periods. “There’s crunch periods for every game that’s developed,” states Kirkham. “But we can manage that because we are in many different locations and so we’re able to tap into a big pool of talent. We’re able to go into multiple shifts, we can access our other sites.” Bringing online resources around the world, working in continuous shifts: that’s something that most in-house QA operations simply can’t achieve. Emery continues: “An in-house model isn’t built around that. The in-house team is built around: how can we stretch the team we have as much as possible?” And because of that, he notes: “A lot of the bad press has been around QA.” By comparison he points out that “an outsource company is designed to flex and stretch.” But even that flexibility has its limits, Kirkham admits: “There are times when our teams have to work overtime. If the client is in a bind or we find a massive issue and we’re up against the deadline, it certainly has to happen, but of course we pay them. But that’s not the ideal scenario.” APPRECIATION CLUB A decent office and reasonable working hours are only the hard end of worker satisfaction. At the other end of the scale are softer, but no less important benefits, like being recognised publicly for your work – something that outsourcing is rarely known for. Emery is forthright on the subject of being credited for work, especially coming from the audio production side: “It is really annoying. There’s no two ways about it.”
He notes times when audio production teams, which worked on bringing a narrative game’s characters to life through key performances, were only credited well below regional marketing partners, which had nothing to do with the production of the game. “And it has happened many many times,” he adds. “And it does affect the people involved.” Kirkham is sympathetic but notes that the best appreciation comes from colleagues within the company and from the client itself: “In my experience, the best relations that we have are with clients that treat us like a partner, where they consider the team – and it could be a huge team across four sites – as part of their internal team. There’s absolute transparency between the leadership [here] and their counterparts at the client’s site.” SERVICE GAME With live service titles, those working relationships between outsourced services and the core development team run far deeper and for far longer than ever before, Kirkham tells us. “What we’ve seen on games with longer life cycles is we have several dedicated teams around the world that are focused on a single specific game... forever. We’ve had a dedicated team that’s worked with that particular client for nine years, on the same game.” She confirms that those PTW teams are fully integrated with their development partners, sharing the same Slack channels and the like, to provide open communication. And the shift to ongoing games has also changed the pattern of demand for PTW’s services: “You’ll have major installments of a franchise, where the testing and localisation requirements can be vast.
Pictured below: PTW’s staff working from the firm’s new London office
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“We’ve been testing VR for four years. We need to train the right people and give them breaks every 20 to 40 minutes. Last year we did 50,000 hours of VR testing. That’s a lot of breaks!” You then support in-between those with downloadable content and content drops.” Despite the increasing regularity of such work, developers and publishers are still reaching out for help, rather than building up internal teams to cope, Emery says: “They’re still hitting the same sort of need for additional QA resource – they just need it on more, multiple occasions.” The increased lifetime of titles and the fluctuations in their fortunes also change the demands that publishers put to PTW’s door, Emery continues. “Publishers are far more interested in player engagement than they ever used to be and it’s not easy to put the structure in place that will allow you, as a publisher or developer, to [meet] player expectations,” he says. “I think there is an acknowledgement that better support of your players will help better retention. And given the way a lot of the games are delivered these days, player retention is very important for publishers. Therefore, I think there’s more of a commitment. “Also, as a game’s life cycle gets longer, [customer support] is really a way to get data from your playerbase back to development and channel it back through with this continuous development loop.” CHANGING TIMES As discussed before, change is the one real constant of the games industry. In recent years, QA providers have had to come to terms with challenges such as VR testing. “We’ve been testing VR for four years now,” says Kirkham. “We need to identify the right people, train them up, and give them breaks every 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the game and how it plays. I think last year we did 50,000 hours of VR testing. That’s a lot of breaks! “You need more space, you have to invest in technology, even just the simple things like looking at your test cases and updating your bug database, you can’t do that when you’re immersed in a VR experience,” she explains. “So what we do is we have two people: one who does the testing and one who does the documentation. So the person who is immersed doesn’t have to come out of the experience.”
So if you ever think about taking on a VR title, be sure to get some quotes for testing first. The next big change upon the industry is cloudbased, streaming services. Kirkham is obviously bound to secrecy on that one in these early days, but the requirements to test titles across a wide range of differing connections surely must create more work? “Yes. More work, different work – every time there’s innovation in the gaming industry there’s always more work,” she smiles, adding: “I’m not complaining.” FUTURE PROOFING Advances in technology don’t just come from the industry though, as we find out when we ask Kirkham about how PTW plans to stay one step ahead of the demands of its partners. “We’re investing right now in R&D and in transforming the business,” she replies. “You look at machine learning, machine translation and AI. Those impact all of our core areas of business. So we’re focusing on that.” QA is traditionally divided between manual testing and automated testing. Machine learning and AI could provide a perfect middle ground: a tester with the patience of the program but some of the smarts of a real-life person, while machine translation could provide a first pass at localisation before any person gets involved. And Kirkham is emphatic that such investment will pay off with real benefits in three to five years, adding that “there’s a big investment in engineering this transformation.” Emery adds: “Ultimately what our clients are looking for is flexibility. Quality is a given, so is delivery. The advantage that we’re giving them is if we can deliver flexibility that helps them as a business. It helps them focus in other areas. It helps them adapt.” While new tech is exciting, PTW’s main aims for the immediate future remain somewhat more straightforward. Its key offering to publishers and developers is to strive to be “better, faster, cheaper, in more locations and more languages,” Kirkham neatly concludes for us.
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Ins and Outs: Industry hires and moves 1
Eurogamer has welcomed three new starters since last month. First, LOTTIE LYNN (1) joined as guides writer, with previous bylines including PCGamesN and Rock Paper Shotgun. The editorial team then welcomed its annual reporter intern in the form of IMOGEN BECKHELLING (2), who had just completed a degree in multimedia journalism at Bournemouth University. Finally, ZOE DELAHUNTY-LIGHT (3) joined Eurogamer’s video team, where she will be working alongside Aoife Wilson and Ian Higton.
while JAMES BURNS (5) will work on the company’s unannounced online action RPG as technical director. Formerly of Nintendo Europe, MALACHY O’NEILL (6) has been appointed as director of QA, while MARK FAULKNER (7) returned to the company as director of the publishing platform.
Sumo Group has announced plans to boost its staff count by 15 per cent over the next year and it’s appointed talent acquisition manager KIERAN HOLLAND (8) to spearhead the projected growth by mid-2020. He comes from recruitment teams at Amazon and BP, and will support the growth of Sumo’s nine studios in the UK, India and Canada. Meanwhile, former producer at Coatsink SOPHIE SMART (9) has joined Sumo Digital Newcastle as producer.
Jagex’s made a number of new appointments bringing experience from EA, Zynga and Splash Damage. Former EA executive MELISSA BACHMAN-WOOD (4) joined as VP of studio,
GAËLLE CABALLERO (10) has been promoted to head of localisation QA at Testronic. She joined the firm in 2012, her most recent role being localisation QA manager.
She played a significant role in establishing the LQA team at Testronic’s Warsaw division, and also acts as co-chair of the company’s Learning & Development Committee. Influencer marketing agency Fourth Floor Creative has hired its first chief operating officer, CATHERINE CHEETHAM (11). An operations and product specialist, she joins the Bristol agency from renewable energy company Good Energy where she oversaw product. She brings more than 15 years of specialist experience.
The International Game Developers Association (IGDA) and the IGDA Foundation (IGDAF, the charitable organisation that champions diversity and inclusion in games) have named their new executive directors, RENEE GITTINS (12) and NIKA NOUR (13), respectively. Gittins has worked as a technical producer at several game studios and served on the IGDA board of directors for more than two years. She replaces Jen MacLean, who stepped down in April 2019. Meanwhile, Nour was formerly head of public affairs at the
Entertainment Software Association (ESA).
The No More Robots team has expanded with the addition of ARWYN BROCK (14), who joins the company from Rockstar and will be leading the publishing label’s quality assurance work. Following this appointment, QA testing will be offered to No More Robots’ developers for free. Disney has hired former PlayStation executive JOHN DRAKE (15) as its new VP of business development and licensing for games. Drake had previously been with Sony for five years, working his way up to global head of portfolio strategy and content acquisitions and senior director. Prior to that, he spent seven years with Harmonix. Edinburgh-based indie developer Ant Workshop has hired programmer MARTIN SCOTT (16) as its first employee. Scott comes from Ninja Kiwi and Blazing Griffin, and will increase the studio’s ability to help other indies bring their games to console,
while maintaining its original IP development. Ant Workshop founder Tony Gowland commented: “It’s a very exciting time as we build on what has been a very successful year and put ourselves in a strong position going forward. I’m delighted Martin’s bringing his experience to Ant Workshop, and it’ll be lovely to have someone to chat to in the office!”
Green Man Gaming has made a few senior appointments beefing up its partnerships team. PETE KING (17), a gaming industry veteran, has joined the digital retailer as SVP business development after leaving Fanatical. King has significant publisher and retail experience spanning almost 30 years working at companies such as Activision Blizzard UK, 1C and Novologic. MARION FELDHOFER (18) has also joined Green Man Gaming as SVP corporate partnerships to manage the company’s existing partnerships with technology brands. Previously with Polystream, Feldhofer brings over 15 years experience of working in sales and marketing roles for the likes of McAfee, Microsoft and HP.
Got an appointment you’d like to share with us? Email Marie Dealessandri at email@example.com 30 | MCV 949 August 2019
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Every month, we pick the brain of an up-and-coming talent
Billie McMillan, UX designer, Sega Hardlight What’s been your biggest challenge to date? In my job I need to consider the player as a community, rather than an individual, and find solutions that work for the whole community. It can take many iterations to get it right. What do you enjoy most about your job? I am passionate about people; understanding how and why we perform certain actions is fascinating. Having a job where I get to combine my passions of human interactions, design, technology and art is wonderful. What’s your big ambition in games? Growing up, Theme Hospital was one of my favourite games. Ever since we at Sega have acquired Two Point Studios I am secretly hoping we get to work on a version that I can have in my pocket. How did you break into games? My pathway into games was the product of being in the right place at the right time. In my previous job as a creative designer, I rebranded Hardlight. The project was an absolute joy to work on and opened up my eyes to the possibility of a career in games. With Hardlight already having seen me in my natural working environment and what I was capable of, when the time was right, I approached them and asked if there was any work going at the studio. The next month I started working at Hardlight. What is your proudest achievement so far? When you work on something that you can’t talk about for a long time and finally it is released into the wild, it’s a glorious moment. Seeing YouTube streams of your game pop up instantly, and they’re having a great time, they’re good moments.
“Start your design thinking on paper. As soon as you start work on a computer, subconsciously you’ll be blocking off ideas, as it isn’t easy as scribbling with a pen.”
What advice would you give to someone aspiring to a UX designer career? Don’t let never having worked in games before put you off applying. As long as you have a good portfolio, can connect well with people and feel you can represent them in your work and have a hunger to learn, then what is stopping you? I have three pieces of advice. First: always ask ‘why’ – this will allow you to get to the root cause of the problem. You can only solve a problem when you fully understand it. Second, start your design thinking on paper. As soon as you start work on a computer, subconsciously you’ll be blocking off ideas, as it isn’t easy as scribbling with a pen. It is also much easier for others to join in with their ideas on paper. Finally, watch people interacting with your work. You can do this even from those first scribbles.
If there’s a rising star at your company, contact Marie Dealessandri at firstname.lastname@example.org August 2019 MCV 949 | 31
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Cherry picked advice to help you reach the next level in your career
Genba Digital’s head of commercial Charlotte Cook tells us more about the ins and outs of digital distribution and what’s needed to thrive in a start-up a team success for granted. In practical terms a day would involve agreeing deals for new content providers or retailers, ensuring we’re still on track to meet our revenue targets, working with our data team to analyse activity on the platform and tuning it to be more efficient and effective.
What is your job role and how would you describe your typical day at work? I’m the head of the commercial team at Genba Digital. I lead a team of four people who work across our commercial, business development, PR and marketing functions in our two offices in London and Leamington Spa. It’s the role of the commercial department to connect publishers and retailers together and provide them with a great service supporting both of their businesses. In doing so, we help all parties (and us!) increase revenue and presence globally. Some of the work we’re doing is groundbreaking in the industry and adapting to emerging markets and processes. So we have to be pro-active and agile in ensuring we provide the best possible customer service and always be looking to improve Genba’s offering and its ability to add value. Part of that means never resting on our laurels or taking any of our
What qualifications and/or experience do you need to land this job? It is hard to break into the games industry but I was lucky enough to start my career in digital distribution at Take-Two Interactive and Sega. This introduced me not only to working with some of the most impressive publishers in the industry but also to working with the first parties – Sony, Microsoft, Valve. I was also able to increase my network of contacts and experience which is invaluable when looking to change roles. At Genba, the skills you need to thrive are similar to any role: you need to think strategically, have strong relationship management skills and (especially for a startup) be flexible, dynamic and hungry for the company and your role to be successful. If you were interviewing someone for your team, what would you look for? Ambition is a very important quality for me in a prospective team member – I look for individuals who are ready to take on a new challenge and learn and grow through the process. In the commercial team at Genba it is also important to be very personable as we are client facing. An understanding of the digital sector and industry is also important. We’re also a small team, so finding someone with the right personality fit is important – we have
ambitious plans and when you’re spending more time with your colleagues than with your family, and friends, it’s important that you all share a positive attitude and can laugh with each other in the stressful times. We also share a passion for constant improvement – whether that’s in the technology we’re delivering to our customers or the efficiencies we’re providing them in their business. Liking dogs and enjoying a competitive game of Overcooked also helps! What opportunities are there for career progression? That’s one of the great parts of working for a start-up – in a new company in a developing market the opportunities are yours to mould and seize. We’re constantly evolving and re-shaping our support. I joined in September 2016 as a senior sales manager and was promoted to head of commercial in July 2018. In a larger company people tend to get pigeonholed in terms of their input and career path but at Genba you’ll gain so much more experience working closely alongside colleagues from different backgrounds that it greatly enhances your own attitude and approach. We all share a genuine passion for making the company successful and sometimes these conversations get heated, but it’s all in good spirits and driven by a desire to be the best at what we do. In doing so, we recognise and reward talent and encourage staff to push boundaries constantly. Moving to Genba was a scary career move for me at the time, but it was definitely one of the wisest decisions I have made and has provided me with an excellent opportunity and invaluable experience.
Want to talk about your career and inspire people to follow the same path? Contact Marie Dealessandri at email@example.com
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28 DAYS LATER Taking a new opportunity in the industry can open a door to the job of your dreams. We catch up with a recent career mover at the start of their exciting new role through recruitment specialist Amiqus Congratulations on the new job! What inspired you about Epic to join them? Thanks! Having worked at smaller companies before, I really fancied working on something huge and getting to grips with the challenges it brings... And you can’t get much bigger than Fortnite! I’ve also been a fan of the company since Unreal Tournament, so I was very excited about joining the team and getting to work on those titles that become gamer favourites. What’s the culture like at Epic and what has been your experience of fitting in? Fitting in has been very easy, as everyone is incredibly nice. The team I am part of is a tight-knit team who is always happy to share ideas and knowledge, and is very welcoming to me when I joined. Outside of work, we all take the odd trip out to eat some great food and have a pint in scenic Edinburgh. What are you most excited about bringing to the role? I’m excited about bringing my hard work ethic and good humour to the team. I like to give things 110 per cent and I’m excited to see that hard work trickle down to the gamers in the form of something they love and enjoy. What will working at Epic do for your career? Working at Epic will be a huge career boost. Unreal Engine is pervasive in the games industry, and Fortnite brings a lot of complex challenges that need to be solved. Working on a live game that has regular weekly updates, at a company that has studios across the world, means your communication and teamworking skills get a big boost as well. What would you say to anyone thinking about or undertaking a job move into this industry? I would strongly recommend it as a career. Projects can differ a lot so the work always feels fresh and challenging, and you get to work on something that will bring a smile to potentially millions of people! As for getting into the games industry/programming, I’d recommend making some game tech demo projects in C++ (starting small and finishing them), and engage in local game developer meet-ups. Getting started in the games industry can be tough, so keep at it, and make sure you have a portfolio that stands out. Once you get the initial ‘in’, it will all snowball into a fully-fledged career that you’ll love.
Name: Peter Lockhart Studio: Epic Games Edinburgh Job Title: Programmer Education: MEng in Computer Game Design and Development, Queen’s University Belfast
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Iterating for Better This month, MCV looks into the intricacies of networking, which can be even more tricky for women in the games industry, as meetups are often dominated by men THE idea of networking is something that brings many people out in a cold sweat. However confident we are, it takes us out of our comfort zone and is particularly tricky for women who are often entering a male-dominated room. But a new study by Loughborough University and Imago Venues has revealed the most and least effective ways to do it. Conversation analysts Professor Elizabeth Stokoe and Dr Magnus Hamann observed how people behave and communicate in networking spaces. Based on the findings of the study, they identified several research-based tips to enable people to network better.
• Know where to place yourself in the room Start a conversation in the food/drink queue, at a standing table, or a sitting table.
• Put your coffee cup on a table If networking makes you nervous, arrive early. Get a drink and place your cup on a standing table. It invites others to place their own cups on the table and start talking.
• Join the conversation To join the conversation, you need to become part of what ‘gesture specialist’ Adam Kendon calls an ‘interactional circle’ – a circle of people who are already networking. A good way of joining the circle is to position yourself in direct line of sight of the people who you want to interact with. They are then likely to realign the circle and welcome you in.
• Don’t be a mis-greeter Don’t say hello to someone and then look over their shoulder for the ‘more important’ people in the room.
Claire Sharkey Head of marketing & PR, Weather Factory “Events are a big part of the industry and can be daunting to many, but if it helps, remember that almost everyone is in the same boat. My main tips for attendees would be first to not worry about going to everything. You won’t miss out by not attending every event. Second, sometimes smaller events can be as fruitful for business as larger ones. Use social media/groups to reach out prior if you feel
nervous about going solo and want to meet others. Finally, remember that even if you’re going on behalf of a company, you’re representing your own brand as well.”
Naoise Morrin, Studio recruiter, Digit Game Studios “The idea of networking can be somewhat daunting to many, especially in an unfamiliar environment, but done right it can be extremely rewarding – personally and professionally! My top tips are first to set yourself goals – even a small one of ‘introduce yourself to two new people’, and build from there. Then, research: know who you would like to speak with and why. Push yourself out of your comfort zone, be yourself, and try to relax. Finally, make sure to follow up within a week with the people you have met.
Tracey McGarrigan CEO, Ansible PR “My top networking tip is don’t try to ‘work the room’. Your goal shouldn’t be to just shake everyone’s hand with little interaction. Start by asking yourself why it’s valuable you attend – opportunity to do business, find a new job, meet interesting people? Researching in advance who might be there (social channels and event websites are great places to start) and letting people know why you will be there will lead to more meaningful and friendly conversations.”
“Even if you’re going on behalf of a company, you’re representing your own brand as well.” Putting The G Into Gaming is a pro bono initiative founded by and in association with recruitment specialist Amiqus. To find out more email G-IntoGaming@amiqus.com or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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BRINGING TOGETHER C-LEVEL DECISION MAKERS FROM ACROSS THE INDUSTRY
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While it’s the programmers, artists and designers that receive the plaudits, the industry would be lost without it’s diligent and skilled QA teams. Seth Barton talks to QA professionals from the UK and beyond to discuss how they deliver polished products
uality in its broadest sense is an elusive concept to pin down when applied to games. The graphics can be beautiful, the gameplay revolutionary, but if the whole thing is sitting on a shaky foundation and the details haven’t been refined, then it’s unlikely to engage players for long. QA teams have always done more than simply find bugs, though that’s still the core of the job. They provide
early feedback on design, art, UI and much more. They’re also increasingly specialised and technically capable. And in an industry where ongoing player engagement is now valued above and beyond unit sales, the QA function is arguably more valued too. More valued maybe, but things are not getting any easier for the QA professionals we spoke to, as Erik Hittenhausen, QA director for games at Testronic,
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based in Warsaw, explains: “The challenge today is the ever-growing scale and technical complexity of games, combined with the need for ongoing post-release support and updates. Be it an intermittent build or even a full release cycle, it can be challenging if not impossible to cover all features and content in a game on every iteration.” Meanwhile Gao Wen Xin, QA director at Virtuos in Xi’an, China, tells us of another challenge: rising player expectations. “Due to continuous advancements in technology, players nowadays have increasingly higher requirements in terms of game quality and professionalism, and are therefore more critical as a result,” he says. More complex titles and more demanding players are only half the battle though, as others bring up more perennial issues within the industry related to the perceived status of QA. Michael Bishop, QA tester at Lucid Games, says: “A level of respect needs to be earned in order to express urgency to production and publisher. I’ve seen members of my test team explain an issue to members of production before and it sadly fell on deaf ears… It sometimes needs a push from someone that ‘gets along’ with the higher-ups for the issue to really see the light of day and be made a priority fix.” That’s a sentiment which is echoed by Gabriel Idowu, senior QA technician at Bossa Studios: “Ultimately the largest issue facing QA remains professional perception. Though the role is highly demanding, requiring large amounts of dedication and technical knowledge, it is still perceived as just ‘playing games’, which results in critical feedback often being ignored in favour of alleviating strain on other departments. Unsurprisingly to most in QA, this often results in the issue re-emerging down the line as a much larger problem.” QUALITY THAT LASTS ‘Down the line’ these days might stretch well past the initial release. A problem that goes unsolved early on might still be bugging a development team many years later, potentially compounded by numerous updates and content drops in between. Now live service games are nothing new, but QA departments are still refining the best practices for such titles. Testronic’s Hittenhausen notes the need for greater cooperation on such titles: “The compounding nature of content in live service games prevents you from continuously double-checking all legacy assets and features. Because of this it has become increasingly
important for QA and production to work together closely in order to accurately assess risks and identify the areas of a game that can be impacted on every release.” And as well as working closer with developers, the QA team may also need to take on additional roles, Virtuos’ Gao tells us: “Our QA team, in addition to maintaining the quality of the game throughout successive updates and patches, also undertakes additional responsibilities such as collecting player feedback, analysing popular trends, and providing suggestions on how to increase the game’s fun factor.” But fun isn’t the biggest concern with such titles, because if gamers can get angry at bugs in a game, imagine the additional rage when microtransactions don’t deliver as expected. “The ecommerce side can be very tricky and time consuming depending on the level of content being added,” Lucid Games’ Bishop notes. “As an example, a battle pass may just look like one UI screen to the end user most of the time but it needs to be tested to ensure it unlocks and displays the right content at every stage of the product and every route the user can take to access that content.” Paul Klosowski, QA manager at Sumo Digital, explains that such titles have led testers to working deeper in the software’s systems: “The growth of gamesas-a-service means that our testers now work regularly within the telemetry systems of a game to help track, analyse and report findings that arise during alpha, beta and release test phases. This is where QA can really shine as a live and continuous resource to help refine the game experience that our dev teams have worked towards, ensuring that we confirm their overall vision.” The QA professionals we spoke to are a varied bunch, some working in-house while others are part of outsourced teams working on games made by other studios, as well as co-developed efforts from within. With ongoing service titles, as opposed to standalone releases, there’s a certain logic that says the developer will need a more persistent QA resource, and Lucid’s Bishop thinks that has led to a shift in QA from outsourced to internal teams: “Due to a lot of products becoming a live service game, it has required a lot more embedded QA testers to be hired. The more content drops a live service game has, the more QA is usually needed to balance it out,” he explains. Furthermore, the outsourcing of parts of development then logically moves QA back to the developer or publisher to check on that work, Bishop notes: “I think it’s pretty common knowledge that development time
Pictured above from top to bottom: Paul Klosowski, Gao Wen Xin, Erik Hittenhausen, Gabriel Idowu, Michael Bishop
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on features are being outsourced very regularly but in the same instance QA will need to be hired internally to balance this out.” Testronic’s Hittenhausen notes that it’s not where the team is based that’s important, but rather that the team is in it for the long-haul: “[Live games] have increased recognition of the immense value in having an experienced QA team, and the importance of retaining a stable team that has deep knowledge about your game. This not only allows the team to understand and effectively verify its quality consistently, but also enables the forming of a close working relationship and mutual understanding that is essential in an agile [development] environment.” Virtuos’ Gao doesn’t think that such games require “a permanent team for upkeep” but agrees that familiarity with the project is key: “We encourage our QA staff assigned to such projects to be subject matter experts, so whenever a significant update is imminent, or when a spike in demand appears, these same personnel can provide additional support temporarily to maintain quality.” GOING PUBLIC The ultimate form of QA outsourcing is getting your players, your community, to test the game for you. Massive public betas and early access both allow for this kind of feedback, but are either really effective as part of the QA process? Lucid’s Bishop, who has been working on vehiclebased MOBA Switchblade, is a big supporter of such pre-release outings: “Public betas are amazing. Hands down the best move a product can do in its early days. It gathers feedback and throws large numbers of testers towards the product that it hasn’t had before in its life.” The obvious plus is testing the online aspects, Bishop adds: “Network problems and server stability issues won’t show up in-house most of the time, but when mass numbers are thrown at a product, problems will occur that sometimes you’d never see from a QA perspective.” Virtuos’ Gao also believes they are highly useful: “Large-scale public betas can help QA and the entire team to understand more about the ideas and feedback given by players. Some hardcore players would even send us advice or comments, which can prove crucial for the
team to control the direction of the product. Also, because there are so many people involved in the test, the chance of issues being found exponentially increases, which can in turn improve the quality of the game dramatically. We believe that this process is vital for large triple-A games, or online games containing huge amounts of content.” It’s not unanimous, though, with Bossa’s Idowu saying they help the QA process “very little,” and explains: “Ultimately the average mindset of an individual looking to join a beta is not to provide quality feedback. It’s to get an early chance to play a game. So the vast majority of players rarely ever provide feedback. And those who do rarely provide anything actionable. “What public betas have done is add another massive source of data that QA needs to become familiar with. And it’s the age old problem of the signal-to-noise ratio,” Idowu continues. “Most of the time spent with this data is just filtering it. And I am unconvinced that that time wouldn’t be better spent just testing the game yourself.” SPRINTING TO THE FINISH While it’s been a slow and long shift, games development has moved to varying degrees away from traditional development processes to more agile methodologies with shorter, faster iteration loops (commonly known as sprints). But obviously the choice of development model will impact the QA function as well. “QA work habits have changed a lot in recent years,” Virtuos’ Gao states. “But it has proven to be a good process. The using of agile development in the game industry helps QA to improve its workflow and positively affect quality control as well. We’re always happy for more ways to do so – that’s why we don’t reject any behavior patterns outright that might have the potential to improve the quality of the product.” Idowu too is positive but cautious: “Agile is like any other tool in the world. When used correctly it can be a massive help. But used incorrectly it can compound issues and increase the pressure to deliver while decreasing the amount of time there is to do so. Ultimately the most important tool that exists is a great producer. No tool can replace a producer that knows what to do when and how to do it.” Sumo’s Klosowski explains that such development methodologies must be matched by new processes for QA
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as well: “We’ve recently adapted and applied a methodical approach where we plan and test our milestone deliveries to include both Milestone Acceptance Testing (MAT) and User Acceptance Testing (UAT). “For example, when a game feature goes into a build, we can immediately verify that it has passed pre-defined acceptance criteria by highlighting bugs, all within the same milestone sprint, and collate any problems that occur due to the interactions between multiple systems. This allows us to avoid issues that might otherwise develop in isolation… Following this method has removed bottlenecks and encouraged the integration of QA into the larger game development process.” THE NEXT STEP Looking to the future, streaming services such as Stadia will be the next big challenge for QA teams, who will be on the front line in ensuring that titles deliver an acceptable experience within the vagaries of users’ internet connections. Testronic’s Hittenhausen says: “People often come to us when new technologies that they haven’t had the opportunity to familiarise themselves with arrive on the scene. As such, we often find ourselves on the forefront and have grown accustomed to adopting and rising to the interesting new challenges these developments bring with them. Working with different parties trying to adopt these technologies at the same time puts us in a unique position to quickly learn the do’s and don’ts for testing on new platforms and, outside of the technology, at the end of the day what you are testing is still a game.” Gao from Virtuos adds: “We are really looking forward to Stadia and the new generation of hardware. As developers, we tend to come into contact with these platforms earlier than the general public, but that doesn’t mean we can rest easy. The new platform requires learning, the new trends in game genres need to be researched, and the test requirements have to be analysed.” But the future for QA won’t be defined simply by new platforms, game and genres, as there’s big changes coming in terms of how the job is done too. For Lucid’s Bishop, there’s one word that defines the future of QA: “Automation.” He explains: “There are far too many tasks within the industry that are being done manually and take up a lot of time! Instead of wasting QA time on such tasks, QA should be trying to destructively test within a game, that’s where you find the major issues.” While automation should save time for more intuitive QA on a tester’s own initiative, Sumo’s Klosowski strikes a note of caution: “As automation becomes increasingly prominent in the testing process, it’s important to be aware that it can lead to situations where its
implementation can outweigh its value, sometimes resulting in a human tester being assigned to verify the work. To counter this, we integrate automated testing in the project as early as possible. This allows us to compare builds, immediately seeing any change, which is useful when validating level playthroughs, performance, smoke tests and so on.” While manual and automated testing have long been the two sides of the QA coin, could the rise of AI form a valuable middle ground? Gao replies: “We did hold in-depth discussions about AI internally within the QA department, and the general consensus is that AI can be utilised to replace some basic roles. But at the same time, we also think that some of the job scopes, typically held by QA experts, can’t be replaced by AI. “Based on our experiences from working on a huge number of different projects, we find that most QA work is actually creative in nature,” Gao states. “The most basic function of QA is to simulate the actual player experience, and players are living human beings. That’s an almost infinite set of individual preferences and expectations to address, so AI can’t replace QA to do most of the work.” And we’ll let Gao have the last word here too, as he sets out his thoughts on the future of the job: “I personally think that the future of QA will be a very challenging one, becoming a much tougher job with its services valued higher than before. While QA will have more urgent demand for experts, simple repetitive QA work will likely be eliminated, and the development and self-evaluation of QA will become more important. What determines the success or failure of a product? The answer is quality, and QA are the ones that are fully empowered to be arbiters of quality.”
Pictured above: Virtuos’ QA team at work in Xi’an, China
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Following up on Sega’s acquisition of Two Point Studios, Marie Dealessandri has a chat with Bobby Wertheim, who works at Sega’s incubation programme Searchlight. He details why the firm wants to acquire indie studios, what we can expect from the publishing label and what the process is like when you sign up with Searchlight
hances are if we say the word ‘Sega’ you will instantly think about one of the following depending on your generation: Sonic, Mega Drive, Daytona USA, Shenmue, Total War or even just that iconic Sega jingle – you know the one. And thanks to Sega Europe’s incubation programme, Searchlight, hopefully the publisher will soon be known for supporting, developing and acquiring indie studios as well. Searchlight is a publishing division within Sega Europe that’s been going for over three years, operating globally. Its goal? To find new studios who have projects with a franchise potential. “The key thing for us is that we’re working with really talented, incredible people that we believe in,” says Bobby Wertheim, head of content at Sega Europe, who works on Searchlight. “What’s really important is that they’ve got a great idea, an innovative piece of content that they want to make, which we believe that they can deliver, and there’s the potential for it to be turned into a franchise. “They must have a long-term vision that we can then invest in, bringing real value to the table, using the whole force of Sega’s global network. That’s in essence what Searchlight is.” They key words here are “franchises” and “long-term vision” as Wertheim stresses that building long-lasting communities is really what Searchlight is after. “They’ve got an idea of an experience or game that really stands out,” he says, describing what he’s looking for in a studio. “Maybe it doesn’t set out to please everyone but it does what it does really well. Maybe it’s genre defining, maybe it’s best in class. I know these are buzz words but the key is that they have a really unique, innovative experience that we can say: ‘There’s gonna be a lot of fun to be had playing that game and we can see a community being built around it’. Because what we want essentially with
that first game is to build the community and then look to continue to grow that community.” But Searchlight doesn’t only want to invest in indies and publish their titles: it wants to acquire them, wherever they are in the world – it wants them to be part of the Sega family. Ideally the team would want to work with said-studio before buying it but there’s been exceptions, such as Amplitude Studios, acquired in 2016. “So Amplitude, we hadn’t worked with them prior to acquisition,” Wertheim confirms. “And that came about because it felt like it was really immediately a really good fit. With how Searchlight operates, I wouldn’t rule anything out. I think we’re open to seeing what’s right for that team and that project. But typically I think more often than not what we’d probably like to do is an initial deal, a publishing deal, and then take it from there.” The programme doesn’t have a set target either, but rather wants to take the time to do things properly on a case by case basis rather than blitz through mindless acquisitions. “We have talked about it, saying: should there be a number? And we decided it wouldn’t be right to do that,” Wertheim explains. “The reason why is if we were to say: we want two acquisitions by the end of this year, we would probably rush and make the wrong call, just trying to achieve that goal rather than doing the right thing. So at the moment we’re taking it one step at a time and just make sure that we make the right decisions with the right teams.” Sega Europe has certainly not been the only publisher that’s seriously been looking into acquisitions lately, with Microsoft on a buying spree since E3 last year, having bought the likes of Playground, Ninja Theory and Obsidian. And that’s not mentioning THQ Nordic, that has acquired numerous studios over the past couple of years, including Koch Media/Deep Silver but also Warhorse, Coffee Stain and Bugbear, among others.
Pictured above: Bobby Wertheim, Sega Europe
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So it feels like there’s more and more competition when it comes to both working with and acquiring small to medium-sized developers. Wertheim doesn’t deny it but highlights that this competition is healthy – and that hopefully it means indies have a choice and will eventually choose Sega because of the quality of what the publisher has to offer. “I think the industry has been changing all the time and there’s always going to be investors looking at investing. That’s never going to change. Hopefully it doesn’t,” he smiles. “I think it’s good that it exists, that there’s actually a real hotbed and that it’s not just Sega doing it, that other people are involved. “And from that our partners can say: ‘Okay I’ve got these different opportunities but actually I’m choosing to go with Sega because of what Sega is offering’ – not just financially but how we work, how we operate and what our culture is. I think what we offer is distinct enough for our partners to feel like it’s not about just the money, it’s actually what that entails after the acquisition. We’re really mindful after an acquisition that we integrate our partner into Sega in a really sensible way.” NEVER GONNA GIVE YOU UP That leads us to discussing Searchlight’s first tour de force: the acquisition of Two Point Studios a couple of months ago, that Sega is currently “really busy with,” to make sure it’s integrated smoothly to the family. Acquiring Two Point Studios feels like an absolute no brainer based on what Wertheim has told us: following up on PC hit Two Point Hospital, published by Sega, the developer plans to continue populating its Two Point County with other sim games.
Franchise, long term vision, building a community: does that ring a bell? “That’s exactly it,” Wertheim confirms. “Two Point ties back to what I was saying. We felt they were really an incredible team, with a great vision that we could buy into. And I think it was in January 2017 that we signed the game and from the very beginning it was always a: ‘Look we want this to be a long-term partnership, we believe in your long-term vision and, if things go well, we want to talk about potential acquisition’. And whenever I talk to studios I always mention that that’s what we mean when we say long-term partnership. We’re really clear on that expectation. It’s Sega’s way of making sure that we have a project where we can really see if it’s a relationship that’s a win-win situation, that we’re adding value to what each other’s doing and we can see it working out as a longterm partnership.” As Wertheim just mentioned, the partnership needs to be a win-win so we ask his opinion on what the value is for the developer to get further into a partnership with Sega. “Some publishers are very hands off and they’re literally a funding partner and they don’t really give feedback throughout the process of development,” he starts explaining. “And on the other hand, you’ve got publishers that are like: ‘We’re funding the project, it’s our IP and we want that pixel to be this, we want that to be blue instead of red’ – and really micromanage. Whereas we’re in the middle of that. “We think there’s a middle ground that really works where it’s actually a proper collaboration and partnership, and I think [Two Point Studios] really bought into that and understood what we were about. So what we try and do is go: ‘Okay, throughout
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development, let’s create a roadmap for consumer testing’. We’re testing the right thing at the right time with the right audience so that there’s meaningful feedback that the developer gets and then they can respond to that during development. And we’ve got QA, localisation, loads of tools that we have internally that we can put into the game. There’s quite a bit of scale and expertise with what Sega has to offer, that allows the studio to not have to wear lots of hats. I think that’s really important for our partners that they can focus on doing what they love doing, which is generally making games.” Still taking the example of Two Point Studios to understand what the process of being acquired by Sega through Searchlight is, Wertheim tells us about the priorities once the initial acquisition is done – one of them being to make sure that everything is on track before letting go of their hand. “The key thing for us is to make sure that we don’t destroy the relationship that we have or lose a talent that’s in the studio or the culture that the studio has built up by doing the acquisition,” he says. “So what we’re really mindful of is make sure we maintain those things and that the studio is able to continue to express what it wants to achieve and that we enable that to happen. “At the moment with Two Point, they’re still under Searchlight even after the acquisition. Rather than go: ‘Now we’ve acquired you, you’re part of Sega, we’re just kind of going to let you go’, we’re still managing the studio and all of its projects and future stuff they’ve got in the pipeline. Once the studio is ready to go, like: ‘Actually we want to do this stuff ’, then it’s like: ‘Yeah, you do it’, whatever that is!” WHAT’S YOUR GAME? With Two Point Hospital being another strategy/sim title, we assumed that the genre was going to remain Searchlight’s focus, like Sega itself. But Wertheim tells us the team is not focused on one specific segment, for fear of missing out on the next big thing. “Sega will definitely continue to make really great experiences for its existing community, with franchises like Total War. But in terms of what Searchlight is looking for, we have purposefully not said within our team: ‘This is a genre that we’re going to go for’, like creating a shopping list. Because then we might not find the next... I don’t know. Fortnite. Minecraft. Or whatever it might be. So we don’t look for specific genres. We do want to make sure we’re a really good partner for the project, so if the project is strategy and it makes sense for us, we’d definitely look at it. “In terms of platform, our focus primarily is PC and console at first, to create an initial experience and a community around it and maybe it can diversify into different platforms like mobile or other new platforms.
“When we talk about long-term vision, one of the things that we are mindful of is: how scalable is this potential franchise? And if there’s potential for it to go into different new platforms, new business models, even new genres, then great.” Talking about finding the right partners and genres, we end up talking about narrative-driven studio Interior Night, that signed a publishing deal with Sega in January 2018. But unfortunately, not all projects can come to fruition, Wertheim explains. “Sega did announce a partnership with Interior Night – it’s a really talented studio, headed up by Caroline Marchal who is amazing and really experienced but Sega decided not to continue with that project,” he reveals. “We have a lot of respect for the studio. The great thing about Sega Searchlight is basically saying: we’re willing to take a risk and try something new. We don’t have interactive narrative games in our portfolio and that was a real new challenge for Sega. In the end, not every project is going to go as well as I personally would like. So it’s the end of the relationship but we’re just working hard to find the next big thing,” he smiles. If this specific partnership didn’t work out, we have no doubt that with his enthusiasm, which is undoubtedly shared by his team, Wertheim will definitely find the next big thing for Sega. “I’d like to find and work with really talented people and add something really exciting to Sega’s portfolio,” he says when we ask about his ambitions. “I think Sega’s already got loads of exciting games but I think it’s really important that we continue to add new experiences. It’d be cool, in a couple of years, if there’s the really exciting game coming out from Sega because Searchlight has found it and then we’ve acquired the studio and it’s a new and happy member of the Sega family.”
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Hamburg: shipping games around the world For our third regional spotlight, Marie Dealessandri takes you to Germany. Destination: Hamburg. Following a successful transition from free-to-play browser games to much much more, the ‘epicenter of gaming in Germany’ has a lot to offer, from an excellent quality of life to the support of an incomparable cluster of games talent
amburg isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about the German games industry. And yet. Maybe it should. The northern Germany city is home to over 200 games businesses and a breeding ground for creativity and growth in the industry. Some of the biggest German games companies have chosen Hamburg as their base of operations including Bigpoint, Daedalic, Fishlabs, InnoGames, and many many more, with freeto-play and browser games historically being the city’s forte. Michael Zillmer, chief operating officer at InnoGames, tells us a bit more about what led the now development giant to Hamburg. “What first attracted us were the opportunities and resources available for a growing company,” he says. “What is now InnoGames began as a hobby in 2003 in the suburbs of Hamburg, in a place called Stade.
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Pictured above from top to bottom: Christoph Hillermann, Michael Zillmer and Phillip Schuster
“With the success of the first game, Tribal Wars, we decided to work full time on the development of the title and in 2007 InnoGames was founded. As the company grew and became more successful, we needed to move to a larger location that would help us attract international talent. In 2008, we moved to Hamburg and then into our current office in 2016. Hamburg has a strong reputation in the games industry and offers an extensive network with many other companies in the games and digital industries located here.” Leading games publication 4Players, launched in 2000 and which also owns player engagement platform Scill and server provider 4Netplayers, ended up in Hamburg a bit coincidentally but has not looked back since. CEO Phillip Schuster says: “The decision to move from Munich to Hamburg was made around 13 years ago. Originally, we were brought in to be closer to our former parent company, but since then we found love for the Hamburg way of life and being part of an active video games industry.” There are indeed many things to love about Hamburg, as highlighted by Christoph Hillermann, director of human resources and operations at Deep Silver Fishlabs, founded in 2004 and acquired by Koch Media/Deep Silver in 2013, saving it from bankruptcy. “Although Hamburg is pretty big with its 1.8m inhabitants, it still feels familiar and everything is close by,” he tells MCV. “The maritime Hamburg is unique with the Alster directly in the center, offering water sport opportunities or just cool locations to relax – and the Baltic Sea is only one hour away. And being close to the German capital also doesn’t hurt. It reflects manifold ways to live. The public transportation system is very good and due to the harbor and the airport, you can go wherever you want pretty fast. So it is easy for us to sell Hamburg as a potential new home for future employees.” Schuster also points out that “a good work-lifebalance is important to [4Players] and Hamburg has a lot to offer.” But the main benefit is simply that it’s the heart of the German games industry, giving access to an unrivalled network of talent and business opportunities – or, as InnoGames’ Zillmer puts it: “Hamburg is the epicenter of gaming in Germany.” He continues: “It offers a high quality of life. This helps us attract talent, both nationally and globally. Another benefit is the community in Hamburg. There are a number of game studios, as well as media, tech and creative companies with a focus on gaming in the area and our location allows us to connect and collaborate with others.” In order to facilitate the connection between these companies, Gamecity:Hamburg was launched in 2003 to support games businesses in the city and their growth
(read more from them opposite). Gamecity:Hamburg has helped grow the number of games jobs in Hamburg from 800 to over 4,000 since its inception. An evolution that our interviewees have very much noticed. “Hamburg continues to grow in size and quality, the northern way: slow and steady,” 4Players’ Schuster says. “And with some of the biggest Germany-based game development and service companies, Hamburg is as strong as ever.” InnoGames’ Zillmer points out that there’s a virtuous circle taking place in Hamburg, made possible by the games industry’s solid foundations, and profiting the entire tech industry. “The region has developed in all regards and much of the development is interconnected,” he starts explaining. “The community continues to grow and global giants like Google, Facebook and Dropbox are choosing Hamburg for their German headquarters. Accordingly, the number of people working in the games industry has increased. The decision to locate a business in Hamburg can be attributed in part to the infrastructure as it provides a solid foundation to grow upon. In return, this growth has also allowed for the quality of business to develop. Gaming has advanced over the years and is now not only competing with others in the games sphere, but also in the digital and tech industries.” CROSS-CULTURAL BONDS Like in any games industry cluster, finding and retaining talent is key, with local universities not only crucial to recruit but also to “continue to educate existing talent,” as rightly pointed out by Zillmer. As of 2017, there were 19 universities in Hamburg – six of them public. Zillmer adds: “Keeping in mind that it is an ongoing challenge to attract the right job candidates, there is a need to focus on education and ensuring individuals have the right skillset.” The more specific and the more senior the role is, the more difficult it is to recruit in Hamburg – a problem that applies to the industry at large really. “Hamburg offers great talent when it comes to marketing, PR, community and product managers,” 4Players’ Schuster says. “If you are looking for programmers of any kind, it is much harder and competition is fierce. There simply aren’t enough good talents available – here or elsewhere.” Fishlabs’ Hillermann concurs: “Some people you can find in Hamburg, like Java or C++ developers. The more specific it becomes, the harder it gets. Our last hires, a cinematic designer and an Unreal technical artist, you probably will not find at a browser game developer. And therefore, these colleagues come from abroad.” Hillermann explains how Fishlabs attracts such talent, also highlighting some key competitors: “Hamburg is
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Your friendly neighbourhood Gamecity:Hamburg WHETHER you’re looking into relocating your company in Hamburg, just hunting for a partnership or already working there, Gamecity:Hamburg is the right partner. This network founded in 2003 supports and develops the local games scene through various measures, with a big focus on events, which wasn’t failed to be mentioned by some of our respondents. 4Players’ CEO Phillip Schuster says: “Beside events like the Online Marketing Rockstars Festival, Gamecity:Hamburg organises some great networking events. Hamburg also has a very active indie scene, which meets every two months and attracts a good mix of video game students and professional alike.” InnoGames is a main sponsor of Gamecity:Hamburg, “aiming to support businesses in the games industry and bring them together by hosting events throughout the year,” COO Michael Zillmer says. “We collaborate with them to present the annual Sommertreff, a large industry networking event. Additionally, we host the Games Compass Hamburg event series, which consists of biannual events designed to promote and support the industry.” There are obviously other meetups outside of Gamecity:Hamburg, such as those held by the Hamburger Indie Treff organisation, which consist in a series of lectures designed to promote the exchange of knowledge, strengthen relations and serve as a point of contact for new developers. But Gamecity is an essential part of the Hamburg community life.
a very open, multicultural and international city and has always been connected to the rest of the world historically. So usually, everybody who comes to Hamburg will like it and find quarters where they will feel at home. “For our hiring, there are no borders. We just invite good candidates from wherever they come from. We currently have more than 20 nationalities working at our studio. Within Germany, Berlin might be the strongest competitor because there are many gaming, media or tech companies. Nordic cities like Stockholm in Sweden or Helsinki in Finland I also see as competitors. There are great studios there and those countries have a culture that I rate as being comparable to Hamburg.” InnoGames’ Zillmer continues, saying that they’re not only “competing for talent within the games industry, but also within the larger tech industry.” So with this need to attract talent from abroad, offering a good relocation package is crucial, he adds: “Companies need to find ways to stand out and gain the
Pictured above: Networking event Gamecity Sommertreff 2019 Dennis Schoubye (pictured left), project manager at Gamecity:Hamburg highlights once again the importance of the industry in the city: “Hamburg is Germany’s biggest hub for game developers and innovative digital companies. Next to leading mobile and free-to-play developers, we have a flourishing indie scene, PC/ console studios, and a strong VR/AR focus. Also Google, Facebook, Twitter and Twitch chose Hamburg for their headquarters in Germany, which further strengthens the local gaming cluster. “Gamecity:Hamburg aims to foster the cooperation between the local companies and media industries. We also assist studios plus founders to settle in Hamburg. With a new team for Gamecity:Hamburg we will build on existing offerings and are also looking to further expand cooperation with international gaming clusters.” If you are interested in such cooperation, you can send an email to email@example.com.
attention of potential talent. At InnoGames, we value diversity as we have over 400 colleagues from over 30 nations. We look to attract talent from all around the world and as part of an attractive benefits package, we assist with each step of the relocation process. From the logistics of moving to Germany and getting a visa, to language courses and even selecting schools and day care options; nothing is left out. Comprehensive benefits make a difference in attracting talent, especially those who might be looking in light of the uncertainty surrounding Brexit in the UK, for example.” And these people are certainly out there, as we very well know. If you are one of them, you’ll be reassured that you don’t necessarily need to speak German to join a games business in Hamburg – though, should you move to Germany, we obviously strongly advise to learn the language because that is just the right thing to do. “Here at Deep Silver Fishlabs, English is the company’s language,” Hillerman confirms. “Most of our recent hires come from abroad and do not speak
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Pictured above: Innogames’ office in Hamburg
German. And that is absolutely fine. Having said that, we are offering German classes for our foreign colleagues – but not because they would need it at our studio, only to make general integration in Germany easier for them. We see diversity – especially from a cultural perspective – as a benefit for building successful and flexible teams and hence for developing games that will be loved all over the world.” English is also the official language at InnoGames, Zillmer says: “Our workforce is multilingual. In 2012, just five years after our founding, we made English our official language. While our internal communication is conducted in English, we recognise the importance understanding the local language plays in integrating and forming cross-cultural bonds.” DON’T RAIN ON MY PARADE So are there any drawbacks to Hamburg? “Other than frequent rain and hardly any direct flights to the US, not really!” 4Players’ Schuster tells us. In the UK, we’re pretty used to the rain obviously. On the other hand, InnoGames’ Zillmer highlights a bigger issue: “Compared to other locations, there is a lack of local funding programs available for game studios and businesses in Hamburg. Programs such as these not only help smaller companies within the industry, but also safeguard Hamburg’s future as the gaming hub in Germany. We need to re-establish dedicated funding programs. From our perspective, it is a paradox that such programs were in place when the market was less competitive than it is today.” Not in the downside list but still ambiguous and divisive is Hamburg’s reputation as the capital of free-to-play and browser games. “This reputation is both a blessing and a curse,” Hillermann says when we mention it. “Deep Silver
Fishlabs recently changed strategy and direction – away from mobile games and free-to-play to focus on console games. And we still feel like [we’re in] the right place in Hamburg. Overall it is still games, which means at least a similar mindset plus dedicated and talented people. That is definitely a plus. Furthermore, there is also political awareness of games as an important business factor. “It is of course a difference whether you work on free-to-play browser games or on a double-A/triple-A console game. We are happy to contribute to the latter part of the Hamburg games industry now. And we also see smaller studios or indie developers going in both directions. So, Hamburg obviously offers a good and creative environment for all.” 4Players’ Schuster says that this reputation “is true,” before adding: “We do have some of the biggest players in the industry located here. But the games industry in Hamburg continues to grow in various areas and is able to attract more and more people to join development, media, esports and other games related services.” InnoGames is also keen to highlight the other trends of the local games industry: “Hamburg is the gaming hub of Germany. Not only are new gaming companies being founded here, but there are also many large global brands, growing companies and start-ups within the gaming and digital industries located in Hamburg. In total, we count around 200 companies in the gaming sector alone,” he emphasises again. “One of the key trends is the transition to mobile. InnoGames is one of the few companies that have successfully mastered this transition and we offer cross-platform availability for many of our games, as well as one mobile-only game.” From its roots in free-to-play browser games, the Hamburg games scene has successfully transitioned into the place to be, regardless of the side of games you’re on. To conclude our chat, Zillmer has a few words of advice for developers who are considering relocation to Hamburg – and reminds them that InnoGames is on the lookout for talented teams, should you be tempted: “We would encourage studios to attend industry events and network in order to establish themselves and to develop key connections within the industry. It can be difficult when first starting out, but the right connections can make a difference. InnoGames is interested in cultivating these connections, including the possibility for the acquisition of a game and game team.”
“Hamburg offers a good and creative environment for all.”
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What we learnt at Develop:Brighton
2019 With three days packed with sessions, there was an awful lot to learn at Develop:Brighton this year. Here’s our highlights from the conference
Body diversity in character design: ‘We need to represent our audience better’ VETERAN freelance artist Lucy (Loukia) Kyriakidou addressed the need for more diverse bodies in games in her session, demonstrating that the main characters from best selling games of 2018 mostly use the same body types. Currently working on Battletoads’ characters for Dlala Studios and having extensive experience in character design, Kyriakidou explained simply why change is needed: “It is the right thing to do and it is what players want,” she said. “Studies have shown that players do want more diversity in games – and that’s general diversity, not just bodies. More than 50 per cent of gamers do believe that it’s getting better but we need to do more than just try to tick a box. Games have a social responsibility. We’re responsible for a lot of screen time in people’s lives so to not hold yourself accountable for the impact games have on people’s lives is no longer an option. “Also, accuracy is not an excuse not to have women and people of colour in your game. It’s not wrong to have muscular men and hourglass women but we need to represent our audience better and the people who are actually playing our games. It’s great to have NPCs that are body diverse but it’s better to have the same for a protagonist.” She shared her tips for artists who want to overcome projecting their own ideals: “The best way to improve is to review your work, see where you are now and see where you want to be in the future. I review my work every year.” Reviewing her earlier work she realised there was “not a lot of diversity in anything” and she needed to leave her
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A guide to succeeding at exhibiting your game
Pictured above and left: Consider crowds of people when designing your stand artwork
comfort zone: “You need to push yourself because no one is going to do it for you.” Limited design skills can also be a factor as you end up “reaffirming you own ideals by creating a default for yourself” and always creating the same body shape over and over. Finally there’s also a personal aspect in this: “I realised I wasn’t even representing myself in my art and I found that very hurtful. I had internalised that what I looked like needed fixing or stylised in order for the imperfections to go away.” Among her tips for artists, she advised them to challenge their own biases by researching body types and finding resources they can work from (one of them being ‘Olympic bodies’, as photographed by Howard Schatz for his book Athlete). She also advised to create moodboards “to force yourself to do some research.” She highlighted that bodies don’t necessarily look the same depending on the culture as well, saying for instance that a ‘typical’ woman in Greece doesn’t look the same as one in the UK – and neither does her body type. Character redesign exercises are also good practice: “Fan art is amazing – if you take a character that already exists and recreate it you can really understand the impact of their story on their body type,” and it allows you to practice different shapes. “Introduce body diversity to your personal work” as well, Kyriakidou recommended. “Draw from personal experiences and relationships and always review your work to avoid stereotypes. Weight is not a personality trait. No, big characters are not always funny.”
THE popularity of games events just keeps on growing, but how do you make the most of these opportunities to promote your latest title? Bossa Studio’s brand manager Nick Marshall had the answers, boiling down years of experience exhibiting games into 45 minutes of easy-to-follow advice. With titles such as Dear Esther, Hotline Miami, Lego Dimensions and Middle Earth: Shadow of War on his exhibiting resume, he’s planned and manned stands for games both big and small. First up he asked if you’re even ready to exhibit: is the game in a good enough state to impress people? Is it actually suited to an event environment? And shouldn’t you actually be “finishing the damn game” rather than showing it to people instead? He noted that the demo should “sum up your game in ten to 20 minutes, be quick and easy to reset and preferably have an attract mode or video.” He stressed that “taking your game to an event won’t give you a direct financial ROI. The ROI is in community building, PR, networking and player feedback.” Done correctly, you’ll increase your engagement with numerous longterm benefits.
Using “napkin math” he demonstrated that a mediumsized stand with five machines, with a 20-minute demo time, spread across a three-day event, will only generate “a maximum of 720 engagements.” So the trick is to “maximise engagement beyond demo play.” Run competitions for merchandise to engage more people, dress up as a character from your game to create photo opportunities and maximise any press opportunities. On the latter he advises you “nail your elevator pitch, get contact details, chase people up afterwards on social media and never kick consumers off your demo for press – have a backup plan instead.” He also had some quick tips on stand design for beginners. Print the name of your game and any key information as high as possible, as the lower parts of your stand will be obscured by crowds from a distance. He also advised to not print flyers: “They end up in the bin or strewn across other people’s stands.” Finally on the subject of feedback he noted: “People are shy. Make feedback easy to give and don’t stand over them as they answer. Add a form to the end of your demo and let them tell you their honest thoughts in peace.”
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Why devs should work with agents: ‘A good agent will help you tell the difference between a snake and a ladder’ How to grow your mobile studio: ‘If you’re not having fun, you’re doing something wrong’ CEO of Dlala Studios and game director on Battletoads, Aj Grand-Scrutton, explained at Develop:Brighton why developers should consider working with an agent. He was accompanied by Joel Benton, partner at ISM Agency (which represents clients such The Chinese Room, Sumo Digital, Supermassive Games, Saber Interactive and more). During their talk they challenged the traditional way we see agents, with Benton stressing: “You don’t have to be a dick to be an agent. People underestimate the importance of business development. We can help [studios] protect their future.” Agents can help developers navigate the deal making process and show them what’s a good opportunity and what’s a bad one. Grand-Scrutton explained that despite his preconceptions about agents, it was an easy decision to make in the end, especially money-wise: a good agency will not charge you unless a deal has been signed. He added that it helped Dlala structure its activities: “We’d been winging it and we stumbled on all our deals before [signing with agent Derek Douglas from CAA]. When Derek came into play, things got more serious. it opened the door to more meetings, companies were finally booked in the calendar.”
Dlala Studios grew from five guys in a garage to 20+ staff in an office following Douglas’ appointment as the studio’s agent. “I think one of the greatest values is that he is always in contact with publishers and books the appropriate meetings,” GrandScrutton said. “All I have to do is to turn up on the day. An agent tells you what to focus on, what slide deck to use, and so on. It takes a lot of stress off things and he helped us have that perception of professionalism.” Benton continued: “Biz dev is like the board game Snakes and Ladders. A good agent will help you tell the difference between a snake and a ladder.” He added: “As CEO, you can only look at one direction at a time: you can look inside the studio, building the corporate structure and culture or you can look outside, at the publishers and so on. But you can’t do both. An agent will help you to have as good a relationship as you can possibly get with a publisher. You can’t be at all places at all times. Sumo has three full-time biz dev and still uses an agent. “We really do care,” concluded Benton. “We’re here for the good times and bad times. Agents aren’t just an introduction service. Opening the deal is the easy bit, closing it is the real challenge.”
MATHIAS ROYER, former Gameloft and Flaregames, and now general manager at Tilting Point Barcelona, shared his knowledge on how to successfully grow a mobile studio at Develop:Brighton. During his talk, the mobile expert presented practical tips for developers who are just starting their studio or are about to launch it. First and foremost, location matters – “more than you think” Royer said. “It’s easier than ever to move around, especially in Europe. If you have the luxury to pick a location, it will come down to three factors: talent availability (how big is the talent pool?), cost (salaries won’t be the same depending on where you settle), and personal connections (do you know a group of people already that you can leverage in a specific location?).” He also highlighted the importance of hiring in a smart way, bringing in people who will fit the culture you are building at your studio. “No apple is better than a bad apple,” he said, before quoting Netflix’s approach to it: “In a dream team, there are no ‘brilliant jerks’. The cost to teamwork is just too high.” He continued: “Brilliant jerks are just jerks. Never settle, never say: ‘this person is an asshole but they’re great’.” How you do that is by involving the entire team in the selection process: invite candidates on site and ask them to do real tasks. Flaregames for instance asks for an introduction in front of the entire company so everyone gets to see if a candidate is a good fit. Anyone can then veto a hire. “You’re not just building a game, you are building a team, a company and ultimately, a culture. Culture is a result of what you do, of your actions, of who you hire, it starts shaping on day one and is extremely hard to change. In case of any doubt, trust your gut feeling,” Royer concluded on that aspect. When it comes down to building your first title, he highlighted the importance of doing your research before even starting to write any line of code. Use tools such as Sensor Tower and App Annie, among others. He also advised testing your concepts before building anything, using apps such as Playstestcloud and Nielsen. “Once you’ve done that, do a CPI test,” he added. “The game doesn’t exist but what you do is you put together ads for a fake game and you have a fake app store and you
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What is Google looking for from its 4,000 would-be Stadia developers?
measure everything (clickthrough rate, conversion rate) and compare it to historical data.” During this time of tests and iterations on your idea, it’s important to maintain your existing income. In order to do this, Royer gave different options: “Take some work for hire projects. Take over live operations from another studio. Give support to another team. The benefits from all these is you won’t be running against the clock. It also allows for better decision making and it’s great to build your team’s synergy.” He also advised to limit the scope of your first game and to remain focused. Pick a business model you believe in, whether that’s freemium and premium – and stick to it. He commented: “Give yourself a mission, a mission that matters for your studio,” quoting Ustwo as an example, with the studio founded on the question: “What would an internal first-party game from Apple look like?” The answer being Monument Valley – resulting in the success that we all know. He also pointed out the importance of actually shipping your game (sooner rather than later) and not staying in development forever: “Get real users feedback – especially negative, that helps you build your game,” he said. “The more you wait the more variables there are and the harder it is to iterate. Finally, the earlier you ship, the earlier you kill – it’s horrible to kill a game but if you have to kill a game it’s better to do it early cause you still have time and money to try something else.” Google Open Beta program and TestFlight are only two of the numerous ways you can get beta testers. Make sure you have a team who is able to do a bit of everything – a “Swiss knife team,” as Royer called it. “At the beginning you should be able to do everything yourself,” he said. Activities to try before outsourcing include analytics, QA, localisation, UA, marketing creatives, and more, “so you can understand their values” if later down the road you do want to outsource them. At the end, “it all comes down to successful and scalable UA,” he added, before concluding: “Don’t forget that we have the best job in the world. It can be stressful, but it’s the best job in the world. So remember to have fun. If you’re not having fun, you’re doing something wrong.”
GOOGLE revealed that over 4,000 games companies have applied for access to Stadia via its Stadia.dev site. Sam Corcoran, a technical account manager for Stadia, noted the figure in a broad talk on the progress of its fledgling platform at the conference. With all those games companies looking to get onto the platform, the big question then is how do you catch Google’s eye? “We’re always looking for new games and pitches,” Corcoran started. “But there are some things you can do to stand out. “What I’d really recommend – and is always well received – is having a good think about the access that Stadia provides to its players,” he noted, going on to speak about the range of potential devices that Stadia can reach but also about the power of the platform to reach out through other Google services, primarily YouTube, but also Maps for instance. Corcoran continued, saying that Stadia is looking for titles which “allow people to play across all these different endpoints. And hopefully widening the range of players that can engage with your game. Think about if that does anything particular for your game? Think about if access from
any device has an impact on the design of your game. What new opportunities are out there thanks to that ease of access.” In short, Google is looking for more than simply your console title on its cloud gaming service. To stand out from the crowd, and it’s a big crowd we now know, you should consider how the power and flexibility of the Stadia ecosystem affects your title. So just where does your application to Stadia go? The short answer to that is to people such as Corcoran. “The two-page application form is reviewed by Stadia personnel, so don’t take it lightly. We’ve had more than 4,000 companies apply for Stadia access, and every single one of them is reviewed by a human. So really put some thought into that application,” he requested. “What we’re really looking for is an honest assessment of your company’s history… We prioritise the leads and we reach out to developers based on that information and our own research. We’ll discuss with you the options and if there’s interest in continuing on both sides then you’ll get an email providing crucial materials on the next step.”
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Creating Erica: how Flavourworks wants to modernise FMV games and break development conventions AT Develop:Brighton, Flavourworks’ creative director and co-founder Jack Attridge gave a fascinating talk on Designing for Interactive Narrative and Live Action based on his experience working on upcoming PlayLink live-action FMV title Erica (which can be played with both a smartphone or a DualShock 4). Looking back at the roots of the game, he explained that the studio wanted to “bring interactive live action into the 21st century” as he reckons that devs have been “developing games in a bubble.” Codes and conventions are always the same, he explained, with the player needing to have been educated to these codes before being able to play most current-gen titles. Live-action FMV gives an opportunity to break those codes, if you can manage to make two industries (games and film) work together and get the best of both worlds. In order to do just that, Attridge listed preconceptions about games that are barriers to entry for players: time investment, demands ‘education’, jarring difficulty, limited subject matter or audience, cartoony or ‘not real’, and the misconception that games are not important “How do we tackle these problems and solve them in our own way?,” Attridge asked. “Well the first thing we did is to keep it short and concentrated.” Having a very small team accentuates that need to keep the game focused, Attridge continued, and as a result: “Every moment on screen is important.” He continued: “Another way to remove the barrier to entry is intuitive input, always based on a model from the real world.” Adding that: “If you know how your phone works, you know how [Erica] works.” Film language is another factor: “Films have a very specific kind of structure and conventions and it’s something that everyone is ingrained to understand. “Then it’s all about emotional drive not skill: get players on board through characters and the story,” he said, after having previously highlighted that, in game, there’s often a conflict between emotional drive versus what the game wants you to do. A conventional thriller/drama structure, cinematic live action and a mature or artistic tone are three other factors to take into consideration when designing for interactive live action. Having established these solutions to the typical misconceptions about games, Attridge addressed FMV’s own challenges: controls are limited to buttons on top of a flat video, there’s no interaction with the world itself, plus long periods of passivity, limited player impact on story and a player/character dissonance. “This can lead to both a compromised film and a compromised game, and you end up not serving any audience,” he commented.
Attridge said that there were four key things that allowed Flavourworks to tackle this idea differently: “First was a ruthless design philosophy: we had to think about a new way of filming and what kind of story we could tell, reinventing our way of filming. [Then] we had to start with the writing as we were designing. So for us there’s a blur between the two,” he explained, with integrated story development being at the core of Erica’s development. “The technology on the market isn’t focused on video; why would it be? And what we wanted to do was lots of interaction in the world even though it’s 100 per cent filmed. So we built technology from the ground up for video and we had an in-house editor called Cookbook.” Last but not least, on top of this bespoke in-house technology, Flavourworks had a mixedmedia production workflow, between games and film. Finally, Attridge talked Erica’s branching narrative, taking the example of Netflix hit Bandersnatch… And not following it. “The idea of a branching story is something we wanted to explore, but not restricted to binary choices,” he explained. “The UI feels spatial as a result. Our rules were that you have to be interacting every 15 to 20 seconds, and Erica would only speak if you choose her to speak,” as it makes the player and the character closer together, Attridge said. “Every decision Erica makes should be the player’s choice. The point of branching is that it gives different perspectives on the story.” On top of the branching story it was also important for Flavourworks to be able to interact with objects in the world (which is especially intuitive if you play on a smartphone as you can use the touchscreen) and interacting with the surfaces (like wiping condensation from a mirror for instance). “These are ways to feel like it’s a living world for the player,” Attridge said.
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Bigger in Japan With Wizcorp now increasing its capabilities, Keywords Studios in Japan is more able than ever to help games companies achieve their goals – both over there and over here. Seth Barton reports
arlier this year, Keywords Studios continued its recent swathe of acquisitions by picking up Japanese developer Wizcorp, which fits into the company’ strategy of gaining more development capability. “We wanted to offer more services,” Christopher Kennedy (pictured left), Keywords’ regional MD in Asia, tells MCV from Japan. “Keywords outside of Asia had already taken such steps, taking on development teams such as Sperasoft, D3t and Electric Square among others.” In fact Wizcorp is the eighth studio to join the co-development focused engineering segment of the company. “Wizcorp is a fully end-to-end development studio. So they can do full game development, they can do co-dev with a client, they can do hit squad and come in and just fix the UI up for you. Say for two months you need ten people – they can do that whole spread of services. “They have engineers, they also have artists, designers, it’s a full team,” he notes. “That’s the core concept. It’s an international development team located in Japan. I don’t think we would ever want to change that recipe. It’s a very good one and a unique one.” The concept of an international team in Japan also fits in well with Keywords’ current operations, Kennedy explains: “To give you a little background, we actually opened the Keywords office here at the end of 2009. So Keywords Tokyo will be having its tenth anniversary this December. We started very small, a small offshoot of the Dublin headquarters at the time, wanting to sort of recreate what Dublin did in Europe for Asia. “Our Dublin office was quite the pioneer – doing multiple languages and multiple services in one place. So we tried to build the same thing in Japan. Traditionally it was testing and translation, and then audio recording, customer support, player support.” He then summarises: “We take games into Asia, out of Asia and around Asia.” And to achieve that the larger Keywords team in Tokyo is more diverse than you might expect in one of the most ethnically homogeneous countries on earth: “We’ve got about 300 people now and about 60 per cent of those are not Japanese. “And that’s where Wizcorp was a great fit because it too is a mixed, international team. It’s about about 35 people but only about half of them are Japanese local. The other half are a mixed crowd of people from around the world. So now we have two groups of people in Japan doing game services with very international atmospheres.” Wizcorp’s existing client base, for which it primarily develops browser and mobile titles, is purely Japanese companies, continues Kennedy: “We can build that [existing] business, help them build that business, with
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“We take games into Asia, out of Asia and around Asia.” our sales team, with our existing contacts from the rest of the services we provide.” But the possibilities for the group are potentially far greater he tells us: “What we can also do is manage a project here in Japan, in Japanese, with the client. And then do some of the development in our Poland office, or do some of the art out of our China or India office. “So we can have the producer or project manager here in Japan, working in the local language, and use the low-cost resources where it’s easier to increase the headcount, to grow at faster speeds.” Growth in Japan itself is comparably difficult. Demand for skilled employees is very high and office space is also at a premium, Kennedy notes when asked about locations: “There are two offices and there’s no immediate plans to bring them together. Mostly just due to space restrictions. Tokyo is not the easiest place to grab real estate!” It may not be in the same building then, but Wizcorp will be a huge enabler for Keywords’ broader business in the country. “For western or Asian clients that want to come into Japan, we can now take those projects, do the engineering, get it ready for Japan, change the UI, change the graphics, test it here locally and then do the live ops and run the game. “Our Japan sales team is super excited. They have a lot of interest in selling development services and now that they have that opportunity they’re super happy as well.” JUST BROWSING Space allowing then, the Wizcorp team should grow along with Keywords’ plans. “We see a lot of potential to grow that team over the next few years. The market here is good, with both console and mobile seeing good times,” Kennedy tells us, with that growth being shaped by the demand from clients: “Whether it’s by building more games in Japan, for Japan, or it’s helping bring games into Japan... But
yes, we’ll grow. We’re always very flexible to grow in whatever way our clients need us to.” Keywords is looking to expand the skillset of the team in order to capture more business, something the developer is already used to. “Wizcorp started as a web application company, so they were building apps for the web and then they started dabbling in games and saw that that was a lot more fun and so moved their focus over there but kept some of the roots. So they kept HTML5 as their core area of expertise. “HTML5 is interesting because it’s native to the browser. You don’t have to download the game. So it’s quite nice in countries where the internet infrastructure is not as good. And people don’t want to download a 400 or 500 megabyte game before they start playing.” It’s also about to become more interesting still, with Snapchat recently integrating HTML5 games into its platform. “Wizcorp have gone on to get more knowledge of Unity and they’ve started working with Unreal Engine as well. So they have a lot of interest getting into console titles as well and so we’ll be able to leverage quite a lot of that because our existing development services are heavier on triple-A console titles.” It’s another string to Keywords’ impressive bow, and the timing looks good. “When we started here, there was definitely a lot more mobile and there wasn’t a lot [of games] coming out of Japan. Whereas now we see both console and mobile games in Japan are going out at a much faster rate and into more languages. “Over the last couple of years we’ve also seen Japanese triple-A games being made available on Steam in addition to PlayStation 4, which is amazing.” With more avenues both into and out of the country, Keywords obviously hopes that Wizcorp and its broader Japanese activities will continue to grow in an increasingly globalised market – as long as it can find the office space of course.
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When We Made... Baba is You
actually look at you. And even with that little bit of work, with the help of the animation and really smart Marie Dealessandri takes look behind the working designers andaengineers, with everybody together, you could from theisvery beginning that scenes at the development oftellBaba You. she was a character peopleabout would really gravitate Developer Arvi ‘Hempuli’ Teikarithattalks toward.” how he built layers upon layers of complexities Quill really becomes a fully fleshed out character with – and thought it better to leave it unexplained the help of the game’s strong world-building. As an to the theplayer player interloper in Quill’s world, experiences it not through her eyes, but as an observer watching as she lives her life in her familiar setting. It’s a strangely intimate feeling, gives way to joint BABAand IS one YOUwhich has taken to heart the apprehension old adage that all asthe both thegames player and Quill enter new, areas. best are easy to learn andunfamiliar difficult to master. “When you goisthrough and you see Quill Its concept simple:Mousetown the player must rearrange the rungame’s through therewhich and you that she has ainhometown, rules, are see physically written the world, theinfeeling of solve her leaving it, of that town maybe being in order to puzzles and progress. danger, more is of written, a bond,”you Alderson says. “If So gives if ‘Wallyou is Stop’ can physically that partthe wasword left out, youand wouldn’t feelthen like be there was move ‘Stop’ you will able to walk much to fight Everything done, the mood through thefor. wall, becausethat it is we’ve not ‘Stop’ anymore. Most settings, taking‘Flag Quillisfrom one the next is and of the time, Win’, soarea yourtoobjective to letting reach you in this environment… supposed therest flagand as take protagonist Baba – henceIt’s theallname Baba to isexaggerate and accentuate You. However, throughoutthat the mood game,that youyou’re can pretty feeling. all anything. ties back All intoyou how youto aredoconnecting muchItbe have is push thewith right Quill andinher word theworld.” right place and all of a sudden ‘Rock is Pictured above: Baba is You’s developer Arvi ‘Hempuli’ Teikari
You’, ‘Flag is You’ or even ‘Wall is You’. SAME QUESTION Like many greatEIGHT games,WAYS Baba is You’s life started at a Collaboration was Finnish key during the development of Moss , game jam, with developer Arvi ‘Hempuli’ Teikari notbuilding just within itself, but Game with the helpwhich of external it forthe theteam 2017 Nordic Jam, had playtesters. were often brought in to feedback on the themePeople ‘Not There’. “The theme gave me this idea of how the word ‘not’ works in certain situations like logic and programming, how you can take something, a concept, and invert its meaning. You can invert the meaning of a concept like ‘Baba’ by saying ‘not Baba’,” Teikari starts explaining. “I had been wanting to make a puzzle game for a very very long time. I had already made a bunch of mostly experimental, very short puzzle games. I had also been
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 helpreally bringgood a playtester into their comfort zone, playing some turn-based, block pushingbecause no one wantsfor to example play something thatSausage people put based puzzle games, Stephan’s a lot Snakebird of care andand loveAinto andSnowman then turn around say Roll, Good is Hard and to Build. ‘Thisso is what I didn’t about it’. Sogame, it takesinspiration a little while And the desire to like make a puzzle to getthose the playtester comfortable, and something’ we found that from other games and the ‘not theme finding different ask the same means combined in myways headtorandomly and I question got this mental you eventually the really good after thethen fourth or image of havingget a pool of lava thatstuff is hot and fifth time you ask having a block of it. ice that is... Well it’s ice,” he smiles. “I don’t think in ourif studio hasclose ever to made “And so the ice anyone would melt it comes the alava game likethe this, so I think it’sbe important that that you ‘Ice trustisthe but then player would able to say process. playtesting youI started make sure not Melt’.You So trust the ice would beand safe. fromthat thatyou allow yourself timeI and freedom to try something mental image some and then started brainstorming that and thenakeep something branch out, concept little going. bit andTry got the basicnew ideaand of the game.” butBaba also is use your from games that you’ve You hasexperience been incredibly successful since made before As longabsolutely as you’re having launch earlierand this you’ll year, be as fine. it’s proven fun too! We(and enjoyed playinginducing fascinating headache at times!)the to entire Moss throughout figure outand how to change rules to reach the objective. process I think that really helps.” However, Teikari initially had doubts about making it a full game as jam concepts don’t necessarily make good full-fledged titles. “At game jams you make games that are very good for game jams: these short things that showcase a cool idea that surprises the player, that are often multiplayer so people can play them at the jam and have a good time together,” he reckons. “But then it’s very common for them to be difficult to expand into an experience
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Pictured left: It’s hard to think of any other game where the title is so directly related to the gameplay
outside of the game jam. With Baba is You, I felt that the game was very much about toying around with the words and having this sandboxy experience and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to deliver on that to make a fun game that is longer than just a short demo that explored this idea.” At that point, Teikari had to make a decision: what kind of game was he trying to build with this concept? “I felt immediately after the game jam that there was this conflict where I could either make a sandboxy, playful experience where the levels mostly just showcase cool things of the system and let you play around with them without much difficulty, or I could make a challenging puzzle game. It felt like the game might have that potential as well.” Teikari chose the latter and graced us with one of the most challenging puzzle games in recent memory. GAME IS HARD Baba is You’s learning curve is steep – the early levels do a tremendous job at explaining the concept and learning about the different possibilities and options: things can be ‘Melt’, ‘Hot, ‘Sink’, ‘Defeat’, and many more, with the words ‘Not’ and ‘And’ also introduced quite early on to create longer statements. Then all of a sudden it feels like the game lets go of your hand and
you’re all alone trying to figure things out – which is one of the many reasons why it’s brilliant. But the sheer difficulty of the game was only partly a decision – and partly the result of developing the game on his own, Teikari says. “I personally enjoy puzzle games that are very difficult. So I knew that if I wanted to make a serious puzzle game out of it, it would be fairly difficult. But as often happens if you have a single developer making all the design decisions it’s very easy for that designer to become blind to a lot of the difficulty. “So even though there were several situations where I intentionally tried to make levels tricky, what ended up happening was that even things that I felt personally were too easy or too obvious mostly turned out to be very very difficult. That’s largely because the game requires you to take in quite a lot of information about the way it works. “Even though the basic concept is simple – make rules, break rules – there’s a lot of underlying logic you have to understand. So throughout the development I actually had to adjust my expectations, adjust my thoughts, about the early levels especially, to make the game more approachable. I didn’t really want to make it a dark sort of puzzle game. I wanted it to be tricky at places but I wanted to make the game approachable
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Pictured above: The direct link between language and the rules of the game really is easy to grasp but hard to master
even for players who just enjoy the idea and are not into really difficult puzzles. I feel that I failed in a sense, as the game is still considered extremely difficult.” Teikari had a faithful group of beta testers who helped him have another perspective on the game and tweak its difficulty where needed. But he agrees that “the game could be even slower with increasing the difficulty.” BREAKING THE LAW Making a game that’s all about breaking and recreating rules led to some challenges in the development process too, Teikari continues. “I think there were maybe two major things where that caused problems. First of all, the more fundamental of them is related to programming. I knew from the get go that I wanted to make the rule system very dynamic. In some interviews, people have asked me if I actually hardcoded all the different rule combinations, if the game code actually includes all different possibilities. But there are so many words in the game that it would be impossible,” Teikari says. “Despite that I wanted to make sure that if someone was to make their own levels in the game they could combine things pretty freely. And for the most part things would seem intuitive for the player. “I had to rewrite quite big parts of the game code several times throughout development to make sure that some of the more meta things worked. Especially movement in the game is something that I had to come back into several times and it’s still not quite working because the game offers so many possibilities. “The less fundamental thing is that because of the way the game works, the levels had very many unintended solutions. So when I went to testing the game I noticed that almost every single level I made
had at least one alternative way to solve the level. This was not a problem in some cases, especially in the early levels – even the alternative solutions are interesting and surprising for the players because they haven’t seen that before. But there are some forms of alternative solutions that trivialise the level or you don’t really experience the twist of the level in an interesting way. So I’ve had to spend quite a lot of time changing the levels to make sure that even if the player finds an alternative solution, it still showcases the interesting bits of the level.” Once again, that is where Teikari’s beta testers and their thorough feedback were very useful, finding out ways to finish levels that the developer didn’t realise were even possible. “There are many variant levels that take a level and change a little part of it to make it harder... Many of those came to be because a tester found an alternative solution that I didn’t want to keep in the original level. But I liked it so much that I wanted to dedicate a new level to that solution alone,” he explains. Watching streamers play the game after release also brought its fair share of surprises, from mysterious solutions to brand new interactions that even Teikari took a while to figure out how they were even possible, he tells us. ALRIGHT THEN, KEEP YOUR SECRETS Baba is You’s simple core concept hides layers upon layers of complexity. When you start playing it, it’s not long until you start questioning everything. For instance, there’s a level in the game’s Lake section where ‘Wall is Stop’ and ‘Wall is Defeat’ are part of the written rules. But the ‘Stop’ is overruling the ‘Defeat’: the player is not dying when running into a wall, which is the usual effect of the word ‘Defeat’. How Teikari decided what rule would take priority on the other (and how big a task that must have been considering the number of words in Baba is You) is something that literally kept me awake at night until this interview. “That was probably the most complicated programming-related but also intuitiveness-related thing,” he answers. “Pretty quickly I realised that some of the rules have to work in slightly different ways or be active in slightly different ways. “The easiest way to explain some of those interactions is that there are two types of rules when it comes to objects interacting with each other. Some of them are things that happen when an object is trying to move onto a space with another object. So if you have Baba and a wall, some of the rules happen when Baba says: ‘Hey I want to move against that wall’. And then there are some other rules that activate when those two objects are already on top of each other.
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“So ‘Stop’ is something that is checked when Baba is trying to move on top of the wall. So by necessity ‘Stop’ is checked first. So in the case you describe where ‘Wall is Stop’ and ‘Defeat’, if Baba was able to move on top of the wall, then Baba would be defeated. I think Baba never actually even moves on top of the wall because ‘Wall’ is already ‘Stop’ so that first attempt of movement fails and Baba is not defeated.” The good thing though is that you don’t need to understand these rules to play Baba is You, as Teikari felt it was better to hide these layers of complexities to the player. “This distinction between these two different rule types is something that I gave up even trying to convey to the player in a meaningful way,” he says. “It’s such an underlying difficult to understand system, that has certain corner cases, that I mostly tried to implement the levels in such a way that the player doesn’t have to understand this.” Trying to understand it is still absolutely fascinating though, and is reminiscent of Cultist Simulator, with developer Alexis Kennedy having said that Weather Factory “wanted to make a game where understanding the game was itself the game.” Teikari agrees that this reflects his approach to Baba is You too, to some extent, though that is inherent to any puzzle game, he reckons. “Many parts of the game are about learning how the game works and many of the early levels are only difficult because you don’t yet understand how exactly things are going to work,” he says. “You have to experiment a little bit. A large part of learning how to play a puzzle game is firstly understanding what the mechanics are but also understanding how the developer thinks and how to approach the levels: what implicit rules does the game have? “But then there’s this more underlying level of learning that I feel it’s made it better not to show to the player... Especially in a game like Baba where there’s so many different interactions going on all the time. After a certain point it maybe becomes a little bit less interesting to understand why something happens and more frustrating to have to keep in mind this very deep set of interactions and rules about those interactions. I tried to make Baba is You so that people could as often as possible trust their intuition about what should happen.” DYSTOPIAN HELL WORLD Teikari was still a student at the University of Helsinki when he took part in the Nordic Game Jam that led to Baba is You and its incredible success. On top of being incredibly humble about it all, he’s also very aware of how lucky he was, which shows
when we ask for advice for young developers balancing uni life and passion project. “I often feel that if I give some advice and say: ‘Hey you should do this thing to make it in the games industry’, it’s kind of a lie because it might have worked for me because I live in a country with a good public health care system or I’ve never really been in poverty for example. So what has worked for me might not work for someone who has faced those situations. “When I went from high school to university, I was really afraid of making games as a full-time job because I felt that the games industry was uncertain. I didn’t really want to be in a situation where I might make a game that doesn’t sell and then suddenly I don’t have any money and I don’t have any other skills to use to get revenue. “I was afraid that making games as a full-time job would also suck the fun out of it because suddenly I would have deadlines, I would actually have to finish those projects I had made for fun up until then.” Following the release of his first commercial title Environmental Station Alpha in 2015, and having since become a full time developer, Teikari realised that his “fears from ten years ago were not as relevant as [he] thought them to be.” However, he thinks that having an alternative to games dev as a career is still a good idea. “I feel that there are many uncertainties and factors that could drastically change the industry in a very short amount of time. So if it’s at all possible I feel that it might be a smart idea to approach, at least at first, game development as something to do on your free time. Be prepared to use a plan B because it might happen. “If I release a game in a dystopian hell world where people play games on analogue machines and then it makes no money and then I can’t live out of that, it’s something I want to keep in mind,” he concludes with a laugh.
Pictured above: So many possibilities here, but ‘Fence is You’ looks like a fun place to start experimenting
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The Sounds of... Penka Kouneva
Every month, we discuss the unique process of making music for video games. This month, Marie Dealessandri dives into the musical universe of Penka Kouneva, who’s worked on projects such as The Mummy VR, Prince of Persia: Forgotten Sands, Transformers, Gears of War 3 and more
How early in a game’s development process do you usually start working on the score? I am a freelance composer who does work-for-hire. Usually I’m brought in when there is a playable build, visual aesthetics, some maps, a few levels and a cogent vision for gameplay. The most important factor for me is that the game developers have a clear vision of what their game is, and a feeling for the overall experience. These elements are the springboards for my collaboration with them. What type of material do you request from a studio before starting to write the score? Definitely art – characters, environments, costumes. Maps in progress. Probably gameplay of a playable level, even if it’s a prototype. But also just as important is to get a sense of the musical expectations of my collaborators, so I ask for “style guides” – MP3s and YouTube links. These are models and inspirations from past game and film scores. I love researching similar games in the same genre, and the history of the franchise. A lot of research and many conceptual conversations take place before the game themes are composed. Do you work closely with the sound designer(s) of the game, to ensure there’s cohesion between the score and the sound effects? Yes, absolutely. Especially in genre games (horror, fantasy, sci-fi), the sound design is paramount. I usually request a linear export of the sound design and the ambiances to make sure the tonality (key) of my music blends well with the rest of the sound. And also to
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of music in a very short amount of time. All fields of entertainment also share common challenges – writing the most suitable theme for a character, arranging in a fresh, distinctive way that would create a sonic signature for the title, and bringing out the emotions and energy for these moments that call for music. Does your approach differ between writing for a big triple-A title vs indie games vs VR? Yes, absolutely. Indie games need a carefully chosen small palette of instruments that match the style. Triple-A games often use big hybrid scores, but the score still needs to fit the game style perfectly. Usually on indie games and VR I work directly with the developers since there is no audio director (often only sound designers). I get more conceptual directions. On triple-A I hardly ever meet the developers, I always work with the in-house audio leader. I get more specific musical directions from them.
make sure that I’m not stepping on frequencies and I’m staying away from helicopter and gun sound effects. The music always needs to work together with sound, organically dovetailing with frequencies and diegetic sound. The voice over is the most important element telling the story. Music takes over during the boss battles and high-level combat where it must be very intense and, often, in fast tempo.
Pictured above: Penka Kouneva worked alongside Steve Jablonksy on the “riveting” score of Gears of War 3
What are the typical challenges of writing for games as opposed to more linear narrative forms? In games, the score is interactive which means two things: the arrangement needs to be distinctive and malleable so that layers from it can work on their own. Also the form needs to be malleable (think as if building with Lego) – at any point the music could branch into combat with the enemy, or you could get killed. There are many utility elements (tags, stingers, transitions) that connect one musical section to the next, in order to support the gameplay and interactivity. If you are scoring a mobile game, on the other hand, there are many jingles and sound effects happening over the music. They all need to work tonally. The biggest challenge in TV is writing/arranging/producing a lot
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? I love all my projects and they inspire me. Most recently I worked on a world-transforming VR game for Starbreeze that had gorgeous design. Probably the most emotionally engaging game I’ve worked on was Gears of War 3. The score, which was composed by Steve Jablonsky while I did interactive elements, had broad emotional scope and was riveting. Do you have any tips on how developers can best help composers to make music for their game? Have a great concept presentation with your design: vision board, audience expectations. Have a playable level. Have a handful of music references, and for each reference say why you like it, and how you think the style will work in your game. Once the composer starts submitting themes for approval, the feedback from the developer is crucial. Be honest with your collaborator. Composers are hard-working people and always eager to please their client. Be clear and communicate well all the deadlines and milestones. There is always crunch towards the end and the composer needs to plan for it accordingly.
In association with
MUSIC COMPOSITION AND SUPERVISION www.eclectic.tv Eclectric Banner 182 x 30mm_v2.indd 1
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MCV-GAMESCOM19-DOLBY:MCV-GAMESCOM19-DOLBY 03/07/2019 16:05 Page 1
THE quality of animations in games just keeps getting better and better. I feel this is a reflection on the rising importance being given to animations in development. And rightly so. First, creating the illusion of life requires an awful lot of subtle details. Crafting such detail takes time. Secondly, giving a fresh and satisfactory feel to the players requires a lot of trial and error, this takes time as well. It’s crucial that we create memorable characters, scenes and experiences. Of course, technology plays an important role in recent developments, and this will very much dictate the future of the animation industry. Technology (both hardware and software) keeps evolving and improving very quickly. At Creative Assembly we are playing our part, pushing the animation quality up within the constraints we have (technology and gameplay). While this can be difficult and frustrating at times, it’s a very fun challenge to have. Total War: Warhammer is one of those gold nuggets of a project where you can learn tremendously by animating all sorts of creatures. For example, we’ve given life to 266 skeletons (and counting),
“As technology evolves, specialisms and human-driven detail also become more important.”
The team at Creative Assembly debunks some common dev role myths. This month, Elliot Maren, lead animator, looks to the future of animation, why robots will not replace us anytime soon and why motion capture is not boring
challenging ourselves and having fun trying to give a distinct look and feel to all of the different factions, races and units. As technology evolves, specialisms and human-driven detail also become more important. A myth we often hear in the industry is that ‘movies have better animations than video games’. My argument is that the lines are starting to blur more and more (the latest God Of War is a good example) but in general, our needs are very different. The film industry works in cameras so they can polish to an extreme level a single view. On top of that, you add lighting, simulation, rendering/compositing, and you reach a level of embellishment that real-time rendering can’t yet achieve. Most games must create animations that look great from every camera angle and from all distances. Compare it to a painting and a sculpture; now picture yourself trying to make them move and you’ll get the main constraint differences. Something I hear comments about how ‘motion capture is boring’. Maybe this is true when you receive data that was already shot and directed. When you plan and direct a shoot for your animations (we’ve got the luxury of using our own motion capture facility), it becomes a fun tool that brings you 80 per cent there. We never use motion capture raw and are always pushing it massively. You need to be a good animator to be able to really use the mocap data in the way you want and add that little extra that will sell your action in every scenario. But of course, hand-keyed animation can be more fun and challenging. Lastly, when speaking to students about game development careers, I often hear that ‘you need to be able to draw to be an animator’. Well, this isn’t actually that clear cut. When you are using a visual language, you communicate your ideas much faster. That doesn’t mean you need to be a great at drawing but being able to quickly put your ideas on paper is a massive help. I’m really looking forward to seeing how animation progresses in the industry over the next few years. A recent study in the UK found that animation is one of the most promising digital skills of the future, with more and more opportunities for specialising.
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Jagex’s developers visit us from Runescape’s Gielinor to talk about their latest adventures. This month Nicholas Beliaeff, SVP game development, provides an overarching way to think about making games
Casting the Runes
I RECENTLY sat down with a core group of producers, designers, and engineers, who all had deep experience at a bevy of heavyweight studios, to distill our best practices and solidify a clear process for making games. While we optimised around our needs as a studio operating and creating the living games of RuneScape and Old School Runescape, hopefully there is something here to help you on your journey of making your next great game, or even your first one. There are three core phases to consider (1): first up is the discovery phase, where you decide that you want to make a game and figure out whether you should fund it. Ideas are cheap, so this is the time to sift the good ideas from the bad in rapid succession. Second comes the pre-production phase. Financial investment begins on a small scale to fund an initial team with the objective of proving out and maturing the game’s core concept, primary features and USPs. Third, there is the production phase where you scale your team up significantly. All your core systems are complete and you need to feed the content beast. This is by far the most expensive part of development, so be damn sure that you have something solid by this point. When you are done, it is time to ship and allow your fans to finally play your game. We break the three phases into nine stage gates. At each stage gate, take a step back, review your work through an impartial lens, and decide whether it is worth going forward and continuing your investment or not. One of the hardest things to do is to walk away from a game in any phase of development. You are passionate about it. Your team loves it. You have put blood, sweat and tears into it. Sometimes all of that is not enough and the right thing to do is stop the effort and start again. If you must, stop development and cancel a game; the earlier you do it the
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less expensive it is. Making games is hard and too many bad games make it to market, fail and take down the team, and sometimes the company, that made them. This process ensures that passion does not override logic. The best part about the Discovery phase is that it is virtually free and the more ideas and variations of ideas you go through, the better chance of success you have. When you have an idea that has merit, you need to decide to fund it or not. At this point, you should like the game, and the people you share the game’s concept with should want to know more about it. Now it’s time to start considering the key facets of your game: understanding the space you will compete in, understanding the technology required to build the game and understanding the opportunity. Are you in a niche market? Are you competing against an 800lb gorilla? Are you in an underserved market? The discovery phase needs to end with clear alignment: the game has creative appeal, it is technically feasible and it is strategically sound. With alignment in place, funding can be unlocked to build an initial team and enter the pre-production phase. Begin with a prototype and focus on the core concept and key risks. When you are done, you should be clear on what makes your game work and be confident that the team can make it. Next comes the ‘first playable’. At this point, the core concept is playable and core gameplay loops are built around it, linking any number of primary features and USPs (2). Next up in pre-production is the vertical slice, which adds secondary gameplay loops to the core base established in first playable. This needs to prove out that the game is compellingly entertaining, and that external players – be that external testers or community members – want to keep playing more (3). The vertical slice has demonstrated the game is fun and fundamentally sound, so now it needs meat adding to its bones in the production phase, driven by an expanded team and scaled-up outsourcing. By alpha, it’s feature and system complete, it has proven commercial viability, and your first pass at launch content is present and fun to play. At this point it should also be generating buzz within your community, on social channels and in the press. Beta is the new ‘final’ these days – the game is launch complete in all aspects, it’s fully live and running from data centers if a living game, and the buzz continues to build. We have a final phase in production that unfortunately many people skip – the ‘closing gate’. Skipping this is the primary reason of giant Day One patches, unstable launches and other launch missteps. So, spend some time and give your game some love: do not make new content, do not add new features, fix the bugs that cause quality of life issues for the players and polish what you have (4). Do another set of compatibility testing to make sure that you really do run well on all the devices you want to support. Ultimately, this is the ‘take pride in your work’ phase. When you are done, your team will be proud of the game. It adds prestige to your studio and increases the reputation of everyone who worked on it. Importantly, the players are having a great time and cannot wait for your next game – time to go to work again.
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The Final Boss Every month an industry leader wraps up MCV with their unique insight
You moved to China with Ubisoft in the late 90s. You must have seen incredible change in your time there? Three images from 1997 Shanghai come to mind: large empty streets with almost no private cars, countless cranes visible in any direction as far as the eye could see and the constant smell of cement dust. I also remember the crowds that gathered at our job fairs, top-notch programmers freshly graduated from university. Most of them were savvy gamers, thrilled that a foreign video game company was serious about hiring them to build world-class games. Today, Shanghai is one of the most modern cities in the world. Traffic is dense with privately-owned modern cars, and Chinese game publishers are among the richest in the world. Definitely a great change over the past 20 years. You recently moved headquarters from Shanghai to Singapore, how was that for you? Personally, it was tough; Shanghai was home and I loved the energy of that city. Business-wise, however, it made for an important move. The relocation allowed us to demonstrate to both clients and investors that we were serious about becoming an international group. It strengthened our Shanghai studio, which is now run more independently than when I was there, and it has given us access to tens of millions of dollars in capital to accelerate our growth. You have almost 25 years of industry experience, what have been the most surprising changes for you over that time? Witnessing the rapid transition from 2D to 3D with front-row seats was both unexpected and fantastic. I encountered another surprise in the early 2000s. After setting-up studios in China for Ubisoft, I ran ubi.com, their online division, and soon discovered that online gaming wasn’t taking off as quickly as it ought to. This eventually became part of the reason why I left Ubisoft in 2004. Aside from that, the relative speed at which mobile gaming gained market share – making up 50 per cent of consumer spending on games within ten years after the launch of the first iPhone – was definitely unforeseen while encouraging at the same time. I say this because a lot of that spending came from people who were not gaming as much before, such as women and people in developing countries. What would you say is your management style, how do you help your team work to the best of their ability? I say what I do and do what I say. The vision and the results of the group are shared and discussed regularly with my team so that they understand what their role is in reaching our goals. In terms of helping them to be the best, I spend time explaining what trends are on the horizon and how we should adapt to them. For example, cloud gaming is an important topic on our minds and the possibility of larger connected games comes with the possibility of co-developing games in a connected, distributed way.
Gilles Langourieux CEO, Virtuos “Witnessing the rapid transition from 2D to 3D with front-row seats was both unexpected and fantastic.”
Do you feel the games industry is headed in the right direction? As a business, as an art form, as a force for good… As a business, we still have room to grow, demographics and geographies to conquer. As an art form, we are becoming more mainstream, even though it’s been a long time coming. We’re also finally on par with film in terms of acceptance. As a force for good, we still have some way to go. My heart sinks whenever I see 75 per cent of any renowned publisher’s press conference exhibiting extreme levels of violence. I also feel that our failed efforts in getting our game about climate change, Carbon Warfare, off the ground has been a setback in this regard.
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MCV-AUG19-FRONTIER OBC:MCV-AUG19-FRONTIER OBC 22/07/2019 12:50 Page 1
MCV-AUG19-FRONTIER IFC:MCV-AUG19-FRONTIER IFC 22/07/2019 12:46 Page 1