MCV/DEVELOP ISSUE 961
THE ART AND BUSINESS OF VIDEO GAMES
OFC Cover Wrap 4pp Contact Sales MCV961.indd 1
IFC Cover Wrap 4pp Contact Sales MCV961.indd 1
REGIONAL SPOTLIGHT: GUILDFORD Why gaming’s own town is still a great place to base your studio
JAGEX AND FLYING WILD HOG The Runescape creators and Shadow Warrior devs on their upcoming live game
FRONTIER FOUNDRY “We can help bring more unusual projects to market because we’re very conscious not to tread on toes on the things that matter.”
■ ANIMAL FARM: REMAINING TRUE TO ORWELL 03 MCV 961 Editorial Inside Cover V5 FINAL.indd 1
■ SILVER RAIN: THE UK’S MOST INTRIGUING STUDIO
■ SUMO & LAB42: ONBOARDING A STUDIO IN A PANDEMIC 10/09/2020 15:23
05 The Editor
The Room Where It Happened
06 Critical Path
The key dates this month
10 Industry Voices
Comment from around the industry
12 Frontier Foundry
David Braben goes into publishing
18 Ins and Outs
This month's hires and moves
19 Rising Star
Ukie's Dominic Shaw
20 Levelling Up
Mediatonic's Anna Hollinrake
21 Iterate for Better
Tackling unconscious Bias
24 Guildford spotlight
The Hollywood of video games
35 Sumo Digital
Onboarding in a pandemic
38 Jagex and Flying Wild Hog The partners on their upcoming live title 44 Silver Rain
The UK's most intriguing new studio
50 Accessing Valhalla
Creating audio-described trailers
Combating crunch in a crisis
62 Animal Farm
Reimagining a classic
66 The Final Boss
Splash Damage's Richard Jolly
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“It redefines the gaming space, it reminds us of the kind of deals that are possible, it makes us wonder, if this, then what next?”
TheEditor The Room Where It Happened Microsoft should go into business as a close-up magician, as the last few months have seen it pull off the best trick of misdirection that the games industry has ever seen. The focus has been on the hardware of late – the delayed console dates and prices. And then Microsoft, impossibly, whips out a 300lb rabbit, from its perfectly-tailored sleeve. In a single deft move, with no hint of foreshadowing, it lands goliath-like in front of us, and reminds us all that content is king. The EA Play to Xbox Game Pass deal is among the biggest in gaming history. It redefines the gaming space, it reminds us of the kind of deals that are possible, it makes us wonder, if this, then what next? There’s a song from the musical Hamilton, you’ve probably heard it, called ‘The Room Where It Happened’ where one of America’s founding fathers is distraught that he missed the meeting where the greatest political deal of the era was hammered out. More so than anything, I want to be in the room where the Xbox-EA deal happened. To know how it began, what both parties wanted and what the final deal consisted of. And while we can only speculate, we can certainly see big advantages for both sides. Xbox Game Pass exists in a semi-walled garden, built from console hardware. Yes, consumers can get it on PC but Game Pass largely brings people into the Xbox ecosystem, buying hardware, accessories, and of course more content from the Xbox Store. The EA deal will bring a yet more people into Microsoft’s garden and just as they were deciding where to spend their money for the next seven years or so. So just how much is Microsoft paying EA for this privilege? Maybe not as much as we might think. Oh yes, I’m sure the figure would make headlines, it’s a huge, huge deal. But remember that EA makes a massive part of its revenue from microtransactions. Putting its games on Game Pass hugely increases the reach of many of those titles and therefore the amount EA can earn from those ongoing transactions. And a cut of those profits will help to offset the overall cost to Microsoft in the long-term. Then there’s xCloud access. EA would love to reach console-less consumers with its premium titles today. It’s potentially a huge new market, and Microsoft looks to be better positioned to throw off the shackles of console hardware. More money for both again. Still Microsoft undoubtedly will be paying handsomely for the privilege of having EA titles on Game Pass, whichever way you cut the cake, or whoever gets what share of which pie. So how does Game Pass make money today? It probably doesn’t. Netflix lost money year after year for a long time, while Amazon reinvested all of its profits for many, many years too. It doesn’t matter if you spend to get the top in a global digital media format, it only matters that having spent, you do get there. And this was the single biggest step to date in what is increasingly looking like Microsoft’s ascension to that throne. I only wish I’d been in the room where it happened. Seth Barton firstname.lastname@example.org September 2020 MCV/DEVELOP | 05
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Here are the key upcoming events and releases to mark in your calendar... Super Mario 3D All Stars
Spelunky 2 Mossmouth’s long-awaited sequel to the ludicrously popular roguelike title Spelunky is finally here. Hitting the PS4 this month, with a PC release planned later this year, Spelunky 2 looks to build upon the original with a new generation of explorers searching for treasure on the moon.
Announced literally as I was writing these pages, Super Mario 3D All Stars is here to save my hopes and dreams. The game includes Mario 64, Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy (and not, regrettably, its sequel). The latter two games don’t matter, though. This game comes out a week before my 30th birthday (hint hint) so I’m going to be playing Mario 64 while openly weeping at my lost youth and rapidly approaching decline.
Crysis Remastered “But can it run Crysis?” – Yes probably, but can it run Crysis Remastered? Crytek’s classic “check out what my fancy new PC can do” title has returned prettier than ever with a fresh coat of paint. More importantly, it will also be coming to PS4 and Xbox, if like me your PC runs mostly on hopes and desperate dreams.
Digital Dragons digitaldragons.pl Much like everything else in our new normal, this year’s Digital Dragons event will be taking place as an all-digital event, running from the 15th-18th of September. The four-day event will feature speakers from companies such as Remedy, Gearbox and EA DICE, with meetings taking place via a dedicated app.
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Baldur’s Gate 3
Star Wars: Squadrons
After a 20 year-long wait, the third mainline entry to the Baldur’s Gate series is almost here. Developed by Larian Studios, creators of the Divinity series, the game will be launching in early access, where it is expected to stay for at least a year while the team works on what they describe as their “most ambitious RPG yet.”
From Motive Studios and EA, Squadrons is set in the universe of an obscure science fiction franchise from the 70s, called ‘Star Wars’. Seriously though, the game is channelling a stylish retro look in its trailers and comes with its own fanbase as a spiritual successor to the classic X-Wing and Tie Fighter PC titles. Coming less than 12 months after the excellent Fallen Order, EA looks to be on a roll with its galactico franchise.
Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time This game, from Spyro Reignited Trilogy creators Toys for Bob, is actually the 8th installment of Crash Bandicoot but the 4th chronologically, because numbers are meaningless and time is a lie. Fittingly, the story sees Crash travelling across multiple different universes – Why, of all people, does Crash Bandicoot get to escape our reality?
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We’re Playing... CONTENT Editor: Seth Barton email@example.com +44 (0)203 143 8785 Staff Writer: Chris Wallace firstname.lastname@example.org +44 (0)203 143 8786 Design and Production: Steve Williams email@example.com
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Was I ever like this? My son is playing Minecraft every allowed minute and talking about it every other minute. It’s ups and downs, his rendition of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon is delightful. But we have had to intervene in his intensive farming techniques, his treatment of (even virtual) cows was somewhat concerning.
This month saw the first MCV/DEVELOP team Warzone victory. Yes, it took us this long. With my life’s goal complete, I’m out seeking new challenges. So I’ve picked up Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+ 2. I didn’t expect skateboarding to be more difficult than surviving an island of 150 armed murderers, but here we are. Chris Wallace, Staff Writer
So far this month I’ve been spending my time working through Marvel’s Avengers from Crystal Dynamics. On top of that, I’ve been spending some time on the recentlyreleased Battletoads, as well as enjoying the all-new Linkin Park playlist for Beat Games’ Beat Saber Alex Boucher, Senior Business Development Manager
Seth Barton, Editor
Paws the game The best furry friends the industry has to offer. Send yours to firstname.lastname@example.org
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Pet: Beep Owner: Ed Hargrave Owner’s job: Audio Designer, Media Molecule
Pet: Bokkun Owner: Claire Sharkey Owner’s job: Head of Comms and PR for Modern Wolf
Pet: Friendo Owner: Michael Gapper Owner’s job: Co-director at Honest PR
This is Beep, who Hargrave describes as ‘a nuisance but totally loveable.’ Loveable enough in fact, that he has been made into a character in Dreams.
This rather sophisticated looking individual is Bokkun. Claire promises that he’s not judging us, but politely listening until we decide to feed him.
Friendo spends his days snoozing. He wakes at 10pm to start digging and to sort the contents of his bowl. He likes nuts and seeds, but leaves the kibbles.
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Sorry Microsoft, but you’re not going to be the ‘Netflix for games’ Olivier Avaro, Founder & CEO at Blacknut
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!
Congratulations to Microsoft, the newest holder of the ‘Netflix for games’ title after it announced the September 15 launch date for its xCloud streaming service. That would be great if it really were the gaming equivalent of Netflix, but the truth is more complex. The ‘Netflix for games’ tag is an easy one to throw at any kind of all-you-caneat streaming service, games or otherwise. It’s an instant reference point that anyone can understand. But it also presents a vision that’s quite different to what is actually happening with the growth of cloud gaming, and I worry that the industry is creating an expectation that is unlikely to be met, mainly because games are nothing like movies. Spare a thought for Google, whose Stadia cloud gaming service was very much hailed as the ‘Netflix for games’ - until Director of Product Andrey Doronichev categorically said it wasn’t. Similar outcomes have also befallen Nvidia’s GeForce Now, Parsec and Shadow, which at various times have all been proclaimed (or proclaimed themselves) as the ‘Netflix for games’. The Netflix analogy only works if a service is offering consumers direct access to content – not just access to a digital games locker, or selling them the tech but asking them to provide their own content to make the service work. That means that Nvidia, Shadow, Parsec and Stadia don’t really offer the gaming equivalent of Netflix at all, as they are offering the streaming tech but you need to bring your own games. Equally, services like Humble, Game Pass and Switch Online let gamers access a big library of games which they can download and play for a monthly fee, but they still require gamers to own a computer or console capable of running the games. These have all built up audiences in the millions, but are more akin to a Blockbuster Video rental than a Netflix.
For cloud gaming to deliver an actual Netflix-like experience, four criteria need to be met. First, the service needs to be based around the content, not the hardware. This rules out services that are based on a PC or console in the cloud where you need to bring your own games. Second, it needs to be all you can eat. Third, it needs to be subscriptionbased, rather than purchasing individual digital games (like with Stadia). Fourth, there needs to be original content that’s exclusive to the service; this is what differentiates with Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+. This last point we are already discussing for we believe strongly in “Native Cloud” Games yet to invent. The closest cloud gaming model to a ‘Netflix for games’ could also actually be what we are doing with internet and mobile operators and not the known gaming actors. For them, we at Blacknut have already hit three out of the four criteria that a Netflix for games needs to have. Having somewhat missed the boat on the rise of video on demand and streaming video, operators are keen not to make the same mistake with games. And with 5G networks on the horizon, cloud gaming is the ideal premium service to use as a hook. This is a market where consumers are used to subscriptions, expect curated content, and all-you-can-eat consumption. The winner of the ‘Netflix for games’ crown will be the service that speaks to the millions of people around the world who love games, and not only targeting the ‘gamer’ demographic as big brands are targeting today. Olivier Avaro is the founder and CEO of Blacknut, a cloud gaming service distributed both direct to consumers and B2B through ISPs, device manufacturers, OTT services & media companies which was launched in 2018.
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Could 2020 prove a watershed year for games? James Douglas Riot Communications
As we look forward to the launch of new consoles in just a few months, 2020 has already reminded us that games are about much more than teraflops and resolution. Major disruption has kickstarted a wave of change across society, and that is no less true for video games. An explosion in hardware sales means we now welcome millions of new players around the world. For the industry and its evangelists, that means new levels of scrutiny too. For decades we’ve sought a place at the cultural table, advocating for games not just on the basis of aesthetic merit, but educational and economic grounds too. It is becoming clear, however, that we need meaningful change in the sector and its surrounding culture before we can really lay claim to that status. We’ve seen recently that while this is a community quick to embrace technological innovation, it is often too slow when it comes to social change. Nowhere was this clearer than with the launch of The Last of Us: Part II and the nastiness that followed. The chapter summed up perfectly where we find ourselves in 2020. On the one hand, we can see a future characterised by sophisticated stories aimed at a much broader range of audiences. At the same time, there are those whose energy appears wholly devoted to making those involved in these trailblazing projects miserable. And at studios like Ubisoft, we are reminded that the sector isn’t always the inclusive space we wish it to be, particularly for women. Amidst the anger, there is a wearying sense of déjà vu, particularly when you consider how similar injustices in film and TV were laid bare in relative prehistory. But there is cause for optimism too. It is said that cultural change takes just 15% of a community to take root. Clearly, there is an appetite for games that better reflect society and are a little bolder in their storytelling. Let us hope such ambition rubs off. For Ubisoft,
they have been quick to set out an apparently sincere attempt to right wrongs both historic and more recent. Meanwhile, women at Rocksteady attest to the studio’s efforts to create a safer environment for its staff, two years after management were accused of failing to prevent sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour. At every turn, there are those working to steer the industry in the right direction. Studios have signed up to UKIE’s #RaiseTheGame pledge in droves, committing to create more diverse workforces and greater diversity of content. Meanwhile, advocacy groups including BlackGirlGamers and POCinPlay grow in influence. This is a shift reflected across our culture and entertainment industries, something I’ve been involved in through my own work at Riot Communications. So what else can we do? It feels like there are players out there who simply don’t know that women make games. For every Kojima or Druckmann, how many female game directors can we name? Initiatives like the Women in Games awards and the Women in Games conference are a good start. The BBC’s commitment to more thoughtful discussion of games is welcome too, with major releases now getting air time on flagship arts programmes such as Front Row. That such discussions are led by young women like Elle Osili-Wood and Aoife Wilson is equally encouraging. Few of us doubt that games can impact society as film and TV do. But the industry can be its own worst enemy. We need to be united in our opposition to intolerable behaviour, be it online or in our offices, while asking if the environment we’re creating is anything other than the inclusive haven of imagination we want it to be. If we can do that, then the recognition we crave will surely follow. James Douglas is Senior Campaigns Manager at culture and entertainment PR agency Riot Communications.
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creative furnace Frontier has launched its third-party publishing arm: Frontier Foundry. With an eclectic initial lineup, the developer turned self-publisher is looking to take its 25 years of hard-won experience and create the first big UK publisher in many a year
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ames are a global business. And the biggest publishers are undoubtedly global players. That said, if you were to ask the nationalities of the top tier; wherever you draw the line on such a group, there’s usually a clear home turf for each: America, China, Japan, France and now arguably Sweden. But not the UK. Despite having a huge role in the history and current development of video games, there is no major UK-based publisher. Maybe a victim of their own success, or because English-speaking companies were more easily acquired by US competitors. However, there seems to be something of a renaissance in British publishing – and Frontier Developments is the latest to throw its, rather large and well-appointed, hat into the ring, with the official launch of its third-party publishing arm: Frontier Foundry. “It’ll be great to see a big UK-based publisher and that’s essentially what we are becoming, which is a good thing for the UK and for the industry, David Braben tells MCV/ DEVELOP, setting out some big ambitions for Frontier’s latest venture. And it’s not alone, Frontier’s launch coincides with Jagex’s own publishing push (see page 38), while both Sold Out and Curve Digital have also recently stated similar bold ambitions to us in these very pages. So what’s Frontier’s unique attraction if you’re a developer looking for a partner? WALKING THE PATH In short, Frontier is a games developer with a huge wealth and breadth of titles under its belt. With 25 years of releases across PC, and practically every console, covering numerous genres. It has organically shifted from developer, to self-publishing developer, and now to publisher, over the last decade. We ask Braben if that journey will define its outlook in third-party? “I think it most definitely does. Because we’ve seen it from both sides of the table. And speaking as a developer, I’ve worked with publishers for over 30 years, personally, and over 20 years as Frontier, and you see what really matters, you know what matters to the developer and what matters to the project itself. “We have had so many projects that have gone the whole way through their lifecycle. It’s like bringing up a child, you really care about it, you know what matters… you try and make sure on it’s first day at school that it doesn’t get beaten up... by trying to think of what people might criticise.
“It’s also a case of perspective, I think one of the frustrations of working with a publisher is often you have to really polish for milestones in the last year, but polish visually, not necessarily from a gameplay perspective. “But what really matters is that the gameplay is working. That you can see the promise of the game. And I think as long as we have confidence that whoever we’re working with can make something beautiful, there’s no need to make everything beautiful as part of that submission process. “Because we’re a developer, we know the gameplay matters. And actually the best time to make something beautiful-looking is right at the end. But there can be pressure from publishing to make every milestone beautiful and that is ever so much makework. And eventually, it becomes quite demoralising for a team.” He explains that developers are already positive about the approach: “Someone commented that the questions we ask are all about the gameplay, the design, why it will be great. Whereas with some other [publishers], it’s contracts and deal terms. Well, we can sort all that out later if we’re going to have a great game. “We just look at issues that have to be addressed, not necessarily trying to solve every problem, because you can end up with things that are quite derivative by going down that route. “And that’s why I think we can bring more unusual projects, or help bring more unusual projects to market working together with the developer, because we’re very conscious not to tread on toes on the things that matter.” UNUSUAL SUSPECTS And some of its initial raft of products (which you can see highlighted in the centre of this issue) certainly fit that ‘more unusual’ banner. Time-loop shooter Lemnis Gate and platform title Struggling, come alongside an externally developed Switch port of Rollercoaster Tycoon 3. The only thing that links the three is that nothing links them, they’re as an eclectic a bunch as we’ve seen. “I’d find it a challenge to draw any parallels between Lemnis Gate and Struggling,” Braben points out. But are they indicative of the new publisher’s approach to signing titles? “I think indicative is always a dangerous thing because you get labelled very easily,” Braben replies. “I think they are interesting and unusual games,” he states cautiously, saying that they wouldn’t want to miss out on exciting titles just because someone thought it wasn’t their thing, adding: ”I don’t want to force an identity early on.”
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Above: Physics-based platform title Struggling can be played solo or with two players, one controlling each limb of ‘The Abomination’
“For our wider industry – just to step away from Frontier for a second – I think the more interesting and diverse things we make, the more interesting and diverse the opportunity is for the player. “I remember giving a talk more than ten years ago about how, as the technology within games improved, the number of possible games you could make increased. It’s like you’ve got islands all over the place. And as [technology] lowers the water level, more and more islands appear and some of the other islands join together or get bigger in terms of what you can do.” While he doesn’t want to get pigeonholed, he is clear that Frontier Foundry isn’t about to start competing in the most expensive genres, he has no interest for instance in funding a straight FPS. “That’s not a criticism of the genre,” he notes. “I just think that the cost of entry for that very narrow genre is immense, in order to compete with those very well honed games like Battlefield or Call of Duty. “Lemnis is a first person shooter, but it’s a completely different feel, you know, once you have a chance to play it, and similarly Struggling feels quite weird.” And that’s in terms of how it plays, not just how it looks, it’s a physics-based platformer where you have to coordinate controlling two powerful arms to navigate a lethal environment. “They’re not the sort of games that Frontier would do from our own resources,” explains Braben. “Because we’ve not necessarily got the experience, but it allows us to do the kinds of games, really interesting, rich games that other people have put all of their effort into, their love into, making something that’s great. I think that is very interesting to us.” While this is the official launch of Frontier Foundry, crowned with appearances for two of its titles at Gamecom’s Opening Night Live, Frontier’s
third-party ambitions date back a little further and the games we’re seeing now aren’t necessarily the first ones it signed. For example, Frontier is also leveraging its strategy and sim experience by working with Haenimont, the developer of Surviving Mars and three of the Tropico series. “We’re doing their next game, and that was the first one that we signed,” explains Braben. “But we don’t necessarily release them in the order we sign them – some projects are smaller than others, some take longer, some are in earlier stages when we sign them…” So is there any gameplan in trying to sign titles at certain stages, when Frontier can still steer them as needed? “What we’re trying to do is sign interesting, good projects. Some will be closer to release than others. Some will be right at the start. And we’re very flexible with that,”replies Braben. “What I’m hoping is people will look back at these games and think: ‘That was very interesting, that was fun’ or ‘I’m glad they did that, that was really innovative’.” YES PLATFORM And all that innovation now has more places to flourish than ever before. All three console stores are doing good business and Epic seems certain to take a good chunk of market share from Steam. So that must be good news for publishers right? “I actually think a wide diversity of channels is really good for content creators,” Braben counters. “If anything, it slightly complicates the publishing process. Though that’s not a bad thing, what it does is it creates a lot of opportunities as well.” Braben likens it to a digital high street, although one with less obvious cues than our own highlyevolved one: “Whereas on the high street, if I want to buy something cheap, I go here, if I want quality I go here. I think that will probably gradually happen over time. But if you look historically, at the people who benefit from a diverse market, it’s generally the content creators. You get lots of people essentially bidding, which is a fantastic position to be in.” And those people represent many different approaches to game monetisation, from Epic’s low cut and exclusivity deals, to Steam’s huge reach, to Microsoft’s Game Pass. “Games that are slightly more games-as-a-service oriented, will be a better fit for subscription model
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purposes. Than single player games. Both are valuable. Don’t get me wrong, but the different business models suit different kinds of games.” Speaking of stores we ask Braben for his take on Epic vs Apple. “I’m always wary of venturing into fights where there are lots of complex issues involved,” he replies. “I don’t think it’s as straightforward as people are making out. It’s like political arguments, you don’t really win by simply siding with one or another. “As an industry there will always be arguments about which business model is best, how it works best for people. And essentially, what the 30 per cent has done is it’s created an opportunity for people to come in at a lower level, like Tim Sweeney has. “We’ve already seen an element of realignment with Steam, we might see different tier changes over time, but I think the industry is as healthy as ever, and we’ve got to make sure that all the different players in the industry get rewarded for what they do. Because otherwise you can end up with there being no platforms. You’ve got to make money for the platform somehow. “I don’t want to come down on one side or the other, other than I do think the rates will gradually come down over time,” he predicts. PHYSICALLY DISTANCED While the likes of Sweeney are off fighting Apple for a slightly bigger cut of the pie, the future of physical media becomes increasingly imperilled, with announcements like the discless Xbox Series S putting another nail in the coffin. Braben recently said that the pandemic had accelerated the demise of physical retail and he already pinned it at only two to three years away. “I think it’s true, though there will always be some collector’s editions and things like that. I think there is a challenge for some people to move from buying a physical CD, to downloading and playing on all sorts of devices like that, or even streaming as on Spotify. But nowadays very, very few people have a living room wall covered in CDs, but we did have them just 10 years ago. So will Frontier continue to use partners for physical releases? “With physical, especially in some countries, there is still a benefit there. So if it makes sense, of course, we’ll do it. I think what we’ll see is over the next few years, it will make less and less sense
for different kinds of projects. But don’t get me wrong, physical is still a sensible route to market.” FEELING THE HEAT Of course, the pandemic has had far, far more serious and wider-ranging consequences than simply hastening the demise of the disc. Although the games industry seems to have fared better than many, thinks Braben. “Compared to other industries we’re doing really well, there are parts of our business, particularly the physical side, that have found it very challenging, but I think the industry in the round has been doing pretty okay.” And Frontier specifically has weathered the storm: “Sales are up a lot. Working from home is going fine. We have still managed to release products. We’ve done it on time, they’ve reviewed well, they’ve sold well. So we’ve done the whole lifecycle now, with people working scattered around the country. “It’s difficult for some individuals, no question. Particularly graduates who might be in a shared house, I think it’s more of a challenge, where, psychologically, you’re in what feels like a very small space. But for others, if you’re in a comfortable enough house, it’s actually quite civilised. “I do feel for the people whose businesses and whose work has just gone away,” he sympathises. “We’ve not furloughed anyone, even people that we could have, because I just think morally it’s not acceptable for a business that’s doing very well.” The real impact of the pandemic may not be seen on the industry until next year, when 12 months or more of missed events could reappear as a lack of
Below: Time-loop shooter Lemnis Gate lets players build up a strategy over numerous loops. The name is a play on Lemniscate, the formal name for the infinity symbol
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Right: Frontier’s lovely Cambridge office, now reopened for those who want, and are able, to come in
business going forward in terms of signed titles and fans won over. But Braben feels the future is bright. “I would think we would be in a good position. I think the transition to digital won’t go away. I think it has it has accelerated that a little in terms of the way people consume and play games, I think a lot of people became gamers, or they may have been lapsed gamers, they went out and bought console for lockdown, all around the world and they will remain gamers I suspect, because it’s quite a sticky occupation. We’re already seeing that, they’ve seen it in China, where they’re substantially out of lockdown,” he observes.
hard psychologically being stuck at home. So nearly a month ago, we said for those who aren’t in a risk group, who aren’t worried they can go into the office if they want. The office is very, very big, and people are very well spaced, with a great ventilation system. “We’ve got all of the doors pinned back during the day. Touch points are an issue, there’s a lot of evidence to suggest surface contact is a big factor, much more so than things like masks, so we try to reduce them, to be sensible.” It sounds as ideal as it could be, although Braben informs us that their “excellent canteen” is sadly yet to reopen.
A SENSE OF TOUCH Somewhere that’s not yet substantially out of lockdown is the UK office. Frontier’s is particularly nice, but does it now feel like an unnecessary expense? “I think it’s still an asset. The fact that work from home has worked is great. And I think there’s no question that task-based working works well at home. Collaborative working, team-based working is actually better face to face, you can get things done more quickly. “We were approaching capacity in the new building anyway,” he explains. “What it will do is increase our runway before needing another building because we’ll have an element of work from home. Because I think what it’s done is it’s taught us lots, we’ve changed our processes quite a lot, in a good way. And hopefully it’s helped people with work-life balance. “We try to be as supportive as we possibly can to people. Where people have family members that might have illnesses that mean they have to isolate, all the way to the other end of the spectrum where people are finding it really difficult at home, psychologically. “We’ve employed someone to work from a counselling point of view so that you can have one to one sessions. Some people have found it very
CASTING THE FUTURE The canteen may still be shut, but Frontier Foundry is pushing on and it doesn’t look to be picking the low-hanging fruit – if such a thing exists in the hugely-competitive world of games publishing. Instead it’s making the most of an internal skillset that only a few years ago was looking to be out of vogue (thanks in part to Kickstarter) but then roared back to tackle the issue of discoverability. “One of the key things for publishing is to create visibility for players. And publishing is a vital role. Whether you have it in a separate publisher is another thing but I think it is really important, and it’s a difficult thing to do well.” says Braben in support of the sector. “And as the digital world becomes more crowded with more and more digital games, the role of publishing becomes more important. Whether it’s a separate publisher, or whether it’s an internal function is a different matter, but that internal function still needs to employ a lot of people. “I think what we’re doing is a positive for Frontier and a positive for the industry and a huge positive for those people being involved with us. We’re looking to build long term relationships with people here, and hopefully, they will see that and the market will see that.”
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Ins and Outs: Industry hires and moves 1
d3t has appointed a new art director, ANTHONY O’DONNELL (1). In joining the growing art team, Anthony will oversee visual development of all products, and will direct and inspire artists to create artwork and continually improve workflows.
Swipe Right PR have added two new members to the team. First, RORY NICKLIN (5) joins as an account manager, having previously worked at H+K Strategies working with brands in the entertainment, sport, tech and fitness industries.
JORDAN UDKO (2) has joined Maestro as executive vice president of revenue. Udko joins after his previous role as executive vice president of commercial partnerships of global esports organisation Cloud9.
Second, MARTIN HLOUSEK (6) also joins the team as senior account executive. Hlousek brings a wealth of consumer and tech experience working with top brands including HyperX, Mindbody, Jack Daniels and others.
CHRIS ENOCK (3), has joined Improbable as head of publishing. Previously at Riot, Enock led the global publishing team that launched League of Legends.
In addition, Swipe Right has promoted MICHAEL POWER (7) to account director to spearhead global campaigns for top clients such as Outright Games as well as charity Help for Heroes.
SARAH BURNS (4) is the new head of production & operations at Marvelous Europe. Burns joins Marvelous from her previous role at Numskull Games, where she worked as development producer. Burns has also previously held roles at Miniclip, Jagex and Rising Star Games.
Still at Swipe Right, SHANIKA HOWELL (8) also joins the team as an account executive. Howell joins Swipe Right from Red Consultancy and brings tech, fashion and food experience having worked with big brands such as Adobe and Huawei.
Third Kind Games have appointed HEIDI SLEE (9) as their new HR manager. Slee has over eight years’ experience in human resources across retail, FMCG, automotive and the industrial services sectors.
Finally, Third Kind Games appointed MAFF EVANS (13) as a user interface artist in August. He previously held the role of lead artist at Reach Robotics, and director at Leap Interactive.
GABRIEL ZULIANI (10) joins Third Kind Games as a programmer and has more than five years experience working with mobile games previously working as a games developer at Playlab Games and Supersolid.
Mi5 Communications has hired LISA DAHLGREN (14) as PR Consultant, joining from her previous role as editor at Gamereactor EU. She has over ten years of experience in the industry, from retail and distribution to freelance writing.
Also SEAN HUMPHREYS (11) joins the company as a game designer. He has previously worked as a freelance scripter at Sketchbook Games and a technical game designer at Reach Robotics. KIERAN PRICE (12) joins the Third Kind Games team as an artist. Price’s role is focusing on environment art assets. After developing his skills within various 3D packages, he heard about Third Kind Games and after seeing the work they were doing, he was inspired to build a portfolio and reach out to them.
Mi5 Communications has also recruited AXEL FÄLTH (15) who joins the team as PR consultant. Fälth comes from a communications and PR background, most recently having worked at Gullers Group as a communications consultant in Stockholm. Splash Damage’s CINZIA MUSIO (16) has had a promotion this month. Having previously held the title of operations project manager, Musio is now Splash Damage’s first ever diversity & inclusion advisor.
Roll7 has announced their new head of HR and ops, NISHA MINHAS (17). Minhas has previously worked at companies such as Fluidone and Bespoke HR Assistance, where she worked doing consultancy for tech companies. Roblox has appointed Walmart and TripAdvisor veteran BARBARA MESSING (18), as its new chief marketing & people experience officer. Messing will lead all aspects of marketing, communications, and employee experience operations at Roblox. Pubguard, the ad-quality platform, a subsidiary of the Bidstack Group, has appointed ANDY CURRAN (19) as its CEO. Curran moves from Bidstack where he was responsible for scaling up and aligning the development and commercial teams. ALAN NGAI (20) joins Pubguard as COO, where he will support Curran. Ngai said: “It’s a unique opportunity to help tackle an ongoing issue that has plagued the industry.”
Got an appointment you’d like to share with the industry? Email Chris Wallace at email@example.com 18 | MCV/DEVELOP September 2020
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Every month, we pick the brain of an up-and-coming talent
Dominic Shaw, office manager at Ukie talks about how a passion for video games turned around his approach to education in his quest to join the games industry
How did you break into games? I have always been into and played video games, escaping into worlds of fantasy by engagement through game mechanics. Though with this enthusiasm for the medium I didn’t always know a career in games was possible as I wasn’t very ambitious in school. It wasn’t till 2008 where I went into my local Blockbuster and picked up a game I never heard of before called Mass Effect where my quest for a career in video games would begin. I became so engrossed that I eventually watched a behind the scenes documentary called Sci vs Fi: Mass Effect, where I discovered a job in video games was feasible. I turned around my approach to school, going from E to B grades, extensively researched pathways I could take to get into the industry, which led me to studying game design and development for 5 years through college and university. Once graduated it wouldn’t be for
another 4-5 years going between various disciplines like Events, QA and Biz Dev on a roller-coaster that I can honestly say now I feel
What do you enjoy most about your job? Aside from not having a hand in game production, I feel my role at Ukie is my dream
I’ve claimed a place in this industry.
position because I am given trust to take charge, oversee my workload and get tasks done in my own way; resulting in every day being different. Having these aspects alongside the flexibility for additional work through professional development and to be myself helps me be productive as I am a very hands on and open person who loves organising, needing to be comfortable and have an understanding of what I am doing to flourish.
What has been your proudest achievement so far? Last year I did some event work for game publisher Modern Wolf, they were so impressed by my efforts alongside a pay bonus they asked me if I wanted to join them for PAX East 2020 with expenses paid for. I thought they were just being nice but I was sent my airport and hotel details, then when February of this year rolled around I travelled with their team to Boston, Massachusetts for a week to work at the event. This was not only an amazing opportunity, it reconfirmed to me that hard work and dedication can pay off – for which I am so appreciative to the Modern Wolf team for. What has been your biggest challenge to date? Unfortunately I’ve worked for companies within the games industry that were, possibly still are, toxic and not very kind. I often questioned my value while working with these companies and from a career perspective I felt clouded in darkness. However I am delighted to say I work in a much more positive environment with amazing people, which is why the work I do through the #RaiseTheGame diversity pledge and as an Autistica Play ambassador is essential to ensure we as an industry become a more inclusive and welcoming place for people to engage and work in.
What’s your biggest ambition in games? To lead or be part of a team that makes something as amazing as Mass Effect. If I can play a part in the creation of such a game that can entertain and inspire people to make positive change in their lives and take up a career in video games, I would be fulfilled and very likely happily speechless! What advice would you give to someone looking to get a career in the industry? Be open to opportunities. Sometimes you must go with the flow, other times you must challenge what is in front of you to gain access to prospects that can change your life. I didn’t plan or set out to be an office manager, the opportunity arose and I went for it. Even without any formal qualifications because of the belief in myself, my transferable skills and knowing I can adapt. You will have dark days but if you make the effort, work hard and are truly passionate – finding a place in this industry is not at all a pipe dream.
If there’s a rising star at your company, contact Chris Wallace at firstname.lastname@example.org September 2020 MCV/DEVELOP | 19
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Cherry picked advice to help you reach the next level in your career
Anna Hollinrake, principal artist at Mediatonic talks about her varied role, understanding the messages art can convey and the importance of soft skills my current role a lot because the range of what you work on can be so broad. I studied Game Art, which gave me a solid foundation of art fundamentals, but my experience art directing a 2D animated TV show and working as a 3D environment artist has helped massively too! I think it’s very important to have an understanding of the messages art can communicate alongside being technically adept, because a huge part of narrative and mood is set within a game’s art style and location. I think it’s easy to get caught up in the many aspects of shaders and programs and lose the visual language and themes that make them so impactful in the first place. Official qualifications are helpful for connections or visas but not necessarily needed – plenty of people get into games from different careers or just through studying at home. I’ve never once been asked for my degree!
What is your job role and how would you describe your typical day at work? My title is principal artist, but my role is leading the art side of new game pitches at Mediatonic! I’m primarily a concept artist with experience in art direction and team leadership, and I work directly with designers to develop initial game pitches into full pitch decks. Along the way I’ll often be managing other artists joining the team and making sure everything is running smoothly. It’s my ideal – lots of rapid fire creative decisionmaking and collaboration, plus organisation and spreadsheets. With that in mind, there really isn’t a typical day! I’ll meet with the principal creative and creative director each morning to discuss the
pitches we’re working on at the moment, usually with me creating imagery to feel out the world, but each pitch is wildly different and needs something new. My main priorities tend to be focusing on gameplay mockups or splash art images. Figuring out art styles is usually very intuitive – I have to trust my gut and go for what feels right! What qualifications and/or experience do you need to land this job? Art skills are obviously a key pillar, but there’s a lot of design required as well. It’s a role that requires a lot of different hat wearing – in my six years in industry I’ve done a LOT of often odd but complementary stuff, and that’s helped in
If you were interviewing someone for your team, what would you look for? Once again, art skills – being able to work in a variety of styles or create a range of environments, props and characters is important, as well as being able to present them nicely. Knowledge of 3D is definitely a bonus as it helps hugely with blocking out scenes, which speeds environment iteration up a lot. Soft skills are important too! High engagement, low commitment – someone who can get very invested in an idea and run with it, but not get too hung up if it doesn’t go ahead. Creating concept art for pitches is always a gamble – it’s exciting but may never see the light of day. Being communicative (and friendly) is vital too – as a concept artist you have to take feedback well, and pitch art is always in flux.
Want to talk about your career and inspire people to follow the same path? Contact Chris Wallace at email@example.com
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Iterating for Better We’ve previously covered Unconscious Bias in the hiring process, but here Liz Prince discusses the issue of how it plays out in the workplace, and how you can tackle it… Do you recognise any of the following scenarios from your current or previous workplaces? • You’re in a 1-2-1 with your manager and they can’t help but glance at their screen or phone mid-conversation. • When walking through the office, a senior manager or director always chats to the same people. • People always sit next to the same person in meetings. • They make eye contact with some, but not others. • Men apologise to the women in the room if they swear. • People always favourably commenting on the input of certain individuals, but not others. WE ARE ALL BIASED Those are all examples of Unconscious Bias in the workplace and here’s why – up to 95 per cent of the mind’s function is unconscious. Every second, 11 million bits of information barrage our senses, but our brain’s conscious processing capacity is less than 50 bits per second. Quite the discrepancy. When people interact with others there’s too much information available. We cannot process everything, so we group information and we put people into ‘easy to use’ categories. Psychologists call this social categorisation – this routine sorting of people to form categories to use to prejudge others based on prior experiences, on what we have seen and heard, and based on what we have absorbed unconsciously during the course of our lives. Categorisation in a situation is done immediately and is extremely hard to change. It’s not hard to see why there are so many forms of bias that creep into our personal and professional lives. Affinity bias makes us warmer towards people who we categorise as having similarities to ourselves. The halo effect or tendency to think everything good about a person because we like them, conformity bias, where a person is most likely to lean towards a certain decision if they sense that more than 75 per cent of their group have a particular view. A difficult one to talk about from a professional perspective is the beauty bias. A scientific study by the British Medical Journal has shown that height and body mass index can determine the social-economic status and earning power of an individual,
particularly for women, where overweight and short women are disadvantaged when compared with tall and thin men, who earn as much as £1500 more per year. Another example is micro inequities which are “apparently small events, often short lived and hard-to-prove. They’re covert, often unintentional, frequently unrecognized by the perpetrator, and occur where people are perceived to be ‘different.’” They can block behaviours, de-value, discourage and impair contributions. These small things can have a big impact. WHAT YOU CAN DO Awareness of unconscious bias is not enough. Companies need to drive inclusive actions, acknowledge that hidden biases exist, and create an openness and willingness to discuss these without people feeling judged and ostracised. Engage everyone in the focus on bias, look where that bias can occur and work on preventing it. Encourage a positive working environment, where employees feel pride in supporting others, and are rewarded for demonstrating a will to overcome such biases. Set goals and measurements to stay on track. Get to know your colleagues: do people feel empowered to speak up, feel valued and embraced as a result of their diverse identities – if not, how can you modify your behaviour? Slow down: Allow time for your conscious brain to engage. Delay key people decisions to a time when you are more able to give full consideration and take the time to challenge your own decisions. Respectfully challenge others’ behaviour, calling out bias when you see it. Finally, be the change you want to see. Make yourself a role model for inclusive behaviours and, at a time when this particular phrase is often overused, make THIS the new normal.
At Amiqus, we have many resources available to help, so please do get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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THE HOLLYWOOD OF
VIDEO GAMES Chris Wallace talks to the games community in Guildford to find out why the area has become synonymous with the UK games industry
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ur regional spotlights have become something of a cherished regular here at MCV/DEVELOP. In recent months we’ve had the joys of highlighting UK industry hotspots such as Yorkshire, Leamington Spa and Brighton – and we’ve deeply enjoyed investigating the geography, culture and local politics of these areas. With that in mind, it’s honestly a surprise it took us so long to get around to Guildford. Often described as the “Hollywood of video games,” the region has been a UK games industry hub for decades – dating back to Peter Molyneux and Les Edgar’s legendary studio Bullfrog, whose presence is still very much felt in the area. Since then, the industry’s presence in Guildford has gone from strength to strength, and it’s now home to a huge variety of games companies, ranging from critically-acclaimed developers such as Media Molecule to content production studio Liquid Crimson. “Well, having just filmed a documentary about the games industry in Guildford entitled “The Hollywood of Video Games”, I certainly do feel Guildford is worthy of the name,” says Liquid Crimson founder Jason Lord. “It’s easy to forget that the wider world may not be aware of just how many of their favourite games, studios or devs have made a home in the town. “Our documentary series of the same name aims to bring together an amazingly talented and eclectic collection of people who all work together – whether side by side or in the same postcode – to make some of the best games in the world. “Walking down Guildford High Street or driving around the town’s often incomprehensible one way system, it’s amazing how many studios, how many teams, you’ll pass.” “Talent attracts talent,” adds Keith Anderson, publishing director at DPS Games (until recently Wargaming UK) “and there is a deep history of game making in the Guildford area. “There are many Bullfrog veterans still about, they were founded back in 1987. EA has studios and publishing in the town. And there is a vibrant indie scene as well.”
Left: Peter Molyneux, 22cans
Right: Jason Lord, Liquid Crimson
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THE ORIGIN STORY Of course, Peter Molyneux and Bullfrog are the names that most often come up when talking about Guildford’s roots as a hub. But as Matt Webster, VP, GM at Criterion explains, that isn’t the whole story. “You know, I think that Electronic Arts plays a huge role here and that’s somewhat been overlooked. As I’m sure that Peter will tell you, it was EA who believed in Populous and invested in the development of Bullfrog through Populous, Flood, Powermonger, Populous II, Magic Carpet, Syndicate and Theme Park, before the acquisition in 1995. “As you’ll know, as companies grow people join, others leave, they start new companies. These new companies attract funding and then new talent, they grow, find capabilities and hopefully are successful. Then they breed their own start-ups and the cycle continues. When you cover that over 30-odd years then you can see how as a pretty good location with strong transport links, a university and a thriving young industry is a great place to get started for gaming.” That isn’t to say that Molyneux’s legacy isn’t respected by the local industry. As Sam Read, Games Sector Specialist at Enterprise M3 explains, Molyneux and Bullfrog are often cited as being among the biggest drivers of Guildford’s gaming success. “Peter has one of those rare creative minds with the power to build an industry. If Peter hadn’t founded Bullfrog here, it’s quite likely that Guildford’s games industry would be far less impressive today. “I have a feeling that Guildford and games were always destined to become synonymous however. There was some other impressive game development activity happening here in the 80s alongside Bullfrog. Jonathan Newth and Ian Baverstock deserve
Right: Matt Webster, Criterion
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an honourable mention in that regard, they founded SIMIS here back in 1989 and released one of the earliest consumer flight simulators, Interdictor for the Archimedes. SIMIS merged with Eidos before an MBO later led to the formation of Kuju Entertainment, which had its headquarters in Guildford. “Peter’s legacy can most clearly be seen when you trace back the careers of Guildford’s most experienced people. So many roads lead back to Bullfrog, EA and Lionhead.” “It’s hard to overstate the importance of Peter Molyneux’s legacy here,” agrees Paul Ross, founder and CTO of Stellar Entertainment. “He is not only the most famous game developer in Guildford but one of the most well known in the industry as a whole.” ATTRACTING TALENT A region with a reputation like Guildford’s will surely not struggle to attract talent to the area. Any UK developer worth their salt will be well aware of the wealth of talent and opportunities in the area. But with over 50 games companies in the area, how intense is the competition to hire the most promising talent? “We hire people from all over the world – Guildford’s legacy does help” notes Pete Samuels, CEO at Supermassive Games “It also helps that the town itself is a great place to live, with beautiful countryside in walking distance and easy access to London. “Yes, the number of studios means there is competition for talent, but it’s not as big an issue as you may think. We’re hiring right now for an entirely new project that is very different to anything we have created before. So, we are hoping to attract talent from wherever they are currently located.” “There’s a lot of great talent in the area,” agrees Adele Cutting,
“We hire people from all over the world - Guildford’s legacy does help” Right: (top) Paul Ross, Stellar Entertainment, (below) Pete Samuels, CEO, Supermassive Games
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“We have close relationships with a lot of the studios, especially as many of us have come from other developers in the area” Above: Adele Cutting, Soundcuts
founder of Soundcuts. “With audio specifically because of the universities, there is always a lot of new junior talent coming up. “It’s a beautiful location and town, so a lovely area to live. There are loads of networking events, game jams and meetups outside of working hours, so it’s very sociable if you’re wanting to mix with devs from different companies. Plus fast rail-links to London, so commuting is easy too. A lot of talent is happy to commute out from London to Guildford.” “There is a lot of talent in the area,” notes Peter Molyneux, now founder of developer 22cans, “but we could always do with more! It’s so different to the early days, when I even resorted to try and hire pavement artists as games artists.” Instead of companies engaging in intense competition, Guildford instead seems to be home to an interchange of talent. The region’s reputation in the industry has led to workers staying in Guildford, migrating from company to company – as Gem Abdeen, outreach manager at Media Molecule explains. “We have close relationships with a lot of the studios, especially as many of us have come from other developers in the area. People move from company to company and so we always leave behind friends and close colleagues who we stay in contact with. “Events like Guildford Games Festival builds those relationships and brings us together to celebrate our
studios’ achievements. It’s important to support and help each other. It’s also not a very big town, so we’re all very physically close as well. You can see quite a few other studios from our offices (when we’re in them, which we aren’t currently).” “We do have close relationships with studios in the area,” adds Criterion’s Webster, “and this is an area that I think is changing the fastest. I think that there was a tendency for studios to be closed and less receptive to sharing experiences and ideas because of the competition for talent. “That’s an outdated outlook. With successful games, a great environment and a strong healthy culture we’re much more open than we’ve ever been before and we now see that as a real positive to connecting with the studios, sharing experience and learning. We’re also working with our local partners now, particularly with Stellar Entertainment on our remaster of Burnout Paradise and with them bringing Burnout to the Switch for the first time this year.” Not everyone has quite a rosy outlook on the availability of talent in the area, mind. “There will always be a shortage of great talent in Guildford due to the demands across many great studios,” says Stellar’s Ross. “So we have to increasingly look further afield for new hires. It can be expensive for people to live in Guildford depending on what level they are at and where they have come from but there are
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many attractive and more affordable options within a commutable distance.” OFFICE 365 Speaking of affordability, how is the office situation in Guildford? While they’re likely all gathering dust right now, quality office space in such a popular and competitive area can’t come cheap. “Sadly, Guildford’s selection of available office space is rather expensive,” says Liquid Crimson’s Lord. “It’s suspected that the reason the town became so popular for devs in the first place is because it was close to London but boasted cheaper rent prices and, whilst the town is certainly cheaper than central, it is a little more expensive now. There are less expensive office options, but they may not be entirely geared up for a creative environment. “It would be great to have a shared creative space in the town, but that said – the working world postCOVID-19 may see a shift in the whole way we structure our ‘workplaces’. The way Liquid Crimson is approaching the situation currently is to ensure that our team has everything they need to work comfortably,
creatively and efficiently from home, whilst keeping one eye on planning Guildford Game Dev events and knowledge-sharing for as soon as we can.” “Guildford does have space but it is getting very expensive,” notes 22cans’ Molyneux. “I would love to see more help for startups/small companies in the form of a low cost space supported by local government,” he adds. “There is a lot of demand for high quality office space in Guildford,” adds Enterprise M3’s Read, “but there are a number of great options at Guildford Business Park and Surrey Research Park just to name a couple. If you can’t find space directly in town, there are also options in neighbouring towns like Farnborough and Aldershot. Companies based there like nDreams are still very much a part of Guildford’s games industry.” “Since the founding of DPS Games, we have had three different spaces in Guildford, each with its own charm!” says DPS’s Anderson. “We had a run of bad luck (our last studio on the riverside burnt down…) but that gave us the opportunity to find the perfect space in Guildford Business Park, where we are now.”
Below: Gem Abdeen, Media Molecule
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LIGHTING, TEXTURE, VEHICLE, VFX, UI/UX, TECHNICAL ARTISTS To apply for any of these positions or have talent we must see, get in touch at
Affordability goes beyond office space, of course. If you want to attract talent to the area, said talent needs to be able to afford to live there. “Especially as we welcome more young people into the industry,” notes Media Molecule’s Abdeen, “affordable housing is certainly something we’d love to see more of in Guildford.” “Traffic and housing costs can be a real issue,” agrees Supermassive’s Samuels. Something we agree with, having tried (once) to drive into Guildford for an interview. GETTING TOGETHER In person events may be off the cards at the moment, but local games communities like Guildford’s have always benefitted from industry events, in order to come together and exchange ideas. One such force organising these events in Guildford is G3 Futures – which stands for ‘Galvanising Guildford Games for the Future.’ The first G3 Futures event took place in 2015, and they are designed to bring the Guildford games community together, small companies and large. G3 Futures has arranged a number of events over the years – from its annual networking events, to specific instructional events such as ‘How to Access Funding to Grow your Gaming Business’ and the enticingly named ‘Make a game in an afternoon (Adult event)’ “Any event that aims to bring developers together to share knowledge is valuable to the community,” says Liquid Crimson’s Lord. “What G3 Futures brings to the table is the ability to reach students at the University of Surrey campus and alert them to the thriving tech industry that exists in the town.” “G3 Futures is very important to the local community,” adds 22cans’ Molyneux, “it does a good job of raising awareness, and canvassing universities and the local government.” “G3 will play an important role in continuing to bring us all together as a local gaming community,” says Media Molecule’s Abdeen. “Most gaming events are focused on the national or international game sector whereas G3 focuses on the local Guildford community. It’s very easy, especially when things are busy, for studios to handle outreach themselves and be a bit disconnected from everything else. But when we come together as an industry and an area, our outreach is more impactful – allowing us to learn from each other and work with local government more efficiently.” In normal times, there are plenty of other opportunities for the community to come together. There’s the annual Guildford Games festival, an event part-funded by the local government, which saw its first iteration in 2019. Guildford Games Festival 2020 was initially planned for June but well, you know why it was postponed. “I’m excited by what Guildford Games Festival looks set to become over the years,” notes Enterprise M3’s Read. “I believe it has all the potential to become a nationally significant games industry conference. For now, it serves as a great celebration of Guildford’s achievements and as a place for the public and the wider industry to come and engage with Guildford’s best and brightest.” “Liquid Crimson were part of the core team who put together the Guildford Games Festival and the Guildford Games Awards in 2019” adds Liquid Crimson’s Lord. “We have plans to bring both events back in 2020. Both the Festival and Awards brought in large numbers of people and
“The first G3 Futures event took place in 2015, and they are designed to bring the Guildford games community together, small companies and large.” Below: Enterprise M3’s Sam Read
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numerous attempts to enlist the support of the local MP across several years, which would have been extremely useful especially during the start-up phase, the local government support has been non-existent.” In the spirit of fairness, we should make it clear that this negative experience isn’t universal among the companies we spoke to. “Guildford Borough Council have made huge strides in their understanding and support of the local games industry recently” says Enterprise M3’s Sam Read. “I think local developers have all seen the benefits of that, Guildford Games Festival couldn’t have happened without them and they will be just as important to 2020’s festival too. While EM3 doesn’t quite count as local government, we are intrinsically linked. I hope that through delivery of the Guildford Games website and Guildford Steam Page this year, we can really demonstrate how the public sector can play a meaningful role in Guildford’s game development future.”
Above: Keith Anderson, DPS Games (formerly Wargaming UK)
helped cement Guildford as one of the key places for the games industry.” LOCAL ISSUES Speaking of local government, given the importance of the games industry to the local area, they must be pulling out the stops to support local businesses, right? “It’s sometimes a little hard to tell if Guildford as a town is fully aware how much of the local economy is connected to games,” notes Media Molecule’s Abdeen, “though the festival and community activities are drawing support from the local council. “The G3 Futures summit certainly started a lot of conversations about what is needed to support our industry locally and we are certainly open to discussions with local government about the needs of Guildford’s many game developers.” 22cans’ Molyneux echoes this need for the government to support the local industry, stating: “We need more formalised support to foster support for investors to see what great work is being carried out in Guildford. In the past I have been involved with local government but found it frustrating, the amount of time it took up and the amount of meetings that went on.” “Our experience with local government has been very poor,” adds DPS’ Anderson. “Despite making
GUILDFORD GUIDE So, with all that said, what advice does Guildford’s residents have for those seeking to set up shop in one of the UK’s most important gaming hubs? “Rocket Desk provides an excellent space for a startup,” notes 22cans’ Molyneux. “Money is always tight at the start so keep it small and economical before committing to a long lease.” “I wouldn’t - Liquid Crimson wouldn’t - spend so much time singing the praises of an admittedly pretty but not at all astonishing town in the south of England if there weren’t something very special bubbling away under the surface,” says Lord. “The Guildford Games Community is one of the most welcoming groups you could ever hope to meet. “The Game Devs drinks we host are, of course, valuable for meeting new people and making contacts, but it’s common to see past or present teams having a good old catch up and filling the place with laughter. It’s cheesy, but we’re friends, and every time we go to a Guildford meet up we tend to make a new friend. There’s no gatekeeping, we’re all in this together and on an even footing as far as making the very best games (and subsequently trailers for those games) we can. “My advice? Come to Guildford! If you’re looking to start or move your studio, the town and surrounding areas are alive with the creativity of so many teams. If you’re a dev starting a new role in Guildford, reach out to us. If we can help with filling you in dates of events (TBC) or potential new connections, we’d love to!”
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NEW GAMES, FRESH EXPERIENCES
Unforgettable times await from our visionary new games label, Frontier Foundry. Frontier Developments has always been driven by a singular passion to make memorable games that create legacies and break boundaries. Now, with our dedicated games label Frontier Foundry, we’re helping others achieve the same goal. By lending studios around the world our wealth of publishing expertise, we’ll bring even more great games to players. As a world-renowned developer and publisher of genre-defining titles since 1994, we’re uniquely positioned to understand, support, and select the best developers to work with.
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With fresh collaborations forming regularly, and many exciting projects now in active development, the future couldn’t be brighter. Look to Frontier Foundry as your new partner in incredible interactive entertainment.
Discover more frontier.co.uk/foundry
The team at Ratloop Games Canada explain their time-loop combat game where “chess meets FPS” Having travelled forward in time and played your game I
accordingly. This examination phase between turns is
already love it, for mere mortals can you explain the core
quite engaging for onlookers as it allows them the time to
read the board as you do and anticipate or discuss what
Ha-ha thanks! That’s awfully nice of you to say and we’re
possible next plays could be. As a streamer you could even
thrilled you love the game already!
go so far as to call out your next plays before you make them,
Ok, to the good stuff: Lemnis Gate is a 1v1 or 2v2 turn
like “OK, I’m going to use my sniper and take out the enemy’s
based combat strategy FPS, where players take turns adding
engineer right HERE before he can get to my commander
characters into a 25 second time loop. Once a character’s 25
over THERE”. Something akin to calling “black ball, corner
second ‘play’ is done, their actions will repeat over and over
pocket” in a game of 8-ball! Then everyone gets to see
until the end of the match. Each character added to the loop
whether you can pull it off. That’s Lemnis Gate in a nutshell.
is played on top of the previous 25 second period, meaning characters from the past, present and future fight alongside
Why did you decide to work with Frontier Foundry?
each other and work together to defeat the opposing team.
As an indie team making a multiplayer online game it
The results are a mind bending ‘chess meets FPS’ battle
was our vision from the very beginning to make Lemnis
where harnessing the strategical thinking of time travel is as
Gate something that players would (hopefully!) enjoy for
important as mastering your weaponry. You will need a keen
years to come. We want to create a game that we can
sense of observation, some outlandish planning and skilful
continually iterate on and make better and better over
execution! Simple, right?
the course of its lifespan.
With time-loop shenanigans and deep gameplay it looks
games which are very much as popular years later as the
well-suited for streamers/inﬂuencers?
day they were first released. Having this deep knowledge
Actually, YES! Due to the nature of our turn-based
of games as a living experience coupled with their award-
gameplay, spectating is also an inherent part of our core loop.
winning community development efforts seemed like a
Frontier has a rich history of building successful living
Before you play your 25 second turn you can ﬂy around the
perfect fit for Lemnis Gate and its objectives. It’s a really
map in freecam mode as the current state of the time loop
great partnership, and Frontier’s support in the vision of
plays back in front of you. All characters that both you and
the game has been tremendous.
your opponent have already played are fully visible, giving you the freedom to observe their actions and plan your next move
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We really can’t wait until everyone can get their hands on Lemnis Gate and give it a try for themselves!
Alexis Gallant-Vigneault, CEO & game designer at Chasing Rats Games explains the thinking behind its bizarre-looking new title Oh my god that’s disturbing! Brilliant but disturbing. Please
Opening Night Live Show at Gamescom was incredible. It is still
explain your ideas in words normal people will understand?
difficult to process that it actually happened, but we were all
The idea that sparked Struggling is actually a lot more
really excited about it!
grounded than you would think, especially when you look at
Showcasing a game like Struggling on the same scene that
our hero, Troy. We initially wanted to work on a game designed
included many big triple-A titles really identifies with one of our
around a character controlled by two players.
ideals as a studio: being the ‘purple cow’ that stands out from
At first, we wanted to make the protagonist a two-headed
the others. We could not be happier!
ogre of which each player would control a side (arm and leg), and they would need to communicate and cooperate to
Why did you decide to work with Frontier Foundry on the
accomplish tasks. While prototyping this concept, even when
only the arms were implemented we found that there were
I think it is safe to say that many people are surprised that
plenty of weird and unique gameplay mechanics. From that
Frontier Foundry’s first published title is a game like Struggling.
point, Denis Simard (our art director) created several potential
When you look at Frontier’s portfolio, Struggling stands out
characters, but as soon as we saw the first sketches of the
because of its overall weirdness. This is actually the main reason
symbiotic lab-created creature that is Troy, we knew for sure
why we decided to go for it! Having the opportunity to work
that he would be our protagonist.
with a company as well established as Frontier is amazing, but
We are very happy with the strong emotions (mostly disgust)
our proudest achievement is having them embark with us in the
players feel when they see Troy and other characters from
absurd nonsense that is Struggling. We will shamelessly brag
Struggling. The nightmares are worth it.
about this for years to come.
You ﬂash launched the game at Gamescom Opening Night Live Show, what was that like? Having the opportunity to announce the release of our first game during an event as big and impactful as Geoff Keighley’s
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Zac Antonaci, Director of Publishing at Frontier, explains the thinking behind this latest release of a truly classic franchise This one takes me back a way, why did you decide now was
will give those people a chance to re-live that excitement and
the right time to bring it back?
passion for the game. However, we are also looking forward to
RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 has a fantastic legacy and it’s something
welcoming players that have not yet tried RollerCoaster Tycoon
that we have a huge amount of pride in, here at Frontier. After
3, but would like to dive in and experience it for the first time.
the previous publishing agreement ended, we knew we would want to do something special with the game. The Nintendo
As an internally developed title why does this sit under the
Switch gives us a great way to bring one of the world’s most
iconic games to an entirely new platform.
While Frontier did develop the title originally, we actually worked hand in hand with our development partner QLOC to
With over 10m copies sold to date I’m guessing you’re hoping
be able to bring RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 to the Switch. With this
there’s a lot of fans out there wanting to play it again?
in mind, and because we felt it was a fantastic way to show
There is no doubt that there are lot of people out there that
how serious we are about our all-new games label, we felt that
have enjoyed Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 over the years. We certainly
RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 was a perfect fit as part of the Frontier
believe that bringing this much-loved title to Nintendo Switch
Foundry line up.
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Onboarding a whole studio stress free A successful acquisition is always a tricky bit of business, from negotiations, to due diligence and contracts, and then to managing the announcement and onboarding process. Now imagine doing all that under lockdown too. Seth Barton gets to see inside Sumoâ€™s buyout of Lab42 September 2020 MCV/DEVELOP | 35
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Previous page: Gary Dunn, MD of Sumo Digital
ack in early February two old friends and former colleagues met in a pub to discuss a potential acquisition. That meeting between Gary Dunn, MD of Sumo Digital, and Ed Blincoe, Studio Director of Lab42, kicked off what was to become Sumo’s recent successful buyout of Lab42, three months later in May. Of course, neither of them knew back in February that the COVID-19 pandemic would not only make this their last visit to the pub for some time, but also would make this a rather unusual acquisition and onboarding for the 30 staff based at Lab42 in Leamington Spa. Here MCV/DEVELOP gets a rare and honest view of the negotiations and process behind such an acquisition and how best to tackle it – an insight that will be useful to many in the industry who will experience such changes in their careers. With a few added twists due to the unprecedented situation that surrounded it all. KEEPING A LID ON IT While recent events have been undeniably terrible, Lab42’s Blincoe tells us that the emergence of COVID-19, and the subsequent guidance given to work at home where possible, actually played in both parties’ favour in at least one regard whilst the deal was being pieced together. “One major problem, for all sorts of reasons, can be when people start to suspect something’s happening, that maybe a big change is in the pipeline,” explains Blincoe. “But the first was that pretty much all of our staff knew about [the acquisition] as the deal happened. “In that sense – and trust me I know this is a weird thing to say – lockdown helped us, because everyone was at home and we didn’t have a train of people coming in and out of the office, I wasn’t trying to keep things all hush-hush. It presented challenges for due diligence, because you would normally meet people once a week, go backwards and forwards quite a lot; none of that happened.” That whole process, Dunn confirms, only took about six weeks, from pub chat to done deal. He can’t recall getting an acquisition over the line in a shorter time (and Sumo Digital has plenty of recent experience in this area with Red Kite Games and The Chinese Room amongst others).
Blincoe stresses, however, the importance of that intense period, and how due diligence should mean much more than crunching numbers: “From my point of view, the very nature of the due diligence process answers quite a lot of important questions for us. Because, the questions that people are asking you, are they the right ones? Are they asking for the right information, the things that we think are important, or are they just asking for the data? “Because if you just want the data, then you’ve got no interest in the culture, but that wasn’t what Sumo wanted, they were asking about what the team does, what they’re about. Are the projects that we have right now the ones that we want to continue to pursue? Those types of questions, rather than just ‘how many programmers have you got?’ “Also, they were always all about retaining the Lab42 brand, retaining the same culture within Lab42,” says Blincoe. “‘You’re still Lab42, you still have the same opportunities and the same building and the same staff and everything else. But, at the same time, you’ve now got the support of the Sumo network behind you.’” Sumo’s Dunn recalls: “As I said, we had a head start, because I’d worked with a number of the leadership team before, but we also have an M&A guy, Pat Luker [senior finance lead at Sumo Digital], who acts as deal captain. He manages the process and makes sure everything’s covered, and he got on really well with all the team. We definitely look at the cultural fit. The Sumo Group and Sumo Digital have a great sense of family. We always try and make it feel like we’re going to work with our friends as well as colleagues. And it felt like that more and more as we got to know the wider team at Lab42.” THE BIG ZOOM Once the contracts are signed, both men agree that communication becomes key. It is the sort of situation that would normally call for a ‘town hall’ style meeting with all staff. But, of course, nothing was normal at the time, and so a company-wide Zoom call was organised. And it was clear this wasn’t a quiz. Alarm bells would have been ringing, Blincoe recalls: “You have to understand, we were right
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in the middle of lockdown, nobody had been out of the house in about six weeks, so these were not normal times and so people were worried on all sorts of levels.” It didn’t help calm the nerves when the announcement was pushed back – after the call had already started. Dunn explains: “It was scheduled for, I think, 5pm on a Thursday, but 5pm came around and we still hadn’t actually executed. I told Ed we’d have to push back, and he said, ‘They’ve already started coming into the room!’.” “I freestyled for a bit,” laughs Blincoe, “started wondering if I could make up a quiz on the spot! Thankfully word came through pretty quickly after that: we had the signatures.” And with that Blincoe could start as planned: “So, point one, right up top: ‘everything is fine’. Even before you say what the news is, you simply say it’s good news. And then after that, as soon as they knew that it was Sumo, we had nothing but positive comments. “A lot of our people already knew lots of Sumo people and had heard nothing but good things from them about what it was like working there. Everyone was really excited to see what was going to happen next and where we were going. “They had questions, of course, the most common ones were, ‘are we still Lab42?’ and ‘are we staying in the same building?’ And the answers were yes and yes, which made everyone even more relaxed.” Dunn was also on that call and, whilst reiterating the message of reassurance, he was also keen to gradually introduce notions of increased opportunity and support. He says: “After Ed dealt with, ‘Don’t worry, you’re all safe, we’re still Lab42 and we’re not moving’, I backed that up, but I was also very clear that we purchased Lab42 to grow it and help it achieve bigger and better things. And that means opportunity, growth, new projects. We were very clear that this wasn’t an acquisition just to bolt a bit of capacity onto the main mothership.” Blincoe adds: “There are career progression pathways within Sumo. So, everyone that works for Lab42 now knows how they move up within the organisation, what they need to do to be promoted and rewarded going forward. Whereas before, again, small company, how do I get from being a junior programmer to an experienced programmer? What does that look like? “Within Sumo it’s a case of, right, these are the things that you need to do to move up through that. And people have responded really well because now they’ve got something to aim for. “It has helped tremendously within Lab42 to put people onto a track where they know what they need to do to progress their careers. That’s a fantastic introduction into Sumo.”
THE IT-TY GRITTY As well as opportunities, there are challenges and headaches. Dunn insists, however, in this case they were to do with processes and details, not workflow and culture: “The first one that always comes up is IT. And COVID definitely didn’t make that any easier! They were all on G Suite, and we’re all on Microsoft 365. You’ve got to literally put across a whole business from one system to another, virtually immediately, and that takes some planning. “Then it is what you would expect – payroll, finance, HR, new contracts, all that sort of thing. But we have a 100-day plan, and Pat’s job is also to make sure that the 100-day plan is executed, nothing gets missed out. It’s our integration kit, and in order to be considered fully integrated, you need to have a tick against all of these boxes; it’s a lot of work,” the Sumo boss admits. “And, in terms of that boring but necessary stuff, we do pretty much rip out what they do and put in what we do, because they have to interface with all our systems. I think it’s fair to say that’s probably where most of the wrinkles come in. “The only other possible negative I’d highlight in a deal like this, is perhaps a bit of a loss of agility,” says Dunn. “I actually think Sumo is relatively agile for a big company, but it’s nothing like a group of 30 people running their own legal entity, because whatever they want to do, if they had cash in the bank, they could pretty much just do it.” “That’s true”, reflects Blincoe. “Previously, if someone wanted a quote on a scope of work, we’d get something out in a couple of days. Now there’s a bit more scrutiny involved. It’s asking more people the same questions – and the likelihood is you’ll get the same answers, but sometimes you won’t. And that’s okay, a bit of extra scrutiny isn’t a terrible hardship.” The new partners are getting on well it seems, but the continuing pandemic is no less frustrating for it, agree both Dunn and Blincoe. “In terms of the big picture, we’re in no rush to get everyone back to the office”, says Dunn, “but it would be great to get a social in, certainly before Christmas, for everyone to meet up and have a drink and a bite to eat together and just to get to know each other. If we can pull that off in a safe way that doesn’t compromise anyone’s health, then we’ll do it.”
Below: Ed Blincoe, Studio Director, Lab4
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Live ops expertise meets all-action extravagance as Jagex partners with Flying Wild Hog. It’s the Runescape maker’s debut third-party title and the Shadow Warrior developer’s first live game – Seth Barton talks to both teams about their new partnership.
evelopers and publishers talk of great partnerships, but often that boils down to the developers making the game and the publisher selling it. Complementary skills, but ones that were executed more often in turn rather than in tandem. Ongoing live games often displaced the publisher role, with the developer instead skilling-up to take charge of marketing, UA and monetisation – which can be a pretty steep hill to climb. But surely there’s a better way? Runescape creator Jagex certainly thinks so. And so it has utilised its 20 years of experience in running live games, or living games as the company calls its titles, to launch Jagex Partners – a third-party publishing arm announced back at Gamescom 2018. The aim was to utilise its hard-won skills in running such games for the benefit of third-party developers. But living games are a long-term business, and so Jagex hasn’t rushed into anything, taking almost two years to announce its first partnership under the initiative. And that partner is Flying Wild Hog, the Polish developer of visceral action-packed titles – best known for the jaw-dropping action and wisecracking humour of the Shadow Warrior franchise – though this new title is the first to come out of its Krakow studio. Runescape’s quirky fantasy and Shadow Warrior’s blood-soaked action are unlikely bedfellows on the
surface but the partnership of their creators’ skills makes a lot of sense. A MATCH MADE IN KRAKOW
Jeff Pabst, VP third-party and partnerships, starts by explaining that working relationship: “We found a partner in the Hogs that makes great games, they know how to make fun games, they have a very clear style, and they had an ambition and a desire to make online multiplayer titles. They brought in people to help do that, they had a really clear vision on the product. But they needed a partner who had experience in building that community involvement and engagement, the live ops experience, and all the stuff that Jagex does in spades. “And so we’re hoping it’s one plus one equals three, because we’re going to bring a lot of what we consider our DNA secret sauce, and they’re gonna bring in a lot of theirs. And we’re looking to make a great title out of that,” Pabst formulates. Michal Szustak, CEO of Flying Wild Hogs is on the same page: “The [Jagex] guys love the game. It was an easy start. We think it’s a great fit, we’ve an experienced team, we love making action-explosive games. They were looking for something that can engage players for years to come. When we understood that they had 20 years of experience making community-based living games, that was like ‘wow, that’s the best partner that we can find’.”
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And that partnership has to work well given the longterm nature of such titles, Pabst adds: “We’ve been willing to take the time to invest in that relationship. Because with a living game, it’s not fire and forget, put it in a box and walk away, instead we’ll run that game for hopefully years to come. So you want to make sure you have the right partnership.” Jagex visited the team in Krakow many times before the pandemic prevented such trips. The studio is now one of three for Flying Wild Hog, with the business having started in Warsaw and more recently having opened an outfit in Rzeszów too. The developer was acquired by Supernova Capital, cofounded by Paul Wedgwood, in March of last year. Pabst continues: “It’s a true partnership. So when we have a back and forth, and they’re bringing something to the table, we have a deep discussion about it, and they take the lead on the things that we think they’re going to definitely be better at. And then we bring in our expertise… the first couple of conversations we had in Krakow, there were a lot of ‘Aha!’ moments on both sides of the table, which is just a fantastic experience.” We wonder if some of that bond comes from both parties being developers at heart? “This partnership has been founded on mutual respect and understanding,” Pabst replies. We share many values
and a vision for this game, and yes a lot of that comes from the fact that Jagex is a developer as well as a publisher. One of our key strengths – and something that’s vital to the success of a living game – is the close cooperation and integration of game development, live ops and the disciplines you would traditionally classify as publishing such as community management and player support.”
Above (from left to right): Jagex’s Phil Mansell and Michal Szustak of Flying Wild Hog
PUTTING THE ACTION IN ARPG
The game itself is still under wraps, we do know that it’s being built using Unreal Engine 4 – as is the upcoming Shadow Warrior 3 – and is described by the partnership as “a rich, deep, connected and customisable multiplayer action-RPG gaming experience of high adventure and explosive action set in a sci-fi universe.” Phil Mansell, Jagex’s CEO, explains the space the title sits in: “If you look at things like Diablo or Path of Exile, phenomenally successful games, but really dark, medieval, fantasy worlds, almost horror fantasy to some degree. “There’s a lot of really popular sci-fi games but less so in action RPG… that’s where we think there’s a really big latent demand that isn’t being met that the partnership can really satiate.” He certainly has a point, there are a few outliers tending more towards
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twin-stick shooting (such as Helldivers), but little in the core Diablo style that jumps to mind. Even without the exact details, it’s clear that this game is a long way from the Hogs’ home turf. But Flying Wild Hog CEO Szustak points out that we shouldn’t pigeonhole the developer. “One of our core values is actually experimentation. We call ourselves a gameplay laboratory, we’re trying to find something new, to build something new in video games.” And he notes that the Krakow studio has its own character: “Krakow team are a separate studio, they have their own ideas, and they decided to follow this path, to create something entirely new, but using the expertise of the [wider] studio, building an action-packed game.” So while it will draw on the Hogs action pedigree, we shouldn’t expect anything so visceral? “I would say action and fun. I wouldn’t say visceral. I think that the new project will be more accessible for a broader audience. Similar to Runescape. Because a broad community is something we want to build for the game.” A GAME OF RISK
A live game with a broad community, evolving over many years, while remaining highly profitable. It’s the goal for many games developers around the world. However, we all know that for every hardy perennial there’s many more that fail to take root. So what is the plan to give the new title the best possible chance to flourish? Jagex’s Mansell starts with the basics, it’s just got to be a great game: “I think that with any successful game, especially live or living games, you have to have a piece of core gameplay that is just phenomenally fun. Whether it’s mouse and keyboard, or controller, or touchscreen, it feels amazing in your hands, and it has that tactile satisfaction you want to keep playing. “That was the first thing we could see that this game had in spades. It’s just so fun in your hands. And what they were building as a skill set was that longer-form gameplay, the meta game that goes on top of that. But having a game that you’d love to play, and don’t want to put down, and you think about when you’re going to play it again. That’s the perfect start point for these things.”
“Whether it’s mouse and keyboard, or controller, or touchscreen, it feels amazing in your hands, and it has that tactile satisfaction you want to keep playing.”
All very promising, but even great games sometimes fail to find their audience. And arguably while Jagex has huge experience in running games, it’s been a while since it launched a successful new IP. Mansell believes that Jagex do now possess that skill: “In terms of our skill set to launch, part of what we’ve been doing at Jagex in recent years, and especially with Jagex Partners is building a phenomenal set of talented people who do have amazing skills in launching games. “Jeff [Pabst] has phenomenal levels of experience, not even including the team that he’s built, and the resources he’s got to hand at Jagex. We’ve got people who’ve launched games to tens and hundreds of millions of players. So we’re very confident in that now,” he states. Pabst himself sums it up very neatly: “The collective team has done this hundreds of times, but the team collectively have not done it.” “The philosophy that we have as a team is we look at it as a marathon, not a sprint,” Pabst continues. “A marathon starts well before the consumer ever touches the game. What are the next steps that we can do to ensure success? Where are the areas that we need to invest in earlier on to make sure that we’re ready when that thing happens? “It’s the games business, so yes there’s risk but we want to make sure that we minimise the risk and address those things. And again, we have a very complementary and great partner in terms of the way that we’re looking at the game and the way we’re looking at the market so it gives us a lot of confidence and excitement.” To which Mansell ass: “A chemistry worked between our companies and how we saw what you’d call productmarket fit. They’re very experimental. We’re very customer orientated. So it really matched together well.” And from the Hogs’ perspective, Jagex itself represents the minimisation of risk, says Michal Kuk, head of the Krakow studio. “We have been talking with Jagex for a long time, and during that time, we already built our team around this partnership. And basically, you said that there’s a huge risk with developing and releasing live games. So from our standpoint, to lower the risk was to find a perfect partner who has the best experience of the market, so Jagex is one of the best partners for us. And it’s one of the most experienced publishers with over 20 years of experience with living games. That was our plan to lower the risk.” One possible advantage that Jagex possesses is its huge Runescape audience, over 1.1m paying subscribers alone in 2019. So will it try to market them the new game? “We think it’s vitally important to market the right game to the right audience,” says Pabst. “While we certainly hope there are many RuneScape players who will be interested in this new game, we won’t be assuming
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Left (from left to right): Jagex’s Jeff Pabst and Michał Kuk of Flying Wild Hog
anything and will be mindful of how we talk to them about it.” AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION
Another key point is that Runescape pre-dates platforms such as Epic Game Store, and even Steam. Jagex has great experience in building and retaining a community away from the usual PC storefronts, something it’s keen to leverage for the new title. “We welcome the fact that there are strong players in the publishing and distribution market for PC games,” says Pabst. “If independent studios can benefit from platforms and publishers that allow their visions to become reality then the player benefits, and so does the wider industry. “We believe we offer something different: Jagex Partners, with its combination of expertise, heritage and focus is the go-to publisher for living games developers, offering publishing services and a platform covering everything from marketing, brand, community and user acquisition to analytics, data science and distribution,” So expect Jagex to take its own path, promoting the game outside of the usual platforms. But not exclusively so, Pabst notes: “There’s nothing to say that, alongside our own platform, that the games we publish with partners won’t happily be available to play or buy via Epic, Steam or any other existing or future sales or publishing platform.” Indeed, as for the first time Jagex will also be working with console platforms: “The game will be available on PC and console,” Pabst confirms. “Together with Flying Wild Hog we want to make sure as many players can access the game on the platform they prefer. We’ll have more specific detail in the coming months on platform availability.”
With 2021 set as a launch date, the game will soon start to enter alpha and beta testing phases. At present though, the Hogs are benefiting from having a sizable headcount at Jagex able to play the game and feedback to the developer in private, Mansell tells us. “There are people at Jagex playing the game. We provide internal feedback and the Hogs have a great understanding of what ‘good’ looks like, obviously it becomes critical to get that feedback from players. I think both of us align around how important that is. So the type of content, the weight of content, the roadmap we have post launch, I think both Hogs and Jagex, have got a good understanding of that, but it’s the player community feedback that will make us really sure. “You need to launch successfully, of course, but it starts earlier. You’ve got to be listening to the players. You’ve got to be experimenting. And I think the values of our companies align incredibly well there,” says Mansell. With the Hogs having set out on this path in 2016, with the birth of the Krakow studio, and with almost two years of working with Jagex as well, it’s certainly not rushing to launch says Krakow team’s Kuk: “My standpoint is basically we’re releasing the game when we decide it’s ready to be released. And it gives us the confidence that the game will be fun and really exciting to the players. So that’s why next year, we just want to make sure.” Enthusiasm around the project is sky-high going into this critical phase, despite us living in uncertain times. “We have a plan. We want to stick to the plan, but we want to make sure we’re releasing the best product for the consumer at the best time,” Pabst concludes.
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Silver Rain is the UK’s most intriguing new studio. A diverse team drawn from various industries, all working remotely, led by a woman and a black man, who himself is also starring in a big new HBO sci-fi show. Seth Barton discovers what’s tying it all together “In time of silver rain. The earth puts forth new life again,” wrote American jazz poet Langston Hughes in an ode to spring and rebirth. Which all makes for a most appropriate name for a new games studio, one built under lockdown, praised for its diversity, and which is now preparing to take its first public steps with its debut title. Its leaders aren’t new to the games industry, but this is their first time running their own studio. CEO and founder Abubakar Salim is best known as the vocal talent behind protagonist Bayek in Assassin’s Creed Origins and is starring in HBO’s new and acclaimed Raised by Wolves. While head of studio Mel Phillips led the games programme at BAFTA, picking up broad industry recognition for her efforts. Although for a debut studio working on a debut title, Silver Rain Games isn’t a small outfit, having quickly grown during the pandemic
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to reach around 20 staff – all working remotely. And the staff aren’t all your usual industry stalwarts either, instead being a diverse set of talents in many respects. DIVERSE THINKING “We have varied people on our team,” says Salim. “We have very skilled gamers who know about game design and production, but we also have people from the film industry and who play games more casually. “That’s influential in how we design and make our games, because ultimately it’s about making a game which is accessible and fun to play. You can’t, of course, cater to every audience, but you can to a degree, have elements which cater to a wider audience than normal,” he continues.
“Not many people want to hear that, because obviously it means, just maybe, changing your directors.” Above: Abubakar Salim starring as ‘Father’ in HBO’s Raised by Wolves
“So when we talk about things like diversity, for example, it doesn’t just mean being ethnically diverse,” says Philips. “It means gender, it also means having a different background, you know, these film, television, and game backgrounds all blending together to bring something new.” And a more diverse team should create more diverse work, Salim tells us: “We do need more diverse stories, and we do need more different perspectives. But you know, the average sort of gamer doesn’t really care about the person who you’re playing as. They want to play, they want to escape in the game, it’s the game that they care about. And it’s the story that they care about. So if you are able to tell a really good story, and in that way, also include something from your own perspective, then you’re winning rather than necessarily forcing it down their throats.” “We didn’t have diversity hire targets...” Philips notes. “It’s totally about representation,” she adds. “And I think we are a testament to that, we’re a woman and a black man making games, heading up a studio. And because of that, it just naturally brings a more diverse range of applicants.” “Let’s be really clear and honest here,” continues Salim. “In the games industry a lot of experienced people, who have games under their belts, are white men. But that’s inherent in a lot of other industries too, it’s something that is bigger than the game industry itself, it’s a societal thing. But we definitely didn’t approach the idea of hiring because of the colour of someone’s skin. “Our first hire was John Bryce, who is a white male programmer,” he notes. “It’s not like we were saying ‘no, the first hire has got to be a black woman’. Although
funnily enough, the next programmer that we got on board was a black woman and her and John are working magic together.” “People want to work in places where they see themselves,” says Philips. “I’m a big believer, when I was at BAFTA with the Young Games Designers, we did a lot of the programme on ‘See it, Be it’, which is this idea that in order for, say, a young girl to know that she can be in the games industry, she has to see a woman like her working in the games industry, and then she can have that career aspiration. “If you’ve got that within your structure,” as Silver Rain demonstrably has, “then I think that will bring diversity. Not many people want to hear that, because obviously it means, just maybe, changing your directors,” Philips notes pointedly. DUOS While the studio has melded together people from different backgrounds, it’s also brought its two leaders closer together too. ”We do feel like we might have morphed into the one being,” laughs Phillips when she considers the copious hours the two have spent together on Zoom over the last few months. So how do the two split the workload of running the studio? Salim’s role is probably best surmised as creative director: “I’m more into the design side of things. Looking at the more creative elements of the experience of the game. I deal with story, I deal with mechanics.” While Philips is there to rein things in sometimes, and keep everyone moving forward: “Okay, we’ve had a lot of fun with this creative stuff. But let’s whack that into documents and implement some strategies, I turn up and go, ‘you’ve spent too long on this’, here’s a timeline… ‘This is what you need to be doing now, in order to be where we need to be in six months.’” Salim notes that it’s not a strict divide, though. “Mel comes in with elements of design, which she would like to see in the game because ultimately the game that we are interested in making is catering to a wider audience.” Adding that: “It’s catered to people who play games, of course, who love playing games and who love kind of breaking them, but also people who have never played games at all.” BUILDING UNDER COVID Of course a lot of people have been playing a lot more games over the past six months, and while the established industry has largely rolled on, it’s good to hear that the pandemic has also had something of a benefit to those just finding their feet. ”I do think COVID-19 has kind of helped in a way,” Philips tells us. “Because while we miss out on going
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˅ ˅ ˅ ʴ ʸ ˊ ʔ ʺ ˁ ˅ʼ ʻʼ ʸ ˊʸʵˆʼ̌ ˂ˈ˅ ˆʸʸ ˆʔ ʿ ʷʸˇʴʼ ʸ ˅ ˂ ˀ ʹ˂˅
˅ˆ ʶʴ˅ʸʸ ʾʢ ˈ ʡ ˂ ʶ ʡ ˍʴ˅ʷ ʼ ˂ˁˈˇʿ ʶ ˂ ʶ ʡ ˊ
ˢ˨˚˛ʲ ˡ ʸ ˗ ˥ ˔ ˭ ˜ ˨ʿ ˢ ˌ ˘ ˥ ʖʴ
ʸʧʲ ˈ ʻ ʼ̌ ˊ ˁʺ ˂ʺʔ ʼ ʿ ʾ ʵ ˅ ˅ ˂ ˈ ˊ ˂ ˂ˈˇ ʾ ʶ ʸ ʶ˂ˀ ʶʻ ʡ ʴʿ
˂ˁ ʴˇʼ ˇ ʿ ˈ ˆ ʶ˂ˁ ˯ ˇ ˅ ˈ˃˃˂ ˆ ˯ ˇ ˃ˀʸˁ ˂ ʿ ʸ ˉ ʷʸ ˀʸ ʴ ʺ ˂ ʷʸ ˉʼ ʽ˂ˈ˅ˁ ʿ ˈˁ˅ʸʴ
ʸʷʡ ˅ʸˆʸ˅ˉ ʺʻˇˆ ˅ʼ ʿ ʿ ʴ ʡ ˁ ˂ ʼ ˅ʴˇ ʶ˂˅˃˂ ʹˇ ʶ˅˂ˆ˂ ˀʼ ʣʥʣ ʥ ˻ ʙ ʸˉʸˆϯ ˇʻʼ ˂ʹ ˆʸʴ
into London and having lunch and chatting to people in person, we can now do four meetings in one afternoon!” “And it doesn’t matter where they are either,” she continues. “In terms of connecting to perhaps publishers or people that we wouldn’t have had a geographical connection with… now we’re equally able to contact anyone anywhere. “That’s how we’ve built the team as well, we have people working all over the world. It’s not just UK based… we were remote anyway before, but [the pandemic] definitely helped open up flexible working practices and brought in people that perhaps weren’t aware of it or were suspicious of it before.” The pair are certainly at ease in our Zoom interview, and for good reason explains Philips: “Both Abu and I are good at presenting. Abu’s an actor, I obviously came from BAFTA where I did a lot of workshops and master classes. So weirdly, that’s worked in our favour because we know how to put together a good presentation, we know how to speak about the studio. And, of course, we would have loved to have done that face to face but we don’t need to, we have those skills. And that’s worked in our favour.” ACTING UP While doing the motion capture and voice for Bayek in Origins was a crucial step towards the creation of Silver Rain, Salim’s role in HBO’s critically-acclaimed Raised by Wolves, from Ridley Scott no less, looks set to make Salim a widely-recognised star. “What I’m bringing from doing the voice acting on other games is I’ve learned to a degree how studio mentality works and especially with Assassin’s Creed, because I was on that game for a year and-a-half I was able to gain a lot of insight into the elements of what it means to actually make a game. “Now of course Ubisoft is massive with thousands of people, so of course that is no way to compare in regards to like our studio, which only has like less than 30, but ultimately what it did teach me were the different elements that are part of making the whole. Working, collectively to actually build an experience.” One thing that Salim won’t be drawn on is whether he’ll be voicing the game himself, preferring instead to keep that a secret until its unveiling. Undoubtedly having an experienced actor on staff has its upsides, but one possible issue is that Salim is still a working actor, so how does that play out when he goes off to shoot other projects? “I think ultimately that’s the blessing of having someone like Mel, leading while I’m away,” Salim tells us. And that’s what’s also brilliant about the leads that we have on our team, they know the vision of what needs to be created and crafted. And I trust them.”
Salim says he’s not a “control freak” and explains: “I enjoy being challenged, and it’s not my story to tell, this game isn’t just my game, it’s our game, it’s our studio’s game.” He also notes that the acting provides other benefits, such as exposure. ”And that works towards even marketing the game. Every time that I’m in an interview now, where I talk about Raised By Wolves, I’m mentioning the game studio, I’m mentioning the people in the team because they are part of me, in a sense.” Philips adds that they will be growing the team as well in the future. “We definitely want to grow the team, so that there’s a structure there, a really sound structure, so that Abu can go off and do his acting because that’s ultimately been what we want from the start.” We suggest that there are creative benefits to having a director who is making other work, that variety is inspiring and re-energises you, compared to someone who is ‘just’ doing game development 365 days a year. Salim agrees, saying: “The work that I’m doing with Ridley Scott has really helped give me the kind of oomph to really sort of take control, take the plunge, it gives me the belief in what I’m trying to do.” BELIEVE IN BETTER And the developer is looking for a publishing partner that has similar belief in Silver Rain’s big ambitions. “Ultimately, I think me and Mel have both agreed on this is that we are looking for a partner, not only just a business partner, of course, but ultimately we’re looking for someone to grow and really kind of explore and change the industry together with.” “We have big hopes, we’re looking not just at a two or three year plan, states Philips . “We’re looking ahead further than that in terms of what we want to do as a studio, things we may want to branch out into or explore. We have those big dreams and need somebody that can support them and knows how to direct us as well.” While the proof is certainly in the pudding when it comes to new games studios, Silver Rain is an exciting prospect, one that looks to be flourishing in its early stages, and one that given recent events, looks well positioned to tell the kind of stories that the industry is much in need of. “We’re very lucky in the sense that we came into this with incredible industry connections, but also that the games industry has wanted to support us,” concludes Philips. “It’s been six months building a diverse studio, going through COVID-19, with a Black Lives Matter movement, a second #MeToo movement in games – all in the last six months. We’re all still here, which we’re quite proud of.”
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VALHALLA Chris Wallace finds out about the work that went into producing the audio described trailer for one of this year’s biggest releases
Above and right: Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and Diane Johnson from Descriptive Video Works
he Assassin’s Creed franchise has in recent years garnered significant praise for its accessibility options. In an industry where these options are still sadly far from the norm, Ubisoft to its credit has gone to some lengths to ensure the series remains accessible to as many players as possible. It was hardly a surprise, then (though no less welcome) when the reveal for the upcoming Assassin’s Creed Valhalla was accompanied by an audio description (AD) trailer. The trailer was put together by Descriptive Video Works, working in collaboration with Ubisoft. The company works to make all kinds of videos accessible and enjoyable to people who are blind and lowvision by adding audio descriptions. We sat down with Diane Johnson, head of studio at Descriptive Video Works to find out more about the work that goes into making Ubisoft’s vikings more accessible.
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“The biggest challenge with trailers... is fitting accurate descriptions into the small gaps between voiceovers, dialogue, and important sound effects” video and doesn’t stand out in the wrong way. We have a diverse team of professional narrators that we work with, so we can choose the right voice type and accent for any project. They have been trained in the subtle readings required for AD and can bring the right tone to any genre. It is also why we use all real human voices – no synthetic voices yet – because there is a bit of emotion required in the voice for it to really fit the atmosphere. What other challenges are there in audio descriptions – such as keeping descriptions succinct while remaining age-appropriate? Audio description is a complex art. Our writers go through a special in-house training to prepare them. Some of the challenges they face include describing difficult scenes such as violence or sex without censorship and choosing the perfect word for both the time available and the intended audience of the video.
What are the challenges behind adding audio description to a trailer like Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla? Is it a balance to provide accurate descriptions for visually impaired players, while still maintaining the intended atmosphere of the trailer? The biggest challenge with trailers, especially a visually rich one like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, is fitting accurate descriptions into the small gaps between voiceovers, dialogue, and important sound effects. It is an exercise in careful word choice to bring maximum impact with minimum syllables. We have to carefully choose what to describe and how to describe it. There is also a challenge to sounding like our descriptions are a natural part of the trailer so they are part of a seamless audio experience for someone who is blind. We want to make sure they know which voice is the audio description, so it can’t sound just like anyone else in the video, but it also must sound like it is a part of the
What was your reaction to the response to the audio description trailer for Valhalla? We were blown away! With most projects, we send the client the AD track and don’t hear anything after. It gets broadcast on TV or goes up on a streaming service, and we never really know how many people listened to it or what they thought of it. Every once in a while, we get someone who will email us or post about the AD on a project we worked on social media, which is so lovely. I think the biggest response recently was when Netflix released AD for all seasons of Breaking Bad. We were thrilled to have done this back catalogue project for them, and we received several kind compliments and expressions of gratitude for that one – maybe 12 people reached out to us. In contrast, the described trailer for Valhalla was posted on YouTube, where there’s a count of how many people have viewed it and an active comment section. Right now, it is at over 62,000 views for the described version alone, and so many comments! We have loved the compliments, especially the people who want our narrator to describe the whole game to them. And we’ve been bemused by the people who obviously stumbled upon it without knowing what audio description is or who it serves. There was a lot of education going
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on in the comments where people were explaining to each other that blind people do indeed use the internet, watch YouTube videos, and play video games. How did the collaboration with Ubisoft come about? What level of input does the publisher have over the audio described trailer? Ubisoft approached us, wanting to take a next step in accessibility. They already work really hard on accessibility issues, and getting trailers audio described is an easy way to include another audience in the fun and excitement of their releases. One of the many cool things about the Valhalla AD trailer was that it was released at the same time as the non-described trailer. It wasn’t an after-thought; people who are blind and low-vision were able to experience the trailer at the same time as everyone else. Ubisoft was very hands-on with the AD process. First, we had a conversation about what needed to be written into the AD so we’d be including the details and Easter Eggs that people would be talking about, so the AD audience would be equally able to participate in those conversations. Then we sent them several demos of possible narrators for them to choose from. Next, we sent them a copy of the AD script before recording it for their approval. It was very much a collaboration. We do have clients who prefer to be more hands-off and we can accommodate that as well. We’ve been doing audio description for 17 years, so producers know that they can just send us the video and know that it will be done correctly.
Why do you feel it is important to have authentic and diverse casting of narrators, especially within the LGBT community? We have been able to work on a very diverse body of work, which has led us to grow a very diverse team of narrators. When we choose a narrator for a project, especially one that has themes around race or LGBT issues, we want to respect both the needs and intentions of the project and we want to offer the audience the very best listening experience. We secure a narrator who sounds like they could be part of the story that’s being told. What more can video games do to promote further accessibility? We may be a bit biased, but we feel that audio description is the next step in video game accessibility, and it is just a matter of which company is going to do it first. The recent release of The Last of Us Part 2 set a new high standard with all its amazing accessibility features, and we see audio description of cut scenes and animation as the next barrier for gaming studios to tackle. The coming of new gaming consoles that will have more memory available for audio means it will be easier to have that extra audio track for the descriptions, and that takes care of the technological challenge, so now it’s just which game will be the first to take advantage of the possibility. What audio description will do for gamers who are blind and lowvision is let them become more immersed in the world of the game, to better understand the environment they are interacting with and enjoy the story of the game more. It is all about making sure everyone can enjoy the entertainment they love equally.
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COMBATING CRUNCH IN A CRISIS Chris Wallace talks to Modern Wolfâ€™s Fernando Rizo about Necronator: Dead Wrong, and how the publisher is maintaining its developer-friendly values during a pandemic
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ecronator: Dead Wrong, described as a “a deck building roguelike with an RTS twist,” is the latest title to come from publisher Modern Wolf, and Indonesia-based indie developer Toge Productions. The game has just left early access, doing so during an incredibly unique time – during a global pandemic that has turned both consumer’s playing habits and development schedules upside down, as we largely continue to work from home remotely. Developer Toge Productions got their start in development a decade ago producing Flash games. Their work on Necronator: Dead Wrong is an evolution on one of their early Flash titles, Necronator, expanded into a fully-fledged PC title with Modern Wolf ’s support. It’s an impressive achievement from a studio with such humble beginnings. Especially considering their association with Modern Wolf, a publisher who, as they explained to us last year, allows their developers a great amount of creative freedom. It’s a lot of trust to put into such a team, particularly one working remotely during a lockdown. Additionally, in that same interview, Modern Wolf revealed its focus on caring for the mental health of its developers. Of course, our interview last year took place long before COVID-19 came to dominate our lives. How has the publisher’s approach changed during these presecendented times? To answer all these questions, and expand on the logistics of handling a game like this during a pandemic, we sat down with Fernando Rizo co-founder & CEO at Modern Wolf.
What is the inspiration behind Necronator: Dead Wrong? Our partners, Toge Productions, got their start making truly incredible Flash games over 10 years ago. One of their favourites (and ours too) was Necronator, a zombie RTS game with gorgeous pixel art. We wanted to see what a full-fat PC game version of Necronator could be, taking inspiration from contemporary classics like Slay the Spire and Dream Quest. I’m thrilled with how it’s turned out. It’s a genuinely innovative spin on the Slay/Dream Quest formula and it’s a ton of fun. Modern Wolf is known for allowing its developers a large amount of creative control. What is it about this project and Toge Productions that inspires this confidence? I think the reason that we can give such wide latitude to our developers is that we are very picky about who we sign. Toge are great custodians of our trust: they are world-class devs with a clear vision for what they were trying to create from the very outset. They sold us on that vision and they’ve absolutely delivered on it.
How smooth has been the transition from Early Access to a full release, given you are presumably working remotely? It hasn’t been without its problems but I think our struggles have been relatively minor. Modern Wolf has staff based remotely and our developers are scattered all over the globe from Indonesia to Poland to New York. So, because of that we were already used to conducting day-to-day business on Slack and Google Meet; transitioning to doing that full-time was an incremental change. We’re lucky: if we were in the musical theatre or close-up magic business we’d be properly screwed. No complaints. Are you looking to publish further titles in Early Access? Our next game, Ostranauts, will be an Early Access title as well but that is strictly a coincidence. None of our other announced games are planned for Early Access. It’s great for some games, like Necronator, where getting feedback from hundreds, thousands of players can help you achieve game balance. Not every title needs it so you won’t see it too much from us in 2021. What are the challenges of launching during a pandemic? The death of the trade show circuit has definitely been a blow. It’s been interesting to watch the transition to digital events: it feels very 1st-gen right now, with a lot of growing pains and questionable consumer engagement. We got to play a part in Guerrilla Collective which was a wonderful grassroots experience, and watching some of the bigger established names in the show business struggle to insta-pivot to digital events is a bit painful. Again, I don’t want to tempt the universe by bellyaching here: at least we can still sell our products and, if anything, there’s probably a whole new cohort of people out there who have taken up gaming during lockdown. We’ve got nothing to whinge about, relatively.
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In a previous interview with us, you said that you wanted to make indie developers a sustainable business. Do you feel you offer a sense of job security? I think we genuinely have helped our devs make better games and we’ve provided business coaching, too, when folks needed it. Our devs also have access to our board of directors and the knowledge and experience of our parent company, Supernova Capital. Knowledge sharing is a big thing for us. We try to approach everything with humility and seeking to learn from every encounter, every engagement. You have more titles scheduled for release this year, has COVID-19 impacted these upcoming releases? Yes, Ostranauts had to be pushed back, but Kosmokrats is still on track. Dev teams in the US have had it tougher than most, I think, given the severe disruption from the epidemic there. How have you made sure that employees avoid crunch while working remotely from home, where the work/life boundaries are more blurred than ever? Part of the answer is helping our devs & staff stay on top of their mental health. This week is the Modern Wolf Developer Conference, which we held virtually of course. One of the best-attended talks was a mental health professional we brought in to talk about self-care and self-monitoring and enforcing healthy work practices. That kind of stuff is as useful for us as it is for our devs: we never want to be paternalistic with advice. We take the same medicine as everyone. The other part of the answer is just staying true to who we are. If we threw in the towel on opposing crunch just because we hit a crisis, then that position was never worth a damn.
We are simply institutionally against crunch. That’s because my co-founder Andreas and I have experienced it, and I’ve had mental health struggles of my own, too. We are always on the lookout for signs that our devs need help and we are doing our best to be good partners for them. We haven’t compromised on crunch and I hope we never do. How have you maintained a focus on the well-being of your staff in the current climate? I think the first good thing we did, as soon as we realised lockdown was coming, was to give every staff member wide discretion to buy whatever they needed to make their home office setups more comfortable. Employers have an ironclad responsibility to provide a safe, healthy working environment and now that working environment was inside our staff ’s homes. So we told them: buy what you need. Proper office chair? Multi-monitor setup? Some quality headphones? The last thing we wanted was our folks hunched over a laptop like Gollum for 6 months. Just as important as that has been to just be real and open and encourage our staff to be real and open right back. We talk a lot in groups and one-to-one. We’ve been reminding folks to take time off. Many Fridays we knock off the afternoon and play Jackbox games and shoot the breeze. That passive connection you get from being co-located is gone, so we try to actively cultivate that as much as we can without getting into ‘mandatory fun’ territory. I think it’s worked, and you can see the evidence in Necronator: Dead Wrong and the launch campaign for it. We’ve got a great team and they’re doing great work because they’re happy to be here.
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Swift Spotlight: Levelling up the new academic year As students begin a new academic year, Grads in Games are ensuring that games graduates are just as prepared for employment as those that came before them. IT goes without saying, the effects of COVID-19 have been widely felt by everybody, with the higher education sector being no different. Whether it be the A levels fiasco and subsequent U-turn, the drastic reduction in international travel, or the ongoing need for social distancing measures, universities and other HE institutions are having to adapt to new challenges. One integral part of graduate life which will be affected, as the next 12 months unfold, is the collaboration between the games industry and academia. It cannot be underestimated how important it is for students to receive regular visits from industry professionals, whether they’re coming in to present their advice, carrying out workshops, providing portfolio reviews, or networking. Many universities are planning on continuing with remote teaching either in full, or as part of a blended learning approach. This means that many of these in-person visits just won’t be happening this year, including our regular visits to universities as part of our Get in the Game University Tour (we visited over 30 universities last academic year!) The industry can’t afford for this year’s graduates to be less prepared than those that came before them, especially as we head into the next generation of games. This is why Grads in Games will soon be launching our brand new Get in the Game offering, in the form of Get in the Game: Online Journeys. We will be providing students with a large amount of original video tutorials and advice, covering a wide range of different topics. Video presentations are being created by our studio partners, a host of industry professionals, and of course the Grads in Games team as we write. The Get in the Game: Online Journeys will allow a student to follow a set path for their discipline, furthering their understanding of the skills that studios look for when hiring graduates. From tips for building a kick-ass portfolio, to how to build a games industry specific CV, and deep dives into how to get the most out of certain software and techniques by working professionals. With assistance from partner studios such as Frontier Developments, Deep Silver Dambuster, Sumo Digital, Red Kite Games, Steel City Interactive, Natural Motion, nDreams, and Airship Images, as well as our headline partner, d3t, we will be providing students with a huge variety of advice and guidance from many different points of view. For these studios, the opportunity to give back and provide guidance to the next generation of games professionals is a big attraction. Their partnership and involvement in our initiatives guarantees them a targeted audience of students pursuing a career in the games industry.
While the impacts of COVID-19 were felt hard by those who graduated this summer, they will weigh on the mind and experience of current students and the soon-to-be graduates of 2021 too. As the pressures on the next generation increase, we’re taking active steps to ensure that students remain as employable as possible when they’re ready to join the many fantastic studios around the globe. Since our launch 11 years ago, we have worked with thousands of students and graduates, providing independent CV and portfolio advice, delivering careers talks at universities and colleges across the UK and beyond, as well as attending careers events. We continue to provide opportunities for thousands of students to take part in our Search for a Star and d3t Digital Rising Star game development challenges also, allowing students to create a game (or in-game asset) to an industry written brief and get professional feedback. This portfolio piece, and our proactive recruitment process with our partners, has helped hundreds of graduates attain their first industry role.
Above: Andy Driver, Operations Manager, Grads in Games
There is still time for more studios to explore a partnership with Grads in Games for the 20/21 academic year! Should your studio wish to work with us, or provide content for Get in the Game: Online Journeys, you can explore the different options by contacting Andy Driver (Operations Manager) at email@example.com
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KEY DATES FOR 2020 ENTRIES OPEN 30th July ENTRIES CLOSE 4th September JUDGING 21st September until 2nd October SHORTLIST ANNOUNCED 9th October EVENT 25th November
Join us for the Women in Games Awards 2020 We’ve been overwhelmed with entries for the Women in Games Awards 2020. And despite the ongoing pandemic, we’re more determined than ever to celebrate the huge contribution of women in the games industry (wherever they may be working from at present!) Usually the event takes place in June, but this year we’ve had to move it back to the 25th of November. We have a fantastic venue booked for the event, and we’re conﬁdent that we’ll be able to use it at a suitable capacity. However as we can’t predict the status of the pandemic, or the rules that will be in place, we have also extended this year’s event with a digital option. That will
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mean that more people than ever will be able to watch the awards and celebrate the achievements of the UK’s most talented women. The shortlist will be available soon and ﬁnal judging will begin. A big thanks to all of our judges for putting in the time and effort to choose our winners. We’ll be featuring them all in an upcoming feature on the state of play for women in the industry We’d like to thank our sponsors for this year’s event, without which it would not be possible: Rare, Facebook Gaming, Unity, EA, Amiqus, Creative Assembly, Hangar 13, OPM Jobs and Splash Damage.
AWARD CATEGORIES 2020 Rising Star of the Year – Development Sponsored by Creative Assembly This award recognises exceptional new talent in games development and design. This award is for an individual who has been working in games development for less than four years. Rising Star of the Year – Business This award recognises a leading up-and-coming talent working in the business/commercial side of the games industry. This award is for an individual who is working in any (nondevelopment) games role and has been in the industry for less than four years. Creative Impact of the Year This award recognises creative achievements in games development over the last year – including (but not limited to) art & animation, music & sound design, game & level design, plus writing & narrative design. This award is for an individual who has been working in games development for more than four years. Technical Impact of the Year In association with Made with Unity This award recognises technical achievements in games development over the last 12 months – including (but not limited to) programming, live ops, IT support, appropriate VFX and those working on development tools – both internally
or for commercial use. This award is for an individual who has been working in games development for more than four years.
inspirational and sometimes ground breaking in its approach, tone and focus. Career Mentor of the Year Sponsored by Hangar 13 This award recognises an individual who is dedicated to encouraging and mentoring others in the games industry. Be that internally as part of a studio, working in formal education, or through running events or meetups.
Comms Impact of the Year This award recognises an individual’s achievements in bringing games to the public over the last year, including those working in marketing, PR, events, esports, inﬂuencer and creative agencies, plus any other communications-related roles. Nominees must have been working in the games industry for more than four years. Businesswoman of the Year Sponsored by Amiqus The Businesswoman of the Year award recognises an executive who has had a stellar 12 months in terms of driving a company forward and generating signiﬁcant revenues. Nominees must have been working in the games industry for more than four years. Journalist of the Year Whether you work in print, online, in video, or any other format, if you have something to say and an audience who listens and trusts you then this award recognises your contribution to the industry. This award will highlight an individual who is using their voice to positively build the industry as well as hold it to account when needed. Their work should be
Games Campaigner of the Year Sponsored by OPM Jobs This award recognises women working who are actively campaigning for greater diversity in the games industry or who are using games to speak out on broader social issues affecting women. Nominees will successfully occupy the space between the industry and the consumer, inﬂuencing the perception of the video games industry by the rest of the world. Outstanding Contribution Sponsored by Rare This award reﬂects upon the life of someone who has had a lengthy and successful career in the games industry. Winners will have consistently made positive contributions to the games industry, commercially or creatively, while enabling and inspiring others in the industry to succeed.
WWW.WOMENINGAMESAWARDS.COM Headline Sponsor
Award Sponsor (Businesswoman of the Year)
Exclusive Media Partner
Award Sponsor (Rising Star – Development)
In association with
Award Sponsor (Career Mentor of the Year)
After Party Sponsor
Award Sponsor (Games campaigner of the Year)
Attendance is on an invitation-only basis. To register your interest please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Achieve more with less with Automated App Ads Automated App Ads was designed to simplify some of the complex challenges you may face when launching and growing your game This article was first published on the Facebook Gaming Marketing blog. When it comes to your app ad campaigns, every dollar needs to drive impact on your game and growth. However, performance can be volatile, sustaining performance when you scale is often complex, and running numerous campaigns often requires a lot of effort. When Facebook introduced app install ads in 2012, it was the start of an ongoing journey to create ad solutions and tools that empower advertisers to achieve the best performance for their ads and drive continued growth. Built on powerful machine learning, Automated App Ads was designed for today’s advertiser. It was created to solve some of the complex challenges you may face when launching and growing your game. Automated App Ads can be used by businesses of all sizes who want to grow their games through greater scale and sustained ad performance, it can help drive more of the results they value, and streamline campaign and creative management.
How Automated App Ads can work for you Scale campaigns with sustained performance: As you scale budgets, machine learning and automation help sustain campaign performance over time. In early tests, Ilyon saw Automated App Ads help grow their game Cube Rush Adventure with 150% more installs and 29% higher return on ad spend compared to their normal app ad campaigns. “The performance sustained over the duration of our AAA campaign thanks to the automation of creative testing and then delivering to high-value audiences on placements across Facebook” – Reut Leibel, user acquisition manager, Ilyon. Automatically test and deliver highperforming creative: Provide up to 50 different images and videos with up to 5 text variations. Dynamic Creative Optimization will automatically test combinations and deliver the highest-performing ads.
Left: Varun Aggarwal is a product manager in the Facebook Ads team. His primary focus is helping mobile app install advertisers achieve their performance goals through Facebook. Varun has spearheaded the development of Automated App Ads and is an active proponent of automation.
Optimize for your goals in new and improved ways: Improved delivery models for app install, app event and value optimization help drive better results. For advertisers looking to drive both volume of installs and value of downstream events like purchase, the new optimization App Installs with Events balances app installs with app events (purchase only) in a single campaign. GameHouse saw Automated App Ads help drive 25% more installs, 40% lower cost per purchase and 2X higher D7 ROAS for their game Delicious World compared to normal app ad campaigns, in early tests. By switching to Automated App Ads, it allowed them to free up time to connect more with product teams and work on holistic strategies to increase the number of players who enjoy their games. “Compared to many other ad networks, it took very little time for our Automated App Ads campaigns to start producing results. The campaign began to achieve its goals almost from day one. CPI and CPA remained at the same level throughout the test without unexpected spikes. We also observed that many abandoned creatives, including static images, found a second life in the AAA campaigns. This was in addition to the obvious–saving time for creating campaigns, which can be spent on longer-term initiatives.” – Anton Degtiarov, user acquisition manager, GameHouse.
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Reach more people in more places: Input the app store, country, and optimization goal and machine learning will reach more people you value. Automatic Placements will deliver your ads to the people you value at the lowest cost across Facebook, Instagram and Audience Network.
Ad campaigns versus your business-as-usual app install campaigns with no overlap. If your Automated App Ads campaigns and usual app install campaigns have an overlap in delivering to the same audience, our machine learning may prevent Automated App Ads from achieving the best performance.
Achieve goals more efficiently: Automated App Ads uses a simplified structure to prevent audience overlap and to reduce the number of campaigns to get results: one campaign, one ad set, one ad. A streamlined campaign creation with fewer inputs means campaigns can launch faster.
Getting started: Automated App Ads is available for the app install objective and will roll out with more features in the coming months. We are committed to providing solutions and tools that enable businesses to grow. With Automated App Ads, it is our next step to help you achieve sustainability in your app ads and we can’t wait to continue building on it.
In early tests, Rovio used Automated App Ads to promote its Sugar Blast game and achieved similar results to their existing manual app ads with 50% fewer campaigns and saw 33% higher D7 pay conversion. “Automated App Adds not only ran independently saving us time and allowing us to focus on building quality creatives and testing, but also delivered steady ROI and retention similar to our BAU set up.” - Mikhail Bu-Shakra, Performance Marketing Specialist, Rovio. Test to help decide the best strategy for your business goals: To determine whether Automated App Ads is the right strategy for you, first run an A/B test using Automated App
“When it comes to your app ad campaigns, every dollar needs to drive impact on your game and growth.” September 2020 MCV/DEVELOP | 61
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‘All games are relevant, but some are more relevant than others’ Orwell’s novel has become alarmingly relevant in today’s political climate. Chris Wallace sits down with Imre Jele to find out how he and his team are adapting this 75-year old classic
ou know, at nearly 30 years old, I never thought I’d find myself writing about Animal Farm again. George Orwell’s classic 1945 novel Animal Farm has been a staple of the British school curriculum for years. There exists, somewhere, multiple school essays of mine detailing how Orwell created a biting critique against fascism and Stalinist Russia amidst, in my dumb child brain’s perspective, a fun story about some pigs.
As a supposed adult, I never imagined I’d be revisiting Orwell’s novel. But then as a naive child I never expected that the dangers of fascism would become a very current reality. And while my school essays are undoubtedly fascinating reads, worthy of the lofty editorial heights of MCV/DEVELOP, I thankfully have something a little more on-brand to talk about this month. Inspired by our unfortunate reality, and to mark the 75th anniversary of the original novel’s release, a small collective of indie
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developers have worked with the Orwell estate to create an Animal Farm video game. I may have been naive when it comes to the dangers of authoritarian regimes. But project founder Imre Jele, who grew up in Hungary, has a more direct perspective, something that has informed the game’s development. THE HISTORY “I grew up in a communist country,” Jele begins, “so Animal Farm was very important to me. I lived most of my life through what we described as a ‘soft regime.’ But my family was still affected, you know, an uncle who disappeared overnight, never to be seen again – that sort of shit. “But I was the last generation who was still clapping for the big leader. I was just at the end of the old regime but still affected by it, and it was very important to understand what was happening in our country.” It’s this personal history, and a lifelong love of Orwell (Jele describes his three favourite childhood novels as an eclectic mix of Winnie the Pooh, The Little Prince and Animal Farm) that drove him to the project. “There were a couple of projects, which were dream projects I wanted to do, and Animal Farm was one of them. A few years ago, I did a big cleansing exercise, which I think took a month or two. Every time I’d remember an idea, I would write it on a piece of paper. And then I categorised them into ‘this must happen’ to ‘I really want it to happen,’ and ‘it’s not that important’. And then, I took the second two groups and set them on fire. “It was a very spiritual exercise for me to clean up my head, because it felt like it was clogging up my mind – I’m not clever enough to keep that many ideas in my head, so I needed to clear that out. And Animal Farm was on that very, very short list of things which I felt like I really must do.” The game is not just inspired by the past, of course, but unfortunately draws inspiration from our current global political climate, and a warning of what could be still to come. “I think these things lurk up on you,” Jele notes. “People think that oppression like dictatorships and extremism happens overnight, but it doesn’t. It builds up, there are natural processes which lead to that, and then people ride the wave of that and in the process, encourage those things to happen – it’s like a feedback loop. “I think that the people who were keeping an eye on current politics, probably have been seeing this happen for a while now. I would say it’s definitely been since 9/11, that there’s a very clear trend. And what
I’ve noticed, watching politicians and figureheads and journalists, is that I started to recognise language. When I first noticed it just made me feel uncomfortable, and I didn’t quite know why. “And then and then there was a moment like, ‘oh my God, I’ve heard this before. I’ve heard this exact sentence!’ Except replace that word with ‘capitalist spies,’ and replace that word with whatever minority or group of society you want to attack. I was like, I’ve heard that sometimes myself in a communist regime. And I’ve seen them in in the history books for Nazi Germany and other oppressions and I was like, this is a slippery slope, what is happening? “I would say that today, the language used is like Khrushchevian Russia, like the Soviet Union. It’s not quite Stalin yet, but very close. Five years ago, ten years ago, I said, Oh, you know, it’s almost Khrushchevian. Now, it’s way beyond that and getting into Stalinian language. The way things are set up and the way governments behave, even in Western democracies is quite creepy.
Imre Jele, project founder, and also co-founder of Bossa Studios
“You know, an uncle who disappeared overnight, never to be seen again – that sort of shit.” “So it felt that there is more to this than a literary adaptation. It was more than just the fact that the book is really important to me, and I think we can make a great game out of it. I felt that there is a responsibility to bring that to life and bring it in front of people. How wonderful would it be if this game – even just hearing
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about it – would make someone read Animal Farm or 1984, if it would make someone be more conscious and aware of the language used by the ruling caste and the trends of history... I mean, these are the big dreams. But the fact is that Animal Farm has done that for 75 years. So our job is to just to try to be as faithful as we can to Orwell’s work and put it in front of people. And I don’t have to make political commentary – Orwell already did. I just have to put the book in front of people and allow them to reflect on what they learned from it. So it definitely feels like this is the right time to bring this game out.” The game, which is scheduled to release this year, puts the player in the shoes of the novel’s narrator. Perhaps best described as an adventure game, the player can choose which character they want to listen to, while maintaining the farm’s systems, maintaining its food and defence levels. KEEPING THE FAITH Given Jele’s passion for the original work, it makes sense that he was determined to stay as faithful to Orwell as is possible to be when adapting it for a video game, only adding aspects to the narrative that would have made sense in the context of the original novel. “We have a really fantastic team, and everyone on the team agrees that our job is not to reinvent Animal Farm. I always say the same thing – we don’t want Animal Farm: in Space!”
Speak for yourself Imre, but do go on. “Well, our goal was not that. Our goal was, look, Orwell figured it out. We use the word ‘Orwellian’ for a reason, right? Like, this guy figured it out, so let’s be faithful to that. And I’m not saying that adaptations can’t take creative liberties – of course they can. That’s fine, but we wanted to get it as close as we can.” Of course, staying faithful to the original is easier said than done. Animal Farm is one of the most widely-read novels out there. How do you encapsulate what a specific novel is, when it has meant so many different things to so many different people over generations? “So then we come to that process of adaptation, especially with such an emotionally charged book, in such a politically charged environment. It’s very difficult not to adapt, right? “When you read the book and imagine it in your head, you’ve already adapted it. The book in your head looks different than the one in my head. Anyone who says that their personal idea of the novel is not in their own creation is either dumb or a liar. Of course it is, but what you can do as a professional is to always go back to your pillars and ask: ‘Is this what Animal Farm is about, or am I taking liberties here? Are those liberties acceptable? What would Orwell do?’ “I think our process works and I’m quite proud of it because we’ve tried to stick to the book and extend in a way that we felt Orwell would have done. Let me give you an example. In the book, it is mentioned explicitly that the ruling pigs use birds as spies to spy on neighbouring farms. But what the book does not cover, but one can
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assume, is that of course, they would also use the birds to spy on their own animals. “And then suddenly that’s something which makes sense in that universe, and is very current. It’s relevant to our life today because of mass surveillance, and it makes sense. And it’s present in 1984, with the ever watching television screen, so we know Orwell would have agreed. “So with that thought process, we could find a couple of instances of taking an idea which was in the book, and taking a couple of steps forward and find an interpretation of how they look in 2020. But again, there’s a very strict process to not add anything that we can avoid adding. And again, we have a great team, with everyone looking over each other’s shoulder to ensure that we don’t run away with our own biases and perspectives. Because ultimately, I don’t want people to debate my opinion. I want people to debate Orwell’s opinion.” THE FARMHANDS Jele is just as keen to enthuse about Orwell as he is about the team that has assembled around this project. The indie collective working on the game consists of The Dairymen (Just Flight and AppyNation founder Andy Payne, alongside Jele) and Reigns developer Nerial. Additionally, the game features the writing talent of renown interactive fiction writer Emily Short, alongside Abubakar Salim (of Assassin’s Creed: Origins fame, also see page 44) stepping in as the voice of the narrator. He seems openly ecstatic to be working with this team, who he credits as his creative inspirations long before Animal Farm went into development. “I was talking to Andy [before development], and I was explaining some of my references. There are games like Papers, Please, which you know, who wouldn’t be inspired by that? And it fits for the theme. But another was Reigns, by Nerial. “I remember when it came out,” says Jele, “I sent François [Alliot, managing director at Nerial] an email to congratulate him. I didn’t even know François back then. Reigns is one of those games that makes you angry, because why didn’t you think of it? “And then all these years later, I was like, well, why don’t I talk to him? So I reached out and they were just pumped about getting on board. We’re very excited because they bring in that understanding of combining narrative with this live level of Tycoony interaction. “And then for the longest time, we’ve worked with some very talented writers, who have contributed and helped in finding the right language. And ultimately, I’m a big fan of interactive fiction in general, and Emily
Short – she’s gonna hate me for saying this – is like the queen of interactive fiction. She’s just amazing. If you search for best interactive fiction ever, like from the top ten, four of them are going to be hers. She’s amazing. I really love her work. And so I went asking her to advise someone to write for us, and she replied ‘well, how
about me?’ So I was really excited for her coming on board. “We also have Kate Saxon, who has been the voice director and performance director of countless successful video games. We have Abubakar Salim, who played Bayek in Assassin’s Creed. Like, all of these people we approached were like ‘yeah, we’d love to. When?’ We were able to build this team who are effectively independent indies from various sources, various companies and coming together specifically for this game. Yeah, I’m very excited.
“Because ultimately, I don’t want people to debate my opinion. I want people to debate Orwell’s opinion.” “Nerial and Emily in particular, they make a huge difference. This game would not be this good without them. It doesn’t matter how many decades I’ve been thinking about it. They just took it to a whole new level, which I’m so grateful for. You know, they really saved me from myself. “It’s extremely humbling and terrifying to live up to a 75 year legacy, and a name which is part of everyday discourse. But the team really wants to live up to expectations, and it seems that the audience is keen to hear and keen to experience Animal Farm on a new platform.”
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The Final Boss Every month an industry leader wraps up MCV/DEVELOP with their unique insight
You‘ve been CEO at Splash Damage for almost two years now, what’s your vision for the studio? When we founded the studio almost 20 years ago. We didn’t know much about values, vision, or pillars, but we knew we wanted to make games that allowed people to make friends online, just as we had. That’s now our studio mission: ‘We create lifelong friendships through multiplayer games’. But that means something different now. We realised that people were building lifelong friendships at Splash Damage while making our games. That was a lightbulb moment for us; we realised that we have a huge responsibility, not only to the amazing IP we work on, or our partners, or even our fans but to the people who work here. That vision of creating friendships has informed so much in my 20 years at Splash, but especially the past two as CEO. Our teams have worked to build an amazing culture, and the last two years have really seen a drive to make Splash Damage more progressive, diverse, and welcoming. I wish I could take credit for it, but in truth, I just got out the way and empowered those in the know. You’ve worked on some huge IPs owned by others, what’s your advice for such successful partnerships? This is going to sound weird, but being a huge nerd helps! We’ve been fortunate enough to have worked on some big IPs; Batman, Halo, Gears, etc, and the one thing that all of those projects had in common was our love of that IP. This goes back to our origins as well, of working on Doom, Quake and Wolfenstein, we grew up playing these games. Quake was my true first experience of playing online albeit on a rickety 56K modem, so of course we’d jump at the opportunity to work on it. That’s one part. The second is about understanding your partner. What’s important to them? How do they work? Where do they want to take the IP? I know it sounds like I’m teaching people to suck eggs, but being clear and communicating well are so important to any successful relationship, business or otherwise. And I guess, most importantly remembering that each big IP will already have existing fans, so do your homework and treat them with respect.
Richard Jolly Co-founder & CEO Splash Damage
“What I can do is use my position for good. I can empower the right people to make the right changes.”
With respect to your current role, what is/was your dream job? Much to my dad’s horror, two years into my architecture degree, I chose to switch to one focused on games (the first in the world at the time). Given the choice I would have always chosen games, but back then it wasn’t the known career path it is today. There is no greater freedom than building games where the laws of physics need not apply, but I still have a passion for designing ‘physical’ environments all the same. So while our teams are all fully working remotely, we’re taking the opportunity to redesign parts of the studio. I’m currently getting under the feet of our facilities team helping to rebuild our breakout spaces to create a great environment for everyone to come back to. What are the biggest challenges today in the games industry? How much time do you have? Brexit, the impact of COVID on development, issues around abuse and harassment, a lack of diversity, poor representation from poorer economic backgrounds, sustainable development, preservation of gaming history… the list is long. I’m not an expert in lots of these areas, but what I can do is use my position for good. I can empower the right people to make the right changes. To give them the support and resources they need to help make a difference.
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