MCV/DEVELOP ISSUE 973 THE ART AND BUSINESS OF VIDEO GAMES
RAPTOR MACH 2 £114.99
RAPTOR THROTTLE £49.99
RAPTOR MACH 1 HOTAS £149.99
FLYING OR DRIVING
TIME TO GET REAL! Take to the skies with the Raptor Range especially designed for the simulator enthusiast. Or, jump behind the wheel and hit the roads with the Hurricane or Suzuka steering wheels. Realism has never been so aﬀordable!
HURRICANE MKII STEERING WHEEL WITH GEAR SHIFTS AND PEDALS £89.99
Tel: +44 (0)1869 338833
SUZUKA ELITE NEXT STEERING WHEEL WITH GEAR SHIFTS AND PEDALS £149.99
TRANSFORMING LIVES The BGI and National Videogame Museum are on a mission JON HARE’S ULTIMATE TEAM How Sociable Soccer hopes to take points from FIFA
“WE ARE … THE BIGGEST METAVERSE COMPANY ON EARTH RIGHT NOW.” Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick on GTA, the metaverse, diversity, NFTs, mods, changing places with Andrew Wilson, and more
DEVELOP BRIGHTON PICS - IT DID HAPPEN!
HOW DEVELOPERS CRAFT THE EMOTIONAL JOURNEY
STARTSELECT’S DIGITAL JOURNEY DOWN UNDER
THE SKETCH QUEST TO CREATE A HARD-DRAWN CLASSIC
05 The Editor
There's a new guy in town
06 Critical Path
The key dates this month
Photos from Develop:Brighton!
14 Strauss Zelnick
Take-Two's CEO has words
20 Ins and Outs
The latests comings and goings via the games industry revolving door
26 Emotional Journey
How to make magical memories
30 BGI Appeal
Growing the future of the industry
34 Games Aid
Bridging the (fundraising) gap
The keys to Oz
40 Seasonal Events
How to run the best mobile events
46 Sociable Soccer
Sensible tactics to take on FIFA
50 Unity Signpost
The best upcoming indies
54 The Art Of... TOEM
58 When We Made...
04 | MCV/DEVELOP November/December 2021
62 The Final Boss
Tone Brennan, MAG Interactive
“I have a responsibility to the multitudes that not only make a game, but that publish, promote and distribute it. That’s a cast of hundreds, if not thousands. For one game. It’s an awesome responsibility”
TheEditor So long Seth, and thanks for all the notes If my predecessor can sign off by paraphrasing Douglas Adams, it feels apt to similarly lean on the great man’s words to effect my introduction: “Don’t panic!” No, really. Everything’s going to be okay. While you breathe deeply into your paper bag at the sight of an unfamiliar and considerably less pleasant face atop this page, let me tell you how I ended up becoming the latest editor of MCV/DEVELOP. Once you’re hyperventilating comfortably, I can begin. Actually, it’s not that interesting. Retail management. Business studies at university. More retail (during which time I applied for job in a shoe shop and only got an interview because the area manager thought I’d fabricated my surname), then a transition that I can’t account for: fours years in epidemiology, or rather, assisting healthcare analysts with their monthly journals, which somehow translated into becoming the staff writer on Dennis Publishing’s PC Zone magazine. That brings me up to 1997, but don’t worry, I won’t bore you with the rest. You can probably guess. Writing here, editing there, freelancing in between. All in games, thankfully, because here’s the thing: Once I started writing for and about games I never had any ambition to do anything else, so for nearly 25 years it’s all I’ve ever really done. Until now. Truth be told, if anyone should be panicking it’s me. Writing about specific titles and having a responsibility to do them justice is comparatively easy compared to having that same responsibility to the people that make a game happen. In my previous life, to know a game was simply to play it, and perhaps interview it’s lead designer or senior producer to gain some exclusive insight beforehand. In my new big boy job (something I can tell my mum about at last), I feel a more direct responsibility to the multitudes that not only make a game, but that publish, promote and distribute it. That’s a cast of hundreds, if not thousands. For one game! It’s an awesome responsibility, one that in spite of all my experience and uncharacteristic enthusiasm, I feel slightly ill equipped to deal with. But before you pass over that bag for me to have a toke on, I do have a few things on my side. One is the MCV/DEVELOP team that Seth left behind, namely Chris and Alex who you will already be familiar with, and who have been, along with countless others behind the scenes, utterly brilliant in my first days at the helm. The welcome I’ve received in reaction to the news of my appointment - not least from my predecessor - has also unlocked a resolve I didn’t know I had. Then there are the copious notes Seth prepared that were forwarded to me upon my appointment. The first implied instruction, of course, was not to panic. So yes, I think everything’s going to be okay. Richie Shoemaker email@example.com
November/December 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 05
Critical Path Forza Horizon 5
Here are the key upcoming events and releases to mark in your calendar... Jurassic World Evolution 2
This one actually released before we went to press – but we’d hardly be a respectable UK industry magazine without giving a nod to Playground Games’ fantastic Forza Horizon series. After Forza Horizon 4 saw us racing around the beautiful British countryside, this latest entry takes us all the way to Mexico.
Yet another British game releasing before our deadline! Still, we’re glad it wasn’t a long wait for Frontier Development’s latest dinosaur business simulation title. Which actually means you’ll be running Jurassic Park – and not, as I’d dreamed, enjoying the adventures of a Jurassic businessman. Still, the original Jurassic World Evolution was great enough to distract me from not getting to see a T-Rex in a suit and tie.
Sherlock Holmes Chapter One
Frogwares’ latest visit to 221B Baker Street features a strikingly sexier take on Sherlock Holmes, we have to admit. In this detective thriller, a young Mr Holmes strives to prove himself as he navigates an exotic, dangerous island in the Mediterranean to investigate the mystery of his mother’s death.
06 | MCV/DEVELOP November/December 2021
Battlefield 2042 EA’s genre-defining Battlefield series is returning for one of this year’s biggest releases. Developed by DICE, Battlefield 2042 will feature massive scale 128-player battles – So I’m going to have a long list of people to blame when I’m repeatedly murdered by trigger-happy teens. Some lucky players have already gotten their hands on the open beta, though sadly some staff writers missed their window for that, so please be gentle.
Halo Infinite It’s here, it’s finally here! The latest entry to the Halo franchise, and my entire reason for continuing to live on this planet, is finally here! Halo Infinite’s journey to release has hardly been a smooth one, after 343 Industries announced a heavy delay after pre-release footage of the game failed to impress some fans. None of that matters though, after a successful beta and a desperate audience of MCV/DEVELOP staff writers, Halo Infinite is bound to be the number one Christmas game this year.
Guildford Games Festival Guildford Games Festival will be returning in December this year. Taking part in the digital event are Selen Ceri & Emily Cook of Supermassive Games, Jonny Hopper & Mike Ducker of Glowmade, and the team at EA Criterion. Additionally, attendees can expect more than one appearance from Media Molecule plus developers from across various other Guildford studios and businesses.
November/December 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 07
We’re Playing... CONTENT Editor: Richie Shoemaker firstname.lastname@example.org +44 (0)203 143 8785 Staff Writer: Chris Wallace email@example.com +44 (0)203 143 8786 Design and Production: Steve Williams firstname.lastname@example.org
ADVERTISING SALES Senior Business Development Manager: Alex Boucher email@example.com +44 (0)7778538431
MANAGEMENT Media Director: Colin Wilkinson firstname.lastname@example.org +44 (0)203 143 8777
SUBSCRIBER CUSTOMER SERVICE To subscribe, change your address, or check on your current account status, please contact: email@example.com ARCHIVES Digital editions of the magazine are available to view on ISSUU.com. Recent back issues of the printed edition may be available please call +44 (0)203 143 8777 for more information. INTERNATIONAL MCV/DEVELOP and its content are available for licensing and syndication re-use. Contact Colin Wilkinson for opportunities and permissions: firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m still making my way through Far Cry 6, on account of the fact I signed up to Ubisoft+ just to play it. I’m fast realising that if I don’t finish it soon, it would have cost me far less to buy it outright and take my time. Next on the list? At my current rate of progression, it’s looking like Far Cry 7. This could get expensive.
Listen, if the editor can have a new headshot then so can I. What do you mean he’s an entirely different man now? Either way, I had several people at Develop tell me that I look “just like my headshot,” so I need to throw them off the trail. What’s this section for again? Oh yeah, like the rest of you I’m playing Forza Horizon 5. It’s good! Chris Wallace, Staff Writer
My headshot will remain unchanged – as a sign that even under a new administration, it’s still the same MCV/DEVELOP deep down. Also Chris didn’t ask me for one. This month I’ve been playing Call of Duty Vanguard. Downloaded NHL’93 too, being a tourist in my youth. Alex Boucher, Senior Business Development Manager
Richie Shoemaker, Editor
Paws the game The best furry friends the industry has to offer. Send yours to email@example.com
Printed by Buxton Press Ltd
Biz Media Ltd, 44 Maiden Lane, London, WC2E 7LN All contents © 2021 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: Margeaux Owner: Richie Shoemaker Owner’s job: Editor of MCV/ DEVELOP
Pet: Truffle Owner: Melissa Chaplin Owner’s job: Consultant at Robot Teddy
Pet: Leopard (the quail) Owner: Fraser McCormick Owner’s job: Indie Developer, Grumpy Ferret
Margeaux is a lockdown Frenchie who snores during Zoom meetings and is able to locate sleeping humans and burrow a path between them.
This sleepy devil is Truffle! Truffle likes to follow her owner around the house, while loudly screaming and trying to eat Melissa’s headphone cable.
This is Leopard the Quail, kept inside, looking on jealously as Mildred, Æthelflæd, Hana and Sweetcorn the chickens wander freely outside.
MCV NOVDEC21 LUCID GAMES:Layout 1 28/10/2021 15:21 Page 1
Real Life Events from the industry
DEVELOP:BRIGHTON This October saw the very welcome return to Hilton Brighton Metropole for Develop:Brighton! With MCV/ DEVELOP in attendance (below, bottom left), the event saw three days of talks, networking and more – with speeches from the likes of Debbie Bestwick MBE (below, bottom right), Inkle’s Jon Ingold (below) as well as YRS TRULY’s MJ Widomska (right).
10 | MCV/DEVELOP November/December 2021
Dr Jo Twist OBE (left) was also in attendance, giving a talk that took a look at the current state of the UK games industry. Hutch’s Shaun Rutland was there too (below), speaking about the sale of Hutch to MTG Group.
It wasn’t all talks, however, with much needed-networking opportunities on hand (right), as well as a truly alarmingly comfortable lounge (above), thanks to the good people at Mediatonic). And let me tell you, after a full day’s worth of talks and networking, those comfy chairs were like water in the desert.
November/December 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 11
DEVELOP:STAR AWARDS The return to Develop:Brighton also saw the return of the Develop:Star Awards, which saw winners in 17 categories before this year’s Develop Star recipient, Team17’s founder and CEO Debbie Bestwick MBE, was celebrated for her outstanding achievements and contributions to the games industry.
12 | MCV/DEVELOP November/December 2021
GAME DEV HEROES AND SPLASH DAMAGE 20TH ANNIVERSARY The Develop:Star Awards weren’t the only show in town, of course. This year also saw the return of Game Dev Heroes, a celebration of the people behind the scenes of the games industry. And, of course, it wouldn’t be an industry get together without a good party – and Splash Damage’s 20th anniversary celebrations was certainly a good time.
November/December 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 13
The Grand Tour With millions more copies of GTA sold, a thriving sports label, and a 2022 release schedule that threatens more of the same (with a Marvel title thrown in for good measure), Take-Two are riding high. Richie Shoemaker thumbs down CEO Strauss Zelnick and gets taken for a spin
t may be the third largest publisher behind EA and Activision Blizzard, but with Grand Theft Auto driving much of its success, Take-Two is very much at the top of its game. In the wake of its last earnings call, for example, it was revealed that Grand Theft Auto V – soon to be released for a third successive console generation – had shifted five million more units in the last quarter, while GTA Online’s player base is 11 per cent larger and spending 33 per cent more. For a game that was birthed on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, there’s no sign that interest in Rockstar’s open world behemoth is waning, in spite of all the other, newer, diversions that gaming offers. However, for all the success that GTA has delivered, Take-Two and the wider gaming industry continue to face a number of challenges, from a global pandemic that is diminished but by no means over, to persistent issues of workplace diversity, and a perceived over reliance on core franchises. Then there is the growing prominence of the “metaverse”, blockchain technology and NFTs, opinions on which continue to divide the industry. On these issues and more we questioned Take-Two’s CEO Strauss Zelnick on where he perceives the organisation to be as the world angles itself to face another challenging year.
14 | MCV/DEVELOP November/December 2021
“The primary lesson ON GTA Clearly the GTA franchise is a huge contributor to Take-Two’s bottom line, but is there a responsibility to sustain the series’ legacy that’s in sync with the desire to profit from it? “As a part of entertainment culture, Grand Theft Auto, the franchise, is almost certainly the most important and the highest grossing entertainment property of all time, so I don’t think you can overstate its importance. And you know,” Zelnick continues, “we’ve seen with Grand Theft Auto V, which has sold over 155 million units, and with Grand Theft Auto Online, which is still growing and having great results with new content, eight years after its initial release, that Grand Theft Auto continues to feel fresh to consumers, continues to feel exciting, and continues to feel relevant.” We spoke to Zelnick on the day of the release for the Definitive Edition of Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy, a release that has endured a number of issues – not least the Rockstar Games launcher being down for three days. Some have likened the GTA Trilogy’s release to that of CD Projekt’s launch of Cyberpunk 2077 last year, in terms of how poorly received both have been. The difference, of course, is that Cyberpunk was next gen, whereas for all their spit and polish, the GTA remasters are very much not.
ON THE PANDEMIC It’s fair to say that the gaming industry has done rather well out of the ongoing COVID pandemic, especially during 2020 when millions of lapsed and future gamers were trapped in their homes with only digital entertainment to distract them from the news. However, it was always likely that, as vaccines were rolled out and the population returned to some semblance of normality, the growth of the last year might not be sustained. “You’re right,” says Zelnick. “In the [last] quarter our net bookings were up about 3 per cent year over year, and we had expected a decline. Recurrent consumer spending was up 7 per cent when we had expected an 11 per cent decline. So things certainly are going better than we had anticipated. That’s always good news. You like it when that happens, as opposed to the contrary.”
is one we already knew, which is to hope for the best and prepare for the worst”
“However, what’s going on is consistent with what we’ve said during the pandemic: I said that I felt post-pandemic demand - and I think we are post-pandemic, I think we’re in the new normal - would be greater than pre-pandemic demand, but less than the demand we experienced during the pandemic. And I think that is the case. We will hopefully grow from here. That’ll be dependent on the quality of our titles.” Revenues may be up on pre-pandemic levels, but what about the lessons learned during the pandemic itself? “The primary lesson is one we already knew, which is to hope for the best and prepare for the worst,” says Zelnick. “And that it’s really important to have a great culture so that when things go awry, you work together as a team with the strongest possible morale to continue to achieve your common goals.”
November/December 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 15
ON WORKPLACE DIVERSITY Despite most studios remaining empty for much of the year, the workplace has been a focus for many in the industry of late. There is continued upheaval at Ubisoft, as employees seek meaningful change amidst an exodus of high profile leads. Meanwhile, Activision Blizzard continues to face a charge sheet that includes endemic sexual harassment, a culture of bullying, and a lack of diversity. Given that Take-Two’s Rockstar Studios endured issues of its own prior to the release of Red Dead Redemption 2, specifically with regards to enforced overtime, it begs the question as to where Zelnick sees Tale-Two right now in terms of the group offering a healthy working environment. “We think we’re in a very good place, and we think we can do better. And I think you have to look at it that way,” he says. “We have a gender diverse company across the board, including at the very highest levels, and that’s been true for a very long time. “We can be more diverse from an ethnic background point of view. We are encouraging more diversity in our hiring practices. And we’re investing through non-profits in bringing more diverse audiences into STEM education, and hopefully into this industry – even if it doesn’t benefit our company, we’re happy to benefit the industry.”
Zelnick insists Take-Two’s company culture is one that values eccentricity without accepting the bad behaviour that often accompanies it. “Our culture has been consistent for a very long time. It’s a culture of inclusion. It’s a culture of diversity of thought and background. It’s a culture of mutual respect, ambition, creativity, and kindness. And everyone knows that it works.” As for the controversies that surrounded the launch of Red Dead Redemption 2, “First [they] are long in the rearview mirror. And second, were not related to a lack of diversity or harassment. Thankfully we haven’t had those problems and we aim not to in the future.”
“We need to do better, we can do better, I hope we will do better, in terms of making this place a great place to work” 16 | MCV/DEVELOP November/December 2021
Unsurprisingly, Zelnick does not appear keen for unionisation to become widespread within gaming but understands that without sustainable change in the industry as a whole, it might become inevitable. “I think if you have great relationships with your colleagues, I think if you take care of people appropriately, you reward them for their great work, then you’re less likely to have a union involved in your organisation” he says. “We pay at the highest level of the industry and we have a unique culture. And that’s reflected in the fact that we have the lowest attrition rate among all of the big companies – less than 50 per cent of the average in our business. But we don’t take any of that for granted. We need to do better, we can do better, I hope we will do better, in terms of making this place a great place to work: culturally, personally, professionally, and economically.” If Take-Two can accomplish that, then Zelnick believes there’d be no value in having a union involved in the business. “But to be clear,” he adds, “we will work with the union if there is any.”
ON INNOVATION On the face of it Take-Two has offered up a busy product release schedule during 2021, but when you discount updates and “definitive”, “enhanced” or physical editions of previously available games, there has been only really been one major new release in 2021, that of NBA 2K22, which some would argue is more of a franchise update rather than a wholly new game. That being the case, Take-Two wouldn’t be the only major publisher seemingly consolidating efforts around core franchises, arguably at the expense of innovation. “It’s specifically not the case here” he says emphatically. “We have more than 60 titles planned for the market in the next three years. 56 per cent of them are new intellectual properties, more than half of the release schedule. So we’re trying really hard to bring new intellectual properties to market.” Zelnick points to Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, from Borderlands developer Gearbox, with WWE 2K22, Marvel’s Midnight Suns and
OlliOlli World (whose creator, Roll7, was announced as the latest Take-Two acquisition days after we spoke) announced for release in 2022. “We have many other new titles coming, both for mobile as well as console,” adds Zelnick, “so I think even though we hope that our franchises are highly durable, very long lasting – and so far, they’ve proven to be – you always need to be creating new because nothing is permanent.”
ON THE FIFA LICENSE Take-Two has a healthy stable of sports titles, which put the company among the imagined suitors when there was talk in October of the FIFA licence no longer being exclusive to EA. The wishful thinking had been heightening in the wake of Take-Two acquiring Top Eleven developer Nordeus in June, suggestive that Take-Two might be keen to widen its portfolio of 2K sports titles, with FIFA very much the marquee midseason signing. “We are really thrilled to have Nordeus inside the Take-Two family and their title Top Eleven is doing just great. And they just brought out a new iteration, which is performing incredibly
well. That is our approach to the soccer market.” Curiously, Zelnick doesn’t discount the notion of a 2K FIFA game sometime down the line: “So far, we’re in business with the NFL, in business with the PGA, obviously the NBA, and from a sports entertainment point of view, WWE. So we have a panoply of sports entertainment titles. I hope that we’ll have more, but we’re not making any announcements in today’s discussion.”
ON MODS At times Take-Two has appeared ambivalent and casual about mods for its games, and at others, usually around the time of a release, quite keen for mods not to exist. One of the most famous episodes in the history of the GTA franchise was when modders unearthed a previously inaccessible minigame in San Andreas called Hot Coffee that had been buried in the code. The resulting legal action by way of the Federal Trade Commission cost $20m for Take-Two to settle. “We love that people are engaged and love our intellectual property. However, we don’t love copyright infringement of ours or anyone else’s intellectual property,” says Zelnick. “And we don’t accept bad behaviour – harassing behaviour, inappropriate behaviour, inside of our titles. So, we’re excited about what modders can do and want to do. And we
would very much like to be a part of it, we need to find a way to be a part of it, that protects intellectual property, and that protects participants. And that’s proving to be a little bit difficult.” Ripples from Hot Coffee resurfaced again in the recent release of the GTA Trilogy Definitive Edition, which was taken down on PC for three days due to “files unintentionally included” in the games, according to a Take-Two statement. Despite the issues Take-Two has faced from modders keen to excavate files that should perhaps have remained buried, Zelnick is keen to accommodate fan efforts where appropriate: “There is a subset of the population that does want to create, does want to modify, and we should find a place for them. And I know we will over time.”
November/December 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 17
ON CANCELLING GAMES “It’s terribly disappointing when we and a powerful creative team work on something that ultimately we don’t feel should be completed,” says Zelnick, referring to the recent decision to cancel a game that had reportedly been in development. “There’s not much more to cancellation than that,” he adds. “It pains us, but we take great risk and we push our colleagues to take great risk, and sometimes it doesn’t pan out the way one hopes.” Subsequent to the $53m write-off, it was reported that the game, codenamed Volt, was in development at Hangar 13, the studio previously behind Mafia III and Mafia: Definitive Edition. Just a few days prior to the announcement, Hangar 13 were out in force at Develop Brighton, looking to expand the team.
ON THE METAVERSE With Facebook rebranding itself Meta, talk around the so-called “metaverse” has increased both in volume and intensity in recent months. Curiously, it’s a development that Zelnick has appeared quite skeptical about. However, he insists that his views on the subject haven’t so much been dismissive as misrepresented. “I’ve maybe been a little tongue-in-cheek about some people’s views about the metaverse,” he admits. “Where I am sceptical is a that I don’t think people want to inhabit digital worlds for mundane tasks. I think it’s goofy to put on a headset and become an avatar and go to a digital location and get a digital cup of coffee and sit down at a digital conference table and interact that way. It’s just very unlikely that that’s how business will be conducted. I’ll stand by that. Where I’m not at all sceptical is the possibility of having numerous digital environments that allow us to do any kind of any number of things. Whether that’s entertainment – as I said, that already exists. I don’t know what GTA Online is, if not a metaverse in most people’s description. I mean, we are, from a user point of view, the biggest metaverse company on Earth right now.” So what is Strauss Zelnick’s idea of the metaverse? Is it an unnecessary layer above the internet?
18 || MCV/DEVELOP MCV/DEVELOP November/December November/December 2021 2021 18
“Well, since it doesn’t exist in that form yet, I don’t have to be further sceptical. Lord knows I’ve been wrong before and maybe I’ll be wrong here. And if I am wrong, then you know, we’ll quickly figure out what our role should be and will innovate in that way. You know, this company is not driven by one person’s opinions – mine or anyone else’s. But, if some overlay owned by one massively powerful company orders our daily existence digitally, I’ll be mighty surprised.” After a pause he adds, “But, we’ll continue to make entertainment for that community.”
ON NFTS “The problem is that right now it’s a speculation,” says Zelnick when asked about his comparative enthusiasm for NFT (comparative to the metaverse, that is). “In most instances, when people buy NFTs, they’re buying an NFT because they believe it’ll go up in value. And in certain instances it has and in other instances it will. But I would argue that a collectible only has durable value if it sits at the intersection of rarity and quality. And quality is in the eye of the beholder. Many people would think that a beautiful Picasso painting, in a spectacular unlimited edition of prints, is of great quality. But it’s not going to be rare and therefore won’t have too much value. I mean, it can’t. Eventually its value will come down to the cost of production plus a modest margin. So there’s something there when you have both elements, rarity and quality. Quality is the part that right now is being overlooked.” Zelnick would not be drawn on the idea of players owning and subsequently trading their rare (and presumably top quality) cars in GTA Online. “Let’s leave GTA out of it. Conceptually, could we have NFTs in our games? Yes. Could we have a means of exchange? Yes. Could we
monetize that means of exchange? Yes. We’ll only do it if it is in service of a great entertainment experience. And if it’s good for consumers. If it purely is a speculation, which means that a lot of people are going to get hurt at some point – because that’s what happens in speculations – that probably isn’t for us. If it’s in service of a great consumer entertainment dynamic, yeah that’s pretty interesting.”
KCHAIN found many uses yet ON BLOC ’t it’s only chnology hasn
ON OTHER CEOS “I’d want to do all of them,” says Zelnick, when asked which gaming CEOs he’d like to replace. By ‘do’, of course, he means to experience what they go through in their workaday lives, not to sabotage their efforts or to have them sleep with the fishes (we assume). “I’d have so much to learn, right? I mean, you can always find a way to be critical about being complimentary.” Are there any specific CEOs he’d swap places with in an instant? “There are two huge publishers that are bigger than we are. They must be doing a bunch of things right: EA and Activision. There’s this great big company in China that has a massive footprint in the interactive entertainment business, Tencent, a very well run company, run by great people. Would I like to be a fly on the wall there? Of course. And would I be super excited to see what’s going on inside Epic and Riot.” Microsoft? Sony? “Absolutely. Sign me up. Maybe that’s what the metaverse will bring to me: I’ll pay a little subscription and I can change places with Andrew Wilson for a week – that would be just great.”
ves Blockchain te t Zelnick belie tocurrency, bu ink it might th he es outside of cryp do til it will. How un e tim of r te a mat ming? a find a use in ga nceptually it’s t example. Co ea gr at a th e r ar ge s “NFT stributed led nest, highly di it isn’t is, lem ob pr transparent, ho e e. Th and it’s reliabl s to be. And, no one owns rent as it need pa ns tra as ar e have been er th e anywhere ne us e either, beca bl lia re as ods that t no of so far, sing value go s of people lo blockchain. e th on d many instance te e reliably protec er w t gy lo gh no ou th ch they but that te k to be done matter. at th es us r So there’s wor he ill find some ot w ly to the in d rta An ce y. t almos t cryptocurrenc ou ab y all her re ot t Right now it’s ncy, it’s abou out out cryptocurre ab ab t ’t no isn at it’s th nt exte to find a place t ye s ha It at . th y speculations cryptocurrenc ind at isn’t about ep an open m ke speculating, th to g in go I’m t bu , rs te actually mat at it will.” and suggest th
November/December 2021 2021 MCV/DEVELOP MCV/DEVELOP || 19 19 November/December
Brought to you by
Ins and Outs: Industry hires and moves 1
As we’re sure you’ve noticed by now, MCV/ DEVELOP has a new editor in RICHIE SHOEMAKER (1) Shoemaker joins from Manchester’s BGFG, where he oversaw gaming content for the tech publisher’s flagship site, WePC. Previously he managed content for MY.GAMES, edited gamesTM magazine, and spent nine years partnering with CCP Games on various editorial projects. After over three years at Ubisoft UK, KATIE LAURENCE (2) is moving over to Bethesda Softworks as communications manager, managing Bethesda’s games for the UK region. She will be working on new IPs like Starfield but also the GaaS games The Elder Scrolls Online and Fallout 76. JOE BOGNAR (3) is global communications manager at Koch Media’s Global Partner Publishing department. Bognar will be in charge of Koch Media’s global communication for Koch Media’s publishing partners and their products.
CI Games has announced that industry veteran SAM SADEGHI (4) will be joining the company as the VP of Global Sales. Sadeghi comes from a sales position at SEGA, where he helped drive digital and physical sales across their vast catalogue, including many of their recent successes. Miniclip has announced that chief strategy officer, SAAD CHOUDRI (5), who has been with the business since 2011, has been appointed CEO. Choudri has over a decade of experience from within Miniclip, and a background working in Sega before starting at Miniclip in 2011. Product Madness has a number of new hires over at the company. First, MICHAEL SJÖBERG (6) joins as vice president of analytics and monetization. Sjöberg joins from King, where he spent the last 10 years. MAYA HOFREE (7) also joins Product Madness, joining the company as VP New Games. Hofree joins from Playtika, where she spent the past eight years.
Also joining Product Madness is EYAL YANIV (8), who joins as CTO. Yaniv was also previously working at Playtika, where he was VP R&D Jelly Button games. Prior to that, Yaniv has worked for the likes of Wix.com. Finally at Product Madness, VARUN MATHURE (9) joins as VP User Acquisition. Mathure joins the company from Gamesys, where he was Head of Acquisition. He has also previously worked for the likes of Midnite and Catena Media. Brighton-based integrated audio studio RevRooms has two new hires. First, DAVID HAWKES (10) joins as audio designer, with a decade of industry experience mostly at Creative Assembly. MARK BAILEY (11) also joined RevRooms as an audio designer. After getting his Masters at The National Film and Television School, Bailey freelanced for five years working with clients such as Creative Assembly and games such as Mortal Kombat 11.
Sumo Digital has a host of new hires to shout about – only four of which we have space for this month! First, MEGAN CLARKE (12) joins Sumo Sheffield as their Social Media Coordinator following five years of social media experience in an agency marketing background. Next up at Sumo, KERRY RIZZO (13) is new head of content & communications at Sumo Group. She joins from VR developer nDreams, having previously held senior comms roles at SEGA, GAME, BAFTA and Ubisoft. SANDRINE NEILL (14) joins Sumo Newcastle as their newest junior lighting artist, moving away from her previous role at Playground Games. TOM CLAYTON (15) joins Sumo Sheffield as an environment artist. Clayton has previously worked at Sumo Digital on Sackboy: A Big Adventure as a junior environment artist. Prior to Sumo Digital, Clayton has also worked as a lecturer in game art at the University of Hull and Sheffield College.
As always, Splash Damage has far too many hires this month for us to fit them all in here, but here’s just a sample of their new faces. First ADAM STEPHENS (16) joins as lead VFX artist. Stephens has been working in media for 13 years, being in the game industry for around eight years and had a stint in film postproduction for three years DANIEL CARTER (17) meanwhile joins as a VFX artist. Before starting at Splash, Carter was a freelance VFX Artist, he worked on GunJam, Everspace 2 and other indie titles. NIALL EWART (18) also joins the team, as an associate audio programmer. Prior to joining Splash, Ewart was working as an Audio Programmer at Poly Fruit Studios since November 2020. ALEX BAIRD (19) joins Splash as assistant UI designer, and was previously working as a QA feature tester for the RPG & UI features on Rocksteady’s next title.
Got an appointment you’d like to share with the industry? Email Chris Wallace at firstname.lastname@example.org 20 | MCV/DEVELOP November/December 2021
Brought to you by
Every month, we pick the brain of an up-and-coming talent
Valerie Künst, executive assistant at remote control productions, talks about her start in games, adapting to life under COVID and her big ambitions for games
How did you break into games? Honestly, it was more or less by accident! I always liked to play games like The Sims or Stronghold: Crusader, but I did not think that I would work in this industry one day. I started to work for an escape game company in Munich after my traineeship as an event manager. Looks like I always liked jobs where I can somehow bring fun and joy to people’s spare time. This is one out of many reasons why I joined remote control productions. What has been your proudest achievement so far? Organizing the EGBG (European games bizdev gathering) in May 2020 in several weeks only. Due to Covid, there were no physical events possible anymore. Hendrik, our CEO, spotted the need for a virtual event very early on. So we started to organize this event in May 2020, powered by the EGDF and supported by MeetToMatch. Despite a super tight schedule, everything worked out and in the end, more than 530 people had nearly 2400 meetings during the event. It definitely was a great achievement but also a big challenge at the same time. Pretty soon after the event, I realized how much I learned for me personally and for rcp. It’s amazing how much you can accomplish
“I always liked to play games like The Sims or Stronghold: Crusader, but I did not think that I would work in this industry one day.”
changes and new, different projects where I am involved. So I have the possibility to gain new skills in different areas like marketing, strategy development, leadership, business development, and a lot more.
when you are focused and when you can rely on your colleagues. What has been your biggest challenge to date? When I joined rcp and the games industry in August 2019, I learned so many things in a short period of time. Everyone was very friendly, open-minded, and explained “insider stuff” to me. Which is super important to get a bigger picture of the industry. The next step was to get to know the different studios of the rcp family and be aware of their different skills, needs, challenges & super powers! What do you enjoy most about your job? Each day is different and brings in new challenges and perspectives. It is never boring. I like to try out new things and that is what I can do as an executive assistant. As rcp is a very dynamic company, there are also a lot of
What’s your biggest ambition in games? During the pandemic, I got Red Dead Redemption 2 as a birthday present from my colleagues, and it showed me again more intensely how important playing and having fun is especially in difficult times, so I would like to be a part of bringing this medium to an even wider audience. I see so many opportunities where games are still underused, for example, in school lessons or retirement homes. So to help the world to understand how valuable this combination of experiencing yourself, learning new things, and having fun is. What advice would you give to an aspiring executive assistant? My first suggestion would be to read the book Radical Candor as this really changed my point of view about how to communicate and work with others. I have always found it quite difficult to give and receive direct feedback, I think a lot of people feel the same. But thanks to the book and the feedback culture at rcp, it is a lot easier for me, as it is never about criticizing a person, but the role the person is performing. Challenge directly & care personally are the keywords here. And especially for the role as an executive assistant, be brave, try out new things to become an allrounder, as you never know what your next project might be!
If there’s a rising star at your company, contact Chris Wallace at email@example.com November/December 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 21
Cherry picked advice to help you reach the next level in your career
Pip Hoskins, marketing lead at No More Robots, talks about how passion and outlook can often mean more than having the right qualifications
“There’s a clear route for any juniors, and for folks who’ve taken on roles at our company who’ve wanted to move sideways in the industry, they’ve been supported and moved into positions that suit them better!”
What is your job role and how would you describe your typical day at work? I’m the marketing lead at No More Robots, and as with most marketing jobs, it varies from day to day, depending on whether we’re announcing a game, ramping towards a launch or supporting a game post-launch! A lot can change when you have games to look after, but primarily I’m shouting everywhere I can about all of our games, listening to players, feeding back to developers and playing silly roleplay games with our community! At No More Robots, we’re working from home for life, so we have two team calls a day to set up the day and check that everyone is doing ok (we laugh a lot and occasionally play a round or two of a competitive game in these, they’re great fun!), but we aim to make sure everyone is comfortable in the day’s work and if anyone needs any extra support we make sure they get it. What qualifications and/or experience do you need to land this job? This is my first industry job. I started as the only marketer at No More Robots, with a zoobased teaching degree and work experience selling silver and streaming to ~80 people. There are definitely people who see marketing degrees as a must-have, but passion and a showcase of relevant skills speak much louder to me! While I was a streamer I built a community, chatted to developers and got involved with their communities, as an active participant or, in some lucky circumstances, a moderator. This pro-activity looks fantastic and sets you up for the real deal. Also, getting to know social platforms and store-fronts is a great
way to better understand what works/doesn’t work in marketing. Keeping one step ahead and working out the next thing is such a big part of our job, showing you’re already thinking about that is fantastic. Current marketing qualifications are amazing, and cover so many interesting facets of the job – they’ll take you far, for sure. If you don’t have one though, please don’t be discouraged! So many teams are made up of people who don’t have relevant degrees or started in entirely different roles – if you can practice and showcase your skills, nothing should stop you! If you were interviewing someone for your team, what would you look for? Aside from the above, because a lot of our job is based on communication, I’d look for someone who is clear in how they communicate and upbeat in how they answer and approach questions/problems. We repeat ourselves a lot and it can be very easy to get bogged down during busy periods, so being able to stay above that and remain upbeat and level is a must! What opportunities are there for career progression? We’re a super small team, so for us career progression moves along with the company! There’s a clear route for any juniors, and for folks who’ve taken on roles at our company who’ve wanted to move sideways in the industry, they’ve been supported and moved into positions that suit them better! We’re also organising training for all of us during quieter periods, which is so exciting, especially for us new to the industry!
Want to talk about your career and inspire people to follow the same path? Contact Chris Wallace at firstname.lastname@example.org
22 | MCV/DEVELOP November/December 2021
Brought to you by
Debugging D&I This month, Amiqus’ Liz Prince discusses how to make flexibility work for your studio
t Amiqus, we’ve recently published the results of our unique research into the games industry’s attitudes to remote and flexible working. Key findings have revealed that many individuals wish to retain some level of flexible/ remote working going forward. And, with just over 82 per cent of respondents saying that their productivity levels have remained the same – or increased – while working from home, offering more flexibility in working practices is surely worth serious consideration. Some of the major benefits for respondents regarding working remotely over the past year or so have included ‘spending more time with the family’ (61.4 per cent), ‘enhanced work/life balance’ (72.5 per cent) and ‘easing childcare challenges’. With that in mind, it’s not unfair to assume that women – or others with caring responsibilities – have found working from home to have had a positive impact on both their professional and personal lives. These benefits are similarly highlighted when individuals were asked why they want more flexible working options in the future:A better work/life balance – 80.6% To avoid commuting time – 79.9% Improving personal wellbeing – 63.3% Spend more time with family & friends – 61.9% We can conclude that if we, as an industry, wish to attract and retain more women, we should be open to remote and flexible working options. Or risk losing that talent. Our research also reveals that almost half of respondents (49.3 per cent) are considering a career move to achieve their ideal working conditions. A further 29.5 per cent are ‘possibly’ looking at such a move. That’s a worryingly high percentage of individuals who may be quitting their jobs for pastures new… The past 20 months have shown that business can continue – and, in the case of the games industry, thrive – with staff working from home. But changing working practices permanently has made some studios hesitant. I would urge you to consider how flexible working can enrich the lives of your teams, which in turn will mean happier and more motivated employees. A more long-term policy of flexible working options may need more considerations regarding best practice. Here are some key suggestions on how to make flexible and hybrid working work for your studio…
24 | MCV/DEVELOP November/December 2021
At Amiqus, we have many resources available to help, so please do get in touch via email@example.com
This is not just about establishing when staff are expected to be working, join meetings, etc. But, just as importantly, it’s about ensuring your teams don’t feel obligated to work extended hours. Without the natural break of a commute, it’s very easy to continue working into the evening and at weekends. CONNECT AND COMMUNICATE
Regular meetings are, of course, vital. But ensure that staff and colleagues feel comfortable about asking for help and advice on an ad hoc basis too, and make time for them – whether it’s via Slack, a phone call, Zoom or email, whatever suits the individual. DON’T SIDELINE INDIVIDUALS
The games industry showed incredible resource and creativity (of course!) when it came to keeping teams connected during lockdown. Remember this when it comes to managing and motivating a hybrid workforce long term. Those who are working flexible hours or WFH should never be made to feel like they’re not a part of the team, and certainly not less important than those who choose to work from the office/studio. FOMO shouldn’t be a desirable outcome! MONITOR PERFORMANCE… BUT ALSO WELLBEING
If your staff are working remotely, it’s easy to worry about what they’re doing and when they’re working. Trust is the key word here – and this can be achieved by monitoring goals and milestones. But paying attention to staff wellbeing is just as important in this scenario too. Are your staff taking lunch breaks? Are they working extended hours? Are they actually suffering, in terms of wellbeing, from working remotely? Make sure they know how and where to seek support if they need it. There’s no doubt that there are many new considerations to take into account if you have staff working remotely. But our research has clearly shown that there is a huge desire for flexibility and innovation in working practices; a shift that now looks likely to be permanent. Some adjustments will be required to managerial skills and procedures, but the ultimate result is a happier and more motivated workforce. And a company that is more attractive to new talent.
From the screen to a player’s heart -
Crafting the emotional journey How is it that some games are able to foster a connection between players and the character or world they inhabit that feels intensely personal? Game If You Are’s Lucy Ann Jones talks to four game narrative experts to find out
ow do you write a game story that your players will remember for a lifetime? We all have that game that brings a smile instantly to our faces when we reminisce about our time with its story, characters and setting. Despite the fact we know that thousands, millions of other players may have experienced the same journey as we did, completed the game in the same way, our hearts say that only we experienced the game as we did. Perhaps it made us cry, laugh or learn something about ourselves - it becomes a cherished memory, and it feels like it’s personal. How could another player see this story as we do? Now, the question is - where does a development team start when looking to craft a game that gives these incredibly personal experiences? To learn more about this process, we sat down with creatives across the indie and AAA game design
community to learn more. We got together with Alex Kanaris-Sotiriou, Creative Director at Polygon Treehouse (Röki); Anna C. Webster, writer and designer (Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2); Chris Remo, game designer, writer and composer (Firewatch, Gone Home, Half-Life: Alyx) and Christian Fonnesbech, freelance IP Consultant and Narrative Director (working with teams like Funcom, Raw Fury and Star Stable). FORGING A BOND Is emotional attachment to a character something that a developer, writer or designer can build intentionally? Is it all down to luck, or are there techniques that can be employed in order to increase the chances your characters are related to and remembered? “Naturally, mileage is going to vary when it comes to player investment for a certain
Clockwise top left: Alex Kanaris-Sotiriou Anna Webster, Chris Remo and Christian Fonnesbech
November/December 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 25
something that lasts [emotional attachment] is important. Think about Don’t Starve or Hitman. When people see those characters, they know instantly what they’re in for and how it feels. People recognise and relate to characters. They become anchors for the whole project.” “For investors and publishers, the characters are a huge part of the potential value they’re investing in, when they invest in your game.”
character or story.” Anna C. Webster explains, “I think story is critical for a game, but I know there are others that disagree. There’s always going to be someone out there who says “meh, I was just in it for [mechanic]” – and that’s okay!” Remo expands on this, suggesting that it is less about the attachment between the player and the character, but the player and the game’s overall setting. “Given the nature of the player character is somewhat fuzzy, it is critical that the player find the environment and setting to be believable and that they are able to fully situate themselves within it. “To what extent is the protagonist an authored character that exists independently of the player, and to what extent are they an expression of the player’s agency?” “At least for single player games, people may play the mechanic - but afterwards, most will remember this as time they spent with the characters.” Fonnesbech thinks developers should be thinking about the impact an emotive connection can have on longevity: not only the longevity of a game, but the longevity of a series of games, and even the longevity of a studio, “If you want to make
LAYING THE FOUNDATIONS Creating characters with lives and personalities that feel real, that players can see themselves in, can be a key goal for any designer, developer, or audio engineer looking to take their audience on a journey. We spoke to the experts about how to start thinking about this emotional connection from the very beginning. Kanaris-Sotiriou reflects on his time with awardwinning adventure Röki, and the process the team used to create a story described as “absorbing” (The Guardian) and “cathartic” (The Indie Game Website). “The simple act of driving the player character’s actions (making them walk, run and respond to player input) goes a long way to initiate this connection but it is important to respect, grow and nurture that fragile bond if the player is to truly care about a game’s story. “Some of this is about leaving room for the player to project onto their player character, to encourage them to place themselves in their shoes. For us this connection is not elicited from a shared physical resemblance to the real-world player but a shared humanity.” Fonnesbech too agrees with this sense of ‘shared humanity’, “Having relatable emotions is about your character being up against things that are recognisable to people from their own lives. Of course you can have wizards and spaceships and Cthulhu monsters - but there should also be emotions in there that people recognise.” Webster also confirms this vital step of the process, “People often unconsciously look for “themselves” in a story somewhere. People need a sense of connection or relatability to others (whether in real life or fictitiously) as a way of making sense of the world around them. “Subsequently, for me, finding this relatability involves creating a character or plot which has a callout to a very human experience (such as a struggle with grief, a complex or nuanced relationship, or a conundrum about loyalty/obligation). Seeing a character grow and change is very satisfying, especially when this growth happens in a very human way.” LINEAR VS OPEN Story-led games, as we know, can be presented in a multitude of formats. Are there particular drawbacks or
26 | MCV/DEVELOP November/December 2021
benefits in terms of player connection through open narrative structures, rather than linear? Remo, game and story designer of the BAFTA-winning narrative adventure Firewatch, considers the approach used by himself and the Campo Santo team, “The degree of linearity in a game’s story is hugely important with respect to how the story will be told, and therefore ultimately what kind of story it will be. “When we started making Firewatch, we imagined it would be much less linear than it ended up being. What we ultimately made was a very linear story told inside of a relatively nonlinear world — and [that] in turn allowed us to tell smaller nonlinear stories around the margins of our larger central linear one. I think it’s perfectly possible to enrapture the player with either style of storytelling, but there are elements of storytelling that are
better suited to different points along the spectrum of linearity to nonlinearity, and you must be willing to adapt the story as such..” Kanaris-Sotiriou too acknowledges the complexity of this question, “There is clearly a great potential in non-linear open narratives where the player is an active agent in driving the story structure. The game world will feel more alive and rich with possibilities and the illusion of life can blossom with the freedom the player has. “However the pitfalls are greater; the illusion of life is more easily shattered (as there are more plates to spin) and wider meaningful player choice necessitate the need for ‘more story’ and for that story to have an emotional impact that distinguishes itself from the other narrative paths.” “It hurts my head just to think about it so I’ve got a lot of respect for folks creating in this area.” Lucy Ann Jones is a senior marketing manager at Game If You Are, a UK-based agency that offers video game marketing solutions specially crafted for small studios, solo developers, and indie publishers.
The experts’ choice Lastly, we wanted to round off our discussion by checking in with our participants, and asking these experts of spinning player journeys - which characters tugged at their heart-strings? Christian Fonnesbech Zagreus in Hades - “I’m very drawn to his battles with family and patriarchy. Food for thought, that. And of course the fatherson relationship in God of War - it’s a beautiful example of relatability.” Anna C. Webster - Fran Bow, Fran Bow - “I love characters of young women, particularly children, as I think they remind me of a younger version of myself. I am still very connected to my inner child, so when I see a young character standing strong to battle a scary world... Who doesn’t know what that feels like in some capacity?” Alex Kanaris-Sotiriou - Ico and Yorda, Ico / Henry & Delilah, Firewatch - “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the characters that have drawn an emotional response from me have close in-game relationships to other characters.” Chris Remo - the classic LucasArts protagonists (Monkey Island, Grim Fandango, Full Throttle) - “It’s really the settings that stick with me more than the characters themselves: the murky pirate nostalgia of the early Monkey Island games, the film noir art deco underworld of Grim Fandango, the retro-futuristic biker wasteland of Full Throttle. It’s rare to encounter settings that remain as vivid in my mind as those.”
November/December 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 27
THE DIVERSITY FRAMEWORK
How EA is representing diverse voices in games.
Tülay McNally, director of inclusive design and product development at Electronic Arts, guides us through the work EA does to ensure its games remain accessible and representative of all its players
Tülay McNally, director of inclusive design and product development at Electronic Arts
WHILE DIVERSE VOICES have always been in games, the growing popularity of gaming over the years has resulted in a more diverse audience for games than ever before. Making sure you’re representing these groups in your work, and removing the barriers around games can be difficult but important work, and that’s why EA has created the first-ever Inclusive Design Framework: a core set of filters designed to help EA studios develop more inclusive characters and stories across all of its games. The framework has now become a core part of EA’s culture, and was used for the successful launch of the Mumbai Fashion Street Kit for the Sims. Through the Inclusion Design Framework, the team at EA worked with cultural consultants to keep the content respectful and authentic to Indian culture and heritage. Instrumental to the creation of that framework was Tülay McNally, director of inclusive design and product development at Electronic Arts, who takes us through her work in this area. What can you tell us about the work your team does, and why is it so important to remove barriers around games? We believe that games have the power to transcend society. The characters we create and the stories we tell can positively impact the world around us. As director of
28 | MCV/DEVELOP November/December 2021
inclusive design and product development, it’s my role to make sure that belief becomes a reality and to support the creation of inclusive, diverse and accessible play experiences for everyone. By involving diverse perspectives, amplifying the voices of all players, and ultimately helping to build muscle memory with game teams, we make sure everyone in our communities feels welcome. You were an instrumental part of the creation of the first-ever Inclusive Design Framework – What can you tell us about that? What are the filters, and how do they help develop more inclusive characters and stories in EA’s games? Inclusive Design is about designing for as diverse a range of people and abilities as possible. It is a philosophy that encourages us to consider how gender, age, sexuality, ethnicity, socio-economic background, culture and customs, body-shapes and sizes, religious beliefs and other characteristics shape the way we interact with the world. The work my team does challenges our developers to think about the experiences they build for players through these filters, every time. We then build our products and services in light of this understanding. It’s an ongoing process that is entirely built on reflection, dialogue and collaboration. Why is it so important to improve the diversity of characters and stories in games, and why does EA want to be a leader in this area? In 2021, we’re very proud to say our audiences are more diverse than ever. We believe the videogames industry has a responsibility to reflect the communities we serve in the games we create. It’s why we focus so heavily on inclusion and diversity; from our commitment to every developer that our accessibility-centred technology patents will be available for use royalty free, to the characters we include and promote in our games. We recognise that every action carries an impact in the wider community, and we’ll keep pushing ourselves to improve in this area for our players.
Left: The Tampa Bay play calling screen in Madden NFL 21 with colour blindness settings set to deuteranopia, simulated as seen by someone with red green colour blindness. The technology helps to distinguish between the different types of routes to make it easier for the player to choose the right play, enhancing the gaming experience What kind of success have you seen with the framework so far? The framework has had an incredible impact, and it’s been really exciting to see how the filters and processes we’ve established have started to come to life in the games coming out today. One of the things I’m most proud of is that it feels like we have created this movement, a developer community around the topic of inclusion, diversity and playability. We’ve found a lot of allies and passionate people around the company, creating a shared language, sharing best practices and engaging with the topic. What can you tell us about the Mumbai Fashion Street Kit for the Sims, and how was the Inclusive Design Framework used here? What was done to ensure the content was respectful and authentic to India’s vibrant culture and heritage? For Mumbai Fashion Street Kit the development team collaborated with fashion expert Shruti Sitara Singh to cocreate a comprehensive and authentic wardrobe of pieces. Born, raised and currently based in Mumbai, Shruti Sitara Singh is an art-meets-fashion curator. She has also worked with the Fashion Design Council of India and led the launch of India’s first-ever digital fashion week. Her expertise and knowledge of Mumbai’s fashion scene made her a perfect fit for this project. Sometimes the work we do with teams is simply about connecting them with the right partners, and this was a great example of that! EA’s Inclusive Design approach covers a wide area – taking into account gender, age, sexuality, ethnicity, socio-economic background, culture & customs, body shapes and sizes, religious beliefs and more. How do you successfully build accessible products for such diverse groups, each with their own different needs? It can be easy for our industry to fall back on what has always been done, what we think we know and who we perceive our audience to be - unfortunately, that is often white, slim, young and male but we know that’s not the
case. A study from the data platform Newzoo last year surveyed players across the US and the UK and found 45% of video game players are women, 30% have a disability, 33% are black, Hispanic or Asian, 13% identify as LGBTQ+. We need to have the courage and the patience as teams to challenge each other, consider gameplay through different eyes, and think about the impact of our games on our players, no matter who they are or how they identify. From my experience it all really starts with inclusive leadership. How do you best ensure that players with disabilities aren’t excluded from your games? We have a responsibility to meet the needs of our community and, importantly, that includes the needs of those with disabilities. It’s why earlier this year we announced the Patent Pledge. The pledge includes five patents that make our most innovative accessibility-centred technology designed to help players with vision, speaking, hearing and cognitive disabilities, publicly available for all developers in the industry - royalty free. Our hope is that developers across the industry implement the technology offered in these patents to break down barriers in their own games for players living with disabilities or medical issues. It builds on previous initiatives including the launch of the Electronic Arts accessibility portal where players can learn about the accessibility features in Electronic Arts’ games, raise issues and make suggestions for improvements. Electronic Arts also has longstanding partnerships with charities like SpecialEffect to help break down barriers in video games and the industry.
Below: The Ping Menu in Apex Legends™ is accessible by holding down the assigned Ping key, providing players with various commands to communicate information to their team. This includes marking the location of an enemy (top right), or an area to attack (bottom right), defend (bottom left) or keep an eye on (middle left)
November/December 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 29
Transforming lives with games With the games industry more in the spotlight than ever before, Chris Wallace talks to the BGI and the National Videogame Museum to find out how they’re transforming lives with games
his Christmas, the BGI is doing something special to introduce underprivileged children to the possibilities of the games industry. The charity that runs the National Videogame Museum (NVM) in Sheffield is launching a Christmas appeal to offer free museum visits to families in order for them to play games and learn how they’re made, as part of their new strategy of ‘transforming lives with games.’ The team at the BGI and the NVM are big believers in this mission, and have launched a host of programmes aiming to reach out to disadvantaged communities through games – from working with Sheffield’s refugee communities to create games art based on their local folklore, to an LGBTQ+ young producers club, to training teachers in
30 | MCV/DEVELOP November/December 2021
deprived areas on how to use games in the classroom, to a programme training women and LGBTQ+ people of colour how to make games using Crayta. On top of all that, the BGI is one of the cofounders of Games Careers Week – an online festival that encourages people from every background to discover careers in the UK games industry (more on that later!) TRANSFORMING LIVES They’re certainly busy people. Which is why we were delighted that they had the time to sit down with us this month, to talk about the appeal, how COVID has changed attitudes towards games and games careers, and how they intend to transform the lives of others with games. One thing that struck us with the appeal is that it could encourage young people
on low incomes to consider careers in the games industry. While there’s some great work out there reaching out to people of colour and the LGBTQ+ community, there’s a relative lack of outreach to those who are simply less well off – resulting in an industry that often feels remarkably middle class. “We’re launching this appeal to help us give the gift of play to families from deprived areas to visit the museum for free,” says BGI CEO Rick Gibson. “And as you established, our definition of underrepresented communities has to include those low incomes. It’s going to be a tough winter for all of us, but even harder for those on low incomes. So what we’re going to do is we’re going to bring hundreds of children into the museum to play games, and learn how they’re made. “We’ll be working with community groups to offer a voucher scheme whereby, if the appeal is successful, thousands of vouchers will go out to those communities, who will be able to come into the museum and enjoy the museum. And we know that it works when they visit. We’ve seen it firsthand with schoolkids from some of the poorest areas in the country. When they visit the museum and take our games development workshops, we’ve shocked their teachers by reaching the children who were the most disengaged from learning. And all of them engage, most of them want to do it again, and a good proportion of them start talking about games careers.” “We believe that video games transform people’s lives,” adds BGI Chair Claire Boissiere. “It’s as simple as that, really. We’re really, really passionate about video games, they have a unique new role to play within our society, they’re reshaping the world. “As a team, we’ve been going on a small journey ourselves to figure out what our new strategy is, we’re really excited about making that a reality. We just want to shout about it to the world. Through the museum, through our collection of games, through our award-winning programmes…. We really want to take people on a journey. We want to engage people through play. We want to take creative experiences and make them accessible. “Once people are engaged in play, and they’re having fun and collaborating, then you’ve really created a really rich environment for people to start learning. And that’s when you really can transform people’s lives, and they actually learn something new. We think that we’ve got the
perfect kind of ecosystem, with the museum and the charity, to make that a reality.” It couldn’t be a better time for the BGI to use that ecosystem to help those in disadvantaged communities. While Christmas and the Holiday season can often be challenging, this year is going to be particularly difficult. “Something that we’ve really realised over the last 18 months is that the pandemic has changed everything,” Boissiere continues. “It increased the educational disadvantage, it deepened economic hardship throughout the country. And some of the hardest hit people were the disadvantaged and the vulnerable. Those kinds of communities have been really been hard hit and they’ve become isolated. There’s a real danger that they’ll get left behind by the pandemic. “In particular, the educational gap has widened, I mean, massively. And that means that we’re going to be seeing the impact of this for many years to come. But I also think the pandemic has shown that games have been an inspiration and a comfort to literally billions of people, and we’ve done some really exciting work in that area. Games have made a big difference. and something we’ve really noticed is that games now perform a new role in society. That’s really exciting, and that’s a large part of what our new strategy is about.” PAYING IT FORWARD The National Videogame Museum is well placed to discuss the hardships of the pandemic. While much of the games industry has benefitted (at least economically) from the past 18 months, the museum was forced to close its doors at the outbreak of the pandemic – leaving its future in jeopardy. However, thanks to support from across the industry the museum has come bouncing back, and is ready to use its hard-earned lessons to further help those in need. “The pandemic had a massive impact on the charity,” notes Gibson. “We survived because the sector and our community magnificently stood up to save the museum in the spring. “And then we won our first tranche of public funding from the Arts Council, which has been a goal for us for a long time. So that got us through the second and the third lockdowns, and then finally, we were part of last year’s amazing Jingle Jam. We really couldn’t be more grateful for that support.
From top: Rick Gibson, BGI CEO Claire Boissiere, BGI Chair, Claire Mead, Programme manager
November/December 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 31
“During COVID, we started to refocus our programmes towards social impact, helping underrepresented people play, collaborate and learn. And over the last year, we’ve welcomed nearly the same number of people through our doors as we did before the pandemic, despite still being COVID secure. “And of course, we also ran Games Careers Week, which we co -founded with our friends over at Into Games and Grads in Games. Nearly 40,000 people joined over 120 organisations, games companies, the studios, publishers, universities, schools, nonprofits, to talk about games careers for diverse people. And our learning programme has won two awards during lockdown, including one with you guys, the IRL awards. And we’ve seen schools flocking back to the Museum to learn about games and how they’re made. “I think the important thing to say is when we talk about games, transforming lives, we’re not grandly saying that it’s all the BGI and the National Video Games
32 | MCV/DEVELOP November/December 2021
Museum’s programmes transforming lives. It’s games everywhere. One of the best examples of that is Animal Crossing, in which millions of people around the world broke out of their lockdowns to socialise online.” Animal Crossing certainly stands out as one of the few bright spots from the early days of the pandemic – certainly a more wholesome one than Tiger King, anyway. New Horizons felt as if it released at the perfect moment: providing a much needed escape and opportunity to socialise as millions of lives around the world were upended seemingly overnight. Its importance wasn’t lost on the BGI either, as programme manager Claire Mead explains: “As Rick mentioned, the Animal Crossing diaries is our recent big collecting project, which we’re currently showcasing as an online exhibition, documenting experiences of players of Animal Crossing New Horizons during the pandemic. It was a great way of getting people excited and involved around contributing to our
collection with their experiences of pandemic gaming. “We focus on having different perspectives and diverse histories in games from race and gender to indeed class, and I’m very happy that was brought up because that’s something we’ve wanted to explore for a long time within our curatorial team. It’s about putting people back in games history. I think it is worth bearing in mind that diverse voices have always been present within games. We’re not really seeking to bring in more diverse audiences, but to show that that diversity was always inherent to games history, it’s just been unfortunately sometimes erased over the years.” While it’s true that there have always been diverse voices in games, it nonetheless tracks that celebrating the diversity we already have will hopefully lead to bringing more diverse people. That’s particularly true of young people today, who, partially due to the pandemic, have grown up in a world much more open to the business of video games than ever before. THE INDUSTRY OF TOMORROW And the National Videogame Museum is on the frontlines there, getting to meet kids who may grow up to be the game developers of tomorrow. Have they seen an increased desire to learn about games, post-COVID? “There’s a lot of coverage about the economic impacts of games,” notes Gibson. “And that economic impact is really valid. But there’s also the social and educational impact of games. “We definitely saw more demand during during lockdown for our educational materials, we had 10,000 families download our materials to run workshops at home or take our online courses on YouTube, to help their kids when lockdown was at its tightest and you couldn’t even barely leave the house – We all remember those dark days in the in the spring. “That was when parents started to reach out to us, and we won awards for that. Because, I think it was within about 10 days of lockdown, we were live streaming our first workshop about how to make games art out to families. “And on the career side we saw a massive uptick in the number of people taking our careers course on how to start your career in video games on the FutureLearn platform, which is where we’re telling young people how they can start their careers. We followed the progress of four young developers as they started to think about games as a career and how they got started and how they built their portfolios, how they prepared for their interviews, how they won their jobs, and then how they started on their careers and what they liked. We’re definitely seeing more demand from the public.”
While this is all great news – and any good news from the past 18 months is always welcome – but it’s hard not to wonder why it took a global pandemic for the industry to fully get across the message that young people, especially diverse young people, can find a career in games – and a profitable one at that (provided you don’t go into journalism anyway). So with all this experience behind them now, what advice does the BGI have for the industry, in order to help bring in much-needed diversity into our workforce? “I completely take your point about ‘why does it take a pandemic…?’” says Gibson, “but in fact, what we found when we were looking at all the different schemes out there is that there is loads of amazing work. What wasn’t happening is that it wasn’t joined up, and it was quite difficult to navigate. “So if you are a, say, a young British Pakistani woman interested in starting a career in games, where do you go? You might find your way through to Digital Schoolhouse, or maybe a TIGA-accredited course, or maybe our online courses. But we hadn’t sat down and said, ‘actually, we need to signpost this so that that person doesn’t get dissuaded at various points on their pathway towards starting a games career.’ “And so we got everybody in a room – and this wasn’t just the BGI’s idea, it was Into Games and Grads in Games, we all came up with the same idea at the same time. We really need to get everyone together to start collaborating, because no one organisation is the answer, it’s only by working together. And so Games Careers Week was what came out of that. “I mean, we came up with the idea in December of last year, and it was live in front of nearly 40,000 people three months later. We had 32 different events. 120 different organisations involved in conferences, ask me anythings, career surgeries, Discord channels... you name it, the industry just completely piled on board. It was a fantastic thing to do. “So I would say, to games companies, if you want to get more involved in encouraging diversity in the workforce, and actually persuading the great British public that there is a fantastic career for everybody – usually on their doorsteps, because we’re right across the country – I would say get involved with Games Careers Week!”
November/December 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 33
the (fundraising) gap George Osborn and Terry Haynes, Co-Chairs of Games Aid, outline why an effective industry charity can play a crucial role in supporting small organisations across the UK
O George Osborn
ver the past year and a half, the games industry has taken another enormous step towards mainstream cultural prominence. Lockdown put games at the centre of people’s free time; the consumer market boomed as people sought virtual connection that felt capable of replacing the physical; with it, came an understanding from a range of audiences that there is a unique power to games as an interactive creative medium. However, there’s one group whose burgeoning interest in games over the past year hasn’t really been tracked properly: charities. The pandemic demolished the traditional revenue streams of charities, cancelling the running races, office bake offs, raffles and other physical activities that formed the bread and butter of fundraising. In difficult times, charities sought ways to raise funds through digital means. While they looked for a number of options, many surged towards games as a fundraising option because it offered a remarkably effective vehicle for raising cash for great causes. This has manifested itself in a number of different ways. To some extent, charities found that games companies could offer traditional corporate support by
34 | MCV/DEVELOP November/December 2021
putting together programmes in return for cash. Most though found that games offered unique opportunities not available elsewhere. Humble Bundles have, for a long time, been recognised as an effective source of charity fundraising. But industry has innovated well beyond that too. One Special Day, Special Effect’s enormous fundraising day in October, successfully tempted major companies to donate an entire day of revenue in the UK to their cause – demonstrating how in-game economies can be turned into engines of remarkable good. And more broadly, grassroots fundraising has exploded in games. Tiltify has been a prime example of this, helping streamers set up fundraising campaigns through Twitch to create both a mass of smaller fundraisers – the kind you might expect to gamely trudge the streets on marathon day – and hyper effective community events from major streamers or big game brands that raise staggering amounts of money. Yet while these opportunities exist, and are being taken by some genuinely wonderful charities, it’s also clear that smaller charities need help negotiating into this space. While the pursuit of funding for charities is ultimately a noble aim, it’s also unfortunately true
that fundraising is easier for bigger organisations. Organisations with the time and effort to invest in a games specific advocate can generate greater funds and magnificent results for their communities. But it means growing charities or smaller community charities are at risk of missing out on the benefits of games as a fundraising route if they can’t muster that resource to expand their horizons. This is why it’s more important than ever for the industry to renew its support in Games Aid. The industry charity has existed for over a decade, successfully raising nearly £4m for small charities supporting young and disadvantaged people across the UK. Yet it’s been clear to many, including the trustees, that we didn’t fully recognise the power that uniting behind a clear cause like that can have. While companies across the world have done immeasurable good for a number of charities, demonstrating that the industry as a whole can rally around to provide those smaller charities with access to our games, our communities and the immensely generous communities around us are a powerful way to show our positivity to the world. Furthermore, Games Aid is designed perfectly to act as the bridge into games for these charities. The charity selection process through which we select the six to eight charities we support requires both industry input for nominations and for the decision of which organisations we back. Though Games Aid may have been founded decades ago, its blend of democratic industry action and targeted supportive framework for smaller charities means that it remains extraordinarily well placed to thrive in the future. We believe that it’s our responsibility as co-chairs to ensure Games Aid is able to do that. The work of our outgoing chair, Des Gayle, and the tireless administrative support provided to us by Louise Fisher has helped us through the challenges of Covid. And we’ve been proud to have supported our current slate of partners Access Sport, Autistica, Everyone Can, Lifelites, MAPS, Solving Kids Cancer and The Clock Tower
Sanctuary during a particularly difficult moment for the charitable sector. But we also understand that Games Aid needs to evolve further, and quite rapidly, to truly serve the charities and the industry that we all care deeply about. To that end, we’re committing ourselves as chairs and trustees to a programme of modernisation and professionalisation that’ll ensure the charity is able to deliver across the country for years to come. We have already begun to modernise Games Aid’s fundraising approaches, creating new events like our Go Karting tournament and integrating with fundraising services online to diversify our revenue streams. We are exploring ways to establish a professional structure around the charity with funding from industry to give Games Aid the kind of support it needs to be a consistent presence in the charitable sector at large. And we are looking to expand the expertise in our trustee network further, bringing in expert fundraisers and experts in influencer marketing to deepen our contact network. But we need to hear from you too about what you need from your industry charity. We will be consulting with our former trustees, our members and the sector at large to understand what we need to do to make Games Aid the most impactful it can be. Our kind, compassionate and energetic industry is at its best when it is able to come together and act collectively. Backing and growing our industry charity is a magnificent example of how we can do that and we encourage you all, whether long in the industry or new to it, to help play a role in us doing exactly that.
November/December 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 35
The Keys to Starselect’s Success ...Digital keys, that is. For game time, online subscriptions, full games, and game store credit. Richie Shoemaker talks to Starselect CEO Max Gudden about doing the right thing by publishers and partners in order to serve customers
ounded in the Netherlands in 2016, Startselect has grown rapidly over the last five years to become “Europe’s largest reseller of mobile and game credit, gift cards, subscriptions and digital games”. Having fostered partnerships with digital platform holders and publishers, the company prides itself on its legitimacy, as well as customer trust and security, which has allowed it to expand into Australia - and soon, beyond. Planning Startselect’s rise to digital retail domination is its founder and CEO, Max Gudden, who as a young man was frustrated at not being able to buy an Xbox Live membership without either having to leave
36 | MCV/DEVELOP November/December 2021
the house, wait for it to arrive in the mail, or convince his parents to use their credit card. As a result he brought up as many Xbox Live scratchcards as he could afford and started selling the codes online. That was in 2009. The rest, as they say, is history. Can you give an introduction as to how Startselect got started? Startselect launched in the Netherlands with a very broad (we had more titles than Amazon) PC catalog and Nintendo eShop Gift Cards, which allowed us to get traction and show to other partners that digital was the future and that Startselect is the right partner to shift the market from physical to
digital. With the launch of the iTunes Gift Cards from Apple we also serviced mobile gamers and in mid-2018 we expanded our console portfolio with the launch of Sony’s ESD program, that gave gamers access to games and DLC to purchase via digital codes. Startselect kept expanding into more countries (all of Europe) until the end of 2019 when we prepared for the first country outside of Europe: Australia, as well as launching the Startselect App and offering Direct Redemption: an easier way to purchase. Today, Startselect is the platform for consumers that want easy and instant access to entertainment. How has the market for prepaid cards and digital game codes changed since Startselect became established? The Startselect success story generated a snowball effect across mobile, console and PC gaming brands that (together with us) started the digitalization of their prepaid gift card products. Over time we managed to show our partners the benefits and the consumer demand for these digital gift cards, and together we launched digital products in many countries around the world. What started with fixed values is now being upgraded to variable value gift cards for consumers, so that they can purchase or gift the exact amount they want. Nowadays our partners recognise that digital gift cards are crucial to reaching all consumer segments out there, and – in contrast to the early days of digitalisation - they now knock on our door to work together on bringing the best consumer experience to the markets we operate in. What about since the onset of Covid: Have gamers become more open to buying digital games from third-party retailers such as yourselves? We have indeed seen a shift from physical to digital during Covid where consumers weren’t able to purchase physical products due to restrictions and found out about Startselect. From what I’ve read from feedback, consumers seem happy to find out about the digital alternative and don’t seem to want to switch back to buying physical. As a pure player in the home entertainment space with virtually unlimited stock, Startselect was one of the go-to places during lockdowns. It was truly rewarding to hear and read customer stories where Startselect was the solution to their problem during one of the most difficult times in their lives. By what metric is Startselect Europe’s largest provider of game credits, gift cards and digital games? We are the largest by the number of products that we offer (as an official reseller)
How has Startselect become so successful without courting the controversy that has dogged other key retailers over the years? By the choices that we made when we started out. Starstelect is not a marketplace where consumers can sell to other consumers (which attracts shady actors), so by choosing to work only with the right distribution contracts from our partners instead of sourcing through traders/middle-men that turn physical products into digital products (grey market). With the support from our partners (for example, being featured on their websites and in communication) we can show everyone that everything is legit. We strongly believe it is our responsibility to reach all consumer segments with our proposition to provide the best customer experience, and officially sourced product codes are essential to that.
“Our continuous drive to become best in class when it comes to antifraud control, (brand) compliance and local regulations, has convinced multiple global brands that we are the go-to retail partner for product innovation, market expansion and marketing campaigns.”
November/December 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 37
What should organisations be mindful of when considering a partnership with a “grey market” site? I’m glad to see that there’s a quality shift going on in the industry, as not all sales are equal. Instead of just looking at the total volume passing through, I’m glad that organisations are tracking more metrics to see in which country keys get activated so that they can calculate how much margin is missed out on if the keys were sold locally. Whether other organisations consider a partnership with a “grey market” site is up to them, but they should consider any possible reputation damage that comes along with it as well. How are you able to remain competitive with other key-selling sites, when many of them can often beat you on price? There is more to it than just competing on price. We focus on convenience and trust, and giving consumers a safe place to purchase from. How important is it for Startselect to establish and retain partnerships with game publishers and distributors? It’s super important. It’s the only way to win in the long term, for both the partners as well as ourselves. What can you offer a potential partner that your competitors cannot? A potential partner finds in Startselect a trustworthy companion with instant access to
38 | MCV/DEVELOP November/December 2021
more than 20 markets in Europe (and beyond). What makes Startselect stand out from the crowd is our niche-focus on this product category – game credits, gift cards and digital games are our bread and butter – in combination with our transparent and sincere way of doing business. Being a frontrunner in this space, Startselect has valuable customer and market insights that we gladly share with partners for the purpose of improving our proposition, to better serve our customers. Our continuous drive to become best in class when it comes to anti-fraud control, (brand) compliance and local regulations, has convinced multiple global brands that we are the go-to retail partner for product innovation, market expansion and marketing campaigns. And of course we are fun to work with (although we do have that typical Dutch directness…) Startselect recently expanded into Australia. What was the appeal of Australia above, say, North America? We scored all countries around the world based on their market potential (e.g. an appetite for digital entertainment) and market entry feasibility. Ultimately, we want to bring our proposition to each country in the world but we started with Australia because its market potential score in combination with the expected efforts to enter that market, provided the most promising business case. However, our internationalisation journey is far from over, we are just getting started! Has the expansion been a success? How so? We look back on a successful launch as it went better than our forecasts. We managed to service more people than we hoped for. A big success factor has been the support that we got from our partners (in Europe) that helped us launch in Australia. Where might you set your sights next? Spoiler: The next country that we will launch is on the other side of the world, Canada. And simultaneously we are on the verge of launching our shops in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The first product listings are already live, but some take more time due to the lengthy procedure that applies, since we are doing this the official way, obviously. Our roadmap for 2022 is already finalized and our teams are working to establish more exciting market entries around the globe. Put us on your watchlist and keep an eye on our progress!
HOW TO CREATE ENGAGING SEASONAL EVENTS THAT BOOST YOUR MOBILE GAME REVENUES
W Kalle Heikkinen, senior market analyst at GameRefinery
hether it’s dressing up at Halloween or getting together with friends and family to celebrate religious holidays, events give all of us something to look forward to. And mobile game events, whether they’re seasonal promotions, brand partnerships or one-off events, give players something to look forward to. Not only that, they’re the perfect way to strengthen relationships with your players and increase player retention while capitalising on the hype around real-life events and trends. Outside of significant updates and DLC, events are an opportunity to make your game feel fresh again to lapsed players with a content overhaul, whether that’s by introducing new seasonal items or creating new worlds to explore – all of which can be monetised. Events are also a great way to test and trial new gameplay
40 | MCV/DEVELOP November/December 2021
mechanics without giving anything away to new players. When they’re done correctly, in-game events can cause a surge in player engagement, introduce new players to your game, get the press talking and lead to sustained media coverage through journalists creating eventspecific game guides for collectibles. But pulling this off effectively requires a lot of time, effort, and research to ensure you don’t run the risk of alienating certain player demographics. All of this might sound tricky but it doesn’t have to be. Whether you’re planning for a festive update or looking ahead to next year, here are our top tips to help you pull off your in-game events without a hitch, along with some great examples of successful seasonal events for reference, as seasons are a great excuse to host in-game events.
TIPS FOR CREATING WINNING IN-GAME SEASONAL EVENTS THINK GLOBALLY: ARE YOUR EVENTS RELEVANT? Some of the most common event themes in console and mobile games are Christmas, Easter and Halloween, but not everyone celebrates them! Whenever you’re planning for an event, it’s essential to consider other cultures and religions so that you don’t risk alienating certain players. The more people you can involve in your events, the better. If you’re working on a seasonal holiday event that adds new items to your game, make sure these items feel relevant to as many players as possible. Depending on where your players are based, you may wish to implement other religious holidays such as Hanukkah and Ramadan as part of Christmas celebrations. Garena Free Fire, a battle royale third-person shooter, has introduced a variety of new weapons, events and bundles into the same as part Ramadan celebrations and Diwali in the run-up to Ramadan. Other major events such as Lunar New Year should also be considered alongside annual events such as Singles’ Day; China’s largest sales day of the year is a fantastic opportunity to run timed promotions on in-game items and cosmetics.
ADD A LIVE-EVENT CURRENCY If your game uses its own currency, consider introducing a live event currency that can be spent exclusively in limited-time shops to create a seasonal boost within your game’s economy. As well as allowing players to purchase this currency, you can introduce it so it’s rewarded to players as part of daily log-ins, encouraging them to keep coming back to grow their virtual wallets and spend that currency in event-specific shops.
CREATE HYPE IN THE RUN-UP OF YOUR EVENT’S LAUNCH WITH A STAGGERED RELEASE Don’t surprise players by launching your event out of nowhere. The run-up to an event can be just as important as the actual launch. Consider how in-game pop-ups and ads can be used to get players excited in advance of launch or how your game world might change, whether that’s new dialogue for characters hinting at the upcoming event or changes to the game-world environment. BUILD ON THE DEMAND FOR RARE ITEMS WITH EXCLUSIVE SEASONAL CONTENT If your game has a focus on rare collectibles, align this with your events strategy to create exclusive seasonal items that are only available for a limited time. Doing this effectively doesn’t have to be complicated; it may only involve a slight design change or reskin to existing items. For minimal effort, the appeal of owning something that was only available for a limited time can be an irresistible sell to some players, especially in games where items can be sold to other players through in-game markets – just take a look at the party hats in RuneScape, an online MMORPG originally launched as a PC title but now available on mobiles. Released as a one-off item for Christmas 2001, they’re now one of the game’s most valuable and sought-after items.
CONSIDER WHICH SEASONAL GAME MODES ARE THE BEST FIT FOR YOUR GENRE If your game has a strong narrative focus, whether it’s a story-driven click-and-point adventure or mobile RPG, make sure you update character scripts to represent the fact that changes are happening
November/December 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 41
within the game world. If you’re a shooter, consider how time-limited weapon skins or projectiles can be designed to reference seasonal events. Could you replace projectiles with seasonal items such as snowballs, eggs or stars? CREATE NEW QUESTS AND ITEMS THROUGH BRAND PARTNERSHIPS AND CROSSOVER EVENTS We’re not suggesting that you do a Fortnite and start paying out huge sums of money to license some of the world’s most iconic brands and characters (unless you’ve got that kind of budget!) but there are plenty of brands out there that are eager to find an audience within the gaming world. If you’ve got a decent amount of active players, consider which brands you could approach to collaborate with to implement new content and items into your game. If you’re a developer with multiple games/franchises with strong, identifiable characters, consider how these different worlds could crossover as part of an event. Merge Dragons! Rick ‘N’ Morty collaboration is a great example of how existing in-game items can be reskinned and repurposed. The collaboration made sense because dragons feature in an episode in the latest season, so both parties had a mutual benefit.
MERGE MANSION - HALLOWEEN Metacore Games’ narrative Merge title, Merge Mansion, only launched in September last year but has already executed its first successful event as part of this year’s Halloween festivities. A special Halloweenthemed Merge board was introduced to the game along with new mergeable items such as bones and baby spiders, which can be merged to create skeletons and giant spiders. A Halloween-themed shop with exclusive items and a new currency was also added to the game. The new currency can be earned through completing Halloween tasks and as there’s a decent selection of rare collectibles up for grabs, players are encouraged to keep playing and coming back for more. BRAWL STARS - BRAWL-O-WEEN Another Halloween focus, but this one is a great example of how small changes made to existing gameplay features over the years can create an exciting experience. The 3v3 multiplayer and Battle Royale game introduced a GraveYard shift modifier in Halloween 2020 that slowly drained the health of players but could be gained back
SUCCESSFUL EVENTS If you’re looking for inspiration on how to incorporate all of the tips we’ve mentioned above, just take a look at what some of the most successful mobile games are doing for their seasonal events.
42 | MCV/DEVELOP November/December 2021
by attacking other players (basically a Vampire mode!) Another modifier made players invisible every seven seconds to keep them on their feet. It just goes to show that you don’t need to create all-new game modes to capitalize on seasonal events. THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS (JP) VALENTINE’S DAY Based on the popular anime of the same name, the developers for this mobile RPG made its last Valentine’s Day event so successful by building on what it does best. RPGs are known for their strong characters and narrative focus on character development, which is explored in the Japanese game through Valentine’s themed quests such as collecting chocolate from a crooked cupcake, gifting chocolates to characters and unlocking new dialogue, and decorating one of the game’s main areas in Valentine’s attire.
THE SIMS MOBILE WINTER HOLIDAYS EVENT
In-game events in The Sims have always managed to impress, whether it’s artists such as Katy Perry and Japanese Breakfast performing in the PC games or the stellar line-up of holiday events in Sims Mobile. Treasure hunts based around Christmas and Easter were launched in 2020 where players searched for clues that can then be used as ‘event currency’ to launch specific events. Completing these events awards players with exclusive currencies to purchase holiday-themed decorations and items. DRAGON QUEST TACT (JP) GOLDEN WEEK EVENT A fantastic example of a country-specific event, the Japanese tactical RPG, Dragon Quest Tact, introduced special log-in rewards, gachas, and a celebratory battle for its Golden Week Event – a collection of four national holidays within seven days in Japan. Taking part in the battle rewards players with a massive reward of 1400 gems for defeating a slime with just 25 HP. Golden Week celebrations are incredibly important in Japan and the popularity of gachas in the country also makes them a great choice for implementation. It’ll be interesting to see which seasonal holidays are implemented and how, when the game is released in the West. Think outside of the box when it comes to events. You can use online event calendars (available for free on plenty of websites) that list all of the important holiday dates specific to religions and countries that take place across the year. Analyze your game’s demographic to consider which events would be the best fit for your audience. And if you’re still stuck for ideas, you can register for a GameRefinery account to tap into our massive database and take a deeper look at the impact these events are having on the most successful mobile games. Kalle Heikkinen is Senior Analyst at GameRefinery by Vungle
November/December 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 43
Sociable Soccer’s Ultimate Team After a couple of successful seasons at the top of the mobile football table, Tower Studios’ Jon Hare (Norwich fan) and Kiss Publishing’s Darryl Still (QPR) are teaming up to bring Sociable Soccer to the PC and console big league. Richie Shoemaker (Pompey) is in the dugout ahead of the inaugural title challenge.
A Jon Hare, Tower Studios
ll the major football leagues are dominated by teams and owners with the most money. Breaking that dominance is not an easy prospect for those looking to share in some of that success, least of all in the one league that exists to license them all – the mighty FIFA franchise. However, there’s a sense that the bigger the dominance, the bigger the opportunity exists for a team to challenge it. If not for the title, then perhaps for a cup or two along the way. Of course, such a feat still requires some serious investment, which is why Tower Studios and the squad at Combo Breaker have teamed up with Kiss Publishing to bring Sociable Soccer – a spiritual successor to 90’s football hit Sensible Soccer – to PC and consoles next year (Q2, 2022). Masterminding the challenge behind the scenes here are legendary designer Jon Hare and the equally veteran Darryl Still.
46 | MCV/DEVELOP November/December 2021
You always intended to bring Sociable Soccer to a wider audience. Why is it now the right time? Jon Hare: From the outset of the development of this game, we have been aiming totally cross platform at the widest possible audience. Given my heritage of taking Sensible Soccer to all of the platforms available at the time – and the more recent ability to develop easily for all platforms with Unity, Unreal and the like – this has always been our target. During the six years that we have been making the game we have allowed the more attractive commercial opportunities available to us to shape our more immediate priorities as to which parts of the crossplatform development to do next. The game was deliberately constructed from the outset to work with controller and touchscreen and to monetise via premium, subscription and free to play models. So this has enabled us to transition our focus between platforms and varying publisher requirements quite easily.
In the background, I have spoken to around 200 publishers and platform holders over the course of six years and turned down many potential deals to end up with the three that we have currently signed – firstly via Rogue, our US publishing partner on Apple Arcade (a subscription model for iOS, MacOS & TVOS); secondly via our Chinese mobile publishing partner Crazysports (a free to play model for iOS and Android in China only); and now finally via Kiss, our UK publishing partner on PC/Console (a premium model for PC, Playstation 4/5, Xbox One/X as well as the Nintendo Switch). We are absolutely delighted to have finally tied the knot with Kiss after six years of searching for the right partner on the flagship versions of Sociable Soccer How did you come to partner with Jon on this title? Darryl Still: I’ve known Jon for too many years to mention – going back to when Sensible Soccer was head-to-head with Kick Off, in the same way that the Atari ST brand I was managing was head-tohead with Commodore’s Amiga! Oddly, as time passed, we’ve never managed to work together but have always bumped into each other at events and had a good chat about football. So, when we embarked on a separate (and so far unannounced) project that required some football input, I reached out to Jon and it soon became apparent that what he was looking for in a publisher for Sociable Soccer, and what we were looking for in the type of product we wanted to publish, had us going down a directly parallel path. Whilst there is no such thing as a no-brainer in business, this is probably as close as we’ve come to it.
alternative to the rather staid and po-faced style of FIFA; something a bit more fast, fun and light hearted, but with more to it than the plethora of lightweight, pixelated retro-reverential soccer games at the bottom end of the market. Do you see an opportunity to take points, so to speak, from “the big two”, or do you look to the more modest successes of games like New Star Manager and Football, Tactics & Glory? DS: To use an analogy, I like to think that as a QPR fan myself, and Jon being a Norwich fan, neither of us have any great illusions of beating Liverpool or Man City regularly. But with 11 players on the pitch over 90 minutes, we might sneak a cup win now and again. But seriously, I firmly believe there is a gap that the immediacy of this product fills. I love the focus on the social element and, whilst you can put in the hours and build a career path, it’s just as much fun to pick it up and have a five-minute kickabout with your mate on the tube. I really can’t see any reason why devotees of “the big two” can’t enjoy this just as much, and maybe more. So, our aim is to build upon our own userbase and appeal to the
Darryl Still, Kiss Publishing
“FIFA has been so dominant for so long now that you see many people reference it as if it were the ONLY football game in town.”
It’s an interesting period in football games, with eFootball being received rather negatively and EA seen to be wrangling with FIFA over licensing. What is your take on events? JH: We see the current situation as an opportunity for us to establish our place within the current football action games hierarchy. FIFA has been so dominant for so long now that you see many people reference it as if it were the ONLY football game in town. Even before the change to eFootball, it was outselling PES 19 to 1, such has been its dominance. However, over the last few years there has been a growing appetite for a good quality
November/December 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 47
others’ userbase too. It’s like the fact that Leicester City is everyone’s second favourite team. And hey, they’ve won both the Premiership as well as the FA Cup in recent years! Sociable Soccer as it looked in 2015. The topdown view remains, but has been augmented with a fully-3D pitch side camera.
Sociable Soccer ‘22 will be released Q2 2022 on PC and console.
How was the experience of working with Apple, and in what way was it the right move for you at the time? Would you recommend others down the same path? JH: I would absolutely recommend developers with titles that befit the Apple Arcade platform to consider working with them. In our case we stumbled upon Apple Arcade through an unlikely route. In one of the many meetings in the many GDCs over the years in San Francisco, I met with an American company offering agency services and showed them Sociable Soccer in 2017. Two years later they requested a meeting with me at GDC 2019 for a new publisher they were forming (Rogue). Rogue knew about Apple Arcade and that Apple was in need of sports games that worked with online multiplayer. By the time we signed the Chinese deal with Crazysports in 2018, we had been working for two and a half years with almost no income; that deal enabled us to keep going just at the right time. Then a year later the opportunity with Apple Arcade through
From non-starter to big league First pitched to Kickstarter backers in 2015, Sociable Soccer failed to meet it’s relatively modest £300,000 goal and quickly transferred to Steam as an early access title. In 2019 it was signed up to appear in the lineup of Apple Arcade, which in the two years since has given Tower Studios and the development team Combo Breaker some stability and the prospect of releasing Sociable Soccer on PC and console. With Kiss signed up to publish, all the elements at last appear to be in place to try to establish Sociable Soccer among football gaming’s top tier.
48 | MCV/DEVELOP November/December 2021
Rogue emerged. This time we were offered a deal that gave us the cash we needed to kick on some more and start to flesh out the features we knew the full game needed. The exclusivity Apple demanded was not a problem for us because we didn’t have the PC console deal signed at the time, and China remained unaffected, so it allowed us to proceed with minimum friction and continue to develop the game in a live market with real players. I can say that a platform with 80 per cent US consumers and 50 per cent of those female (FIFA’s customer base is 98.5 per cent male) is far from ideal for a soccer game and initially there were some teething problems for Apple as they got to grips with suddenly working directly with 150 developers all at once on their new service. But, by and large, this has been a great move for us and Rogue has also been a great partner for us. What are the difficulties of retooling a game for mobile, and then retooling it back? JH: I am a non-tech guy so my answer here could contain some stupid statements, but I will try to articulate the situation as best I understand it. The game is being developed in Unity and our initial target for the Kickstarter was PC, PlayStation and Xbox, so most of our developers have long been using PC as the central format. With mobile, the main considerations are touch input and graphical quality, so since we signed the China deal back in 2018, we started to focus on optimising graphical efficiency for low end mobile devices and ensuring all of the controller-based controls also worked properly on touch. When we signed the Apple Arcade deal – which also includes Mac and tvOS – it became necessary to support controllers properly and the game has been playing really well on controllers for a long time – in fact, since the very start including when we were showing it in the London Science Museum in 2016 and 2017. However, there are a whole bunch of TCRs and TRCs from the console platform holders that require us to further regulate the use of controllers in the game, particularly on the menus side. The big advantage of the console platforms being at the top of our priority list now is that we can finally focus on top end graphics and animation again, which is a big part of what we have been doing for most of this year
Sociable Soccer has been a success on Apple Arcade, but it’s not had much competition. How do you think it will fare battling the “premiership” titles? JH: Yes, we have had good success with the game on Apple Arcade; it hit number one on the platform shortly after its release in 2019 and Pocket Gamer declared Sociable Soccer 2020 “the premier arcade football game on mobile”. However, you are right, the competition is very limited; the only other football game on the service is Charrua Soccer, which is a bit more lightweight and casual than our game. We tick the boxes for high-speed online play, complete with banter and emoji sending, fiercely competitive couch multiplayer and a full single player campaign via a series of 10 online leagues and over 100 real world trophies to win. How we communicate this vast amount of content wrapped in an easy-going casual wrapper is our main marketing challenge. I would like to pick up on some of the cheeky attitude we used back in the Sensible Soccer years and run with our Gamescom T-shirt slogan ‘Sociable Soccer - Faster than F***’ – but those kinds of decisions are down to Darryl and his team. Do you see a future for Sociable Soccer as a free-toplay title, or with an Ultimate Team-style economy driving revenue? JH: It depends on the platform. For mobile in China, we are already using free to play so we can monetise card packs and battle pass subscriptions in this way. For Apple Arcade, IAPs are banned. For PC/Console versions, we are unlikely to roll in IAPs, but the option is there if it is required. Again, that is down to Darryl and his team. We have designed our legends and battle pass system in a way that they can function with no additional payment required, or via subscription, or via IAPs. These are publishing decisions which can be taken on a platform by platform and territory by territory basis as required.
I think as we move forward with new technologies and iterations, we can offer the experience to more and more gamers way beyond the current fanbase, and the plans for each future iteration go way beyond an updated data pack. Everyone in the team is a fan of the game and that shows in the long list of suggested enhancements that the team is working on.
“I like to think that as a QPR fan myself, and Jon being a Norwich fan, neither of us have any great illusions of beating Liverpool or Man City regularly. But with 11 players on the pitch over 90 minutes, we might sneak a cup win now and again.”
Will Old Dear’s Menu make a comeback? We shall have to wait and see.
You’re obviously looking to build something stable and lasting. What needs to happen for Sociable Soccer to become a successful long-term franchise? DS: Yes, the release of PC and console takes us into the next era for Sociable Soccer, in my eyes. There’s a whole new group of audiences who can play each other for a shared experience, but with individual focus. Obviously, the improved graphical quality and power this hardware allows gives us lots of opportunities, but I’m just as excited about the buzz we’ve already received around the Switch audience, for example, who are somewhat football starved and wildly enthusiastic.
November/December 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 49
Unity Signpost – Your guide to the best upcoming Unity titles, in collaboration with Unity.
SYBERIA: THE WORLD BEFORE
Tell us about your game and why you decided to develop it Syberia: The World Before continues the critically acclaimed point & click series created by author and art director Benoît Sokal in 2002. Storywise, it follows the third episode and continues to develop the arc of the series’ main character: Kate Walker. Benoît brought on the table a plot that immediately gave us the urge to develop it as a new game. It is both a more intimate and tragic story, with a slightly darker touch. We wanted it to be an adventure game with a taste of historical drama and detective story. In terms of mechanics, gameplay, and visuals, we want this episode to go back to the roots of the series but also to modernize it in a way that transcends – without denying – what made the first episode so unique.
50 | MCV/DEVELOP November/December 2021
What makes your game unique? It combines an updated vision of what we think should be a modern point’n click with a truly unique story, both mature and driven by Benoît Sokal’s universe. We want it to offer what narrative-driven and 3D puzzle games can both provide at their best. How long has this been in development, how long will it take to complete? The game entered full production about two years ago – and before that, we had another couple of years of conception and preproduction. The team is currently working very hard to complete the game within a few weeks. How large is the team? Oleg Smirnov, executive producer At full capacity, we are about 30 or 40 people
working on the project, including freelancers. We also have partners all around the world that support us on different levels of production. What were the game’s design pillars? Our first pillar was of course Benoît Sokal’s enchanting universe (the automatons, the melancholic steampunk ambiance, the fantastic fauna…) and how it could be completed by Inon Zur’s gorgeous music. That leads to the next pillar that was the sense of voyage and exploration we needed the game to provide. We want the players to feel like they are discovering a fantastic world that feels both similar and new – what Benoît called a “sidestep with reality”. The plot was of course another pillar, how every interaction and action we ask the players must make sense and contribute to telling our story. We want the exploration, the puzzles, and the cutscenes to be so intricate and consistent together that the transitions between them seem invisible and smooth. And Kate Walker, as a character, was also one of our strongest pillars. The Syberia series was always the story of her emancipation and we wanted this episode to be a major step in that evolution. Finally, the puzzles were our last main pillar, how our amazing team of designers could make them unique – both visually and in their resolution –, complex to solve and fun to play – especially by playing on the different periods of history and the rotation between Kate and our new playable character, Dana Roze. What inspirations does the game pull from? Modern story-driven games such as Life is Strange, Telltale’s Walking Dead series & Until Dawn inspired us by the way they intricated story and
gameplay. For the puzzles, The Room game series was one of our main references regarding immersion and immediate responsiveness. And as I said earlier, the first Syberia game was our main reference about what feeling we want the game to convey. Who do you think the audience is? We believe that all types of players would be able to enjoy the game and not only people who already know the Syberia games. Syberia: The World Before is the best entering door for all people who want to enjoy an amazing journey through time and continents, in a deep and immersive narrative and adventure story, following Kate Walker and the threats surrounding her across her adventures. Why did you choose to develop the game in Unity? That was a technical choice made by our engineers. Back then, a new version of the engine was released and it offered plenty of tools that matched our visual and narrative needs. When I see the results today, it looks like it was a wise choice! Do you have a release date? Syberia: The World Before will be released digitally on PC (Steam, EGS, GOG) on December 10. In order to deliver the best versions possible, the game will be released on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch in 2022, including physical copies in addition to limited and collector editions.
November/December 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 51
HISTERA: FALL OF HUMAN What makes your game unique? What makes Histera unique is that the map our players fight on constantly transforms during gameplay. We call this feature “The Glitch.” When a section of the map glitches it will procedurally re-generate into terrain from one of three distinct historical time periods. This not only changes the aesthetic of that section, but the functional layout of the terrain itself. The weapons that were available within that section will be glitched away and unique weapons that belong to the new era will spawn in, allowing only the most adaptable players to succeed.
From top: Jamel Ziaty and Mounim el Meziani
How long has this been in development, how long will it take to complete? Histera has been in development for over two years now. We are aiming to enter early access at the end of Q2 2022. But even going into early access we want Histera to have a polished foundation. We want our players to develop a clear understanding of our vision for Histera and providing them with a stable build that’s fun to play will drastically improve that understanding and keep players around for the long term.
52 | MCV/DEVELOP November/December 2021
Taking community feedback into account as Histera grows towards full release is a key part of our strategy. Player input generated during the early access period will assist us in deciding on additional features and help guide us on how to get creative tools into our community’s hands further down the line. But due to the uncertain nature of what that feedback will be and how long the necessary work may take - we don’t have a set date for full release yet. How large is the team? As the scope of the game grew exponentially, so did the team. Over the past two years we have garnered a sizable team of 70+ professionals for our development, art, and design groups. Those three teams are currently hard at work building up the game into a refined enough state for us to go into early access. What were the game’s design pillars? Rapid Combat: Fast-paced action that’s easy to get into and challenging to master. Keeping the most Oleg Smirnov, impatient and easily distracted players interested, executive producer excited and on the edge of their seat.
Shifting Game World: Entertaining and rapid games should be played in a world that facilitates this. Our game world is ever-changing, keeping players alert, forcing them to adapt, and making sure no two games ever play out exactly the same way. Versatile Weapons: Diverse and multipurpose weapons enable unpredictable and exciting combat. Having weapons interact with one another and making them suitable in various situations enables players to tactically deploy combinations of weapons that suit their preferred playstyle. This also allows for deeper combat for players to explore and avoids functional redundancy in the weapon pool. Shared with Friends: Shared fun is double the fun. That’s why we do everything to assist players in growing a great and thriving community. Entertaining for all: Whether you are a noob or a veteran, we provide a fun experience for players regardless of expertise, background, or age. What inspirations does the game pull from? We draw our inspiration from all corners of the FPS genre; Call of Duty, Battlefield, CSGO/ Valorant and Overwatch are several games we often use for reference. Though we always try to make sure that we will offer a unique experience. Our glitch mechanic forces us to look at our inspirations through a different lens and restructure certain mechanics to fit the gameplay opportunities that the glitch creates. Even though we aren’t headed in the tactical shooter direction, it still offers a lot of insight to see what they do and try to understand why they do it. Who do you think the audience is? As mentioned, we’ve drawn our inspiration from many esports games on the competitive multiplayer scene. Therefore, we naturally consider those fanbases to be a massive part of our
core target audience. But our aspirations don’t end there. Our aim is to expand our audience overseas to the US as well as the Asian pacific. From everyone who is getting tired of running around the gulag to CSGO fanatics looking for a new challenge - we are aiming to create a game that will be competitive enough, creative enough, and unique enough to stand shoulder to shoulder with those giants. We have great ambitions, and we are sure that we will be able to reach a fanbase who can match them. Why did you choose to develop the game in Unity? There are several reasons for why we chose to go for Unity. First off, due to the easily accessible nature of Unity (seeing as it uses C# which is a bit easier than C++ to start with) it pulls in a lot of developers to use Unity either for starting or for continuing projects. This creates a bigger community leading to more info being available on the internet, which is always useful. There is also a lot of familiarity among developers with Unity, as they will have almost always done previous projects with Unity, or at least dabbled a bit in Unity. Then there’s the platform options that gets simplified with Unity. We can easily convert our project to other platforms, which we were planning to do from the start. We also looked at what it had to offer in keeping rendering looking great with tools like their high-definition rendering pipeline, which had everything we needed at the time of choosing. Do you have a release date? As I mentioned earlier, we don’t have a set date for a full release now. Early access will be a big deciding factor to help us with establishing a development timeline towards that full release. However, we as a team want to release Histera when all of us feel satisfied enough with the state of the game. Our aim is to deliver a polished, entertaining, and well-designed experience that players will want to keep interacting with for years to come, and an endeavor such as that, takes time.
November/December 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 53
The Art of... TOEM
Something We Made’s Lucas Gullbo guides Chris Wallace through the gorgeous art style behind the handdrawn adventure game TOEM
WAS THE FINAL APPEARANCE OF THE GAME CORE TO ITS INITIAL CONCEPT? Yes! The art style was the one thing we always got a good response on. This led us to look for mechanics that somehow could enhance the visuals, and in our case the camera did just that! WHAT INFLUENCES (WITHIN OR BEYOND GAMES) DID YOU DRAW FROM? Mumin, Jan Lööf and Scandinavia in general!
54 | MCV/DEVELOP November/December 2021
TELL US HOW THE ART WAS CREATED AND BY WHOM? The art was created by me (Lucas Gullbo) and was heavily driven from very early sketches and later on adapted into the more softer look it has today. Using limitations such as removing color and taking distance from a 3D modelling software forced to create assets differently. The art has two separate workflows depending if it’s a NPC or Environment. Most of the environment assets are created by “stitching” together flatten quads to create a silhouette and have a more direct
“The characters (and some props) are made to be billboarded and have separate limbs to create animations (like a puppet) instead of individual animation frames. NPC have a more soft visual feel to them as they are not bound by the “stitching” rule. This resulted in a more cubic / pop up book effect!”
clarity to what is ground and what is a wall. These quads have different sprite textures on them and the texture is what is leading the shape making. The characters (and some props) are made to be billboarded and have separate limbs to create animations (like a puppet) instead of individual animation frames. NPC have a more soft visual feel to them as they are not bound by the “stitching” rule. This resulted in a more cubic / pop up book effect! CAN YOU PUT ANY NUMBERS ON THE SCALE OF THE PROJECT? TOEM is the biggest project we’ve worked on to date, it took us a lot of back and forth to get the game to where it is today, the game was scrapped and remade four times before the camera mecanic was born, so there was a lot to go through!
WHAT TOOLS/TECHNIQUES WERE USED TO CREATE THE GAME’S LOOK? About 99% of the TOEM art assets uses: A standard computer mouse, Paint.Net and some custom tools to create assets within Unity. There is nothing extra to it really!
Above: I made this specific artwork as a YouTube thumbnail for our trailer that aired during a Nintendo Indie World Showcase. We liked it so much, we ended up using it as much as possible!
HOW DID THE ART EVOLVE WITH THE PROJECT (IF AT ALL) In the very early beginning the artstyle had more shading and less rounded shapes. As development went on things started to deviate from each other and you could see what assets were made early-on vs later. The detail was all over the place, especially in the textures, so by reducing the details in the texture (such as smoother shading etc.) we put more focus on using separate assets and game elements to add detail in the world.
November/December 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 55
The Art of...
The Art of...
The Art of...
Left: The very first sketch of what came to be TOEM. It was drawn back in 2018 and as you can see, it was a lot different, the atmosphere was also not as cute and cuddly as it is today. It was even considered to be a mobile game!
Right: This is a very early sketch where we brainstormed a bunch of ideas. This is the first time we thought about the camera which ended up being central to the game. You can also recognise a few characters, the bus and the hotel from the first level.
Above: This is a screenshot from the final game which shows the player taking a cool selfie in front of the hotel owner! This quest was a lot of fun to make and ended up being a core for designing the rest!
Left: As you probably get by now, we brainstorm a lot of things by sketching things out. This is a sketch for what would become the “harbor region” or Stanhamn for those familiar. Again, a lot of this made it in the final game.
56 | MCV/DEVELOP November/December 2021
The Art of...
The Art of...
The Art of...
Above: Another one of the brainstorming sessions, this time for the city region. It’s a very busy and dense region. We also play a lot with perspective here, hiding graffiti to force players to use the first person perspective of the camera to find secrets.
Left: We designed the regions one after the other and so the mountain region was the last one we needed to tackle. We were pretty exhausted at the time and running out of time but we are very happy with how it came out in the end.
Below: We put extra love into some of the characters in the game and we made a special portrait when you take a picture of them, sometimes after you helped them with a short quest.
Left: This is the cover art I made for the TOEM’s original soundtrack. We’ve been working with Jamal Green and Launchable Socks, the two composers for the game, very closely from the start and we’ve inspired each other a lot throughout the game.
November/December 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 57
When We Made... Bonfire Peaks
actually look at you. And even with that little bit of work, with the help of the animation and really smart designers and engineers, with everybody working together, you could from the very Chris Wallace gets behind thetellscenes beginning that she was a character that people of Bonfire Peaks. A contemplative, would really gravitate toward.” sombre puzzle game that pulls Quill really becomes a fully fleshed out inspiration from thehelp Beach Boys, character with the of the game’s strong because it indoes. world-building.of Ascourse an interloper Quill’s world, the player experiences it not through her eyes, but as an observer watching as she lives her life in her familiar setting. It’s a strangely intimate feeling, and one which gives way to joint apprehension as both the player and Quill enter new, Moss, not just within the team itself, but with the help unfamiliar areas. onfire Peaks, from developer Corey Martin, is of external overburdened withPeople possessions thatbrought I couldn’t playtesters. were often in “When you go through andtoyou see Quill a gameMousetown that manages be simultaneously quite figure outgame how and to get rid of. Throwing them to feedback on the asked questions about run through there and you seeand thatimmensely she has a taxing. hometown, meditative the sea–ineven frustration isn’t a valid solution, it their into experience if most of these questions were the feeling of her of that town maybe being in the actually Theleaving game’sit,narrative, such as it is, follows turns out. very similar. danger, gives you moreof ofaasolitary bond,” man Alderson says.a“Ifmountain, adventures climbing “External playtests were mostly about ‘Okay, how do that part was left out, wouldn’t like there was burning allyou of his worldlyfeel possessions as he goes. people SACRIFICES MADE feel when theyMUST play? DoBE they like it or not like it?’,” much to fight for. Everything that no we’ve done, the There’s no dialogue, exposition, nomood context. The game’s approach to its Alderson explains.hands-off “At the end of playtest weown would ask settings, taking from one area theinto nextaand Just Quill put everything youto own boxletting and watch the same narrative eases the different pressureways. off a The little.question A player question eight you rest andit take burn.in this environment… It’s all supposed may‘What get stuck to navigate is really didn’ttrying you like?’, but we their wouldpossessions ask it to exaggerate and accentuate mood thatprior you’re It turns out that ourthat protagonist, to through implausibly narrow but they What differently: ‘What pulled you out ofspaces, the experience? feeling. Itwhatever all ties back into howbreakdown you are connecting emotional prompted him be turnedIf there’s away by a dense, took certainly you out ofwon’t the headset? one thing you with Quilltoand herrefuge world.”in the flames, was something of seek is more couldimpenetrable change whatstory. wouldBonfire it be? IfPeaks you had two weeks to
a materialist. Any player wanting to finish all of SAME QUESTION EIGHT WAYS Bonfire Peak’s puzzles (of which there are over Collaboration key during 200) was will have to do the a lotdevelopment of burning. of
Corey Martin, developer
a particular orthat an idea, finishevocative the game,ofwhat would beemotion the thing you’drather fix?’ than ahelp specific about into a specific character. “Those bring story a playtester their comfort zone, “Bonfire as part of the because no onePeaks wants started to play something thatLudum people put They’ll have to be quite a bit brighter than Dare game jam,” Corey Martin explains to us, I am too – Each of the game’s hundreds of “the theme was ‘Sacrifices Must Be Made.’ I had puzzles tasks you with burning a single box of gotten used to making these character-based 3D your own possessions, and they’re increasingly puzzle games, and wanted to make one focused unforgiving as the game goes on. Most puzzles on climbing. The theme then inspired carrying can theoretically be finished in under a minute, something for the sake of sacrificing it, and I got though in reality I spent much of my time staring a few solid puzzles out of it. From there, it took a at Bonfire Peak’s gorgeous Voxel graphics, while for it to really start taking shape.”
58 | MCV/DEVELOP November/December 2021
Left: The game follows a man as he slowly burns all his worldly possessions That theme of sacrifice goes some way to explaining the artistic intention behind Bonfire Peaks. While its lack of a traditional narrative may upset the more obsessive lore nerds among us, it’s a game that leaves itself open to interpretation – meaning any number of different things to different people. “The short answer [behind the limited narrative] is just to limit scope,” explains Martin. “You can only make so many games in one lifetime, and should probably only spend so much time on a weird puzzle game about burning stuff. “For me, cutting a traditional narrative is an easy choice, it’s not even a compromise. In my opinion, storytelling is not really a strength of the medium of games, or what excites me most about it. I like the ambiguity of communicating through mood and imagery, and letting every player’s interpretation be valid. I’ve heard a lot of diverse and contradictory opinions and guesses of what the game is about, and I love that.” Following the initial game jam in November 2018, Martin worked away at Bonfire Peaks for three years – with the help of voxel artists Mari K and Zach Soares,
as well as Alan Hazelden (of Draknek & Friends) who helped to effectively double the game’s level count.
PUZZLE PLANS While the game was certainly a group effort (with too many names to list here), Bonfire Peaks’ core design philosophy speaks to Martin’s approach to puzzle game
Below: Some of the puzzles are simpler than others, but they can get head-scratchingly difficult to solve
November/December 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 59
Above: There’s always plenty to do, should you get stuck on a particular puzzle, with each bonfire representing a puzzle to be solved
design, which he lays out for us. “First, you should earn and maintain the player’s trust (in you as a designer, that solutions will be intuitive, that you aren’t wasting their time, etc). Second, there’s elegance in minimalism, don’t make things bigger or more complicated than they need to be. “Third, build a system that leads to emergent puzzles. When you’ve made a rich system, it feels like you’re finding puzzles rather than creating them and that’s way easier. You should also aim for a ratio of as few elements as possible : as much depth as possible. “Finally, verbalize the idea for each puzzle, literally put it into words. If it’s hard to talk about, it probably isn’t a very focused idea. I don’t think there’s one correct way to approach this stuff, but that’s more or less how I do it.” Martin’s “puzzles-first” approach means that while Bonfire Peaks is certainly challenging, there’s always another puzzle to play should you ever get stuck. It stands out as an effective way to ensure players aren’t turned away by the game’s steep difficulty. That or I’m dumb, who’s to say? “You’re not dumb, it’s supposed to be hard!” says Martin, totally unprompted. “A lot of people that play and struggle will feel ‘I’m bad at this game,’ but you’re supposed to get stuck, that’s the intended experience. The hope is that you’ll feel the puzzle solutions are charming enough to warrant the difficulty. “I think the most significant thing we did to ease frustration is to avoid bottlenecking progress on a single puzzle. There’s always a handful of puzzles available at any point, and you only need to beat a portion of them to move forward, so I think that freedom to curate your experience at least relieves some of the aggravation.”
SAUSAGE ROLL Bonfire Peaks pulls inspiration from all sorts of places – Some more surprising than others, as Martin explains: “From a game design perspective, many people have rightly identified the game Stephen’s Sausage Roll as a direct influence.
60 | MCV/DEVELOP November/December 2021
Also the games of Draknek & Friends had a huge impact on me, above all A Good Snowman is Hard to Build and A Monster’s Expedition. I was playtesting AME throughout Bonfire Peaks’ development and it was really inspiring in a bunch of ways. “Outside of games, Ari Aster’s movies were on my mind a lot, especially Midsommar. I was listening to a lot of the Beach Boys, Dionne Warwick and Carole King, among others. Those are the first things that come to mind.” In Bonfire Peaks, you may stay for the puzzles, but what first grabbed your attention is likely the game’s beautiful use of the voxel art style. It’s a style that, until recently, has been more closely associated with more cutesy affairs – rather than the quiet, sombre aesthetic of Bonfire Peaks. “Yeah! I think that’s slowly changing, with games like Teardown and Cloudpunk. I hope there’ll be more and more ‘mature’ voxel art games in the coming years. There’s such a broad range of moods and styles within pixel art, and I feel there’s the same potential for voxel art. I’m excited to see where it goes.” While Martin had help at various stages of the project, the “development team” is largely just Martin working alone in his apartment, alongside his regular day job. “Very indie stuff,” he explains. No matter how good the game (and Bonfire Peaks is certainly an exceptional accomplishment), that kind of work over three years can take a toll. “Honestly, the latter half of development was kind of a slog,” Martin notes. “I think because I was lying to myself the whole time about how much further I had left to go, so it basically felt like I was “finishing the game” for half of its development. There were still some joyful moments in there, but a lot of anxiety and exhaustion as well.” The game released in September this year to a warm critical reception, with particular praise heaped on Bonfire Peaks’ contemplative tone. Which is a pretty big achievement for a game most commonly compared to Stephen’s Sausage Roll, a game about rolling sausages (though it is, admittedly, also exceptional). But how has this matched up with Martin’s expectations for the game? “Sales have been very modest, but it’s a super niche game, so that mostly aligned with my expectations” notes Martin. “The press coverage and player feedback definitely exceeded my expectations. After working on this for so long (by my standards, at least), it really feels great to see people enjoying and connecting with the game.”
Brought to you by
A Swift Spotlight: Nequinox Propelled by its debut work on AAA title Crackdown 3, Nequinox is making a name for itself straight out of the gate after just celebrating its 3rd anniversary. With the prospect of several new co-development partners on the horizon, and the potential of its own IP development becoming a very real possibility, it’s a studio that is laying the foundations to become a major player within the industry, and is already the go-to studio for technical challenges and AAA codevelopment and porting.
ardvark Swift caught up with Matt Knott, development director at Nequinox, in the light of the studio’s recent successes, to discuss how the company has bolstered their continued growth, and where their upward trajectory will take them. Breaking away from Sumo Digital and bringing with it many years of technical expertise, the studio was founded by industry veteran Stephen Robinson alongside his son, Anthony Robinson. “The company was created out of love for games,” says Matt. “We were set up to really push the boundaries of video game technology for all of our co-dev studio partners.” Since their fruitful beginnings, the studio has only continued to shift from strength to strength, augmenting their arsenal of talented developers from 6 to 21 within the last year, and bringing aboard several new co-development partners. Matt Knott credits three fundamentals to the studio’s sustained success. “Firstly we’re a partner focused on engineering - this is not all that common in the industry; with many co-dev studios split between art, engineering and production.” Matt continues, “Secondly, we have a very specific way in which we build relationships with our co-dev partners; we make sure it’s absolutely the right time when we start working with them, we have a clear vision of their project and the resources to back it. “Finally, and most importantly, we build teams with other studios. We assimilate into those other studios seamlessly; that’s not to say that we don’t have Nequinox DNA, which is absolutely vital, but we hone in on finding ways to best support and understand our co-devs in the games that they want to make, providing them with the best advice, resources and people for their project.” To provide their co-development partners with the optimal team for the task, Nequinox has first had to get the best talent through their doors at their Manchesterbased studio, and as development director, Matt is tasked with just that. However, it’s not just a candidate’s skillset that Matt takes into account. “We search for people with the right values and the right attitude; skills can be taught. There’s no doubt that skillful individuals are pivotal to success, but equally, finding people with the right values is more important than ever. In some cases, we’re getting to know people through a screen - we have to work harder than ever to build that trust and relationship,
so ensuring developers fit our values and culture is vital”. Working alongside Associate Producer Hannah Williamson, Matt creates, develops and supports these teams, whilst instilling the overarching company values. “We are a small company, but we already have a champion for EDI (Hannah) - it couldn’t be more relevant right now. It’s vitally important that our team knows that they’re part of an inclusive, equal and diverse culture. We’ve been very clear as a company that this needs to be part of our DNA from the beginning.” With a core team now in place, Nequinox is now exploring the future direction of the company. “We’re going to continue to build a reputation, as well as building capability and capacity into the studio. Co-dev and porting is where we are at right now (Autumn 2021), we’ve bought on one co-dev partner in May 2021 and we’re about to bring on another. But every studio has the ambition of making their own games and that’s something we are seriously looking at.”
Matt Knott, Development Director, Nequinox
You can listen to Aardvark Swift’s full conversation with Nequinox’s Matt Knott through the Aardvark Swift Podcast, available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, third-party apps, as well as the aswift.com website.
November/December 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 61
The Final Boss Every month an industry leader wraps up MCV/DEVELOP with their unique insight
What was the greatest [or most ludicrous, funniest, worst…] single moment of your career to date? The most ludicrous moment is probably one of the last great excesses I was part of in the games industry. I was a producer on a game while working at Bizarre Creations in Liverpool, and they flew five of us on their official Lear Jet to their HQ for a tour. Don’t get me wrong, it was a brilliant experience, but I dread to think how much it cost! In the end, all I got out of it that would help us make the game, was a massive bag of toys. With the greatest respect to your current role, what is/was your dream job? I love my job. It’s corny, but true. But my dream job these days would probably be something outside. Like a beach lifeguard or something like that. Somewhere I can exercise, be outside and be part of a community. That sounds nice as a summer job! What are some of the biggest challenges today in the games industry? If we’re talking about working in games, I think the biggest challenge I see is helping to manage the expectations and focus of very clever and ambitious people. Some fantastic people join the wrong studio and find themselves frustrated at the difference between working on a live game and the dream of being a creative genius. Like in any industry, successes are often based on continued hard work rather than a stroke of luck overnight. How do you think the pandemic will change the industry? I think the pandemic has given a choice to many people about whether they want to work from home or work in an office. I think we will see games studios find a good sustainable balance between hybrid and remote faster than some industries. The pandemic has forced isolated people, who might have resisted in the past, to get much more comfortable with online social connectivity, and we’re seeing many different variations of that coming through as people make up their own rules for entertaining themselves in an online group. I think that variety and change in this will affect the mainstream online gaming approach in the years to come.
Tone Brennan, Studio Manager, MAG Interactive Brighton “I think the pandemic has given a choice to many people about whether they want to work from home or work in an office. I think we will see games studios find a good sustainable balance between hybrid and remote faster than some industries.”
62 | MCV/DEVELOP November/December 2021
Who continues to impress you in the industry? I’m very impressed by companies that consolidate and grow in a stable and solid way while keeping their core values. It’s difficult to grow and also hang on to what you value. MAG is a great example of this, but I’m also really impressed by Wooga who have a similar ethos. Can the games industry possibly change as much over the next five years as it has over the last five? I think games will continue to establish itself as a core part of how we entertain ourselves. That might mean we start to have more in common with video and music in terms of delivery and platforms. Or it might mean a blurring of entertainment delivery and Netflix/ Spotify/etc change to feel more like games. Is the games industry headed in the right direction? I think it is heading in the right direction in terms of creating good work practices and caring about staff, at least in my experience. I think it can move faster than many of the other entertainment platforms and adapt quicker to new technologies. So, yeah I think it probably is!
SPECIAL PACKAGING • MAP GUIDE CHARACTER MANUAL
SPECIAL PACKAGING EXCLUSIVE POSTCARDS
PS4 £34.99 / €39.99
PS5 £24.99 / €29.99
RELEASES: 3 DEC 2021
Tel: +44 (0)1869 338833
Song of Horror: Distributed by Meridiem Games. Published by Raiser Games @ Raiser Games. S.L. Developed by Protocol Games S.L. All right reserved. Song of Horror is a trademark of Protocol Games S.L. Yuoni: YUONI @ 2021 Tricore INC, Chorus Worldwide, Meridiem Games. All right reserved. Published by Chorus Worldwide. Developed by Tricore INC. Distributed by Meridiem Games. All products, names, logos and brands are property of their respective owners.
MCV/DEVELOP ISSUE 973 THE ART AND BUSINESS OF VIDEO GAMES
ON THE ROAD - TRUCK SIMULATOR MAN and Scania have co-operated with the developers so that the trucks have a true sense of realism. • • • • •
Start and manage your own transport business Detailed motorway junctions and interchanges 16 cities Ground based on real satellite data Complex route planning with combined routes and rest times
PS4: £29.99 - OUT NOW
PS5: £29.99 - RELEASES: 23 NOVEMBER 2021
Tel: +44 (0)1869 338833