MCV/DEVELOP ISSUE 970
TIME TO MAKE A SWITCH Advice on changing careers within the industry BRINGING IT TO MARKET-ING Top marketers discuss today's landscape
THE ART AND BUSINESS OF VIDEO GAMES
It's time to move on for...
JOIN US AT IRL FOR THE INDUSTRY’S FIRST COMEBACK EVENT SEPTEMBER 16TH TICKETS ON SALE NOW SEE PAGE 4 WWW.IRL-EVENT.COM JULY/AUGUST 2021
OVERBOARD: NO n HYPE, NO WISHLISTS, NO PROBLEM!
XBOX’S INDIE WHISPERER
W ARGAMING ON n THAMES: ABOARD HMS BELFAST
Agostino Simonetta on joining Thunderful Games, the outlook from platform, and how publishing is undergoing a Darwinian evolution
DEVELOP:BRIGHTON n BACK BY THE SEA FOR 2021
WHEN WE MADE... n LOST WORDS: BEYOND THE PAGE
05 The Editor
06 Critical Path
The key dates this month
10 Industry Voices
Comment from around the industry
12 Thunderful Games
Xbox's indie champion moves on
18 Ins and Outs
This month's hires and moves
22 Debugging D&I
Polystream's new pledge
23 Recruiter Hotseat
CCP Games in the hotseat
14 12 34
24 Career Switch
Fancy a change?
28 Bringing it to Marketing
Top marketers discuss their strategies
No hype, no wishlists, no problem
Everything you need to know for 2021
42 Back to School
With Doki Doki Literature Club Plus!
46 Wargaming on Thames
World of Warships x HMS Belfast
50 Take Two & Nordeus
Top Eleven dev joins the team
The best indies looking for partners
58 The Art Of...
Yes, Your Grace
62 When We Made...
Lost Words: Beyond the Page
66 The Final Boss
Lick PR's Kat Osman
July/August 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 03
JOIN US IRL THIS SEPTEMBER 16TH THE INDUSTRY’S FIRST COMEBACK EVENT NOMINATE YOUR CHAMPIONS TODAY TICKETS ARE ON SALE NOW We’re excited to launch an entirely new MCV/DEVELOP industry event. It’s been a long time since we’ve all been able to gather en masse and mid-September now looks to be the right time for such a gathering. This isn’t our usual awards, IRL will be a more casual, more inclusive event, designed and priced so that anyone and everyone in the industry can attend, socialise and network. It has both an (optional) relaxed afternoon drop-in session (2-5pm), and a more upbeat main evening event (7pm til late).
As a part of IRL we’ll be celebrating the industry’s standout individuals from the last 18 months. Please nominate your own champions for an award and join us for a great night out. We’re looking forward to seeing you IRL. With regards to the pandemic, we are monitoring the situation and will take appropriate safety measures at the time of the event.
Tickets and award nominations: www.irl-event.com
FAMILY OF BRANDS
“Closer to home, but still months away from actually coming home, is the new OLED version of the Switch”
TheEditor Great expectations While it’s not the grandest or most noble of aims, it often seems that managing expectations is the skill that matters above all others, especially when you’re navigating unknown waters. Take the pandemic for instance (don’t worry, this isn’t a pandemic piece!), where the outcomes are so awful and unprecedented, that our expectations are constantly shifting with each new, unimaginable blow. Managing them is near impossible. Another recent example is the England football team. Expectations started at breezily optimistic I’d say, and then as the tournament opened up, and they beat a few half-decent sides, became an unstoppable juggernaut – turbocharged by 15 months of misery as much by 55 years of hurt. Whatever you might think of Southgate’s on-field decision making, he walked the fine line between optimism and pragmatism perfectly in interviews. Closer to home, but still months away from actually coming home, is the new OLED version of the Nintendo Switch. It’s a perfect example of how doing nothing is certainly not the way to manage expectations. A small hint from Nintendo a few months ago that the company was working on a modest update to the current hardware for Q4 would have done a lot to stem the hype, and eventual disappointment, that this was not the second coming, but simply a rather nice tweak. Inkle’s Jon Ingold makes an excellent point (on page 34) when he talks about setting out expectations and meeting them. “If you want to make people really happy about a game, you have to give them an idea they can understand and then meet or exceed that idea. If you ever fall below the idea that they form in their heads, then you’ve failed.” Admittedly that’s easier to achieve with an indie game than the hopes and dreams that go with a national football team, but great advice nonetheless. It’s something to keep in mind when you’re promoting your game, your console, your world-beating health service etc. Expectations are very important, and meeting them is essential to long-term success. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t set your stall out with delights, just don’t overburden it with hubris. For my part, we’re currently finalising the details for our IRL event, a kind of comeback party for the industry in September. The venue is lovely, there will be good drinks and food, and we’ll celebrate some wonderful people and generally have some fun. I’m optimistic that it will be a great night out, simply because I think all of you really want to make it a great night out. If your expectations of IRL are in line with your desire to see your friends, peers and colleagues again, then I think all our expectations will be met. I hope to see you there. Seth Barton firstname.lastname@example.org
July/August 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 05
Here are the key upcoming events and releases to mark in your calendar...
Critical Path NEO: The World Ends With You This action RPG is a sequel to the 2007 Nintendo DS title, The World Ends with You. This features a new cast of characters in a recreated and stylized version of the Shibuya district in Tokyo. A number of the creators of the original game have returned for NEO, including creative producer and character designer Tetsuya Nomura, character designer Gen Kobayashi and director Takeharu Ishimoto.
Lemnis Gate Lemnis Gate, developed by Ratloop Games Canada and published by Frontier Foundry, is a turn-based combat strategy FPS taking place in a time loop. Try saying that six times fast. Players have 25 seconds to execute their move, be it blasting an enemy, manoeuvring an operative, or setting up their next move. After all players have taken turns, then further 25-second loops are layered over the first.
The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles Two previously Japanese-only entries to the Ace Attorney series are finally making their way to the West. The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is a collection of those two games from Capcom: The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures (originally released in 2015) and The Great Ace Attorney 2: Resolve (originally released in 2017). Both games take the Ace Attorney series back in time to the dawn of the 20th century, with the legendary Herlock Sholmes (due to tiresome US legal hoo-hah) making an appearance. I’ve never wanted anything more in my life than to be playing these games right now.
06 | MCV/DEVELOP July/August 2021
Kena: Bridge of Spirits Kena: Bridge of Spirits captured all our hearts upon its first reveal, and we’re excited to find out more when it comes to PS4, PS5 and PC in August. Developed and published by Ember Lab, the game follows Kena, a young spirit guide who uses her magical abilities to help deceased people move from the physical to the spirit world. Kena is aided in her task by small spirits called the Rot, who are far more adorable than their name suggests.
Kitaria Fables Developed by Twin Hearts and published by PQube, Kitaria Fables is an action adventure fused with RPG and farming elements. Armed with sword, bow and spellbook, players fight against a rising darkness threatening the world. Plunder dungeons in search of relics and resources, tend to your farm to make provisions and potions, and take on quests solo, or with a friend! Kitaria Fables will be releasing on PC, PS4, PS5, Switch and Xbox consoles.
Psychonauts 2 The long, long-awaited sequel to Double Fine’s 2005 platforming classic is finally here. And it’s certainly been a long time coming – Psychonauts 2 was first announced all the way back at The Game Awards 2015! Developed by Double Fine and published by Xbox Game Studios, this sequel will pick up on the events of the 2017 VR title Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin, which itself picked up on the events of the original Psychonauts.
gamescom As with last year’s event, Gamescom 2021 will be online and available for free. Although there’s still a terrifying amount of stuff to experience despite all that (except for endless Kölsch and pork knuckle, as they do not work well digitally). You can expect, among other things: entertainment and news with Gamescom: Opening Night Live, Gamescom studio and Gamescom: Awesome Indies. Gaming content in one place with the revamped content hub Gamescom Now. Plus, community atmosphere thanks to the brand new Gamescom Epix and indie power with the Indie Arena Booth Online.
July/August 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 07
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
ADVERTISING SALES Senior Business Development Manager: Alex Boucher firstname.lastname@example.org +44 (0)7778538431
MANAGEMENT Media Director: Colin Wilkinson email@example.com +44 (0)203 143 8777
SUBSCRIBER CUSTOMER SERVICE To subscribe, change your address, or check on your current account status, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org ARCHIVES Digital editions of the magazine are available to view on ISSUU.com. Recent back issues of the printed edition may be available please call +44 (0)203 143 8777 for more information. INTERNATIONAL MCV/DEVELOP and its content are available for licensing and syndication re-use. Contact Colin Wilkinson for opportunities and permissions: email@example.com
I’ve really enjoyed Overboard! this month (see page 34) and continuing on a nautical theme I headed with friends to Whitstable this month for a long delayed weekend of Eclipse: Second Dawn, an epic 4X board game that ate up every last inch of tabletop that we could throw at it. I highly recommended it.
Listen, if I’ve learned anything from writing this section, it’s that I’ll never be hip or current. I’m playing Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice for the first time in the year of our Lord 2021. I don’t know why it took this long, I’m an enormous Dark Souls and Bloodborne fan. Spoilers: It’s very good, and it’s awoken a hunger for Elden Ring that I never knew I had. Chris Wallace, Staff Writer
I’ve been keeping things as varied as always this month. I’ve been sinking my time into the likes of ChaseRace (an innovative multiplayer strategy racing game), playing plenty of Roblox with my son, as well as dablling with Sonic Racing.
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
Printed by Buxton Press Ltd
Biz Media Ltd, 44 Maiden Lane, London, WC2E 7LN All contents © 2020 Biz Media Ltd. or published under licence. All rights reserved. No part of this magazine may be used, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any way without the prior written permission of the publisher. All information contained in this publication is for information only and is, as far as we are aware, correct at the time of going to press. Biz Media Ltd. cannot accept any responsibility for errors or inaccuracies in such information. You are advised to contact manufacturers and retailers directly with regard to the price of products/services referred to in this publication. Apps and websites mentioned in this publication are not under our control. We are not responsible for their contents or any other changes or updates to them. This magazine is fully independent and not affiliated in any way with the companies mentioned herein. If you submit material to us, you warrant that you own the material and/or have the necessary rights/permissions to supply the material and you automatically grant Biz Media Ltd. and its licensees a licence to publish your submission in whole or in part in any/ all issues and/or editions of publications, in any format published worldwide and on associated websites, social media channels and associated products. Any material you submit is sent at your own risk and, although every care is taken, neither Biz Media Ltd. nor its employees, agents, subcontractors or licensees shall be liable for loss or damage. We assume all unsolicited material is for publication unless otherwise stated, and reserve the right to edit, amend, adapt all submissions.
+44 (0)203 143 8777
Pet: Bowser & Amy Owner: Peter King Owner’s job: SVP business development, Green Man Gaming
Pet: Cooper Owner: Darren Arquette Owner’s job: Senior QA tester, Double Eleven
Pet: Domo Owner: Joanna Haslam Owner’s job: Design director at Snap Finger Click
In hindsight, King probably should have called Amy ‘Peach’ instead. Both are active users of Zoom, and can be seen on many Green Man Gaming BD calls.
Cooper is an energetic, yet lazy, pug full of derb. He’s four years old and loves long walks by the river but loves to be carried back home even more.
This here is Domo! Domo is a very friendly old boy, and he really loves playing outside as well as getting belly rubs from anyone who passes by.
MCV JULAUG21 PQUBE:Layout 1 06/07/2021 08:13 Page 1
Mod Mode Liam Haeburn-Little, Harbottle and Lewis
10 | MCV/DEVELOP July/August 2021
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!
MODS and modding communities have been altering our favourite games for years; often without the blessing of studios. Mods have extended the shelf-life of numerous games and have even birthed highly popular titles such as DOTA 2 or Counter-Strike. Despite the best efforts of developers to restrict mods, it is clear that modding is here to stay for the foreseeable future – the continued appearance of Thomas the Tank Engine in triple-A titles is evidence enough of that. It is no surprise then that many developers are now considering whether to include mod support as standard in their new releases. However, modding can present some thorny legal issues which developers should bear in mind. A number of popular mods are based on adding characters, items and locations from other media. While innocent enough in nature, these mods can amount to the unauthorised use of third-party IP rights. Many IP owners are understandably keen to prevent unlicensed use of their rights and may seek to take action to prevent the distribution of mods that they consider to be infringing. Such action may be taken against the modder directly, but the IP owners could also look to the developer as a much easier (and bigger) target. This will be particularly relevant if the infringing mods are hosted or made available by the developer, either through a platform or the game itself, as rights holders could try to allege that the developer is participating in the distribution of these mods (albeit unwittingly). Modding can also give rise to content that developers find objectionable, for example content that is not appropriate for the age rating of the game. Mods may also include content that is outright illegal, for instance mods that perpetuate hate speech or promote terrorism. Simply having rules in place that prohibit inappropriate content is unlikely to be enough to prevent its creation entirely, and therefore developers should consider how they will enforce these rules. At the very least,
reporting tools would help to alert the developer about this kind of content, but they may also need to perform active monitoring, particularly where there is a risk that the developer could be held responsible by virtue of making such content available to users directly. Ownership of mods can also cause headaches for developers. More often than not, the IP in the game will belong to the developer, but mods will be owned by the modder. Disputes can arise between modders themselves, for example where one user alleges that a particular mod has plagiarised or made unauthorised use of that user’s own creation. While less likely to result in formal legal action, modders may well look to the developer to resolve disputes of this kind, and so giving thought to how these scenarios can be resolved will be a worthwhile exercise. Similarly, there is the possibility that modders will want to remove mods they have created from the game, in which case developers should consider if this is achievable. Although not insurmountable by any means, these issues highlight some important points for developers to consider. However, given that the question for most studios these days is not whether to allow mods, but what to do about them when they inevitably surface, it is understandable that studios may prefer to exert a degree of control over their modding community, rather than banning it altogether. Developers that choose the former approach should be thinking about what content they are comfortable with appearing in-game, what controls and restrictions they need to have in place to limit the creation of prohibited content, and ultimately what can be done when mods and modders breach those rules. Liam Haeburn-Little is an associate at Harbottle and Lewis, where he advises clients in the interactive entertainment and technology industries on a range of commercial and noncontentious intellectual property matters.
Evolution of games – Are you ready for what’s coming next? Philip Oliver, PANIVOX
THE EVOLUTION of games technology has continually foreshadowed the evolution of mass media and we’re now on the cusp of another leap forward - except this time change will be driven by software and creators. As teenagers, my brother and I became fascinated by early computers. We started with a ZX81, with just 1K RAM, a paper keyboard, black and white graphics with 64x48 pixel display in graphic mode. What inspired us was the vision we saw of the inevitable evolution of this technology. Unlike evolution in nature, which is random and slow, this evolution was driven by scientists making technological breakthroughs to increase speed, power, manufacturing processes and cost reductions – which all led to computers advancing very quickly. By the mid-’80s, Andrew and I, aka ‘The Oliver Twins’, had learnt the skills and built tools required to enable us to make great games, knocking out new titles every month, as were many of our peers and, importantly, many hobbyists.
on further hardware breakthroughs; they can be software solutions sitting on top of many different devices, just like with Minecraft. We passionately believe that real commercial success going forward lies in creating new software platforms for services that don’t yet exist – but that people would love if they did. But there’s always the Catch-22: you need content to attract players, but content creators are motivated by large audiences. You need early adopters who see the vision.
ACCELERATING GENERATIONAL EVOLUTION
REAL SUCCESS LIES IN NEW PLATFORMS – NOT NECESSARILY HARDWARE
For the players, the barriers to entry on a new software platform must be as frictionless as possible, with the platform delivering something unique, entertaining, and engaging whilst demonstrating the potential of what’s to come. For the creators, it needs to surpass expectations in its initial iteration. It must be easy to understand and have powerful features to make their work look and sound amazing. Given our background, we believe it’s crucial for any new software platform to offer creation tools that are collaborative and empowering, catering for the hobbyists, who were so important to establishing the games industry in the 1980s, but also for the professionals too. Creators also want to know that they own their work and are in control. They want to see feedback, analytics and have the ability to iterate easily if they want or need to. And, of course, if their work is successful, they need to be properly compensated. Those were our goals when we launched PANIVOX and we’re excited to be channelling them into a new interactive digital media format for both content creators and entertainment brands, alike, who will be able to offer something truly unique to end users. Watch this space - exciting things are coming… for everyone.
Launching new hardware platforms is an incredibly high-risk business. It is the preserve of a few mega-corporations. We all love and encourage their R&D, which pushes the boundaries of what can be achieved creatively. But platforms these days don’t have to rely
Philip Oliver, one half of the Oliver Twins, was co-founder of Radiant Worlds & Blitz Games. Has developed around 150 games. He is now managing director & co-founder at Panivox – which is launching this summer.
HARDWARE ADVANCES CREATED NEW OPPORTUNITIES In the ‘90s we saw the rise of the internet and dial-up modems which enabled limited online multiplayer games. As internet speeds increased through the ‘00s and ‘10s, so too did the impact on what could be achieved with game interactions online. When the iTouch – quickly followed by the iPhone, iPad and then the truckload of Android smartphones – arrived they were more like a revolution. Importantly, these devices meant that our audience for games diversified and grew dramatically.
July/August 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 11
“If I’m leaving Xbox, I need to go to a new home. Not just a new company”
12 | MCV/DEVELOP July/August 2021
The indie whisperer Indie champion Agostino Simonetta is moving on from seven years at ID@Xbox to Swedish publisher Thunderful Games. Seth Barton takes the opportunity to tap into his immense insight into the publishing market from stints at both Xbox and PlayStation, as he discusses the darwinian evolution of publishing
icrosoft is flying high at present, the new consoles are great, Game Pass looks to finally be the longfabled ‘Netflix for games’, and it has made some huge acquisitions and deals of late. So who would leave the company now and why? “It’s not an uncommon question,” admits Thunderful Games’ Agostino Simonetta with a smile. “I’m not running away from Xbox,” he assures us, “I’m running towards a new experience, a new challenge.” Simonetta is well-known in the industry, he’s been Xbox’s chief indie whisperer in Europe for some seven years now, he’s the approachable face of ID@Xbox for countless indie developers and publishers. A presence at pretty much every developer conference and a popular figure to boot. That’s in part because he’s lived that life himself. “It’s part of my DNA. I started at an indie developer, seven people in an italian villa, metal desks, in a basement. I came up through development.” And then he went on to stints at Sega, PlayStation and more before coming to Xbox. And his passion for the indie space remains unquestionable. “I have this passion for the independent movement, for the content, but also for the DNA of the people working in this space. I always said, If I ever leave the platform, and I have a new role, a different role, and grow in my career, I still want to be anchored in this space.
“I don’t want to leave this space. I want to leverage and take advantage of the learning of so many years across all the disciplines to actually go out and carry on engaging, working and helping independent developers be as successful as they can be. “Nobody can guarantee success. But you try your best to help people” he adds, something that many can certainly attest to. And now he’s taking that experience, that desire to help, over to Thunderful Games. “When Brjann [Sigurgeirsson, CEO and founder of Thunderful] and I touched on it the first time, we were just having our regular catch up. And I said to Brian, ‘I’m at a point where I need to decide what I want to do with my career’. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that what I’ve learned over the last 20 years, really suits the needs they have. They needed someone with my professional DNA to come in and help shape an already successful business.” WAS THAT THUNDERFUL I HEARD? If I told you that Thunderful Games was a Swedish company that was looking to grow, you might just glaze over a little. What with the country becoming increasingly well-known for a raft of actively acquisitive investment vehicles, such as Embracer and EG7, alongside its well respected development community. Thunderful though includes aspects of both sides of the Swedish games success story.
July/August 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 13
Thunderful was born out of a merger between regional distributor Bergsala and some top indie talent. That includes Zoink, creators of the stylish Fe and upcoming EA Original Lost in Random; Image and Form, best known for the SteamWorld series; Bridge Constructor developer Headup Games, and the UK-based Coatsink, developers of Esper and Jurassic World: Aftermath and many more. At present it numbers some 280 staff across its various arms. Coatsink has long had its own publishing segment, and the company has also absorbed Rising Star games in that area in recent years. With recent hits including home grown titles such as SteamWorld Quest, and externally developed ones, such as Lonely Mountains Downhill – a personal favourite of mine. Simonetta is certainly not starting from scratch then. “They already have a great reputation from a creative point of view, their last ten titles have an 80 per cent average on metacritic. They signed some incredible titles, so I’m going to be able to help them grow and continue on this positive trajectory. “If I’m leaving Xbox, I need to go to a new home, right? Not just a company. They are at the right moment in their growth for me to be able to bring my expertise and help them accelerate that growth, and actually shape that growth,” he adds. ROLLING THUNDER-FUL It’s early days obviously, but we do have some idea of what shape that growth might take. Simonetta is certainly bullish on the company’s ambitions: “It’s a company that has the means to expand, we will publish more games, we want to potentially merge and acquire more companies, we want to invest in games. “The ecosystem has changed a lot,” says Simonetta. “So what I want to build, from a very good starting point, is a company that is able to adapt to the different needs of different partners.” He goes on to explain that there’s a huge variety of needs from modern developers, some require publishing services, some have a game that they want to extend onto other platforms or into other regions, some need capital investment, either in a specific project or in the studio as a whole. Some want to be a part of something bigger to help guide their growth. “So my role will be to work with the development studio, share my learning, after so many years with a platform, to help the amazing creative we already have. Working with the publishing team, finding the best games, finding the best developers, to bring great content to the Thunderful label, to go out and invest in development.”
14 | MCV/DEVELOP July/August 2021
PROFESSIONAL EVOLUTION The core theme of our discussion is the changing face of games publishing. How the retail era of one-size fits some has given way to a far more flexible era of digital pricing and with it far more flexible publishers, who have to provide a wide range of services at varying levels. “The ecosystem has changed a lot, says Simonetta. “There are a lot of sources of money, there a lot of publishing opportunities, the platforms are doing partnerships, the ecosystem is so different from a monolithic structure that goes out and says: ‘How much money do you want? We’re gonna publish your game. This is the terms’. “It doesn’t exist anymore, this is the beauty of the digital revolution. So I want to make sure that we have an offering that can adapt to the needs of our partners, the days of publishers dictating the terms of the conversation have finally gone. For the best! It’s such a competitive market, healthy competition. And these different opportunities, really help companies to be their best selves.” And that process of change hasn’t stopped, says Simonetta, it’s now a constant evolution. One that has brought with it a brilliant uncertainty in where the next big thing might come from. “I think I learnt in the last 12 years [working at] platforms. What’s going to be successful today, or tomorrow, can change very quickly. When I first started back in the very early days, it was slightly easier to predict success! Today, you can’t, and that’s why we want to strengthen our outreach and our ability to have conversations with the widest range of partners, the widest range of backgrounds.” STYLE MATTERS If you look at the images on this page, you can see that Image and Form’s SteamWorld titles, Zoink’s Lost in Random and some of Coatsink’s work has some elements in common, an illustrated style maybe, a feeling of craftsmanship, but depicting things that feel distinctly other, there’s little versimilitude here. So we wonder whether Thunderful will become a vehicle for that style, whether as a publisher it will try and build an identity, something consumers will come to know it for? “When you look at our internal studio, we were discussing with Klaus [Lyngeled, CEO at Zoink for 20 years and now head of development for Thunderful] recently, we want to keep growing those studios, we want to really service those IPs, they are so loved by the community. But also we want to build new IP.
“I don’t think I would ever say ‘These are the kind of games we do’. Maybe with my background at platform, where you look at your portfolio in a more holistic way, I think you want to have your eyes open to great experiences that land on your lap.” That said he doesn’t deny similarities amongst some of the group’s most beloved titles. “But when you look at some of the titles that are coming in, they’re actually very, very different. So no, I like the idea of having a diverse portfolio. It’s early days, but I think in principle, my experience tells me to actually be open to different style of games, different types, categories, multiplayer, single player, different business models, you need to be open minded.” INDEPENDENT THINKING Being open-minded is a good thing, though even ambitious publishers (surely even ambitious Swedish publishers) still have their limits when it comes to budgets, so just how big is Thunderful looking to go when it comes to investing in titles? “I don’t know at what point that limit is,” admits Simonetta. “But it’s a very ambitious company with big, big goals. And that’s what we want developers and partners out there to know. We’re here with deep enough pockets, we want to invest, we want to help people. And talk to us, if you fall into pretty much all those different buckets.” And those developers could be anything from single person studios up to “double-A or triple-I” outfits. That said, Simonetta is keen to move away from the term ‘indie’, feeling that it doesn’t describe many such publishers clearly enough. “I think ‘indie publisher’ is again a term that served a purpose for a time. Sometimes you can use ‘digital publisher’, if your focus is actually in the digital space or if the digital space is the primary driver of your considerations and decisions. You can do some retail opportunity on the side. But the digital mindset is the driver of your strategy decision. “I think there’s still places where you want to use ‘indie’, to help the conversation, but I think it’s meaningless. ‘Independence’ is a better term when you talk about independent developers.” After all, indie still has connotations of smallness. While independent includes a much larger swathe of game developers, many of which may have significant internal publishing functions of their own. CHANGING FACES Self-publishing was all the rage a few years back, digital distribution and Kickstarter looked to point to a new
way for developers to do business, directly with their fans: “I think that there was a moment in time where at a certain level, in terms of investment, where developers did not want to have a publisher. At that point in time, the market was different; the challenges were different; the way people discovered games was different. And I think over time, the concept of working with someone came back.”
Above (from Top): Coatsink’s They Suspect Nothing, Zoink’s Lost in Random, and Image and Form’s SteamWorld series show the strength of art and design across the group
July/August 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 15
The dream of full independence certainly proved harder than imagined for many, and so publishers have come back into vogue (if they ever really went away), but that doesn’t mean they haven’t adapted. “It’s really in a Darwinian way,” points out Simonetta. “That’s my theory, that we look at the gaming business from an ecosystem point of view. And you look at the last few years, and there have been these evolutions where companies had to adapt and respond to survive. Companies are being flexible, able to respond and able to read the market. I think that’s something I like to think I can bring to Thunderful. This learning and experience of looking at how the market is evolving and how the pieces fit together. And bring a bit of perspective. Most immediately that’s about being flexible to developers’ needs. “We want to offer a buffet of options in how people work with us, developers may say, ‘I need money, but I don’t need your marketing team’. Or, ‘I need a bit of your money, I need a bit of your marketing, and a bit of your testing, but we do community management ourselves’. Or ‘I only want to do one platform at a time, can you help me with the other console?’” And while many publishers are now offering that flexibility, having one that is backed up by a considerable amount of develop talent and understanding is still the exception rather than the rule. But even putting that to one side, such diversification in service, has allowed publishers to have points of differentiation, to create a market that’s about more than simply different cuts, milestones and recoup terms. MARKET DAY Another reason that publishers are changing is to reflect the first accelerating changes in the consumer market. The most notable of course being Game Pass, hailing from Simonetta’s former home. It’s a subject he’s keen to talk on, but as a multi-platform publisher he’s also keen to point out both sides of the fence. “I can answer that question going broader than just Xbox,” he begins. “While at PlayStation I was part of the team that launched PS Plus, in finding third-party content for it. “And actually I was there when we acquired [streaming service] GaiKai and we were working with our partners on getting content for what is today PS Now. Obviously at Xbox I played a part in bringing content to Game Pass. “I’m a great believer in the model. I’m a massive fan of Game Pass, but also PlayStation Now and PlayStation Plus, the Humble Choice monthly bundle as well as the Ubisoft services. I really think that there is great value in those offerings.
16 | MCV/DEVELOP July/August 2021
“I am a great believer that companies need to look at the ecosystem and the new platform, the new distribution models, business models, and actually see how they work for that content and do the right thing for that content.” A case by case approach then, something that can get lost in the great surge of excitement to be a part of ‘the latest thing’. Although that excitement has also created something of a vocal backlash in some sections of the gaming community. “We had premium single player, and then people started panicking because multiplayer was coming in, killing single player experiences! And then people were panicking because free to play was coming, killing everything else! And then subscriptions are coming – this is going to kill everything! And now cloud streaming…” He smiles. “I’m a great believer in the coexistence of business models. All those models have a place in an industry that keeps growing year over year. I think new models, whatever they are, are additive.” The question he posits is how those new models shape the market. “As a professional, in my role, I’m never going to be scared of new models, I’m not going to panic that the new models will kill the business for everyone. Ultimately, there’s never been a better time to be a creator of content, a publisher of content, a distributor of content. There has never been a better selection of a wide buffet of games, there has never been a bigger market than there is today.” So does that mean Thunderful is ready to create a storm beyond its current homeland of single-player premium content? “As a company of our size, I don’t think you can ignore any of them. I think you need to engage with them at the right time with the right product. I haven’t fully formulated this strategy yet. But I know that you can’t ignore any of them.” And he notes that it’s smaller, digitally-minded publishers that will always be amongst the first to tackle new opportunities. “I am never scared of change, change tends to be for the best. As a company, you need to be able to understand what best works for you on a title by title basis or a studio for studio basis. To know how you evolve your strategy to adjust. “Some people like to be early adopters of new initiatives… Something I always said at Xbox, is that independent developers and digital publishers tend to be the first ones to jump in. “When we launched game preview at Xbox, the early access model. The early adopters were smaller publishers, smaller developers rather than the bigger guys. “I believe in embracing change. You need to both embrace change, and work with the changing ecosystem.”
MCV JUN21 EEBZ:Layout 1 21/05/2021 12:28 Page 1
Brought to you by
Ins and Outs: Industry hires and moves 1
Splash Damage starts our special bumper edition of Ins and Outs with seven new hires. First, LASSE VON FINTEL SOSTACK (1) joins as a level designer. Sostack co-founded an indie game company in 2016 called Tunnel Vision Games who released their first commercial game at the beginning of 2020.
AFRICA CURIEL GALVEZ (5) joins Splash Damage as a narrative designer. Before joining Splash, Gálvez was a narrative designer on Anno 1800 at Ubisoft Mainz. She began at Ubisoft as a game writer, prior to this she was working at Nomada Studio on Gris while located in Barcelona.
Next up, PAULINE MARTYN (2) joins as an associate technical narrative designer. Before joining Splash, Martyn worked as a junior narrative designer at Ubisoft Reflections for two years. In that time, she focused on narrative and cinematic design for Assassin’s Creed VR.
Still at Splash, AMY STEVENS (6) joins as a technical narrative designer. Stevens previously worked as a technical artist at Sumo Newcastle on Hood: Outlaws and Legends.
ALAN O’DEA (3) meanwhile joins Splash as product manager. Before joining Splash, Alan lectured in Games Business and Production at Staffordshire University. ASHLEY SPARLING (4) joins as a lead character artist. Before joining Splash, he was working as a lead character artist on an unannounced title at Jagex.
Finally at Splash Damage, LUCIAN BRANESCUMIHAILA (7) joins the company as a principal backend engineer. He previously worked at Digit (now part of Scopely) on Star Trek: Fleet Command. Sumo Digital also has seven new hires. First, FELICITY HAGUE (8) joins Sumo Sheffield as HR admin lead. Hague is an experienced HR specialist with over 15 years experience, including as deputy HR manager at Home Instead
At Sumo Leamington meanwhile, MARCUS SKOV (9) joins as technical UI director. Skov joins the team in Leamington following experience at Frontier Developments, as a UI Designer and W12 Studios, as a Product Designer. Still at Sumo Leamington, MIKE HOOTON (10) has joined as product manager. Hooton joins the team following eight years of experience as a product manager at Konami Europe, working on YuGi-Oh! Digital and Trading Card Games.
SEAN QUINN (13) joins Sumo Leamginton as live operations manager. Quinn worked in investment and project management for 11 years, before pivoting to the games industry. Since then he has worked at Pixel Toys and Kwalee as an Analyst, with his most recent experience as a contractor for Warner Bros. and Rocksteady. Finally at Sumo, JOHN FOSTER (14) has joined Sumo Sheffield as lead game designer. Foster has 18 years experience working at both small indie studios and Sony PlayStation.
DIEGO RIVERO (11) has joined Sumo Sheffield as a programmer. Rivero has twelve years of experience in the games industry prior to joining Sumo, and has spent the last six years working as a UI developer for EA Games.
There’s a changeup in the leadership over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Former editor in chief GRAHAM SMITH (15) has left his role after over six years to work as audience development manager for ReedPop.
Next up, CHARLIE POYSER (12) joins Sumo Group as a social marketing manager. Poyser joins the team at Sumo Digital following six years of experience within digital marketing.
Replacing Smith is former RPS hardware editor KATHARINE CASTLE (16). Castle joined RPS back in 2017, and was previously our most excellent news editor here at MCV.
CCP Games has four new hires at their London office (check out page 23 for more about that). First, GRANT TASKER (17) joins CCP’s London studio as their first brand director. Tasker will be leading marketing efforts to take their online tactical shooter to new horizons. ALISTAIR FORBES (18) joins the London studio as a core tech engineer. Forbes previously worked as a developer at Spirit AI and King. KURTIS LAMB (19) is another new employee at the CCP London Studio, who joins as a senior back end engineer working on distributed systems and infrastructure at MMO scale. Lamb comes from Covea Insurance and Trans Union UK. MATT SOUTHALL (20) is the new 3D asset artist for CCP London. His role there is to create a wide range of 3D assets for the environment team. Southall has a wealth of experience in the industry, including Splash Damage and PixelHeros Games.
Got an appointment you’d like to share with the industry? Email Chris Wallace at email@example.com 18 | MCV/DEVELOP July/August 2021
Brought to you by
CHARLOTTE NANGLE (29) has left her position as partnerships manager at Gamer Network/ReedPop to join Neonhive as their new brand manager. Nangle was previously at Curve Digital, and holds the honour of having previously been Develop’s sales manager and MCV’s account manager.
MCV/DEVELOP 30 under 30 alumni BEN MALTZ-JONES (32) has joined Larian Studios as a commercial operations specialist. Maltz-Jones joins from Rebellion, where he spent the past two years, having joined in 2019 as a social media & marketing executive, before being promoted to community manager. He has also previously worked for REWIND, Nintendo of Europe and omuk.
TOM MOORE (35) has joined SIDE Audio as their marketing manager. Moore joins the team from Havas entertainment, where he worked for two years – joining the team as an account executive before being promoted to account manager. He has also previously worked at Bright Bee PR.
Runescape creator Jagex has two new hires. First, CHRIS PFEIFFER (21) is Jagex Partners’ new director of product management, with responsibility for leading a team of product managers and developing a strategy for driving long-term player retention for new titles. STUART BOTTELL (22) comes onboard as platform partnerships Lead at Jagex, Bottell has previously held commercial manager roles at EA and then PlayStation. EA has announced the departure of both Codemasters CEO FRANK SAGNIER (23) as well as the CFO RASHID VARACHIA (24). The pair will be stepping down from their roles in July, and it was revealed in a statement that their departure had “always been part of the plan.” Slightly Mad Studios’ CEO Ian Bell will remain in his position, while Clive Moody (SVP of product development) and Jonathan Bunney (SVP of publishing) will now lead Codemasters.
Curve Digital has appointed two new executive producers. BRADLEY CROOKS (25) joins having enjoyed stints at 22 Cans as COO, and at the BBC as global head of games & interactive. RICH KEEN (26) also joins the company as an executive producer. In the games industry, Keen is best known for his time as marketing director at Sony PlayStation. MATT STYLES (27) has moved on from a long stint at Gamer Network/ReedPop to join Roucan as commercial director. Roucan was established at the beginning of the year by David Lilley, former head of events at ReedPop UK. LOUISA KEIGHT (28) has joined Ukie as their new Communications and Content Officer. Keight has previously worked at the advertising agency RD Content and has joined Ukie following a stint in the press and complaints team at renewable energy specialist Bulb. This is her first job in the industry.
Robot Teddy has hired two new consultants to join the team. First, MELISSA CHAPLIN (30) joins the team from Game If You Are, where she was working as head of client strategy, having been promoted from the role of marketing strategist. Chaplin is a Women in Games ambassador, and has worked for the likes of Salix Games and ORA Pearls. Robot Teddy’s second new consultant is SAM D’ELIA (31). D’Elia joins from BAFTA, where he has spent the past five years. D’Elia joined BAFTA in 2016 as a partnerships manager, before being promoted to games awards officer. D’Ella has also worked for London Book & Screen Week.
DANIELLE AMOS (33) has joined Honest PR as senior PR manager. Amos’ previous roles include senior PR positions at the likes of UberStrategist and Heaven Media. Prior to that she worked in house at Jagex for just under a decade. Video games mental health charity, Safe In Our World has announced that DR. GINA JACKSON OBE (34) has joined as CEO. Jackson became an OBE in the 2020 Queen’s Birthday Honours, she is also a recent recipient of the MCV/DEVELOP Women in Games award for Outstanding Contribution.
JOOST VAN DREUNEN (36) has joined Niko Partners as an advisor. Dreunen was the cofounder and CEO of games market research firm SuperData, and also teaches at the NYU Stern School of Business and is author of One Up: Creativity, Competition, and the Global Business of Video Games. After six years, SIMON BYRON (37) is leaving his position as publishing director at Curve Digital. Byron didn’t share details on where he was headed next, saying on Twitter: “Enormously proud of the work I did there but now it’s time for a change. I’m currently working through exactly what that looks like. I hope to confirm something very soon.”
Got an appointment you’d like to share with the industry? Email Chris Wallace at firstname.lastname@example.org July/August 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 19
Brought to you by
Every month, we pick the brain of an up-and-coming talent
Zee Inczewska, senior social media manager at Uplift Games, talks about their desire to make a difference, improving diversity through being seen and how things always change
How did you break into games? I had my start in the esports industry, volunteering as a teen when I still lived in Poland. I got to go to IEM Katowice in 2015 as a volunteer photographer for a content website, and when I got there I just knew I needed to work with games and communities. At that point, I didn’t even know what I could do and what people in games really did, but the atmosphere and palpable emotion I could feel in Spodek, the venue, was just it for me. Years later, in 2019, I got to go once again as an ESL employee, which felt so full circle. What has been your proudest achievement so far? After one of our YouTube videos where I talked about having Crohn’s Disease, one of our players tagged me on social media to let me know they’ve just been diagnosed, and things have been hard. But, they said, seeing someone go through what they did and be able to work somewhere they loved so much
“I love being able to make a difference in a young person’s life and make their days a little bit better”
was tricky — I wasn’t sure exactly which career path I wanted to pursue, and many companies weren’t convinced by my freelance experience. Fortunately, Uplift Games was looking for just that, and I’ve been so lucky to grow with the team and pursue interests that don’t just fit my responsibilities.
has really helped them. That’s exactly why I talk about these things openly, and I’m glad I can be that for kids who are going through what I went through. I think about it all the time. In terms of ‘big social media number’ proudest achievements, growing our TikTok to 4 million followers has been kind of wild, and I’ve learned so much from our community doing that. Our community keeps showing up in the best ways, and I couldn’t be prouder than that. What has been your biggest challenge to date? The switch from working freelance in various roles in communications to fitting in a full-time specialist position after a personal life change
What do you enjoy most about your job? I love being able to make a difference in a young person’s life and make their days a little bit better — by posting something purely fun, having a connection with them as their favourite game, or helping them see themselves represented and celebrated in media, social or in-game. I’m also grateful for my team. We are encouraged to be ourselves and be silly and playful, and I really appreciate having that. I’ve known some of my coworkers for years, and we’ve been bonded by the industry, so we have each other’s backs for good. What’s your biggest ambition in games? I want to tell stories to people who need to see themselves in the world and stories about how much better the world is with the diverse people in it. I know how important it is for people to feel like they belong somewhere, and games are just that for many of us. What advice would you give to an aspiring Social Media Manager? Never get comfortable — things change more rapidly than you could ever imagine. All of this is so new!! Just have fun and remember to connect with people.
If there’s a rising star at your company, contact Chris Wallace at email@example.com 20 | MCV/DEVELOP July/August 2021
Cherry picked advice to help you reach the next level in your career
Chris Filip, programme manager at Creative England, talks on building a network, taking a long-term approach to experience, and the value of seeing the wider context well as designing support sessions or giving feedback to our Project Coordinators and delivery partners such as Ukie.
What is your job role and how would you describe your typical day at work? I am a programme manager for Creative England’s bespoke Creative Enterprise programme, developed with National Lottery funding from the BFI. As part of the non-profit group Creative UK, we create opportunities for creative entrepreneurs to grow their businesses. Together with the Creative Enterprise team and our partners, I design and deliver a number of business support and funding programmes, including the New Ideas Fund, the Evolve Investor Readiness programme, and the Games ScaleUp programme. A typical day at work begins with reading emails and reviewing new applications we may have received, then catching up with the news from our policy and press teams, before starting on my day-to-day tasks. These usually involve communicating with the different members of the team and our programme speakers, as
What qualifications and/or experience do you need to land this job? In my case it was my past work supporting game developers and businesses to grow, and my wider experience in the games industry. My role specifically focuses on building programmes that give opportunities to practitioners in the English regions outside of London. Having worked with Game Anglia in the East of England I have an understanding of the challenges facing the games industry outside of London, and my experience designing and delivering sessions at the Tentacle Zone showed my ability to help businesses to grow. Taking a long-term approach to gaining experience and growing your network also helps. I started working in the UK games sector four years ago, with zero connections, but in that time I’ve created a network of individuals and organisations who know and want to work with me because I always ask ‘How can I help you?’, and I deliver on my promises. My contacts also include emerging voices in the sector, who are exactly the type of people I’m looking to engage with in my new role. If you were interviewing someone for your team, what would you look for? Our team works with the screen industry outside of London, so I would look for someone with experience of supporting creative businesses across the wider UK landscape. I would also consider how their knowledge can add to the team, for example a background in VFX or immersive. Lastly, I would value a
passion for the creative sectors and the ability to join the dots. While our work is specialist and we often speak to people very focused on particular disciplines, it is also important that we can understand the wider context of the creative and screen industries, as well as our role within it. What opportunities are there for career progression? If you have a look at the CVs for our company’s employees, you will be hard pressed to find a typical progression trend. I really appreciate the breadth of the company’s mission, scope and influence, which allows me to explore my interests and develop my skills. As programme manager, I can gain experience across different areas including project management, marketing, events, business development, stakeholder engagement and content curation. All of these are transferable skills which can allow someone in my role to pursue whatever career route they seek, across any creative sub sector. This can range from leading or managing partnerships, to creative consultancy and business development, or curating and delivering large-scale events.
“I’ve created a network who want to work with me because I always ask ‘How can I help you?’ and I deliver on my promises.”
Want to talk about your career and inspire people to follow the same path? Contact Chris Wallace at firstname.lastname@example.org
July/August 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 21
Brought to you by
Debugging D&I How do you take the first steps when it comes to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI)? Liz Prince speaks to Michelle Rendall, director of business operations at Polystream about the company’s newly launched pledge… Tell us about the motivation behind this pledge at Polystream. We wanted our pledge to reflect our company culture and support every step of our employees’ careers, and show our commitment to creating an environment where everyone feels safe and has a voice. What were your first steps? It must feel like a huge task when starting out – where do you start? It was a little daunting at first! We started by taking a step back and looking at how to compartmentalise it which we did by creating a Polystream inclusion group called ‘Life at Polysteam’. This is an internal group that makes sure EDI is the thread running through everything we are doing. We meet regularly and collectively surface things that are on the teams’ minds, whether it’s work or life, then we discuss things in a constructive, positive way and try to take steps or actions to make things better. We also make sure we celebrate the wins and personal things that the team is doing. It’s amazing how much of a difference we can make by spending that time together, and to keep focusing on our goals; the pledge was grown out of this. What is your key focus right now? We’ve done a lot around mental health and access to support, and are now actively involved in Women in Tech mentorships. Going forward, we’ll continue to evolve the pledge and make sure we remain accountable for it, committing to openly discussing different, sometimes difficult topics as they arise; for example, ‘invisible disabilities’ is a focus right now.
22 | MCV/DEVELOP July/August 2021
Were people happy you were doing this? We were very conscious of not ‘forcing’ people to be part of it. Once we’d set up the inclusion group, we were really pleased to find that we have good representation from across the company. It is supported by the very top senior leadership teams, whilst some people are just happy to know there are other team members they can talk to and raise issues with if they ever need it.
Michelle Rendall, director of business operations at Polystream
Have you changed any of your processes or policies when it comes to things like recruitment? We’ve done a lot of work around how our job descriptions are written (such as using inclusive language, etc) and as part of our pledge, we will only make a hire when we’re satisfied that we’ve sourced and interviewed a diverse range of candidates. What advice would you give to other studios looking to do something similar? I think that there’s a lot of pressure to think “We need policies! We need this all formalised!” and EDI programmes pop up without consideration of who is involved and how they will be upheld in the long term. I think that you need to start by taking measure of where you are currently, where you want to be – and then break it down into actionable steps and priorities. Creating a working inclusion group of individuals who are all focused on championing those goals and priorities is also really important. The Life at Polystream group has allowed us to reach the point we are today – and will help drive our objectives going forward.
At Amiqus, we have many resources available to help, so please do get in touch via email@example.com
Recruiter Hotseat CCP Games is hiring for its London studio! Richard Chipchase gives us the inside story What positions/areas are you hiring for and where are the jobs based? All our open roles are for our London studio, currently based in the heart of Covent Garden. We’re hiring across the board with roles such as Game Design Director, Development Director, Principal AI Engineer, Lead Technical Artist and Lead VFX Artist. We’ll also be expanding the studio’s publishing team soon, with roles across a variety of levels. Additionally, we’re always open to hearing from people who think we need to see what they’re all about. Who knows, maybe we’ll create a role just to make it work! Interested? Check out the current vacancies at: jobs.50skills.com/ccpgames. We currently have over ten open positions but looking more like we’ll hire upwards of 20 this year alone.
doing what you love. Remember that families and health come first and let us take care of everything else. Health and well-being are weekly topics among the HR team and there’s never a time when new ideas or solutions to positively impacting our people’s daily lives aren’t considered. What should aspiring devs do with their CV to get an interview? CV? Let’s not worry about that too much for now. It’s all about who you are that counts. Get the message to us in any shape or form that represents who you are! Send us a cake with your name on it. We like cakes. (Or send us a message via firstname.lastname@example.org, we can work it out from there)
Richard Chipchase, CCP Games
What differentiates your studio from other developers? We haven’t yet started banging the drum about our unannounced project. But we’re close! Until then, CCP London will stay quietly confident of what we’re up to. Excellence. Courage. Unity. Honesty. These are our core values and we’re always on the lookout for signals when we’re interviewing. We are an open book. The more quirky or unique, the better. Awe inspiring ideas do not come from hiring the same thing, the same way, time after time.
What advice would you give for a successful interview at your studio? Relax. Be yourself. We’re not judging you on your ability to do a great interview. Your knowledge and passion for what you do will shine. It’s our job to make you feel comfortable so please let us know how we’re doing. It’s important to us.
What is the culture like at your studio? Watch any of our publicly available videos and interviews with our people and you’ll get a real sense of what it’s like to work here. Hilmar V. Pétursson, our CEO, Adrian Blunt, our Studio Director for London, Erna Arnardóttir, our VP of People – they’re all out there just being themselves and talking about life at CCP Games. At a more granular level, you can expect candid conversations with people who can help take creative ideas either to the next level, or simply move on to the next one without taking things personally. Fail fast, learn from it. Be transparent and feel comfortable you’re amongst trusted people who’ve got your back. We live our values – excellence, courage, unity, and honesty. It helps create an environment where you know where you stand and can get work done. Fast. So, you can eat more cake at the end of the day.
What perks are available working at CCP Games? Order your lunch the night before, we’ve got that. As with breakfasts. Travel and gym grants, quarterly and annual bonuses, private medical and dental are all standard as is our mature attitude towards working hours. Focus on
If you have recruited internationally, what is the process like? We have, a lot! The process is just as slick as it is for local hires. Our relocation packages are the most comprehensive I’ve ever seen. Bells, whistles and fog horns. Due to our Icelandic roots, we’re seasoned at making it easy as cake. Sorry, pie. How has the pandemic affected recruitment at your studio? The pandemic has shifted almost everything.
We’ve adapted to using video as our main method of meeting people but we’re already getting welcome requests from interviewees to come in and see what we’re all about. This is great – that is where we really separate ourselves out from being different heads and shoulders on different days, which is what a lot of remote first experiences are like nowadays.
If you’d like to feature your recruitment team on this page then contact Alex Boucher – email@example.com July/August 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 23
A different kind of Switch Looking to make a big career switch? Chris Wallace reaches out to workers from across the industry, who have taken some sudden left turns in their careers for their advice
Sean Gorman, Rocksteady
Alastair Hebson, Superhot
orking in an often hyper-specialised industry, it’s easy to sometimes feel locked into a career path. With so many jobs relying on previous experience and non-exchangeable skills, the prospect of taking your career in a drastic new direction can be a daunting one. But while it often relies on a specific set of skills, the games industry is a broad one – with a range of disciplines available for those looking for a new challenge, while still remaining in the fold. The reasons for making such a change are numerous: from dealing with burnout from your previous career path, to simply being inspired by those around you to follow another path – as Sean Gorman, an artist turned level designer at Rocksteady Studios notes: “As an artist, I really enjoyed creating and capturing an artistic style in my work. It feels great to provide the player with an appealing aesthetic, creating assets, materials and arrangements that focus them on the adjectives used within these spaces. “Over time however, I began to grow more interested in the player experience and player function. Working closely with designers, I would see how they think and focus on the verbs used inside of the spaces they were creating, to craft meaningful unique experiences for the player. “As I grew more curious, I began to learn from them. Then after developing my own skills in this area over many months, through reading, studying and personal projects, I eventually made the decision to pursue a career as a level designer myself.”
24 | MCV/DEVELOP July/August 2021
“I mostly ended up on the business and publishing side by accident,” adds Alastair Hebson, who moved to become head of business & publishing at Superhot, after spending a career working as a game designer at Guerilla Games. “Being in triple-A game design for most of my twenties was great but I felt like a change was needed. I left with cash in the bank, but without much of a plan. I was going to write a book. I ended up starting a micro mobile studio instead.
“Over time, I began to grow more interested in the player experience. Working closely with designers, I would see how they think and focus on the verbs used inside of the spaces they were creating.” “The pitching, biz dev, operations and studio strategy side was way more interesting than expected. Business felt like a natural fit. “I’ve always found building, creating, and improving things inherently fun and exciting. As a game designer all that energy went into helping make games. Now I put it into helping build and grow businesses. Seeing an idea or hunch or early pitch develop into a fully-fledged ‘thing’ is still magic to me. If I can help make that happen, even better.” James Ganis meanwhile, who went from programming to analytics at Sumo Leamington,
has this to add: “I enjoyed programming as a means to an end rather than an end in-and-ofitself. Over time, I found that my career as a ‘pure’ programmer wasn’t giving me the same creative freedoms that I’d enjoyed in the types of projects that had gotten me into programming in the first place. I like data analysis because you’re constantly asking new questions and thinking of creative ways to solve them with the data you have. This is often quite the exploratory adventure and requires programming as a tool, but without the code you write being a product.” A NEW JOURNEY So now that they’ve set off on this new career path, what is it that excites our switchers about their new roles? “Through these new challenges, I’m able to focus on the player experience, creating interesting scenarios for the player to engage with, using a recipe of different tools,” says Gorman. “I’m even able to draw from my experience as an environment artist, which adds an extra dimension to the complexity of interest in the levels that I create. Most exciting to me is seeing how players engage differently with the spaces that I create, seeing how they react to everything from the subtle nuances of the level to the many different challenges directed at them.” “I feel like a detective,” adds Ganis. “People often have a question about why something happens or what we should do for XYZ feature
“Once I secured the job, I had numerous people reach out to see if I needed help with anything, regular calls to check in on me and how I am getting on. It has been such a smooth transition over to my new role!”
in a game, that feels like something one can only guess at, and it feels glorious to be able to sit there and be like “wait, maybe I can find out the real truth, from the data itself ”. I also like that the types of challenges you face are varied all the time.” Of course, being able to make these career moves requires support from your employer and colleagues. Hannah Trevellion, who went from admin assistant to project planner at Sumo Sheffield, shares her pespective: “I started this job during lockdown, so it was a lot harder than being in the office as I couldn’t ‘meet’ people and easily sit in on meetings. When I initially applied for the role, the world was starting to close down due to COVID. We were in the middle of packing up kit and sending out 200 plus monitors and arranging taxis home for people, so I didn’t have much time to ask questions to people currently in the role. “Once I secured the job, I had numerous people reach out to see if I needed help with anything, regular calls to check in on me and how I am getting on. It has been such a smooth transition over to my new role!” “Some colleagues thought it was a massive mistake. Others thought it was the best idea ever,” adds Hebson. “Everyone was supportive and that was immensely helpful.” “I’ve been lucky that despite current circumstances; I have great teachers around me helping me with my starter task and answering any questions I have,” notes Idene Roozbayani, who went from IT technician to junior designer at Sumo Newcastle. “My mentor, Emily Knox has been providing me with fantastic feedback and helped me a lot with getting my head around the complexities of creating levels from scratch. Special shout out to Lucy Smith and Sam Ward who have also both been fantastic teachers”
James Ganis, Sumo Leamington
Hannah Trevellion, Sumo Sheffield
ADAPTING Beyond just the support of those around you, you’re going to need to rely on having a set of transferable skills in order to help get you started. When our skills at work are often so specialised, how adaptable have our panel found themselves? “There is a space between environment qrtists and level designers, where both teams are able to work together in a shared understanding,” says Gorman. “Particularly because both departments
July/August 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 25
Idene Roozbayani, Sumo Newcastle
“I’ve been lucky that despite current circumstances; I have great teachers around me helping me with my starter task and answering any questions I have.”
work on the same areas together in tandem. Because of this, a lot of my skills were transferable into level design. “For example, the importance of understanding space and scale. As I also understand the processes used inside of the environment art team, I find it easier to communicate across departments. I did have to learn some new skills, such as improve my understanding of visual scripting, but overall the shift was very rewarding. Most important was adjusting one’s focus to function over form.” “It’s a massive oversimplification, but a lot of game design is trying to reassure your team that your great plan or idea is actually smart and sensible and worth pursuing,” adds Hebson. “It turns out that this is a very transferable skill. “Creative problem solving is also massively transferable. Trying to figure out a sensible path forward while balancing creative constraints, conflicts, budget, schedule and team bandwidth is naturally important for both disciplines. Being comfortable exploring many different (possibly ridiculous) solutions for any given problem is something that being a game designer definitely helped me with. “Reading and understanding contracts was probably one of the most obvious (and boring) skills I needed to pick up.” “General coding skills were transferrable,” notes Ganis, “and knowledge of the project’s codebase, for setting up analytics events in the project we were working on. New skills are/will be learning the particular software for each project and
26 | MCV/DEVELOP July/August 2021
learning industry standards and approaches for our projects, which are on a scale beyond the hobby projects I have done previously.” PREPARATION Big changes like this are hardly made on a whim – what kind of preparation was needed in advance of the move? “Personally I did a lot of reading into different methodologies,” says Trevellion. “I watched numerous ‘making of ’ videos on YouTube, and listened to various GDC talks – All of which really helped me get to where I am today. I continue to listen to gaming podcasts and take Udemy courses regularly.” “I read a bunch of books, watched a lot of talks and spoke to a lot of very helpful people,” notes Hebson. “Fairly shortly after branching out I attended some business and pitch training organised by Games London which was very useful. Luckily, I also found myself working alongside some talented business-type people, and watching them operate was extremely educational.” “Before moving into my new role, I studied for several months,” adds Gorman. “I read books on
“Sometimes in your career, you just have to do what feels right and hope for the best, even if it’s terrifying at the time.” the topic, I studied online courses that helped me develop my skills and understanding for the role, as well as developing personal work in this area for many months. This training allowed me to slot smoothly into the new role, and it’s worked very well so far.” With all of that said, if you yourself are looking to make a career switch, Hebson has some words of advice for you: “Sometimes in your career, you just have to do what feels right and hope for the best, even if it’s terrifying at the time.”
Keynotes: The Spirit of Independence: Challenges and Inspiration from Three Decades at the Top A Fireside Chat with Debbie Bestwick, Team17
The Story of Oddworld: Soulstorm Lorne Lanning & Bennie Terry III, Oddworld Inhabitants
Sessions include: Rising Global Challenges to Game Creation Kate Edwards, Geogrify/ Global Game Jam
How Destigmatising Mental Health Can Transform Your Studio Gina Jackson & Sarah Sorrell, Safe in our World
Test Driven Development: A Mindset to Develop Games from the Start, Middle, or End Nikky Armstrong, Silver Rain Games
Noise vs Momentum – Driving Desire for Your Game Ravi Vijh, Bastion
Dialogue Performance and Design for Creatures, Monsters and Demons Will Tidman, Creative Assembly
State of the Art - The Future of Visual Development Nader Alikhani, Atomhawk
Experiments in Game Design with Massive Interactive Live Events Bernd Diemer, Improbable
Hyper-Social: Designing Games for Young Millenials and Gen Z Ioana Cazacu, Mojiworks
We Belong - a Look at the Industry’s Lack of Diversity, Challenges and Ways to Improve It Troy Aidoo & Andy Sesay, Streamcast
Don’t Miss Our Super Early Bird - Register Now! For the best possible rates book your Conference Pass now and save as much as £335! Offer ends 21 July.
Taking place on the evening of Wednesday 27 October during Develop:Brighton, the Develop:Star Awards 2021 will recognise the very best games and talent within the industry.
MCV readers get an extra 10% off with this promo code: KVVKUJ
Book your Early Bird tickets now!
In partnership with R
BRINGING IT TO
The games industry is bigger and healthier than ever yet making your title or product stand out from the crowd remains a critical art. Thankfully there are now more ways, and more creative ways, than ever to reach possible players. Seth Barton talks to Etch, Kairos and Neonhive.
28 | MCV/DEVELOP July/August 2021
aking a great game isn’t enough. That’s the brutal truth of the games industry today. Yes, some incredible games have come out of the leftfield, borne up on a wave of grassroots community sentiment, but those games are the exceptions, not the rule, and if you’re looking to make more games in the future then you should probably have a better plan for your current project. And for those grizzled veterans of the launch cycle, who diligently spend their allotted budgets every year, there’s always something new to consider: a new platform, a new approach. Marketing is fluid and reactive, it looks to find traction in niche enthusiasm and popular culture alike. And the last 15 months have blown apart everything we know about, well, everything. So maybe it’s time for a rethink in your marketing as well. To that end we’ve got together three experienced games marketers (left to right): Korina Abbott, director and video game marketing consultant at Neonhive; Dan Thomas, head of games services at Etch; and Drew Townley, CEO at Kairos Media. STAND BY ME Discoverability is undoubtedly an overused term in the industry, but the sheer wealth of content has made it harder for players to find the best content for them. So games now need to not just reach players but also clearly communicate their strengths when they do. “There is of course, no silver bullet for standing out,” Etch’s Thomas tells us. “As a wise publishing director recently said to me ‘be surprised by success, not by failure’ which although intimidating, is accurate and should be viewed not as a justification to not bother but as an invitation to experiment bravely and frequently.” Experimenting is first on Townleys mind too: “Creative ideas!” he replies immediately when asked how clients should try and stand out. “Too often we fall back on the same old tried and tested methods of paid, some OOH, some small influencer activity or gifting strategy. It’s simply a case of creative activations, if done right, will separate you from the crowd and give some better ROI. Use of authentic talent in a way that feels natural is a great first step, but should ideally be part of a bigger play,” says the influencer marketing expert. Neonhive’s Abbott talks up a flexible approach, and one aware of the particular space. “Every
project is unique so for some it may be as simple as revising the positioning and ensuring the branding is super strong before we put it out there. For others, there may be huge competitors that we can learn and borrow from. We’re always looking at improving best practices, because this is a fast moving industry. “While two of the services we offer are press and influencer outreach, which by their very nature are about using our relationships to bring our games to the attention of people who like those types of games, and who can then surface them to a wider relevant audience. Particularly with influencers, we take great care to match the right game with the right creator. The other way we help our client’s games stand out is to work with first parties to secure vital on-store features and events to drive wishlists, pre-orders and sales,” continues the director of the gamesfocused agency. Etch’s Thomas speaks directly to developers when describing how players first see their games: “Remember, the first impression a player
Above: a Pride-related tweet from Neonhive’s community work with UsTwo’s Alba: A Wildlife Adventure
Below: Neonhive’s Influencer Outreach playthrough campaign for the live action title ERICA
July/August 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 29
will have of your game is not the obsessively crafted cinematic opening level of the game that has been meticulously planned, written, tested and perfected. It is the trailer you drop at a big event, the witty banter retweeted on social media, the steam store page they end up on because a friend was playing and they got curious,” or to put it another way, if those marketing elements aren’t communicating your game’s strength, your opening level isn’t getting seen. “To increase your chances of success, you should surface early indicators as to what might resonate with your audience, test potential touchpoints and refine them continually. You do not need to wait for your game to launch in order to learn which aspects of your game attract attention. A solid trailer is a good starting point, but think about what comes next. What can you do to capitalise on and retain attention to build momentum between announce and launch? “Too often, we see great reveals followed by months or years of silence which could be filled with micro experiences to keep the audience engaged and invested,” Thomas suggests.
“For console launches, it is vital to get the support and buy-in of the first parties to ensure visibility on the stores – this is always the most cost-effective and important part of any console launch. Clearly this has been a hot topic recently.”
Etch’s Metro timeline allows players to interactively delve deeper into the rich history of the Metro franchise, and contextualise the events of Metro Exodus
ATTACK VECTORS Not being marketing experts ourselves, among our first thoughts when it comes to investing in marketing is what platform will give the best bang for my buck, the best ROI. Of course, there’s no simple answer to that one, our experts agree.
30 | MCV/DEVELOP July/August 2021
Neonhive’s Abbot at least informs us we’re not alone in our simplistic approach: “We get asked the question of how best to use marketing budget from many clients. There is no set answer – each budget, game, platform, launch window and developer or publisher is different – so the best platform for ROI can change wildly from campaign to campaign. That said, she is willing to posit a couple of options: “Overall we are seeing great returns on Reddit and Facebook ad spend across the board, and social remains the most cost-effective awareness driver. But if we had a tiny budget the one thing we’d always prioritise is an eye-catching gameplay trailer. Every time. “For console launches, it is vital to get the support and buy-in of the first parties to ensure visibility on the stores – this is always the most cost-effective and important part of any console launch as visibility and discoverability is a huge issue for the types of games we work on. Clearly this has been a hot topic recently,” she notes in reference to a number of indie publishers speaking out against PlayStation’s account management of ‘smaller’ titles and promotions for them on the PlayStation Store. Etch’s Thomas starts on similar lines. “It’s a frustrating answer, but ‘it depends’ is always the case in terms of getting the best bang for buck. Experimentation is key and you need to find out what works for your game. Every game is different and what succeeds online is always changing. Cast a wide net early on, and then narrow your focus based on data and results. “Paid media has a bad reputation but can be extremely valuable, offering robust ROI metrics and powerful targeting. We have seen good results from Reddit ads for some titles and TikTok is performing well for organic and paid at the moment. “Alongside any paid or creative campaign strategy, a robust community plan is also key for ensuring engagement and longer-term buy-in from audiences. It can take a lot of time, effort and resources, but through broad experimentation, keen data analysis and thorough community efforts it can be extremely rewarding.” So, while we shouldn’t generalise, Reddit is certainly a stronger marketing option than you might think. Other, relative, newcomers to the marketing mix are the new short-form video platforms, as Kairos’ Townley explains.
“Organic reach was becoming increasingly difficult to scale through games marketing. With newer platforms offering extreme organic growth through new algorithms, it’s a massive opportunity. TikTok, Snapchat and YouTube shorts all offer this, for relatively small spends and high ROI. This wasn’t the case a year ago.” Influencer marketing is an increasingly competitive space though. “Publishers and studios are getting more competitive with genre exclusivity and as we come up to triple-A crunch time in H2, we’ll see more #gamepartner social posts than ever before,” Townley notes. So if you’re in a crowded genre (and who isn’t) then be sure to get in early with key talent. TIME EXTEND Kairos’s Townley also tells us that the focus is on big moments over longer campaigns. “‘Sponsored content spend is moving to more organic/earned, with quick ‘headline’ wins rather than longer form engagement strategies to maintain a substantial community – whether due to investors or funding, timelines are being crunched more than ever.” This is counter to the huge bonuses that come through community building, Townley continues: “it doesn’t matter how big a game gets, a dedicated community with positive sentiment will show long term benefits – a find and nurture program is a perfect execution of this.” Neonhive’s Abbott is keen to impress that marketers simply need more time: “The primary issue we face as an agency is that developers simply do not give enough time to marketing – often approaching us less than two months before launch. “Even with a team of eight, there are many opportunities and activities that we will simply not be able to provide as the lead times do not allow. This combined with the large numbers of game releases a year, it is vital that developers spend more time on marketing and hire additional help as soon as possible (minimum six months pre launch is the dream) to build awareness and interest.” Thomas at Etch is thinking long-term too, and beyond the game itself, or even the traditional marketing cycle, something he calls “the extended experience.” “Games are one of the most creative mediums we get to engage with as consumers. But that creativity is often, mistakenly, limited to the boundaries of a game’s source code, starting when we launch the game and ending when we close it. Why is this a mistake? Because our engagement with a game goes far beyond the times when you’re playing it. “Our experience starts from the minute we first discover the existence of a game and extends into
discourse long after we’ve put the controller down. Thinking about these additional points of engagement is what we call ‘the extended experience’ and offers the opportunity to bring the creativity of games to a *much* broader canvas. Every touchpoint you have with your audience is an opportunity to share some of the unique tone and feelings that your game evokes: Your game’s own unique, special DNA. “The extended experience is not just an opportunity to improve your marketing and make it feel more cohesive, it’s also a chance to reward the community with content, merchandise and events that they will genuinely enjoy. Animated shorts (Overwatch), comics (Cyberpunk), books (Alien Isolation), podcasts , dev diaries, toys, music, community challenges and ARGs (No Man’s Sky) are just some of the ways to expose some part of your game’s DNA to your fans and to loads of would-be players. The extended experience encompasses everything, from things as simple as a character profile on a website, to a full-blown Netflix series, an audiobook prologue or even an in-universe game on a different platform such as mobile (Fallout Shelter).”
Above: Etch’s website for the Dark Pictures matches the foreboding tone of the games - and prominently features the cinematic content that the game is famous for
FEELING INCLUDED A key issue that our group brought up was making campaigns more inclusive and diverse. The constant bugbear has long been the white/male cover star for a game that actually allows you to play as a myriad of different people outside of that description. And inclusivity goes well beyond just diverse representation of course. “Because we work so closely with our clients, we are often having conversations about more than the marketing campaign,” begins Neonhive’s Abbott. “We could discuss content warnings, localisation, alternative controller options, as well as suggesting more colourblind friendly overall branding, looking at the size and
July/August 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 31
aim your marketing energy at. Many well-meaning teams have a list of attributes which is simply too narrow, and often unnecessarily gated by gender, age or other factors which we know don’t really matter when you drill into the data. “Instead, focus on interests and behaviours over demographics. Games are for everyone, and every year the stats support that. We’re increasingly seeing the marketing industry move away from the archaic ‘This is our game for boys aged 18-25’ and towards things like “This is a game for anyone who enjoys rich world building and competitive online play”.
colour of text on a website, ensuring that trailers have subtitles, or simply by adding alt text to image heavy tweets. It can be the small things that make the biggest difference. “With creators, we look outside of the normal bubble of creators, finding new and upcoming content creators so we can get them involved at an early stage, even if it’s just to have an email exchange and get some stats. One size absolutely doesn’t fit all, we treat creators with 10 watchers with as much importance as a creator with 100k watchers. We do our absolute best not to set a barrier to entry.” It’s a sentiment that Kairos’s Townley also brings up: “Numbers alone aren’t enough (and shouldn’t be anymore) for selecting influencers/ talent/amplifying partners. Campaigns at the top of the list should be looking at a diverse pool of talent that they “We’re increasingly can thread messaging through. Most people out there aren’t seeing the marketing being deliberately exclusive, industry move away offers Etch’s Thomas. “Very few people are aiming for a lack of from the archaic ‘This diversity. What this tells us is is our game for boys that when you have an inclusivity problem, it’s often a result of aged 18-25’ and default behaviours that you’re engaging in. towards things like “In marketing, one of the best “This is a game for activities to root out these biases is to actively revisit your targeting anyone who enjoys norms – the attributes you’ve rich world building picked when determining who to Above: Kairos’s work with KFC, including the now famous KFConsole made a huge impact in linking the brand with gaming culture
and competitive online play”.
TAKING YOUR SHOT In parting Abbott gave us a couple of newer areas to consider, one is getting onboard with a subscription service, rather than obligating the need for marketing, can be a great part of a more ‘traditional’ campaign. “For console releases, landing day one on either Game Pass or PS+ offerings gives the much needed reach and financial stability to guarantee a game recouping on dev costs and potentially making a profit. These subscription models are offering new ways for developers to build playerbases and monetise,” she noted. And another even more recent change is also to be applauded, Abbott says: “Steam has finally implemented UTM tracking which is extremely appreciated. Although UTMs are absolutely not new, having more nuanced insights and tracking for our PC launch campaigns has made measuring the impact of marketing activity a lot easier and a lot clearer.” While Etch Thomas is very keen to return to idea of marketing as a creative extension to the games themselves: “By thinking about every piece of the puzzle and how they fit together into this extended experience for players, we can start to think about marketing and communications not just as ‘something for the suits to handle’, but as an exciting part of a game’s creative process and an opportunity to invite players deeper into the worlds we create. “There are hundreds of different potential moments that, if you’re lucky, will give you a fraction of attention from a potential new player. And if you don’t make that experience a considered one, it will still be a consequential one (for better or worse). With many players you only get that one shot.”
Brought to you by
Discoverability: Are your games visible to shoppers? You could be missing out on sales because consumers can’t find your products. Peter Laughton, CEO of eebz, explains why discoverability remains a key issue, and what good PRM tools can do to help… FOR any sales team – in games and beyond – there are three key areas of importance when it comes to ecommerce: Awareness, Discoverability and Conversion/Add To Basket. Over the past two decades in games and ecommerce, much time has been spent on Awareness and Conversion. But, although ‘Discoverability’ has become a huge buzz word, many sales efforts are let down by not enough focus on this area. And that’s crazy. You can spend all the money you like on marketing campaigns and community outreach, but if consumers can’t find the game you’re promoting, that’s potential sales needlessly lost. Discoverability is even more important when you consider that non-specialist retailers like Very are growing their market share in games. Search for ‘GRID’ on the Very.co.uk site and see how many barbecue accessories come up before you find the Codemasters racing title. But even on more specialist ecommerce sites, discoverability can still be an issue. Our research here at eebz has revealed that on the PlayStation Store, around 10 percent of all titles can’t be found using obvious search terms. So, discoverability is a serious issue for all sales and marketing teams, which is why ensuring accuracy on your retailer product pages and product data is key to success in this area. Ultimately, for your game to be discoverable you need to ensure it’s displayed correctly on the digital shelf, with consistent and compelling content to drive consumer conversions from search engines like Google (and, indeed, Google Shopping). There are several considerations here. Does your game have the right name in the store? Does your game have the right wording on its product listing page to make sure it stands out? Is it in the right category? Does it show via deep links in Google? Does it feature in ‘Also Recommended’ panels? Does the content need to change depending on territory? Luckily there are Product Relationship Management (PRM) tools available that enable you to monitor the Search Engine Ranking Position (SERP) of your games, which in turn helps you optimise these factors and more to create the perfect listing for each retailer in each country in which your game is available.These tools will tell you where your product appears in store search results for each
retailer in real time, which is immediately actionable intelligence. For example, you might be ranking #1 on Amazon across Europe, but in Portugal your game might be #20 on Worten. You can then make the necessary corrections right away, at scale. At eebz, we currently track over 1,000 retailers and we’re constantly adding more – our aim is to offer data across 1,500 by the Above: Peter Laughton, end of 2021. CEO of eebz Realistically, it would be almost impossible for your internal sales and marketing teams to spend time manually keeping track of product listings across that many sites. And, having the right tools means you can begin to benchmark discoverability across territories. Northern Europe vs Southern Europe, all of Europe vs North America. Or even compare your games with those of your competitors to ensure the best store rankings and optimised discoverability. Of course, when it comes to digital retail, the single biggest barrier to discoverability of your game is if it goes out of stock (OOS). Google SERP and Google Shopping are the store entry points for most consumers, but being OOS for one day can ruin your product SERP for weeks. Consider this: 60% of online buyers complete their purchases from a saved basket more than one day after first visiting a site - on most ecommerce systems OOS removes products from the basket. Permanently. Left unchecked, someone else will steal that ‘buy’ box – so make sure you can move faster than the Google Bot and save the sale. In the next issue of MCV/DEVELOP we will be looking at how Pricing and Promotion Monitoring ahead of, and during, major events like Black Friday can increase your sales efficiency. eebz is the world’s premier product relationship management system that integrates bricks and mortar, e-commerce and digital channels on an equal footing.To find out more, visit www.eebz.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 3886 0265
July/August 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 33
Keeping secrets with
Overboard! No previews, no wishlists, no hype – Chris Wallace finds out how Inkle made a splash with their surprise release, Overboard!
I Jon Ingold, Inkle
nkle’s latest title made something of a splash when it launched this June. Of course, you’d expect a certain level of excitement for the latest release from the 80 Days and Heaven’s Vault creator – but the developer took a very different approach in the leadup to the launch of Overboard! That is to say, they didn’t do much at all. Inkle released their ‘you-done-it’ murder mystery (or their ‘reverse Poirot’, if you prefer) as a complete surprise. No pre-release hype, no trailers, no Steam wishlists and only a handful of review codes sent to outlets. For most of the games community, the first time they heard about Overboard! was when it was already out in the wild and available for purchase. Still, Overboard! immediately attracted media attention upon its release – aided by both the game’s surprise launch and its killer elevator pitch. In essence, Overboard! is a new take on the murder
34 | MCV/DEVELOP July/August 2021
mystery genre, with the player taking on the role of the excellently named Veronica Villensey. Veronica has just thrown her husband off a boat, and the player has to watch what they say and and do in order to hide the murder from the rest of her shipmates. The thing is, Inkle hadn’t known about the game for much longer than the rest of us. In fact, Overboard! was in development for approximately 100 days – meaning that, as Inkle’s Jon Ingold explains to us, the developers had no idea they’d be working on a murder mystery at the start of the year. THE £8,000 GAME? “When we first decided to do the project, we weren’t really intending to do a game,” Ingold begins. “It was January and lockdown, and everyone was feeling a bit miserable.
“Somebody asked us, ‘what game could you make for £8,000?’ And well, we can’t possibly make anything for that. But when someone puts that idea in your head, you think ‘oh, that’s about half a month of income. If we were to make a game in a month, what kind of game would we make?’ “And so the idea of a ‘you-done-it’ appeared around then. We thought well, maybe we could just knock something out. Maybe we could use it as an example that we could just put up for free, just for fun, just to have something – because it’s a cool idea. So I wrote the first pass at the script for it, which took about three weeks, and gave it to the rest of the team to play. And they really enjoyed it, and it grew into this thing that we just liked enough that we wanted to make it a real game.” Overboard! may have been upgraded to a ‘real game’, but it was still small enough in scope that
the team felt it needed a different approach to their usual titles. “It came from this idea of ‘well, this isn’t a real game. We can’t hype it up and launch it for real. So what we’ll have to do is do it as a surprise launch, and make it exciting. “But as we grew closer to having it as a real game, and launching it as a real game, we started to wonder… is this really a sensible thing to do? Because launching on Steam with zero wishlists is pretty much throwing your game into the bin, unless you could do something else with it.” Still, the team were excited by the prospect of a surprise launch, and so started to look at the Steam wishlist problem from another angle. “When you launch a game on Steam and people wishlist it, that wishlisting means they don’t need to buy your game now to interact with it. They’ve already interacted with it, they’ve looked at it, they thought about it, they’ve imagined it, they put it on their wishlist. “But they’ve got 1,000 other games on their wishlist. So when it comes out, they don’t have to buy it. A wishlist is kind of a decision to not buy something right now – it’s better than being ignored completely, but it’s not a sale. And we thought, well, what happens if we just sidestep all of that? If we just ignore the way that Steam works completely, if we just forget about that? And instead, we try to release something which is just pure joy. So it’s a surprise, it’s a delight. It’s exciting. And if you like the idea, you don’t put it on your wishlist and think about it in two weeks, you just play it right now. There’s none of that messing around. It’s just right now, it’s right here, we’re giving it to you.” The goal was to create a launch that was as joyful, funny and fast as the game itself is.
Below: Although a single playthrough is relatively short, Overboard!’s numerous endings make it a far more substantial proposition than you might think
July/August 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 35
Below: The game is impressively slick given its quick production time
Though that’s not to say Inkle had zero plans in place for launch day – reaching out to the press for launch day stories and reviews, with both IGN and Nintendo picking up the game’s trailer for their channels. Still, they were much quieter pre-launch than most developers would dare to be, which seems to have worked out well for Overboard! “I think we got a lot more coverage at the moment of launch than we would have done any other way. Like, if we’d have pre-announced the launch day, I don’t think GameSpot would have posted a news story about it on the day of launch. So actually, what we got was a really good level of attention at that point, which was enough to feed steam enough wishlists to get it onto the Steam Store page. “It feels like we did it the wrong way around. Instead of building up Steam in order to secure a visible launch, we secured a visible launch in order to build up Steam, but I think we’re better at doing it that way. On Steam, you’re competing against everybody. Whereas on Twitter, you’re just competing with whatever happens to be going on right now. And we got lucky with a day when there weren’t very many games coming out, and nothing too dramatic happened in the world.” It seems to us that Overboard!’s excellent elevator pitch, matched with its shorter playtime, suits a launch strategy like this. Once the hook of a ‘reverse Poirot’ is in, it’s advantageous to reel them in immediately, rather than drop a distant launch date that might let your would-be player wriggle away. Additionally, before your game is out in the wild, it’s arguably better to limit how much time the player has to build expectations for your game. “I think one of the things we’ve learned over the years is that if you want to make people really happy about a game, you have to give them an idea they can understand and then meet or exceed that idea. If you
36 | MCV/DEVELOP July/August 2021
ever fall below the idea that they form in their heads, then you’ve failed. It doesn’t matter how good your game is. If you tell people you’re going to deliver this and you deliver that, that can be excellent, but it’s too late. It’s already a disappointment.” A surprise launch might well be a good way to build excitement and counteract potential disappointment, but that’s not to say it’s a good strategy for every game. If you’re launching a 100-hour RPG with complex and involved mechanics, maybe don’t throw out your marketing campaign just yet. “If we were to launch the ‘Highlands’ game that we’re working on in a surprise way, I don’t know whether we would have the same kind of enthusiasm behind it. Because this is a project people don’t really know, and when you communicate it quickly it doesn’t have that immediate hook to it. It’s not obviously amazing. So that feels like a game we have to build up slowly over time. “So I think it probably depends on the project. If we had something else which was short and immediate and fun, and grabby, I think we’d definitely consider a surprise launch. And for other studios, I think it really depends on how much of that initial groundswell you’ve got in the first place, and just how marketable that one idea is. Because you get half a second of attention on Twitter, and that has to work. For Overboard!, that’s doable, whereas for something like Heaven’s Vault it would absolutely not have been doable.” We can’t help but wonder, talking to Ingold, that maybe this is really a trick you can only pull once. Surprise game launches are something of a rarity in the industry, which is what helped the enthusiasm around Overboard! But if people were to grow more used to the practice, would we start to see diminishing returns? “We were talking about this internally just yesterday actually. Because yeah, if it’s always a surprise game….” Ingold pauses. “No, actually maybe that’s quite fun, they never know what to expect! “But as soon as you surprise launch a game that people don’t like very much, maybe it breaks down. My overall gut feeling is that you either have to be absolutely solid in delivering what people expect, which is what you triple-A studios do, or you have to be constantly surprising people and seeming interesting. And that’s the best place for an indie to be. “I feel like whatever we do next, either has to be different, or it has to be a spin on something we’ve done. I don’t know... I mean, we tend to make these things up as we go along! We didn’t know we were making a surprise game on New Year’s Day this year. So I think it’s also okay to be entirely reactive and emotional about this stuff as well, which is quite fun.”
APRIL FOOLS Now, we’ve been calling Overboard!’s launch a surprise, but that isn’t entirely true. The game was actually announced months in advance – it’s just that nobody realised it at the time. Much to the delight of Inkle’s beloved (and long-suffering) PR, Ingold actually announced the game via Twitter. On April Fool’s day. The Tweet reads as follows: “Is it still April Fool’s day? Great. We’re going to release a new game next month or something that we made in two months and it’s about a multiple murderer who hates dolphins and talks to God and the soundtrack was recorded on wax cylinder. Am I doing this right?” The Tweet, at the time, went over all of our heads. But infuriatingly, every element (well, almost, the game eventually launched in June) of that Tweet turned out to be true. It confirms three things to us. One, Jon Ingold is an evil genius. Two, he can never make an April Fool’s joke again for the rest of his life. And third, his PR must hate him. “I wasn’t too bothered,” laughs Ingold. “But Emily Morganti, our PR person, was really stressed about it. When I’m developing a game and thinking about it, I kind of want to talk about it. And so there were quite a few things I tweeted, which was me talking about the game without talking about the game. “And Emily would write to me saying ‘Okay, fine. But please don’t do that again!’ And I’m like ‘oh alright, I’m not going to do that again.’ And then three weeks later ‘Oh! I’ve got an idea! I’m doing it again!’” You have our sympathies, Emily. DOES SURPRISE SELL? But what impact does a surprise launch have on lifetime sales? It’s certainly true that most games will see the lion’s share of their sales on launch day – and this feels particularly true of a surprise launch. But as the excitement of an unexpected new Inkle title settles down, and it stops being the topic of the moment, will it see a sharper decline in sales than if it’d had a prolonged marketing campaign behind it? Speaking to Ingold in the week of the game’s launch it’s perhaps too early to tell, though early signs look promising.
“One thing that we’ve noticed so far is, yeah we did get more sales on the day of launch, but not astronomically more. Normally you have a sales spike, which then tails off to about maybe a quarter or a fifth on day two. Because of that wishlisting – the wishlists clear out and then it’s just natural turnover. “So the weird thing for us was we had a launch spike, driven by the news articles, and just positivity I guess. And then we had a kind of dip, where everyone was like, ‘well, I bought it now.’ And then Steam woke up and suddenly, we were back up again. We’ve been fairly solid all week, it’s kind of been amazing. We’ve been sitting in the new and trending chart on Steam all week, which was a huge relief, because we thought we wouldn’t even get into it because we had zero wishlists. “But what happens from here is really difficult to say. There’s some featuring on the Switch, which I know is time based, so we’ll fall off that screen at some point, and we’re gonna fall off new and trending within the next few days on Steam, I should think. “At that point, it comes down to whether people remember it or not. But then again, we probably have a lot of reviews still to come, right? Because normally all your reviews hit at exactly the same time, but because we didn’t send out very many review codes, hopefully we’ll get a couple of big reviews down the line. But really, the best thing about it is because it was a quick game, it was fairly cheap to produce. So we’ve covered the costs already. “It feels to me like, from this point on, it’s probably a solid release. Before now, we didn’t have a popular, well received game at the cheaper indie price point. So it’ll be interesting to see what happens with it. But I mean, we can’t really complain. It’s been perfectly successful, our gambit of surprise seems to have worked!”
Above: It turns out that Ingold left more clues to Overboard!’s existence than our somewhat slapdash femme fatale did to her husband’s demise
July/August 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 37
We came together as an industry and supported each other in a way I’ve never seen in over three decades
Develop:Brighton is back in 2021 and headlining this year’s speaker lineup, and receiving the 2021 Develop: Star Award, is Team17 CEO Debbie Bestwick
38 | MCV/DEVELOP July/August 2021
DEVELOP:BRIGHTON is back to its usual physical format for 2021 – from the 26th to the 28th of October. The opportunity to come together again as an industry will likely be more than enough for most delegates. But of course there’s a wide range of excellent speakers as well. Leading that lineup is Team17’s Debbie Bestwick, the 30-year industry veteran has led the indie developer and publisher to big success, most visibly since its float in 2018. We caught up with Bestwick to discuss how the pandemic impacted Team17, the importance of in-person events, her keynote and her outlook on the future. The industry has largely done well financially from the pandemic, does that come with added responsibilities and expectations? Honestly, no. I’ve always said the biggest responsibility as a CEO you have in the finance markets is managing expectations, and we’ve been very sensible regarding our own messaging since we floated in 2018. I honestly never worried about day one valuation (that’s vanity and can be short lived). What I cared about was showing the strength in growth that I was so convinced of over the next few years (that’s sanity). Of course, everyone wants to get excited about what the next big thing is, be that growth in audience, new trends, new tech or changes to business models. When you’ve been in the industry as long as I have, you learn to be very grounded and sensible. I’m the person that listened in on earnings calls as a hobby across gaming for a decade before we IPO’d – I learnt a lot! My focus is on driving the business we want to be in 5-10 years’ time, and I believe our investors understand that, they know me well and know I care passionately about Team17 and what we are building. My favourite quote of the year was from Take-Two Interactive’s CEO and chairman, Strauss Zelnick, who, when asked in an earnings call about current trends, said, “I’m always allergic to buzzwords”. I couldn’t have said it better. The investment world saw gaming stocks last year as a safe haven during Covid! We need to be sensible in our messaging and continue to build upon the respect we’ve all built as listed companies. More practically how did Team17 cope with t he changes and how much will things stay changed? We moved very fast! We had been monitoring developments as COVID spread from late 2019 (we have a number of development teams in China and had visibility of what was happening early) and had been preparing for a while.
I have to commend Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo – they were amazing! I recall conversations with them at the start of 2020 asking for their help to put COVID plans in place. At the time it still wasn’t known how it would impact globally, but the console platforms moved exceptionally quickly and did everything possible to support us. They’ve been a constant support for Team17 throughout the pandemic, in fact I’ve never spoken to so many CEO and exec level management across the industry as I did in 2020. We came together as an industry and supported each other in a way I’ve never seen in over three decades. I think everyone knows absolutely nothing is more important to me personally than the wellbeing of my Teamsters and label partners. Our people across the Team17 sites in the UK, and the many studios we work with around the globe, moved swiftly to put people and their families safe. In fact, we acted ahead of the many countries’ lockdowns to ensure their safety. I pride myself on inspiring the people I work with to aim high and lead by example, and I can say across the Team17 group and our label partners they were inspirational in their focus to deliver the games we planned. Not a single game slipped out of 2020 and that is testament to the passion within the group and teams around the world that I have the privilege to work with. Looking ahead, I’m a huge fan of the ‘hybrid’ model regarding working practices. Building games, QA and collaborative creativity is far from easy and whilst indies manage this well it’s not easy for large teams. So as an industry we need to work out what best suits each of us. Personally, I detest micro-management and have a very experienced team that supports me, so I’ve passed the future working practices to my team. It’s a matter of ‘Simply show me this works and I’m behind you all the way.’ Let’s empower our people! Do perennial events such as Develop:Brighton now seem even more vital having missed out on them in 2020? Absolutely! We’ve all adapted to online conferences and from Team17’s side we have adapted well, seeing more games submitted for publishing last year than in any
July/August 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 39
previous year. In-person events were always a vital part of the industry, but I believe the last 18 months have really underlined their importance. Event organisers have pulled together some remarkable interpretations of real-world events in a digital space, but nothing can ever beat the excitement of meeting colleagues to discuss new business or the latest trends – they’re fantastic celebrations and ‘coming togethers’ of the industry. Team17 continues to grow impressively, do you foresee putting out more titles yet again next year? Thank you! We work with many talented development teams around the globe, but it’s
Just some of this year’s Develop:Brighton highlights Lorne Lanning and Bennie Terry III Oddworld Inhabitants
The Story of Oddworld: Soulstorm (streamed keynote)
Ian Livingstone and Luke Alvarez Hiro Capital
Show Me The Money
Bernd Diemer Improbable
10,000 Players, One Match: Experiments in Game Design with Massive Interactive Live Events
SallyBlake Silent Games
Building a AA Studio: From Start-up to Fully Funded
Abbie Dickinson Rebellion
Why Marketing Your Studio is Just as Important as Marketing Your Games
40 | MCV/DEVELOP July/August 2021
Kristina Miles Electric Square
Why you should not underestimate first user experience and how to prove it doubles the retention
Paul Raschid Aviary Studios – The Gallery A Case Study on Interactive Storytelling in FMV Games
Kate Edwards Geogrify/Global Game Jam Rising Global Challenges to Game Creation
MJ Widomska YRS TRULY
(Almost) Everything You Need To Know About TikTok
Gina Jackson and Sarah Sorrell Safe in our world
How Destigmatising Mental Health Can Transform Your Games Company
quality over quantity that drives our business. We have built a company that in 2013 generated 95 per cent of its revenue from one major IP, to today where that IP accounted for a single digit in 2020. We have one of the best track records regarding genre diversity and lifecycle management, and our back-catalogue across all platforms is impressive to say the least. Too many get hung up on the number of annual releases, but that’s never been a key internal metric for me. During some years we will have more releases than others, but it’s about working with the best possible independent teams and supporting them to firstly create the best game they possibly can; secondly, help nurture their talent; and lastly try and help as many become sustainable studios in their own right. We want to help create the game studios of tomorrow! You’re going to be opening Develop:Brighton this year with your keynote session – can you give us a little preview of what people can expect? The title of the keynote is ‘The Spirit of Independence: Challenges and Inspiration From Three Decades at the Top’. After 30+ years in games with over 120 games created and launched, how do you manage the ups and downs of that journey? The keynote will discuss signing amazing games, building franchises, and transforming a business; it’ll be about helping build the studios of tomorrow and taking the UK stock market by storm by quadrupling share prices within two years and winning entrepreneur of the year of the UK AIM stock market in 2020. It’ll be about putting gaming first as one of the only female founders of a games listed company in the world today. What does winning this year’s Develop Star Award mean to you? Gaming has been my life from the age of seven, I fell in love with the business of the games industry at the age of 12 and knew 100 per cent what my destiny would be! There is no other creative industry that challenges you like ours does. When you look at previous winners – they’re icons of games development – so to be recognised in this way is incredibly humbling. I’m just the child that grew up loving everything from playing games – to helping make games – to helping build a better environment for games creators!
BRINGING DEVELOP BACK TO BRIGHTON After an enforced year-long break from physical events, MCV/DEVELOP talks to Develop:Brighton organiser Andy Lane, managing director of Tandem Events, about the return of the industry’s much-loved week by the seaside Much like Glastonbury often has a fallow year, events all went digital last year, has that driven up enthusiasm to attend this year? From what we’re seeing the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. I think as a nation, we’ve all missed the ability to meet in person for so long and that’s the same whether it’s family, friends or in our case, industry colleagues. If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us it’s that nothing quite lives up to the ‘in real life’ experiences we all crave. We love bringing the industry together and it was really tough not to be able to do that in 2020 but we had to face reality. Fortunately, with the levels of vaccinations rising day by day and the general lifting of restrictions, we can once again bring everyone together and from the feedback we’ve been getting, there’s huge pent-up demand from the industry to meet in person again in Brighton for perhaps the first time in a long time. Apart from the date change, is anything else different about this year’s event? We’re looking forward to getting back to where we left off in 2019 where we had over 3,000 attendees and a record number of studios and companies participating. We’ll need to make a few tweaks I’m sure, in line with government guidelines, but for the most part it’ll be back to business as usual, whilst at the same time we’re looking at more ways to help people network during the week to make up for the lack of networking over the past year. So we’ll have a full programme of talks, the expo with its popular features such as Meet@Develop, our networking service, and the Indie Showcase, and of course the Develop:Star Awards on Wednesday night which will once again celebrate the very best games and talent within the games industry. So, much of Develop:2021 will be the same event that the industry has come to love, even down to the cost of passes which we’ve kept at the same level as previously.
What are your highlights on the conference programme for this year? We’re delighted to be able to offer a full conference programme again with over 100 talks covering the different tracks of Art, Audio, Business, Coding, Design, Discoverability, Indie and Mobile. In addition, we’re running our Indie Bootcamp sessions which are free-to-attend and are intended for developers on the first rung of the industry ladder. We’ve also got a packed programme of Roundtable sessions which again are free for everyone and which tackle some of the more personal aspects of game development such as mental health, accessibility, and equality. In terms of speakers, we’ve ensured that as well as some highly respected ‘ big names’ from the likes of Team17, Ubisoft, SEGA, Jagex, Amazon, Konami, Creative Assembly, Oddworld Inhabitants and Rebellion we’ve got many smaller up & coming indie devs like Orthors, Streamcast & Waving Bear to name a few. We’ve also made sure we’ve got talks from developers at all stages of their careers to ensure the talks appeal to everyone from AAA studios down to one or two person Micro Indies.
Andy Lane, Tandem Events
Events are much more than the programme (the hard side), how important is that broader social element (the soft side)? You’re right – the high quality conference programme is only one aspect of what makes a great event. Another huge part is the networking side of things which was in no way possible in 2020. So much of attending is about the face-to-face interaction, whether that’s bumping into someone in the lobby or over lunch, at the IceBreaker Drinks or one of the After Hours many social events, wandering the expo or as part of Meet@Develop, or at the Develop:Star Awards. And Brighton itself is a creative place which lends itself perfectly to the event. So we can’t wait for October to bring everyone back together again and to be back beside the sea.
July/August 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 41
Back to School
The secret horror visual novel Doki Doki Literature Club! returns with a new coat of paint and all new bells and whistles. All very exciting, but how do you approach the challenge of selling a premium version of a game that was released free of charge? Chris Wallace finds out
pon its release in 2017, Doki Doki Literature Club! quickly became an internet cult hit. Released entirely for free online, Team Salvato’s debut title expertly adopted the aesthetics of a lighthearted Japanese romance visual novel, only to reveal its dark horror underbelly in a third-wall breaking twist. Given its popularity, the announcement of Doki Doki Literature Club Plus!, an expanded version of the game which launched on PC, Switch, Xbox and PlayStation consoles in June, perhaps wasn’t an enormous surprise. What is a surprise, and an interesting challenge for Team Salvato and publisher Serenity Forge, is that Plus! is releasing as a premium game, while the original remains free online. Now, re-releasing a game with new bells and whistles is hardly anything new – and Plus! certainly boasts that, with added side stories, new images, music tracks and more. But how do you encourage players to buy From top: a game they can legally acquire for free? And now that its Dan Salvato, Team Salvato and Zhenghua secret horror twist isn’t so much of a secret anymore, can Yang, Serenity Forge the game still surprise players?
42 | MCV/DEVELOP July/August 2021
We spoke to both Team Salvato’s Dan Salvato and Serenity Forge’s Zhenghua Yang to find out more about the thinking behind the release. Doki Doki Literature Club! has been out for almost 4 years now – What prompted you to release a premium version of the game? Dan Salvato: The project started from our desire to port DDLC to multiple platforms, but it quickly grew much bigger. We really wanted to make the experience accessible to people who can’t play games on PC platforms. This was a challenge not just from a technical standpoint, but also from a creative one – DDLC is not a typical narrative game, so I had to ask myself if the essence of what makes it a unique and memorable experience can be maintained in console ports. That question led to some really cool creative decisions that I’m excited for people to discover. Aside from that, the chance to write the Side Stories was another major factor for me. DDLC’s characters face some very real, relatable challenges and insecurities.
For the players who really connect with them, I wanted to deliver meaningful stories about friendship and literature that can help motivate and inspire us in our everyday lives. DDLC is a game about the player’s personal relationship with fiction, and DDLC Plus expands on that core theme through the new content.
principles, and I strive to maintain a strong relationship between Team Salvato and our fanbase. Success to us is making a difference, large or small, to people who experience our work. DDLC enables that, and DDLC Plus is symbolic of the mutual gratitude between us and our fans.
What were your expectations for the original game’s release – Was it a surprise when it turned out as popular as it did? Salvato: The popularity of the original release exceeded all possible predictions, even the ones I considered to be ‘unrealistic’. It was like every month, I thought it had reached its peak, but it just kept spreading even more. I really couldn’t believe it, and I felt so grateful to all of those who got the word around and shared the game with their friends. But also, it drastically changed the course of my life, going practically overnight from a tinkerer who works on stuff alone to the manager of a huge brand. I wasn’t prepared for that, and I’m still getting used to it.
Do you think there’s maybe more appetite for a premium anime-style visual novel in the West than there perhaps was in 2017? Salvato: I think the question is more about visual novels themselves, rather than whether it has an anime art style. Relative to the games industry as a whole, VNs are still extremely niche. Part of why I wanted to start making VNs, especially one that appeals to non-anime fans (by inviting them to make fun of it!), was to help demonstrate the emotional power that interactive fiction is capable of, and the unique kinds of storytelling that it enables. I really hope that DDLC helps demonstrate to the industry that people really want these experiences, so that more companies can feel confident enough to develop and invest in unconventional ideas.
What was the reasoning behind releasing it for free? Were there ever regrets over releasing it for free, or do you feel this helped bring attention to the game? Salvato: I really believe DDLC would not have caught on if the game wasn’t free. Paying for a game, any amount, is a commitment – many times, you want to be fully convinced of the game’s value before paying for it. DDLC is so weird because it’s a game that practically can’t even advertise its own gameplay, so it would have been impossible to convince people of the game’s value, especially people who aren’t interested in visual novels. DDLC literally invites those players to not take it seriously, and you wouldn’t buy a game just to make fun of it. So many people have told me that they convinced their friends to play it with these words: “It’s short, it’s free, it’s a wild ride, and you have nothing to lose.” So I never felt like it was the wrong decision to make DDLC free. Will the free version of the game remain available? Salvato: Absolutely. DDLC will always be a free game. Is it a challenge to entice players to the premium experience, rather than simply downloading the free version? Salvato: DDLC Plus is priced at $15 because that’s what I believe is the value of the new content provided alongside the original game. I think DDLC Plus is great for those who love DDLC and would love for the chance to support us in exchange for some great new content. So no, we’re not trying to steer people away from the free game and convince them to spend money instead. I’m honest in my
A lot of the game’s success was down to the surprise dark twist. Now that the game has more of a reputation, do you feel this element has been lost somewhat? Salvato: DDLC has never tried to trick people into thinking it’s a normal dating sim. Upfront, it’s a psychological horror game, with a disclaimer that it contains highly disturbing content. Almost everyone who played DDLC already knew going in that there was something horribly wrong about the game. The memes you see on social media are just people joking about the juxtaposition. The key is that people are left wondering: What on Earth could this game actually be about? What could the horror be? How seriously am I supposed to be taking what these trailers are showing me? That’s why the game has been played by so many people who aren’t fans of anime or VNs; the dichotomy of messaging makes you want to find out what the heck this game is actually about. That enticing factor will never be diminished. Content warnings were added to Plus! – What were the motivations behind this? Is it difficult to balance the need to avoid spoiling the game too much while also protecting the player? Salvato: Content warnings are a fantastic optional accessibility feature. Millions of people, more than we see, feel safer when using content warnings. Ultimately, players deserve control over how they want to be exposed to sensitive content, and the optional
July/August 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 43
content warnings enable more players to enjoy the story that we wrote. There is not one “best” way to enjoy the game; everyone has their own preferences and needs. Insisting that DDLC must be experienced in one specific way would be a very elitist and pretentious mindset for us to have. We want people to make their own unique experience out of it, and enjoy it in the way that they prefer. ‘Spoilers’ are often treated as sacrilegious – they can be, when they are unsolicited. But so many people just want to know what they can expect to be exposed to ahead of time. We care about giving them a good experience, too. Zhenghua Yang: This was a conversation Dan and I had very early on, and that was the original DDLC worked because it’s a free game. With DDLC Plus, it’s now a paid product, from an ethical and socially responsible standpoint, it was very critical that we are upfront about what customers are paying money for. Additionally, the DDLC IP has always been designed as an IP that’s misunderstood at a glance. Taking these two elements together, we found that the best way to dance on this line is to heavily emphasize the misunderstanding and be blunt about its presentation. Joseph Boyd and Alecia Bardachino from Team Salvato worked tirelessly to ensure that there are proper content warnings throughout the game, and we continue to work on improving content warnings as well as accessibility options every day even as we speak. How did Serenity Forge become involved, and what attracted you to Doki Doki Literature Club? Zhenghua Yang: Serenity Forge started as a company that aimed to create meaningful and impactful games that challenged what people think. Even back before we started the company, we would toy around with the ideas of creating games that would ‘install viruses on your computer’ as you played it, so that it’s a sentient game that distracts you during a boss fight or something. When DDLC came out, it immediately became one of my favorite games of all time (and also subsequently made me a bit depressed because Dan beat me to the punch!). Regardless, we had an extremely fortunate opportunity to eventually meet Dan through the help of Derek Douglas and Alison Sluiter from CAA. We clicked instantly regarding what we each personally care about in the video game industry, and the rest was history. What was the motivation behind the physical release? It won’t be available in the UK on launch, right? Zhenghua Yang: The common perception in the industry right now is that physical is dead. However, I think it’s
44 | MCV/DEVELOP July/August 2021
really important to note that new physical games come out every week! As the medium of physical titles changes, I feel like it’s important for publishers to adapt to it. Tons of people still play physical games, and it’s not just the folks who collect games either. There are people around the world buying games in retail because they’re unfamiliar with game downloads, or simply do not have access to the internet as readily. Additionally, physical games still make amazing gifts. It’s just not quite the same buying a digital code and giving it to someone for Christmas. Serenity Forge is a studio that values accessibility and inclusion as our top pillars with all games we work on. We wanted to make sure everyone in the world from all walks of life is included when we release DDLC Plus, and that each time when someone buys and opens the game box, it’s an exciting and magical experience. The physical edition will be available globally through our very hard working distribution partners. It’s true that some releases will come sooner than others, but trust me that everyone on each of the teams is doing the best they can to bring the game to as many people, as quickly as humanly possible! What technical challenges were involved in re-releasing the game, and on so many platforms? It has been ported to Unity, I understand? Zhenghua Yang: This question may seem simple but there’s a lot that went into it, definitely too much to explain in a short interview. The simple answer is yes, the game was ported to Unity. However, there were a tremendous amount of hurdles we had to go through. In the beginning, Unity’s programming team started the project and worked to port the game (yes, THE Unity Technologies), and eventually the project was handed off to the Serenity Forge programming team. Accomplishing this game in the given timeframe was only possible due to the incredible Serenity Forge programming team, led by Kevin Adams, and the Team Salvato engineers Joseph Boyd and Dan himself. They really were the MVPs of this entire project.
MCV969 JUNE21 DOLBY ad.indd 1
AHEAD FULL World of Warships comes to HMS Belfast, with a demo station within the landmark. Seth Barton takes the opportunity to catch up with Wargaming CEO Victor Kislyi onboard his latest venture
Above: Wargaming’s Victor Kislyi (right), and Imperial War Museum’s John Brown cut the ribbon on HMS Belfast’s newest attraction
fter a long hiatus MCV/DEVELOP is at an actual press event. Sensible precautions are in place, but this is a real gathering of press, in person, with food and a bar and all the usual niceties. The sheer novelty of once again doing the job in-person, almost overshadows our surroundings. Almost. For we’re spending the day with the run of the immense HMS Belfast, London’s own resident light cruiser, that’s light at a mere 11,550 tons.
46 | MCV/DEVELOP July/August 2021
The ship is having a major refit for its grand reopening, of which a part is a highly appropriate gaming room below decks. Through a partnership with the Belfast’s owners, Imperial War Museums, Wargaming’s World of Warships is literally taking to the water,. With a ‘command centre’ aboard HMS Belfast, allowing visitors to play the game, and take control of the Belfast’s virtual incarnation. It’s a perfect match and the execution of the room itself is superb.
While we’re visiting the ship we also get an overdue catchup with CEO Victor Kislyi. We usually chat to the Wargaming boss amidst the din of Gamescom, so the Belfast makes a very appropriate and very relaxing change of setting. The last year has not been relaxing of course. With approaching 5,000 employees around the world, Wargaming has had its hands full with the pandemic. But Kislyi is proud of the company’s response. NAVIGATING COVID “For the leadership of Wargaming, let’s say 50 people who are in managerial leadership positions, amazing people, this pandemic was a great stress test, for Wargaming, for our culture, for our unity. We did not lose anyone, we have cases of course, but very very few,” Kislyi explains. The company moved quickly across its globally-distributed locations, Kislyi tells us. “We were pre-emptive, we moved to working from home before government direction.” And it maintained its output, in the main. “We did not deviate from our live products’ roadmaps. And for the new things in development, it probably could have been a little better for creativeness and brainstorming, to be in one room with a whiteboard,” but he explains that the team took to working from home “like adults.” Those “new things in development” obviously include Guildford’s DPS Games, working on an unannounced project. “So we were about to unleash the power of Guildford. And then the pandemic...” Kislyi tells us. And he reveals that the team there now numbers 180, a considerable upgrade from our last visit. And while DPS are making a phased return to the office, caution is still the watchword. “Just last week, somebody got COVID, not [development staff], but in the cafeteria, and boom, all the people back home – testing, testing, testing.”
“We don’t want to base our business on the tragedy of humankind, so we don’t price this pandemic into our business plans, we want things to go back to normal.” Like any company running big live service games, Wargaming saw an uplift in its engagement figures, says Kislyi. “But we don’t want to base our business on the tragedy of humankind, so we don’t price this pandemic into our business plans, we want things to go back to normal.” And the company plans to invest the windfall into “better technology, graphics, community management and marketing” in order to improve and grow its games. VIRTUAL CONSERVATION World of Warships has been doing a lot of growing since its launch six years ago, says
Below: From the Thames, HMS Belfast’s guns have the range to hit targets out as far as the M25, not that they’re loaded of course
July/August 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 47
“All the live games we have grew so big, so that I cannot physically get my nose into each and every one. For World of Tanks, 24/7 I was there. So it’s up to the World of Warships team to figure out their audience. They have their own events, they have their own collaborations.” And Warships has proven to be a more popular title in western markets. “Some games are stronger in Eastern Europe, World of Warships for that matter is much stronger in Europe and America than Tanks,” he explains. A fact that is matched by the positioning of museum ships around the world, with the US and Europe being clear clusters.
Kislyi. As a part of that, the HMS Belfast command centre is just the latest in a line of supportive partnerships that Wargaming has made with the handful of WWII museum ships still maintained around the world. The company has also commissioned a series of highquality documentary programmes, Naval Legends, to tell the stories of some of its most high-profile battleships, to date its piece on the Japanese Yamato has clock up 13m views on Youtube. Warships, as with its older sibling Tanks, is now managed within its own vertical, Kislyi explains: “For the last four years, leadership made this transformation from so-called functional, where we have global development, global publishing etc, into product. So World of Warships is its own business.”
PRIVATE ARMADA While press events, and physical installations like the command centre, have gone on the backburner during the pandemic, the games industry has seen a huge swell in consolidation. Notably, though, Wargaming remains in private hands and neither bought nor divested itself of anything of note. So what’s Kislyi’s take on it all? “For me and my leadership team, the last 11 years we might say, was *an interesting endeavour*, with ups and downs, huge victories, mistakes, sad moments, defeats and failures... So we stopped buying companies.” “We are as private as we were in the beginning.” says Kislyi. “So we’re not here for stock market price. We’re not here to exit, we generate enough revenue for shareholders to be happy, we ensure our employees at the end of each financial year get, very well deserved, not small, bonuses. We’re not here to sell, we’re not here for quick exit. Pictured: A part of the World of Warships’ command centre on the Belfast
48 | MCV/DEVELOP July/August 2021
On the other side he says: “We acquired a bunch of studios before, but not anymore.” It’s most recent move was the creation of Wargaming Guildford, now DPS Games. “Guildford, you might say it’s built from scratch. Yes, there was Edge Case Games, but it was like 25 people.” A foundation to build something new upon, rather than a straight buy. “DPS Games in Guilford has their own identity, still part of Wargaming family, they have autonomy. I visit them just to kiss the baby, cut the ribbon!” It’s run by Sean Decker, a Battlefield franchise veteran of DICE and EA. “It’s all carefully cherrypicked people who share our values. Currently working on super duper secret Unreal-based project by the way.” Kislyi leans into the microphone with a smile to pitch that the studio is very much hiring. “They know what they’re doing, all western talent. Of course, based on the success, data and techniques, from World of Tanks and Warships, but only to the extent they want to take it. “Right now, it’s not about buying. We don’t want to buy anyone frankly speaking. We have enough, let’s say a good ten development studios. Five or six powerhouses, which in the last couple of years, have crystallised their own vision,” he says in reference back to the company’s more vertical approach. “World of Warships is a good example. Warships PC, Warships console – Warships Legends for Xbox, Playstation... Switch I guess,” he teases, as it’s not announced yet. “Toasters and microwaves are the only devices where we don’t play! “Each of our franchises or powerhouses is not in one location but uses distributed development, which is not because of pandemic, although it pushed us harder. But really because there’s no one city which can contain enough talent for such huge franchises.” IT’S BALTIC OUT THERE Wargaming instead is looking to organic expansion, with it’s latest outpost opening in April. “We recently opened Vilnius, Lithuania, I would say it’s the next silicon valley of Europe, for this type of game development. It’s very nice, it’s like the Nordics but with sunshine. It has forests, lakes, the birds are singing, the grass is green, as opposed to Lapland!” Wargaming Vilnius is an expansion of its MS-1 team, working alongside Minsk and Moscow on World of Tanks: Blitz among others. “Then we have Prague, we have Austin, we have Singapore, we have Sydney,” Kysli continues his
tour of nice places to live and work on planet earth. “Sydney was was such a good acquisition back in 2012, when we purchased Big World. Since then, of course, they are running the engine technology. “But they also made so many prototypes, they helped to migrate, for example, Legends would never have happened on the console but for Sydney. Those tech guys are just cutting edge, right now we’re giving them more and more game responsibilities.” Of course, with any big live game operator, everyone is always asking when we might see the next big thing for Wargaming. Kislyi is pragmatic about it.
Above: We enjoyed the Belfast in actual life, as a digital recreation and in the form of a cake, all in one day
“Not every game is successful, look at Blizzard, look at Riot, it takes years and years to come up with next big one.” “We have been investing very heavily, not everything is successful. It’s show business, the games business. Not every game is successful, look at Blizzard, look at Riot, it takes years and years to come up with next big one.” So is he concerned about it? “Of course I always worry. This is competitive, we are playing in that league, which brings you some fierce competition. Not that anybody wants to kill us directly. But by releasing the next big thing, they take space, our ad budget goes up. But after many years we learn to find our decent, respectable place in this big fish pool.” And with HMS Belfast, Wargaming has certainly got a good-sized chunk of one of the biggest fish in the Thames at the very least.
July/August 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 49
takes to the pitch
Branko Milutinović, Nordeus
Michael Worosz, Take-Two
Take-Two has acquired Serbian mobile games developer Nordeus. Chris Wallace talks to Nordeus CEO Branko Milutinović and Take-Two’s Michael Worosz to find out more
50 | MCV/DEVELOP July/August 2021
ake Two has acquired Serbian mobile games developer Nordeus for up to $378 million – with the upfront price being comprised of cash and $90 million in newly issued shares of Take-Two common stock. Following the acquisition, Nordeus’ founding team of Branko Milutinović (CEO), Milan Jovović (CCO), Ivan Stojisavljević (CTO), and Tomislav Mihajlović (COO) will continue to oversee the studio and its 180-odd employees. Nordeus is best known for its mobile football management game Top Eleven, which has over 240 million registered users. This makes Top Eleven Take Two’s first-ever football game to add to their sports portfolio. To find out more about the acquisition, Take Two’s push into mobile and the ramifications for the Serbian games industry, we sat down with Nordeus CEO Branko Milutinović and Michael Worosz, EVP, head of corporate development & independent publishing at Take-Two Interactive.
Take Two first approached Nordeus about a potential acquisition back in 2014, though the company wasn’t willing to engage in M&A discussions at the time. Still, the companies kept in contact over the years, with the opportunity to acquire Nordeus presenting itself late last year. A FALLING KNIFE? As Worosz explains, Take Two were of course interested in Top Eleven – not just because it is so successful, but because the game (and the company as a whole) has continued to grow despite running for ten years now. “Top Eleven has grown tremendously year over year. It had a terrific year in 2020, and especially so in 2021,” says Worosz. “I think in M&A and deal making, particularly in mobile free to play where the fortunes of the business change from month to month, the thing you always want to be mindful of in acquisitions is catching a falling knife – Buying a business that’s trending downward. And here, it’s
quite the opposite. This business is growing month over month. So I think our timing is impeccable. And really the credit lies with Branko and the team at Nordeus.” On the Nordeus side meanwhile, the company had been operating independently (and very successfully so) since its founding in 2010. Especially since it had been previously reluctant to discuss acquisition, why has it now agreed to join Take Two? “So there’s ‘why?’ and there’s ‘why now?’” explains Milutinović. “So the ‘why’ is – you know, over the decades, I’ve gotten to meet more or less everyone from the industry, especially on the mobile side. And I feel that with Take Two culturally, we’ve got the best match. I think we share a lot of things together, and that it will be fairly straightforward to continue on our paths with this partnership. “And then the ‘why now’ is because there’s a lot of synergies that we feel will multiply what we want to achieve over the next few years. As Michael mentioned, we’ve been growing a lot over the last year and a half, maybe two. We’ve got a leading position in mobile football in multiple ways. And we see a lot of opportunity to grow further, and partnering with Take Two will unlock a lot of that growth. And then looking at longer term plans, I feel quite excited about what we can do together.” This marks Take Two’s third acquisition in the mobile space. The company acquired the Barcelona-based Social Point back in 2017, and more recently acquired Playdots last year. It certainly seems that Take Two is keen to push deeper into the mobile ecosystem. “I think the mobile free-to-play ecosystem is still incredibly fragmented,” says Worosz. “There hasn’t been a significant roll up, although other large players have been doing a lot of deal making and picking up great teams and great studios.
52 | MCV/DEVELOP July/August 2021
“And I think that’s true for us as well, we see a lot of opportunity there. We’re probably, relative to our peers and industry writ large, under indexing on mobile. And we’re making up for lost ground there. But we’re really building the business very deliberately, with strong organic launches, great new products coming from our existing teams, and then great strategic initiatives like this one, in finding the best teams across the world.” SERBIA RISING On that “around the world” note, this deal could see potential benefits beyond just Nordeus and Take Two. The Belgrade-based Nordeus does a large amount of work in its local community, with the goal of improving the overall quality of living and working in Serbia. Since the company’s inception, it has launched a series of initiatives to give back to the community, in order to improve the public medical and educational sectors, as well as a focus on early childhood development. Additionally, the company has done a lot of work to help build up the Serbian games industry. Nordeus cofounded the Digital Serbia Initiative and Serbian Games Association, as well as the Nordeus Hub, all in order to help people get into the games industry. These initiatives are designed to help put Serbia’s games industry on the map, and with an enormous company like Take Two now having a foothold in the country, it certainly seems to have accomplished that. “I wouldn’t call it a reason to do this, but it’s a wonderful, positive side effect of this deal happening,” says Milutinović. “The Serbian gaming ecosystem has a lot of room to improve. We are way better than we used to five or 10 years ago, but it feels that the potential is still much higher than what’s realised. “And I do feel that together [with Take Two] we’ll be able to add additional energy into the local ecosystem,
and we’ll get to an even better place. I think it’s a great side effect. And I’m really proud of my position and role to impact that, because it really touched a lot of people in a very positive way.” “We were blown away by the quality of engineering science and game design talent that we found in Belgrade, and in Serbia more broadly,” adds Worosz. “We’re really excited by the future, for Nordeus and other potential Take Two investments in that region. “When we acquired Social Point back in 2017, we were fairly early in coming into the Barcelona games market. And now that that locale is blown up, with a lot of other businesses coming in, I think the same thing is gonna happen in Serbia. I think the future is really bright in the games industry in Serbia. And of course, we’re going to continue Nordeus’ charity efforts more broadly in the times ahead.” And as Worosz goes on to say, Milutinović himself has had a hand in building that bright future for the Serbian industry: “Branko is a proud country man, and the story of the formation in Nordeus is really cool. Branko, Ivan and Milan were together working at Microsoft, They came together, and realised that they were each from different parts of Serbia, and decided to go back home and start something new there. I think that the pride of country comes through in that story. “And Branko is being modest, he gives a lot of his own time to help mentor young up and comers in the
games industry, and to help cultivate new talent in an ecosystem that’s right outside of his headquarters.” And it seems that ecosystem is set to benefit from Take Two’s investment in the region. “Yeah, I definitely feel so,” says Milutinović. I think it’s a statement that, you know, something has happened. And that we’ve got a company in Take Two which is, in my opinion, leading in the entertainment industry with creativity, efficiency and innovation, and people being at the centre of it. “But even if you look more objectively, it’s an S&P 500 gaming company. When you have a business like that, making an investment into a new geography, and being among the first, I think it sets an example that’s hard to ignore. I also hope that over the next few years, you know, we’re gonna show how that played out, to reinforce that type of investment. I’m really hopeful for how the scene is going to look over the next 3, 5, 10 years.” From Take Two, to Nordeus and Serbia’s industry as a whole, the two companies seem excited about their future together. “We’re really excited about the next chapter with Nordeus,” says Worosz. “We’ll work together as partners, and we have enormous ambitions for the future of Take Two and our mobile initiatives in particular. And this is a step along that journey.”
July/August 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 53
Unsigned is MCV/DEVELOP’s monthly initiative to bring the best upcoming indie titles to broader industry awareness. We aim to help them find the support and partners they need to reach the best and biggest possible audience.
Mix a fish, a tank and a sprinkle of chaos and what do you get? FISH TANKS. Fight. Blub-blub. WIN! Tell us about your game and why you decided to develop it We’re predominantly a work-for-hire studio, and we wanted to invest back into the team and develop our own title. Fish Tanks started as a pun, but we fell in love with it! It fit our desire to create a local co-op multiplayer title to play with your pals on the couch, like in the ‘good ol’ days’ of the 90s. Colour, carnage and fun – that’s what we aimed for! Who do you think the audience is? Anybody out there with a love for fast-paced, colourful games, a taste for collect-athons... and of course fish with nothing to lose. We designed Fish Tanks to be a game that people can pick up and play for anything from a few minutes to a few hours. What experience does the team have? Our team is a melting pot of talent, bringing together industry masters and fresher faces full of potential. Since it was founded by Bob Makin and Darren Cuthbert in 2013, SockMonkey Studios has collaborated on a multitude of games including Prison Architect, Kill it with Fire and Totally Accurate Battlegrounds across PC and all major consoles. Why did you decide to use Unity to create this game, can you tell us anything about using the engine on this project? Our designers use Unity to prototype ideas, and it just evolved from there. It’s their preferred engine as it provides an easy-to-use toolset that isn’t genre specific in its aims. With its open framework you’re able to rapidly prototype any type of game. How long has the title been in development, how long will it likely take to complete? Fish Tanks has been in development since 2019 and the game is ready to release in Early Access, with the ability for a full-launch before the end of 2021. What kind of support are you looking for from a potential partner?. We’re currently looking for marketing and publishing support, as well as a small amount of financial support to allow us to do the console ports.
54 | MCV/DEVELOP July/August 2021
Developer: SockMonkey Studios Location: Middlesbrough, UK Team size: 32 people + a pug, Fish Tanks core team of 4 with some others dropping in/out between projects Progress: Launching in Early Access Summer 2021ubcult Team Contact details: email@example.com Danni Pratt
An espionage-themed co-op game for two, with gameplay based around communication. Tell us about your game and why you decided to develop it? Operation: Tango innovates in the co-op genre by putting verbal communication at the center of the experience. It builds around this by creating clever gameplay situations that are designed around the two players not seeing each other’s screen and needing to communicate information to their partner to move forward. This is the first full-fledged adventure game of the sort. Who do you think the audience is? There are two main audiences. 1) Regular gamers who like to play co-op games. 2) Gamers who wish there was a game adequate for sharing with a friend/significant other who’s not a hardcore gamer. All in all, the game appeals to people who want to have a more social experience. What experience does the team have? This is the second game released by the studio. The first one was Leap of Fate, an action roguelite shooter set in a world of cyberpunk and magic. Clever Plays’ two co-owners have more than 10 years of professional experience in the games industry and as a company administrator, respectively. The rest of the team has between three and seven years of experience. Why did you decide to use Unity to create this game, can you tell us anything about using the engine on this project? Unity is the most user-friendly engine out there, and C# is an easier language than C++, so that was our starting point when we started the studio. Since then, we’ve accumulated a lot of experience on this engine. On this project, we took advantage of several nice features of Unity such as multiplatform builds, HDRP and Vivox. How long has the title been in development, how long will it likely take to complete? About three years from start to release. What kind of support are you looking for from a potential partner? We are looking for a company to do the porting and publishing in the Nintendo Switch and mobile markets for the game Operation: Tango. We are also looking for some funding for our next project, and mostly for marketing support. Although we have a good marketing/branding team, what we lack is the reach and scaling capabilities of a publisher.
Developer: Clever Plays Location: Montreal, Canada Team size: 6 in production, 1 community manager, 1 studio head, the rest is contract work Progress: Released Contact details: firstname.lastname@example.org Angela Mejia
July/August 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 55
unsigned TENNIS MANAGER 2021
Tennis enthusiasts as well as experimental players will have the opportunity to choose their academy or create their own from scratch, shape their champions, and rise to the top of the tennis scene and embrace the life of a manager by dealing with finances, infrastructures, staff, coaching and much more. Tell us about your game and why you decided to develop it? As a global leader sport, we thought tennis was missing a simulation game. After a launch on mobile that served as proof of concept (1.5 million installs), and an amazing match simulation (five years of R&D) acclaimed by the core sports gamers, the logical next step was going to PC/Mac on the premium model, in the likes of our reference Football Manager. Who do you think the audience is? Our audience is 75 per cent male with an average age of 28 years old on mobile (audience on PC should be slightly older). Users are sports gamers playing sports simulation and/or management games. Can be tennis enthusiasts. What experience does the team have? Rebound is the association of sports marketing entrepreneurs (and probably the largest experience and network in sports media and in tennis nowadays) with a team of veterans in mobile free to play (over 10 years experience) Why did you decide to use Unity to create this game, can you tell us anything about using the engine on this project? We chose Unity because it supports C# and has a complete editor for handling 3D Scene and Animations. Thanks to C# for this project we have been able with ease to build a game that can work without an engine and only use Unity for the 3D. This was very powerful for quick testing and fast development. This could only be achieved due to Unity engine design. How long has the title been in development, how long will it likely take to complete? We created the studio in July 2017 to first launch our free to play mobile version in Jan 20219. Thanks to this first experience and great learnings, we then started to produce Tennis Manager 2021 for PC / Mac (completely new game) on the premium model. 18 months later we were able to launch it in early access on Steam and EGS (May 2021). The final release is expected to be end of Q3/4 2021 with new features, additional languages, more licences and a version on Mac. The match engine is a continuing effort since 2017 (4+ years of R&D program, awarded by the French Ministry of Research). 6. What kind of support are you looking for from a potential partner? We are looking for a partner able to finance and/or publish, or only distribute, depending on the package : • Final release of Tennis Manager 2021 on PC and Mac in Q3 / 4 > considering we may look for a marketing and or distribution partner worldwide + China • Publishing of the Tennis Manager 2022 on PC and Mac for May 2022 (Roland Garros) worldwide + China
56 | MCV/DEVELOP July/August 2021
Developer: REBOUND CG Location: Paris - Angouleme Team size: 25 total with 10 full time + freelancers Progress: Early access Contact details: +33695855621 email@example.com Augustin Pluchet
A TOWNSHIP TALE Tell us about your game and why you decided to develop it? A Township Tale is a multiplayer VR RPG where players band together to collect resources, craft new gear and embark on an adventure across a vast fantasy landscape. We developed this game because we wanted to experience a fantasy medieval world in VR and leverage the platform’s fullest potential. A game where players truly embody the character they play as, and overcome all kinds of obstacles with friends. Who do you think the audience is? The audience for A Township Tale are fans of multiplayer RPGs and crafting/survival games of all ages. The game features a wide range of crafting mechanics and concepts that are familiar in those genres, but brought to new life with the VR platform. Both crafting and combat utilize the range of motion unique to VR, from swinging swords to forging blades and cutting trees. What experience does the team have? We have experience from Rockstar Games, Activision Blizzard, and WB Games. We met working at a previous indie studio, and had allocated time towards experimenting with VR. This experiment turned into something more fun and rewarding than any other projects, and after receiving some support we decided to pursue this fully and start a new company for it. Why did you decide to use Unity to create this game, can you tell us anything about using the engine on this project? We decided to use Unity since a lot of the team has experience with it and using C#. A huge benefit to us was the early VR support for the engine, which helped us make our early demos and work fast into building the proof of concept for the game. Using Unity now, we’ve been able to mould the engine by building a lot of tools and pipelines unique to A Township Tale. How long has the title been in development? The game started development in mid 2016. The game was first open to the public for PCVR players at the start of 2018 through our own Alta Launcher. A Township Tale is designed as a continuous experience, with regular updates providing new content. Cosmetics for characters can be purchased by players with rotations of new outfits to enjoy. What kind of support are you looking for from a potential partner? We would love to release A Township Tale on PSVR and other VR platforms/storefronts. In terms of funding, we are looking for between $1.5m and $3m USD to bring the game to its complete vision.
Developer: Alta Location: Sydney, Australia Team size: 12 full-time Progress: Alpha Contact details: firstname.lastname@example.org
July/August 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 57
The Art of...
Yes, Your Grace
Yes, Your Grace brought to life a monarchical simulator with some evocative pixel art. Seth Barton talks to Brave at Night creative director Rafał Bryks about his approach and the lessons learnt along the way
Rafal Bryks, Brave at Night
WAS THE APPEARANCE OF THE GAME CORE TO ITS INITIAL CONCEPT? Pixel art has this connotation of being ‘cheap and fast.’ And we also fell into this trap when starting the project back in 2015, but quickly realised that this is not the case. Pixel art is just another style and it also requires a level of expertise to create good results. It took me around five years of studying and a critical approach to my own work in order to improve. Art style is a very important part of any game, but it’s not the one that needs to be necessarily done at the beginning of the project. In our current, unannounced title, we’re focusing on gameplay and design first, since we have gained enough experience to know we will be able to ‘dress’ the game appropriately later on, supporting other areas of the project.
58 | MCV/DEVELOP July/August 2021
WHAT INFLUENCES (WITHIN OR BEYOND GAMES) DID YOU DRAW FROM? I feel like Tim Soret’s The Last Night is a pixel art beacon for many pixel artists and games out there. When I did freelance work, it was often mentioned as an art goal for many games, and it was a big inspiration for Not Tonight’s artstyle, which I worked on simultaneously as I did art for Yes, Your Grace. As the game is based on Slavic mythology, we wanted to give it a unique look. Particularly, the medieval architecture in Poland was very inspiring, and something we wanted to try and capture. Malbork Castle was a big influence on how the game looks in general and helped make the throne room look familiar, yet unique. TELL US HOW THE ART WAS CREATED? The backgrounds and main characters were designed and created by myself. Once I nailed down the style for
Pictured: Yes, Your Grace’s key art. “We had a very limited budget, so we asked the artist to only create the characters. Logo, background and composition was done all in-house. We had to work with what we had, but it turned out really well!”
characters, I showed and explained the premise to my fiance, Alina, who was able to very quickly pick up a drawing tablet and help with character creation. We’re a small team of fast learners, working closely together and often have to wear many hats. We have decided to have one high-res promotional piece for Yes, Your Grace. We’ve spent a lot of time choosing the right artist for this. Lesly Oliveira did a fantastic job taking the pixelated characters and giving them life in much higher resolution. ARE YOU ABLE TO PUT ANY NUMBERS ON THE SCALE OF THE PROJECT? We have roughly 820 character animation frames, 333 scenery animation pieces, 292 UI elements and 52 inventory items. WHAT TOOLS/TECHNIQUES WERE USED TO CREATE THE GAME’S LOOK? I’ve been using Photoshop for years now, so that was an obvious choice for creation of the majority of the artwork. Aseprite was
used for animations, and we even dabbled in Pixel FX Designer for some of the effects. Most particle and fog work was done using Unity’s built in particle effects creator. I like to take a modern twist on my pixel art, and I’m not afraid to blend colours together, use gradients, or even gaussian blurs! I sometimes use 3D rendering as a base for my work. It helps to test various perspectives, and see early if the shapes work well together. HOW DID THE ART EVOLVE WITH THE PROJECT? During the long development process, I’ve gained a lot of experience. The game’s art has evolved multiple times throughout this time, but pixel art was always the main style for the game. From very simple backgrounds, with flat colour palettes, no contrast and ‘spaghetti’ characters, I have finally arrived at something I’m very proud of.
July/August 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 59
The Art of...
The Art of...
The Art of...
Right: A lot of inspiration for the game’s art came from Polish architecture in general
Below: The inside of the Krakow’s Wawel castle
Above: The Malbork Castle was a huge inspiration for the entire of the in-game castle
Left: A basic 3D model helps out with planning perspective and camera angle. It is later transformed into a final pixel art version, like the gardens (below)
60 | MCV/DEVELOP July/August 2021
The Art of...
The Art of...
The Art of... Left: The game went through a huge metamorphosis over the development cycle
Above: The ‘Prototype’ version is what we used to map out all locations in the game. It helped us focus on designing narrative, while having something to walk around very early on. This is inspired by Dave Gilbert’s placeholder art in his games
Above: Wooden GUI – for a very long time, the GUI was made out of paper and wood
Left: We don’t have a dedicated concept artist on the team, so the early mock ups look very rough! The castle from the main menu used to be further away from the camera,but it didn’t quite feel grand enough
July/August 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 61
When We Made... Lost Words: Beyond the Page
actually look at you. And even with that little bit of the game and asked questions about their experience – work, with the help of the animation and really smart even if most of these questions were actually very similar. designers and engineers, with everybody working “External playtests were mostly about ‘Okay, how do together, you could tell from the very beginning that people feel when they play? Do they like it or not like it?’,” Chris Wallace takes atthat Lost Words: she wasaa look character people would really gravitate Alderson explains. “At the end of playtest we would ask the same question eight different ways. The question Beyond the Page – atoward.” title built around words, in Quill really becomes a fully fleshed out character with is really ‘What didn’t you like?’, but we would ask it the most literal sense, to help impart a lesson the help of the game’s strong world-building. As an differently: ‘What pulled you out of the experience? What about dealing with loss interloper in Quill’s world, the player experiences it not took you out of the headset? If there’s one thing you through her eyes, but as an observer watching as she could change what would it be? If you had two weeks to lives her life in her familiar setting. It’s a strangely intimate finish the game, what would be the thing that you’d fix?’ feeling, and one which gives way to joint apprehension “Those help bring a playtester into their comfort zone, as both the player and Quill enter new, unfamiliar areas. because no one wants to play something that people put “When you go through Mousetown and you see Quill a lot of care and love into and then turn around and say run through there ost andWords: you seeBeyond that shethe has a hometown, what about it’. So it takes a little while Page is a multi award‘Thisofisthe UKI didn’t Gamelike of the Show award, organised by the feeling of her leaving of thatborn townout maybe being in to get the The playtester comfortable,title andhas we come found on thatleaps winningit,game, of a collaboration Ukie. then-unpublished danger, gives youbetween more of aSketchbook bond,” Alderson says. finding the same question means Games and“IfTomb anddifferent boundsways sinceto–ask after attracting a publisher in that part was left out, youRhianna wouldn’tPratchett. feel like there was you eventually get the good stuff after the fourth or Raider writer Modus Games in really part thanks to the attention. much to fight Through for. Everything done, the mood its talethat of awe’ve young girl dealing with the fifth time Soyou weask sat it. down with Rhianna Pratchett and settings, taking Quill fromgrandmother, one area to the and letting “I Sketchbook don’t think anyone in founder our studio hasBackler ever made a death of her thenext game explores Games Mark to find you rest andthemes take inof this environment… It’s all supposed likemore this,about so I think important that you trust the love, loss and creativity – all wrapped up game out the it’s game’s journey. to exaggerate accentuate thatthat mood that you’re You trust playtesting you game make took sure that in aand unique mechanic underlines the power of process. The very earliest originsand of the formyou feeling. It allwords, ties back how you are connecting with allowatyourself someDare timeGame and freedom to try something andinto of storytelling. the Ludum Jam, though it was a Quill and her world.” and decidedly then keep different going. Tryexperience somethinginnew andearly branch out, The game is a narrative experience in a very those days. use your experience gamesatthat literal sense: Taking place in the page of protagonistbut also“Originally, the idea forfrom the game theyou’ve game jam SAME QUESTION EIGHT before be fine.by AsTetris,” long asBackler you’re having Izzy’s journal, as WAYS the player is tasked with using the made was wasand kindyou’ll of inspired begins, Collaboration was words key during the development of Moss , the fun too! Wewas enjoyed playing story’s themselves to navigate through “there gonna be words down the Mossdropping throughout the entire not just within the team itself, butwriting with the help external game’s world. Izzy’s can be of used simply screen makethat up really a quote, and you had to arrange process andtoI think helps.” playtesters.as People were often to feedback onthe a platform, or asbrought a magicinspell to change them in ascending order, so that you can jump up
Rhianna Pratchett, Freelance scriptwriter and narrative designer
62 | MCV/DEVELOP July/August 2021
world around you. In the story Izzy writes as her grandmother falls ill and passes away, her words can be dragged across the page – drag ‘up’ out of a sentence to lift something, or ‘repair’ to rebuild a broken bridge below you. It’s this mingling of narrative and game mechanics that first drew MCV’s attention back at gamescom 2017, where we awarded it the winner
to them with your character and get to a goal at the top right corner of the screen. “But then as I was making it in Game Maker, when I ran the game to test it, the sentence in the middle of the screen didn’t have any physics on yet. But I did have physics on the character. So the character dropped down and landed on the text that was just hanging there. And I thought, hey,
Left: The magical world of Izzy’s story is linked with the tragedy going on in her real life that’s really cool, that’s much better than my original idea! So I decided to go with that instead.” The platforming elements of the game may have been sparked to life, but the story’s narrative, and its moral lesson around dealing with loss, came with Pratchett’s involvement in the project. “Initially, Mark was thinking about maybe having it be about divorce and the effect that has on children, using that as what Izzy was going through in the real world, and how that manifested in the fantasy world,” said Pratchett. “And I said, how about loss? It’s more universal than divorce, we’re all going to go through it at some point. And going through it as a kid is quite pertinent because it’s when you realise that people are mortal, and you’re going to lose people and the world is not fair. It’s a challenging moment, when you lose people young, and it can have a lot of long term effects. “I’ve personally been through a lot of loss over the last decade – all my grandparents, my father – and I had a lot to say about the journey of loss and to kind of communicate what it feels like to be on
that journey. And I think that is something that the game does very well, and we utilised everything to underpin the narrative and the themes of the stages of grief. We used things like the mechanics, the art, the music, the colours, as well as the narrative to underpin the story and the tone, it wasn’t just about the script, it was about everything coming together to communicate the narrative. “I think the most challenging thing, and this is often a challenging thing, was making sure that things that work mechanically also worked out narratively, and finding that sweet spot, because you might find a mechanic that’s gonna work well, but it’s really difficult to shoehorn in the narrative, or you’ve got a perfect bit of narrative but you can’t think of a mechanic to go with it.” As Pratchett says, the narrative and mechanics of Lost Words are tightly intertwined: with the words literally being a game mechanic. It works beautifully in practice, but it’s hard not to wonder if it was a challenge to implement. “That was probably the biggest challenge that we hadn’t completely anticipated,” Pratchett notes.
Mark Backler, Sketchbook Games founder
July/August 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 63
Above: The game first attracted MCV’s attention way back at gamescom 2017
“Every time I wrote a level or a sequence, I’d have to think about ‘OK this word could maybe be used for something, or maybe we could have some doodles on this page, and they do this… “One of our artists sent me something which was really helpful, something that I recommend people do on every project. She sent me a list of questions about the character. Everything from favourite colours, least favourite food, to favourite animals, to what she likes to wear – things like that. That was really great for getting me to think about the character as an exercise, but also to do the diary pages in a way that fitted the character. Right down to the doodles, you can see little elements of the world. In her room, around the edges of the diary, or sometimes the little drawings and backdrops. And that was influenced by things like Time Bandits, especially in the way that you can see all the things that come to life in Kevin’s room at the start of the movie.” That depth of characterisation, and the link between the mechanics and the narrative, all tie together to reinforce the game’s central mission. Both Backler and Pratchett wanted
64 | MCV/DEVELOP July/August 2021
to create a game that imparted a moral lesson, one that could improve people’s lives. “I really wanted the game to be something that could have a positive impact on people’s lives,” says Backler. “I thought something to help support kids would be a nice way to make a difference. With loss you’ve got something so emotionally powerful, but it can also help inform people and help them have conversations about loss with their children. And it might help prepare people for that. “I think it’s important to try and do that as much as possible. And so with our future games, we’re looking for a similar sort of thing. We love making narrative experiences, and we really want to make things that can help in a certain area, to convey a message or make a difference to people’s lives.” And as Pratchett explains, video games are uniquely placed to be able to make these changes to people’s lives “The reason I wanted to explore loss in a game was because of the way we develop connections within games, which I think is very unique. “I was listening to Austin Wintory talking about Journey at the Animex gaming festival, and he was talking about how a fan had got in touch with him. It was someone who wasn’t able to say goodbye to their father when they died, and they found that by playing Journey with
a mysterious stranger, they could kind of imagine it with their father. It was a kind of bonding, saying goodbye experience. Well, I was in floods of tears, and it made me realise the emotional connection we get from games, the fact that you’re part of it, that you’re driving the story. “So I wanted to explore loss more openly in that way. The game is about loss, but it’s also how we process loss and how we use fantasy worlds, not necessarily as escapism, but as a way of dealing with and examining reality. As a way of thinking about what we’re going through. It’s important to look at how loss is a journey, it’s not an easy one, but everyone’s going to go through it at some point. “You don’t really lose people, you just take them into a place inside you,” Prachett continues. “I was talking on Twitter about how I find my dad in games like, especially wilderness survival games, because he used to love wilderness survival. Even though we never played them together, that’s when I hear him in my head, when I’m playing like the Long Dark or something like that. So I think games are really great for those kinds of connections. “And we’ve certainly heard back from a lot of fans, about how it’s sort of helping with grief that they’ve been experiencing in the real world. We didn’t really set out for it to be a therapy tool, it’s just been an extra bonus. If you can affect people in the real world positively and help them, I think that’s just wonderful.” And the game certainly does seem to have helped people, as Backler and Pratchett relate: “We’ve had some really moving fan feedback about the game,” says Backler. “It’s been really emotional to read some of that. One journalist was saying that he was going to the park with his daughter after playing the game. She was in the back of the car, and he heard her putting on a British accent and saying “Dear Journal, we’re going to the park today…” That was cool to hear. “We’ve had lots of parents saying that they’re very thankful to the game encouraging children to read as well, it wasn’t really something we set out to do, but it’s a positive bonus from it. And yeah, like Rhianna said,
it’s wonderful to hear that it is helping people with their grief in some way.” “I also had an interaction with a grandmother who was playing with her granddaughter,” adds Pratchett. “And this grandmother was raising her granddaughter, and she said “we’re playing Lost Words at the moment and my granddaughter is very worried about the grandma….” There was a part of me going ‘no, no! Stop!’ But I said, ‘it’s gonna get difficult, she’s probably going to have a lot of questions. Let me know how it goes’. “The grandmother and granddaughter sounded like wonderful, very well adjusted and thoughtful and empathic people. The grandmother got back to me, saying how they played together and how it inspired lots of questions and them talking about loss and death, what happens and things like that. So it worked out well, in the end. “We’ve had lots of stories like that. And lots of stories of parents using it, and it becoming a conversation piece about loss and death and kind of processing that and being on that journey. And that’s been wonderful.” And Lost Words will be able to enable even more of these conversations as it rolls out onto more platforms, following its initial launch as a Stadia exclusive. When we first spoke to Backler, he revealed the team’s plans to bring the game to mobile. Backler says the team is still looking out for the “right partner” to bring the game to an even wider audience on mobile platforms. So, if there’s any mobile publishers out there, we’d love the bragging rights of influencing this wonderful game’s journey once again.
Below: The game chronicles a child experiencing loss for the first time
July/August 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 65
The Final Boss Every month an industry leader wraps up MCV/DEVELOP with their unique insight
You’ve PRed more games than most people have even played, how has the job changed over the last 20+ years? Campaigns are shorter, and more intense at times, especially with the focus now being so much more on online media and influencers. This often means the team has to be constantly reactive and up to date with current trends and who’s hot in the games media landscape. What campaign/event was the most memorable and why? Gosh, there have been a few, from taking a purple low rider to Jonathan Ross for Saints Row IV, going to the British GP with Codies, 99 front covers across Europe for Fallout 3, the midnight launch at HMV for The Burning Crusade (where the security guard said the queue was twice as big as the one when Take That made a store appearance), rapping with Tinchy Stryder, Tinie Tempah, Giggs and Ortis from the Gadget Show for Def Jam Rapstar, Devil May Cry 5 European press event at the exclusive Shang hotel in the Shard, getting Goldie to come and try the new range of headsets for Turtle Beach and sniping gel skulls for Sniper Elite 4. That said, meeting 50 Cent for Bulletproof on a number of occasions with press, and having him say ‘I knew it was international press when I saw you Kat’, at E3 2006, just scrapes the top spot. What was the greatest single moment of your career to date? Starting Lick PR is one of the greatest moments of my career to date. My worst moment was when Nuts magazine asked 50 Cent if he thought G Unit spelt out looks a bit like the word cunt. How do you think the pandemic will change the industry? As with a lot of industries, working from home is now regarded as more of a norm. Hopefully companies will continue to adapt where WFH is more common even for the development side of things. I do also think the online side of things will continue to grow. For a lot of people, myself included, playing online with friends has definitely helped me through the pandemic which is something that could be reflected in not only the type of games being developed but potentially how we do events.
Kat Osman, Team Director, Lick PR “If we’d stopped to take in what had happened at the time, I think we’d probably be in some sort of padded room by now. Does just keeping on going count as a skill?”
66 | MCV/DEVELOP July/August 2021
From your Warzone highlights, you seem adept at pulling victory from the jaws of defeat. Does this skill extend into real life? Our company was formed when the last company we were all working for folded in the most horrific and outrageous way. We had no notice, no salaries, no job and we decided to start Lick – which is the initials of the last four at the old company, plus one of my dogs licks a lot. Sometimes when things are bad, you have no choice but to carry on. If we’d stopped to take in what had happened at the time, I think we’d probably be in some sort of padded room by now. Does just keeping on going count as a skill? And speaking of jaws, your canine companion certainly seems to know its own mind... Dolly is a very special dog, who has been through a lot, like some of us at Lick, and her strength and strong will is an inspiration at times. Who continues to impress you in the industry? Apart from my team and our clients, I have been blessed to be surrounded by some incredibly strong, smart, funny, supportive and gintastic women in the industry including Lucy Starvis (the L in Lick), Suzanne Panter, Laura Skelly, Lizzie Wilding, Erin Losi, Ruby Rumjen, Hollie Bennett, Keza MacDonald and Louise Blain to name but a few.
JOIN US IRL THIS SEPTEMBER 16TH THE INDUSTRY’S FIRST COMEBACK EVENT NOMINATE YOUR CHAMPIONS TODAY TICKETS ARE ON SALE NOW We’re excited to launch an entirely new MCV/DEVELOP industry event. It’s been a long time since we’ve all been able to gather en masse and mid-September now looks to be the right time for such a gathering. This isn’t our usual awards, IRL will be a more casual, more inclusive event, designed and priced so that anyone and everyone in the industry can attend, socialise and network. It has both an (optional) relaxed afternoon drop-in session (2-5pm), and a more upbeat main evening event (7pm til late).
As a part of IRL we’ll be celebrating the industry’s standout individuals from the last 18 months. Please nominate your own champions for an award and join us for a great night out. We’re looking forward to seeing you IRL. With regards to the pandemic, we are monitoring the situation and will take appropriate safety measures at the time of the event.
Tickets and award nominations: www.irl-event.com
FAMILY OF BRANDS
MCV JULYAUG21 CONTACT SALES:Layout 1 01/07/2021 15:46 Page 1
MCV/DEVELOP is a free-to-the-industry monthly print magazine about the business and art of the games industry! Subscribe at www.mcvuk.com....
Published on Jul 22, 2021
MCV/DEVELOP is a free-to-the-industry monthly print magazine about the business and art of the games industry! Subscribe at www.mcvuk.com....