MCV-MAY20-GREEN MAN IFC, IBC:MCV-MAY20-GREEN MAN IFC 04/05/2020 17:03 Page 1
SUMO: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE The ‘work-for-hire’ giant is a growing creative powerhouse
SOLID STATE DIFFERENCE Developers on why SSDs are the real next-gen revolution
CCP’s Hilmar Veigar Pétursson proves the
EVE EFFECT “It has increased their skillset in a way that is highly applicable to the rest of their lives.”
n REMOTE CONTROL – MANAGING IN A CRISIS
n KIND WORDS: THE PERFECT LOCKDOWN GAME?
n IT’S IN THE GAME – ADVERTISING VS COVID-19
05 The editor
It's going to be a huge H2
06 Critical Path
The key dates this month
Virtual events from the industry
14 Industry Voices
Our platform for the industry
18 The Eve Effect
CCP proves the upside of games
26 Ins and Outs
And all our recruitment advice
18 30 Remote management
How are you managing?
36 Solid State Difference
Developers on the SSD revolution
42 It's in the game!
How in-game ads can change the world
48 Get Packed for Stadia
The upsides of developing in the cloud
52 Sumo: creative power
33% of revenue comes from own IP
58 The XDev report
How are your key partners holding up?
60 When We Made...
Is Kind Words a perfect pandemic game?
64 The Sounds of...
48 04 | MCV/DEVELOP May 2020
Tomb Raider composer Jason Graves
66 The Final Boss
Coconut Lizard's Robert Troughton
“That’s a lot of marketing spend, trying to find potentially elusive eyeballs, in a compressed period of time.”
TheEditor Selling all of the games, in half of the time Sony recently announced that it will be releasing its pair of exclusives this summer – The Last of Us Part II will arrive in June, and Ghost of Tsushima in July. Marking the beginning of a long and busy period for the industry. The dates are not a huge surprise, but their reveal brings into focus an increasingly large problem: Trying to get through a packed launch schedule, alongside the ongoing uncertainty of the epidemic, plus the added curveball of new console hardware. In short, that’s a hell of a lot of product and a hell of a lot of marketing spend, trying to find potentially elusive eyeballs, in a compressed period of time. Coming back to Sony, we’re only five weeks away from The Last of Us Part II, with no idea of when retail stores might reopen. In any other year, one or both exclusives would be shifted back to the autumn. But with Sony’s current strategy seeming to be: ‘release the exclusives now on PS4 and then bang the drum for PS5 later,’ that’s not an option. Sony wants to get these games out the door. All of which means this year’s big release season is longer than we’ve seen for a while, with space for other titles already incredibly limited from even before summer is over. Cyberpunk: 2077 moved back to September already, where it’s currently joined by Square Enix’s Marvel’s Avengers. Ubisoft is bringing us Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla (most likely in October), but it has other major titles to release too, such as Watch Dogs: Legion. Then there’s Call of Duty obviously, rumoured to be set in Vietnam. EA will of course have FIFA, which is proving more reliable than ‘real’ football at present, and surely it must have some other release up its sleeve for Q4 too. And then to top all that off, there are two brand new consoles to sell to consumers. Alongside presumably at least some kind of PS5 exclusive or headline title, maybe Gearbox’s Godfall, plus the Xbox exclusive Halo: Infinite. With a number of marketing avenues not currently performing as usual, such as events and outdoor, there will be increased competition for the best space. And even as lockdown starts to ease, the pent-up desire to get out-and-about could impact gaming time, which might then take a correctional dip in the autumn. Looking at all that, the furloughing of WWE 2K 2021 and Nintendo’s barren release schedule both look rather canny – the rumoured Mario remasters should ably fill the gap. As a whole the industry will do well, but someone, somewhere will see a potentially big hit squeezed out of the running by the sheer competition. So plan carefully, be flexible, and don’t be afraid to pivot or delay if you can’t find the space to launch effectively. Seth Barton firstname.lastname@example.org
May 2020 MCV/DEVELOP | 05
Here are the key upcoming events and releases to mark in your calendar...
Wavey the Rocket
This former Apple Arcade-exclusive from developer Subtle Boom is landing on Switch early this month. The multiplayer title allows players to flex their creative muscles, letting them create their own levels and share them with other players, as well as customising their feathered friends plumage and more.
UpperRoom Gamesâ€™ precision side scroller is hitting PC on the 7th, with console releases planned for later in the year. Players take on the role of Wavey the Rocket, as he tries to stop the moon from being destroyed by an evil corporation that removes fizz from soda.
European Games BizDev Gathering www.egbg.eu
European Games BizDev Gathering is a two-day online event focused on supporting European game developers during the challenging times of the ongoing global crisis. The purpose is to give them an invaluable opportunity to get their projects in front of investors and publishers from all over the world. It is organised by the European Games Developer Federation, Remote Control Productions and Reboot, among others. The inaugural edition of EGBG will be solely focused on helping European game developers to get as many business opportunities as possible at a time when they need them the most.
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13th - 14th
BioShock: The Collection, Borderlands Legendary Collection & XCOM 2 Collection 2K is bringing three classic franchises to the Switch for the first time this month. First, Bioshock: The Collection brings the entire trilogy to the console, featuring remasters of the first two titles plus Bioshock Infinite: The Complete Edition. Second, Borderlands Legendary Collection includes Borderlands, Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The PreSequel. Finally, the XCOM 2 Collection includes Firaxis’ award-winning strategy title alongside its four DLC packs. Now all we need is more stock of the actual console.
Best Friend Forever Listen, we’ve been ludicrously excited about this game, ever since its original release date of February 14th. Following a delay, the game is finally heading to PC and Switch. Coming from developer Starcolt, Best Friend Forever is the world’s first simulation game to combine pet care and dating (though not at the same time).
The Wonderful 101: Remastered Following a successful crowdfunding campaign, this remaster of one of the Wii U’s most enduringly popular titles is coming to PC. PS4 and Switch. Platinum Games’ action-adventure title takes place during a war between Earth and a terrorist organisation called the Geathjerk Federation, that has invaded the planet.
The Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor Greymoor is the latest expansion to Zenimax and Bethesda’s MMORPG. Taking place 1,000 years before Skyrim, this expansion sees players exploring a new zone: the frozen tundra and snowy mountains of western Skyrim. Players will also face off against a Vampire Lord, rising from the depths of Blackreach.
May 2020 MCV/DEVELOP | 07
Editor: Seth Barton email@example.com +44 (0)203 143 8785 Staff Writer: Chris Wallace firstname.lastname@example.org +44 (0)203 143 8786 Designer: Tom Carpenter email@example.com Production Manager: Claire Noe firstname.lastname@example.org
ADVERTISING SALES Senior Business Development Manager: Alex Boucher email@example.com +44 (0)7778538431
MANAGEMENT Media Director: Colin Wilkinson firstname.lastname@example.org +44 (0)203 143 8777
SUBSCRIBER CUSTOMER SERVICE To subscribe, change your address, or check on your current account status, please contact: email@example.com ARCHIVES Digital editions of the magazine are available to view on ISSUU.com. Recent back issues of the printed edition may be available please call +44 (0)203 143 8777 for more information. INTERNATIONAL MCV and its content are available for licensing and syndication re-use. Contact Colin Wilkinson for opportunities and permissions: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lockdown hasn’t given me much extra free time: the news is relentless, the mag needs making and I have two kids at home. Call of Duty Warzone is the place to be though, it’s free and multi-platform, so anyone can join in, and that big open world gives you a sense of freedom that is sorely lacking presently. See you in Verdansk.
The past few weeks have been a retreat into my childhood – inside the house, curtains closed to hide the beautiful day outside, while I marathon Final Fantasy VII. I was sceptical about this remake, but I’ve been blown away by it. It manages to be both weaponised-nostalgia and yet brilliantly subversive at the same time. Witchcraft. Chris Wallace, Staff Writer
Given the circumstances, I’ve found myself playing quite a lot this month. Not only have I been playing Beat Saber on the Oculus Quest, but I’ve also been going it solo on Call of Duty’s Warzone mode, on top of dabbling a little in Battle Bouncers and Puzzle Combat on iOS. Alex Boucher, Senior Business Development Manager
Seth Barton, Editor
Paws the game The best furry friends the industry has to offer. Send yours to email@example.com
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Biz Media Ltd, 44 Maiden Lane, London, WC2E 7LN All contents © 2020 Biz Media Ltd. or published under licence. All rights reserved. No part of this magazine may be used, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any way without the prior written permission of the publisher. All information contained in this publication is for information only and is, as far as we are aware, correct at the time of going to press. Biz Media Ltd. cannot accept any responsibility for errors or inaccuracies in such information. You are advised to contact manufacturers and retailers directly with regard to the price of products/services referred to in this publication. Apps and websites mentioned in this publication are not under our control. We are not responsible for their contents or any other changes or updates to them. This magazine is fully independent and not affiliated in any way with the companies mentioned herein. If you submit material to us, you warrant that you own the material and/or have the necessary rights/permissions to supply the material and you automatically grant Biz Media Ltd. and its licensees a licence to publish your submission in whole or in part in any/ all issues and/or editions of publications, in any format published worldwide and on associated websites, social media channels and associated products. Any material you submit is sent at your own risk and, although every care is taken, neither Biz Media Ltd. nor its employees, agents, subcontractors or licensees shall be liable for loss or damage. We assume all unsolicited material is for publication unless otherwise stated, and reserve the right to edit, amend, adapt all submissions.
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Pet: Monty Owner: Jonathan Rosenblatt Owner’s job: Head of marketing EMEA, Amazon Games
Pet: Coco Owner: Steve Owen Owner’s job: Technical director, Games Press Ltd
Pet: Bertie and Milly Owner: Adam Woods Owner’s job: Executive producer, Frontier Developments
Monty is a rescue dog from Geneva – He’s simply the best friend ever. As you can see, he’s feeling very happy about the lockdown situation!
Coco recently won ‘Cutest Eyes’ in the Greyhound Trust’s Virtual Pet Show last week, second in Prettiest Lady, and fifth in Best In Show. We’re very proud of her.
Bertie has taken to sitting like a human since we have started working from home, while Milly has enjoyed the increased cuddles she can get now!
MCV-APR20-COCONUT LIZARD:MCV-APR20-COCONUT LIZARD 20/03/2020 09:22 Page 1
Real Life Events from the industry
Pictured: The work-in-progress piece from the live stream (right) and the finished piece of work (above)
YANA Saturday the 2nd of May saw the global gaming event You Are Not Alone (YANA) taking place. The 12 hour event hosted a number of charities and companies such as The Childrenâ€™s Society, Ubisoft, Tencent, Barclays and CCP. The event was streamed live on Twitch, streaming games such as Minecraft and EVE Online (see page 18 for more on that).
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ASSASSINâ€™S CREED VALHALLA REVEAL With events a non-starter, Ubisoft found a creative way of revealing the setting for its next title. The new game, the viking-focused Assassinâ€™s Creed Valhalla was gradually unveiled over an eight hour stream, with illustrator BossLogic (topical self portrait above) working live in Photoshop to create an incredible image. The artist has previously worked with the likes of Marvel and DC Comics.
GAMES FOR CARERS The UK games industry has launched a major initiative to thank frontline NHS workers, who can claim one of 85,000 free games or game subscriptions. Originally conceived by journalist Chris Scullion and created with help from Keymailer, Ukie and numerous publishers. Head to https://giveaways.keymailer.co/nhs
May 2020 MCV/DEVELOP | 11
RE-PLAY In April, War Child UK hosted a Coronavirus charity appeal to support children affected by war and COVID-19. The charity raised money via a RE-PLAY Steam sale (which featured games from the likes of Double Fine, Chucklefish, Motion Twin and Raw Fury), alongside daily fundraising livestreams which dove into the games featured in the sale.
DIGITAL DRAGONS INDIE CELEBRATION From May 13th-15th, European gaming conference Digital Dragons hosted the livestreamed Indie Celebration, supported by Valve and running on Steam. The festival featured fifty of the yearâ€™s biggest indie games. The titles were showcased on a dedicated Steam homepage, with live demos and developer interviews in three packed days of livestreams. The event culminated on the last day with a virtual award ceremony recognising the top three games of the show, as well as the results of the judgesâ€™ and community-nominated awards.
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Small Worlds: Changing the art pipeline Kelly Vero, SO REAL Digital Twins
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MCV/DEVELOP 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!
TRYING TO push the boundaries of what we can achieve in technology is something that we’re really proud of in the games industry. For studios who wish to develop MMO, VR/
Let’s put it into practice: You need a basket for your medieval RPG. You set your team on concepting it, pulling references together, building sketches before modelling
AR games or esports big-ticket items: a great deal of production needs to take place. Where to place it, how it looks in 360, how it’s lit. Will it sell? The need to establish creative quickly was and still is a driver, or let’s face it, games would be made with programming art! Performance relies upon concepts before development. The longer we spend on the creative, the later we release. Working in different areas of the games industry over the last 25 years, I’ve been able to see and witness at first hand the issues and blockers around not just the art teams, but development teams, tools and issues that sometimes block the creative process as a whole. Art asset packs, or model marketplaces have become a go-to solution for speed of development, but once an object is purchased it often needs to be unwrapped, re-textured and everything needs to be re-baked. At SO REAL we wanted to turn this process on its head, as well as keeping the costs down and the quality up. We played with the numbers, and got our Eureka from ‘concept’ to engine process down to as little as three hours by taking out the concept phase. No, really. Lately, in our studio, we’ve been exploring the possibilities of using machine learning to expertly handle everything from objects to artefacts to lighting. This means that traditional photogrammetry and orthography constraints are greatly reduced because we scan first. The selection of objects is wider and the turnaround from selection to in-engine is faster. But how will that work?
and texturing what might become your most popular static asset. Shove it in the game engine, and watch it obediently sit in your level design and environment set dressing. That’s a few man-hours/days of work for your team. Will you outsource it? You need to drive sales up and costs down. Outsourcing is a cheaper option and a sometimes-faster alternative but what about the quality? An industry that demands speed needs solutions, so we set about making them. Let’s look at the medieval RPG example again: Our machine learning found the basket you described, and we sent a directly executable twin to your engine. It’s fully optimised for physics and your player can knock it around. They can even look inside it. I mean, properly, not just painted with apples! It can be smashed to pieces (and the apples too)! Oh, and it also costs much less than a few man-hours/days of work for you and your team because we twinned it in less than three hours. You know you’ve gotta make development easier for yourselves and your players. We’ve gotta make it easier for you. By listening to the present, together we’re helping to inform the future of game dev. We’re driving your creative by directing our technology to push your boundaries further and faster. Kelly Vero is SO REAL’s games evangelist, working with dev teams who use SO REAL’s unique digital twin technology to push their games to the bleeding edge of XR.
It’s tough out there, but the code must get through Paul Stone, Indigo Pearl
AT A time where we are confined to our personal spaces and many of us challenge the concept of our regular workday by assimilating work life with the usual creature comforts of home. It has been our cloud-based technologies that have unquestionably kept many of us together. Over the past month, we’ve recreationally basked in exotic Netflix documentaries that allowed for those ‘watercooler moments’ online, downloaded video games directly from virtual stores in favour of physical copies and taken part in video calls to stay connected with friends and family. Workwise, this technology has allowed us to effectively maintain communication with
Recently however, the tool has reacted responsively for the benefit of individuals. Developers who were unable to attend UK games festivals this year were offered a way to have review code and press kit information sent directly to would-be attending media. We also implemented review request functionality through our PXN sites, to offer additional ways in which PR managers, press and influencers are able to reach out to each other. Now, as two of our separate platforms begin to further communicate, press of varying sizes can come to one place to request review code, download assets and provide links to coverage. All whilst encouraging future conversations between
our teams through virtual meetings and utilise cloud-based programmes to allow individuals to collectively contribute to a project remotely. Whatever our direct situation may be, we continue to be passionate about sharing content and helping others even whilst apart. This is something many Animal Crossing players can attest to. No one is an island, even if they are the acting island representative for Tom Nook. At Indigo Pearl, we have been looking at how we can improve the ways in which we share digital content within our asset management team. Over the past five years it’s been part of my responsibility to oversee various code distribution campaigns through to completion via DXN (Digital Xtranet) - our code distribution platform that was introduced into the games industry in 2015. Originally, this tool delivered codes and review material directly into the hands of media en masse, giving press everything needed to ready reviews for a title launch worldwide.
reviewers and publishers alike and making it possible for the PR manager to track and approve code requests within one area. Ultimately, our collective ability to innovate our daily processes across digital sharing platforms has altered our outlook on the way we exist within virtual and physical spaces. Reflecting on what is important and what should change structurally and inwardly. Many would agree that losing precious hours to the daily commute is undesirable. However, providing support, sharing stories and finding new ways to connect as individuals and professionals within the games industry at home and in person is as important now as it ever was. Paul Stone is responsible for massive digital review mailouts using the DXN delivery system – the tech that was responsible for sending out codes for Death Stranding, Predator: Hunting Grounds, Dreams, Streets of Rage 4 and many more.
“Ultimately, our collective ability to innovate our daily processes across digital sharing platforms has altered our outlook.”
May 2020 MCV/DEVELOP | 15
In times of crisis we must invest in the future (of games) Tony Pearce, Reality Gaming Group
16 | MCV/DEVELOP May 2020
THE CORONAVIRUS is with us and countries around the world, including the UK, are in various stages of lockdown. Clearly, all business owners must continue to monitor the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on their employees as decisions may need to be made quickly to take account of what is still a fast-changing situation. As games publishers, we also have responsibilities towards our wider gamer community who, aside from having to come to terms with what appears to be our new reality for the foreseeable future, will also be turning to games as a form of comfort. My hope is that games - and mobile games especially – can provide people with some kind
I haven’t even mentioned esports which, as things stand, is the only professional sport still operating. The potential for that sector to introduce competitive gaming to new audiences is huge. In our own small way, we’ve made changes to our game (an AR combat title that uses location services) so that it works within the confines of a player’s home, while simultaneously sharing messages encouraging players not to venture outdoors to play the game while the lockdown is in effect. It’s crucial that we continue to foster this kind of environment within the games community as we work through the coming weeks and months. Going back to the stats, it’s interesting to look at the types of mobile games being downloaded
of normality, and safe social entertainment, at a time when all notions of what constitutes ‘normal’ have been thrown out of the window. But what of the wider industry? The top line numbers are extremely encouraging, with analysts at App Annie announcing with some fanfare that mobile game installs hit a record 1.2bn for the week commencing March 22nd. That’s an incredible number (up 30% on previous months) that will no doubt push higher as lockdown boredom compels people to browse their app stores to ever deeper levels. This positive landscape should also be viewed as a huge fillip for the investment community, which will be crucial for the continued growth of games development and publishing, especially on the indie scene. At Reality Gaming Group, we’ve just closed a funding round led by the forward-thinking Velocity Capital Partners, but we’re not the only ones. Recent weeks have seen Starberry raise €1.3m, Lightheart Entertainment €1.3m and Roto VR £1.5m. In addition, Hamburg Prototype Funding is offering €400k a year for games projects, while the South Australia Games Innovations Fund is putting up its second round. Be in no doubt that some of these recent raises, including ours, were complicated by the coronavirus outbreak. But what these deals show is that even in the deepest of international crises, creativity, smart companies and an unerring ability to entertain the masses means the games industry offers a beacon of hope in the current darkness.
too, with people seeking out multiplayer titles to fill the social void that’s suddenly in their lives. Games for good, once again helping people through lockdown. It’s not just mobile though, with PC games platform Steam announcing a COVID-19 powered record user peak in excess of 23 million in lateMarch. Again, multiplayer was to the fore, with CS:GO breaking the one million concurrent player mark for the second time in as many weeks. And looking at the overall, Nielsen is reporting that 20% of gamers in the US are playing online with their friends more because of coronavirus. Combine these user trends with industry initiatives that have seen publishers inject ‘Stay Home. Save Lives’ messaging into their titles and it’s clear that games are front and centre in the digital home entertainment fightback against coronavirus, alongside our peers at Netflix, Amazon Prime and Spotify. But we need to ensure we’re ready to open our arms and minds to the new possibilities this situation will create. We clearly have some major challenges ahead, both as a society and an industry, but the games industry is also in a great position to be a force for continuity and good at a time of great uncertainty, whether you’re a player, developer, publisher or investor. Tony Pearce is co-founder of the Reality Gaming Group, creators of Reality Clash, an AR combat game. Pearce has over 30 years of industry experience, working across numerous console generations and mobile.
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Swift Studio Spotlight: Coatsink Coatsink may have been named after a joke, but the studio is serious stuff, packed with almost 100 talented developers who have managed to bring some big names into their titles
Above: Coatsink and High Tea Frog’s upcoming party game Cake Bash
Below: Jack Sanderson from Coatsink
WITH a history steeped in VR, PC, console, and mobile development, Coatsink is heading into one of its most exciting years yet, with a plethora of new titles on their roster, including the recently released Get Packed, and the upcoming launches of PHOGS! and Cake Bash. Originally founded in 2009, this Sunderland-based studio has matured into an inspiring development house, fuelled by innovation and a wicked sense of humour. They’re predominantly a developer, with codevelopment and publishing arms to augment what they can offer. But how did two Teesside University students found such a fantastic studio, and how have they had to alter their marketing plans for their upcoming titles amidst current conditions? James Bowers from Aardvark Swift spoke with Jack Sanderson, the PR and Events Manager for Coatsink, to take a better look at those questions. “Our co-founders [Tom Beardsmore and Paul Crabb] have been friends since secondary school. The name came from their form tutor and technology teacher, Mr Coates. In the teenage minds of Tom and Paul, Coates was this kind of evil supervillain. They ended up creating various stories and fictional anecdotes about Coates, part of which involved his secret evil organisation: ‘Coates Inc.’ “Later in life, when Tom and Paul began thinking of starting a game dev company together, they jokingly decided to call it ‘Coatsink’ as a nod to their adolescent imaginations back at school. At the time they assumed the venture wouldn’t last very long and didn’t think they’d be here over 10 years later, explaining why their 100-person studio has such a daft name.”
Sanderson has been with the company for almost four years, originally starting as their first dedicated marketing hire during the production of Shu, their first self-published game. “I’m a southerner, and I was in a hotel room asking myself what I was doing [before the interview]…but it was a perfect fit really. We’re less of a corporate body and more a group of nerds who like to make fun things.” You’d be forgiven for thinking that now the studio is a decade old, the co-founders aren’t as hands-on, but you’d be wrong. “Paul is still heavily involved on the development side. Even though he’s one of the cofounders, he’s definitely integral to the development side of projects. When Coatsink first started, we were making a lot of iOS games. Tom did all of the art and marketing. Now, Tom and his brother Ed oversee everything and make sure we’re functioning well as a company.” Connections made during the early years have really helped Coatsink grow, enabling them to develop games with the newest technology. “Tom befriended and mentored a student in Newcastle, who eventually started working for Oculus. We’ve launched a bunch of games across Oculus devices from Gear VR, Rift, Quest and Go over the years thanks to that. Oculus has been central to the growth of Coatsink, and without them, I don’t think we’d be as big as we are.” Not only is the growth and impact of the studio impressive, but they’ve also managed to entice some big names to their projects, from Nick Frost to Sir Patrick Stewart. “It took a lot of determination and lead time to get Sir Patrick Stewart. We only had him for a short window. He was an absolute pleasure to work with. When we pitched it to him, he liked the concept of this time-jumping narrative [found in Shadow Point], I think that’s what grabbed him.” Having such a packed 2020 release schedule has forced Coatsink to change tack when it comes to marketing, with the postponement or cancellation of a number of industry events. “It’s an easy win to get a lot of people in front of your game and to a collective of the press. We’re having to think digitally and find other ways to engage with people. It’s actually allowed me to spend more time with media and content creators [than I would have had otherwise]. I’m still really excited about the releases we have coming up. The community shouting about PHOGS!, Cake Bash and Get Packed has been great!” You’ll be able to listen to the full conversation with Jack Sanderson of Coatsink in an upcoming episode of the Aardvark Swift Podcast, available now via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, third party apps and the Aswift.com website!
May 2020 MCV/DEVELOP | 17
With the actual world in lockdown, virtual worlds have stepped up to provide a much-needed social outlet. We talk to CCP CEO Hilmar Veigar Pétursson on how disasters and loss, be they real or virtual, help us learn. And how through that, Eve Online is teaching socially useful skills and building lifelong friendships
ngagement is often touted as the key goal of any live service game. There are many ways to measure this somewhat woolly term, though time and money spent will figure in most such metrics. While good basic indicators, time and money are hardly aspirational outcomes for a medium that is capable of so much more – and they are not going to portray the industry in the best light to our critics. So shouldn’t all games be actively looking for something more, a higher-purpose of engagement? For instance, games can teach skills, both soft and hard, that players can apply to other aspects of their lives. And games can form social bonds and friendships, every bit as relevant as those you have in your immediate, physical, community. Such games would actually benefit their players – and who doesn’t want a more skilled, more socially capable and (potentially) wealthier community – plus they would also aid the cause of gaming as a whole, helping to prove our naysayers wrong. Sounds like a dream? Maybe not, Eve Online has achieved it, and CCP CEO Hilmar Veigar Pétursson now has the research to prove it. It’s time to talk about the Eve Effect
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A BRAVE NEW WORLD As you likely know, Eve Online is one of the most immersive and demanding virtual worlds to have ever been created. With creator CCP’s company mission being nothing less than to “create virtual worlds more meaningful than real life.” Quite the aspiration. During the present pandemic, such a statement comes under even greater scrutiny, can a game, any game, really be more meaningful than real life during such a crisis? But Pétursson is adamant that the virtual nature of the experience doesn’t discount its validity. And that the present situation actually plays to its strengths. “Eve, for over 17 years now, has proven that you can be socially connected without being physically close, that in a way proves, once and for all, to everyone that it can be done.” And while we cannot directly compare society’s life-and-death struggles with corona to the competitive struggle in Eve, there are parallels. In a myriad of ways, the last few weeks have been tough for many, but that added difficulty has motivated many to pull together in ways we have never seen before. Similarly in Eve, the sheer difficulty of the game, “an extremely ruthless, darwinian social sandbox,”
as Pétursson describes it, forces players to “learn to cooperate while being physically apart” on a scale seen in few other titles. “Alliances in Eve Online span the globe. They span culture, time zones and generations,” he points out. “And if players have found a way to bridge all of that, now the world is figuring out how to bridge all of that for the first time ever.”
“Eve Online alliances span the globe. They span culture, time zones and generations.”
ADAM AND EVE That high level of difficulty, requiring both co-operation and skill to overcome, has been a key element in creating the beneficial Eve Effect. But difficulty alone will not suddenly bond your players together and teach them socially-useful skills – Battle Royale games are arguably difficult but relatively few create brand-new lifelong friends or directly teach socially-useful skills. Instead, the Eve Effect comes out of a blending of factors, of which difficulty is just one. The original game was not designed to teach skills or make friendships, or even specifically to be difficult. Though all these things did stem from its original design pillars, and those pillars were intended to provide a sense of meaning to everything players do. For starters there’s a big, persistent, single universe – so that all players, and everything that they do, is potentially significant for all other players. Second is
that the world should be driven by player action, not by the activity of NPCs. And finally, the very idea that “loss should have meaning,” with the destruction of a player’s ship having some serious consequences for their financial wellbeing. Player death rarely has any serious consequences in most games, it’s a regular inevitability with relatively minor setbacks. Losing a ship in Eve can be a serious blow, especially to newer players. Your character will simply be re-cloned, but the financial consequences of the lost ship and cargo can be serious, as you’d expect in a world that strives to have meaningful economic consequences on both the micro and macro scale. Pétursson argues that Eve’s economy is actually more real than, say, the UK’s. Because CCP has total knowledge of Eve’s economy, it has literally a perfect model of it.
Below: CCP CEO Hilmar Veigar Pétursson
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Above and throughout: Statistics and images from the Eve Effect presentation, courtesy of CCP
“The major economies, when you look at them, they’re statistical measures of human behaviour. They only exist as models in central banks. They’re only loosely based on actual things that happen in those countries. So you could actually argue the point that the Eve Online economy is more real than the UK economy, because we know everything that goes on in Eve. We’ve had economists write PhD papers at various universities to explain this notion.” Even putting aside such high-minded arguments, we can see that the game’s persistent universe, its complex economy, and the meaningful consequences of player actions upon their position and status within it, all come together to generate meaning. And that’s at its most powerful at times of loss – which is why CCP is now providing ‘grief counselling’ for players when they lose their first ship (see ‘A void in your heart,’ page 23). EFFECTING AFFECTION So Eve is a tough place to spend time. But unlike the real world, players can easily leave if they’re not enjoying it, so why don’t they? And that’s the question that kicked off the Eve Effect research, explains Pétursson. “Given the game is this hard to get into, why are people still playing Eve Online? Why does the game still exist and why is the game still, in a way, thriving? And maybe most importantly, why are there people, many thousands of them, who have played the same game almost every single day for 17 years?” muses Pétursson.
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But surely there are obvious reasons why people like the game, why they put so many hours into it? “Yes, the game is known for its massive fleet fights, thousands of spaceships coming together shooting it out for 48 hours, setting world records.
“It has increased their skillset in a way that is highly applicable to the rest of their lives.” “But is it because of that? No. That’s often why people join it, it’s not really why they stay with it, they stay because of this concept we call the Eve Effect. “Through research and interviews, anecdotes, and the data from players, we have found that the two primary reasons why people continue to play Eve Online for decades is because they have made new friends through the game and the game has increased their skill set, not just in the notion of playing the game, it has increased their skillset in a way that is highly applicable to the rest of their lives. “And in our research, we have come up with a model to think about it, and we call one aspect ‘the friendship machine’ and the other aspect we call ‘skills for life’.”
THE ONE WITH THE HUGE SPACE MMO While social distancing is a new and certainly extreme barrier to making new friends, our pre-pandemic world was already struggling to provide us with close companions, explains Pétursson. “Friendship is an endangered species in the world today. In a major study in New York, the average New Yorker in 1977 had more than seven friends. By 2017, it was down to 1.2 friends per New Yorker. “It connects into something called the loneliness epidemic, that big, dense, urban areas, such as London, Seoul or Shanghai, are not very good at allowing people to make friends.” This is indeed a widely discussed phenomena, which the UK government recognises, having expanded a ministerial role in 2017 to take on the issue, appointing an Under-Secretary of State for Civil Society and Loneliness. Eve, however, is doing its part to push back: “When we researched our player base, we found 73 per cent of Eve players have made new friends as a result of playing the game. That is an extraordinarily high number. That wasn’t news to the community of course, who coined the phrase: “The best ship in Eve is friendship,” quips Pétursson, explaining that: “Whatever fancy ship you dream about having in Eve, if you don’t have friends, you’re not really going very far.
“We were inspired when we found out that Eve was fighting this [loneliness epidemic] in its own way. And through this journey, we’ve developed many psychological models to understand this.” CCP went out to look at theories of how friendships were created, to better understand what was going on in the game, so it could better serve that positive outcome. “So to make a new friend, you need proximity, frequency, duration and intensity,” Pétursson begins. “So, imagine if you meet the same clerk in a store every time you go to shop for food. You have proximity, you have frequency, but you have short duration and not a lot of intensity. So that doesn’t amount to a friend. “But imagine if you go to kindergarten when you’re small. You spend a lot of time, you go there every day, your proximity to other kids is very high. But a lifelong friend happens when say you’re bullied by older kids and somebody comes in and helps you. It’s an intense moment and you have a friend for life.” And all the elements of that scenario are present in the game as well. “The fact that Eve Online is so harsh and hard and offers so many epic moments, like when tens of thousands of people come together to fight each other, due to the fact that the game is so hard, and so there’s this intensity aspect, that is where the new relationships are forged.”
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And those relationships are then further solidified by the game’s laissez-faire capitalist design. It’s very easy for players to betray each other in Eve, the game doesn’t protect your items and assets in the same way as most MMOs. You genuinely have to trust the other members of your corporation. “You really have to rely on others,” Pétursson concurs, adding that players who self identify as ‘helpers’ have the highest engagement. “So the people who play the longest, who have the most minutes per session, are the people that most like to help others, they play close to 100 minutes per session, more than people who prefer combat, competition or exploration. And to quote a player from the Eve Effect study: “So the first time I realised this game was for me, and I will stick around, was when a group depended on me for an important task.” SKILLS FOR KILLS So Eve relies upon friendships born out of intense experiences and forged in trust, both in each other’s character, and in each other’s abilities. But with the game having both a complex economy and combat system, those abilities are more analytical than twitch.
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The game’s players make use of complex spreadsheets to calculate the optimal economic and combat outputs. “They are something to behold!” exclaims Pétursson. And the mindset required here is quite broadly applicable to the real world. “So, the other aspect of the Eve Effect is this notion that players have developed skills through playing the game, which they can then use in their own life,” Pétursson explains, and provides us numerous quotes from players in the study. ‘Eve has given me a well-paid project management job,’ said anonymous respondent, and ‘assisted in my career in real life as an elected politician.’ While another respondent said he has learned ‘leadership, product management, understanding of different cultures and communication skills.’ Another example stated that: ‘I used Eve to land my current job. I’m a business controller for one of the biggest construction companies in the world.’ Pétursson tells us that when one respondent was asked about his leadership experience, “he brings up his corp alliance leadership over the past nine years. Imagine organising thousands of people across cultures and time zones for nearly a decade.”
Excel skills are the most commonly noted in the research, but there are many more. Language skills for instance, writing skills, this is even a game that can teach supply chain management: “Where you do your manufacturing, where you acquire minerals, where you sell your products,” expands Pétursson. And then there are soft skills: “Ownership with authority and responsibility, healthy scepticism and resilience, improved people and networking skills, personal development, trust and loyalty, curiosity, leadership management, broader horizons, an interest in politics… If you were to take an MBA at Stanford, I’m pretty sure you would see similar ingredients,” observes Pétursson. “And this is all sourced from the players themselves. We’ve learnt this through analysis and surveys, interviews and so on. And 56 per cent of Eve players say that they’ve used skills they learnt in Eve Online in real life. ‘My boss adopted the spreadsheet for the whole department,’ said one, this just keeps coming up.” And to sum it all up: “70 per cent of Eve players say they believe the skills acquired through Eve can help them get better jobs.” SUPPORT CLASS But those players need backing from our industry to normalise the idea that skills learnt in games can be applicable to real world jobs. Much in the same way that employers have long valued the soft skills many people learn playing competitive sport. “A part of why we are presenting the Eve Effect is to help the narrative around computer games a bit. It’s currently on such a primitive level that often Eve players are shy to talk about [their skills] in public,” Pétursson tells us. “But they’re obviously not shy to talk about it with us, because we know all about it.” “It is time that the conversation around computer games starts to mature, there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye. It’s not just kids wasting their time. In the case of Eve Online, it’s professional adults learning valuable things and making lasting friendships. “When I wrote the statement to ‘make virtual worlds more meaningful than real life’, it was based on a feeling, a belief. And now, a decade plus later, we have all this data, we can start to have rational conversations about it. But it was a difficult conversation to have even inside CCP just three years ago. “It is really just recently, as recently as almost last year, where I could without any caveats, just say these things, and people would universally nod. So if a company like CCP, where we’re quite close to the cutting edge of what’s been done in games. If even we struggle with
A VOID IN YOUR HEART Eve has many excellent qualities, but its main problem is still onboarding players. Large numbers try the game out every year, but most still leave at a fairly early stage – most commonly when they lose their first ship. So CCP is now providing essentially ‘grief counselling’ to help them overcome this crucial point. “It’s called the Magic Moment Initiative,” Pétursson explains. “So when a new player loses their ship, a customer service agent gets a notification through a system we’ve built, and they can immediately join that player in the session and talk them through it. “We figured out this was the key moment, you either just deflect and leave the game or you stay with the game forever. And it turned out that if you understand why you lost your ship, or if somebody helped you through that loss, that is when the foundation of friendship and community started to emerge. “We are now in a big investment of removing the learning curve and helping the 600,000 or so new players that join Eve every year.”
it, then I think we are on a journey that will probably take ten years to get the mainstream of human society onboard with a fascinating concept like this: that you can make real friends, and learn real skills, from playing a computer game like Eve.” CHAOS THEORY The data which CCP now has at hand is undoubtedly a big step forward in making the argument about the value of games to society – both interconnecting us and training us in useful ways. And as we noted earlier, it seems that there’s an even greater opportunity now, created by the pandemic, to push forward games’ case as a force for good in a world which may become, going forward, more remote and will value the ability to organise under those circumstances. Of course, at present, it’s impossible to predict how a crisis like coronavirus will effect change in our society – for better or worse. But we know it will change things. In an odd coincidence, CCP recently undertook creating its own ‘global’ crises within Eve, although these crises were specifically designed to tackle certain issues.
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Put simply, the order that we impose upon the world is constantly under attack by the force of entropy. Which is neatly summed up by Marvel’s less-loved baddie Ultron, who noted: “When the Earth starts to settle, God throws a stone at it, and believe me, he’s winding up.”
“I don’t want to be the bad guy, but somebody has to be the bad guy.” However, for a virtual world such as Eve, there is no entropy, no grand random curveball coming to kill the dinosaurs or lockdown the planet. “We unfortunately were not smart enough 17 years ago to create the world such that it could orchestrate its own creative destruction, so we have to help it along.” And that help had a name: The Chaos Era. “The Chaos Era is an execution of the concept of creative destruction, the game was stagnant, it was getting bureaucratic, because everything was predictable.
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And predictable inputs lead to stagnated outputs. So, what we were looking for was to shake off the conditions and change the game, such that people had to innovate their way out of it. “That is hard to execute when you are dealing with a game because we cannot orchestrate an outside force that is not of human origin. But this was our way to do it in Eve. And if you look at something like the coronavirus, that is obviously going to lead to a form of creative destruction too.” The Chaos Era has already seen huge fleets of NPC ships attack player-controlled stations, caused a gamechanging local communications blackout, alongside a variety more conventional economic interventions. While some may be pointing fingers in the coronavirus crisis, blame will likely never be clearly attributed to any single group or practice. However, Eve’s own trials and tribulations undoubtedly come from Pétursson and his colleagues, so how do you shake things up in a game without actually alienating the players from the development team? “I don’t want to be the bad guy, but somebody has to be the bad guy, When the game is stagnant, somebody has to take on the role of doing the unpopular thing and addressing it. And while there is obviously a team of people behind me, which are making it all happen, it is
just a very human thing to pinpoint it on somebody. So I just stepped in front of it, and it’s me.” Grand instigator isn’t a role Pétursson revels in, though, as it’s the players who are supposed to be the key agents of change in Eve, not CCP. “It’s a role we have very rarely stepped into, it maybe happens once per decade. Because it’s ultimately not what we want to do. It’s not the principle of the game. We want to be the janitors, we want to be making sure the lights are on and everything is operational, we don’t really want to be in this role.” ACTIVATE SELF DESTRUCT With that said, The Chaos Era looks to have had a positive impact. “More players than ever are playing the game, we have less bots, there was a lot of predictable gameplay that was easy to do through AI, that is now in a much healthier way. We’ve reduced by 80 per cent what we would call ‘unhealthy engagement’ from bots, or very low engagement gameplay. And we have a much healthier ecosystem as a consequence. “There is still a lot to do. It’s an endless job to keep an economy like this going. But this was kind of a kickoff to a new phase for Eve, which is gonna be a little more, for the lack of a better word, chaotic.”
It now seems somewhat perverse to be upsetting the virtual applecart just at the point when the world needs stability, but The Chaos Era plan predates the current crisis, and a refreshed and more challenging Eve should be a better creator of friendships than its stagnating predecessor. And in future Pétursson hopes that the game will take on the task of entropy itself. “So our Chaos Era was human induced. But we are now building more and more ways that Eve Online can do this on its own, so it doesn’t have to be helped. But obviously, the universe has had 16 billion years to practice. What we’re now experiencing is a form of nature reacting to the fact that there’s a lot more people on Earth right now than there were 100 years ago. And when that happens, this is what can happen.” While we must always be cautious in making comparisons between people’s real-world struggles against an often deadly disease and a game taking place in a virtual world; it would also be foolish to say that games have no comment to make on our current predicament or that they can’t be a force for good. But that won’t happen unless we collectively find and provide evidence from within our games and communities to prove that point. Because by showing the benefits of games clearly, we can still further amplify our industry’s potential for good.
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Ins and Outs: Industry hires and moves 1
ASTRID JOHNSON (1) has left Rock Paper Shotgun’s video team to rejoin the freelance life. Johnson spent nine months as a video producer, having joined the team in July last year. ALICE LIGUORI (2) is also leaving Rock Paper Shotgun, and has joined VG247 as a video producer. Ligouri has been a producer at RPS since September 2018, having joined the team following spending two years at PCGamesN. Also known as Grimsevers, Liguori is continuing to run her personal Twitch channel. Replacing Johnson as video producer is COLM AHERN (3), who joins the RPS team after departing Videogamer.com in October last year, where he was editor. Speaking to MCV/DEVELOP, Ahern remarked: “I’m delighted to be joining Rock Paper Shotgun. Whilst history will prove his dislike of Sonic the Hedgehog is misplaced, Matthew Castle is one of the industry’s best, I’m looking forward to working with him for many years to come.”
Edge editor NATHAN BROWN (4) is stepping down after ten years on the brand and five years in charge. Brown is embarking on a freelance career, within the games industry, and will be both writing and consulting. Tony Mott, editorial director of games at Future, praised Brown’s tenure in charge: “Nathan has produced some of the best issues of Edge in its 26-year history, and we’re proud of everything he’s achieved over the past five years.”
AARON KORNBLUM (7), former general counsel at Bungie and 14-year Microsoft legal team alum, has joined Improbable as general counsel. He will lead Improbable’s international legal team, reporting to Improbable CEO Herman Narula. Kornblum will be based out of Improbable’s London headquarters
Stepping into Brown’s shoes as editor is former deputy editor JEN SIMPKINS (5). Simpkins, the MCV Women in Games Awards 2018 Journalist of the Year, told us: “I am delighted to have this opportunity on the magazine I love so much, and at such an exciting time for the industry.”
Games developer and publisher Double Eleven have appointed IAN NG (8) as studio head of Double Eleven’s new Malaysian studio. The appointment coincides with the official opening of the company’s studio in Kuala Lumpur. Ng has held positions at Tap4fun, Ubisoft Singapore and LucasArts and is credited on over 20 titles spanning from mobile games to triple-A console games, including the Assassin’s Creed franchise.
Also at Edge, CHRIS BURKE (6) joins the magazine as associate editor, having previously written for the recentlyshuttered Official Xbox Magazine and Loaded, among others.
Experienced technical lead WES CLARKE (9) is joining MAG Interactive, in Brighton. With almost 20 years in the games industry, Clarke joins the team from Berlin games studio Voodoo.
Jagex has further strengthened the studio’s development team by hiring three new executive producers. First, JESSE AMERICA (10) has been appointed executive producer of an unannounced online action role-playing game. America joins Jagex from Activision Blizzard King, where he held senior production roles working across the Candy Crush Saga Franchise and Call of Duty Mobile.
The Multiplayer Guys have added four new people to the team. First, FABIO MONTAGNA (13) joins as creative director. Montagna spent seven months as director of product at The Business of Fashion, after working as head of product planning for PlayStation.
Second, MARIO RIZZO (11) has joined Jagex as executive producer of an unannounced massively multiplayer RPG. Rizzo has been developing such titles for 17 years, having begun his career working at Sony as a producer on the EverQuest series & Star Wars Galaxies. Finally, JENDRIK POSCHE (12) joins as technical executive producer with over three decades of experience in technology and production. In his new role, Posche will be working across the entire Jagex studio.
Additionally, SERGII CHORNENKYI (14) joins the team as lead software engineer, having previously worked at Innovecs and EPAM Systems. MATTHEW CASEY (15) joins the team as a senior software engineer. Casey was most recently a software development engineer for Amazon Web Services. Finally, STEVE BEDFORD (16) also joins the team as a senior software engineer. “We’re really happy to welcome our three new engineers Steve, Matt and Sergii, and Fabio as creative director” said the Multiplayer Guys in a statement. “Luckily many of us work remotely anyway, so MPG can continue to operate business as usual.”
Got an appointment you’d like to share with the industry? Email Chris Wallace at firstname.lastname@example.org 26 | MCV/DEVELOP May 2020
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Every month, we pick the brain of an up-and-coming talent
Marina Diez, CEO at Three of Cups Games talks about getting started in game development, and making the world a better place through games
What has been your biggest challenge to date? To believe in myself and trust my gut. When you work in the games industry a common
How did you break into games? I’ve been playing games for my whole life. However, I started thinking about making games for a living after finishing my degree in Italian and German linguistics. While I was working on marketing in the fashion industry, I discovered the engine Bitsy and some months later I made the game Hey, Dad: a brief story of a mental illness where I talked about my dad’s bipolar disorder and my experience with it. Then I started making games with a focus on mental health and self-care. In the meantime, I was doing lots of community work in Madrid, my hometown, as well giving my first talks around games. In March 2018 I applied to a master’s in games design at Brunel University London, I
got accepted, moved to the UK in September 2018 and here I am now. Moving here brought me and keeps bringing me lots of opportunities I could never have dreamed of in Spain. What has been your proudest achievement so far? To have the strength to put together an amazing team, set up a company in the UK and announce it to the world. This has been my dream for a long time, but I never felt experienced enough or I was scared about getting people on board for a project I didn’t know what outcome was going to be. However, I’ve been lucky enough in finding awesome human beings that always remind me that I’m not alone in this.
feeling is: “I don’t know what I’m doing.” It’s so important to not listen to that tiny inner voice and keep working and making stuff, even if it is crazy or ugly. What do you enjoy most about your job? I think it’s exciting to create experiences and make people not only feel different emotions, but also sometimes even change their lives or perception about life. Sometimes a person approaches you saying that they played your game about bipolar disorder and that made them feel less alone as they also had a loved one with the same illness. Just knowing that one single person feels like that thanks to my games, makes everything around being a game developer worth it. What’s your biggest ambition in games? To make games for everyone and to help to improve the world through them. I’m totally convinced that games can be a force for good in our society and help with many issues. This is a powerful media and we should take advantage of it wisely. What advice would you give to an aspiring game designer or developer? Never Give Up. The games industry is a difficult place, but work hard, listen to advice, trust your gut and you will be fine. Don’t compare yourself to others. Stay humble but believe in yourself. And keep making games no matter what.
If there’s a rising star at your company, contact Chris Wallace at email@example.com May 2020 MCV/DEVELOP | 27
Cherry picked advice to help you reach the next level in your career
Anita Wong, head of PR at Indigo Pearl talks about her role, the qualities needed to make a career in PR, and being within five feet of Andy Serkis within five feet of Andy Serkis for a genuinely legitimate reason! What qualifications and/or experience do you need to land this job? None! It’s wonderful if you have a games or PR background already, but I started my internship with nothing hugely relevant. I’ll sound a million years old now (or just how I feel every time I open TikTok) but a willingness to learn and a can-do attitude will get you far. After that, just spend five years running across the floors of EGX with very unsuitable shoes and you’ll be exactly where I am now. It’s foolproof.
What is your job role and how would you describe your typical day at work? I’m currently head of PR! I’ll usually start the day with a quick team meeting – they help to align everyone with their tasks for the week and it’s a good chance for me to help balance someone’s workload, or offer additional suggestions to an existing campaign. From there, I can be taking calls with new clients to help plan future game launches, getting back to journalists about review codes or interviews, or (let’s be real) scrambling to stay on top of my inbox. On the flip side, I might spend all day out of the office working at an event instead. These can vary from a small preview event to a
“I started out as an intern and have made it up to head of PR within five years” huge games conference or if I’m lucky, a very fabulous launch party where one of my tasks has been to design the cocktail of the night. That’s always a highlight! I’m pretty sure everyone says this, but I do really enjoy the variety of my job. Not sure if any other role would’ve let me hire a drag queen, help organise a cosplay parade, or put me
If you were interviewing someone for your team, what would you look for? Key qualities: someone organised, sociable, and keen to get stuck in! We’re a small team and have to be flexible, so I’m always looking for someone who will slot in well and can pitch in, regardless of the task. Nice to have qualities: you’ll be talking to people constantly, whether from behind a screen or face to face at an event, so clear communication skills are always a bonus. Qualities that I’m personally biased towards: great shoes and a love for Queer Eye. What opportunities are available for career progression? I started out as an intern and have made it up to head of PR within five years, so I’d say: a lot! We’re a close-knit, dynamic agency so we don’t necessarily define career progression by how long you’ve been at the company, and there’s always the opportunity to try new things outside of your job description!
Want to talk about your career and inspire people to follow the same path? Contact Chris Wallace at firstname.lastname@example.org
28 | MCV/DEVELOP May 2020
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Iterating for Better While the ongoing spread of COVID-19 meaning that there’s no clear end to the country-wide lockdown in place, the games industry seems to be coping well with this unprecedented crisis. We check in with Amiqus to see how recruitment is holding up in these uncertain times.
We’re several weeks into the lockdown now and businesses across the games industry have generally adapted well to the changes. We have no idea how long this situation will last, which of course leads to uncertainty, but overall we’re seeing a ‘business as usual’ mood throughout much of the market, including the recruitment of new staff.
WHAT WE’RE SEEING IN THE MARKET Demand remains reasonably high and there’s appetite to continue with plans to grow studio teams. There are naturally concerns about how robust new processes will prove, especially around selection and successful onboarding of candidates. We’ve seen some great examples of how clients are managing candidate assessments of both skills and team fit which we’re sharing through our #Amiqustoolkit series and we’re working hard to build confidence for clients through initiatives such as our enhanced guarantee period and split invoicing to help shore up the hiring process and provide a safety net. We understand that hiring remotely comes with challenges and we want to make sure that you feel supported. Candidates are definitely open to the right opportunities and we’re seeing more focus on specific decision drivers, such as role locations closer to family as priorities change.
OUR COMMITMENT DURING COVID-19 Our focus right now is very simple: To do the best for our team, our clients and candidates. We’re well placed and motivated to get through this storm. We’re dedicating ourselves to those clients who want to grow their teams during the current restrictions. We’re committed to providing the best lockdown recruitment insights to the industry and to continue to build confidence through innovations within our service. One of our key messages to all companies looking to recruit during this time – and once we’re through the lockdown – is to showcase your company culture.
“Candidates are definitely open to the right opportunities” Candidates still have a choice and even before the lockdown and this new way of working, they were focusing more and more on company culture, the opportunities of working remotely, flexible hours, team socials, wellbeing initiatives and more. Salary, location and projects remain important, of course, but the lockdown is making more people look long and hard at HOW they want to work going forward. The phrase ‘we’re all in this together’ has gained genuine significance during this crisis and we’re absolutely here to help. We will be publishing our #Amiqustoolkit as a series of articles on www.amiqus.com providing guidance and insight into how best to recruit during lockdown, how to keep teams connected and more.
If you’d like any advice, please contact me via email@example.com.
May 2020 MCV/DEVELOP | 29
How are you MANAGING?
The COVID-19 crisis has forced us all to abandon our offices to work from home, presenting fresh challenges for management. Chris Wallace reaches out to the industry to find out how best to manage your team during the pandemic
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he ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and the ensuing country-wide lockdown has forced most of the industry out of our offices, and away from our colleagues and teams, in order to work remotely. For many of us, this is our first experience of working from home for an extended period of time – and for some, the first time ever. At the time of writing we have just hit the one month point of the UK lockdown, and many teams are still adjusting to the new challenges presented by this unprecedented situation. Even for those more experienced with remote work, the lockdown still brings unexpected roadblocks to ensure that the team remains productive, and just as importantly, in good spirits. In short, the current climate is one that relies heavily on effective team management – while making that task more difficult than ever. So we jump on to Zoom (other providers are available) to get an understanding of how the industry is coping while we’re all separated from one another, and to get advice on how best to effectively manage a team during this crisis. Unsurprisingly, the current climate is proving a toll on people’s mental health. Between the increasingly distressing headlines as the crisis develops and the loneliness that comes with social distancing – alongside the added stress of economic meltdown – taking care of your team’s wellbeing is more important than ever. MOOD MANAGEMENT With face to face chats off the table, how is the industry making sure its workers stay happy and healthy? First stop, we ask someone who’s ahead of the curve. “Since we were a primarily remote studio before the pandemic hit, we already had quite a lot of remote pastoral care practises in place” says Roll7 founder and director, Simon Bennett. “For the past few months, for example, we have been offering to pay for subscriptions to Headspace [a mindfulness and meditation app] for anyone at Roll7 who wants it – quite a few of our team have taken us up on this offer, and had been using and finding it helpful even before the lockdown. “Since the beginning of the outbreak, we have been focusing on checking in with people more often, and encouraging people to be more open about challenges that we may be facing with mental and physical health in the current environment. Cultivating a workplace culture where people are able to talk about the things they are struggling with is especially important in the current circumstances because so many of us are likely to be going through a period of increased stress.”
This period of increased stress means maintaining ‘business as normal’ is an enormous challenge for many, and managers need to be on-hand to provide direct mental health support. “We’re living in extraordinary circumstances and we’ve found it important to remind ourselves and employees that we are doing our best to live and work in a pandemic,” adds Kate Lindsay, head of HR at Splash Damage.
Above: Simon Bennett from Roll7
“We’ve found it important to remind ourselves that we are doing our best to live and work in a pandemic” “One of the structures we’ve created and implemented is weekly ‘wellbeing check-ins’ for managers and their reports, where employees have access to a simple temperature check-in bar which helps them to indicate and identify how they are feeling and share that with their manager. There are also a series of conversation starter questions for reports to engage with which makes it easier to have mental health and wellbeing conversations.” While these wellbeing check-ins are unquestionably important, it’s also necessary to maintain the social connections key to a happy team, as Caroline Miller, cofounder and managing director of Indigo Pearl explains. “We’re a small team and have always fostered a family feel within the company. We have a daily video every morning to check in to see how we’re all doing, what work everyone has on for the day, and how we can help share workload if needed.
Below: Sav Fileccia from Mediatonic
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“We have weekly social meet-ups via video so everyone can let off any lockdown steam and have a drink together – we even dressed up for a night in at the BAFTA Games Awards!” (Miller is pictured centre-top). STAYING TOGETHER Maintaining these social connections is vital not only from a wellbeing standpoint, but also to ensure teamwork remains solid throughout the team. “We do miss having those face-to-face meetings,” says Mark Cooke, CEO of developer Shiny Shoe. “Both from a human connection perspective but also from the ad-hoc conversations that happened regarding the games we are developing. “Process-wise what we’ve done to try to address this is simply schedule more recurring meetings, most daily, on a per-project basis. That forces us to all get on a call and talk as a team.” The lack of face-to-face interaction has the knock-on effect of making it a challenge to fully integrate new hires to the team. Even for studios used to remote work, such as Roll7, the inability to have regular face-to-face team meetings has presented a challenge. “In order to combat this,” says Roll7’s Bennett, “we’ve focused on two key areas. Firstly, we have reiterated a clear rule that all online meetings must be done via video rather than voice call – it’s not the same as being face-toface, but it certainly does help people to feel connected and to make genuine social connections. “Secondly, we’ve been making sure that we take time to do fun activities as a whole team – for example, last week we held a virtual pub quiz in the afternoon, which was a great chance for people from all disciplines to catch up with or get to know one another.” Right: Kate Lindsay, Splash Damage
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Protecting your team’s mental health often means addressing practical concerns that can exacerbate the stress of working from home. It’s important to remember that many of us aren’t alone while working from home – but now facing the dual challenges of juggling our work alongside increased childcare concerns. “Many of us are suddenly having to handle the logistical difficulties of having to homeschool children, care for sick family members, or juggle multiple housemates all suddenly working from home” adds Roll7’s Bennett. “All of these things have a significant practical and emotional impact that can be really tough to deal with without the right support.” “Because of this, the biggest formal change we have made since the outbreak began has been allowing parents and carers a significantly more flexible working schedule. “We already offer somewhat flexible hours, but in the current circumstances it seemed sensible to increase this flexibility, so that everyone is able to manage work and potential new home responsibilities in the way that best suits them. “Members of our team are now able to take longer lunches, and can start earlier or finish later in order to fit their work hours around the changing needs of their families and households.” Naturally, maintaining business as usual means more than managing your staff ’s mental health. With many teams now working separately for the first time, how do you best ensure that deadlines are still met, without sacrificing on quality? “There was a bit of initial impact as we pivoted to everyone working from home,” says Sav Fileccia, production director at Mediatonic, “mainly down to hardware setup, downloading large repositories at home, ensuring we have the right license setup and acclimatization. “Some problems have required creative solutions, such as availability of specific hardware to recreate bugs, but thankfully nothing too impactful so far. “Complex software engineering projects are never error free but code reviews, dev QA support and the teams playing the game are all standard practices we have adopted over the years ensuring seamless working for those not located with the main team. “Due to our distributed development across four studio locations, this is something we’ve had to work really hard at in recent years as errors generated by a team in one timezone can potentially bring down a team in another time zone for a full working day” “At the time of moving everyone to a remote working set-up we could only ensure we were as prepared as we could be, and to make clients aware it was business as
usual.” adds Indigo Pearl’s Miller. “I cannot praise the teams enough. They have 100 per cent taken working from home in their stride. Communication with clients and journalists has remained unchanged.” Of course, while procedures may be in place to ensure a team can still work together while they’re forced to be apart, the obvious human angle can still be a hindrance. Beyond just the anxiety of the current climate, those not used to working from home are struggling to stay focused on the task at hand. “It’s easy to become distracted when working from home,” adds Splash Damage’s Lindsay. “Given the current pandemic it’s even more of a challenge for most. Selfmotivation, morale boosts and understanding goals are three key components to ensuring working from home and team collaboration are successful. It’s important to regularly check in with each other and offer support and help along the way.” MEET AND GREET It’s important to note that, for larger teams, ensuring the wellbeing and productivity of your staff is an increased challenge while working remotely. You need to be able to gauge the mood of each individual team member – and ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard on a group Zoom call can be a tall order. “While we miss having the chance to all get together and play the latest build in person,” notes Roll7’s Bennett, “in some ways having our play sessions move to a totally remote format has been beneficial to the quality of feedback we’re able to get from our team. Rather than being given verbally in person (which tends to encourage people to minimise criticisms or constructive feedback), we now write up our feedback and submit it. “This encourages people to give more nuanced and detailed responses to the latest build – and because it is all written we can anonymise it and ensure that everyone’s feedback is weighted equally when it comes to deciding what to keep or to change” “For HR related feedback, we have just moved to using Officevibe, which allows us to send out surveys with anonymised responses, so we can check in on everyone’s wellbeing without putting people on the spot.” Roll7 isn’t alone in finding some areas have actually become easier to manage while working remotely, as Mediatonic’s Fileccia states: “As we have grown and team sizes have increased, we’ve purposefully split teams on a feature basis to ensure we don’t have huge meetings that will intimidate more introverted members of the team. “On top of that, the producers and leads see it as a large part of their role to be approachable and encourage
Left: Mark Cooke, Shiny Shoe
people to voice their concerns. We’ve actually found that working from home in some instances has improved things for some people, as they have their own mic.” Of course, ensuring that everyone is heard is important – which often means making sure that a lone voice isn’t being buried under their louder colleagues. “Not getting the chance to speak, or not feeling that you are being heard when you do, can be deeply demoralising” adds Splash Damage’s Lindsay. “Especially if it happens time and again. If we don’t manage those employees who are not being heard, those feelings of frustration, demotivation and powerlessness can spill over into their productivity. We want to ensure all voices are heard so we are not losing out on any knowledge and experience every employee has. “A good way of doing this is ensuring you are building confidence with each of your employees – that could be giving kudos in group meetings when they have performed well, mentioning that the more “quiet employees” came up with a good idea recently and would they like to share it with the group... or simply asking employees ‘what do you think?’ even if you already know the answer. “If employees are in a meeting, it’s because they have something to offer and that their contribution is valuable. So, it’s important that managers know how to reinforce this through meetings and don’t let one person dominate.” Aspects of the games industry may be benefitting in some ways from the current crisis, but the growing pains of the strange transitional period we’re in will be felt by teams for some time, with no immediate signs of this lockdown ending any time soon. But with effective management, companies will be able to adapt for as long as this lasts.
With special thanks to Caspar Field for his input on this topic. The former Wish Studios CEO is now providing management consultancy, contact http://talk.management
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The Final Boss Every month an industry leader brings their unique insight to MCV/DEVELOP
Paul Sulyok, CEO, Green Man Gaming This month we’ve got an extra special Final Boss feature, to celebrate Green Man Gaming’s tenth birthday and look back at a decade of success
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Happy tenth anniversary! Got anything special planned? We’ve always had a robust sale to celebrate our birthday, but this year we’re pulling out all the stops with month-long deals, special giveaways, charity events and influencer parties, plus we will be doubling down on supporting the studios that are part of our Digital Partners Programme. Everything planned will be a chance to bring our community and friends from the industry together. How are you coping with the current crisis? Being together as one team is an important part of GMG culture. Prior to the official lockdown, we carried out department rehearsals and organised all the tech we needed, but this isn’t just about coping with logistics. For those without dedicated home office space, or with small children to homeschool, WFH can be challenging. The team realised early on that we need to make this work, and there’s been a really positive attitude taken by everyone in the company. Most of the feedback I’m getting is that people are finding that WFH allows them to be highly productive and they are enjoying spending extra time with family without commute times. We’re taking a collaborative approach including all employees to develop a strategy for post-lockdown. In essence, the idea is to find a healthy balance between what employees want, what is feasible, and having future government guidelines in mind. Giving the whole company a say in building this strategy has given a sense of belonging, despite the distance and WFH at the moment, and is for me, what has always been GMG’s greatest strength, the Green Team! Looking back, how has Green Man Gaming changed over its ten years? Even with the best planning in the world there are bumps in the road, but it’s the quality, professionalism, and enthusiasm of the team that’s got us through ten years. We started in a couple of small offices just near the British Library, and as we grew to a hundred people, had to knock down more and more walls to accommodate everyone on one floor, right up until the ceiling bowed and fell in! We were placing bets on how low it would go. What was true then is true now; the spirit of the team, their ingenuity, and tenacious creativity to get the job done is the thing that keeps us alive and kicking. We launched (during a recession I might add) with a penny games sale and the idea of offering digital trade-ins for games. We went live, and saw a massive rush of customers from Japan and India so we’ve had to think globally from day one. Let’s just say, responding quickly to change has always been our forte. We’ve also never been afraid to try things out, like being the first retailer to offer Bitcoin as a way to buy digital games, or to stick our neck out like launching a publishing arm (2014) way before other digital stores were exploring this space. More recently we’ve evolved our offer with our Digital Partners programme to say, hey, one size no longer fits all and here’s another way to go forward that requires a change in thinking and how we do business, but really does work. When I think about it, my greatest memories of the past ten years have all been when someone has said, let’s try this, and the whole team dug in to make something happen – whether it was our notorious summer 666 sale where we had six deals changing every six hours for six days (which was insane as every member of the company was involved in some way, and I’m happy we have left our crunch days well behind us), or the massive task of rebranding ALF, our original Alien Life Form mascot so he was ready for any version of the future.
That was a tougher decision to make than I thought it would be, and I’ve had to make a LOT of tough decisions over the past decade. I think I still have some original branded Green Man Gaming goo in a tin that we gave away at the MCV Awards one year and will outlive all of us. It was the right call to make as we grew up as a company in that moment, and properly laid the foundation for us to be so much more than just a store - to become a whole ecosystem. I think we’ve come a long way as a company in terms of global reach and expertise which was always our vision, but our beating heart still remains the same. And with the greatest respect to your current role, what is / was your dream job? I’ve had two dream jobs. The first was to be a soldier and the second was to be an entrepreneur. I’ve ticked both boxes! I think my time in the British Army gave me the confidence to lead from the front, and to respect that great things come from working in a team all working on the same mission. I worked a spell in the City, and to be honest I hated it. It wasn’t the people that I disliked, it was how the culture warped individuals’ perspectives on the world. In the games industry I’m lucky that I’ve managed (and continue) to work with some amazingly talented, intelligent, and professional people. I’m still blown away that after ten years at Green Man Gaming I can walk out of a meeting with a developer, humbled by their courage, determination, and raw talent. Can the games industry possibly change as much over the next ten years as it has over the last ten? I sincerely hope and believe so. The games industry never stands still. Just look at how we’ve come together to serve our biggest ever audience over the past couple of months – like the YANA event we were proud to be a part of at the start of this month, and think on how that will inform what we do next.
We’re all online and collaborating more than ever before across platforms and timezones, with new business models, charities and outreach initiatives, education... We’re driven as an industry by creativity first, which leads to rapid advances in technology that drives change in ways we can’t even imagine yet. There’s no other industry as exciting and pivotal to change as ours. Green Man Gaming has diversified over the years, onto different platforms and into publishing, will that continue? It’s what we do best! Tracking the industry, and combining technical know-how with commercial sense is what got us through ten years and will serve us well into the next decade and beyond. The moment we stand still, or settle for doing something just because that’s the way it’s always been done would for me be a sad day indeed. And are you missing the big games events this year or is it a bit of a relief? We’ve always been wherever our community lives their lives, and though I personally will miss shaking hands with folks at the Saddle Ranch or at the Golden Joystick Awards, our focus remains on delivering a great service to our fans and customers, even if that’s all online for the foreseeable future. Who continues to impress you in the industry? I think companies such as Sumo Digital and Team 17 continue to impress me with their vision and growth, and give me energy to think about the next 10 years. I certainly couldn’t do my job without a great team around me, a team that have stayed the course for a decade and continue to deliver above and beyond when times seem tough. Mostly, it’s our community of publishers, developers, and customers who keep me on my toes, and make the job a pleasure, not a chore. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has in any way been part of our story and supported us on this wild journey over the years. It’s been an honour.
“Even after ten years at Green Man Gaming I can still walk out of a meeting with a developer, humbled by their courage, determination, and raw talent.”
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THE REAL NEXT-GEN DIFFERENCE? More memory and processing power is par for the course, but the next gen will also bring the first SSD-equipped consoles, capable of loading data one hundred times faster than ever before. Developers tell us about the impact on engineering and design, as well as some exciting possibilities for the future
hile Mark Cerny’s recent talk on PS5 hardware was a tad dry for consumers – it was originally intended for a GDC audience of course – we were riveted. While the Xbox Series X had already announced its commitment to SSD storage, it was Cerny that really delved into what that might mean for developers. Storage options have come a long way during the last two console hardware generations, at least in terms of capacity. At launch, the Xbox 360 optionally came with a 20GB hard drive, while the latest devices have comparatively whopping 1TB drives. Though install sizes are rising just as fast, to the dismay of many. Capacity aside, the typical hard disk drive (HDD) has long been a problem. With a throughput of just 50MB/s (though even that is far from steady), the current standard drive is a huge speed bump, one that has forced developers into creative solutions to mask the issue – such as those super-tight gaps your character squeezes through between rooms.
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SSDs, by comparison, are roughly one hundred times faster. That’s an exponential leap, the kind rarely seen in gaming hardware. So we ask some of the top technical minds at UK developers how they think the technology will change how games are made and how they play. SCIENCE FRICTION Modern games are big. For example the entirety of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare on PS4 is now pushing almost 200GB of data – largely textures and other assets to fill its numerous, sumptuous environments. All that graphical detail may thrill gamers, but they pay for it elsewhere. The reality is that consoles have been struggling to keep up and that’s become a big issue, says Marc Fascia, VP of technology at Splash Damage. “A lot of the friction in the process of playing console games comes from slow storage operations. Installing a game on current gen takes a long time, to a point where features like intelligent installers or pre-downloading games had to be introduced.
“Load times also add friction for players and this got worse as we went through the last two generations of consoles. The amount of game data grew much faster than the increase in speed in HDDs. Consoles now have more memory and filling it with data that comes from a slow drive would only take longer. This is not a sustainable situation and it’s going to be great to see things improve in that area.” Scott Kirkland, Studio Director at Sumo Warrington, concurs: “If you have twice as much memory to fill with (non-procedurally generated) content, it would take twice as long to load it without a corresponding improvement in storage. By adopting SSD we get a significant increase in loading bandwidth, allowing more memory to be filled with higher quality, or more varied, content at a faster rate. We need to be mindful of the overhead of any load time processing of incoming assets. Fortunately next-gen consoles combine faster storage with faster processing!” Kirkland continues by giving an example: “Reduced loading times mean that decisions on which content needs to be read can be made later and/or more/better content can be read. Think of Destiny’s transition areas such as tunnels. They can either become significantly shorter, allowing for faster transitions between types of areas with no significant improvement in content quality, or they can remain similar in length but allow for increased variety or quality of content when you emerge into the new area.” Prasanna Jeganathan, technical director at Supermassive Games is also keen to put reduced friction front and centre: “The biggest initial impact will be a big improvement in loading times.” But he also notes that loading times are not necessarily bad. “Some may like a brief period before jumping back into a level. I would
hope these high and lows would now be design choices rather than a product of hardware restrictions.” BETTER BY DESIGN At present, though, it’s clear that such hardware restrictions are impacting game design in numerous ways, though maybe not numerous enough for gamers, who are used to the same old tricks, as Clive Gratton, technical director at Creative Assembly, points out. “For interior designs, we’ll no longer need to have to include long dog-legs, air locks and lifts to allow the next section of the level to stream in. Visible LOD (level of detail) popping when sniping will be a thing of the past and moving from one location to another in a massive world becomes almost instantaneous. Such an impact has already been demonstrated by Sony in its Spider-Man SSD demo, allowing fast travel across New York to be genuinely fast, with the new location loading in almost instantly. Splash Damage’s Fascia thinks such speed will change the very design ethos of many games: “Designers will likely have a better answer to this question, but my take is that it is going to encourage more devs to think of their game world as one seamless piece rather than discrete chunks with loading screens in-between.” And he also believes that the speed will allow some more unusual approaches to flourish: “Some techniques like Quake Wars’ megatextures could resurface. Megatextures, also known as Partially Resident Textures, allow every object of the game to have its own unique set of textures, leading to richer, more varied and less repetitive visuals. To achieve this effect the engine constantly streams in and out the texture fragments it needs to render what is on screen and caches it. How fast the data can be streamed in is vital for such a system
Below: The details differ a little, but both the Xbox Series X (pictured) and the PS5 will allow owners to expand their SSD storage without diluting the benefits of their internal drives.
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Above (from left to right): Marc Fascia of Splash Damage, Prasanna Jeganathan from Supermassive Games, and Clive Gratton of Creative Assembly
to work. In previous generations, it required a lot of very bespoke optimisation, but things could simplify drastically with faster drives. It’s interesting to see that both hardware vendors such as NVIDIA or AMD as well as Unreal have been doing work in this area lately.” CROSSING THE STREAMS And that’s just one way that the engineering behind the scenes could change radically, as the sheer speed of SSDs will blur previously stark lines. Supermassive’s Jeganathan explains: “It may change memory strategies by treating the SSD space as slower RAM. This allows the data density for software to be higher. The churn on memory allocation in modern game engines would be higher, resulting in a need for more optimal approaches to memory allocation.” Splash Damage’s Fascia talks about the upside of such an approach: “Faster drives will allow for better streaming and caching. Just keep the data you need in memory and evict what you don’t need any more, since fetching it again when needed is now fast enough. “Systems like texture caches could be simplified thanks to this too. There is [currently] a lot of complex logic to figure out which textures you need or are going to need in the short term, and to make sure they are in memory by the time you need them. Faster reads could make the logic simpler as the data will become faster to get. Another way to use faster read and writes is to cache to disk the result of CPU intensive computation. So that you won’t have to do it again and you can instead just fetch the data.” However, it’s not all a free dinner, he admits: “The flipside is that more dynamic memory usage like this is harder to debug, so this will also put an emphasis on better tooling and logging.”
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PC GONE MAD This all sounds incredibly beneficial, but most serious gaming PCs have had fast SSDs for some time, so why haven’t we seen the same benefits rolled out on that platform before now? “I think scalability is paramount in the world of PC gaming and as much as possible, the game should adapt to the player’s machine rather than the other way around,” says Fascia. “That being said, use of SSDs has been growing steadily and I think we will organically reach a point where it is safe to assume one is present on the player’s machine. We’re just not quite there yet.” Supermassive’s Jeganathan agrees, saying: “It would depend if a developer adds the requirement to [the minimum spec]. SSD so far has been focussed on the fidelity of the experience rather than if you can do something or not. A product could still be a really good experience with loading screens, but generally that same product without loading screens is going to be better.” Sumo’s Kirkland concurs: “With the PC platform being an inherently broad platform and players often enhancing their rigs incrementally, I don’t think we’d be able to stipulate an SSD for minimum spec – although it would doubtless be part of the recommended spec for a modern game. “As PC developers, we have to maintain safeguards against slow loading and provide sufficient quality options to ensure that as many players as possible can have a great experience. “That said, in a multiplayer scenario where there are load-dependent synchronisation points, there may well be merit to additional match-making filters such as ‘SSD only’ in order to minimise wait times amongst better equipped players.
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THE WEAKEST LINK And such arguments won’t just affect PCs, as we may be entering an era where console titles are as affected by the need to be backwards compatible as PC titles have always been. Aside from next-gen exclusives, of which practically none have been announced to date, console games will likely need to work on both current and old hardware for the time being, especially if developers and publishers want to maximise their profits. “As a multi-platform developer, we may need to be mindful of lowest common denominator platforms,” agrees Sumo’s Kirkland. “Ideally we would avoid varying level design – including area transitions – for each platform, especially if there was a desire to support cross-platform play. “With existing platforms likely to remain popular for some time, generation-spanning titles do need to balance a desire for increased variety and quality with delivering a consistent gameplay experience for all players. This means that outside of platform or generation exclusives, short term benefits may be largely cosmetic and/or loading time biased.” To which Fascia adds: “Streaming systems are inherently scalable so similar techniques could be used across the old and new generations of hardware. However, the player experience will be far superior on next gen, with short load times, less popping of streamed assets or textures, etc.”
Below: Scott Kirkland, Sumo Warrington
CHANGE OF STATE So while the SSD revolution may not be able to tear up the old rulebook quite yet, that’s not to say that it couldn’t yet bring radical change to the industry. Creative Assembly’s Gratton sees the possibility of “different gaming experiences becoming a reality – super fast loading means that high-quality short form games can emerge as a genre. At present no-one wants to wait
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two minutes to boot into a game session that lasts one minute – but if that loading takes one second then this sort of game is now viable.” That opens up the possibility of whole new genres, games that you might launch from the dashboard between other experiences, something closer to the booming hyper-casual market on mobile, but backed with huge processing and graphical power. And Supermassive’s Jeganathan sees similar possible changes in usage patterns: “The user experience for playing huge games will mean you can potentially dip in and out as if they were mobile apps.” Finally, it’s not just faster loading that SSDs will bring, as near-instantaneous saves could bring unconsidered benefits too, says Sumo’s Kirkland. “In addition to loading, saving will be significantly faster with SSDs too. Whether this be a less invasive autosave, a quick manual save, fast suspend (for subsequent resume) or a more significant and continuous serialisation of state to accommodate high-fidelity live rewind.” He notes that this could further allow games’ exploration of time control: “Prince of Persia and the Sands of Time, Braid, various racing games, Blinx the Time Sweeper... this can only have a positive experience on gaming!” And finally, Kirkland notes a possible usage for esports presentation as well: “In a racing game which streams higher fidelity assets around the player’s vehicle (which moves in a largely predictable manner), features such spectating – where you want to reload a considerable amount of data on switching between players located at different points along or around a track – can become more responsive with a corresponding benefit to esports presentation.” FILLING THE OCEAN More data, delivered more quickly, sounds fantastic. However, the improved technology, for next-gen exclusives at the very least, will come with an improved appetite for development resources, notes Kirkland. “It’s worth noting that experience-affecting increases to variety and quality of content – when tackled by brute force – would likely equate to increased development costs,” he warns. “We all need to be looking for smart ways to optimise content creation, and the refinement or reuse thereof, to help us make this new generation of games as accessible as possible.” Or to put it another way, in the future you can expect games to load a lot quicker, but don’t expect developers to make them a lot quicker because of that.
THE DUALSHOCK IS DEAD ALL HAIL THE DUALSENSE Of course, SSDs aren’t all that glitters in the next-gen treasure trove. We discuss what matters, and what doesn’t, from Sony’s next-gen controller and what it tells us about PS5 Hungry for PS5 news, the new PlayStation controller hit social networks like a tsunami, with images of it, alongside a thousand recoloured versions, pouring forth across the internet. With the colour scheme being the most discussed aspect of the new design. But first let’s look at the bits that really matter: the microphone, the triggers and the redesigned lightbar. The built-in microphone is undoubtedly the single most important aspect of the new design. For developers to know that every player has a microphone to hand is a huge boon and in more ways than is immediately obvious. Yes, it should see more people talking in traditional multiplayer games, but it also opens up voice commands and interaction in solo and party games like never before – although only in exclusive titles of course, as Microsoft has not followed suit in this regard. Not everything is new and unique, Sony’s ‘adaptive triggers’ sound much like the ones the Xbox One has been touting for some time. That said, it’s good to have parity in this area for cross-platform development. Speaking of buttons, there are no pictures of the underside of the DualSense. We theorised that the DualShock 4 Back Button Attachment, launched very late in the PS4 cycle, might suggest that the new controller had rear-mounted buttons – which have become ubiquitous on esports-styled designs. But there’s no sign of that here yet. Finally, we see the light bar has moved, so it appears to be facing the player, rather than shining towards the console, and the PlayStation Camera accessory. This connected the DualShock 4 design to the PSVR design, but unless the very tiny amount of light around the edges of the pad is sufficient, or
“The built-in microphone is the single most important aspect of the new design.”
there’s something we’re missing, then this functionality looks to have been abandoned, which may be the first tangible signal of the death of Sony’s console VR dream. A SHOCK TO THE SENSES After 23 years of using the DualShock brand, Sony has moved onto pastures anew. On one hand it seems unwise, why drop a long-running brand like DualShock for something that really doesn’t say much more. That said, I’ve never heard anyone say: ‘I had to go and buy a new DualShock’. With ‘PlayStation controller’ being the far more ubiquitous term, at least to my ears in the UK. And finally, what does that colour choice tell us about the console itself? It’s certainly bold, given that black and white likely won’t please everyone. Presuming that it forewarns that the console itself will also have a two-tone colour scheme – that would set it even more clearly in between the all-black Xbox Series X and the (very likely) white of its lesser (and yet to be announced) Xbox Series S sibling. We continue to be surprised at these low-key PS5 announcements. By the time they announce the console itself, there’s going to be little to show but the actual box. With no ‘true exclusive’ titles yet hinted, it’s an interesting strategy. Some have pointed out that Sony has exclusives to sell this year, and so doesn’t want to distract from those, and only after that will crank up the public address system on its new console.
...IT’S IN THE GAME! In-game advertising has been pushed to the fore by the coronavirus pandemic – with games using the technology to feature socially responsible messaging. Seth Barton talks to Bidstack’s Charlotte Cook about how games can bring topical and positive messages to increasingly hard-to reach ‘digital native’ audiences
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tay Home, Save Lives has been the message of the last few weeks. It’s appeared in various forms on billboards, in newspapers, on TV and across news sites. However, many of those mediums aren’t seen by the hardest to reach audiences, especially under lockdown. So the government also worked with a handful of games publishers to place such messaging alongside and within games. That let us look at in-game advertising in a new light. Showing it could do a lot more than simply promote products, it could talk to hard-to-reach audiences about a myriad of socially responsible messaging. Charlotte Cook, VP of gaming at Bidstack, the company responsible for some of the Stay Home
advertising seen within games recently, tells us: “The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s recent partnership with game publishers, such as Codemasters, to spread the word about the Public Health England’s ‘Stay Home, Save Lives’ message within games is a great example of both gaming and advertising industries coming together to use their technologies for good.” And she feels that this is a possible turning point for how the public sector views games and their communities. “The government’s actions could also be interpreted as the beginning of an attitude change in society towards gaming. Wider audiences are starting to understand the power and positive impact that gaming can have on society. Something which has been echoed
“It is never a bad thing to have to consider new ideas and approaches.”
Left: Public Health England worked with Codemasters to place Stay Home, Save Lives messaging in DiRT Rally 2.0, using Bidstack’s in-game advertising technology
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presents “an excellent channel to reach an ever increasing, diverse, and engaged community.” And as with more traditional forms of advertising “it enables advertisers to tailor campaigns to drive even higher levels of engagement – based on factors such as age, gender, and location creatives can be adapted to specifically appeal to different audience groups. “Through native in-game placements, charities and government bodies can reach audiences that are fully engaged and immersed into the environment in which they are playing. This drives high levels of awareness, and perhaps most importantly, doesn’t disrupt the experience for the user.”
Above: Sports Interactive’s Football Manager 2020 recently hosted adverts for mental health charity CALM on its in-game billboards
Right: Charlotte Cook, VP of gaming at Bidstack
by the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) support of the #PlayApartTogether campaign.” SPECIAL DELIVERY Speed was obviously key in a situation such as this, so in-game campaigns must be able to react to a rapidly changing situation. And Cook tells us it’s no more complex than running any programmatic campaign. “Bidstack’s technology stack has been specifically designed with ease of integration and activation in mind. Combined with the ability to serve programmatic campaigns in real-time, we can facilitate the path for both advertisers and publishers to react rapidly by making their inventory available on a global scale. “Once integrated, the Bidstack team closely works with both the advertisers and publishers to line up the campaigns ready to be pushed live in-game. Our partners can then monitor the health of the campaign through our proprietary software AdConsole. In the case of the ‘Stay Home. Save Lives’ campaign featured in DiRT Rally 2.0, we were able to turn this around within hours.” That opens up the question of whether this form of advertising could be used to react to other major world events, for example by encouraging people to register to vote, or to get health checks, targeting audiences that are increasingly tricky to reach. “It is no surprise that tech savvy audiences, such as the gaming community, represent a high proportion of those using ad-blocking software,” notes Cook. “Across devices where traditionally digital display ads would be served this equates to 38 per cent on smartphones and 89 per cent on desktops or laptops. This presents a significant challenge to advertisers accessing these audiences via traditional digital routes, however in-game ads can help overcome this. Cook says “approximately 37.3 million people in the UK are playing video games and 56 per cent are under the age of 35,” which means in-game advertising
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GOING NATIVE That’s long been the concern of game developers of course, and such adverts do sit best in real-world environments where they look appropriate. But there are further considerations as well, as Cook points out. “It is our first priority to be mindful of why gamers play – games provide enjoyment, entertainment and vital escapism into carefully crafted worlds,” she notes. “For many, gaming in this current climate provides an opportunity to escape from the constant stream of COVID-19 related news. This means that further messaging linked to the crisis in-game could be unwelcome. So we need to work on finding the right balance and ensure that in-game advertising is used in the right way. “That said, the possibilities really are endless here. Now that we’re at a stage where native in-game advertising isn’t simply a hypothesis anymore and we have faster and more powerful technology to back it up, the turnaround times from concept to reality will drastically shorten.”
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Online advertising generally has a clear call-to-action, usually the clickthrough to the site or product. Now that’s not always the singular aim, with brand-building still a key element of many campaigns, but can in-game ads provide such trackable responses? “Theoretically there are multiple options when it comes to building in response capabilities to the creative, both within and outside of the games environment. However, this functionality is dependent on the advertiser’s objective for the campaign and whether it is the right fit for the audience. Once the objective is established, Bidstack can develop suitable options to achieve the desired result from the audience the advertiser is aiming to reach.” It’s not a socially-positive example, for instance, but a campaign to up online sandwich sales does show that well-targeted, in-game adverts can get a direct response. “We ran a campaign with Subway in Football Manager 2019. The aim was to increase brand awareness and online orders for delivery in the Turkish market. Through our technology we were able to specifically target players who lived within a certain radius of a
“As with all the campaigns we run and game environments we work with, it is of paramount importance to protect the gaming environment and enhance the game with real world messages. We welcome the opportunity for our technology to be used in this way and in doing so would continue our policy of working with both advertisers and game publishers to ensure any future topical or socially-driven ad campaigns would work for all involved – and crucially meet restriction guidelines.” It all sounds very positive, but for this potential to become realised, developers will need to integrate such services into their titles, and there’s a few things to consider first. “The main factors which we would ask developers to consider ahead of implementation is whether the game environment can be optimised seamlessly. In-game advertising thrives in environments which have banners, billboards, and other native opportunities that enable the ad to look authentic to its setting. This is why it works well for games such as DiRT Rally 2.0 and Football Manager. However, ads in games which exist in fantasy
“The WHO has therefore publicly recognised gaming as being a vitally important channel in preventing the spread of the virus.” Subway outlet, and serve only that audience with the creatives in a form sensitive to the game experience. The campaign achieved high levels of engagement; on average players had 40 seconds of exposure to the ad within a session compared to an average of one second in digital display campaigns. POSITIVE PLAY Coming back to topical and socially-driven advertising, the potential could be huge. The right adverts would not only benefit developers financially, but also boost the perception of the form in the public sector as an ally in reaching specific audiences. “Gaming has presented a perfect opportunity for gamers to practise physical distancing, while staying safely connected with their community through positive and entertaining experiences. The WHO has therefore publicly recognised gaming as being a vitally important channel in preventing the spread of the virus. With recognition from global bodies at this level, gaming cements its place as a channel where future important messages can be relayed with maximum impact.
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or historical universes might look out of place and would not be conducive to an enhanced experience for the brand or the player.” Technically speaking the process is relatively straightforward, though, Cook explains. “Bidstack has a deep understanding of the development cycle of video games and it was imperative for us not to become a hindrance to that. Which is why we have fine tuned the software development kit (SDK) to be lightweight and require a one-time integration. “This can be done in titles which are already live or upcoming releases, supported across multiple platforms and game engines. Ultimately, we want to ensure game developers are able to do what they do best, make games and not use crucial development time hard coding ads into the game.” It’s rare that advertising has something so positive to shout about, and admittedly, not every campaign is going to save lives. But the broader capabilities of ingame advertising and their potential for good shouldn’t be ignored by any developer making a title in which such campaigns could work.
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ALL PACKED UP for Stadia Chris Wallace finds out how Stadia’s cloud-based development is helping to deliver Get Packed to market
o one can move house at the moment, and the property market is in freefall, so it’s a little ironic that there are not one but two moving games coming out this year. One of those is Coatsink’s Get Packed, which is handily using Google’s cloud-based development kits to help elude some of the impact of coronavirus. Get Packed is a couch co-op title, developed by the Cornwall-based Moonshine Studios. The physics-based title in which players compete to load a removal van (while avoiding destroying everything in the process) is the developer’s first title, with the studio being founded by four Master’s students. The game began life as a Tetris-based packing removal game, inspired by the experiences of a team member who was currently moving house. However, as development progressed, more and more physics elements were introduced, ultimately resulting in the madcap destruction seen in the final product – The game could perhaps be best compared to Overcooked, with players attempting to work towards a common goal but ultimately undermined by ludicrous level design and their own communication failures. For a group of young graduates building up a game company, it can be difficult to attract the attention of the public, press and influencers – especially given that, unfortunately, the game is in direct competition with the similar-looking Moving Out from Team17. Thankfully, the Moonshine team has some backup – the marketing clout of a giant like Google. The game is one of Stadia’s ‘first on Stadia’ titles, a six-month exclusivity partnership that came about early in the platform’s life, as Coatsink PR manager Jack Sanderson explains.
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“The partnership actually started through a mutual friend, who introduced Eddie Beardsmore our COO, and Tom Beardsmore, our CEO, to the Stadia team. Honestly, it was mostly just driven by curiosity about the Stadia platform. We knew Google was doing something, and wanted to know exactly what that was. “That obviously led to lots of conversations – and at that time, we had recently taken on Get Packed as one of our publishing titles, we pitched a couple of games to them, and they instantly fell in love with Get Packed.”
This Stadia exclusivity proved to be a benefit to the game’s development. Without being limited to current-generation hardware, the team were free to take advantage of the Stadia’s processing power without worrying about having to limit their vision for the game. “When we were building the game,” says Marcus Gardner, co-founder of Moonshine studios, “Stadia offered a load of unique stuff which a lot of the current platforms would struggle with. Primarily because our game is mostly focused around a lot of physics, which
Above: Jack Sanderson of Coatsink
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Above (from top): Marcus Gardner and Lukas Donkers, Moonshine Studios
needs a lot of processing power. And not everyone has access to that kind of stuff on their own hardware. “With Stadia, because they’ve got big, powerful systems already – we can push the physics and the lighting effects without making it unplayable. Developing exclusively for Stadia also offers benefits beyond raw processing power. While dev kits for the Stadia are available, developers also have the option to upload builds directly to the Stadia’s cloud-based environment, enabling the team to more easily test the experience. “We did have the [physical] Stadia dev kit,” notes gameplay programmer Lukas Donkers, “but what we found is that because players themselves are also going to be playing on the cloud instances, we found that using cloud instances ourselves turned out to be the best way to test the game. “As far as the development cycle goes, it’s very easy. We have access to a developer platform, or we can just upload builds and test them in the same way that the player would, which is getting the game streamed to you.” And what is usually a handy difference for a cloudfirst gaming platform, is now much increased in its importance – given the COVID-19 pandemic forcing most businesses to work from home. “Working on Get Packed from home during COVID-19 has been business as usual, thanks to Stadia” notes Donkers. “You can upload builds from anywhere, and play builds anywhere, that’s the magic of the cloud. “Also, with a number of features that Stadia is introducing, it makes it very easy for people to stream the game, to get people watching and playing with it. From the first concept of the game, we wanted to make sure it was fun to watch as well as to play.” We expect the game will benefit greatly from Stadia’s upcoming State Share feature too – which will allow game states to be shared via link, allowing players to jump directly to a specific point in a game. Get Packed’s anarchic co-op gameplay seems a perfect fit for influencers, and the ability to share specific levels and situations directly with their audience will be an incredible marketing opportunity. But that isn’t the only marketing boost the game will receive from its association with Stadia. For Moonshine Studio’s debut title to receive the full backing of Google has been a morale boost too.
“From a marketing standpoint, any support from first parties is always great,” says Sanderson. “Just showing that they’ve given you their seal of approval, it’s almost like the Nintendo Gold seal on cartridges. Having that, as well as any marketing support, is just far better than a small team of five or six can do. Just having their support alone is great. “It’s all thanks to that mutual friend who started it all, and Stadia have been nothing but amazing. Just the level of support we’ve seen is fantastic – they’re providing support to the team to make sure the game runs as smoothly as possible. And so on that front that they’ve been great.” This support links back to Stadia’s ‘Stadia Makers’ program. The program, which Google announced at the Google for Games Developer Summit, is intended to expand Stadia’s self-publishing opportunities for independent developers. While Stadia’s deal for Get Packed pre-dates Stadia Makers, it is nonetheless emblematic of their commitment to encouraging indie developers to bring their titles to the Stadia – something it’ll need in order to hit its target of 120 titles for the platform in 2020. Time will tell if Stadia can encourage more independent developers over to their platform, and promote more partnerships such as their involvement with Coatsink and Moonshine on Get Packed – though with the ability to offer development hardware in the cloud, the speed of potential growth at least isn’t limited by its ability to deliver development kits during these already testing times.
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SUMO: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE Sumo Group used its annual results to demonstrate that there’s more creativity in its studios than its ‘work-for-hire’ label suggests. Plus its early data shows development shouldn’t be a bottleneck in getting games to market in this pandemic-struck year
umo Group’s annual results were a little delayed this year. Nothing to worry about of course, just a nationwide request by the Financial Conduct Authority due to the pandemic. In fact, results were up across the board, and ahead of expectations, with profits (EBITDA) up 37.5 per cent to £14.1m. Within that, there was strong growth in revenue
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from its own IP, up from 10 to 33 per cent year-on-year – which we’ll come back to later. And that two week delay was actually beneficial for the company, Sumo Group CEO Carl Cavers tells MCV/ DEVELOP, allowing Sumo’s now ten studios to better address what would otherwise have been “an elephant in the room” in the form of COVID-19.
“We’ve used the extra time to explain where we are, because we’ve been working at home now for five weeks. We’ve been using data points to really dig into how we’re looking at the impact on the year and I’m really encouraged by the performance that we’ve got from working from home. It’s been nothing short of a stupendous effort by everybody at Sumo,” Cavers tells us. “Obviously, there are some efficiency impacts on what we’re doing. And we are forecasting a three and-a-half percent productivity hit by working from home across the group,” he informs us, although that hit isn’t equally distributed across all projects he adds. Sumo has released a graph as part of its results showing the varying impacts on differing sized projects – in total the group currently has 21 projects across 12 clients. “It shows our productivity levels before COVID, where our productivity has dropped as we moved to working from home, and how it’s picked back up again since. We’ve got three examples in there:
“One’s a fairly large scale project but early in development where things are fairly stable in terms of what we know we need to do and productivity has picked back up. “We’ve got one in the early phase of pre-production, where in fact, productivity has increased since working from home, and talking to the guys, it seems that they just have less distractions, at a point where they need to iterate very quickly, and so productivity has gone up. “And then we’ve got a large scale project, that’s towards the back end of its life in development. And that’s taken a little bit longer to get back up to the same productivity levels. And you’d expect that, on large projects, that it takes a little bit longer to get things nailed down and organised. “But fortunately, the management systems that we’ve got, in terms of the control processes, still give us all the same data, we’ve had to adjust some of the reporting elements as we’ve gone along, just to reflect where we
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Above: Sumo Group CEO Carl Cavers
are, on a working from home basis, but ultimately every decision we make is based on data that we get from from our production teams. So we’re quite happy with where we are with that.” All thi means that development, for Sumo and presumably many others, does not look to be the key cause for any corona-related delays in getting projects to market. “Development is largely on track from our point of view, and we’re not seeing any impact on change of release dates, based on delivery,” confirms Cavers. “It will be interesting to see how things get marketed, though, because obviously it is a different world at the moment.” RECRUITMENT SLOWDOWN So while Sumo’s processes look to have robustly survived the shift to working from home – as have MCV/DEVELOP’s, bar the regular intervention of small children looking for sustenance – increasing the size of its own brood is proving more difficult. “The biggest challenge from COVID that we’re seeing, and we’ve had to trim our expectation, is with headcount growth. At the end of last year we got the headcount up to 766, and we had a really strong year. We actually exceeded our internal targets for headcount growth, and the start of the year looked really good. “And now obviously everything’s fallen off a cliff. And it’s because, generally, people aren’t looking to move. We normally target bringing on a new person every single working day within the group. And we’ve cut that back to a new person every five days.” Cavers agrees that in the current climate people are staying put, with the idea that their current job is more secure than any move. Of course there’s an upside to that in terms of churn, but that’s not enough if you’re looking to grow. “Yes, we’re expecting our attrition levels to drop dramatically,” Cavers agrees. “But to be honest, our attrition was less than 10 per cent last year. So it’s not exactly high anyway. It does mean we’re not battling retention at the same time as we’re trying to hire, which is obviously got to be a good thing.” With that said, there is one other possible silver lining for a company such as Sumo, and other companies that are looking to grow: “I think there may be some acquisition opportunities for us, smaller organisations feel the sensitivity of big changes outside of their control and therefore they’re going to
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look for the security of being part of something larger as well,” he suggests. And with Sumo Group looking to further increase its capabilities, both in the UK and in other regions, that could prove the answer to delivering continued growth this year when organic growth via recruitment is unlikely to deliver as usual. Sumo already consists of ten studios now, with recent acquisitions including indie-darlings The Chinese Room in 2018 and work-for-hire veterans Red Kite Games in 2019. Showing that it has broad interests when it comes to potential targets. “We’re looking at bolt-on accelerators, which could be small indies, which would come in and supplement the activity we already do within the Sumo group. But then we’re also looking at opportunities that give us different potential as well in terms of either the genres we offer, or the territory that we’d be based in, so we’re looking globally at larger acquisitions at the same time.” Speaking of other territories, we inquire whether Tencent’s ten per cent of Sumo – in a deal from late last year – gave the group a better strategic vision into the asian market. “Not particularly,” Cavers begins. “Tencent have invested and it’s very flattering to think they believe we’re a great business and they wanted to do to share in the opportunity that we have. Strategically we do talk to them about what’s happening in China, but I don’t think our conversations are different to conversations they would have with pretty much anybody else, when I see the level of data that they do share at events like GDC. So we’re not leveraging them for anything. “Ultimately our relationship is an investor-based relationship and we don’t get anything special, other than the underlying sign that Tencent thinks we’re a good business. Although Cavers does agree that the name can help smooth the path in the region. “I think you’re absolutely right. Also, a lot of investors use it as an indicator – that if somebody within the industry as successful as Tencent is prepared to invest, then there must be something to us, essentially.” HOME GROWN And that “something” now includes a lot more than simply the work-for-hire powerhouse that the developer is well-known as. With revenues from own-IP projects hitting 33 per cent last year.
That own-IP push really started with Snake Pass back in 2017, but more recently we’ve seen Spyder on Apple Arcade, which is soon to be followed onto the service by the still-mysterious Little Orpheus. And Cavers is keen to set the record straight on creativity at Sumo: “I think one of the things that we recognised over the last couple years, since coming to market in 2017, is that we probably underrepresent ourselves in terms of our creative offering and I think there’s a misconception in the market, and the industry to some extent, that we just provide capacity to make games and in fact that’s not really what we do. “We actually conceive ideas for our partners as well and often we’ll conceive an idea within Sumo and end up selling that idea as part of the development to one of our clients, who then finance bringing it to market, but it was originally conceived at Sumo. “So what we’ve sought to do is breakout and demonstrate the level of creativity and depth that we have at Sumo, because we are really doing things from cradle to grave the majority of the time,” he explains. “Apple is a good example with Little Orpheus and Spyder. Spyder came originally through a game jam process, we talked about self funding that and bringing it to market. But it was a much better opportunity to partner with Apple. “They funded the development to bring that to market. We still retain the IP but they’ve got a period of exclusivity on that. So it’s a great example whereby again, we’re being very creative, but in the past you
wouldn’t have seen the creativity coming from Sumo.” He is clear though that IP ownership isn’t now the be-all and end-all of Sumo’s strategy: “Now what we’re not committing to is to increasing that [33 per cent figure] or it staying the same, because it would depend on what the best commercial opportunity is,” he notes pragmatically. “We work on some great IPs for our partners. One of the biggest challenges we’ve always faced and will continue to face is confidentiality. We’ve talked about having 21 projects at present, but I can only talk about five of them. So I always feel that I’m not able to share the best things with you at any given point. But we have some great things in development and we wouldn’t want to walk away from partnering with great clients and great IPs.” And any own-IP products will remain relatively small projects or those that can be co-funded with others? “Absolutely, we are not going to suddenly start taking a large principal risk on bringing a product to market. That’s not what we do. “Snake Pass cost us a million pounds to develop and bring to market. We can afford to do that, we’re not risking the farm… we’re not talking about spending, you know, $20 million on the next big thing!” In short there’s plenty to like in Sumo’s 2019 results and 2020 outlook. And that’s a much-needed ray of sunshine at present, we hope that with Sumo having successfully coped with COVID-19, the rest of the industry is faring similarly. Left: This diagram shows how the switch to WFH impacted differing projects in the Sumo Group
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HONOURING TALENTED WOMEN IN THE UK GAMES INDUSTRY WEDNESDAY 25 NOVEMBER 2020 | LONDON
VISIT THE WEBSITE FOR MORE DETAILS: WWW.WOMENINGAMESAWARDS.COM
28-29 MCV WIG 2020 Save The Date DPS_Final.indd 1
The 6th annual MCV/DEVELOP Women in Games Awards is back! Join us as we celebrate amazing female talent in the UK games industry, it’s set to be a truly inspirational and rewarding afternoon. Get involved to join friends and colleagues in celebrating your successes and get the recognition you deserve.
NEW BIGGER VENUE: The Purcell Room, Southbank Centre, London For this year’s event we’ve moved to the recently restored Purcell Room, part of the Southbank Centre and right next door to the Royal Festival Hall. This new venue doubles our capacity from previous years, allowing us to invite yet more fantastic women from all over the industry. As an arts and cultural venue, we feel the Southbank Centre has the perfect liberal and progressive feel for this event, and with its location on the river there are loads of opportunities to continue celebrating beyond this inclusive afternoon event.
After Party Sponsor
Attendance is on an invitation-only basis. To register your interest please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
28-29 MCV WIG 2020 Save The Date DPS_Final.indd 2
EXTERNAL but still ESSENTIAL A recent survey by the External Development Summit (XDS) Advisory Committee, showed 86 per cent of developers were concerned by the impact of COVID-19 on worldwide game development. Seth Barton looks into the issues raised for both XDev providers and their clients
round 300 games professionals contributed to a new report to ascertain the impact to date of the coronavirus epidemic on games development. It showed that 86 per cent were concerned about the impact upon their schedules and businesses, of which 14 per cent were very concerned, saying that “businesses and game franchises could potentially not recover.” The report was commissioned by the External Development Summit (XDS) Advisory Committee, and authored by its chair Chris Wren. Respondents were roughly divided between one-third publishers and developers, and two-thirds external development partners – who are today key to the delivery of practically any sizeable title. Areas most impacted according to the report are fairly broad, with art, co-development, animation, motion capture and QA all suffering. It’s early days obviously, but 13 per cent said the impact had already affected game launches, while another 41 per cent didn’t yet know if their planned launches would be affected. One anonymous respondent, a service provider, told XDS: “I think we will lose roughly about 5 to 10 per cent of our business in the short run. The industry will bounce back hopefully when this is over in 2-3 months. There will be higher demand as the demand for content from players during the health crisis is higher. New console releases will be around the corner, though delayed. What’s more interesting is to understand what permanent changes will result at the end of this. Are there new measures and/or requirements of service providers for disaster recovery?”
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Service-providing respondents were largely undecided as of yet whether the crisis would cause a hike in rates. Though only 27 per cent responded that there were “no foreseeable changes,” while 60 per cent said they simply didn’t yet know. Which certainly points to “possible volatility in market rates in the months to come,” said the report. Most worrying was that exactly half of service providers indicated they thought there was a risk to their solvency over the coming year. Highly-concerning whether you’re a service provider or a client relying upon such a provider for the release of their title. “Service providers do not have the revenue streams that developers/publishers have, so help support them while this crisis plays out,” A survey respondent told XDS. “We all need them to survive and be functional when things do begin to return to ‘normal’. Commission work and pay partially up front, enabling them to keep cash flowing and avoid having to lay everyone off. Help them out now and they will happily work their collective asses off once lockdowns start to lift, safe in the knowledge that they have cash flow to survive.” MITIGATION STRATEGIES Some publishers and developers have already been forced to mitigate the impact of COVID-19. In the survey, 24 per cent of respondents have already shifted production to alternate service providers in order to best continue with their project. Other steps taken by developers and publishers is to agree to WFH policies for external partners (47 per cent), which of course could reduce the security of the project. Because of this, publishers and developers
are requesting service providers make numerous reassurances, such as secure and encrypted connections, revised legal agreements and NDAs, as well as wanting to ensure employee health and on-time delivery. Concerningly, 22 per cent of developers/publishers have already decreased the scope of their games and 13 per cent have taken on more internal staff to offset issues with external providers – likely due to the virus hitting providers in Asia before it reached western countries. Meanwhile, 94 per cent of service providers have shifted staff to WFH setups, while 14 per cent have added multiple shifts to their offices in order to reduce density. In short, the industry is reacting quickly and comprehensively to keep functioning through the crisis, but there’s a lot to tackle and some slowdown is almost inevitable. Though on the positive side, the crisis may precipitate change for the whole industry going forward. “This is a paradigm shift for distributed development. When we all survive this crisis everyone will be familiar with working with remote teams and will hopefully embrace the opportunities they provide.”
Above: Chris Wren of the XDS Advisory Committee
Below and left: Talks and roundtables from last year’s XDS event
For more insight and information on XDev providers, and to find out about the XDS event held in Vancouver annually, head over to xdsummit.com.
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When We Made... Kind Words (lo fi chill beats to write to)
Chris Wallace takes a look behind the scenes of Popcannibal’s BAFTA-winner, its surprisingly actually look at you. And even with that little bit of political beginnings and why it’s the perfect work, with the help of the animation and really smart game for designers the current crisiswith with over working and engineers, everybody together, you could tellsent from the beginning that 1.6 million messages tovery date
Above: Ziba Scott of Popcannibal
she was a character that people would really gravitate toward.” Quill really becomes a fully fleshed out character with theKIND help of WORDS the game’s (lo fistrong chill beats world-building. to write As to),anfrom interloper developer in Quill’s Popcannibal, world, the feels player so perfectly experiences tailored it notto through our current her eyes, existence but asthat an observer it feels like watching an impossible as she lives feather of life prophecy. in her familiar As we’re setting. all trapped It’s a strangely in our homes, intimate feeling, seperated and one fromwhich our friends gives way andtofamilies, joint apprehension looking ahead asto both an anxious the player and and uncertain Quill enter future, new,the unfamiliar game has areas. become “When you a vital go through coping mechanism Mousetown for andmany. you see Quill run through Kind Words thereisand a game you see where that the shesole has goals a hometown, are theself-reflection feeling of herand leaving kindness it, of that to others. town maybe In some being ways in it’s danger, more agives veryyou jazzy more support of a bond,” group Alderson than it is asays. ‘game’ “If in that thepart typical wassense. left out,The youplayer wouldn’t character, feel likemuch there was like many much of ustoright fightnow, for. Everything is alone inthat his room, we’ve done, sending thesupportive mood settings, messages taking to Quill players from from onearound area tothe theworld. next and letting you rest Those andstruggling take in this with environment… a particular issue It’s allcan supposed post up to aexaggerate request forand help, accentuate or those looking that mood to help that others you’re can feeling. go down It all the ties list back of requests into how you to offer are anonymous connecting with advice Quill andand consolation. her world.”It’s an entirely anonymous system that allows for frank, emotional discussions that some might SAME find difficult QUESTION to have EIGHT with friends WAYSand family, particularly Collaboration at a distance. was key during the development of Moss, not just It’s within hard to the think team ofitself, any game but with that’s the easier help ofto external playtesters. recommend People rightwere now.often Of course, broughtasin developer to feedback Ziba on Scott explains, the game was developed long before this unprecedented situation was even speculated. “I mean, it’s a game about a character stuck in their room. He’s only stuck in that room because the scope of the game wouldn’t reach beyond that, but it’s way too on the nose now. Here’s this character who’s at home, just trying to connect with people over the internet as best they can. If we released this game now everyone would assume it was about the quarantine.”
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Of course, Scott isn’t a modern-day Nostradamus, the game was inspired by a crisis of another kind – the Trump administration. “It was partly inspired by American politics, which are just a nightmare of cruelty and a lack of empathy” notes Scott. “Trump and the GOP are insane, and wildly cruel. I needed to spend my time in some way pushing against the disregard for humanity that is sweeping the world, at least on the political stage. the“I game don’t and trulyasked believequestions that is what’s abouthappening their experience in – the evenmajority if most of of people’s these questions hearts, that werethis actually is how very thesimilar. majority “External of how playtests people were want mostly to treat about each ‘Okay, other.how I do believe if we gave people chance better people that feel when they play? Doa they like to it orbenot like it?’,” than that,explains. they would.” Alderson “At the end of playtest we would ask Words certainly themways. that chance. The theKind same question eightgives different The question only motivation and reward in thebut game theask stickers is really ‘What didn’t you like?’, we are would it you receive‘What from those theyexperience? appreciate your differently: pulledyou youhelp out–ofif the What response. It’s a that encourages took you out ofgame the headset? If there’skindness one thingover you cruelty, though what it is also moderated to prevent trolling. could change would it be? If you had two weeks to finish the game, what would be the thing that you’d fix?’ COMMUNITY CHILL “Those help bring a playtester into their comfort zone, This kindness is encouraged the game’s artpeople (by Luigi because no one wants to playby something that put Guatieri) andand music Clark areand both a lot of care love(by into and Aboud), then turnwhich around say clearly by the lo-fi YouTube (check ‘This isinspired what I didn’t like about it’. Soscene it takes a littleout while ChilledCow or ChillHop Music for and examples) – as can to get the playtester comfortable, we found that also be different seen in the game’s of question course. means finding ways to askfull thetitle, same “There’s a lotget of calm aesthetics” notes Scott. “Chill or you eventually the really good stuff after the fourth characters in safe, fifth time you ask it.cosy places. It’s not saccharine and sugary where great with has the world. It’s aa “I don’t thinkeverything’s anyone in our studio ever made more inner peace type of situation. gamerealistic, like this,attainable, so I think it’s important that you trust the I’m in my You somewhat humble home. Maybe cluttered, process. trust playtesting and you makeit’s sure that you but it’syourself just stuff I love, andand it’sfreedom a quiet moment for myself. allow some time to try something “And justTry what we wanted experience and thenthat’s keepalso going. something new to and branch out, for Luigi and I, we’re lucky enough to have butourselves. also use your experience from games that you’ve some choice of how spend ouras time. Andhaving of all made real before and you’ll bewe fine. As long you’re the we haveplaying laid out, thisthroughout one felt right be fun projects too! We enjoyed Moss thetoentire working felt helpful to our mental states, while still process on. andItI think that really helps.” not sticking our head in the sand and ignoring the world around us. It was calming to make the game, in the same way we hoped it would be for others to play.” Going by the overwhelmingly positive reception to the game, Scott and Guatieri weren’t wrong about the game’s therapeutic qualities. Even without the current context of the coronavirus crisis, the game has become a destination for peaceful self-reflection and help for many. “I see Kind Words fitting in differently to the cosy, wholesome or meaningful gaming ecosystem. Unlike
some of those other games, it’s less about escapism and more about self reflection. A lot of players see it as volunteering; it’s giving their time to others. And that’s where I think it slots in differently than the likes of Animal Crossing or Stardew Valley – which are great, calming exercises that you do have some time to do reflection in, but they’re more about being elsewhere in a fictional space.” This emphasis on self-reflection has opened up the game’s audience to a wide variety of people. While unquestionably and absurdly popular, Animal Crossing’s a long-term commitment with a focus largely on creation
and acquisition. Meanwhile, the personal nature of Kind Words feels far more personal and emotional. “There’s a huge range of different experiences and emotions present, at least to me” notes Scott. “When you play, you only see a small slice, it’s like watching a stream or a river for a player. You come in, and you see bits of people’s thoughts and feelings floating by, and when you come back a few minutes later then they’ll be related, but they’re going to be different people with different experiences. “So for myself, having a higher view of it all, it’s pretty clear that there’s a really wide batch of humanity. I try
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Above: Players usually have a list of requests for help to choose from
to record as few analytics and as few demographics as possible, so I can’t for certain say that we’ve hit every country and every age group. I don’t know that, but it seems that way.” With such a wide audience, it’s lucky that the game’s back-end is able to support it all. While the game on some level seems deceptively simple, the confidential nature of the notes shared and their responses meant that Scott was unable to properly test the title before release. “We hardly tested it at all,” reveals Scott. “Usually when I’m designing a game, I grab everybody I can and have them play early and often. “But with so few people potentially playing, I couldn’t just give it to people because I would almost certainly know who they were. I’d be hearing all my friends’ dark secrets.” This led to the game essentially being tested out in the wild, following its original release on the Humble Store. Kind Words saw two big steps that brought more attention to the game – the first being unexpectedly included in a Humble Bundle, and the second coming when Kind Words was nominated for the Games for Impact award at the 2019 Game Awards. (and a third now, given their recent BAFTA win in the Game Beyond Entertainment category). And behind each increase in the game’s audience, was Scott frantically working on the game’s backend as Kind Words rapidly outgrew its original scope.
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Scott’s original expectations for the game fell far short of the BAFTA-winning heights it would eventually hit. As Scott reveals when we ask if he was at all concerned about trolls playing his game: “Oh, we were never concerned that anyone would play our game! It was a tiny little art game. I’ve been making indie games for 10 years. And the safe bet is nobody’s gonna play your game. “My wildest expectation was that about 20,000 messages would ever be written. And so I did speed testing on the database performance testing, with a faked up 20,000 messages to see like, ‘yeah, it gets pretty slow around then but it’ll survive.’ “Now we’re at about 1.6 million messages. So I spend a lot of the time working on that back end. Every day, I’m wrestling the back end to make sure that the front end just keeps running.” Of course, testing the game in the wild has its benefits. Scott has been able to fine-tune the experience with additional features, coming up with a creative solution to off-topic discussions that were hampering Kind Words. “There were some important front end fixes that we were able to do somewhat gracefully because we had the Humble launch” says Scott. Scott points to the introduction of airplanes to the game – short, off-topic comments from other users that occasionally fly over the player’s head inside paper planes.
“One of the main moderation challenges in Kind Words isn’t so much trolling, but off-topic conversations. Well intended off-topic stuff, people are just excited and they’re happy to write. “So where they’re supposed to be sharing requests that people can reply to, they’re just sharing their favourite quotes or song lyrics and things like that. We created airplanes as a place to invite people to make statements that they just wanted other people to hear, but not respond to. “Primarily, we did that as a way to get rid of that kind of chatter from requests that was holding it back. And it wasn’t until after I’d actually launched the feature that we really got a sense of how sort of valuable it was, and how pleasant it would be as something to go to when the requests get a little too real, a little too heavy, and you want to have an option to just click on bright happy candy. Airplanes have been really useful for that.” These bright happy candies – along with the emotional catharsis at the heart of the game’s experience, has built an unusually positive and patient fanbase, as Scott explains: “There’s a constant stream of requests from fans – but if we’ve cultivated anything in the game, it’s to get people to communicate nicely. “I have another game in early access that I haven’t been able to update nearly as much because I’ve been focused on Kind Words, and the tone around that gets
a lot more impatient, a lot more demanding. Whereas the tone around Kind Words is very kind, very grateful to have the game. and it’s more ‘oh, wouldn’t it also be awesome if...? What if we could have this? More stickers, please!’ And I certainly want to give people all these things. We’re working on more stickers!” It’s a real affirmation of humanity, given the ‘nightmare of cruelty’ that inspired Kind Words’ creation. “One of the most encouraging things from Kind Words” says Scott, “is that even though it’s carefully structured to make things work the way they do, the real truth behind why the game works is because of the goodwill of the people playing it, who are pouring themselves into it. “97 per cent of messages are truly helpful. It’s this collective effort for people to make each other feel better. And that alone makes me feel better, that people will put their time and effort into this communal help session. “People are still doubting that Kind Words will hold together, and not fall apart into a regular internet barroom fight. And it’s still possible, but I don’t think so. From what I’m seeing, people are making it the nice place they want it to be.” Above all else, the game’s success – from its sales, to the BAFTA-win, to the kind and supportive player base, is the perfect response to the first ever request posted to the game, from Ziba Scott himself. ‘I made a game and I’m worried no one will like it.’
Above: The game features a sticker system, which can be shared between players
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The Sounds of... Jason Graves
Every month, we discuss the unique process of making music for video games. This month, Chris Wallace explores the musical universe of Jason Graves, who’s behind games such as Tomb Raider, Far Cry Primal, Until Dawn, The Order: 1886 and Dead Space music. I really do enjoy getting in on the ground floor and having the chance to craft the basic tenants of the score while the game is also coming together for the first time. In fact, some of my more unique scores started very early in the game’s development – Dead Space, Tomb Raider, Far Cry: Primal and The Order: 1886 were all conceived very early in the development process of the game. What type of material do you request from a studio before starting to write the score? I honestly try and get my hands on anything and everything the developer will let me have. A lot of times there are, of course, certain things that have to remain in-house. But I can usually get my hands on concept art, scripts and sometimes even rough level playthroughs. I’m often treated to early builds and get to play through as the music is being implemented. Really, the more the merrier when it comes to information about the game. I’m crafting every aspect of the music around their world, so every little bit makes a difference. How early in a game’s development process do you usually start working on the score? As early as I can! I’m a true believer when it comes to being a team player. Music can be a very lonely and isolating experience, but that doesn’t mean the creative process needs to exist in a vacuum, with the composer all by themselves. I very much enjoy collaborating with the developer and having them as involved as they possibly can be with musical choices. Quite often this means bringing me on board before there is even any gameplay to see, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to talk about
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Do you work closely with the sound designer(s) of the game, to ensure there’s cohesion between the score and the sound effects? If there is time, absolutely. Many of my favorite projects have been a result of that marriage of music and sound design – Moss, Dead Space, Tomb Raider, just to name a few. Of course, sometimes schedules do not permit as much collaboration. But when they do it’s definitely a win-win for the audio in general!
Does your approach differ between writing for a multiplayer title vs a single player game? Multiplayer is a completely different animal from single player. Most of my experience with multiplayer has been more of the intro/outro or transitional kinds of ideas with the score. Player to player communication is key, so the music takes a back seat. Single player mode is the bread and butter of game music. It’s all about the story and the arc of the main protagonist so the music gets a chance to really spread its wings and help communicate the emotional journey the player is taking. And budget or medium makes no difference. Music is music, whether it’s TV or games, indie or triple-A. It all comes down to musically capturing the moment and supporting the scene. How has the role of the composer evolved in games over the past years in your experience? Over the years I’ve definitely become more involved in
What are the typical challenges of writing for games as opposed to more linear narrative forms? I’ve been working on three different TV shows and even more games this year, and the most obvious difference is the sheer number of minutes that are required. A TV show can have up to 35 minutes of music per episode, but it’s the episode schedule that really makes a difference. If they are posting a show a week that means you need to deliver 35 minutes a week! And in my case for DC’s Swamp Thing, I had nine episodes over the span of about 11 weeks. So something like 28 minutes a week on average needs to be written. But you’re finished with the whole show in two months. So it’s a lot of music in a short period of time, it’s a lot like a musical sprint. Games, on the other hand, can have a much longer production cycle as well as a lot more music. My experience on most game titles has been measured in years rather than months. If I can get involved early on I could be on a game for 2-3 years, which is an absolute joy. And the total number of minutes is counted in hours, with upwards of 3-4 hours on the bigger titles. But, again, it’s spread out over a much longer time. The other significant difference is the interactive aspect of game music. A cue for a game may need to be quiet, tense, stealthy and energetic all at the same time. Or, at least within the same boundaries of a single cue that is written. On top of that, it needs to be varied enough as not to sound repetitive on multiple listenings or loops. TV or film music is linear and therefore much more straightforward.
Above: Graves worked on the 2013 Tomb Raider Reboot and 2015’s Rise of the Tomb Raider
the implementation of the music. At first, I was more of the instigator, making suggestions and asking how I could help. But the last five years or so have been the opposite - the developer is the first one to ask for suggestions and ideas about music implementation. There are several games now that I have been directly involved with implementing the music in the game, including one I am currently working on. Music implementation is a craft in and of itself. I’ve often said that the most amazing piece of music, let’s say by Mozart or Beethoven, could easily be completely ruined in-game with poor music implementation! How free are you to experiment when you take on a mandate from a studio? Very free! I often joke with the developer that my goal is to push the musical boundaries so far that they finally yield and say, “Ok, that’s a bit TOO much…” I feel like I push and push more on every game and, ironically, the developer has never pulled me back! My biggest request for music in a game is “make it as original as possible.” I feel privileged to have the opportunity to translate worlds, that have been years in the making, into music. Do you have any tips on how developers can best help composers make music for their game? My first suggestion would be to bring the composer in as soon as you can. Actually, sooner than you even think you should! The longer the composer can live in that world, the better. And don’t worry about whether the composer has anything to do in those early stages. Or if the gameplay changes over time, or the scope of the game being different in the end. It’s all about the journey together!
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The Final Boss Every month an industry leader wraps up MCV/DEVELOP with their unique insight
How are you coping with the current crisis, both in work and personally? We had systems in place for allowing all employees to work remotely already – so that part was easy. Technology-wise, the only hurdle that we had was dealing with having an empty office – we had to come up with solutions for consoles needing hard reboots, PCs accidentally being powered down (via remote desktop), etc. The team adapted quickly to having video meetings rather than standups, too... everyone chatting a lot more over Slack to stay sane. Social isolation isn’t easy – so we’re doing our best to make sure that everyone’s well-being was considered... to make sure that office fun transferred to online virtual fun... and that everyone was encouraged to stay healthy at home. You’ve been working largely with Unreal for fifteen years now, has the engine kept up with the needs of the industry? Unreal Engine has done spectacularly well at keeping ahead of the curve... in a lot of ways, Epic have been driving the industry forwards with their engine. Not just in terms of technology – we’ve also seen changes to the way that engines are licensed, maintained, updated. It’s been extraordinary to see, particularly to have been involved with much of that during my time working with Epic. It’s also been fascinating to watch the engine reach out to other industries, too, with Hollywood, broadcast TV, automotive, healthcare and much more finding it invaluable. You’re active on the C64 demoscene, what’s the attraction in crafting graphical demos for such an old piece of hardware? It’s pretty strange, right? The thing is, as Coconut Lizard has grown, I’ve found less and less time during the day to do any programming. That’s originally what I got into the industry to do – and, apart from growing a business, it’s where my passion lies. Programming for a 35-year-old computer is much, much different to programming on cutting edge hardware. It’s a fixed system – I can write a program to draw a full screen of graphics and I can tell you exactly how many clock cycles it will take. It will be a fixed value – no OS or hardware quirks getting in the way. It’s a beautiful system.
Robert Troughton, managing director, Coconut Lizard “We’re the studio that the best of the best talk to when they have a problem. With a specialism in UE4... our services are needed by 20-50x more companies than we can realistically work with.” 66 | MCV/DEVELOP May 2020
What was the most memorable moment of your career to date? There’ve been so many... if I was to choose one, it would be my first job in the industry. I joined Reflections to work on the original Destruction Derby. I had two weeks to prepare for the job – and spent them learning C, 3D graphics, how to use a PC and how to use the internet. I’d only used C64 and Amiga before this – so it was all quite eye opening. With only nine months to make the game, with a tiny crew, I was definitely being thrown in at the deep end. But, yeah, it was fantastic fun. Game development is becoming ever more distributed and external development services are flourishing, how does Coconut Lizard fit into that? From day one we’ve positioned ourselves as industry leading outsource providers. The studio that the best of the best talk to when they have a problem. With a specialism in UE4, we’ve found that our services are needed by 20-50x more companies than we can realistically work with. It’s a very risk-averse model – but that works well for us. We’re never going to make millions from working on a game – but we’re also not going to suffer badly through project cancellations and so on.
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