MCV-SEP19-WARGAMING IFC:MCV-SEP19-WARGAMING IFC 04/09/2019 14:13 Page 1
BANDAI NAMCO EUROPE “WE ARE THE FUTURE OF THE GROUP”
■ UBISOFT’S NEW LEASE OF LIFE MCV950 Cover v6 FINAL.indd 1
■ XBOX IS HAVING A (UK) PARTY
■ WARGAMING’S GREAT FIRE OF GUILDFORD
■ THE UK GAME OF GAMESCOM 2019 12/09/2019 12:49
05 The editor
No platform for old men
06 Critical Path
The key dates this month
10 Income Stream
Our market analysis
12 Ukie: Data matters
The games industry diversity census
Real life events from the industry
18 Industry Voices
Our platform for the industry
22 Bandai Namco Europe
The age of reason
30 Ins and Outs
And all our recruitment advice
22 36 Ubisoft’s free spirit
From new IPs to new platforms
42 Xbox talks exclusives
Ain’t no party like an Xbox party
46 The Guildford project
Wargaming’s new western front
50 Opening Pandora’s box
How Gearbox built Borderlands 3
54 Koch Media
A strategy of local representation
58 Denki’s Autonauts
Our UK game of Gamescom 2019
60 When We Made...
64 The Sounds of...
67 Creatives Assemble!
The magic of graphics programming
68 Casting the Runes
Jagex argues the case for good friction
70 The Final Boss
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“It still sounds like madness to hand over the keys to your biggest release,developed at considerable cost, for next to nothing.”
TheEditor No platform for old men The idea of a subscription service that provides a variety of high-quality mobile games is an attractive one to me – both personally and professionally. The premium side of the mobile game market has long struggled compared to its microtransaction-driven brethren. So Apple Arcade should fill an itch in my gaming life that even my Switch hasn’t managed to scratch fully. There’s only one pocket-sized problem: I’ve got an Android phone, I’ve always had an Android phone, and frankly I really like my Android phone. Maybe I’m getting old, but the idea of getting my head around Apple’s OS isn’t very appealing. After all this is a device I rely on every minute of the day. Not just a box that sits under the TV for occasional entertainment. Not to mention that my Moto G6 cost around £200, a fraction of the £729 that the cheapest new iPhone would set me back. So that’s Apple Arcade out of the question for me – probably the first major gaming service, platform or subscription that I haven’t at least given a go for as long as I can remember. Elsewhere this last month, long-time Apple rival Microsoft was so keen to get me onboard that it’s practically giving away its biggest game of the year in order to sign me up. The company offered two months of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate for just £2, which allowed me to play Gears 5 a full five days before anyone could buy the game on a disc. I know Game Pass has been around a while, but it still sounds like madness to hand over the keys to your biggest release of the year, developed at considerable cost, for next to nothing. Whether that proves to be true is anyone’s guess, as it will take years for the strategy to play out, and I can’t see anyone in the games space happily losing the huge sums that Netflix has to date in order to win out. Now, of course, Microsoft’s big gun for 2019 also requires hardware – though with a choice between a relatively inexpensive Xbox (under £200) and a gaming PC of your own devising, Microsoft isn’t primarily trying to push high-end hardware through the service but is instead simply trying to build consumer habits. Want to play a game? Then go and browse Game Pass. I certainly know which approach is more likely to snag my money in the long run, but then that’s just me maybe. In terms of content, Microsoft has loosened things up of late, with Gears 5 on Steam for instance, something we talk to Aaron Greenberg about on page 42, while Bandai Namco’s Hervé Hoerdt discusses new platforms in our big interview on page 22 and Alain Corre speaks on Ubisoft’s newfound freedom and upcoming IPs on page 36. Seth Barton email@example.com
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Here are the key upcoming events and releases to mark in your calendar...
Nintendo Switch Lite
The first Nintendo Switch variation, the Lite, is releasing mid-September – and is going full handheld. Smaller and lighter, it comes with integrated controls (though you can also connect additional Joy-Cons to it) and doesn’t support output to a TV. It’s launching with a price tag of £199.99.
It’s that time of the year already! FIFA 20 is coming out at the end of September, on PS4, Xbox One, Switch and PC. EA’s football behemoth includes a fair share of new features, such as Volta Football, a sort of FIFA Street revival that focuses on small-sided games across 17 locations in the world.
Tori Bandai Namco’s “augmented interaction ecosystem,” Tori, is coming out in very early October. Compatible with both iOS and Android smartphones and tablets, the inaugural Tori Explorer Pack will release alongside five related apps on Google Play and the App Store. You can read more about Tori and Bandai Namco on page 22
Link’s Awakening 26 years after the original, Link’s Awakening is coming to Nintendo Switch. Developed by Nintendo EPD and Grezzo (already behind the previous Zelda remakes), it’ll also come with a creation tool that allows players to build and play their own dungeons. It’ll launch alongside a new Link Amiibo, that lets players summon Shadow Link.
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Game Accessibility Conference Plexal, London
The Game Accessibility Conference is coming to the UK on October 21st. The one-day event – which will be held at Plexal in London – will include presentations and networking “for all disciplines of the games industry, exploring recent and future advances in game accessibility.” The conference is organised by the International Game Developers Association (IGDA)’s special interest group (SIG) dedicated to making games more accessible to gamers with disabilities. Since 2003, volunteers from the association have worked to aid the game industry in making games accessible to all players, regardless of impairments or other limitations. While the event has been run three times in the USA and once in France, this is the first time the event is coming to the UK. Speakers so far include renowned advocates and specialists Cherry ‘Cherryrae’ Thompson and SightlessKombat, plus representatives from Microsoft, Ubisoft and the BBC.
EGX 2019 Excel, London
Ghost Recon Breakpoint Ubisoft’s latest Ghost Recon entry, Breakpoint, will be landing on PS4, Xbox One and PC this October, before a Stadia release in November. This sequel to Ghost Recon Wildlands has moved away from real-world settings for the first time in the series’ history and is set in the fictional world of Auroa. You can read more from Ubisoft on page 36
EGX will be returning to London from October 17th to 20th 2019. Despite holding the event in Birmingham for the past four years, organiser Gamer Network announced it was “bringing the event back home” to the capital last year. This will be the first time the event will head to the docklands-based Excel. However, the show will keep its usual attractions such as the Leftfield Collection, Rezzed Zone and Sessions, Fringe Theatre, careers bars, portfolio reviews and more.
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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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Gears of War 5 has been taking up more of my time than I expected. The ongoing plot of struggling families make it arguably gaming’s prettiest soap opera – it’s truly stunning on Xbox One X. Though the plotting doesn’t come at the expense of relentless action across four modes, each of which could stand alone.
I have found myself quite unable to settle on one game lately, which translated into playing some Borderlands 2 co-op and mindlessly doing Endless Challenges in Super Mario Maker 2. But I eventually gave in and bought Anno 1800 and this is my life now. At least until Luigi’s Mansion 3 comes out – the only game that matters to me this Q4. Marie Dealessandri, Senior Staff Writer
Vikki Blake, News Writer
Seth Barton, Editor
INTERNATIONAL MCV and its content are available for licensing and syndication re-use. Contact Colin Wilkinson for opportunities and permissions: email@example.com
Gears 5 turned out a bit of surprise, didn’t it? It may sound hyperbolic, but I’m starting to think Gears 5 might be the God of War of the Gears franchise. Stuffed with fresh features, a compelling story and plenty of exploration, Gears 5 somehow embraces contemporary ideas whilst staying rooted in its past. A triumph!
Paws the game
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Pet: Doug Owner: Caroline Miller Owner’s job: Director, Indigo Pearl
Pet: Io Owner: Paige Harvey Owner’s job: Community manager, Frontier Developments
Pet: Bubbles & Molly Owner: Charlotte Nangle Owner’s job: Trade events manager, Gamer Network
Doug is the COOOOO and head of security at Indigo Pearl. Not great at writing press releases but very willing to take journalists (or anyone) for lunch.
Io loves to game with her humans. She’s been found chasing stars in Elite Dangerous, and staring intently at ‘You died’ screens in Dark Souls.
Molly enjoys long walks to the bottom of the bin and leaving the corpses of half eaten frogs on the floor. Bubbles is so very old and doesn’t like anything anymore.
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MCV-SEP19-AARDVARK SWIFT:MCV-SEP19-AARDVARK SWIFT 12/08/2019 12:41 Page 1
Income Stream The numbers, stats and market stories that matter and why they do
The latest financial news from around the industry FIRST HALF REVENUE UP 97% AT TEAM17 Team17’s figures for the first half of 2019 are in and looking very rosy indeed. Revenue increased year-on-year by 97 per cent to £30.4m (up from £15.4m in H1 2018), which pushed operating profit up by 145 per cent to £12m (from £4.9m last year). Key titles for the period included My Time at Portia, which left Early Access on Steam and in doing so achieved “a global No.1 on the platform in January” followed by a “successful launch on console followed in April 2019,” according to a statement from the company. Another success was Hell Let Loose, a WWII military simulation, which topped the Steam charts for Early Access on release in June. CEO Debbie Bestwick MBE commented: “I’m delighted with the excellent start to FY2019, delivering record revenues and operating profit in the period as well as successfully launching several high-profile games. We have a solid line-up of new games to release in H2 2019 and look forward to updating our shareholders on our continued progress in due course.” GAMESTOP Q2 SALES DECLINE Sales fell again at games retailer GameStop, dropping by 14.3 per cent year-on-year in Q2 to $1.3bn (£1.05bn). That resulted in an adjusted net loss of $32m (£25.9m). New video game hardware was one category that took a big hit since last year, almost halving in value, while collectibles were the only growth area for the company. An earnings call also revealed plans to close 180 to 200 “under-performing” stores this year, globally. The company is continuing with its plan to “reboot” the business, with CEO George Sherman explaining that it will be “optimising the core business by driving efficiency and effectiveness, creating the social and cultural hub of gaming within each GameStop, building compelling digital capabilities, and transforming our vendor and partner relationships for an evolving video game industry.” He continued: “We are committed to acting with a sense of urgency to address the areas of the business that are critical to achieving long-term success and value creation for all our stakeholders. We will set GameStop on the correct strategic path and fully leverage our unique position and brand in the video game industry.”
PRE-ORDER TOP 5 TW
01 02 03 04 05
Pokémon Sword + Steelbook (Switch) The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Switch) Pokémon Shield + Steelbook (Switch) Luigi’s Mansion 3 (Switch) Zelda: Link’s Awakening Limited Edition (Switch)
Publisher Nintendo Nintendo Nintendo Nintendo Nintendo
STARBREEZE REQUESTS MORE TIME Starbreeze this month returned to the Stockholm District Court to request a further reconstruction extension as it fights to remain solvent. The company hopes the additional three-month period – which gives the company until December 3rd, 2019 – will enable it to avoid insolvency. The company has applied for two previous extensions, since December. The reconstruction plan states that Starbreeze will focus on its core business of internal game development. Starbreeze recently revealed it had closed the second period of the financial year with an operating loss of SEK 25.8m (£2.16m).
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UK RETAIL CHARTS – AUGUST (UNITS)
01 TM LM 02 01 03 06 04 05 05 09 06 03 07 14 08 07 09 03 10 10
CRASH TEAM RACING NITRO-FUELED PUBLISHER: ACTIVISION
Title Super Mario Maker 2 Mario Kart 8 Deluxe FIFA 19 Grand Theft Auto V Fire Emblem: Three Houses Minecraft (Switch) Red Dead Redemption 2 F1 2019 Super Smash Bros Ultimate
Publisher Nintendo Nintendo EA Rockstar Nintendo Nintendo Rockstar Codemasters Nintendo
Source: GfK/Ukie, Period: July 28th to August 24th 2019
PewDieHigh Despite losing the battle to become the first channel to hit 100 million subscribers to Indian music channel T-Series, Felix ‘PewDiePie’ Kjellberg has now crossed the milestone himself – the first solo content creator to do so. The Brighton-based YouTuber took eight years to hit the milestone and clocked up 23,270,800,003 video views at the time of writing. Despite some controversial moments, he’s cemented his position as YouTube’s greatest of all time and also reinforced gaming’s continued dominance of the online video space.
This house is on fire! Fire Emblem: Three Houses - Nintendo Nintendo just keeps on putting out hit after hit. This time it’s the latest entry in long-running strategy series Fire Emblem. Having appeared only on the 3DS in recent years, Three Houses is the franchise’s first time on a home console since 2007’s Radiant Dawn. According to analyst Superdata the title sold over 800,000 copies digitally in its launch month. Physical numbers at UK retail were impressive too, with the new entry easily outselling all the 3DS franchise entries from recent years at launch. The title went straight to the top of the charts in its week of release, beating Wolfenstein: Youngblood to reach No.1. The title was co-developed by series stalwarts Intelligent Systems, with help from Koei Tecmo, who assisted with the larger battlefields and greater numbers of combatants in the game.
Annapurna debt deal Annapurna Interactive’s parent company Annapurna Pictures reportedly resolved $200m (£162m) of debt by paying creditors $0.82 on the dollar. That means the parent of What Remains of Edith Finch and Gorogoa looks to fight another day. Founder and CEO Megan Ellison noted that such deals were usually handled without the glare of media attention. But when your dad is Oracle’s Larry Ellison (worth $65bn) you should kinda expect it.
Chain reaction Astral Chain - Nintendo In what was a pretty quiet summer at UK retail there were a few contenders for mention nonetheless, but inevitably it was yet another Switch title which beat the likes of 505’s Control and Bandai Namco’s The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan to No.1 on its week of release. Astral Chain was developed by cult Japanese studio Platinum Games and is the developer’s first UK No.1. The Switch exclusive sold 36 per cent more copies than the developer’s previous title, Nier: Automata, did at launch. Though it will need to launch on more platforms to match the slow-build success of that now multiplatform title.
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Data matters: Counting the industry is a big step to making it more representative Ukie and University of Sheffield launch largest ever games industry diversity census
UKIE has launched the UK Games Industry Diversity Census, which aims to produce the most detailed analysis of workforce diversity in our sector ever conducted, and we’re looking for your help to support our efforts. In order to ensure that this research meets the highest standards, the census will be conducted, administered and analysed entirely independently of the industry, by our partners the University of Sheffield. Their experienced team of academic experts have helped us build a survey that investigates a detailed view of diversity, approaching sometimes sensitive topics in a respectful manner, but still importantly remaining comparable to other national datasets. The university’s robust approach also ensures that we meet the highest standards in terms of data security and privacy, with appropriate ethical considerations and entirely in-line with GDPR and other data-related standards. To this end the collaboration also includes legal experts from the University of Leeds. Funding for this collaboration was provided by the Arts & Humanities Research Council. Throughout the design of the census, we have also consulted with games businesses of all sizes and leading industry diversity and inclusion groups, to ensure that both the questions and
results are sensitive to, and meet the needs of, our industry. The online multiple-choice survey takes around five minutes to complete and uses anonymised data collection methods to ensure it will not be possible for any individual or companies to be directly identified within the data. Any information gathered will only be used in aggregated form to give high level analysis of the makeup of the UK games industry. The census comprises three broad sections: your role, your characteristics and your background. Your role helps us understand what kind of job you have and what kind of business you work for. Your characteristics include the kinds of things you might expect, like age and gender, as well as wider questions such as caring responsibilities. Finally, your background covers the sort of family and economic circumstance you grew up in. Every question has been carefully considered and many directly mirror those in other national data sets. All questions are optional. Crucially though, we need industry support to help the initiative succeed. To that end, we are delighted to already have confirmed participation from many UK games companies, including Sega Europe, Creative Assembly, Hutch Games, Ustwo Games, Dovetail Games, Mediatonic, Coatsink, NaturalMotion
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Stuart Dinsey becomes chair of Ukie board THE Ukie board has seen some notable change in both its officer roles and its board makeup following its most recent Annual General Meeting (AGM) on Wednesday, September 4th. At the top, the body has appointed a new chair, vice chair and treasurer to steer the board through the coming years. The new Ukie chair is Stuart Dinsey, chairman of Curve Digital, who has taken on the role from Noirin Carmody, COO of Revolution. David Gould, senior director of sales and export at Take-Two Interactive, has become Ukie’s vice chair, replacing the outgoing Ian Livingstone CBE. Liz Fitzgerald, director of finance and operations at Sony Entertainment UK, is Ukie’s new
and nDreams. While these companies give us a great head start, we need further support from games businesses of all shapes and sizes, throughout the UK, to ensure that the results are as representative of our sector as a possible. That’s why we need everyone, from micro-indies to mega-multinationals, to join the census and deliver the essential data we need to shape the future diversity of our industry. There are two main ways that you can support the census, as described below.
Larger games businesses If you run a larger games business (e.g. 20+ people), or occupy a senior position within a business where you’re able to circulate the census – we’ve created a launch pack to help you spread the survey across your team. This will include all the legal and process documentation you may need. Contact anderona@ ukie.org.uk and we’ll send you a pack through, as well and answer any questions you may have.
Smaller games businesses/individuals For smaller games businesses, or if you’re an individual working in the sector and want to contribute your information, you can fill it out directly at www.ukie.org.uk/census.
treasurer, replacing Gould as he shifted into his new role as Ukie’s vice chair. Ukie’s board elections also saw six representatives from across the industry elected to join the trade body’s top table. The individuals elected, or re-elected, to the board were: Kirsty Rigden (development director, Futurlab), Katherine Bidwell (founder, State of Play Games), Simon Barratt (director, Co-Operative Innovations), Helen Burnill (commercial director, Mediatonic), Thomas Hegarty (co-CEO, Roll7) and Nina Collins (production manager, Auroch Digital). The results now mean that a third of Ukie’s board are women – the highest percentage recorded since the trade body’s inception in 1989.
Nintendo UK becomes Digital Schoolhouse’s lead partner DIGITAL SCHOOLHOUSE is pleased to announce that Nintendo UK is the programme’s new lead partner, ahead of what is predicted to be a landmark year for the programme. Ukie’s Digital Shoolhouse (DSH) aims at embedding itself in the grassroots of computing, benefitting future generations by delivering play-based learning and industry best practice to a projected 32,000 pupils this academic year – now with Nintendo UK’s support. It will help enable the programme’s expert network of over 55 schools and colleges to bridge the gap between industry and education, combining fun, innovation and creativity with learning. Nintendo UK is also supporting the next edition of DSH’s pioneering national schools esports tournament. The Digital Schoolhouse Super Smash Bros Ultimate Team Battle will provide an immersive career experience for students allowing them to develop practical and soft skills with participation in professional esports roles, such as team hosting and production. For the first time ever pupils will be able to learn anytime, anywhere with the Nintendo Switch console giving them a fully flexible and personalised experience. The esports tournament is expected to reach 60 schools and colleges, and over 6,000 pupils, with Super Smash Bros Ultimate Team Battle on Nintendo Switch expected to engage an even larger base of players than ever before. To find out more about the partnership, and about how you can support Digital Schoolhouse, head to our website: www.digitalschoolhouse.org.uk
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Real Life Events from the industry
GAMESCOM 2019 The industry and consumers both turned out for another huge show in Cologne this year. There was a total of 373,000 visitors, originating from over 100 countries, of which over 30,000 were trade visitors. The trade and consumer areas were bustling as a result and the show gained an extra dimension with the inaugural Opening Night Live event, hosted by Geoff Keighley. The event is now confirmed to return to Cologne next year, with German trade body Game and Koelnmesse having agreed to continue their successful relationship, though it will occur a week later than in recent years. Finally, thanks to everyone who took the time to speak to our editorial team at the show to help us compile this yearâ€™s MCV@gamescom daily issues.
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BORDERLANDS 3 AT THE BEAVERTOWN BREWERY 2K partnered with Londonâ€™s Beavertown Brewery to promote Borderlands 3 this month. The brewery, which is as famous for the stunning art on its cans as its tasty beers, created Bandit Brew to mark the occasion, a moreishly light IPA that you can drink while playing without dulling your competitive edge (or at least not too much). 2K hosted a pre-launch event at the craft brewery in north London where the beer flowed all night, alongside demo stations, plus vehicles from the game. Read more about Borderlands 3 on page 50 16 | MCV 950 September 2019
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UKIE MEMBERS’ DAY This year saw the inaugural Ukie Members’ Day, held at the Barbican Centre in London. The day packed in many different elements: the Ukie AGM where a new board was announced (see page 12 for details), and a wide range of breakout sessions around key issues such as education, international trade, diversity and policy. Then there was an expo area, numerous networking opportunities, the Gamesaid cheque-giving ceremony, plus two drinks receptions and even a gala awards dinner fitted in to boot. A long day but a rewarding one and we look forward to its return next year!
Pictured left: Ukie’s CEO Dr Jo Twist OBE and Amiqus’ business manager Liz Prince, who won the Unsung Hero accolade at the 30 Years of Play Awards
Pictured right: The GamesAid cheque-giving ceremony
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The rewards of performance marketing in a crowded market Paul Turner, Green Man Gaming
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!
AT Green Man Gaming, performance marketing has always played a crucial role in the success of the digital retail business. Why, you may ask? Well, as a company that started out with only two people nine years ago, finding the best bang for your buck was always on the cards when it came to getting our game deals out to customers all around the world. And as the name suggests, driving performance in any paid online advertising and marketing activity is key. Yes, content is king but, when it comes to getting the right content in front of the right audience, performance marketing is one of the most effective ways of doing just that, no matter what your budget is. This is particularly useful when you’re in a crowded industry such as ours. Only when you truly understand your customer are you able to find more of them. Use tools and insights to understand their demographics, browsing habits, purchasing behaviour and whatever else you can get your hands on. Make sure your team keep the customer at the heart of everything they do. You can never know your customer too well, irrespective of your marketing discipline. Performance marketing is all about growing a business profitably. Different businesses have different commercial models, and within those businesses there will be nuances dependant on categories, products and brands. Get under the skin of all of this and tailor your approach accordingly to ensure maximum optimisation. Once you’ve set your performance marketing channels up at a micro level, bespoke to your commercial model, you can then drive the business hard. We live in an era of micro personalisation; consumers not only expect it, but it can also be extremely effective in driving performance. Make sure you capture the data
and implement the tools to make it happen, then automate it to drive scale. Never be complacent: keep testing new audiences, data sets, creative treatments, calls to action and every element of the ad you can get your hands on. Even the smallest tests yield marginal gains, and those marginal gains add up. I started my career in direct mail, using basic data segmentation and ‘special’ printing. Since then I have witnessed the birth of social media, mobile commerce, influencer marketing and a whole raft of other innovations. Some have been fads, but others have stayed, and many have become a key part of the digital marketing mix. Those that spot new innovations early often take first prize, so stay on the cusp. Go to industry events, watch your competitors and keep your eyes peeled for the next big thing. Channel selection is of utmost importance. Social media isn’t right for everyone, nor is PPC. Influencers are great for fashion, but can they be used to drive an insurance business? Don’t just jump on the bandwagon, carefully pick the channels that work for you. Same with agencies: time running a careful agency selection process is time well spent. Selecting badly can be catastrophic but get this right and it can work like rocket fuel for your campaigns. Finally, you’re nothing without your team so be uncompromising in the talent you recruit, then keep them happy, challenged and motivated. They need to be bright. Once you’ve got the right people on board, empower them and reap the rewards. Paul Turner has worked at the forefront of digital marketing strategy and innovation within the digital retail, video games and gambling industries for over 16 years. He is now EVP of performance marketing at Green Man Gaming.
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Pay more attention to Facebook Brett Claxton, GameByte
THE games industry is constantly changing. With this evolution comes new ways for companies to reach an audience that is growing year-on-year. Yet the world of social still seems to be an area that has only been scratched on a surface level, especially Facebook, which is often an afterthought extension for brands rather than a key focus. Gaming content on Facebook has seen a shake-up in recent years. The platform’s launch of a dedicated gaming section in 2018 has made it easier for streamers and brands to connect with a wider audience. Connecting with a wider audience is obviously a great thing but how engaged is that audience? That all depends on how you treat them. Providing content as you would post it on YouTube or other places rarely works well on Facebook. It’s important to remember this is a social audience, often scrolling through on their phones. You need to grab their attention straight away and make sure what you’re showing them keeps their interest. Our team has spent the past few years fine tuning our understanding of reaching a Facebook audience. During June 2019, GameByte and its sister page FragHero received over 237m video views on Facebook alone, making GameByte the most viewed gaming brand on the platform. Part of the reason we were able to receive so many views is due to the time we’ve spent building an
affinity with our communities, which total 8.6m fans across both brands. Getting to know what makes your audience tick on Facebook is key. As is making sure that you maintain a healthy community. Facebook’s introduction of the Top Fan badge means that audiences are encouraged to engage more as they strive for the elusive honour. Creating frequent content for them to interact with will mean that you’ll gain fans that will talk about your game for you. Another great thing about a Facebook audience is how much they can further your reach. If they like a video and tag their friends or share it on their timeline then your content reaches an audience it might not have otherwise. When you consider that there’s 2.4bn people that use Facebook every month it’s an impressive potential for word of mouth if you can make something shareable on the platform. Facebook Gaming may still be in its infancy but it’s going to be exciting to see what happens next. Every month over 700m people watch gaming videos, play games or engage with gaming content on the platform. It has impressive potential that only a few gaming brands are fully embracing and it would be great to see more stepping up to the plate. Brett Claxton is the creative and partnerships manager for GameByte, Facebook’s largest games media page.
“Connecting with a wider audience is obviously a great thing but how engaged is that audience? Getting to know what makes your audience tick on Facebook is key. As is making sure that you maintain a healthy community.”
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Bandai Namco Europe
The age of reason Having explored an array of varied projects in the past few years, Bandai Namco Entertainment Europe has learnt many lessons, reaching a newfound maturity. HervĂŠ Hoerdt tells Marie Dealessandri about BNEEâ€™s ambitions, its expectations for brand new project Tori and how the European branch has finally found its identity
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Pictured left: Bandai Namco’s innovative Tori will cost £149.99
amescom 2019’s Opening Night Live was full of announcements and reveals, from The Witcher 3’s release date on Switch to that unsettling Death Stranding’s gameplay presentation that we can’t stop thinking about. But in the middle of the two-hour show, there’s one announcement that really drew our attention: Little Nightmares 2. The first entry, developed by Malmö-based Tarsier Studios, was a surprise hit in 2017 and has since been the crown jewel in Bandai Namco Entertainment Europe’s publishing portfolio, and a symbol of the company’s transition from distribution to IP creation. “Little Nightmares is one of the most successful IPs we’ve created,” says Hervé Hoerdt, SVP marketing, digital and content at Bandai Namco Entertainment Europe (BNEE). “Obviously you don’t just turn a company from distribution to IP creation – it takes time and we need to shift all the skills, competencies and marketing to IP creation, in terms of production, because usually our production skills are more at the end of the process and now we’re more at the start of the process. “So while we still have many other unannounced projects, this is the one we want to focus on in the short term because this is the one that had the best fan reaction. I think we are now at 1.6m units [sold for Little Nightmares]. So it’s showing that the reception is good. And we feel like this is unique enough in terms of atmosphere and targeting a different audience that we should accelerate on this one.” BNEE had big aspirations for Little Nightmares from the very beginning, talking about making escape rooms, movies, TV series, comic books and more around the IP. Looking back, Hoerdt admits
that they were maybe a bit too eager – and it sounds like a second entry in the franchise is a more down-to-earth goal to start with. “If we think one year back, we had a lot of ambition that we would do comics and TV series and everything, and I need to admit that we are late,” Hoerdt says. “We are still learning. We did a comic but only two or three issues. It was not what we had in mind. We’ve been facing some complexities with the animation studios. Because these guys invest, they want to keep a part of the IP, they want some ownership, and we’re not ready to go in that direction. So it’s more complex but we learnt a lot. And we’ve sorted this out and proudly announced Little Nightmares 2. And obviously we have a full plan again for this IP, working very closely with Tarsier. There’s much more for Little Nightmares.” Hoerdt points out that BNEE has already released mobile game Very Little Nightmares too, which acts as a prequel. That move sums up two of BNEE’s big goals going forward: IP creation and mobile. TALK THE TALK... Bandai Namco announced the creation of Bandai Namco Mobile in early August, to strengthen the firm’s mobile forces in Europe. That will translate into the opening of a mobile branch in Barcelona, Spain. Hoerdt notes that mobile is “more predominant in Asia” for Bandai Namco but that BNEE “can’t stay outside of this business.” He continues: “We are doing well in mobile but through the content that is coming from Japan, with titles such as Dragon Ball Dokkan
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Pictured below: Hervé Hoerdt, Bandai Namco
Battle for instance. But here we are just providing the marketing support. And then five years ago we created a mobile team in Lyon, of ten people. We have had some successful launches such as Pac-Man 256, Asterix, Tamagotchi. I think we’ve been successful in terms of downloads while continuing to learn how to monetise this. We didn’t lose money, but it wasn’t super profitable. “So the decision has been made to accelerate, to create a separate entity, the one you mentioned in Barcelona. So we just announced it, it’s not open yet, but it’s showed the ambition that, yes, we want to grow this part of the business. It should be around 30 per cent of our business. Today it’s not significant.” And BNEE has the perfect product to grow this part of the business, though it’s not strictly speaking mobile: Tori. Tori is an “augmented interaction ecosystem” aimed at children, developed by Iskn and published by BNEE, that presents itself as a tablet, various accessories and cardboard creations, with the latter coming to life on screen. Rings a bell? When we suggest this could be Bandai Namco’s answer to Nintendo Labo though, Hoerdt’s reply is unequivocal: “We don’t answer to anyone. We go our own way.” He adds: “We want to make ten per cent of our revenue outside video games. Actually we’re going to accelerate a bit more on this one. So we’re contemplating many projects like music concerts, escape games,
innovations. We have an innovation lab, and we were contemplating things like drones or edutainment. And [Iskn] came with this technology that is patented and it was really exciting to us. “We worked together on this for three years. We started with four or five people and I think we are now more than 80 people working full time on this project. So the outcome is this new entertainment platform. It’s a whole ecosystem and it’s bridging physical and digital. And we have as much off-screen activities as we have on-screen activities.” Tori launches on October 2nd and is compatible with both iOS and Android, though the off-screen aspect is crucial, Hoerdt insists. “We’ll start with four apps and a parental app because we want to develop the skills of the children, so on the parental app you can see the progress of your kids,” he says. Said skills include creativity, problem solving, motor coordination, executive functions, social skills and more. He continues: “[Tori] is not an answer to anyone, it’s just something we started three years ago. The truth is that the reception from the press was like: ‘Oh there’s some similarities [to Labo]’. There are some similarities in the way we want to address and develop the six to 12 year old market segments. We want to develop children’s skills, we want to enter edutainment.”
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Pictured left: Artist impressions of Bandai Namco’s new European HQ, soon to open in Lyon However BNEE wishes to go further than this with Tori: “We’re also having projects on the other side of the spectrum, with older people, the silver economy. We could use this board to detect and improve Alzheimers. But there are many other projects we have. So this is part of a global strategy and has nothing to do with Nintendo, with full respect for what they are doing. And I feel like we have something much stronger. The vision is that we have our own ecosystem and we’ll open it. We’ll open it to any publisher that wants to do something and we’ve already had discussions with many big IP companies such as Universal, Warner, Lucas, Ubisoft.” We interrupt to ask more about a potential partnership with Ubisoft: “It’s still in discussion,” Hoerdt dampens. “We’re aiming for it but we need to convince them that the platform is solid enough for them to invest. So it would take some time. We have a full map of content that we can sustain on our own and the strategy would be to have these guys on board and to have a whole ecosystem and many many applications.” The toys-to-life market hasn’t necessarily been the healthiest lately so Bandai Namco potentially has a lot of effort to put into Tori to ensure its success. But Hoerdt insists it’s not toys-to-life: “Toys-to-life you just put your figurine on a deck and nothing happens, you don’t play with the figurine, whereas here you have what we call the Mirror Play technology. Everything you do [off-
screen] is happening [on-screen]. So that’s the big difference. “It works with an energy bar, which is a magnet. So you can make something of your own, then you put in the energy bar and it will come to life. So it’s more powerful and it’s all about fun and creativity, there’s no limit. Whereas, again, toys-to-life, you have this figurine but once it appears on screen, you play digitally. And we really want to balance like 50/50 on-screen and offscreen activities.” Tori’s launch product, the Explorer Pack, will set consumers back £149.99 – quite a premium price point, though Hoerdt says this is a “sweet spot” based on BNEE’s research and the price is likely to be reduced once there are more compatible apps. In terms of sales expectations, Hoerdt wouldn’t share figures but says: “We do it the other way around: what’s the risk we want to take in terms of production capabilities? We have [production] machines that can do 30k units a month. So we’d start with one machine. We started production in early July. I won’t disclose any figures but that gives you an idea of the magnitude.” Europe will serve as a proving ground for Tori, before a potential launch in the US, he adds: “We’ll see the product’s reaction and everything, we’ll be able to duplicate the production and feed the US market where we would be able to expand. So at the moment it’s a
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soft launch more than [anything]. It’s not the approach of: let’s put one million through the pipe and see what happens. We are a Japanese company, don’t forget,” he laughs. “So we’ll go step by step. I think the real peak will be holidays 2020.”
Pictured below: Little Nightmares’ main character Six
...AND WALK THE WALK Despite being a Japanese company, Bandai Namco has seen a wealth of changes recently indicating that more and more trust and responsibility is put on the European branch, with the opening soon of a brand new European HQ in Lyon (France), bringing these efforts to fruition. “[Bandai Namco] is still making 83 per cent of the revenue and profits in Japan. But this was 95 per cent five years ago,” Hoerdt says. “And we all know that we’re in a market that is going to grow. We have enough cash, we are sustainable. But like in all nice stories, there is always a but. And the problem is the demography in Japan. So we are the future of the group in the next decades. The future is [Bandai Namco] Europe or US. “Our former boss, head of Europe [Naoki Katashima], is now also managing the US – showing that he did a great job here and that someone wants him to do the same in the US. So this new strategy, IP creation, innovation, new entertainment and many things we have in the pipeline, is really showing that we talked the talk but now we also walk the walk! “We talked about this ambition one or two years ago and now you can see all the pieces of the puzzle coming together. And I think having a new office, having a new COO [Arnaud Muller], who is a French guy, is a sign of: ‘You are important to us. What you are doing is going in the right direction. We appreciate it, we show you support and we’re ready to invest’. And also, on the global scale, the new head of our Network Entertainment Unit, [Yasuo] Miyakawa, is a guy who’s made all his career in IP creation – he created Gundam and a lot of new businesses, concerts, and so on. And this is also showing that: ‘Yes, we understand what you are doing and we put a head who somewhat will be able to facilitate and to follow your strategy and to sustain and to invest’. So this is all shaping well. This is exciting.”
BNEE has been investing in an array of very, very different projects to say the least in the past few years, testing waters in everything from Pac-Man’s interactive audio stories to a sensitive investigation of the horrors of the first world war with 11-11: Memories Retold. And though it’s definitely refreshing to see a publisher try new things instead of just publishing the same old titles year-on-year, we suggest Bandai Namco could be losing its identity in the process. “Not identity,” Hoerdt reacts. “But, yes, maybe – and this is something we discuss sometimes with Arnaud [Muller] and other executives like Wouter [van Vugt, BNEE’s EMEA PR, communications and events director] – we wanted to do too many things at the same time. Maybe we went too fast and we need to manage those shifts in communication. So we had... not challenges, but, yes, we need to reassess all the communication flow. Wouter is on top of it – they’re trying to improve the way we cascade information and everything. So it’s more internal challenges than losing the identity. “I think we are strong enough now to build our own identity. And the way we see this is: we were a Japanese company and tomorrow we’ll be a global company with a foot in Japan and a foot in Europe. So we need to define this, the scope of this. It’s not clear yet, it’s not on a sheet of paper to be honest. “I don’t think we’ll lose our identity. And maybe the core identity was that there wasn’t one. There was Namco. There was Bandai. And we want something like Bandai Namco Entertainment Europe.” BIG FISH IN A SMALL POOL As we go off on a tangent about how exciting The Dark Pictures Anthology is, we end up talking innovations in the games industry – which leads quite naturally to discussing the rise of new platforms and business models, starting with subscriptions. Hoerdt believes the value of content available via subscription models is “too low” for the company to invest in the idea. “Subscriptions are more of a threat, that’s for sure. Because the business model behind subscriptions will be based on two things: the number of hours played on your game compared to the total hours people played, and the number of games played compared to the total number of games. So, in the value chain, we see a lot of cascading and the value in the end is too low for us to be able to invest further in the content. So that’s a threat we see. But otherwise, generally speaking, it’s exciting, it’s appealing, it’s more opportunities going forwards for us.” Talk of new platforms inevitably progresses to discussion of the Epic Games Store, and the opportunities that Hoerdt recognises it presents the
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industry, even if he makes it clear that Bandai Namco simply isn’t interested. “It’s an opportunity to be honest,” he starts saying on the rise of new platforms. “We’ve been swimming in the same pool for years and this pool is made of 200m to 300m people and obviously the vision to be able to address 2bn or more tomorrow is very exciting. I think that’s also why it’s attracting a lot of money at the moment in the industry. People trust the gaming market to grow even bigger. So we see this as an opportunity and a way to address more consumers. “Having said that, we need to invest more. While we invest for the current generation, it’s no secret that there’s a new generation coming so we need to put money and to invest in this new generation. On top, for the first time ever in 30 years, there’s a streaming platform [in Google] so we need to invest even further. We cannot do everything and, again, Japanese are not risk averse but we’re going slowly. “The main focus for us is the consumer and the brand. And for each brand we decide what’s the best way to satisfy the consumer and to engage the widest audience possible. So for instance, I don’t see any point in putting Tekken 7 on Epic Store. It’s just another store... It’s fantastic, they have a lot of strength and [lots of] users, the business model is attractive to us because it’s more profitable but still, what their interest is, if I’m correct, is exclusivity and things like that. And this is not our vision. We want our content to be available for as many fans as possible. So I don’t think we’ll deal with Epic for instance, in the short term, at least as a start, while we have this strategy. But of course, we have very intense discussions and if they’re open, we’ll go there.” This also comes on the back of Dontnod announcing in June a partnership with Epic Games Store for its next title, Twin Mirror, which will be an Epic exclusive for a year on PC – a PC version that until that point was going to be published by none other than Bandai Namco Entertainment Europe. The latter will still publish Twin Mirror on consoles, but Dontnod has acquired the rights to the IP. However, one business model that Bandai Namco does want to embrace is streaming, Hoerdt says. “I think there’s a misunderstanding: streaming doesn’t mean subscription. It’s not mandatory. And we’ve put some games there, we’ve made some tests, we announced already Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2 [on Google Stadia] but we also have more projects in the pipeline. Not on the first wave but there will be like two or three waves in the coming years so we’ll have some titles then and I think this is important for us to make this bet and to see how it reacts.” Still on the topic of how the gaming landscape will evolve, Hoerdt says Bandai Namco could be looking
into different ways of presenting its titles as well, in order to make a foray in emerging markets. “We’ll need to be investing in different content. If we think about India or Africa, they have smartphones [rather than] computers or consoles. And they won’t pay €60 to play Tekken on a smartphone. So we need to think about different ways to develop the games, maybe free-to-start, I don’t know… A Tekken with five stages and ten characters and then different business models that exist: subscriptions, advertising, in-game currencies to upgrade the game up to the full experience… It’s challenging but interesting.” TO INFINITY AND BEYOND As we conclude our chat, and having already talked to Hoerdt in the past and kept a close eye on BNEE’s evolution, it feels like Bandai Namco’s European branch has reached an age of maturity thanks to the success of strong projects such as Little Nightmares, 11-11: Memories Retold, The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan and, soon, Cyberpunk 2077, for which it’s acting as distributor. And there’s still more to come. “I mentioned the ten per cent of the revenue that we envision to do outside video games and I think this would increase in terms of ambition with our new CEO Miyakawa-san,” Hoerdt says. “Coming from music, coming from IP creation, I think we’ll make some announcements in the next few months and I think we’ll accelerate on new business. It’s not precise yet because we have more than 100 companies in the group, so we need to be careful not to overlap other businesses. But, yes, we’ll accelerate into live entertainment for sure, like meeting your fans face to face and providing a full experience. I think is something we want to accelerate.” It’s difficult not to share Hoerdt’s excitement for what’s to come, as Bandai Namco Entertainment Europe seems to have finally found its prominent place between the mothership in Japan and the firm’s US branch.
Pictured above: Little Nightmare II will introduce new character Mono
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Fgs19 Future Games Summit
BRINGING TOGETHER C-LEVEL DECISION MAKERS FROM ACROSS THE INDUSTRY Returning for its third year but with a fresh format, FGS â€™19 will be the UKâ€™s premium gathering of executives, senior leaders, practitioners, and thinkers from within and around the interactive entertainment industry. Over the course of two inspirational days, attendees will be exploring the impact of future technologies, the business of games, and creative innovations. The programme will feature two tracks per day, with break out business zones, an evening networking drinks reception, and bespoke sponsorship packages also available. Make Altitude London your exclusive members club for a couple of days and be a part of the Future of Games.
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25TH – 26TH NOVEMBER 2019 ALTITUDE 360, MILLBANK, LONDON
PREVIOUS ATTENDEES Some of the most influential visitors who previously attended the summit include… 505 Games Amazon Appstore BBC Blizzard Entertainment Bossa British esports Association CAPCOM Cavalier Game Studios Channel 4 Creative Assembly Curve Digital Digital Cinema Media Dovetail Facebook
Failbetter Games Fnatic Green Man Gaming Hi-Rez Studios IMG Imaginarium ITV Jagex M&C Saatchi Sport & Ent. Microsoft Nintendo Osborne Clarke Prudential Revolution
Don’t just take our word for it, hear what our previous delegates said:
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SEGA Europe Sony Interactive Europe Ltd. Space Ape Games Supermassive games Team 17 Twitch Ubisoft Universal VR/AR Association Warner Music Xbox YouTube
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of delegates said the speakers were good or excellent
of delegates said the Future Games Summit organisation was good or excellent
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Ins and Outs: Industry hires and moves 1
Streaming platform StreamElements has announced the addition of JEFF SKAGGS (1) and DANIEL COLE (2) to its brand partnerships team. Cole joined as director of brand partnerships, based in London, coming from Outsiders Global where he helped build campaigns and marketing strategies for brands around gaming influencers and live events. Skaggs joined StreamElements as VP of brand partnerships, and is based in Los Angeles. Prior to StreamElements, Skaggs was VP for West Coast sales at Vevo. Former senior communications manager
at Jagex JON WILCOX (3) has departed the firm to join Team17 as senior PR manager. Wilcox spent over six years at Jagex, having started as UK PR manager in 2013. AURORE DIMOPOULOS (4) has been promoted
to head of learn content production at Unity, based in the firm’s Brighton office. Dimopoulous had been a producer at Unity for the past three years, having joined the firm in 2012 as community manager. She said on Twitter: “I aspire to lead [the team] well, and spread what they create to new people and places.” Curve Digital now has a VP of global marketing in the form of BEN PAYNE (5). Formerly head of esports at McLaren, Payne also spent almost eight years at Microsoft. He commented: “I’ve been lucky enough to work at some fantastic companies during my career – but my passion is for marketing games, and Curve’s portfolio and forthcoming slate really excites me.” Go Editorial founder GEORGE OSBORN (6) has been appointed as Ukie’s head of comms, having joined the team earlier this year as the trade body’s 30 Years of Play campaign manager.
Former senior PR manager UK and EMEA at Capcom LAURA SKELLY (7) has
left the firm after 11 years of faithful service. She has now joined Microsoft as EMEA communications lead for Xbox games, services and hardware. Mediatonic has hired STEVE TINKLER (8) as its new CFO. He previously held a series of senior finance positions, most recently as chief financial officer at CX agency Ember, helping the business achieve four-fold growth over a three year period and expand into North America. Mediatonic’s co-founder Dave Bailey commented: “As we celebrate passing the 200 people milestone, our group is expanding overseas with operations now in London, Madrid and Tokyo. We’re delighted to welcome Steve onboard as CFO with his international experience building creative, peoplefocused companies as we look towards our next phase of growth.” JONATHAN LOPERA (9) is now head of communications for EMEA and APAC regions at Zynga, joining from Dimoso where he had been senior account director for the past four years. He also previously worked for Bandai Namco and Bossa. Sarah Ross, VP and head of global communications, said: “Jonathan brings a wealth of experience across all platforms and various genres within mobile
gaming. His appointment marks a key milestone in the evolution of our communications team, and we could not be happier to have him on board!”
Bastion has made a couple of new hires, with EMMA WITHINGTON (10) and MARK PAWLUK (11) appointed as account executives. Withington joined the team from Alfred where she worked across a number of major studios and titles, including most recently 505 Games’ Control. Pawluk was a comms apprentice at Warner Bros, working on EMEA campaigns for Mortal Kombat 11 and Hitman 2, among others. MD Dean Barrett commented: “Emma and Mark are great additions to our growing team. Both are passionate gamers and creative communicators – which is handy as we have lots to keep them busy in the months ahead.” Activision Blizzard has
announced two new senior hires: chief marketing officer DAVID MESSINGER (12) and chief people officer CLAUDINE NAUGHTON (13). The latter joined
the publisher from HR leadership roles within American International Group and replaces Brian Stolz, who moved to serve in a new role as a special adviser to CEO Bobby Kotick. Meanwhile, Messinger will work under Activision president and COO Coddy Johnson and moves into the company’s first corporate-wide CMO role to “oversee the global marketing operations across all of Activision Blizzard brands.” FIFA boss DAVID RUTTER (14) has been
promoted to lead EA’s European developers as group general manager for EA Studios Europe. The promotion sees Rutter relocate to Sweden, where he will oversee development at DICE, Ghost Games, and Criterion. Rutter joined EA 12 years ago as a producer on FIFA 09. DANIEL CLOUGH (15), previously COO at Jagex and head of Moshi Monsters at Mind Candy, has now joined Bossa Studios full-time as studio general manager, in order to “enable [Bossa] to scale up [its] creative output and help turn hundreds of game jam ideas into a select few finished products.”
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Every month, we pick the brain of an up-and-coming talent
Nicolas Pirot, technical artist, Rocksteady I’ve discovered is to give it time. It’s been very inspiring to allow myself the space to get a better understanding of what I want to make, and why I want to make it. What do you enjoy most about your job? Overall, I would say that contributing to an awesome game that will evoke so many emotions in people is absolutely one of my favourite parts of the job. In a more day-to-day aspect, the broad range of technical, artistic and personal skills required to be a technical artist are all things I enjoy tremendously. Plus, getting to work with so many skilled and talented artists is a huge privilege.
How did you break into games? What really helped me break into the industry was participating in game jams, competitions and art challenges. By doing as many of these as I could, I got in touch with Sumo Digital as part of the Grads in Games’ Search for a Star challenge. After discussing my portfolio and application, I was offered an internship as a technical artist. Getting involved in that way was as great learning experience, and it definitely gave my portfolio and skills the edge I needed to make it into the industry. What is your proudest achievement so far? Besides getting into the industry itself, I’m particularly proud that I have been able to start helping others to do the same. Throughout the early stages of my career I spent tons of time and energy getting as much professional feedback and criticism from industry peers as I
could. So, when I reached a point in my career where I was invited to host a presentation and be a judge for the Grads in Games competitions, it was a great experience to go full-circle and have the platform to help aspiring tech artists. Whether through technical advice or portfolio reviews at events, helping students get into the industry has been tremendously meaningful to me. What’s been your biggest challenge so far? Learning to find the right balance between furthering my career goals and pursuing personal projects in my own time has been really rewarding. The skills I’ve learned in-house have given me so many creative possibilities and insights, and it’s awesome to be using these triple-A ideas in small experiments and art pieces. When it comes to balancing creativity and careers, the most useful trick
What’s your biggest ambition in games? What I really want to do in my career is push the boundaries of what is possible, to create something that connects with players on a level that can’t be put into words. Being part of the awesome Rocksteady dev team has given me the opportunity to contribute to an amazing project, and I’m excited to see what the finished result looks like. What advice would you give to aspiring technical artists? Make use of every single opportunity to prove yourself: post about your work on forums like UE4, Unity and Polycount – and anywhere else that’s relevant to the disciplines that interest you. Participate in competitions like the Search for a Star challenge: getting noticed is very valuable when it comes to getting hired. There are so many ways to get into this amazing, strange and fantastic industry, so don’t wait until graduation to start your journey.
If there’s a rising star at your company, contact Marie Dealessandri at firstname.lastname@example.org September 2019 MCV 950 | 31
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Cherry picked advice to help you reach the next level in your career
Sumo Digital Nottingham’s Sarah Longthorne tells us more about the many different paths that can lead to narrative design and how you can create your own opportunities Games that utilise cutscenes will require scripted dialogue, whereas others may only need bark lines – short snippets of dialogue triggered during gameplay that tell the player useful information, such as whether there are enemies nearby. Some need both. After that, rewriting and editing.
What is your job role and how would you describe your typical day at work? I’m the narrative designer for Sumo Digital Nottingham, which makes me responsible for all matters concerning… well, narrative. My day to day changes depending on the project and the timeline. For example, if we’re in the concept stage, I’ll be writing up story proposals that seek to contextualise the game mechanics. If the game follows a narrative, my next task will be writing an outline that breaks down the key beats, which I make more granular over various iterations. Then comes the actual writing, which again varies depending on the project and, more specifically, how the narrative is delivered.
What qualifications and/or experience do you need to land this job? The main thing is portfolio credits. I have a BA in Scriptwriting and Performance from the University of East Anglia, but initially I went into marketing and landed a job at Jagex. From there, I sought out opportunities to contribute writing to Jagex’s titles and got involved in game design initiatives in my spare time, which furnished my portfolio with several credits – enough to find work as a bona fide narrative designer. I’d been doing it full time for just under a year before Sumo approached me about my current role. That said, there’s no one way to get into narrative design. I’ve seen people who came in from game or level design, from QA, from computer science, journalism or film and TV, and all of those will give you a different kind of edge, different skills that can supercharge your CV. But they won’t get you all the way there; writing for film and TV requires different skills to writing interactive fiction, for instance. Eventually, it all comes down to demonstrating what you can do. Getting someone to trust you with your first credit is hard, but that’s why most of us advocate creating your own games using tools like Twine, Inky and RenPy. If the opportunities aren’t coming your way, create opportunities for yourself.
If you were interviewing someone for your team, what would you look for? There’s the role-specific answer and the generic answer. Teamwork, initiative, creativity, humility, the ability to prioritise and manage your time. Those are qualities I want in all my colleagues. For a narrative design role, however, I’d want to see that a candidate can not only write well, but adapt to and mirror different tones of voice, different genres and apply themselves to various kinds of games writing – from barks to interactive scripts – with a knowledge of what makes those things brilliant and how to use them to their full potential. I’d want to gauge their basic understanding of game and level design, and I’d want to see enthusiasm about those things – but above all, about story. Tell me about a story in a game that inspired you, and what about its design and execution made it stand out. Tell me about games that got it wrong and why. Show me that you understand what makes a great game sizzle… and a bad game fizzle. What opportunities are there for career progression? There are quite a few directions a narrative designer can take. Some will want to climb the management ladder, passing on the writing itself to their team while they take on a more directorial role – maybe reaching the heights of creative director and beyond. Others may want to explore different avenues of narrative design, delving into different mediums and genres, and others still might take the transferrable skills they’ve learnt to migrate to other disciplines, like game or level design. Once you’re in, the industry’s your oyster.
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 role! What inspired you about Firesprite to join them? I had been contracting remotely on various game projects and missed working in a tight team. When I saw the culture here during my interview I fell in love with the place. Getting to work on one of the coolest games out there is just a bonus. What’s the culture like at Firesprite and what has been your experience of fitting in? Everyone is super laid back and passionate about the project, programmers can have open discussions with the designers about cool ideas and have them taken seriously; you’re not just an artist, programmer or designer here, you’re part of a team working towards making the best game we possibly can. It’s the atmosphere of an indie studio with the opportunities of triple-A. What are you most excited about bringing to the role? As a huge fan of VR and someone who loves tinkering, I have enjoyed working alongside the designers to come up with fun gameplay elements and seeing our ideas come to life inside of the immersive world we are creating! What will working at Firesprite do for your career? I got my start in the industry as a contractor doing mostly remote work so this has been a great opportunity to learn from some of the most talented people in the industry. I feel like I have grown more as a developer since joining than I ever did freelancing. The game we are currently working on is definitely the sort of title that is a landmark in the careers of everyone involved and I can’t wait until we can show it off. What would you say to anyone considering a career in the games industry? It can seem daunting at first, but it is by far one of the most rewarding jobs out there. Don’t worry if you don’t get on with school or university. I left high school in fourth year and later, when I decided to give university a go, I dropped out after the first semester. What matters is real world skills and you will rise to the top if you have the ability. Everyone’s path is different but with enough persistence you will get there!
Name: Hannah Crawford Studio: Firesprite Job Title: Gameplay programmer Education: Self-taught
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Iterating for Better This month, MCV looks into the obstacles women encounter when creating a new business in the games industry, with discrimination and sexism being at the top of the list STARTING a new business is risky, challenging and often pretty frightening for those involved. The numbers crunched by difference sources vary slightly, but the Office of National Statistics claims that only 42 per cent of micro businesses (employing fewer than ten people), 45 per cent of small businesses (employing between 11 and 50 people), and 51 per cent of medium-sized businesses (employing between 50 and 249 people) make it to their fifth birthday. And if you’re a woman embarking on a new business venture, there are many more obstacles that are very female-specific. There are the usual challenges that women in business face – whether employer or employee – including the struggle to be taken seriously, balancing work and family life, a lack of women role models, ‘owning your accomplishments’ and more. Discrimination is also a very real issue. According to The Unilever Foundry, a platform for nurturing start-ups: • Only 17 per cent of start-ups are founded by women • 39 per cent of female founders frequently encountered sexism while running their start-up • 42 per cent of women think gender discrimination will stay the same as they scale up The statistics regarding funding are shocking, too. According to the Entrepreneurs Network, just nine per cent of funding for UK start-ups goes to women-run businesses in the UK annually. The Network, along with Beauhurst, also revealed that men are a staggering 86 per cent more likely to be funded by venture capital – and 56 per cent more likely to secure angel investment than women. It’s depressing reading – and makes the success of the female business leaders in games even more impressive. We garnered some additional thoughts…
“Men are a staggering 86 per cent more likely to be funded by venture capital.”
Marie-Claire Isaaman CEO, Women In Games “The biggest barrier for women is that the world of venture capital funding is a male-dominated culture. Networks are mostly impenetrable for women with few female partners involved in the funding processes. It’s a circular problem, that urgently needs breaking. Cassia Curran has launched Wings, a venture capital fund to support games by diverse teams, starting with games made by women and gender minority developers. More initiatives like this, training for women on fund raising and encouragement for women to turn their ideas into businesses will begin to activate change. Entrepreneurship was one of the core themes of the Women in Games European Conference last week.”
Helen Garlick MD, The Koyo Store “Having spent ten years as a global buyer for numerous major retailers, moving into the world of gaming was alien to me. However, over the last 18 months I have found the community engaging and fascinating. As a woman in a maledominated environment this has enabled me to settle, learn and acquire the skills required to handle the challenges in this industry. Strength and determination are my major assets but these rarely come into play as the industry is generally welcoming. It is my commercial head and objective view that deliver a successful strategy and I am loving the direction of my new career. “Having said that, I recognise that women in the games industry are hugely under-represented and female business leaders of even more so. The latter may well be down to a lack of confidence by women who may feel they’re ‘not good enough’ and fear failure. That’s why initiatives like G Into Gaming and WIGJ are invaluable in supporting women in the industry, and helping them to achieve their goals.”
Putting The G Into Gaming is a pro bono initiative founded by and in association with recruitment specialist Amiqus. To find out more email G-IntoGaming@amiqus.com or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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MCV-SEP19-SPLASH DAMAGE:MCV-SEP19-SPLASH DAMAGE 09/09/2019 09:28 Page 1
free spirit Marie Dealessandri talks to EMEA executive director Alain Corre about Ubisoft’s new lease of life, free from Vivendi, and how it’s experimenting on many different fronts from new IPs to new platforms, new territories and free-to-play
hen Vivendi sold its remaining Ubisoft shares in March, you could hear the biggest sigh of relief from both sides of the Channel (and certainly across the pond, too). Since 2015, Vivendi had been attempting to take over the French company, with Ubisoft’s CEO Yves Guillemot deeming this investment “unsolicited and unwelcome” from the very start. Now free of Vivendi’s shadow, Ubisoft is ready for a new lease of life. “Freedom is fantastic,” Ubisoft’s EMEA executive director Alain Corre beams when we ask how Ubisoft’s future is looking now that Vivendi is out of the picture. “We are an independent company. We want to remain independent. That’s the best way we can grow. And we have proven that already, many times. So we are super happy to be able to decide what we want to decide, when we want to decide it, in the future.”
With new ambitions in mind, Ubisoft now has to find a balance between trying new things and servicing its existing live games. “It’s a challenge because we need a lot of talent to do that, so we are going to continue hiring in the studios, we plan to have more in the next five years,” Corre says. “We cherish our fans that are following our brands like Assassin’s Creed or Ghost Recon moving forward, but we feel that it’s also a good moment to invest in new IPs because there are a lot of new technologies appearing; PC is developing fast, there are new consoles coming, the streaming technology is there, cross-play is also something that will excite players. So we feel it’s the right time to create new genres, new IPs, because if the sun can shine on these, we’ll have them for a long time to come.” And that’s very much the vision for Ubisoft’s upcoming new IP Gods & Monsters. Unveiled at E3, it will be out in
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Pictured left: Gods & Monsters takes Ubisoft’s passion for open worlds to a broader, familyfriendly audience
February next year, which is a short cycle from reveal to release for Ubisoft (we’re looking at you Beyond Good and Evil 2 and Skull & Bones!). “Gods & Monsters is done by the team behind Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. So they are very experienced and are using a lot of what they have created before to implement this IP. “For us it’s a new adventure because it’s going to be [rated] 12+. So it’s an action adventure for everybody, flavoured by Assassin’s Creed obviously but also by Miyazaki-style graphics. So it’s something completely new and fresh. “We wanted to have a sneak peak and show something when it was really compelling and exciting and E3 was the best moment to do that. And so now we’re going to bring some extra elements to the game moving forward until the release early next year.”
When asked if Ubisoft already sees Gods & Monsters as a franchise, Corre replies: “That’s the dream of every publisher. When we are bringing a new IP, we hope that it will please a lot of fans and that they will go on playing. We’re going to go on feeding this game with new things along the way. So ideally if the fans respond positively, it will have a long life in the future.” Gods & Monsters is also an attempt to appeal to families and tap into a younger market, Corre continues: “What we would like is to convince not only the hardcore gamers but also a more casual audience to be able to play altogether in their living room, to spend many hours together to play the game. It’s something that we have done for a while, to reach this kind of population, and we wanted to have one of our best teams to work on such a game so that we can also get more variation into our portfolio. We think that
Pictured above: Alain Corre, Ubisoft
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PIctured above: Ubisoft’s new roller derby inspired free-to-play title Roller Champions
Gods & Monsters will please and surprise a lot of people when it comes out.” Ubisoft’s plan to attract a younger audience is reminiscent of its similar efforts last year with toys-tolife title Starlink: Battle for Atlas, though the firm had to stop manufacturing the physical toys that accompany the franchise after sales for the game fell below expectations. But Corre says Ubisoft learnt a lot from Starlink and is now ready to approach the family market once again: “We were expecting more out of Starlink... [But] I think we gained a lot of experience working on this franchise, [which] helps us shape our plans for family games that are coming. We always capitalise on everything we have done in the past. And on Starlink, we have a lot of fans still playing and who are happy to play – families playing with their kids. So I think we have pleased these fans and families and that’s what’s most important for us,” he says. HEAD IN THE CLOUDS Gods & Monsters is one of the many Ubisoft titles that has been announced for a release on Stadia. Ubisoft has historically been an early adopter of new technologies and business models, and Google’s new cloud gaming platform is no exception. “We have [moved] very early on a lot of new technologies in the past, whether it’s the Wii with the Wiimote or the Kinect for example,” Corre confirms. “And we feel that streaming and cloud gaming technologies are bringing something additional to our industry. We like the idea of the consumer having more options to consume games. Whether they consume traditionally by buying a physical game, by downloading, or if they prefer to stream games, it’s giving them new possibilities. And we will attract new categories of players thanks to this.” He expands on this thought: “Some people don’t want to buy a physical machine or physical goods, or people in some countries feel it’s more convenient to stream games – and there are plenty in the world. “So streaming will give us two things. First is the possibility to create different games. With the capacities
of the servers in the cloud, we’ll be able to bring a new generation of games in a few years. The servers will help our creators to put more AI into games, more characters, more NPCs. And that will be I think a real disruption. And also, again, streaming will appeal to some people in some countries that have never been able to consume games before. So I think the combination of the two will grow the market and we very much like this idea. “So, yes, we are one of the strong supporters of Stadia because [Google] is really the first big company to enter into [cloud gaming] with a lot of push and power behind it. And we want to support this kind of initiative. So we have, I think, six or seven games at launch on Stadia. We believe that this streaming technology will grow, it’s the real start of streaming technology for games this year. There’s been some in the past but not that important. It will take time for all the servers to be in place in every way, in every country, but it’s the start of something big in the future.” The same logic applies for the Epic Games Store, Corre says: Ubisoft just wants to “offer many possibilities for [its] players to consume games.” He adds: “We want to give them some choices. Our duty is to create the best possible games and to improve them and to please the communities so that they can grow and that we can carry on franchises in the future, bring these communities [together]. That’s really what we want to do. That’s what we’ve been doing for a long time. We have more than 100m players on Assassin’s Creed today, we have passed 50m on Rainbow Six, after four years, and it’s going on growing.” Another way to service these communities is Ubisoft’s own subscription service, Uplay+, which soft launched with a free trial this month, before it kicks off on October 1st for £12.99/month (and launches on Stadia in 2020). With more and more subscription services out there, Uplay+ will have to work hard to set itself apart from PlayStation Plus, Xbox Game Pass or EA Access. “Uplay+ is, for us, another way of giving a choice to our fans to consume our products,” Corre says. “Subscription is a different way of consuming and there are some fans that will prefer that versus buying games one by one. At Ubisoft we have a very deep back catalogue of franchises, of games that are selling in the long run, so we can offer a hundred games in this Uplay+ experience at launch, plus all the services and advantages that go with it. “We will regularly have new games also that will enter Uplay+, starting with Ghost Recon [Breakpoint] when it comes out. So it’s a very good proposition for the fans and we can do that, again, because we have growing franchises, so it can be a lively service and we have big ambitions for it.” Ghost Recon Breakpoint launches on October 4th on all platforms including Uplay+ and will be on Stadia
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when the latter launches in November too. With physical sales generally in decline, launching day-on-date on a subscription service seems like the way forward, with Microsoft having shown the way with its successful Xbox Game Pass. CHILDREN OF THE REVOLUTION Between new triple-A IPs and new business models, Ubisoft is also testing the waters on other fronts. On the topic of creating new genres and new IPs, Corre says it’s “also one of the reasons that [Ubisoft] is entering the freeto-play market with Roller Champions.” This is an unexpected move for Ubisoft, which retired many of its early free-to-play titles at the end of 2016, such as Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Phantoms. “Roller Champions is made by a very experienced team in Montreal. They’ve done a lot of great games before and they wanted to do something different,” Corre says. “It’s something completely new for us because we have never done free-to-play on the high end. But I think it’s still interesting today to take bets on new IPs because the market is ready for that and will grow. So the fans are ready to try something different with the new technologies.” When we ask him how important free-to-play will be going forward for Ubisoft, Corre simply replies: “We have our triple-A or quadruple-A games, and we are trying different angles of products with Roller Champions. So that’s something we want to pursue in parallel moving forward.” Another goal the company wants to pursue – and that could go hand in hand with free-to-play – is the conquest of the Asian markets, with titles such as The Settlers, rebooted and scheduled for 2020 with the ambition of being a global franchise. “Asia is today the biggest video game market in the world if you also include the mobile business,” Corre notes. “And for us it’s super important that we go on growing in these territories. We are already very strong in Japan.” Rainbow Six Siege, for instance, is a massive hit in the country, Corre adds, with tickets for the Rainbow Six Pro League Season X Finals in Japan in November bought at lightning speed: “We could have sold five times more!” he enthuses. “So it’s a good sign that Rainbow Six as a franchise is huge in Japan. It’s a fantastic market for us now, and also on console. It took time for us to establish our franchises in Japan because they also have very strong local IPs but now franchises like Assassin’s Creed, The Division, Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon are super strong. “So we are focusing a lot on Japan and we’re focusing a lot on all the countries of the Southeast Asian market because they are now developing super fast – Thailand,
Indonesia, Philippines. So we are really taking care of these countries now and more deeply, with local currency possibilities of buying online. And we see that it’s changing our world. In Korea, we have just entered into the PC Bang business [South Korean LAN gaming centers] and it’s really another step for us on Rainbow Six. And the Korean market is also very strong now on PlayStation and Nintendo Switch. So that’s also an area which is growing.” And then of course there’s China, with Tencent now being one of Ubisoft’s long-term investors, having been instrumental in helping Ubisoft to get rid of Vivendi. “We will release four games on PC with Tencent in the next few months,” Corre says. “China is a fascinating country and Chinese players are really passionate about gaming. We have really good hopes for Rainbow Six and The Division 2 in China.” At this point of the interview, we’ve already been pressed to ask our last question by the PR – and have pushed it already by asking two more. But we can’t leave the room without talking about another of Ubisoft’s big releases for next year – one we’re particularly looking forward to at MCV, being London-based: Watch Dogs: Legion. “We have a big hopes for Watch Dogs: Legion,” Corre says. “I think that the innovation that we’re bringing, which is being able to play with any character in the game, and also for all the characters and the interactions you do to be remembered when you come back to a place, and differently if you use one character or another, is really something that was not easy to understand because it’s the first time this kind of gameplay exists. But now that people have been able to play, experience it, they feel like it brings a lot of richness to the gameplay experience. “And so we are very excited about launching this one. This is one of our best franchises, Watch Dogs, and the fact it is also in London is something we are [excited about]. The gameplay itself I think is something that will be a revolution – we are innovating there, we’re taking some risks there, but I think it will pay off.”
Pictured above: With the MCV office just round the corner from the Shard, this is one game we’re very much looking forward to
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MCV-DAY1-SOLD OUT:MCV-DAY1-SOLD OUT 12/08/2019 14:18 Page 1
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Ain’t no party like an Xbox party With Gears 5 landing on Steam, plus Ori and the Blind Forest being converted to Switch, Aaron Greenberg, GM of games marketing, clarifies Xbox’s first-party strategy to Seth Barton, and fills us in on the thinking behind its upcoming London celebration, X019
n the run-up to this year’s Gamescom, two publishing announcements from Microsoft caught the eye: Gears 5 made a surprisingly late move onto Steam, just a few weeks before its release, while Microsoft also stated it was bringing 2015’s Ori and the Blind Forest to Nintendo Switch. First-party titles such as these rarely stray from their creator’s platforms and stores, so just what do these announcements mean for Xbox’s publishing strategy as a whole? Microsoft’s GM of games marketing Aaron Greenberg makes it clear that these are exceptions to the rule, not a change of direction. “Going forward, all of our internal studios, and the new studios we’ve added, will be focused on making games for our platforms and we have no plans to expand our exclusive first-party games to any other consoles,” he says. “People should recognise how excited we are with our internal development studios more than doubling. Those teams, going forward, will be focused on making games for our platforms. So while we know there’s existing commitments in place, take The Outer Worlds as an example, there was already a commitment to make that game available as a multiplatform title and we’ll continue to honour that.”
Such commitments are an inevitable outcome of the spending spree of acquisitions that Microsoft has gone on lately, but Greenberg is clear that they will end once those commitments are spent. “Thinking about the next game from Obsidian, InXile or Ninja Theory, all those studios, just like our existing internal studios, whether it’s 343 or Turn 10, they’re going to be focused on making those games for our platforms. So we have no plans to expand any of those exclusive first-party titles to any other consoles,” Greenberg states categorically to us. That said, we’re even more curious as to why an older title, Ori and the Blind Forest, is coming to Switch next week. “Ori is built by Moon Studios, which is an independent, external studio. They came to us with a desire to bring the original Ori to the Switch. We thought that made sense, and we’re happy to work with them to enable them to bring that to Switch,” Greenberg answers. We can only agree that the game is a perfect match for the hardware. However, going forward, Greenberg is keen to clarify this doesn’t set a precedent for the sequel: “Our plans with Ori and the Will of the Wisps is to launch it exclusively on Xbox One and PC.”
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Pictured right: The Copper Box Arena, in London, where X019 will be taking place
ALL STEAMED UP While console platforms are one thing, the more open nature of PC stores is another, with Microsoft now happy to bring Gears 5 to a potentially far greater audience via Steam. “We know there’s a big PC audience out there which may not own an Xbox and they want to be able to play some of our big IPs. And bringing Gears 5 to that audience makes a lot of sense,” Greenberg begins. “Steam reaches PC gamers in a lot of markets that are traditionally not as console heavy. [Steam] has relationships with those customers there. It’s a very engaged PC audience and so to be able to bring a title like Gears 5 at launch to PC players in Eastern Europe, Germany, Russia and China, in these big PC markets, is a great way to reach a broader audience,” he adds. However, Xbox was keen that this was done in a way that includes those new players in its larger Xbox and Gears community. “We’ve always focused on putting the gamer at the centre of everything we’re doing,” Greenberg says. “When we think about growing the amount of people playing our games, we want to do it in a way where we support crossplay, cross progression, with people playing on the console and the PC together. So the community of people you’re going to play with isn’t determined by where you actually bought the game,” he states. “We’ve been able to work with Steam so that we’re enabling that community to also be able to play across Windows 10 and console. It’s been exciting and we’re bringing Halo: Reach and The Master Chief Collection to Steam as well,” he reminds us.
But while Microsoft is happy to expand its reach using other retail platforms, it still believes its own offering is the best: “We’re creating a lot of choice; gamers can get [Gears 5] on Steam, buy it on Xbox, or subscribe and get it on Xbox Game Pass. Though, whether you are a PC or console player, we think that the best value comes from Game Pass.” Game Pass’s offering just keeps growing, largely with signed content from third-party publishers at present, but that will increasingly segue into first-party titles as Microsoft’s ever-increasing legion of studios bring their next titles to the service – which in turn means more news that Xbox must find space to communicate. “We have more than doubled our creative internal teams. We now have 15 studios within Xbox Game Studios. There’s so much news coming out of those teams and so many projects in the works, that we are able to go to every major event and major show and we feel like we can still really surprise and delight our fans,” Greenberg says confidently. It’s still not quite there, though. At Gamescom, Microsoft showed elements of Gears 5 both in its own pre-show stream and in Geoff Keighley’s new official curtain raiser, Opening Night Live. It may have been effective in supporting a title about to hit retail but it wasn’t the kind of big announcement we were hoping for. Greenberg explains the thinking: “We wanted to support both [streams] and with this particular Gears we’ve been saving some really big reveals for the show. Horde is a signature mode, and this is the biggest Gears the team has ever made, and so we focused on Horde on Inside Xbox and then we had the campaign trailer as
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part of Opening Night Live – in order to reach gamers who may not be so Xbox-centric, and to be able to share the campaign asset there was a perfect fit.” LONDON CALLING It may be that Microsoft was just keeping its powder dry. Gamescom has long been a big show for Microsoft, as opposed to Sony for instance, but there the company announced a potentially bigger stage for everything Xbox in the form of X019, from November 14th to 16th, at the Copper Box Arena, part of London’s 2012 Olympic legacy. Greenberg explains where its own event sits in terms of importance: “We think of both E3 and X019 as the big beats of the year. We unveiled a lot of big news at E3, and X019 will be another key event for us. We’re going to have a lot of surprises. “We have a huge spring planned, so between this holiday and E3 next year we have a record number of games coming out, so that event will be the perfect opportunity to showcase all those,” Greenberg reveals. The choice of London this year is directly linked with Microsoft’s expanding development stable, Greenberg explains: “London has always been one of the top global markets for us, and it’s the home of some of our best creative studio teams. We thought: ‘What a great place to
invite friends from around the world to the Copper Box Arena!’ We’ve got the Rare team, the Ninja Theory team, the Playground team, all of the top British creative teams will be there with their staff.” But despite doing its own event, Microsoft will continue its presence elsewhere: “We want to support industry events, we plan to be at the Game Awards in December as well, the big beats where gamers are watching and showing up, we want to be there. That said, it’s always fun to be able to create your own show, and our fans love that. “It’s been in the works for many months, we’re already deep into content reviews, we’re planning out the show, we’re working with our internal and external content teams,” he replies when we ask about the timeline behind the event. “It is going to be the biggest Inside Xbox show of the year and it hits during that peak holiday period. We’re excited to come back to London and celebrate with our fans there. We have a three-day experience, we want to welcome fans, families, people to come and experience all the great games we have on our platforms. Tickets will be £19 and all proceeds go to charity.” With EGX moving to east London this year in October too, it looks like the industry will be spending a lot of time in the capital over the autumn. We’ll see you all there!
“London has always been one of the top global markets for us.”
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Wargamingâ€™s new western front Wargaming is mounting its biggest and best-planned assault yet on western gamers, with its first title built from the ground up by western developers for western audiences. CEO Victor Kislyi tells Seth Barton about the masterplan and how even a studio-destroying fire has been an opportunity in disguise
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argaming has traditionally launched its games from east to west. And it’s latest title Caliber – a PvE and PvP tactical third-person shooter – is another example of that approach, with the special forces-based title testing its flashbangs in the post-soviet CIS region before coming to the US and western Europe later. But CEO Victor Kislyi now accepts that such a strategy isn’t necessarily the best approach for those latter markets, telling us it’s a matter of cultural sensibilities. The talkative boss of Wargaming explains that he’s had little choice to consider the east-west cultural divide for most of his life. Born in Belarus, he explains his ongoing bewilderment at the attractions of WWE-styled American wrestling with its “big guys in golden bikinis” (something we can agree on) and his dislike of the tortured time-travel plot devices of the recent Avengers movie (something we can’t). Going broader, he has a grudging respect for basketball, “not as good as football” though, and cheers us with his appreciation of the BBC’s Yes Minister, calling it “quality entertainment.” In short, he’s very aware that some (even unlikely) cultural exports can succeed across the phantom of the iron curtain while others, often inexplicably, do not resonate. The safest bet then is to make the game in the region that it’s intended for. “If we want to make a western game, we have to be in the west, the whole studio – no Russian manager, no Russian studio. It has to be all western from scratch,” he tells us, which brings us around to Wargaming’s fledgling UK studio, based in Guildford. Speaking on the studio’s unannounced title, he admits: “I was a little sceptical seeing the first sketches, but then I thought: OK, we were probably doing something wrong all these years, let the people who have done it before do it for us.” And Kislyi is impressed by the team that studio head Sean Decker has assembled to work on the title. “The whole team is loaded for western tastes. The reason why I mentioned WWE or The Avengers, is the game will have elements that maybe I don’t fully grasp, but that’s not a problem, that’s actually good.” Having said that, Wargaming isn’t about to dive into some untried genre, with Kislyi dropping the biggest hints yet as to the nature of the upcoming game. “Free-to-play, battle, militarily-themed,” he summarises, adding that “it’s going to have conflict, some violence, shooting.” And while the company isn’t following its usual geographical approach, it’s sticking to a rigorous and scientific process for rolling out its next title.
“Of course there will be testing of everything. Everything we do will be scientifically tested, that’s how you do things. Tested not in the east but in the US and western Europe, on people who watch those cartoons, who watch these sport programmes, these TV stars, that we just don’t know.” THE GREAT FIRE OF GUILDFORD Wargaming’s ambitions in the UK are impressive. Guildford has long been a great place to set up a new studio but only if you have the backing to hire and retain the best talent in a competitive and relatively expensive part of the country. It’s a place to build a talented, veteran team, rather than a plucky upstart. The UK was chosen over the US for its mix of nationalities, Kislyi tells us: “Britain is even better [than the US] in terms of the variety of talent. Greeks, Swedes, Germans, as well as US talent too. We’re close to Heathrow so you’re one flight away from pretty much anywhere in the world – direct flights to everywhere.” The studio was partly formed out of the acquisition of Edge Case Games, but has expanded rapidly since then and will continue to grow with some 30 positions open at present. It’s also had something of an enforced clean slate of late, following a fire which destroyed the old Edge Case office. Keith Anderson, Wargaming UK’s publishing director, tells the story. “[In early August], Sunday night about one o’clock, we start getting some calls that our studio is on fire. And it turns out that some homeless guy started a fire on the canal, on the river that backs onto our studio, it caught onto the bushes, and they burnt up the back of our building. “The firemen came along and literally ripped down the back of our building to stop the fire, which went up into the roof, into the timbers. Our server room is now visible, it’s covered in water, so basically they exposed our server room and covered everything in water. “The studio was completely doused in smoke, the electrics were done. The front door was bashed down, and they cut holes in all our walls to make sure the fire wasn’t still smouldering inside.” A pretty complete destruction of the studio then, though thankfully no one was hurt in the fire. And the wider Wargaming organisation quickly got the team up and running in a temporary new office space, pending a move to a new permanent home. “Our support team did an amazing job,” Anderson continues. “Within two weeks we were in a new building, we’ve got 50 people set up, we’re back up and running, because our Wargaming Sydney team started
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Pictured right: Caliber is currently in closed beta in the CIS region, with an EU beta yet to be dated running builds for us, so we’re playtesting again based on builds they’re running off their servers. “To commemorate the event we printed special T-shirts for the studio team – the great fire of Guildford. On the back it says: ‘Nobody does burn down like we do’. And congrats to the team, for making what could be a calamity and turning it around!” The team does have plans to move into a fantastic new space in the coming months. We’ve seen photos and it’s very impressive, but that’s all we’re allowed to say for now, Kislyi tells us: “There were cheaper options, but this time I said: ‘Hey let’s have the best place to work in Guildford’. And it will be the best place to work in Guildford.” Kislyi is upbeat about the fire as well, seeing it as something of a good omen: “I think this is a sign from the heavens: get out of this old barn and move on with your lives,” he smiles. He explains the Wargaming office in Minsk was flooded out when they did the alpha for World of Tanks and that game worked out well in the end. GROWING THE WARGAMING BRAND The new office will be just the most visible part of Wargaming’s ambitions. Or as Kisyli puts it: “The UK project is going to be big, we’ll not settle for ‘let’s try’, it’s going to be super-duper-triple-A,” he exclaims. Studio head Decker has an impressive track record, with stints as senior vice president at CCP and six years at DICE, where he ended up as general manager of the studio. Kislyi notes that despite his success, Decker is still hungry, saying: “He’s not going to retire in the foreseeable future, he wants a big thing. His job is not to invent the game and come up with creative ideas. He builds the team, brings in the right people, and it’s going to be a dream team. “We’re not rushing,” Kislyi is keen to impress upon us, with the game a long way from being shown publicly. There’s plenty of time for the new, and growing, team to
make its marks on the franchise, as Anderson explains for us in more detail: “We’re really trying to do stuff a bit different, not for the sake of being different, but for the sake of looking for other opportunities to grow the Wargaming brand. It’s a totally new IP, a totally new way of looking at how we’re going to be doing this. “And I think that’s the exciting bit, with the blessing of Victor and the Wargaming leadership, to go and forge a new path for ourselves. And then with leaders like Sean Decker and Paul Barnett [creative director], we’ve really got every opportunity to go out there and create something pretty spectacular, something pretty fresh. “And this is also why we think we’re a really exciting studio to join, because it’s very seldom in a games industry person’s career that they get to start on a new project, from scratch, fully funded, and build it.” To that end, Wargaming can afford to be somewhat picky about who it chooses for its new team, with Kislyi impressed with Decker’s clear approach to people management. “I wish I had more of this. [Sean] would rather not hire a person, or would fire a person, if they’re not the right fit, so he started from a company culture and common goal: we’re going for the big thing you’re either on the bus, or off the bus. “It’s easy to say, it’s in every business book, but it’s very difficult to do this in real life. But he has amazing style and he’s doing it, which makes me very very happy. I was impressed at the speed he moved. He announced to everyone: ‘We need you to be at the best of your capacities, we don’t have space for passengers’. “He was very clear: ‘We need this, this, this from these positions’, he knows his stuff. He started hiring, and opening positions, using his network to bring in the best of the best people. He’s not in a rush, we understand that it’s going to take some time, so he’s doing his filtering, hiring and firing according to his standards, which are very high.”
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ENGINE ROOMS The studio has already announced it’s working with Unreal, rather than Wargaming’s in-house engine that powers all its biggest hits to date. And although the venture represents a fresh beginning, Wargaming isn’t going to reinvent the wheel, literally-speaking, in order to achieve its goals. “Unreal was not designed to handle vehicles, so that’s why we have been porting in physics and all the things we have in Tanks, that you don’t have in Unreal. So we have Unreal loaded with World of Tanks stuff, technologically speaking,” Kislyi tells us, revealing another small piece of the unseen title, with “vehicular physics” and “visibility” systems being two things that the company has plugged into Unreal for the team. Moving away from Guidlford, Wargaming is also exploring other genres and technologies. In Kiev (Ukraine), it’s working with the 125-strong Frag Lab on an unannounced title. “It’s going to be FPS,” says Kislyi. “Many of those guys were doing Warface before that, so they know how to do FPS, they are using Amazon technology [Lumberyard], because they know how to use it historically. We don’t give anybody any details now, but it’s going to be superduper-triple-A FPS and again they have the mandate to make it right.” And moving back to Unreal, there’s the recently released Pagan Online, an action-RPG that represents the company’s first big step into the premium game market, with the title being sold on Steam. It’s notable for its wide range of control schemes (point-and-click, controller or WASD), in what is often a somewhat staid space, and the breadth of its content. “It’s an experiment, we don’t intervene much with their production, we just give them publishing guidelines. It’s not free-to-play, it’s not the biggest shot we’ve made, but let’s try this one,” Kislyi says on the game.
“This one we hope will be successful in the west because it’s a very universal topic. It’s special forces, you can’t be humourous or have impressionist graphics, cel-shading or whatever. This is photorealistic, running on low-tier computers, because the guys in our target audience are not necessarily super-duper, Alienwareequipped guys.” We suggest that third-person shooters are a somewhat more crowded market than tank games, but Kislyi feels Caliber has its own space: “The world has been taken by storm by third-person, Fortnite for example. I tried The Division 2 for comparison [with Caliber], it’s not a bad game, in fact it’s a very good game, it’s third-person, but the pacing is far apart, to have clear differentiation. And Caliber’s free-to-play.” His own family dynamics have in part led Kislyi to love Caliber. He explains that his son had bumped him out of their Fortnite games for his lack of skills: “Fortnite I was honestly playing, playing, playing and then he stopped inviting me! I’m kinda there but I’m also taking up a space.” So the pair are now playing Caliber together instead: “I’m playing Medic or Heavy, and he’s playing Sniper or Assault. It’s a good father-son game. “Right now, in Fortnite, my son is not the best player – sorry son! And he plays less and less because he gets killed. It’s a very unforgiving environment. So listen Fortnite kids, Caliber, coming soon!”
Pictured above: Keith Anderson, Wargaming UK’s publishing director
Pictured below: Pagan Online, Wargaming’s first premium game
HIGH CALIBER A bigger shot, or rather a fusillade of gunfire, comes in the form of Caliber, which (as we noted at the start) is now going through the more typical Wargaming gestation period. It’s currently in closed beta in the CIS region and you can currently sign up for an EU beta that is yet to be dated. “As an approach, it works, it serves a purpose. First we do CIS-Russia. They are more forgiving, we have a stronger community, and so on. Those things that need to be polished, some of them we don’t know until it has a critical mass of real players, balancing, etc. We do it in Russia. There are some things that you can never learn before you launch. The first month or two will tell us how much work is needed to bring to the west,” Kislyi tells us.
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Borderlands 3: Opening Pandora’s box Marie Dealessandri talks to Borderlands 3’s creative director Paul Sage about how Gearbox managed to make the most of its iconic IP by presenting a new and improved title without losing that familiar feel which fans know and love
n a games market dominated by first-person shooters, Borderlands has always sat apart thanks to its irreverent tone, art style and RPG-like qualities. It carved out a niche for itself, so when Gearbox set out to develop a sequel to 2012’s hit Borderlands 2, five years after the latest entry in the franchise (Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel), the developer knew it had to maintain this unique identity. Whether or not it succeeded remains to be seen for us as Borderlands 3 was not out yet at the time of writing. But what’s for sure is that Gearbox did try everything it could to maintain the franchise’s flair while trying to evolve it in a smart way, as creative director Paul Sage tells MCV. The first obvious evolution for the series is
four new playable characters, with the introduction of Amara, Moze, Zane and Fl4k. The latter is an interesting one as Gearbox revealed that Fl4k is non-binary, with Borderlands 3 forum moderators adding that people who wouldn’t comply to the use of Fl4k’s correct pronouns (they/them) would be banned. “Fl4k is our non-binary robot,” Sage says. “There’s a certain type of player that we think Fl4k will appeal to. Fl4k has pets and so the people who really like to nurture – you know people who play Pokémon or WoW hunters – they really get attached to their pets and Fl4k gets attached to their pets as well.” What we saw as an effort from Gearbox to promote non-binary acceptance seems to be motivated by
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simpler reasons though, Sage continues: “I think it’s just when we’re thinking robot, we don’t think gender really applies. It’s something that I hope people can relate to and can identify with. And so that’s why they’re such an important character.” This should certainly attract a new audience, and is not the only effort from the studio to make Borderlands 3 more inclusive. On a different topic, Gearbox is trying to attract a wider audience by introducing new co-op mechanics that should make it easier for people to get into the title. When playing Borderlands 3 in co-op, players will now share the loot (that will match their individual levels) and enemies will also match a player’s level regardless of their companions’ level. “The philosophy from the very beginning of starting on the game was: what if we could just remove as many barriers as possible to people being able to play together? Levelling is cool because you get so attached to your character and you understand and feel this growth. But then on the other side, levelling hurts because if you outlevel your friends, if you’re playing more, then you can’t play together,” Sage explains. “So we asked ourselves: can we get rid of that barrier? And we said yes, and did the maths so people don’t have to worry about it! So if you’re level 40 and I’m level 20 and you see a level 48 enemy then I’ll see it as a level 28 enemy – you’ll never have to think about it. You just get in and play. Then the instanced loot is important because it means that you’re getting the stuff that’s appropriate to you. So you’re not like: ‘OK, sure you did the maths but it’s a waste of time because I don’t get the right rewards’. Nope. The rewards are right for you based off your level.” THAT’S MY SECRET Characters and co-op mechanics are not the only evolution of the franchise, of course, as Gearbox wanted to go for a more contemporary approach. But overall, the studio didn’t want players to see a dramatic change between entries – which explains why the core loop hasn’t evolved, Sage says. “I came into this from the outside,” he starts explaining, referring to the fact he only joined Gearbox in 2015. “And I love the core loop. So when I came in as this fan of the series it was really important to me to take what we had and improve upon it. I also play a lot of shooters so I was like: let’s find out what’s modern. Sliding. Mantling. Those things get added. But also how you control and how you move: does it feel smooth, does it feel good? Those were really important things to really hone in on. So the core loop, which I think is just something that is an infinitely
playable thing, was really important to just improve and get right. “Now, we’re going to different planets. We’ve added all sorts of different modes, we’ve added physics like exploding things, we’ve added damage types. We don’t bring that up as much I think because it should just feel good when people do it. And that’s one of the secrets: if people don’t mention those things and don’t see them as features but just feel like: ‘Oh, this feels better’, then that’s great. When they play the game, I don’t want them talking about features I want them to say: ‘Hey it was fun’.” The same logic was applied to the evolution of the art style: Gearbox wanted it to feel seamless, barely noticeable, but still improved on. “It has evolved, but the way it’s evolved nobody should talk about…,” Sage smiles. “It was funny because our art director Scott Kester said: ‘I don’t think people will ever realise’, because you have memories of how things looked and how they felt to you at the time versus now. And he said they should get into it and it should just look like Borderlands, it should feel like Borderlands, but if you put the screens side by side then people start saying: ‘Oh my gosh this is a huge difference’! And really notice a lot of the details.” He continues, saying he just wants people to see that it looks good and to be happy that it looks good. There is one change that he does want players to notice though. When we ask Sage about what the studio learnt from the previous Borderlands entries that influenced the development process of Borderlands 3, he answers: “I think we learnt how important story was.” He continues: “I think it’s fair to say that [Borderlands 3 is more narrative-driven]. I love the previous entries, obviously, but I think the main story is a predominant factor of this one.” He goes into further details, explaining why Borderlands 3 is a bit more than your traditional shoot and loot: “Story is important because it drives the context, it gives you purpose and meaning for what you’re doing. It’s one thing just to be able to shoot and that’s fun, but if you don’t have something to back that up with after 30 hours... The importance of that is to make sure that people feel compelled to want to see what’s going to happen next. So giving that context is important. Probably more important than that is the way we develop characters. “I keep using the words ‘genuine irreverence’ and the reason is as we want our characters to feel like they’re genuine. Otherwise you can’t relate to them. So if you can relate to them on a human level – or a robot level! – then I think there’s something there.
Pictured above: Gearbox’s Paul Sage
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Pictured above: Fl4k and one of their pets surround an unfortunate enemy
“And then they have to have irreverence because if they don’t, there’s no surprise for you. One of the missions has a guy who gets stuck in a porta-potty by an AI,” he laughs. “So the AI keeps him trapped in there because he keeps cursing and so it’s a ridiculous situation but it’s completely relatable as in: ‘OK this is how technology would get abused at some point’.” TRUE COLOURS For Borderlands 3, Gearbox switched to Unreal 4, which Sage says is a “fantastic” engine. “One of the cool ones is we got physically-based rendering, you see how light actually plays on different materials. That’s cool, but when your style feels like a comic book style, what does metal really feel like? We took some time, really sitting there thinking like: ‘OK how does this get developed? How does this look?’ “Some of the other things is that we have the ability to have HDR right out of the box. I mention HDR only because I’m nerdy for it and I love seeing the true colours. And honestly I think it’s beautiful. And since I didn’t have as much to do with the job I can brag a little bit about the team,” he laughs. “And I think they did a really nice job with the HDR.” Sage does sound extremely proud of the Gearbox team throughout the entire interview, especially when he mentions some of the challenges met when they had to create different planets, as this time around characters are not limited to Pandora. “The challenge is: what are different planets? How do we make it feel like a different planet? So that was a challenge, creating those art sets, creating new enemies that we find there, that are just completely new things. Creating all of those different assets was just a huge challenge and it’s one of those things again where
hopefully the result that people should feel is that they don’t get visually bored but they feel like: ‘OK, cool, I’m seeing new things’. Because new things is what drives people to want to keep experiencing something. And pacing that out is really important. So I think that was the challenge and I think the team really came together and delivered on that and did a really good job.” These type of technical challenge explains Borderlands 3’s long development cycle (it was hinted at as far back as 2015). What was refreshing though is the short period between the announcement of the title and its release: having been unveiled at PAX East at the end of March with a trailer, Borderlands 3 released on September 13th. That’s only six months after its reveal – a very short cycle by today’s standards. “This a decision that [publisher] 2K and Gearbox came to but I’m going to give you my take on this because I love this decision,” Sage says. “As much as you want to be able to talk about the game and get it out there early, I think the public can actually hear too much and get a bit like: ‘OK but when is it coming? When is it coming?’ And the anticipation can only hold for so long before somebody starts to lose interest. And so having these shorter cycles is something I really love as a developer because we can getting new information to people, that feels fresh every time we speak, and then it’s not such a long cycle that that you’re like: ‘I have no idea...’ You know! Even if the game has got a lot of different things to talk about, sometimes you’re like: how do you extend that when it’s two years at a time? And so a nice short cycle is just incredibly beneficial.” On the topic of what’s beneficial to developers, Sage also addresses the rise of new platforms such as Stadia (that Borderlands 3 will eventually release on) and stores such as the Epic Games Store (with the title being exclusive to Epic for six months). “Just on a personal level, I’m a developer: I want it to be everywhere,” he says. “We create something for people to be able to play and entertain them. And so the more availability we have, just for me as a developer, you get greedy to see people play your game. And so I want people to be able to play the game on anything, like I said. Six months on Epic Games Store and then it becomes available on Steam.” Looking back, Sage is happy about what Gearbox has achieved – and is very much hoping that players will be happy too, he concludes: “As a creative director, you always want more. But there is a time when you just have to say: this is what we set out to do, this is what it is. So there’s always more to come from creative people but I hope people see that this is the game we wanted to make.”
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MCV-SEP19-XSOLLA:MCV-SEP19-XSOLLA 24/07/2019 14:12 Page 1
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Koch Media: ‘We are committed to our strategy of local representation’ Koch Media CEO Klemens Kundratitz talks to Seth Barton about its new office opening in Poland, the acquisition of merchandise specialist Gaya Entertainment, working with Epic Game Store and the upcoming Shenmue III
och Media just keeps on expanding. It recently acquired Italian racing specialist Milestone for instance, but it’s also growing both the reach and breadth of its publishing and distribution services – both for its own titles and those of its many partners, with the acquisition of Gaya Entertainment, plus the recent opening of a new office in Poland. CEO Klemens Kundratitz explains to MCV the thinking behind the acquisition of Gaya, a German merchandise producer and distributor with 29 employees, which has more than a decade of experience in the gaming sector. “It’s an interesting step for us, that we can compliment our video games offering to retail with game merchandise. We have long-standing relationships with other game merchandise companies, like Rubber Road, and they will continue as before, but having a merchandise offering in our own house enables us to offer our publishing partners a route to that segment of the market, not only manufacturing and distributing games but also help them on the game merchandise side.” In a statement, Koch noted that Gaya Entertainment’s web shops and exhibition sales have increased its annual turnover from €3.9m in 2017 (£3.53m) to €6.3m in 2018 (£5.71m).
“It’s becoming clearer when we talk about ‘we can be an all-physical solution’ that means global reach to retail, that means not only games but everything around games,” Kundratitz says. And with this increase in breadth comes another increase in the reach of its services. SHOPPING THE BORDER At the beginning of August, Koch Media announced a new regional office in Poland and Kundratitz explains to us the key rationale behind that move: “We believe you need to be close to the market, you need to be there in order to be effective. And while other people think you don’t need to be locally represented because of the digital dissemination of games, we believe that it’s absolutely vital to be there.” More specifically on the Poland office he expands: “For us, Poland was a missing piece in the jigsaw of Europe, to truly offer a pan-European publishing service, not only to our own studios but also our business partners. Poland has a very robust and growing economy, it has a large playerbase, a vibrant PC business, as well as a console business. “Building our Polish business up was a strategic step for us, and I think it also shows our dedication to our partners and to the industry, that we are committed to
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Pictured above: Koch Media’s next big title, Shenmue III, has been delayed to November and will release on PS4 and the Epic Game Store
our strategy of local representation. Despite some markets having a decline of the physical business, it doesn’t stop us needing local representation,” Kundratitz stresses. Speaking around the time of the Poland announcement, Kundratitz said in a statement: “We are hiring experienced product, marketing and sales experts and look forward to mutually beneficial business relationships with Polish retailers and trade, as well as gaming media and influencers. Our ambition is to establish Koch Media as the No.1 choice for local publishing and retail distribution services in the territory, supported by our local marketing, PR staff, key account managers and local area representatives.” The new office will be opening its doors on October 1st and headed by industry veteran Maciej Turski as general manager of Koch Media Poland. He previously was senior publishing manager at Polish distributor CDP. Kundratitz notes that Poland is just one part of “a general growth strategy,” coming alongside a similar move into Australia in February, where it chose to acquire distributor 18Point2 instead of building a new operation from the ground up. A MAJOR MILESTONE A third major expansion of business comes in development, with the team at Milestone joining the Koch Media family. But Kundratitz suggests it will be business as usual at the developer. “It’s a good studio, it’s a business that has a leading position in the racing niche. THQ Nordic has an active M&A agenda for companies that are well managed, on solid ground business-wise and sharing our larger company strategies, and that was the case with Milestone. “We feel the company is very well run and we don’t really see the need to change it, it’s really unlocking potential that’s the name of the game. I think there’s growth potential in many areas. Being a larger company you have a larger network of business partners and further reach than if you are smaller,” he notes. We wonder whether Milestone’s titles will now come through Koch’s own distribution channels, but surprisingly that’s not a decision that’s been made:
“The publishing stays as it is, they have different distribution partners in different countries and it’s down to Milestone to decide whether they want to change anything or leave it as it is,” he reveals. AN EPIC DECISION Speaking of publishing deals, Koch Media’s Metro Exodus was the first major title in the spotlight for signing an exclusive deal with Epic Game Store, moving the franchise away from Steam for the first time. But that decision doesn’t reflect a broader strategy, Kundratitz explains: “I think you need to make that decision product by product, you cannot generalise it. We certainly value our partnership with Epic, they are a great partner and we continue to be good partners to other players in the market. It’s not about compromising business relationships with others.” However, he is positive about Epic’s entrance and pleased that Koch was able to do that deal with the new store: “I think they really bring value to our industry by offering a business model which is better for content creators and others. They are ambitious, and being a part, playing a role in their journey, as well as them helping us, is a good thing. “We are still happy to have a lot of business with Steam and we love to see Google being ambitious with Stadia. I would not want to put this out of context, but our relationship with Epic is great and I have to admit that for Metro Exodus it was a late decision that we took, but still it was the right decision,” he stresses. With a final delay to November, we’re still awaiting the launch of Koch Media’s next big title, Shenmue III, both on PS4 and (again) on the Epic Game Store. The Kickstarted title has drawn some flack for its move from Steam to Epic, with Epic eventually offering refunds for those who didn’t want a copy from Epic’s store. The title may be running somewhat behind schedule, but Kundratitz is now looking on the bright side of that decision: “Looking at the release window, we see that this Christmas there are not that many big games coming out, so that’s worked out well,” he smiles. “Still, I would have liked to have released it earlier, but if the game needs more time, then we give it more time. It’s important that the title is at its best when it launches,” he notes. To which we wonder whether after such a long wait, 18 years since Shenmue II, it can possibly live up to fan expectation? “We will give it our best shot and hopefully the fanbase will enjoy it. You never really know,” he concludes cautiously.
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Aut mate your world Autonauts won the Ukie UK Game of the Show at Gamescom 2019. Seth Barton talks to Denki’s Gary Penn, who worked on the original GTA, about the thinking behind this inspiring title that eschews violence for love, robots and farming
Pictured right, from left: Gary Penn, from developer Denki, and Michael Fisher, from publisher Curve Digital, with the Ukie UK Game of the Show award at Gamescom 2019
very year at Gamescom, MCV judges the Ukie UK Game of the Show competition and this year we picked Denki’s Autonauts as the winner, as it ticks so many boxes in terms of what we’re looking for from an inspiring new title. Autonauts is charmingly presented but has incredible depth. It’s free of violence, even using love as a resource. It’s educational in the sense that you learn the nuts and bolts or programming but without it seeming like you’re being schooled. And it has huge potential to become a massive phenomenon. We talk to Gary Penn, creative director at developer Denki, about how the game came about and what’s next for it.
What is Autonauts and how did the idea start? Autonauts is a game about automation, robots, industries, systems, colonisation… Aaron [Puzey, technical director], the other half of the team, was consumed by Factorio at the time he ended up working on his friend’s farm, where he saw all these systems efficiently feeding into each other and that gave him the idea for a game about using little farmer robots to automate farming. He knocked up a quick prototype that tickled my fickle pickle and we set about seeing what we might do with the idea. We’ve known each other since our DMA Design [now Rockstar North] days and work well together.
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Aaron codes and I do whatever else needs doing. We have a healthy Itch.io and Discord community and lovely publishing support. Right now we’re in a phase that’s probably best described as beta. The first proper version is in the hands of real players who are helping us shape its form for initial release. Feedback so far has been honest and helped us improve a lot in a short space of time. What were your influences? Factorio and Scratch are our most conscious influences, but when we show people the game, they often comment positively on how it reminds them of this, that and the other, so I guess we subconsciously leaked a lot of ingrained influences too – even from games we’ve never played. How much of the game as it exists now has come out of learnings from people playing with the toolset? Back in 2017 we released a public prototype of the core game, which was rough but real: it put the fun into functional. We updated that with new features and fixes every single week for 22 weeks without fail, sharing our ideas and bug lists with the community of fans. That helped us gauge if there was enough interest out there, which there was, but also where that interest was focused, which has helped us shape what we had. The hard part has been making the most of that. Autonauts has no violence and uses love as a resource, was that a conscious decision in a games market with so much violence? (especially given you worked on first GTA) I’m not sure how conscious it was. I know that being a parent definitely changes your perspective – you get more conscious of the world around you and how it impacts those closest to you. I’ve worked on GTAs and Crackdowns and... I don’t know, I guess I’m tired of all the violence in games; it’s just so normalised. I’d rather see less of it done right in the right context. Autonauts could be described as educational, but is that a tricky line to walk as educational can mean dull to some? Mmm, edutainment... We didn’t intend to make anything educational or moral or anything other than something we wanted to play and felt comfortable sharing with others. The fact remains that we have ended up with something that does have educational possibilities, but that’s a bonus as far as we’re concerned. There’s been palpable excitement
from schoolchildren and teachers exposed to Autonauts so far, so we’re looking forward to seeing if we can build on that. What are your ambitions for the game as it develops post release? It feels like we’ve been too ambitious from the outset. As anyone who’s worked on something unlike anything else will tell you, it’s a blessing and a curse. We tried out so many different ideas and game structures, most of them went nowhere, which feels like a waste at the time but it’s all part of the discovery. Community feedback has been useful for keeping us grounded but we definitely tried to go too far, too soon, at one point. We published this mahoosive technology tree timeline – which wasn’t even complete – with the aim of delivering everything and more with the first release. That just wasn’t practical, so we’ve split the game into three phases – agricultural revolution, industrial revolution, and everything else – and there’s potentially hundreds of hours of play in the first one alone. We’re aiming for regular small monthly updates and then two big quarterly ones, one for each phase. We’d love to make a special free version with more coding-focused challenges for schools.
This year’s UK Game of the Show award, organised by Ukie, was supported by games and esports advisory and funding firm Wicked Sick
Why did you decide to partner with Curve Digital? Simon Bryon’s [publishing director] widdle face! Every time I’ve show him progress, he ends up grinning like a small child who’s just wet himself with glee. His first ever reaction was pure and sincere and that appealed greatly to me. There are so many possible routes to market these days. We thought we’d give it a go ourselves, expecting it to be hard, but it was just too much for us to bear alongside making the game. We knew the concept had great potential and we had way too many ideas for it, but we couldn’t figure out how to make the most of it. Well, we had a plan – we knew we had to make something, but we weren’t always sure it was the right direction. Anyway, in the end we decided we’d be better off working with a publishing partner. I went around Develop last year showing off where we were at and explaining where we were going. Reactions were mixed but Simon, if anything, seemed even more in love with it a year after I’d first shown it to him. Aaron and I will be at Twitchcon and EGX so why not come see what makes Autonauts so nice or give us a squeeze on Steam!
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When We Made... Ape out
actually look at you. And even with that little bit of work, with the help of the animation and really smart Marie Dealessandri takes a look designers and engineers, with behind everybody working you could tell of fromApe the very beginning that the scenes at thetogether, development Out. was a character thatdeveloped people would really gravitate Gabe Cuzzillo talkssheabout how he the game in Unitytoward.” despite not knowing how Quill really becomes a fully fleshed out character with to code and how the procedurally generated the help of the game’s strong world-building. As an soundtrack came about interloper in Quill’s world, the player 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, and one which gives way to joint apprehension asON bothpaper, the player and sounds Quill enter unfamiliar Ape Out likenew, a pretty typicalareas. game: “When youyou go through Mousetown and you see facility. Quill as an ape, try to escape a heavily-guarded runThis through there and be youthe seestarting that she has of a hometown, premise could point many stealth theorfeeling of games. her leaving of that maybe being in escape Andit,yet, Apetown Out is truly unique. danger, gives you more of a bond,” Alderson to says. “If Developer Gabe Cuzzillo has managed blend that part was left an out,incredible you wouldn’t feel likeofthere together such patchwork ideaswas that much to fileft ghtwondering for. Everything done, mood you’re why that has we’ve nobody donethe it before: settings, taking Quill from one area to the jazz nextinand letting Saul Bass-inspired art meets freeform what ends you andan take in this environment… It’s all supposed uprest being incredibly inspired (and violent) procedurally to generated exaggeratebeat and ‘em accentuate that mood that you’re up. Pictured above: Gabe Cuzzillo, feeling. all ties back into second how yougame, are connecting ApeIt Out is Cuzzillo’s following with up on independent developer Quill and her world.” 2014’s fencing title Foiled, which he co-developed with Aaron Taecker-Wyss. SAME QUESTION WAYS “I was in the filmEIGHT program [at NYU] at the time and Collaboration was during the department developmentthinking of Moss, I started sniffi ng key at the games notabout just within the team itself,tells but with of external switching,” Cuzzillo MCV.the “I help finished Foiled in playtesters. often in to feedback on NovemberPeople were and we stillbrought had however many weeks left in the semester so I had to start a new thing, and I’d been playing a lot of top down games.” He mentions Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine and, of course, the ultimate reference, Hotline Miami. “I was just interested in all those games’ very minimal feel. There isn’t a huge amount of physicality to them. The characters feel light, change direction very fast, almost feel like a cursor,” he continues.
the game and asked questions about their experience – even if most of these questions were actually very similar. “External playtests were mostly about ‘Okay, how do people feel when they play? Do they like it or not like it?’,” Alderson explains. “At the end of playtest we would ask the same question eight different ways. The question is really ‘What didn’t you like?’, but we would ask it differently: ‘What pulled you out of the experience? What took you out of the headset? If there’s one thing you could change what would it be? If you had two weeks to finish the game, what would be the thing that you’d fix?’ “Those help bring a playtester into their comfort zone, because above: no one Ape wants to play something that people put Pictured Out’s bold art style makes it stand out theand indielove crowd first glance a lotfrom of care into at and then turn around and say ‘This is what I didn’t like about it’. So it takes a little while to “And get the comfortable, wedown foundgame that soplaytester I wanted to try makingand a top finding ways to ask the same means that haddifferent a little bit more physicality to question it and a little youmore eventually really stuff after fourth or bit more get feel.the That firstgood manifested as the a stealth fifth time you you ask were it. game where playing a bald guy and you were “I don’taround think anyone in our has the everphysicality made a sneaking and the ideastudio was that gamegoing like this, so I think important that with you trust was to come fromit’s your interaction walls.the The process. You trusttoplaytesting and you of make sure that walls were going be the equivalent platforms in ayou allow yourself time and freedom to try something platformer. Sosome you could always be moving from wall to and and thenbe keep going.along Try something newcould and branch out, wall slinking the wall. You also push butthe alsowalls use or your experience from thatthen you’ve off you could grab thegames walls and lean made before and you’ll be fine. As long as you’re having and peek around corners.” funBeing too! We ableenjoyed to grabplaying the walls was a turning the point in Moss throughout entire development, Cuzzillo you could grab walls, it process and I think thatadds: really “If helps.” made sense to be able to grab people. And then if you grab people, it makes sense to throw people. So pretty quickly it was a game where you grabbed people and pushed them into each other. Then it was: ‘Oh well, this doesn’t really make sense for a human to do. Perhaps a gorilla’. And so then I started making it into a gorilla.” And just like that, Ape Out started taking shape. But this wasn’t necessarily an easy ride for Cuzzillo, as it took quite a long time for the title to come to life, with
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Ape Out not releasing until February 2019 – almost six years after it started development. APE-LYING YOURSELF Being quite new to making video games, Cuzzillo had to learn everything from scratch. “[Ape Out’s development] was mostly me learning how to do anything because Foiled was made in GameMaker and it turns out I didn’t really know how to code because I’d only been coding for six months,” he smiles. “And so the first year was some design noodling but mostly just me struggling with the code and with tools, and trying to learn how to do stuff.” Cuzzillo actually started making what would become Ape Out in GameMaker, but switched to Unity after a month or so of work. When asked about the reasons for this switch, especially considering he was still learning to code, he laughs: “I mean, there wasn’t a great reason! I had a lot of trouble launching Foiled – it wasn’t working properly on Windows 8. Unity was just the thing that everybody used and it seemed like a grown-up piece of software. It was powerful. But it’s a lot... You actually have to understand code. And it turns out I didn’t!” Making a game in Unity without really knowing how to code sounds incredibly ambitious. Fortunately, Cuzzillo had the support of his brother, who had studied Computer Science and is “very generous with his time,” Cuzzillo jokes. “That first summer I was making Foiled, I just learnt sitting next to him at my computer. I would just go for hours and hours and hours – at the beginning I was just really soaking it up. It was really addictive,” he says. When he switched over to Unity for Ape Out, he had to rely on his brother whenever he got stuck, “which was a lot at the beginning,” he adds. “There was a point after about two months of development where I was in a lecture trying to work on it and it didn’t have any Wi-Fi and I just couldn’t do anything. I could make no progress because I just had to rely on the internet and my brother so much at the beginning that I just couldn’t figure out how to make the
code work without those things. So the first year or so was just really trying to get my head above water.” This will probably sound familiar to a lot of young, self-taught developers and should probably reassure them that it is indeed possible to keep your head above water in such circumstances; it just takes time and you can’t really rush the process of making a game if you want it to be polished. FINDING THE ZHOOSH Having overcome these early stages of trial and error, Cuzzillo was then able to focus on other aspects of Ape Out, with the most important one – sound design and music – making its way to the game in a quite unexpected way before getting to its final form (a procedurally generated soundtrack, with each chapter of the game representing a jazz album, and each level being one track). “After about a year of making [Ape Out], it had come together to some degree, it was recognisable, the silhouette style was in. At the time I was totally obsessed with the song You’ve Got to Have Freedom by Pharoah Sanders and I had to cut a trailer to apply to a NYU incubator program and I cut it to that song. It just worked really, really well and I had already been putting a little bit of music into the game. But it was over the course of that incubator program that I really figured out what the game was and I thought of ripping drum solos off YouTube and putting them in the game and playing cymbal crashes on kills. The art style came together a lot more and I solidified what the target was and what the styles I was drawing from were. But it was really that song gave the game its zhoosh.” Cuzzillo played with music possibilities for a while before sound designer Matt Boch started on the project in 2017 and built the whole dynamic music system. Boch worked at Harmonix for over seven years and has been an associate professor at the NYU Game Center for the past four years. “We were building the music and the game in parallel and it wasn’t until fairly late in development that the music system really came on line in the way it was
Pictured below: The humans may have guns but your ape is far from defenceless
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Pictured above: Your ape can use opponents as human shields to close on his next target
going to be,” Cuzzillo continues explaining. “We still had just static temp tracks in until the build we sent out in August of 2018. But the music was far enough along in 2018 that we started to build things together. The titles between the levels were being driven by those little drum solos... Those were actually really fast to make and it was because all the drums are simulated live. We know when every drum hit occurs and so Matt can just offer a little drum solo and we can cook up the titles to respond really fast.” With the music emulating the action on screen during levels, the drumming needed to complement the action without everything becoming a mess of noise. “Basically the way the system works is that the only thing that is a direct reaction to a distinct event is the cymbal crashes when guards die and those depend on where on the screen the guard dies – it will play a different cymbal – but the rest of the drums are just based on an intensity rating,” Cuzzillo says. “The intensity rating is generated basically by a couple of different factors like intensity events. And so the more guards on screen, the higher the intensity. Every time there’s a gunshot, the intensity is raised, every time you kill a guard, the intensity is raised. Fire on screen also raises the intensity. And the way the
drums react to that is immediately the drummer starts playing the drums harder if the intensity goes up and he also starts choosing denser patterns to play. So he has a giant pool of patterns that he draws from – some of which Matt made, some of which he generated using neural networks and some of which he found on the Internet. Each one has a density rating and a similarity rating, and so it tries to start playing similar drum sequences that are denser – that just contain more hits per second.” In an interview given to MusicTech, Boch said he created dozens of hours of drumming, with the publication saying that “players only hear about onehundredth of the total patterns in any given playthrough of the game.” It was important for Cuzzillo to use procedural generation, he continues, even if it made the process a bit more complicated than a traditional soundtrack. “Well it’s really the reactivity…,” he answers when asked why he decided to go for procedural generation. “Because every hit is playing a sample, every drum simulates its own sound, it just means that the drum is going to be way more reactive to what’s going on. And in the game it’s so fast. The typical approach to reactive music, having stems that come in and out or fading between tracks, is just way too slow for this game.” On top of this, Cuzzillo had to nail the challenge of getting the musical level transitions right. “Until pretty late in development the level transitions were a big sticking point – they were just bad,” he says. “And I didn’t really know what to do about it. Like you would just walk into a hall and then the camera would zoom in on the ape and you’d get a score and then it would be a long loading page and then you would be in the next level and it just felt very... It just didn’t have the flair that the rest of the game had. So it took me a long time to figure out what the fuck should happen at the end of a level. Making a whole level seamless was really hard technically but worthwhile. And then the titles [between levels] really felt like they just tied the whole game together in a way that was just way more complete and seamless than the game was before.”
“I had a part of it but I didn’t know what it meant to finish a game. I was imagining that finishing it had to entail things I didn’t really know how to do.”
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The art style came together around the same time, with the developer ultimately working with QWOP creator Bennett Foddy, who had just started teaching game design at NYU when Cuzzillo started working on Ape Out. “The art style, at the very start, was me trying to find a style that fits the vibe of the game and was something that I could accomplish as a non-artist. So I started looking at a lot of Saul Bass and Olly Moss posters and once the music started coming in, everything clicked and it became clear the era and vibe we were evoking. “Ben [Foddy] was always, first as a professor and then as a peer, helping out with art stuff and giving advice about how to make the game look better. But it wasn’t until the last couple months of development that he actually came on the project and basically he just spent three months adding a lot of richness to the environments, he just made a lot of props and adjusted all the colour palettes, and also did the beautiful album covers and the menu art.” AN UNCONFIDENT STATE Looking back, there are a couple of things Cuzzillo would do differently, he says, also mentioning how difficult it is to finish a game and to face what the game is compared to your own expectations of what the game could have been. “I wouldn’t try to do it alone,” he starts saying. “I was alone with the project for a long time. In some ways that was good but I think it was just too long. And then there was just a couple of years here and there, like 2016 and 2017 namely, where I just didn’t make as much progress as I was hoping and the game... I just wasn’t really... I didn’t know how to finish it. “I had a part of it and I knew that part was working but I didn’t know how to expand it into a full game and I didn’t know what it meant to finish a game because I hadn’t really done it – at least this style of game – before. “I think I was imagining that finishing it had to entail things I didn’t really know how to do. I thought there were gonna be elaborate cutscenes and more story stuff. I half built a lot of those things. But I don’t know, it was like something happened at some point where it clicked and I somehow entered finishing mode.” Ape Out’s publisher Devolver Digital’s head of production Andrew Parsons came to New York to help Cuzzillo make a milestone schedule towards the end of 2017 – which probably gave the developer the little push he needed.
“I came into 2018 having had [Ape Out] over my head for way too long and I just wanted the game to be finished by May of 2018. And I didn’t really know what that meant. By that point, I knew there were going to be albums and I had rough outlines of what the albums were going to be. But at a certain point I was like: ‘OK well I have to have the whole game playable by the end of February. What is the thing I could do that would make that at all doable?’.” He concludes: “It’s weird because actually a lot of work I did during that time I ended up redoing later. It’s like I somehow had to just get enough of it down even in an unconfident state just to be able to understand what the pieces were and what were the parts actually required, what the intentions were. Because it just lived in a very conceptual space for a long time, where I didn’t really know what we were actually working on and ended up just working on stuff that was not really the best and most relevant stuff. A lot.”
Pictured above: QWOP developer Bennett Foddy assisted with art on the game
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The Sounds of... Wilbert Roget
Every month, we discuss the unique process of making music for video games. This month, Marie Dealessandri dives into the musical universe of Wilbert Roget, who’s behind the soundtracks of Mortal Kombat 11, Call of Duty: WWII, Star Wars: The Old Republic and more
Can you tell us more about your approach when you work on a game’s score? Each project varies drastically in the timing of when they bring in a composer, and in the creative decisions that have already been made before then. On Mortal Kombat 11, I started composing in the final months of development for a title within a 27-year-old game franchise, so there were already well-established boundaries. Conversely, I began scoring Anew: The Distant Light, an indie original IP with a team of only two developers, within a year of its inception. But in either case, I always begin a score by immersing myself in the story and art direction, and then spending as much time as possible in ‘pre-composition’, which is my musical take on a preproduction phase. I’ll do research on many different musical genres, watch genre-relevant films and take notes on their scores. Frequently I’ll even transcribe music in genres that I think might be relevant to the eventual score (for instance, transcribing taiko performances before scoring Mortal Kombat 11, or John Williams pieces before working on a Star Wars game title). I also keep a brainstorming document that I populate with any ideas I might have about the score –
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a level with busy sound design – if elements from my music were either obscured by sound design or stood out unattractively, I’d simply remove them. I also incorporated sound design within the musical soundscape as well – our audio director sent me some of the game’s authentic WWII vehicle and weapon sounds, which I then processed and used as a part of the orchestra, taking the place of traditional percussion instruments like cymbals and tam-tams. This “musique concrète” technique helped give the score a unique texture, closely identifiable with the setting.
Pictured above: Caption
things as specific as melodies and chord progressions, or as vague as colour or instrument names. Throughout the entire scoring process, I’ll continue to update this document with fresh ideas, and highlight the more successful concepts that have already begun to define the music direction. How closely do you work with the sound designer(s) when you write music for a game and how important is this for you? It’s vitally important to make sure that music is structured to fit within the mix, and so I greatly value early collaboration with the audio team. Before writing a single note on Call of Duty: WWII, I met with the audio director and senior sound designer. They mentioned how difficult it was to mix previous games in the series due to music and SFX taking up similar frequency bands, and having conflicting timbres, so I decided early on to structure my instrumentation to avoid these conflicts. As a result, my score didn’t use any high woodwinds or brass, nor any snare drums or mallet percussion, in order to make sure that the music didn’t conflict with our authentic WWII weapon sounds. Whenever I would finish writing a cue, I’d test it against
Pictured above: Writing the music for Mortal Kombat 11 meant looking into 27 years of franchise history first
What are your typical challenges when writing music for games as opposed to more linear narrative forms? Game scores are inherently unpredictable; in-game music can be interrupted at any point by gameplay events, which can last for a completely unknown duration. Interactive music often requires non-linear composition methods, for example organising music cues into stems with instrument groups separated and triggered dynamically, or split into segments that can play seamlessly in any order, or some combination of both. Additionally, each cue in a game score has a form that’s dictated by the composer, similar to a piece of art music – whereas in a film score, the form is generally structured by the edit and the pacing of the scene. Lastly, music that’s meant to loop indefinitely has certain implied restrictions to the content itself – the goal is to loop seamlessly and imperceptibly, so composers must avoid individual moments that stand out too much. Do you feel like your work as a composer impacts the design of the games you work on? If so, can you provide examples? The more involved I am with the game’s music implementation, the more my music has an impact on the players’ experience. For example, on Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris, we developed a generalised puzzle music system where designers could put in musical ‘hints’ whenever players reached checkpoints in a complicated puzzle. It was created as a function within the game engine’s visual scripting tool, and easily implemented by designers. Additionally, because I had access to the Lara Croft builds throughout development, I would regularly play through the game and take note of areas where I would get stuck in
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difficult combat or puzzle areas. I’d then write additional unique music cues for those moments, so that players would be encouraged by my subconscious hint that these areas were intended to be difficult. How free are you to experiment when you take on a mandate from a studio? I always enjoy experimenting with new ideas and concepts as much as possible, but it usually depends on how much time we have in the schedule, and so it varies greatly. On Mortal Kombat 11, I had a great deal of freedom as the character-based score needed so much sonic diversity. And on Anew: The Distant Light, I joined the project early enough that we could try lots of unusual sounds and 20th century art music influences not typically heard in a game score. Lastly, on Call of Duty: WWII, we allowed a generous amount of time at the start of production for iteration on the main theme, establishing a solid direction to base the rest of the score upon. Do you have any tips on how can developers best help composers to make music for their game? It’s a great idea to bring in composers as soon as the story is well-developed and a solid plan for gameplay is established! Let us be a part of the process of developing a style and mood for the game as a whole, working harmoniously with the art direction and allowing ample time and resources for implementation and tuning. It’s also a good idea to establish early on which moments should be music-heavy vs. sound design-heavy, so that the two components don’t have to fight each other. Lastly, I advocate against constant music throughout
Pictured above: Roget used audio elements from within the game world, such as vehicle noises, in his score for Call of Duty: WWII, to ground it in the era
narrative games, and instead prefer a more varied experience with moments of silence. Mortal Kombat 11 was your first fighting game score, how did you approach this genre? I was already quite familiar with the Mortal Kombat franchise, having been a fan since the very first game. I knew the game would feature the franchise’s signature over-the-top violence, which informed my harmonic language as well as my use of hard-cutting analog synthesizers and aggressive percussion. The heart of the score, however, was in the characters and their development and relationships, so I crafted leitmotifs for every character and faction. And because the personas were so diverse, the music needed to be diverse as well, so I worked with instrumentalists and vocalists from four different continents to create unique signature sounds for each. What was the most inspiring game world you worked on? It’s very difficult to pick just one game in particular. I loved scoring Call of Duty: WWII because of the challenge of writing for historical fiction – its real-world setting and harrowing subject matter required a different approach than usual, embracing a minimalist aesthetic that’s both gritty and personal. On Mortal Kombat 11, I was scoring for characters that I’d known and loved for decades, which was a rare privilege. And for my upcoming score to Anew: The Distant Light, the world is alien and unusual but also has incredible depth and consistency, which inspired me to create perhaps my most unique-sounding score yet!
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IN my opinion, graphics programming is one of the most technical, but most rewarding disciplines. It’s the closest thing to magic for me. My job is to imagine things and make them reality. We are creating a universe – not the actual details, but the laws of our universe. It’s not our job to fill it with life, but what we do shapes everything. It must be robust and consistent to deal with anything all the content teams, like artists and designers, populate it with. Graphics programming has changed a lot in the past ten years or so. It’s just as technical as before, but things that used to be low-level and code-driven are transitioning to be high-level and data-driven, while new low-level challenges appear.
“Graphics programming is about serving all the other teams and empowering them to be able to create what they want to, within the limits of the engine.”
The team at Creative Assembly debunks some common dev role myths. This month, Tamás Rábel, rendering technical director at Creative Assembly looks into the magic of graphics programming
For example, shader programming. Graphics programmers used to do all shader programming, but now most of it is the responsibility of technical art. This means we can focus more and more on the entire framework and less on the cases specific to individual models. In my experience most people outside the industry think about technical art when talking about graphics programming. But graphics programming is about serving all the other teams and empowering them to be able to create what they want to, within the limits of the engine. The limits are important, because at the end of the day, the game we’re making doesn’t just have to look great, it needs to run smoothly as well. As I mentioned before, it’s not about creating the content, it’s about creating the laws for the universe where the content will go. When we fix something, we are not fixing individual pieces or meshes in the world, we are fixing the rules of the world. So, you want to be a graphics programmer? Similar to many game development disciplines, you don’t need higher education or a perfect SAT score. It’s all down to the skills you can demonstrate. We want you to show us your portfolio and present a clear understanding of the basic principles of rendering, starting from scratch. For example, how to set up a D3D device, how the rasteriser works or that you can program basic shadow mapping. DirectX is a must, it’s still the main platform for this discipline, unless you want to work on mobile. You need to be able to clearly demonstrate that you have the skills to solve problems and implement those principles. We are not looking for professional experience (at least not for entry level roles), but we want to see that you know what you are talking about. In the age of the Internet you can learn all these things by yourself. There are great blogs to follow, lots of example code and free development environments. All you need is some time and determination. If you create a few videos of your work, upload some source code and you know that graphics programming is your calling, you will already stand out from the crowd.
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Casting the Runes
FRICTION is defined as the resistance that one surface, or object, encounters when moving over another. In games, this is the resistance a player feels when they try to engage with a particular aspect of a game. Friction is often considered to be synonymous with frustration, or at least a precursor to it, so as designers we tend to identify friction points and smooth them out. What I’m here to argue is that sanding the rough edges off your game isn’t always a good thing. That there is such a thing as good friction. This is a difficult point to argue, especially throughout an iterative development process. We create gameplay, user test it, fix the
Jagex’s developers visit us from Runescape’s Gielinor to talk about their latest adventures. This month, lead game designer Ollie Hind warns of giving players too much instant gratification and argues the case for good friction
frustration points or the UX failures and repeat until it’s a polished, shining product. As Tim Schafer said: “In most development environments or when you’re talking to a publisher, it’s not considered okay to be [stuck anymore].” In this context, he’s referring to struggling with a puzzle as being ‘stuck’. Discussing Psychonauts’ Black Velvet level, he further said: “We first tested that with the publisher and feedback came back that ‘people like the level but I don’t think the paintings are working’ and we were like: ‘Oh what happened? Did people just never figure it out?’ and they were like: ‘Oh no, they figured it out eventually but there was a period where they were confused and they didn’t know what to do, and then they figured it out’ and I was like: ‘Isn’t that kind of what we used to call gameplay?’ Being confused, not knowing what to do and then going ‘Aha!’” The ‘Aha!’ moment makes solving puzzles so satisfying, and the tough journey to that moment makes for a meaningful achievement. Take the Soulsborne games; in most games, dying to the same boss over and over, sometimes for multiple hours, would be considered frustrating and the difficulty would quickly be rebalanced. But FromSoftware has made this its identity. The feeling of satisfaction from overcoming these challenges is something gamers have flocked to and the titles became huge successes. These uphill battles are examples of good friction, but as the benefits are delayed and less tangible than a scary emotion like frustration, they are often harder to identify in short playtests. In modern games, this good friction is becoming less and less common and this is most true in live games, which spend years in players’ hands being scrutinised, tweaked and expanded. For me, the perfect example is World of Warcraft. Over the years, its quality of life updates, which seem to make complete sense at the time, have smoothed out the rough edges. The assumption that an ageing playerbase no longer has as much time has led to decisions that make it easier for players to catch up with frontrunners, complete the same raids
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In RuneScape, having to ﬁgure out the best builds and strategies may create friction but encourages discussion and collaboration between players
and earn epic or even legendary gear. There are far fewer meaningful aspirations in the game. Now, following in the footsteps of Old School RuneScape, hordes of fans are flocking back to WoW Classic, eager for a return to the old days. When you ask players why they’re so eager to go back in time, you’ll often hear things like: ‘It was more about the journey’, ‘I was more immersed in the world’, ‘epic gear actually felt epic’ or ‘there was more of a community feel’. I would argue that almost all these comments are direct results of good friction. This can be seen throughout the design of the game, but a good example is running a five-man dungeon. In modern WoW, you queue up through a system, get put straight into the dungeon, run it with relative ease and leave, never to talk to your group again (if you even did in the first place). It’s simple and streamlined, saving the player a lot of time. But in WoW Classic, you have to post in a global channel to find and invite your own group members. Once you have your group, you run to the dungeon and meet up. Then, completing the dungeon itself is often a much tougher experience. This all means that you spend time talking to the people in your group and traversing the world. You formulate plans together, you persevere, and the gear you earn means so much more because of this journey. These friction points have been smoothed out over the years, but at the cost of immersion, community and player investment. As Mark Brown said in his video Following the Little Dotted Line: “Putting an extra step in before receiving a reward makes it all the more [sweet].” Another aspect of this smoothing process which live games suffer from is a gradual gravitation towards homogenisation and simplicity
in the pursuit of perfect design. My colleague Tim Fletcher did a great Develop talk on this, called Elegance vs Intricacy – When Your Design Is Too Good To Have Depth, in which he discusses this, arguing that sometimes it’s better to sacrifice elegance in favour of intricacy. This is something we’ve tried to place more focus on here at Jagex with RuneScape, often referring to it as ‘wrinkly-ness’. Having to figure out the best builds, strategies or approaches in a game may create friction, but it also makes the game more interesting to experiment with and discuss with other players. In summary, as we get better at iterative development and user testing as an industry, there is a risk that we give our players too much instant gratification. When targets are given to game designers and we have user scores to hit, it can often seem like the easy route. But let’s not lose sight of the journey. A prize well earned is a prize worth having, and you forge closer bonds with the people you play with along the way.
“Friction points have been smoothed out over the years, at the cost of immersion, community and player investment.”
September 2019 MCV 950 | 69
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The Final Boss Every month an industry leader wraps up MCV with their unique insight
Your first big success was with Dance eJay, I first met you at a Motörhead-related event, then there’s We Sing and The Voice, and Wired’s branding has an indie record label feel to it... Is that all a coincidence or is music important to you? Music is life. Video games are great, but even with the best games, it’s the soundtrack that makes them pop. I started my career running and promoting club nights. That experience actually helped me get my first job in the industry, and especially helped in making Dance eJay a success. Funny how life opens doors in different ways! Wired having a bit of an indie record vibe… This has come naturally really, and genuinely. It’s all about the developers who make great games. They keep the IP, we pay great royalty rates and we try to be one big family, while busting our ass to make each game a success. We have been compared to Factory Records a few times, but then I’m not posh… I’m a West Watford streetboy with Italian blood – not very posh at all. What was the worst single moment of your career to date? Having to put down my dog Bella recently – she was part of the Wired family and the company mascot. RIP Bella. The previous worst moment in my career was losing my first company – I was great at my job, but shit at running a business. We made a lot of money for people, but as soon as things turned, people turned. It was the worst period of my life. And one which never really goes away. I learnt a lot, and sadly have scars to prove it. But I never ran, I stood my ground, and took the hits. I had to roll up my sleeves and get on with it. The Wired razor blade logo is a result of that period of my life. Wired’s motto is: “To do business the right way!” How and when did that become important to you and what does it mean practically speaking? If we don’t learn from our experiences, we are stupid. Humans are not supposed to be stupid, right!? Experience is king. Knowing the next step, or having a back-up plan, or having access to help is essential – and staying calm, really calm! Wired was started with a few simple mottos: “If you can’t pay, don’t buy”, “If you are not serious, don’t sign”, “Partners mean partners, make it successful for both parties”, “Work double hard when you have someone else’s money”, “Only work with good people”, “Try your fucking hardest”! Can the games industry possibly change as much over the next five years as it has over the last five? Of course it will. New formats are incoming. Streaming will come, and has a high percentage chance of sticking. Retail will still be on its last legs (apparently). We will have gone through more fads, more investment trains that fuel the industry, and one or two surprising hits will take over the gaming landscape.
Leo Zullo Managing director, Wired Productions “We have been compared to Factory Records a few times, but then I’m not posh… I’m a West Watford streetboy with Italian blood – not very posh at all.”
Who continues to impress you in the industry? My team continues to impress me. I would take a bullet for each and every one of them. But cheesy answer aside, an amazing pair of Swedish chaps called Pelle Lundborg and Lars Wingefors [THQ Nordic co-founders]. Working with them was a career-defining moment, and an opportunity which I didn’t want to mess up. The journey that both of those fine chaps have been on since continues to impress me and they show no signs of stopping. Do you feel the games industry is headed in the right direction? We have access to some of the most vulnerable audiences – I think it is our responsibility to help, support, develop, nurture, teach and improve the lives of this audience. This can be through the stories and journeys of our games, the ethos that we work and live by, the communities we develop, and the support and guidance that we provide. Let’s lead by example and help shape a generation!
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