MCV/DEVELOP ISSUE 951 THE BUSINESS OF VIDEO GAMES OCTOBER 2019
BRINGING TOGETHER C-LEVEL DECISION MAKERS FROM ACROSS THE INDUSTRY 01 MCV 951 Cover OCT 2019.indd 1
Just some of our 2019 speakers Check mcvuk.com for the latest announcements
Debbie Bestwick MBE CEO Team17
Craig Oâ€™Boyle Head of entertainment & gaming EMEA, Google
Reece Brown Entertainment partnerships manager, Twitter
Si Lumb Senior producer, BBC Research & Development
Catherine Cheetham COO Fourth Floor Creative
Tara Reddy CEO Loveshark
Jeferson Valadares CEO and Co-founder, Doppio Games
Stefan Lampinen Managing director, Game Advisor
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@FutureGamesSMT 17/10/2019 14:16
RECRUITMENT SPOTLIGHT: How to find your perfect employee
USTWO GAMES ON
ASSEMBLE WITH CARE What the Monument Valley studio did next and why Apple Arcade is its perfect home
■ FOOTBALL MANAGER ■ MODERN WOLF RED CARDS PLASTIC IS DEV-CENTRIC Cover MCV 951_v5 FINAL.indd 1
■ WHEN WE MADE... LOVERS IN ■ BEHIND THE SCENES A DANGEROUS SPACETIME AT RUNEFEST 2019 17/10/2019 13:23
05 The editor
Rebranded just for you
06 Critical Path
The key dates this month
10 Income Stream Our market analysis
12 Ukie: Getting flexible The crisis in computing education
Real life events from the industry
18 Industry Voices
Our platform for the industry
22 Ustwo Games Assembled with care
30 Ins and Outs
And all our recruitment advice
36 Your perfect employee Expert advice on your next hire
42 Football Manager 2020 Plastic gets the red card
44 Coding like Rabbids
Programming for the next generation
48 Modern Wolf
52 The gold standard The Golden Joysticks at 37
54 When We Made...
Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime
58 The Sounds of... Martin Stig Andersen
61 Creatives Assemble! The school of Technical Art
62 Casting the Runes
Runescape comes alive at Runefest
66 The Final Boss Futurlabâ€™s Kirsty Rigden
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“Today, we’re happy to announce that we’re bringing back the Develop brand to the print publication.”
TheEditor MCV/Develop – rebranded just for you We’ve taken a leaf out of Colleen Rooney’s book this month and blocked everyone else on our subscriber but list but you! Yes, that’s right, you’re the only one reading this month’s issue. Which has been rebranded (more on that in a second) and tailored specifically for your needs to ensure you agree with everything within it. Obviously that’s impossible – even in the much-vaunted digital landscape, let alone in good old print – and even if it was, such a micro-targeted effort isn’t even very useful. This magazine is designed to bring together all the UK games industry, to provide a platform for you to talk to each other and to provide comment on the issues of the day. Frankly, we hope you won’t agree with everything you read, or even agree that it’s the sort of thing that ‘this industry’ should be concerning itself with. If every issue was tailored just to you, that would be as informative as reading only The Telegraph if you want to leave the EU or The Guardian if you want to remain. Some may want to live in an echo chamber, but it’s rarely a good idea for your career or business. That was part of the reason we merged MCV and Develop at the start of 2018. We wanted to create a singular, broad voice for the whole games industry. But as time passed it did feel that we’d lost something, despite retaining Develop’s social media accounts and daily email newsletters. So today we’re happy to announce that we’re bringing back the Develop brand to the print publication with this, the first dual-branded issue of MCV/Develop. With developers on the cover and throughout the magazine, there’s no urgent need for a change in content. But this is just a first step. Expect significant changes to our output in the new year to live up fully to our new name. In addition, we’ll shortly be launching the all new MCV/Develop awards, with a broader range of categories to celebrate the biggest strengths of the UK industry. More on those in the upcoming weeks but for now put the 5th of March in your diary. More immediately you’ll notice that we’ve got our annual Future Games Summit next month. Designed to engage and inform C-level attendees, with speakers from Team17, Google, Twitter, the BBC and many more. We hope you’ll join us on the 25th and 26th of November in central London. One additional change on the brand this month, as our senior staff writer Marie Dealessandri has moved on. Marie has been the one constant in my three years here and I’ve learnt a lot from her, so I’m sad to see her go. Any typos or other errors in this issue can be wholly attributed to a dip in standards following her departure and testament to my reliance upon her over the last fifty plus issues. Best of luck Marie! Seth Barton email@example.com
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Here are the key upcoming events and releases to mark in your calendar... Game Connection Europe 2019 As part of Paris Games Week 2019, which runs until November 3rd, Game Connection Europe will gather games industry professionals for three days to discuss topics ranging from storytelling on mobile to building games with Amazon Game Tech. Speakers include staff from companies such as Tencent, Ubisoft, Bungie, King, Sega and more. Last year, over 2,700 people attended Game Connection.
Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare Infinity Ward, who developed 2016’s Infinite Warfare, is behind the latest Call of Duty entry, still published by Activision and annoyingly called Modern Warfare – yes, like 2007’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. The title runs on a brand new engine, a first in the series since 2005, and will release on PS4, Xbox One and digitally on PC.
Luigi’s Mansion 3 One of Nintendo’s best and brightest franchises, Luigi’s Mansion, is getting a third entry this Halloween. Debuting on Switch, Luigi’s Mansion 3 was developed by Next Level Games, which was also behind its predecessor (but not behind the original Luigi’s Mansion). It will feature new co-op features as well as more uses for Gooigi, who might just be our favourite Nintendo creation ever.
The Outer Worlds The Outers Worlds is the latest title coming through Take-Two’s indie publishing label Private Division. It’s been developed by Obsidian Entertainment, which has since been acquired by Microsoft. The single-player RPG was directed by Fallout creators Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky and is releasing on PS4, Xbox One and PC through Microsoft’s store and the Epic Games Store. Steam and Switch versions will release at a later date.
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X019 Copper Box Arena, London X019, Microsoft’s “global celebration of everything Xbox,” is coming to London in November. Scheduled to take place over two days at the Copper Box Arena, X019 is described as “the biggest Xbox event ever hosted in the UK” and will include “a worldclass Xbox experience,” world premiere hands-on gameplay, panels, meet-andgreets and autograph sessions. The show will be followed by the company’s first-ever UK-based Xbox Fanfest. All proceeds from ticket sales go to SpecialEffect.
Death Stranding Kojima Productions’ highly awaited PS4 exclusive, Death Stranding, is finally releasing this November. We couldn’t possibly tell you what this game is about or how it exactly plays because we really have no idea at this point, but boy oh boy we sure are looking forward to walking and peeing as Norman Reedus.
Planet Zoo Following up on the incredible success of Planet Coaster and Jurassic World Evolution, Frontier Developments is coming back with Planet Zoo. The Cambridge-based developer is still selfpublishing for this spiritual successor to Zoo Tycoon, with the title coming out digitally on PC via Steam in very early November.
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Golden Joysticks 2019 Bloomsbury Big Top, London
The Golden Joystick Awards will return on November 15th. Celebrating “everything that makes gaming great,” the awards will take place at London’s Bloomsbury Big Top, London. The event will also be livestreamed for those unable to attend in person. Now in its 37th year, The Golden Joystick Awards is the world’s largest and longest-running public-voted gaming awards.
Pokémon Sword and Shield It’s finally here – the first core Pokémon entry on Nintendo Switch. After the successful launch of Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee last year, which served as a way to introduce the series to a new audience, Sword and Shield should appeal to both new and ancient fans. Game Freak is still at the wheel for these entries set in a new region, Galar, which is loosely based on the UK.
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Editor: Seth Barton firstname.lastname@example.org +44 (0)203 143 8785 Staff Writer: Chris Wallace email@example.com +44 (0)203 143 8786 Designer: Mandie Johnson firstname.lastname@example.org Production Manager: Claire Noe email@example.com and for one last time... Senior Staff Writer: Marie Dealessandri
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Gaming has been suspended by a schoolyard craze from yesteryear. My youngest pestered us into buying him Beyblades – insanely-fast fighting-spinning tops.You play head-to-head battles in a plastic arena and the little things roar around at thrilling speeds, smashing into each other. 3-2-1... Let it Rip!
I’ve finally given into Twitter’s incessant and furious demands and bought the goose game. Despite my knee-jerk instinct to be a contrarian, I have to admit that it’s brilliant. It’s good to finally have a safe outlet for my need to be a constant and unnecessary irritant to those around me – plus it cuts down my incessant honking. Chris Wallace, Staff Writer
That means we’ve no idea of what games she’s playing in her absence but we’re sure she’s playing something, and that she’ll fill us all in on her return for next month’s issue. Vikki Blake, News Writer
Seth Barton, Editor
INTERNATIONAL MCV and its content are available for licensing and syndication re-use. Contact Colin Wilkinson for opportunities and permissions: email@example.com
Vikki isn’t here at present, as she’s taking a very welldeserved holiday from the daily grind of MCV’s news demands.
Paws the game The best furry friends the industry has to offer. Send yours to firstname.lastname@example.org
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Pet: Fred and Ginger Owner: Chris Wallace Owner’s job: Staff Writer, MCV/Develop.
Pet: Freddie Owner: Dan Collier Owner’s job: Programmer on Lost Worlds, Sketchbook Games
Pet: Mochi Owner: Aubrey Norris Owner’s job: Senior Manager, Mojang, Microsoft
There’s no way I’m getting a job at MCV and not getting my hairy sons in here. Hobbies including killing, eating and refusing to reciporcate my love.
When Freddie is not snoozing, he likes nothing better than to distract coders from their work. His favourite walks involve squirrels and Pokémon Go.
This is Mochi. He is a young Siamese kitty who loves to thread himself through pant hangers. Mochi has now been banned from the closet.
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Income Stream The numbers, stats and market stories that matter and why they do
PRE-ORDER TOP 5 TW
01 02 03 04 05
Pokémon Sword + Steelbook (Switch) Luigi’s Mansion 3 (Switch) Pokémon Shield + Steelbook (Switch) Pokémon Sword and Shield Dual Edition (Switch) Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (PS4)
Publisher Nintendo Nintendo Nintendo Nintendo Nintendo
The latest financial news from around the industry CURVE DIGITAL, TESTRONIC AND KUJU ACQUIRED BY NORTHEDGE CAPITAL FOR £90M Private equity firm Northedge Capital has acquired the Catalis Group, with the purchase valuing it at a total of £90m. Catalis, having been led by CEO Dominic Wheatley since 2012, is separated into three divisions: Testronic, Catalis and Kuju Entertainment. Testronic provides QA, localisation and related services for games and more. Meanwhile Curve is the awardwinning publisher behind games such as Human: Fall Flat (the publisher’s biggest hit having sold over 5m units) and the upcoming Autonauts, which won the MCV-judged UK Game of the Show at this year’s Gamescom. More recently it’s moved into titles based on popular TV licences, such as the upcoming Narcos: Rise of the Cartels and an as-yetuntitled Peaky Blinders game. Earlier this year it acquired Bomber Crew developer Runner Duck. The publisher also won the MCV Indie Games Publisher of the Year 2019. Regarding the acquisition, Wheatley stated: “This is an important move for us. Bringing NorthEdge in to help us grow and continuing to enjoy the support of Vespa Capital is a strong endorsement from two private equity houses. Our ambition is to build the next major UK owned games business to rival those based in other parts of the world. We have the right team and financial backing to take Catalis to the next level.” HIRO CAPITAL LAUNCHES €100M FUND Hiro Capital has launched a €100m (£86.3m) venture capital fund for video games, esports and related technology across the UK and the EU. The fund will invest in established startups seeking to expand, providing the next stage of support after typical angel investors have topped out. It’s an area that has long been problematic for the games industry, as the city has often had trouble grasping the potential benefits (and possible risks) of the industry. The fund’s founders include industry stalwart Ian Livingstone CBE, managing partner Luke Alvarez, also Inspired Entertainment co-founder, and partner Cherry Freeman, co-founder of LoveCrafts. The founders believe Hiro will fill a funding gap that prevents many such startups from expanding. “The scaling opportunities combined with the capital efficiency in the games and sports technology sectors make it a uniquely exciting arena,” said Freeman. “You can start from nothing and end up on a billion handsets in a year. If you’ve got an idea, you can talk to the entire planet. There are very few sectors which are totally global, totally consumer facing and instantly scalable, and our new fund will be looking to tap into this potential to discover the next-generation of trailblazers. “Hiro Capital will back companies behind video games and esports, as well as sector-specific applications of cloud, mobile, streaming, big data, AI, wearables, AR and VR technologies.”
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MCV-OCT19-PTW 1:MCV-OCT19-PTW 1 09/10/2019 09:24 Page 1
UK RETAIL CHARTS – SEPTEMBER
01 TM LM
FIFA 20 PUBLISHER: EA
02 NEW Borderlands 3 03 NEW The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
04 NEW Gears 5
05 NEW NBA 2K20 06 03
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
07 NEW The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan 08 01
Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled
09 NEW eFootball Pro Evolution Soccer 2020 10 NEW Wreckfest
Konami THQ Nordic
Source: GfK/Ukie, Period: August 25th to September 28th 2019
Pass the gear
Gears 5 - Microsoft
Borderlands 3 - 2K
Following its launch on September 6th, Gears 5’s impact at retail was somewhat muted, compared to both Borderlands 3 and to its own predecessor. However, it set new records in relation to its rollout to Xbox Game Pass subscribers. Xbox stated: “Thanks to the incredible support from our fans, Gears 5 attracted over three million players in its opening weekend and set new records for Xbox Game Pass with the biggest launch week of any Xbox Game Studios title this generation.” “The performance easily doubled the first week’s debut of Gears of War 4 and made Gears 5 the most-played Xbox Game Studios title in its first week since 2012’s Halo 4.”
Borderlands 3 is the fastest-selling game in 2K history, shifting more than five million units in its opening five days. 2K says within its first five days, 50 per cent more consumers had purchased Borderlands 3 when compared with Borderlands 2, making it the “fastest-selling [game] in 2K’s history, as well as the highest-selling title for the label on PC in a five-day window”. The latest sales bring the Borderlands franchise’s total sales to exceed $1 billion in net bookings. And the PC title hit double the peak concurrent users as its predecessor’s all-time peak. Showing the strong growth of the franchise over since the launch of Borderlands 2.
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Getting flexible – is part time teaching the solution to the UK’s computing education challenges? Digital Schoolhouse’s latest recruit speaks on her first-hand experience of computing education in the UK in 2019
“The number of teachers quitting the profession after just a year is at a 20 year high” DIGITAL Schoolhouse (DSH), together with Nintendo UK, is a pioneering not for profit education programme delivered by Ukie, which uses play-based learning to engage the next generation of pupils and teachers with the computing curriculum. To deliver its innovative programme, the DSH team recently created a new role of curriculum content developer in order to allow one lucky applicant to develop curriculum content for the scheme while allowing them to continue to teach part time. Estelle Ashman (pictured above) stepped into those shoes earlier this year. In her blog Best of Both Worlds, she poses the question of whether her unique position could help the UK education system deal with its computing education challenges – something that particularly affects our sector: “It is well known that there is a recruitment crisis in education. The number of teachers quitting the profession after just a year is at a 20 year high, but it is in Computing – one of the
subjects that I know is most important to the future health of the video games industry – that there is a real crisis. The government has had a national focus on Computing since the 2014 National Curriculum reforms, but there was an almost 50% decline in students taking Computing related subjects at GCSE between 2017 and 2018. On top of this, the number of hours spent teaching Computing across KS3 – KS5 fell by 36% according to The Roehampton Annual Computing Education Report. This has been driven by a fall in the number of people teaching computing in schools. A 2016 report from Computing at School Scotland found that 17 per cent of schools had no Computing specialist teacher and the number of dedicated Computing teachers fell
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Ukie student conferences return to Staffordshire and Abertay in November THE latest Ukie Student Conferences will be held at Staffordshire University on November 13th and at Abertay University on Novermber 27th. Each will feature a day of inspiring talks, CV workshops and an exclusive expo area for over 200 students from Ukie’s Student Membership programme. The last Ukie Student Conference, which was held at Staffordshire University, saw over 300 students and lecturers gather to hear talks from over 25 professionals in the industry.
by nearly 25 per cent between 2008 and 2017. And while this report is focused on Scottish schools, a similar impact can be seen in schools across the UK. I have seen this decline first-hand; the multi-academy trust I worked for previously cut Computing from the KS3 curriculum and as a direct result ended up with no specialist Computing teachers remaining at the school to deliver GCSE courses. None of the Computing team wanted to teach other subjects in order to make up their timetabled hours and we understood the impact that cutting KS3 Computing would have on uptake at GCSE. The question is not whether there is a crisis, but how can we overcome it? Earlier this month I read an interesting article from the Times Education Supplement (TES) which stated that ‘offering teachers the kind of flexible working that other professions take for granted could make a real difference in terms of recruitment and retention.’ Could flexible working be the solution in retaining and recruiting Computing teachers? If you haven’t worked in Education, you may not realise that arranging the school timetable is a huge operation. One person – normally someone who also has lots of other responsibilities – must weave a myriad of people, students, classes and days together and somehow create the perfect timetable. There is never a timetable that everyone is happy with, and sometimes no one is happy. Working outside of Education makes you realise how different it is. In order for a hybrid role to work, businesses need to know your working days in advance; Digital Schoolhouse needed to know what days I would be working in September around six months in advance in order to start planning events, but schools haven’t even considered next year’s timetable that far in advance.
Covering creative game design, emerging business models, PR and player strategy, as well as individuals sharing their experiences working in the UK games sector, it’s a fantastic way to inspire the next generation of industry talent. We are on the lookout for sponsors to back upcoming Ukie Student activities. If this sounds like something you’d like to be involved with, please get in touch with our membership officer Leon Cliff at leon@ukie. org.uk and he will be happy to give you all the information.
It isn’t unheard of to receive your new timetable on the 1st of September, the first day of the school year and sometimes that can still change. In one memorable year, the timetable had to be written two weeks into the school year as everyone was so unhappy with it! So, when I insisted that I needed to know what days I would be working in March, I didn’t get far. Sorting out the days I would be working come September has probably been one of my biggest challenges so far. There have been a few occasions that I have had to stand my ground and remind the school of what they had agreed to. I don’t find this easy; I don’t like rocking the boat. Eventually I had my days set – not the days that I was hoping for and we had originally agreed on – but set days nonetheless. The impact of this is that a few events (which had to have dates set despite not knowing what days I would be working) fall on days that I should be working in school so there will have to be some negotiation around them, but I am confident that we will be able to come to an agreement. Thankfully I have a supportive school that sees the benefit in me also working for Digital Schoolhouse. That isn’t to say that there isn’t room for improvement, clearly there is and if schools want to look at ways of tackling the recruitment crisis through hybrid working then they need to get better at being able to set working days in advance. So, could flexible working be part of the solution to retaining and recruiting Computing teachers? In my opinion, yes. But schools have a long way to go in their ability to offer a truly flexible approach that works for students, teachers and – in the longer term – the industries it supports.” Find out more about Estelle’s work and Digital Schoolhouse at https://www. digitalschoolhouse.org.uk/
Amazon Game Tech tour proves a hit
THIS month, Ukie partnered up with the team at Amazon Game Tech to tour the country and give expert advice on using Amazon Web Services in games. The tour – which hit Leamington Spa, Liverpool and Dundee from the 8th-10th October – gave developers the chance to hear from companies who had built games on the cloud to support their efforts; whether by enabling cross platform play or reducing admin to allow focus on design. With the likes of Kwalee, Milky Tea Studios and Ninja Kiwi giving their time to discuss the benefits of building on the cloud, the tour proved to be an informative endeavour for a range of games businesses from across the country.
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Real Life Events from the industry
ONE SPECIAL DAY Games charity SpecialEffect held its fourth annual One Special Day event on October 4th. Industry partners included Supercell, Rovio, Sega, Codemasters, Jagex, Zynga, Rare and Rocksteady. All of whom generously donated all of their UK revenue for that day to the charity. SpecialEffect helps severely disabled people enjoy games, creating custom controllers designed for specific disabilities.
Below: As part of Runefest this year, Noonfest was held, a Friday lunchtime event and charity auction that raised more than ÂŁ5,500 for SpecialEffect. (more on this yearâ€™s Runefest on page 62)
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Left: Sonic turned out for SEGA’s fundraising day at its headquarters
Above: One Special Match – SpecialEffect founder Dr Mick Donegan (plus Tom, Tess and Matt) at Norwich City for the Villa game, which was dedicated to SpecialEffect as part of One Special Day
Pictured: An industry Marioke event in Leamington Spa
Right: A Gold Sea Of Thieves Xbox auctioned by Rare for the event with a final winning bid of £4,100
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Above: Madfinger Games was one of many Unity developers showing off their work at Unite UNITE COPENHAGEN 2019 With a recent survey showing that 72 per cent of UK games companies use Unity, the enginemakers big annual event, held in its hometown of Copenhagen to celebrate 15 years of the software, was bound to be a significant occasion. Three thousand attended the three-day conference, with 150 sessions, industry-specific tracks, product demos, meetups, hands-on labs, a training day, an expert bar, keynote and a big night out to round it all off. Sessions covered data-oriented design, simulation, AR & VR, artist tools & animation, core tech, graphics, multiplayer, and plenty more besides. Lots of learnings from the event in next monthâ€™s MCV/DEVELOP.
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Below: Unity CEO John Riccitiello kicked off the eventâ€™s keynote
MCV-OCT19-PTW 2:MCV-OCT19-PTW 2 09/10/2019 09:27 Page 1
Ian Livingstone CBE making the opening remarks at the event UBISOFTâ€™S KEYS TO LEARN Ubisoft held the first Keys To Learn event in central London on September 30th. With speakers from the industry and beyond exploring the role games can play as a means to learn, grow and build a better world together. There were workshops, panels, hands-on sessions and presentations, including the announcement of Rabbids Coding! (see page 44 for more on that).
Above: The Jobs of Tomorrow panel, from left to right: Matthew Applegate, Creative Computing Club; Elizabeth Sampat, Ubisoft FGOL; CJ Stockton, Ubisoft Reflections and Huhua Fan, UNESCO. Moderated by Alysia Judge (not pictured)
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Why studios should care about interorganisational Agile Johan Karlsson, Perforce
MCV gives the industry a platform for its own views in its own words. Do you have a burning hot take for the world of games? Get in touch!
THE concept and potential benefits of Agile are understood by most game creators. What’s less well known is inter-organisational Agile, which is scaled beyond the development team level to include other departments, external contributors, and even publishers. Already being adopted in other industries, inter-organisational Agile optimises the development process, reduces risk, and improves collaboration across the entire game value-stream. It supports the trend towards games production that is increasingly distributed, with code, QA, publishing, and other activities dispersed between different organisations. Collaboration is something that game studios struggle with as the parties involved in a project grows, particularly since the secrecy around new projects makes transparency a challenge. To deal with this, they may add in more meetings, recruit coordinators, and other actions. All of which adds to the management layer. Bureaucracy increases, as do bottlenecks. This is when an inter-organisational Agile mindset is the common-sense approach. Here’s an example: going back to the original Agile Manifesto and using its ‘working software over comprehensive documentation’ principle, Agile helps reduce the amount of documentation needed. Ideas and changes can be handled without classic game design documentation, so documentation becomes less important, while still having the transparency required in order to reduce risk. The successful implementation of interorganisational Agile depends on a few factors. The most important of these factors is cultural: everyone on the team has to be on board and
adopt an Agile mindset, particularly executives. Understanding that Agile is an evolution, and not a one-time activity, is vital. Frequently reviewing and improving the way of working is a necessity to find global optimisations across the organisations involved in a project. There are a variety of different Agile frameworks to choose from, including ones designed for large-scale deployment. Large Scale Scrum helps align sprints across all organizations, but large-scale Kanban alternatives probably make more sense to understand the flow of information. This is because many games today are not something that are just built and shipped, but instead, will involve continuous or regular updates over time. Having said that, successful inter-organisational Agile is less about what flavour of the methodology to adopt, and more about taking the elements that best suit a decentralised decision-making structure, while maintaining alignment to the common Northern Star of the project. Other markets talk about Industry 4.0 and optimising operational efficiency. While game development is an inherently creative process and not a production line in a factory, it is also becoming more complex. It could even be called Game Development 4.0. While not yet widespread, inter-organisational Agile could be hugely beneficial for many modern game devevelopers to compete as a network, rather than individual studios. An Agile specialist, Johan Karlsson is a Senior Consultant for Perforce Software. www.perforce.com
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Forever sifting for the sweetcorn Ben Lawrence, Bope
“YOU can throw a turd. You can pick it up, and you can throw it. And yes, it leaves stains.” I’m paraphrasing of course, but the smell of it still lingers – it’s the PR script for Duke Nukem Forever, a game in which, yes, you could actually throw around turds. I’ll get to the undigested sweetcorn of my argument in a second, but whatever your opinion on 3D Realms/Triptych Games/Gearbox Software/Piranha Game’s 2011 ‘experiment’, it had meaty PR hooks, certainly enough for Radio One to spontaneously voxpop Oxford Street the weekend before launch. I’m not sure what my feelings on the game are these days. There’s a fondness I guess. As daft and unaware of its own obsolescence as it was, all of that was tempered by the PR campaign 2K embarked on. The PR was daring but it never overstepped the mark, it was silly and crude, but just enough to be self-referential (the game perhaps, not so much). My point is, we found the sweetcorn in them thar’ hills. It’s a lesson in PR that I’ve carried with me ever since and one I’d encourage everybody in gaming PR to carry with them too – whatever you’re tasked with, there’s always a story, there’s always the sweetcorn (enough of that now). However dry or corporate a campaign might be, dare yourself to have fun with it, and dare your client to have fun too. Clients (and yes, I’m looking at you, devs, indies, publishers et al), you often don’t know
how good your product actually is. It’s a PR’s job not only to show the world, but to show you as well. Wood? Trees? You lot? As if. And it all comes down to one simple rule… If you want to get the most out of your PR team, be that in-house, an agency, or even if you’re doing it yourself, to quote Marcus Aurelius (or more accurately, Hannibal Lector, I’ve no idea who Marcus Aurelius is) “Of each particular thing, ask: what is it in itself? What is its nature?” What is it your product/game/ gadget/hoojamaflip does? Once you can answer that, set your PR team the task of shouting that answer, and that answer alone, as loudly and as smartly as possible. Anyone in PR that would have you believe it’s a dark art, or anything wildly different from this principle doesn’t have your best interests at heart. That’s not to say PR is an easy job, far from it some days (Bope is currently trying to organise the logistics of moving something like 10,000 hot burritos around Bristol), but ask yourself this when you’re considering the value of PR – when you’ve got a game to finish and a deadline to meet, when you need press exposure but you’re sleeping under your desk to hit a milestone – do you want to be the one sifting for the sweetcorn? Ben Lawrence is co-founder of Bope PR. And was previously head of UK PR at 2K Games.
“However dry or corporate a campaign might be, dare yourself to have fun with it, and dare your client to have fun too.”
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Priceless Putting a price on any experience is always tricky, especially in the fickle market of premium mobile games, but thanks to Apple Arcade, Ustwo Games’ latest title is simply priceless – and in more ways than one, as Seth Barton discovers
t’s rare to be in a games studio at the very moment that a game is released – such press junkets are usually done well before the nitty gritty of release day, but here we are in Ustwo’s achingly-cool south London hideaway, as the team are seeing their game’s very first reactions go up live on Twitter, the result of
some users getting access to Apple Arcade a couple of days early. Despite that, Chief Creative Officer Dan Gray is a very happy man: “I’m excited to be able to talk about the game, rather than keeping everything under wraps, and excited that thing isn’t Monument Valley.’’
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Pictured below: Ustwo Games’ studio in South London
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“I love Monument Valley but it’s been two years waiting for something new to talk about and now’s finally the time.” Ustwo were very much the Monument Valley people, with the studio’s reputation being built around that title and its sequel: “we knew we could have been that company that made Monument Valley games forever, there’s an appetite out there for us to do that, and we will make another Monument Valley game at some point, but the most important thing to us was to create a new story, a new experience that was going to surprise people in a completely different way.” That new experience is Assemble with Care and here Gray turns the tables, asking us: “If you played the game, do you think that you’d get a jist it was by us?” MECHANICAL MARVELS The short answer to that is “no”. Assemble with Care is most definitely not a direct successor to the studio’s mega hit. It’s a narrative-driven game where you take
the role of Maria, a young woman who travels around repairing and restoring others cherished possessions. Storybook sections alternate with puzzles, where you need to dismantle, repair and reassemble a wide variety of different objects from cameras to statuettes, watches to slide projectors. That said, you can clearly see its heritage, once you’re aware of the connection. There’s a pleasing solidity and tactile sense to both Assemble’s objects and Monument Valley’s architecture. The studio continues to value quality over quantity: There aren’t many press events where you can realistically finish the entire game between arriving and your interview slot. Additonally, similar to Monument Valley, the game is not what you’d call challenging. One, less tangible link, is in the theme of familial relationships, which also sat at the heart of Monument Valley 2. Assemble with Care uses the repair of objects
as a proxy to help Maria repair relationships, both between a daughter and a father, and between two sisters. Or as Gray puts it: “Fixing the physical with tools you understand, but also fixing the emotional with tools we all struggle with on a day-to-day basis.” Many of the items are everyday, prosaic bits of kit, but they’re priceless to their owners, such as a child who has a tape deck to listen to a recording of her departed mother’s voice. “One thing that was important to us was this idea of empathy and understanding between different groups of people,” Gray continued. “There’s a very polarising way of being at the moment, where people sit on either side of their fence. This game is about trying to help people understand the position of another person.” With characters, a storyline and all those items to repair, Assemble is far more grounded than Monument Valley. It’s a love letter to the 80s, to a time when mechanical items were still worth fixing, that makes it potentially less universal in its appeal than its surreal predecessor. But personally, we found it immensely charming in a kitschy, romantic way. A GUIDING LIGHT Senior game designer Joel Beardshaw explains that the team is largely “of an age between their mid-twenties to late 30s,” and that this informed its choices when it came to the 80s setting and the items selected for Maria to repair. “These are things that we grew up with, things that we’re nostalgic for, a lot of the objects were chosen because people had a little story about them, an idea that came from their childhood or finding something and reminiscing about it.” In our talk, Gray and Beardshaw speak often about how the game was a collaborative effort by the whole team: “They’re not just personal to one person but are personal to the team, lots of shared stories in the team,” says Beardshaw. Gray later reaffirms this, saying that there’s no single auteur on the game: “‘It’s more like how do we get a group of people really excited, really on board and really aligned with making a thing. It’s certainly not ‘everyone make my thing.’” Beardshaw provides us with an example of an item from early in the game: “We all knew we wanted to have a camera in it, that idea of a mechanical camera is something that’s kind of gone away, but it’s so interesting to know what’s inside.”
Pictured from left to right: Dan Gray (Chief Creative Officer), Adrienne Law (Producer/Writer), Matthew Newcombe (Lead Programmer), Joel Beardshaw (Lead Designer) and Chris Cox (Lead Artist).
Now many of us know how a single lens reflex camera works, so pulling one apart and adjusting the mirror to bounce the light as intended is pretty straightforward. But for others, notably younger players, it will be a very new concept. “That’s part of the charm,” Gray replies, adding that ”one of the unexpected but beautiful things about Monument Valley is that yes, they are single player experiences technically, but the amount of people who play the games together, as a guided experience, is huge,” and Assemble definitely has a storybook feel that works well for bedtimes. Even without prior knowledge of the items, the game worked universally in testing. For example, whether players were familiar with tightening an audio cassette tape using a pencil. “That is something we’ve use-tested for a lot, we asked ‘did you have a tape deck when you were a kid? Did you do this?’” October 2019 MCV/DEVELOP | 25
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SHIPPING IT For every item that made it into the game, many more missed out, Beardshaw explains: “There were lots of objects left behind: this is too similar to that one. Does it serve a narrative purpose? Does it tell you anything about that character?” And that’s just the beginning of the requirements, Beardshaw notes: “What’s an interesting object, which uses the right mechanics, that is going to facilitate the right amount of complexity for that point in the game, that’s roughly this size and shape [as it has to fit onscreen after all]? It was so difficult to make levels, in an interesting way, an interesting challenge.” “So for example, we really wanted to do a ship in a bottle. But It didn’t quite fit with the set of characters we had, because every level needs to progress that character’s relationship in some way. But Maria, she’s a restorer by trade and she travels around places, there’s no reason why we can’t have her meet somebody else, where that item does make sense,” Beardshaw notes, suggesting a possible sequel or expansion. The pair jokingly come up with some possible names before Gray settles on “More Assembly required!” The team had a giant “cool wall” full of items for the game, covered with A5 sheets with photos and descriptions of every object. Letting everyone see and comment on what was under consideration in a more democratic fashion: “It was half bonding exercise and half discovery of what the game is – trying to decide what the core objects that this game is going to be about. When you first have this idea of taking things apart and putting them back together and telling stories about characters through their objects, there’s a lot that comes out of that discussion” says Beardshaw.
In order to get everyone involved, Ustwo was keen to keep the team size down on both Assemble and the other (unannounced) title which is still in development, Gray tells us. “We were eight people when we made Monument Valley 1, and there were 16 dev members of Monument Valley 2 and then we scaled down for these games. So we’ve had maybe 12 people work on Assemble with Care. We made the team a little bit smaller because we’re all about making games that feel personal, so that they feel made by a small group, almost handcrafted in a way.” “The team that started it was the Monument Valley 2 people and then more people came on and more junior roles came in and people who are fresh to the company joined. If you want stuff to feel personal, the best way to freshen things up again, and again and again is to have different personal influences on it.” A RISKY READER As Gray has mentioned Monument Valley, we feel safe to ask about the connections between the games one more time. So was it a conscious decision that the team made a big shift away from that title with Assemble? “We wanted to do something completely different,” he states, but says that they still wanted to attract the same kind of audience: “I think it will do, I think this is a really good experiment in making something grounded, more relatable.” With years work behind the game, a lot of testing, plus the incredibly engaging final result, it’s surprising to hear Gray call Assemble with Care an experiment. “Everything we make is going to be a risk, that’s the whole point. We spent about a year prototyping, going from sixteen different ideas, down to ten, down to six, then from six to three,” he pulls a pained expression, “and then three finally went down to two, and so we’re currently working on two games here.” Some might presume that Assemble was among the least risky of those ideas, but Gray scotches that idea: “I would say that safety is not the number one criteria of why ideas for our games get chosen.” To which Beardshaw adds: “It’s the excitement in the room.” Gray agrees: “A great game is made by people who were excited to make it, you could take an idea that seems a little bit safer, a little bit more stable and a bit more of a known quantity.”
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“But if the team aren’t tenout-of-ten infused by it, you’re not going to end up with a great game. So we can take something that’s a little bit more risky and trust and rely on the people in the team to bring it up a couple of notches. “This is an interactive story with puzzle elements, and it is risky to ask people to read text in any capacity!” Gray exclaims. “That is a risk. But we believe it’s a risk worth taking because we truly believe that people are going to engage with the story and relate with the characters in it. People can relate with Ida in Monument Valley to a certain extent but do they relate with having a disconnect with one of their children in the same way?” “It is a risk. It’s a risk because we think that people are going to resonate with these relationships stronger than other things.” NON-SHOPPING ARCADE But maybe Assemble with Care can afford to take risks, because no one will be directly paying to play the game, an unusual shift for the makers of one of the biggest-selling ‘premium’ mobile games of all time. That’s because Assemble is among the first wave of titles to be launched on Apple Arcade, the much-hyped saviour of the ‘premium’ game segment. “We’ve got a tweet on our wall which is a review from someone saying: ‘I just want to say thank you for this beautiful experience you’ve provided for me, it’s one of the most memorable things I’ve played on my device.
I only wish it wasn’t three dollars and 99 cents.’” It’s not untypical either, just look at the huge number of glowing, gushing even, reviews for Monument Valley and even the most enthusiastic fans still seem to be irked by an apparent lack of value for money. They all feel there should have been more of the game, to which Gray replies rightly: “A six hour long Citizen Kane would not be a better movie.” Apple Arcade removes that financial burden, or at least the user’s perception of it. “There’s no direct value attributed to individual games,” notes Gray. “So we are definitely going to see people who play our game and just love it. They’re not going to think about the financial transaction. And that’s brilliant.” “People are looking at [subscription services] as a way to provide safe experiences for the family. People want to get away from things like loot boxes in their games. So for us that’s beneficial because we get a whole bunch of people who would never have paid for one of our games in a premium sense. People who are now going to get to experience the things that we do.” And he’s not worried about the competition from the mass of launch titles on the service on day one: “With all these games that are going to come out [on Apple Arcade], there is going to be lots explosions, action, skateboarding, all this kind of stuff. I think it’s going to be really interesting, and I’m actually really proud of the fact, that something like ours is going to be talking to normal people.” “Maybe these things are different for the free-to-play games and for a lot of the more commercially driven companies, but for people who create experiences our size, it doesn’t feel like a competition. At the end of the day the more quality experiences that sit alongside Assemble with Care, the better. What’s that saying? A rising tide lifts all boats!”
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“Day one, when the game goes live, it’s not going to have the biggest install base in the world. But compared to a lot of the stuff that’s launching, it’s going to be so much more of a slow burn. There’s still people who are picking up on and watching Orange is the New Black on Netflix now. I think that is what’s going to happen here. “The early adopters are going to probably be a lot of tech and game enthusiasts. But as time goes on we’re only going to get stronger. So I do think that success for this is going to come as a long burn thing over the course of the next three years, as the audience of Apple Arcade gets bigger. Of course, Ustwo isn’t at liberty to discuss the details of its deal with Apple, and only time will tell if the service can kickstart a golden era for high-quality mobile games without free-to-play monetisation. Based on the flak the industry is receiving at present, be that fully justified or not, the service has certainly come along at a great time to help paint a better picture for the games industry as a whole. TOO COOL FOR SCHOOL Assemble with Care is a long way off the stereotypical core of the games industry. It’s exactly the kind of game that you can show any critic of the industry, to explain that it all can’t simply be lumped together as violently competitive, microtransactiondriven, service games. Beardshaw tells us: “We’re trying to make games for people who don’t know what’s great about games or those who are just put off by certain aspects of what can be found in vast swathes of games.” Which is an attitude the industry could use a lot more of. Beardshaw and Gray aren’t just some pair of design gurus who dislike the core market. Both of them have solid industry credentials, having worked on titles as varied as Joe Danger and No Man’s Sky (Gray), and Fifty Cent: Blood in the Sand and Operation Flashpoint (Beardshaw). “We’re trying to take what’s amazing about video games, what we all get to experience when we play on our console or PC, and deliver some of those amazing things to people who play mobile games, because for the most part, casual players play what we consider to be a quite small subsection of what is possible within video games.” Gray points out. The team at Ustwo Games could make a game with spaceships, guns, tanks and a pounding hip-hop soundtrack, they’ve just chosen not to. And maybe you could choose not to as well. Ustwo is hiring, they’ve got loads more things that need assembling (with care), with Monument Valley 3 being just one of those things, so why take a leaf out of Maria’s book and take a more positive approach to fixing what’s wrong in the world. Who knows, maybe you could make something priceless too.
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Ins and Outs: Industry hires and moves 1
Koch Media has made a couple of new appointments. ANTHONY MOSS (1) has joined as UK sales executive, bringing with him a wealth of product and retail sales experience having worked as a store manager at the likes of Electronics Boutique, GAME and Gamestation. RICHARD MACKEY (2) also joined as trade marketing executive, having previously worked for Gorenje.
Former BioWare writer DAVID GAIDER (3) has teamed up with former Beamdog developer LIAM ESLER (4) to co-found indie dev Summerfall Studios. Gaider – who had a prolific writing career for BioWare on franchises such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Neverwinter Nights and Dragon Age for more than 17 years – joined Beamdog in February 2016 after departing BioWare in late January that same year. Esler also worked at Beamdog between 2013 and 2016 and will serve the new studio as MD.
EA’s EU corporate comms has a new boss, with industry veteran CAT CHANNON (5) having recently taken on the role of director of European corporate communications, based at EA’s Geneva office. The UK industry will know Channon from her stints at Vivendi, Take-Two, NCSoft, and Warner Bros. Most recently she was running her own agency, The Treks. Speaking to MCV, Channon said: “EA is a particularly playerfocused and progressive organisation, so I am thrilled to be joining the company at this time. I look forward to engaging with our partners, media and trade bodies along with the highly talented internal teams.” REGGIE FILS-AIMÉ (6), former Nintendo of America president, has joined the New York Video Game Critics Circle (NYVGCC) board of directors. In a press release, the NYVGCC said Fils-Aimé’s new role will help its mission to run “mentoring and scholarships in underserved communities.”
The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) has appointed GINA VETERE (7) as its new senior vice president, general counsel. ESA’s CEO Stanley PierreLouis commented: “Gina is recognised as a leader in law and policy. We are proud to have one of the brightest legal minds join us. Her wealth of knowledge and diversity of experience will enhance the services and value we provide.”
Former VP of communications at the ESA, DAN HEWITT (8), has joined Gearbox in the newly created role of chief communications officer. Hewitt had been at the ESA for over 12 years. Gearbox’s founder Randy Pitchford commented: “Dan is known and praised across the video game industry for his strategic counsel, industry knowledge, and ability to work with media and stakeholders. We are delighted to have Dan join us to help shape and share our story.” Bandai Namco’s PR assistant SHEHRYAR SHEIKH (9) has left the firm to join Square
Enix as public relations executive. Sheikh spent a year and a half at Bandai Namco, having previous experiences at Indigo Pearl. After almost two years at Network N, commercial editor BEN TYRER (10) has departed the company to become GamesRadar’s news editor. Tyrer already worked at Future from 2014 to 2018, first as digital production assistant before becoming staff writer and then games editor at PlayStation Magazine. People Can Fly has appointed MATEUSZ KIRSTEIN (11) as its new chief marketing officer and head of people of the company’s Rzeszow studio. Kirstein is described as “a top-level, business-oriented creative professional with 20+ years of diverse experience in the media, marketing, and film production.”
Capcom Europe has hired a new senior PR manager to handle Capcom’s EMEA and UK PR and communications, as CLAAS WOLTER (12) joins the team in London, transferring from Capcom
Entertainment Germany, where he handled the company’s central European PR activities as PR manager. He will be reporting to Antoine Molant, marketing director EMEA and UK. GEORGE KELION (13) is now head of PR at CCP Games, having previously held the role of senior communications manager from 2018, after joining the company in 2016. Reporting to the VP of marketing, Kelion will drive the internal/ external communications efforts for CCP’s activities across multiple channels, to support and further CCP’s organisational and commercial objectives. MCV has a new staff writer, following the departure of senior staff writer Marie Dealessandri, who joined the GamesIndustry. biz team in October. CHRIS WALLACE (14) joined from Continuum Economics where he had been subeditor for the past year. A former MCV intern, he graduated forom Cardiff University in 2018 and has had bylines as a freelancer in the likes of Rock Paper Shotgun and VG247. MCV’s editor Seth Barton commented: “Chris impressed us when he interned with MCV and we’ve kept him waiting far too long before offering him a role. Please make him feel welcome by bombarding him with all the press releases”
Got an appointment you’d like to share with us? Then simply email Chris Wallace at email@example.com 30 | MCV/DEVELOP October 2019
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Every month, we pick the brain of an up-and-coming talent
Anthea van Leeuwen, environment artist, Playtonic Games
What is your proudest achievement so far? My time at Sumo Digital will always have a special place in my heart. When I had been working on Snake Pass for about a month, my team had enough faith in me to give me creative freedom over creating my own assets as well as doing the level art and lighting for most of the levels. There was an email that was sent around from my art director, Andy Ritson, that requested that “all levels should look like this,” with an image of one of my levels attached. Seeing my levels grow as I worked on them was amazing, but when you receive an email like that from someone with years of experience in the industry, it makes you feel proud on an entirely different scale!
How did you break into games? As a kid, I spent most of my free time playing video games, much to my parents’ dismay. They didn’t know at the time that I would be able to pursue my hobby as a viable job until I went to university. During my final year, I was tasked with finding an internship at a game studio. I participated in the Grads in Games Rising Star competition as a challenge for myself, and I ended up winning! The prize was exactly what I wanted and needed: an undergrad position at the amazing Sumo Digital studio. After my internship, I was lucky enough to get in contact with my current co-workers at Playtonic Games, who were happy to have me. I’ve been with them for two years now and it’s been great.
What’s been your biggest challenge so far? I’m sure everyone is familiar with the dreaded ‘crunch time.’ Although I absolutely loved working on all the projects I’ve been on so far, stuff like that has taken its toll on my mental and physical health, and I’m still trying to get on top of it. Luckily enough my co-workers are very understanding, so that helps reduce the stress levels. What do you enjoy most about your job? Giving something back to the world in the form of art. When we release a new title, or when I post online about a personal project, there’ll be the occasional person reacting in a way that reminds me of myself as a kid. They’ll mention that the game made them feel something good or say that my work has inspired them in some way, and that’s the sort of feeling I’d like to continue spreading. It means so much when my work sparked that feeling in others.
“My ultimate dream would be to work together with the supportive friends that I have met along the way.” What’s your biggest ambition in games? I find it hard to decide on one ‘big ambition’ when I continue to be inspired by the people in my industry and fellow artists. In the grand scheme of things though, my ultimate ‘dream’, would be to work together with the supportive friends that I have met along the way. Being able to work on something original together with a group of close friends is something special to me, and I hope that I can continue to inspire others through that as well. What advice would you give to aspiring environment artists? Don’t take anything for granted. Keep working on your skills as you go, our industry is incredibly dynamic so it’s dangerous to stay in the same place. Remember the people you meet along the way and stay in contact with them, share your knowledge with them, and don’t be a stranger. Entering dev challenges is what helped me along the way, so don’t be afraid of challenging yourself and putting yourself out there!
If there’s a rising star at your company, then get in touch with Chris Wallace at firstname.lastname@example.org October 2019 MCV/DEVELOP | 31
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Cherry picked advice to help you reach the next level in your career
Wargaming UK’s Darren Tucker tells us about what being a vehicle artist entails, how he got there and what makes a difference when trying to get into the games industry are always unforeseen obstacles to overcome in game development. However, this is a big part of the joy of working in the games industry, as astute and creative solutions soon follow, expanding our development processes.
What is your job role and how would you describe a typical day at work? I’m a vehicle artist working on a fantastic new project at Wargaming UK. My contribution to our growing team involves building a wide range of vehicles, starting out by creating conceptual speed models, while exploring both functionality and aesthetic vehicle design. I then move onto collaboratively exploring vehicle production pipelines, with low and high detail modelling and texturing techniques being just a part of this. I also work closely with the vehicle design team to get these vehicles up and running effectively and efficiently ingame. As you would expect, making real-time experiences comes with challenges as there
What qualifications and/or experience do you need to land this job? There isn’t exactly a linear path to follow when it comes to gaining a job in the games industry, each professional has had their own unique journey to get to where they are today. My journey started when I learnt that there were game art degree courses to study in universities around the UK. I jumped at the chance and became a student on the Computer Games (Art) course at Southampton Solent University. There I built up a solid foundation of game art production skills, along with many hours of selflearning outside of classes. I soon realised that after graduating, having a degree in game art provided only the first stepping-stone toward the industry I aspired to be part of. Networking among industry professionals is a vital way to get an insight into what it is to be a game developer, what is needed to get your first job interview and receive professional critique on your portfolio and work. It’s also important to make sure to keep your skills fresh and stay up to date with the latest industry standard practices, tools and techniques, as well as continuing to work on your portfolio. If you were interviewing someone for your team, what would you look for? At Wargaming UK, we are always on the lookout for tailored portfolios that demonstrate high quality artwork showing an adept skill and
efficiency in making professional game art. With this we will invite the applicant into the studio for an interview to find out more about them. As we all work very closely together, we would like to see that the applicant has enthusiasm, questions and is intrigued about the project, while having the ability to follow directions, and adapt to feedback positively and effectively. An additional trait that is beneficial is to show understanding of roles outside of the position that is being applied for. As many of the inhouse teams also work closely together, this allows for smoother working relationships between roles. What opportunities are there for career progression? Wargaming UK is a place of continuous learning and self-development, and is a studio that values their employees, doing everything they can to promote structured working methodologies, to make their employees’ jobs as enjoyable and as streamlined as possible. Wargaming UK is also an advocate of building up its employees, allowing them to become the best developer they can be, taking an interest into what you are passionate about working on and what you are striving to achieve throughout your career.
“Wargaming UK is a place of continuous learning and selfdevelopment.”
Want to talk about your career and inspire people to follow the same path? Contact Chris Wallace at email@example.com
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28 DAYS LATER Taking a new opportunity in the industry can open a door to the job of your dreams. We catch up with a recent career mover at the start of their exciting new role through recruitment specialist Amiqus Congratulations on the new role! What inspired you about Double Eleven to join them? I was inspired to come and join Double Eleven after learning about their low staff turnover; I thought the team must really like it there. Double Eleven has a good reputation for staff morale from what I had heard, which was key in making my decision to join them. What’s the culture like at Double Eleven and what has been your experience of fitting in? The culture at Double Eleven is positive, relaxed and very friendly. The management team encourages knowledge sharing here, which is something I am so happy about. The transition into this new role was made easy for me, because everybody here is so nice to work with, and very supportive. What are you most excited about bringing to the role? I always want to help the developers make the most of their abilities, challenge themselves and to learn more about their craft. That’s something I want for myself, too. I want to be able to make great content with great people, and that’s what I’m most excited about. What will working at Double Eleven do for your career? I’ve only been working at Double Eleven for just over a month, but already I have been given the support and encouragement to learn, as well as the opportunity to gain hands-on experience as a producer. Long term, I am looking to progress my career in-house at Double Eleven and the chance to work on the biggest triple-A titles, alongside a hugely talented team. I think I’ll find that here. What would you say to anyone considering a career in the games industry? If you’re unhappy in your current job, look for something different. There are a lot of great opportunities out there. You should take a chance on a studio that will give you the space to grow and learn. I’m glad I did just that by joining Double Eleven.
“You should take a chance on a studio that will give you the space to grow and learn.”
Name: Jenny Wheatley Studio: Double Eleven Job Title: Associate Producer Education: BA (Hons) in Fine Art (graduated 2016, 2:1 grade) and MSc in Project Management (graduated 2017, Distinction grade)
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Iterating for Better This month, MCV looks into how attitudes to maternity leave can have an enormous effect on the return to work success, and how your company can get it right when it welcomes staff back from their time away from work RESEARCH by Dublin City University Business School discovered that how a mother’s time away is viewed by both a line manager and the company as a whole is critical in determining their return success. Businesses that view maternity leave as a brief interlude in a woman’s career rather than a major disruption are more likely to retain highperforming mothers. The study of 300 women, which was the first of its kind in the UK to focus on perspectives surrounding motherhood at work, found that a lack of communication between managers, unconscious bias and career derailment were all concerns for returning mums. 67 per cent felt ‘enthusiastic’ while on maternity leave, but only 40 per cent continued to feel this way after their first day back. Elsewhere, 35 per cent felt ‘inspired’ while on leave, but this fell to 27 per cent upon their return to their day job. Meanwhile, another report carried out by Slater and Gordon highlighted that just one in ten mothers take a full year’s maternity leave, with many worried that they will put their careers at risk if they take extended breaks. Of course, it’s illegal for employers to unfavourably treat workers in these cases, but many employees clearly still feel that their bosses aren’t supportive and worry that they won’t have a job to come back to. And for the time that they are on maternity leave – either preparing for childbirth or looking after a new baby – around a fifth of women have admitted they felt the need to regularly check emails, take calls and even go into the office. So how should companies go about supporting both pregnant staff and returning-to-work mothers? The NCT offers a huge amount of advice – here are some key take-aways: • Consider the business case for flexible working. • As well as agreeing on formal KIT (Keeping In Touch) days, keep more informal communication open, but to suit the parent. • Arrange a first day welcome for the returning parent. • Provide lots of positive feedback to rebuild confidence. • Be aware of other factors that may affect performance, such as postnatal depression.
Jane Knight Director, Successful Mums At Successful Mums we have supported over 5,000 women back at work after maternity leave. However, as well as supporting mums, we are frequently asked by employers how they can retain and attract female talent after a career break. We commissioned a survey to ask these women “what do you want when returning to work after having a baby?” which over 800 women completed in a matter of days. Some very sad experiences were shared, but also some wonderful positive experiences that demonstrated that if employers can get the return process right it can be productive for both returning women and their employers. The results clearly show that a positive experience for these women is not just good for mums, it’s good for business and productivity. The key message for employers is that ‘softer’, personal support – such as ‘welcome back’ drinks, regular catch-up meetings and introductions to new members of staff – can be just as important as the practical steps of offering flexible working or a gradual return. These small, personal touches show that employers understand and appreciate returning mums and their experiences and can help to make them feel more comfortable, welcome and respected, and therefore are more likely to retain and also attract additional talent.
“Small, personal touches show that employers understand and appreciate returning mums.” Putting The G Into Gaming is a pro bono initiative founded by and in association with recruitment specialist Amiqus. To find out more email G-IntoGaming@amiqus.com or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Hiring the perfect employee With skill shortages causing problems across the industry, finding and successfully hiring the best employee can be a challenge, so Seth Barton reached out to the experts for their advice
ugely-experienced, highly-skilled, determined and full of energy. That’s one description of the perfect employee. But how about: an excellent communicator, with a willingness to learn, attention to detail, loyalty and reliability. That sounds good as well. In short, there’s too many potential strengths for any one person to have them all. OK, so no one’s objectively perfect, but that shouldn’t stop you trying to find and hire the best possible person for your next opening. Which is probably right now, with many games companies across the UK hiring all year round to keep up with demand. The UK games industry, particularly in more technical roles, has always struggled to find enough hires in order to fill every available position, but it’s not the only area where there are skill gaps, or fierce competition to hire the very best candidates. Increasingly the broader industry goes toe-to-toe with other entertainment and technology sectors for staff across a huge range of roles. And there’s a lot more to finding the right person than picking the best applicants from Linkedin and then the best candidate from the interviews. So we reached out to recruitment experts, both in-house and at agencies, to get their thoughts on the process.
THE EARLY BIRD When we asked what kind of timescale employers should be thinking about when hiring new talent, the basic answer was simple, but the reality is anything but. “A hiring cycle will ideally take around three months from end to end – an initial month to establish a candidate pipeline, another to perform interviews and a final month for the successful candidate to serve their notice before joining the team,” Splash Damage’s Head of Recruitment, Alex Wright-Manning begins. “Of course, this is very much an ‘ideal’ timeframe, and often we can find that this will vary wildly according to the discipline, seniority of the role and candidate availability. As such it’s incredibly important that requirements are communicated to those responsible for talent acquisition and management as early as possible,” he continues. Aardvark Swift’s senior recruiter Max Stuart notes that for many, the hiring cycle is constant and agrees that timescales in certain roles are far longer than the ideal: “It is common knowledge that there is a huge skill shortage in the games industry, specifically on the senior engineering side and it is rare that a studio is never looking to hire. With this in mind, when ramping up for projects, it is paramount that measures are taken well in advance, as far as possible, as it can take six months and beyond to
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find the candidate that fits with the studio ethos and has the correct skillset.” The key is not just to start early, though, but to ensure that recruitment is an integrated part of project planning. “Creating a recruitment plan is pretty much entirely project based in the games industry. What projects are you working on? What projects are you going to be working on? What stage are you at with each project? With careful planning you can keep people busy and hire new staff where needed. You can always bring in contractors to fill the gaps,” says OPM’s Kim Parker Adcock. “The recruitment-development relationship should be a symbiotic one,” agrees Wright-Manning. “Often, a studio’s talent function is the most outward facing department. They are acutely aware of market forces, trends and hiring costs, so including recruitment teams in scoping and planning projects to ensure that they have the clearest picture of the talent landscape is vital.” And to keep that talent pipeline flowing, your studio needs to look right back down the pipeline to educational establishments, adds Aardvark Swift’s MD Ian Goodall: “If studios have the time & capacity to do so they should seriously consider their future talent pipeline, in particular younger professionals and graduates… In an ideal world studios want skilled & experienced devs – the AAA candidates. In reality the talent pool of this particular type of candidates isn’t large enough to meet every studio’s requirements, there simply isn’t an overspill of talent moving around the industry.” “One answer is to look to the next generation and develop their skills a and help them become the highly skilled and talented person the studio will be seeking in the future – in short, to develop their own pipeline.” Goodall namechecks the agency’s own Grads in Games initiative in this area and studios such as Creative Assembly, Sumo Digital, d3t, Boss Alien and TT, who have all invested in developing talent from a very early stage. CULTURE CLASH That’s great advice for the future, but if you need to grow your team now, rather than waiting for your team to grow from freshly-hatched graduates, you’ll also need some more immediate advice. Taking staff onto an existing team isn’t just a matter of making a shopping list of skills and experience and tick-listing them off, though that’s still something you’ll need to do. In addition, you’ll want to consider your new hire’s outlook and personality and how they’ll fit in with the current team and studio as a whole. Yes, it’s time to consider that much used phrase: company culture.
Splash Damage’s Wright-Manning kicks us off: “Every studio has its own culture and values, and hiring in line with those is crucial to long-term staffing stability. Skills can be easily taught and honed, personality and attitude cannot. Building a team of like-minded, passionate individuals who adhere to similar personal and professional values is a proven way to increase staff happiness, productivity and longevity.” “This is the foundation of our hiring process. Our most important evaluation is for culture fit. For this, we use a standardised assessment across the business for every role, discipline and seniority level, driving consistency and allowing for a broader range of interviewers to perform evaluations of any potential new hires.” “Collaboration is key to successful games development, so we always leverage interviewers from disciplines outside of the interviewee’s specialist area. This also removes artistic or technical bias and allows us to evaluate candidates purely based on studio culture fit. It also lets us draw on a much larger interviewer pool, providing additional recruitment process support, expertise and increasing interviewer diversity.” Aardvark’s Ian Goodall points out that culture fits must, of course, work both ways: “Careful thought should be
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Pictured above, from top: Ian Goodall, Aardvark Swift; Julia Fager, Testronic; Kim Parker Adcock, OPM
given to what the studio values are. Seek to match those with potential candidate’s values and what they personally consider important. Does what the studio wants to offer fit with what the candidate is looking for?” This desire to ensure that every candidate is a good fit must be tempered by a need to maintain a healthy diversity – not just in the usual sense, but also to ensure creative diversity and different approaches to problem solving. “Skills aside, caution is needed here if we are to increase diversity in games. The default human-nature is that people tend to hire people similar to themselves, or that they like, and this can result in replication of an environment that might be great, but never evolves,” says Codemaster’s recruitment manager Meg Daintith. She continues: “The most important thing for a successful team is that the candidate’s values match the company’s vision and mission statement. By all means take them for a culture-fit coffee with the team, but you should also challenge your own perceptions and use questions to dig in to their motivations – find out who they are beyond their demographic.” Of course, diversity just comes naturally to some. Julia Fager, recruiter in Testronic’s London office notes that the company’s localisation work makes for a very diverse group: “We work with candidates from all over the world, and they are eager to learn about each other’s cultures and differences. I have heard my colleagues saying that they have made friends for life. When you are new in a country that can be a great support.”
INTERVIEW WITH A CODER Gone are the days when a job application consisted invariably of sending your CV, followed by a straightforward interview. The interview process is now often far more involved, with early phone interviews, multiple interviews with different stakeholders, even group activities and more social meetings can be part of the mix. Aardvark’s lead recruiter and director, Simon Hope, provides us with some quick and easy guidelines: “Four steps maximum and try to combine elements where possible into one visit for the candidate. If the process takes too long to work through you risk losing candidates to other studios,” he warns, adding that you should “know what you’re looking for, both technically and culturally. An initial screening via telephone or Skype, look for and identify particularly important traits and behavior. Then, do tests or tasks at a second stage if evidence of their ability is required beyond portfolios. Finally, interview with hiring managers, and look to build in the cultural & company fit where possible, whether this is lunch with the leads, or drinks with the team.” OPM’s Parker Adcock has a similar structure in mind: “An initial phone call should always happen, it’s quick and easy to get the basics out of the way and to go over any queries you may have from their CV. We recommend one or two interviews after that to meet the boss, meet the team, have a studio tour, take a test, and so on. It’s important to be thorough, however you have to remember the longer the process is, the more likely you’re going to
UNCONSCIOUS BIAS Amiqus’s Liz Prince gives advice on how to avoid this hiring pitfall
’d say that most games companies are savvy about the interview process in general. But one thing that crops up time and time again, particularly when we look at our efforts to promote diversity and inclusivity in the workplace, is that of unconscious bias. To be clear, we all have unconscious biases. Scientific studies have proved that it is in our nature to be attracted to people who are similar to us. And in the interview process – and even ahead of that, when reviewing CVs – that can make us drawn to candidates who come from a similar background, went to the same kind of university, have the same kind of hobbies, etc. The entire process of selection is about reduction; exclusion is a vital part of recruiting. But bias has to be accounted for when making judgments on job applicants. Here are some tips on how to avoid it…. Create a Job Description that includes only absolute requirements, matching capability as opposed to person type. Make the Job Description your contract with yourself, because you’re going to use that document to put controls around yourself later on in the process.
Once you have candidates at the selection stage, write down the priorities from the Job Description and create a scorecard before you begin sifting through them. This will keep you on track when bias can creep in. Consider taking information off CVs for a blind review – i.e. name, photo, personal stuff, and consider removing university too. When we’re looking to increase diversity in our workforce, we need to stop looking at cultural fit and start looking at cultural add. Demand diverse shortlists, interview with people unlike you, use structure, scoring and notes. Your brain is powerful, so you have to outwit its instincts. Thwart it with structure, the support of colleagues, and practice over time. We have the easy choice of recruiting in our own image, to make decisions that are quick and easy and solve problems with a short-term view. But if we recognise bias in the system and in society, we can play our part in making things fairer for everyone and give all talented people a chance to do rewarding work.
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lose the candidate, so have a plan, stay organised, have a time-frame and stick to it.” Any extra steps create a greater burden on the staff involved in the hiring process (not to mention the candidates), so a balance has to be struck: “It is vital to safeguard the candidate experience and balance the time-investment required. Great candidates will have lots of choice. On the flip-side we will decline far more people than we ever hire, but that should always be done respectfully of people’s efforts and with added value and feedback wherever possible,” Codemaster’s Daintith notes. So, with that conundrum in mind, how many candidates should you be looking to interview and what considerations should you make when devising the process? Well, there’s certainly not a single answer but some common variables will guide you. “There are too many variables to answer this definitively! The kaleidoscope of volume, time, urgency, criticality of the vacancy, rarity of skill and candidate availability are some of the factors involved. For example if you’ve had a network programmer role open for a year then a single candidate is fine, but the brutal truth is that if you need an entry-level artist you can afford to shop around,” says Daintith. That seems to be more of the case at Testronic, where Fager has an impressively streamlined system: “We aim at inviting four candidates per role, for our practical interview. That will give us a good margin that one candidate will pass both the first interview, the language test and the second interview. We always do a phone interview, the first impression is important. If the candidates have years of experience in LQA we tend to send them the obligated language test and skip the first part of the interview. That way the candidates don’t need to come to the office twice. We need to be flexible in our work to make sure we fulfill the need on the test floor. We have a fast recruitment process at Testronic. A candidate can apply and three days later be hired.” For those trickier roles, Aardvark Swift’s Goodall has some straightforward advice to consider: “With difficult roles such as VFX artist and graphics programmer to name a couple – having a long list of perfect candidates is going to prove difficult. Ideally start with a dozen suitable candidates, certain roles will result in a smaller pool of potential candidates due to the nature of the experience and skills required. “Work through the recruitment process to get a shortlist of 3 candidates to bring to interview… they shouldn’t delay in seeking to bring in more candidates as alternative options – especially for those hard to fill roles or when specific skill sets are required. If you’re not interviewing them, someone else will be,” he notes realistically.
Splash Damage’s Wright-Manning errs on the side of caution: “Ultimately, there are no set number of candidates that you should interview for a role. Yes, an extended time to hire can negatively impact a project, but a mis-hire has far reaching consequences to a team, so it’s vital that you do everything possible to ensure that the hire you make is the right one.” PAYING THE PIPER Money isn’t the only reason that people work but it’s a very important part of the equation. And one that remains both sensitive and often confidential. So when is best time to bring up money in what can be increasingly long and involved hiring processes? OPM’s Parker Adcock provides some sound advice: “We make sure everyone knows each other’s expectations right from the off. You don’t want weeks of conversations to be wasted when it comes to the money bit. If everyone’s been honest from the start the salary shouldn’t be an issue.” Aardvark’s Hope adds that while you should be open about a salary band early on, a specific figure can help keep things moving at the right point: “Some developers will make a proposed offer of remuneration just before entering into the final stage of their recruitment process to encourage buy in and commitment from candidates and in turn demonstrate their own.” How you come up with that number, though, is somewhat trickier, as can be broaching the subject at the right time: “There is an initial mental-maths calculation done when reviewing a CV against a vacancy budget and this normally provides a ball park. If there is an obvious mis-match this early, it’s okay to ascertain a broad expectation right up front but always with discretion and an appropriate tone,” notes Codemaster’s Daintith. Things can get more complicated if the candidate is coming a long way for the role, says Hope: “Candidates are often relocating large distances and increasingly overseas, it can be difficult to ascertain exactly what is required in terms of salary if they have no experience of where their new role is based.” After all, just naming a figure is pretty meaningless if your candidate isn’t prepared for UK housing prices, particularly around the capital.
Pictured above, from top: Meg Daintith, Codemasters; Liz Prince, Amiqus; Max Stuart, Aardvark Swift
“A mis-hire has far reaching consequences, so it’s vital that you do everything possible to ensure that the hire you make is the right one.” October 2019 MCV/DEVELOP | 39
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Pictured above, from top: Simon Hope, Aardvark Swift; Alex Wright-Manning, Splash Damage
BEING FLEXIBLE Most salaries and jobs in the games industry are still fulltime roles, where staff come into the office every day. In this respect the industry is looking increasingly outdated, which damages the diversity of our hires and reduces the potential talent pool. Amiqus’s Liz Prince explains: “Flexible working is particularly important for women who tend to be the primary carers for children. In fact, getting women to join – and stay – in the workplace often requires this flexibility (more on this on page 34). But it’s increasingly becoming an important factor across the board. A recent report revealed that more dads than ever (58 per cent) are now actively involved in day-to-day parenting and are looking for workplace flexibility. “Meanwhile, additional research showed that 83 per cent of new graduates from Generation Z (those born between the mid 1990s and 2000) are looking for flexible hours when researching jobs. “The facts speak for themselves, but it’s also worth noting that multiple reports have proven that employees who are offered alternative working options report higher levels of overall happiness and greater productivity. And importantly, with a significant proportion of employees only able to work flexible hours, or remotely, why would you discount those people?” Aardvark’s Goodall concurs, speaking on greater flexibility through remote working: “If a studio can open up positions that don’t require an onsite or permanent onsite presence they will see the available talent pool instantly widen. The current skill shortage is likely to be in effect for the foreseeable future – remote working would help open up more candidates to hiring managers. “One of the biggest barriers to relocation is uprooting families, especially for the older, more experienced candidates. Anything that can be done to reduce the need for moving a significant distance for a new role will result in an increasingly diverse range of candidates being available for consideration.”
you,” warns OPM’s Parker Adcock. “Be ready for their start date; make sure managers are working on the day, their workstation is ready and appropriate accounts are set up. Welcome packs are a nice touch and we’ve worked with studios that have a team lunch to help settle them in on their first day.” And that goes double if the new hire is relocating, says Aardvark Swift’s Hope: “People want to feel welcome, especially if going through relocation. The stresses of quitting their current job and even potentially moving their family means that logistical support and reassurance can go a long way to helping the new addition feel welcome and cared for.” His colleague Goodall provides advice on the next step: “Give serious thought to the induction and onboarding process, review it regularly as first impressions count.” “As well as integrating a new hire with their team and making them familiar with the studio, make sure their work/project is in line with discussions during the hiring process and is achievable. Be clear on what is expected from the new starter and what they can expect from the studio.” All of this, of course, leads nicely into the flipside of the hiring coin: employee retention. “However much time, thought and money goes into recruitment should also go into retention – don’t focus solely on recruitment, if the retention process is correct then there is less requirement for recruitment,” points out Goodall. “Spending on internal recruitment function, external agencies, branding , awareness and so on, is currently at an all time high.” “However, there is little point spending money on bringing people through the front door if they’re walking out the back door at the same rate. While agencies can cover the sourcing and recruitment side for studios, they can’t affect retention policy and practice,” he cautions. Good and consistent employee retention comes from happy employees, which in turn will also help directly with recruitment says Hope: “Ultimately, the best brand ambassadors and recruiters a studio can have are their own developers, if they love working at the studio that message will filter out into the industry/community and make recruitment easier.” Now of course, keeping everyone constantly happy at your studio is as impossible as finding the ‘perfect employee’ but we’ll have a crack at improving your chances on that one in the new year.
“ 83 per cent of new graduates from Generation Z are looking for flexible hours when researching jobs.”
THE BEST START Whether it’s a junior member of staff ’s first job, a big cheese coming across the atlantic, or a part-time employee located remotely, you’ll need to ensure that they get the right welcome in order to make the best start. “Keep in contact right up until the start date, things can change, nerves can kick in, and they don’t always tell
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Swift studio spotlights: Firesprite Now over 100 people strong, Firesprite is a large independent studio working hard to maintain its indie studio feel. Based in the heart of Liverpool city centre they’ve worked on some of the best games out there, and they’re showing no signs of stopping RICHARD WOOD, senior development manager, sat down with Aardvark Swift to talk about what makes Firesprite such a great studio to work for. “The best thing about Firesprite is being able to work with the directors every day,” says Wood (pictured). “They’re not hidden away in some office, they’re part of the teams and you get to hear about their vision for the project, and the studio as a whole, on a daily basis.” The studio was first set up in 2012 with an ambitious plan to showcase the cutting edge of video games technology. In recent years they’ve worked on The Playroom, Run Sackboy! Run! and sci-fi-stealth horror – and Firesprite original IP – The Persistence. With six projects currently in development Firesprite is expanding and continuing to work on exciting and unique IPs. But with a growing studio and a growing roster of titles the team at Firesprite is actively keeping employee welfare at the forefront of it mind. “The culture at Firesprite is incredibly important,” continued Wood, “of course we want the games we make to be great, but we want this to be a great place
to work and for everyone to be happy to come through those doors in the morning.” Never resting on their laurels when it comes to the happiness of their employees they continuously ask for feedback from staff. For example, implementing quarterly retrospectives on projects so that any issues can be fixed during the project cycle instead of only at the end. Development managers like Wood can then get their heads together and fix anything that needs fixing, something that is especially important in a growing studio. For the last couple of years Firesprite has also taken a unique approach to training their graduate team. When graduates join the studio, they’re put into a team of 100 per cent other graduates. “Engineers and producers to art and UI. They work together on services and platforms that have real-world deliveries and release schedules.” explains Wood, “They go through the full process, from ideation, development and release and that way they get the experience of what it’s like to work in a studio.” It works to develop their confidence and means they’re able to get feedback from both internal sources and real-world clients. Graduates are an important part of the expansion plans for Firesprite, “they’re full of enthusiasm,” added Wood, “there’s no predisposed negativity. They don’t know what can and can’t be done, so having those fresh ideas and new perspectives is a huge plus point for the studio.” If you’re not a graduate, then you’ll probably go through a couple of stages of interviews at Firesprite – a process in which they’ll give you a feel of what it’s like to work for them. “During the interview process we want the candidate to tell us about their skills, but we also want the opportunity to tell them more about the studio. It’s definitely a two-way process.” During the interview stages you’ll meet a few people from the team you could be joining. “We really encourage questions, we want you to be curious about how we work!” says Wood. With more incredibly projects on the horizon, big announcements coming, and more staff to join the weekly quiz – the future looks bright for this brilliant Liverpool studio. You can hear more from Wood and more about Firesprite in the Aardvark Swift podcast coming soon.
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Pictured: Sports Interactive’s Miles Jacobson enlisted the support of Watford FC’s Héctor Bellerín to make his case on Youtube
Football Manager red cards plastic boxes Cardboard box to save up to 20 tons of plastic and Sports Interactive’s Miles Jacobson challenges the industry to cut its usage too – Seth Barton reports
he upcoming Football Manager 2020 will be released in cardboard packaging, rather than the usual plastic case, to try and make the game’s release as eco-friendly as possible. “Due to the current climate emergency, we’ve decided that from here on we will distribute our games in the most environmentally-friendly way that we possibly can,” says Miles Jacobson OBE, studio director of Sports Interactive (SI). Football Manager 2020, due to be released in Novermber this year, will be packaged in “100 per cent recycled board and will come with a manual printed on 100 per cent recycled paper, shrink-wrapped in fully recyclable low-density polyethylene.” The box has even been printed using a vegetable-based ink. Although that
does of course leave the disc itself but even this “can be repurposed by specialist companies, a list of which will be published on the Football Manager website.” According to SI’s calculations, the new packaging will save roughly 55g of plastic for each physical release, which could potentially add up to a massive saving of 20 tons of plastic packaging over the game’s full lifecycle. “We wanted to find a way to change the carbon footprint for both ourselves and our game’s players without them having to do anything special – many people out there are making changes to their day-today lives to help fight climate change, but I feel that companies are moving too slowly to be part of the solution,” Jacobson tells MCV. That 20 ton saving is for a PC release too, where most copies are bought digitally,
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though Jacobsons informs us a sizeable 30 per cent are still sold on disc globally. Even so, imagine the savings if every console title, which sell in huge numbers at retail, switched to such packaging – and Jacobson hopes that SI’s change motivates others to follow suit. “The announcement today is very much a call to action for not just the games industry, but the film and music industries too. If we’re saving 20 tons of plastic just from Football Manager 2020, imagine how much can be saved if all three industries either use the work we’ve done or come up with their own solutions.” To that end Jacobson has shared the details of the process and the suppliers used to create the new packaging on the Football Manager site. The new design has been carefully considered to make it compatible with existing standards, Jacobson says: “We wanted to keep the dimensions as close to the current packaging specs to avoid the need for retailer re-racking, and also for people who collect boxed games so they don’t look out of place. “So the design itself is similar to that of a standard DVD case, just not as wide on the non-spine end of the packaging. The materials themselves were obviously key, as was keeping the DVD in place to limit damage, and a space for the manual. So it was a case of finding the right materials for those specs, and I have to give credit to Nat Cooke and Tim Breach at SEGA for working it out.” And Jacobson isn’t worried about a backlash from fans who like their plastic boxes: “I think they’ll be very happy once they’ve seen the package – the dimensions are very similar to previous releases.” Of course, with all the hardware and electricity used by the industry, packaging is just one part of the equation, though it’s a very visible way of making a first step – and Jacobson has already been considering all the angles for future moves: “All of us could all be offsetting our carbon – and the standard way of doing that is to support tree planting. But due diligence is needed on the companies/charities that you’d work with on that.” “We’re in the process of setting up a project with a charity we know well that, if it works, will not only act as carbon offsetting, but also boost poor economies, and act as peacekeeping. But there’ll be more info on that once it’s properly set up, and we will open that up to the industry and gamers to get involved too.” The new cardboard packaging is actually more expensive than the usual plastic, but the cost is fairly inconsequential, especially given the price of games at retail. The increased cost is a surprisingly small figure, around 20c (18p) per unit.
Pictured: Football Manager 2020 in its new cardboard packaging
“There’s no getting away from the fact that this new set-up is more expensive than the traditional plastic packaging – about 30% more expensive, but we believe this is a price worth paying. I would ask that anyone involved in the development, creation or production of plastic packaging in the entertainment industries to take a look at the many environmentally-friendly options available to them, swallow the extra expense and make the switch,” Jacobson implores. “There are other savings though – distribution costs and the amount of fuel used would be lowered as it’s lighter than standard packaging. Destruction costs are cheaper as the package can be recycled, rather than thrown into a landfill. But there is still a small impact on the bottom line, which we believe is a price worth paying to help secure the planet’s future.” This is a sentiment that MCV agrees with, for while the shift to digital might be making game packaging less of an issue, it’s one that’s not going away nearly quickly enough to fix the climate problems that beset us. Please get in contact with email@example.com if you have plans for a similar move at your business.
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Coding like Rabbids Ubisoft wants to breed the next generation of coders using its manic mascots. Seth Barton finds out how the little blighters are making themselves useful for once
bisoft recently announced the launch of Rabbids Coding!, an educational game that helps teach programming principles to anyone aged from six plus. Released on PC via Uplay, the title gamifies the process with a series of puzzles set on a Rabbid-infested space station, where the player is tasked with ejecting the Rabbids into space to save the station. “We tried to make it gamified with missions,” Olivier Palmieri, game director at Ubisoft Montreal, told us. “There are 32 missions and then you reach the sandbox level where you can code what you want, build it yourself. We’re trying to make it accessible, having a fun setting so that people want to get involved.” The sandbox then lets you play with everything you’ve learned, Palmieri explains: “you have all the instructions that you’ve learnt
so far, and an open square area, so you can have fun with the rabbid, make him do things, play with all the instructions, there’s no limits, you can really do what you want – get creative.” Of course, there are plenty of other educational programming tools out there, though none we can think of that have a recognisable gaming icon like the Rabbids in them. “Many tools out there are actually making you program, which can be a bit scary for people that can be put off by the code, the language to learn. We tried to make it very simple and accessible, there’s blocks of instructions, it’s all very gamified. You’re coding without really noticing that you’re coding.” The idea has been in development for around a year, having been originally planned for a family centre in Montreal, “we wanted to teach those kids how to code and the mindset and logic of programming,” but then Ubisoft spread its ambitions and decided to
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Pictured: Rabbids Coding! director Olivier Palmieri
make it available to the world. And while the initial solution to each problem can be simple, there’s a star-based system allowing players to improve their approach. “There’s the notion of optimising your code through gamification, it’s OK if you put too many instructions, you still complete the level and maybe you get one star or two stars, but we encourage the player to continue and optimise your code to get a three star rating.” And while Ubisoft may benefit from a next-generation full of coders (with a deeper love of those Rabbids) it’s looking at the tool more broadly as part of its efforts in corporate responsibility: “Programming is one of the skill sets of the future, with advancements in robots and AI, people are programming things to help us, not replace us. We believe that it’s important to get a young audience into programming, so they’re more prepared in the future. It’s great if they are interested in video games, but if you want to do other things then it’s still good to understand programming.” And while Rabbids Coding! is only on PC at present, Palmieri isn’t ruling out a console version if it proves popular, which would be truly unique on such a platform. “For now its on PC, but we’ll see in future depending on the demand, if people are interested in this being on console, then it could be something we consider.”
“We believe that it’s important to get a young audience into programming, so they’re more prepared in the future.”
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Modern Wolf wants to make game publishing more ethical ‘‘A lot of these publishing deals are pretty predatory.’’ Crunch culture has become a hot topic over the last 12 months, so Seth Barton speaks to Fernando Rizo, CEO of new publishing outfit Modern Wolf, about its plan to treat devs better
publisher takes a cut to fund and market games. This sounds straightforward, but the outcome has often been anything but, especially for smaller developers. Modern Wolf is a new indie publisher, funded by ex-Splash Damage CEO Paul Wedgwood and his Supernova Capital fund, which hopes to succeed because it’s more ethical in its approach, rather than despite it. Modern Wolf is run by CEO Fernando Rizo, who worked at Splash Damage with Wedgwood, and he has more than 20 years of experience across the industry. Speaking to MCV, Rizo tells us: “Consumers are starting to care about how their games are made and they’re starting to care about the conditions under which developers work.” Rizo then goes on to explain why he’s the one to lead a new approach: “I was a biz dev and marketing consultant for lots of different industry groups. I helped those guys negotiate a ton of publishing deals and every time I did that I found myself thinking ‘a lot of these publishing deals are pretty predatory.’ I thought, could an empathetic person, who’s done this process a million times, who’s been an indie dev themselves, set up a publisher that was designed to be more developer-centric, more transparent?”
Rizo hopes to achieve that by putting “a premium on the stability of the businesses we work with. Indie devs are fragile and they have to jump through some pretty awful hoops just to get a game out of the door for a publisher, so let’s make a publisher that doesn’t act like that, let’s make a publisher that helps make indies a sustainable business, coaches them if necessary and provides continuity funding after the game ships.” And such funding can make the difference between a dev surviving and not, claims Rizo, irrespective of whether the game was a success: “I worked with a couple of different indies that were on the verge of going out of business after the game shipped, because the first royalty cheques took two, three, even four months to show up. We want to create a scenario where nobody has to get laid off, where you can keep your talent in-house to work on the next thing, we’ll cover you.” More flexibility sounds great, but games still need to ship to make a profit for developer and publisher both. Modern Wolf will then have to tread a careful line between kindness and pragmatism. “We can help the developer create a milestone plan at the beginning, which is sensible, we’re not going to impose arbitrary milestones from above, we’re going to
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WOLF PACK: THE FIRST FIVE TITLES
Ostranauts | Blue Bottle Games A starship captain sim in a gritty blue-collar sci-fi solar system, from the makers of NEO Scavenger. Release: Early Access soon Platforms: PC
Necronator: Dead Wrong | Toge Productions Deck-building meets lane defense from the creators of zombie apocalyse simulator Infectonator 3: Apocalypse. Release: Q1 2020 Platforms: PC, console, mobile
Skeleton Crew | Cinder Cone Pinball-like and physics-based dungeon brawler from the creative director of Smoke & Sacrifice. Release: Autumn 2020 Platforms: PC, console
Out There: Oceans of Time | Mi-Clos Studio Space exploration adventure on an epic scale, from the creators of Out There: Ω Edition and Sigma Theory. Release: Winter 2020 Platforms: PC
work with them, the plan will flex, the plan will change, but yes, the game does need to ship, roughly on time,” Rizo concurrs. The key is to start off on the right foot, with Modern Wolf needing to be even more cautious in identifying the right projects from the off: “by telling a developer you have ultimate creative say over this project, that’s an extraordinary amount of power and responsibility, so we’re signing very carefully and very diligently.” “We’re going to sign maybe one more game in 2019, we’re not going to bite off more than we can chew, we’re making sure that with every game we sign we’ve done a due diligence visit, taken the team out to lunch, had
calls, stepped through the entire game design document and roadmap, we know that it sensible, achievable and nobody is going to lose any brain cells over the process.” HEALTH PACK Which brings us around nicely to Modern Wolf ’s aim to care for the mental health of its developers, as much as it can at least: “We’re not doctors, but having been in those developers shoes, we know what the common causes of stress are, cashflow, random shifting requests from publishers, we can limit those by saying you’ve got final creative control of your product, we’re never going to tell you: ‘it’s two months out, you should have multiplayer.’”
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Rogue State Revolution | LRDG The first geo-political roguelike: you’re the democratically elected president of a Middle Eastern republic, but how long can you stay in power? Release: 2021 Platforms: PC
With that said, though, we wonder whether making life easier for developers will, in turn, make things harder for those on the publishing team. Do consumers care about publishers’ mental health? “Probably not,” he laughs, “but we’re happy to eat that stress if it makes our developer’s lives easier.” “One of the things we have with Supernova backing us is that we have guys like Mark Morris and Paul Wedgwood, guys who done every conceivable permutation of games development, we can help our developers become sturdier businesses, we offer leadership coaching, we offer financial workshops: planning expansion, hiring intelligently,” he continues. Beyond that, the publisher is also keen to find and reach out to developers and games from under-represented regions, such as one of its five launch titles, Indonesian studio Toge productions’ Necronator, hitting early access in Q1 2020. “It’s maybe not the most ‘hard-nosed’ business decision, but I would love to find folk from less represented regions, we have the power to expose them to a bigger audience, and it would do the universe of game development a lot of good if there were more diverse voices represented,” says Rizo. Though he admits that even far-flung developers need to be able to speak English in order to navigate the games industry and that will be no different with Modern Wolf: “Speaking English is good, though some of that work is done for us because English is the lingua franca of gaming. You’re right though that could be a choke point.” Putting aside the industry’s anglocentricity, though, Modern Wolf has an outspokeningly fresh outlook on what is often viewed as a steely-eyed part of the industry. We just hope that this more thoughtful, developer-friendly approach can deliver financial results.
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The Gold Standard It’s back to the Bloomsbury Big Top for this year’s Golden Joystick Awards on November 15th, so what’s the plan for this year’s event and why should you get involved?
he Golden Joysticks are back for an incredible 37th consecutive year. Once again it will be an industry celebration of the greatest games of the year, as voted for by those who play them, the public. And those two aspects will be a big part of this year’s event, with a greater emphasis on the event’s massive legacy, and a public vote that has already outstripped last year’s big numbers. MCV talks to GamesRadar+’s content director, Dan Dawkins, who is leading the organisation of this year’s event and will be the first person on the stage come the big day. These are the longest running game awards, how can you instil that sense of history into the event itself? I think we’ve been slightly guilty of taking the show’s legacy for granted. There’s a new generation of developers and publishers who probably aren’t as familiar with the Golden Joystick Awards’ enduring
appeal for the millions who vote each year. We’re doing a lot behind the scenes – particularly in the US – to celebrate the show’s legacy and talk about our plans for the future. We’ll be diving deeper into the show’s 37 year history on gamesradar.com over the coming weeks and are looking at ways to incorporate the show’s legacy into this year’s event – for example, by inviting past winners to host an award, or through pre-recorded videos in the live stream. I’m fiercely proud of where the Joysticks has been, but even more excited for where it is headed. What kind of audience do you get and how can partners benefit from that? Every year without fail, we’re humbled by how the awards resonate with the millions of people worldwide who buy – and love – games. After only ten days of voting, we’ve already seen close to 1.5 million votes cast, a huge increase over last year, which shows yet again how passionate and engaged our audience is.
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“We really value the support of our partners, and it’s a great way to give back to the fans who support our industry.” We really value the support of our partners, and it’s a great way to give back to the fans who support our industry. We love it when developers are able to take time out of their busy schedules in order to attend, and we love it when we can share new trailers to reward the viewing audience. In a broader sense, our partners can also benefit from tapping into Future’s amazing – and growing – games portfolio, including PCGamer.com, Kotaku. co.uk, Edge magazine and Retro Gamer. Not to mention our host platform for voting, gamesradar.com, which is enjoying a record year of traffic with around 17 million users a month. More directly, I hope that our partners can benefit from attending the event in person, offering them the chance to meet other exciting publishers, developers and creators Have you considered holding the event later in the day to make more of the US audience? The awards ceremony is broadcast live at 4pm GMT / 11am EDT / 8am PDT, which we hope gives a broad section of the audience a chance to tune in.
We have discussed making the Golden Joystick Awards a UK-evening event, although this would change its current dynamic. As we evolve we might look at this again and would love to hear our partners’ feedback. Are you keeping the late-voting system for the Ultimate Game award? Yes, based on last year’s evidence, voters really seemed to engage with Ultimate Game of the Year running in its own voting week. The added bonus is that it allows us to nominate games that get released outside the traditional voting window, which ends on October 24th. What I think we can make clearer, especially on our live stream, is that the Ultimate Game of the Year is voted for by the public. Some viewers were surprised at last year’s winner [Fortnite: Battle Royale took the trophy over Red Dead Redemption 2], but the winner was entirely voted for by the public. We’ll be hoping to make that clearer, and I can’t stress enough how competitive voting can be. Last year, a few categories were decided by less than 20 votes, which shows that every vote can make a difference.
Pictured: Danny Wallace returns for 2020 to host this year’s awards
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When We Made... Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime
actually look at you. And even with that little bit of work, with the help of the animation and really smart engineers, with everybody working Seth Barton takesdesigners a lookand behind the scenes together, you could tell from the very beginning that of Asteroid Base’s she co-op shooter. Discussing was a character that people would really gravitate its debt to both Star Wars and Star Trek, its toward.” becomes fully a fleshed out character with modest launch, whyQuill it really wanted to abe tough the help of the game’s strong world-building. roguelike, but how it eventually found success As an interloper in Quill’s world, the player experiences it not as a family favourite 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 asLOVERS both the player and Quill enter new, unfamiliar areas. in a Dangerous Spacetime is immediately “When you goonthrough Mousetown and youthe see Quill recognisable many levels. For starters, name runis through there and you see that she(we’ll has get a hometown, pretty unusual, somewhat lyrical into that thelater) feeling thatoftown maybethis being in butofit her still leaving does a it, fairofjob describing game danger, gives you more a bond,” Alderson says. “If of space combat andofsurvival. that part left out, you wouldn’t lurid feel like therepallette was and Thenwas there’s the astoundingly colour much to fight for. Everything we’ve done, mood cutesy characters. Which that are somewhat at the odds with settings, takingpretty Quill from one areanature, to the next and letting its, at times, demanding you rest take in thisthe environment… It’s all supposed Andand finally there’s game’s immediacy, where just to aexaggerate accentuate that mood that you’re glance at aand screenshot makes it instantly apparent Pictured above: Designer and feeling. all tiessupposed back into to how connecting with what Ityou’re doyou in it,are even though it’s pretty animator Matt Hammill Quill and her world.” original in its approach to what is an increasingly rare gaming segment: couch co-op. SAME QUESTION EIGHT WAYS Collaboration key during development of Moss, JAMMING was AROUND THEthe GLOBE notTalking just within the team but with the help external to MCV, Matt itself, Hammill, designer andofanimator playtesters. were oftenSpacetime brought inexplains to feedback on LoversPeople in a Dangerous how on the idea began at the local Global Game Jam 2012 event in Toronto: “A lot of us grew up playing couch co-op games with our siblings, and were nostalgic for being in the same room as the people you’re playing with. There were other developers in Toronto who’d done some really fun local co-op games. A Friendship in Four Colours and Cephalopods Co-op Cottage Defence.
the game and asked questions about their experience – even if most of these questions were actually very similar. “External playtests were mostly about ‘Okay, how do people feel when they play? Do they like it or not like it?’,” Alderson explains. “At the end of playtest we would ask the same question eight different ways. The question is really ‘What didn’t you like?’, but we would ask it differently: ‘What pulled you out of the experience? What took you out of the headset? If there’s one thing you could change what would it be? If you had two weeks to finish the game, what would be the thing that you’d fix?’ “Those help bring a playtester into their comfort zone, becausewas no one wantswith to play something that people put Hammill jamming illustrator Jamie Tucker and a lot of care and loveWinkels, into andwith thenmusic turn around and say programmer Adam and sound ‘This is what I didn’t like about“Eventually it’. So it takes provided by Ryan Henwood. we ahitlittle on while this to getofthe playtester comfortable, and found thatin idea flying a spaceship together, likewe that scene finding different askand the Luke sameSkywalker question means Star Wars whereways Hanto Solo are you eventually getFighters the really good stuff after fourth shooting the Tie and shouting backthe and forthor fiftheach timeother. you ask it. to “I don’t think scene anyoneofincourse, our studio ever made a of It’s an iconic buthas most examples game like this, soplayers I think into it’s important that you trust the putting multiple a single spaceship were process. You trust playtesting andHammill you make sure that you pretty serious in their approach. namechecks allow yourself some time andSimulator, freedom to try something Artemis: Spaceship Bridge a cult hit that and thenmultiple keep going. Try to something new and out, allowed players fly a Star-Trek stylebranch ship into but also using use your experience games that combat numerous localfrom networked PCs.you’ve made As long as you’re having The before team’sand ideayou’ll wasbe far,fine. far simpler. fun“Ittoo! We enjoyed started out as aplaying sketch, I hadthroughout an overhead Moss the view entire of a spaceship, andthat youreally couldhelps.” see the wings and there process and I think were some rooms inside it, and it was this overhead game and you controlled these little guys inside.” Hammill’s image reminds us of the Millenium Falcon, which was somewhat unusually homelike in its scale, a series of small rooms, rather than Star Trek’s battleshipscaled Enterprise, or the usual tiny one-man fighters. “It almost looked like FTL, whose kickstarter came out a little bit later,” Hammill recalls. “But Jamie said what if we flip it on its side? Make it a little mini
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Pictured left: Destroying larger enemies can involve bouncing them away using the shield to expose their weak points
platformer inside the ship. And that seemed a little bit more ridiculous and a little bit more actiony.” Maybe that was the moment that Lovers really came to life. That sense of jumping and climbing around the ship does provide a sense of impetus. The characters are more clearly-defined side on than they would have been from above, and the world the ship inhabits also gained a lot of character from this perspective choice. “That decision led to a lot of other decisions, like the spaceship suddenly had to be round, or it worked well to have a round spaceship because then you can have the engine and shields move around the ship pretty simply, with the gunpods on each side.” The simple design of the ship remains the key brilliance of Lovers, with players easily able to switch from driving, to shields, to the four main guns, the special weapon and the navigator’s map as up to four players dynamically fill the roles needed at that moment. TORONTO UNITED “We had a super simple game jam version that we did in Gamemaker. It was just a single screen with the ship in the middle, you could fly the ship around the screen, enemies will appear from the edges and you would shoot them until you died. It was like a take on Asteroids. That initial version from the game jam (pictured overleaf) is remarkably close to the
(far more polished) final version in terms of the core design elements and styling. But despite its obvious appeal the team didn’t launch straight into it as an ongoing project. “It didn’t start out as a plan to make a commercial game, it started out as me wanting to learn Unity in my spare time, so I started remaking the game in Unity. Then the others from the game jam joined up again and we all started working on it together. “We were doing it part time, starting late 2012 and early 2013. It was probably a year and-a-half, we were all doing part-time work and part time on this project. Three days a week at work and then we were trying to put two to two and-a-half days into the game.” LOVING IT UP That’s a pretty hard grind, as anyone who’s had to work to fund an ongoing indie project will know. But despite all that, the game itself is an absolute riot of exuberance – neon colours, cutesy characters, chirpy sound effects and Henwood’s playful and varied electronica. Speaking on the full-on colour pallette, Hammill tells us: “That was from really early on, since we had borrowed so heavily for the theme from Star Wars and Star Trek, I really wanted to not also borrow the generic sci-fi aesthetic too.” He admits that a space shooter, even a somewhat inventive one, is a “cliche”, so the
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team thought “let’s try and push it in a different direction visually.” We wonder if it was also an attempt to court a more casual audience, but apparently that wasn’t a key factor: “We only started thinking along those lines a lot later, maybe this will work better for families, parents and kids playing it together. At first it was just for fun, it was just because I liked Sailor Moon and other anime, and we thought it would be so cool to do something really fun and bonkers and candyland.
Pictured above: The initial sketches from the game jam version are remarkably close to the final game design
LOVABLE ROGUE That’s all backed up by the team’s desire for the game to be challenging, despite its cutesy aesthetic trappings. Something demanding for gamers like them, not a family-friendly experience at all – which went hand-in-hand with their passion for procedural-generation. “When we stared it we thought: ‘all these roguelikes are really cool right now, the way you can play it forever’. And it took us a long time to move away from that,” Hammill explains. “It seems obvious now, but at the time, when we were thinking about the roguelike thing, we were trying to make it a really hard game, like this hardcore, randomly generated, punishing game, which in hindsight it seems totally obvious to not to go down that route, but at the time it’s what we were playing and what we were into.” And, to its benefit, elements of that roguelike approach are still present in the final game. “Even in the final version the levels are made of authored bits, but if you replay a level things will be in different places, so there’s a little bit of that left. Originally we wanted to do a roguelike model because if you’re playing with two people we didn’t want to have one of them remember the level layout, know where everything was, and just be tell the person what to do.” It’s an excellent point and one that can stymie fixed designs such as Ghost Town Games’ Overcooked when you have one very experienced player in the party. It’s a phenomenon that co-op board games call ‘quarterbacking’ and is a key criticism of many designs such as Overcooked’s That desire to keep the game challenging also restricted the number of players at first, Hammill explains: ”That’s why we originally launched it with just two players, because we found that early on when we were testing it with four players, it was really difficult to
balance it and keep it challenging, which is what we were really focused on. “And then after release, a few months later, we did the four player update. We tried to make it a little bit more challenging, but by then we were a lot more like ‘it’s just a fun game it doesn’t need to be this punishing, gruelling experience.’” “If we were to go back and do it again I’d focus even more on making it more accessible for families, I think that seems to be where its found its niche, it’s fun to play with kids and everyone can have different roles.” BOSS IS APPROACHING! One feature we really love about Lovers is its power-up system, allowing players to mix-and-match a variety of crystals onto each station, with different combinations providing numerous, varied effects. The inspiration for the system came from a Mega Drive classic, Hammill tells us: “It’s a total rip-off of Gunstar Heroes.” Which is head-slappingly obvious once mentioned, but we never noticed it before, despite it being one of our favourite games ever, “it’s something me and my brother used to talk about growing up, it seemed too irresistible, we couldn’t not rip it off!” “So that was something that we always wanted to do, but is it too many weapons, too difficult? We eventually decided to go with making a spreadsheet and filling in the blanks of what these combos could be, and it was just too much fun to think about and not make it.” We’re particularly keen on the upgrades to the engine and shield systems which turn them into ad-hoc weapons in their own rights. But even the gun upgrades can radically change the way you have to go about killing your harassers. “Because your interactions are pretty limited when you’re on one station, you can only do the direction and hit the button, so we tried to think of things to at least change the rhythm of the different stations.” And it’s a huge success, bringing not only different play styles, but often heated debate as to where that next crystal should be placed, as they’re locked in place until at least the end of the level. FUNDING AND LAUNCH By this point Lovers itself was nearing the end of development, but it needed some help to get it over the line, Hammill explains. “Behemoth [the developer behind 2D beat ‘em up Castle Crashers] had a funding arm where they give bridge financing to help indie teams get their games across the finish line. They reached out to us, we didn’t even know about it, but it enabled us to go full time.
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Pictured left: A screenshot from the original game jam version of the title So there was a year of full-time work towards the end of the project.” That brought the game to launch in September 2015 on PC, Linux, OS X and Xbox One , with a PS4 version following quickly in February 2016. Though it was very well-received critically, it wasn’t the launch that indie dreams are made of. “At launch it was very modest, we launched it and were like ‘OK, at least we tried’. We launched it on PC and Xbox One at the time, and on both of those platforms the launch was not exactly awesome,” Hammill admits. Thankfully, unlike so many great games, Lovers made up ground over time, and all thanks to it being a bit different: “There’s just not that many local co-op games, I still see it on Twitter where people say ‘I’ve just played Overcooked’ and ask what other local co-op games are there to play, and people mention our game in reply.” “So since then we’ve been extremely lucky and it’s done better and better over time, I think that’s extremely rare these days for indie games,” and we’d certainly agree with that sentiment. “So it’s done so much better than its launch, and since we launched on Switch too [October 2017], that’s been really good. I think the platform dovetails with the kind of players who would be into it, like families and local co-op.” Hitting the Switch market around six months after the platform launched, before it was deluged with titles, was “fortuitous timing” Hammill says, but just looks like canny business sense to us.
SING-A-LONG A SHOOTER Despite its long tail success, Lovers developer Asteroid Base is currently in statis, something that makes us a little sad if we’re honest. “We tossed around a few ideas, but everyone was in a different place in their lives. Just the demands of doing that whole indie studio thing again, but just in terms of time commitment and financial risk, the whole team wasn’t exactly all in the same place,” Hammill explains, adding cheerily: “we’re all still friends.” “Right now we’re all on different projects, with different partners... Personally, I’m working on a new project with Cellar Door Games, who did Rogue Legacy. They’re here in Toronto, so I’m working with them on an unannounced project right now,” Hammill concludes, and we wonder if he’s finally getting to make that rougelike after all. Oh and we almost forgot about that unusual name, which apparently is all very Canadian, Hammill tells us: “The name came from that initial game jam. We were singing the famous-in-Canada song: Lovers in a Dangerous Time by Bruce Cockburn, covered by another famous-in-Canada group Barenaked Ladies... and it was late at night... and, well, it stuck.” Its creators may no longer be singing together over their keyboards as they develop games, but Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is continuing to bring many, many players together for a bit of classic couch co-op action. So in the spirit of Asteroid Base, just maybe we’ll try a Canadian-style sing-a-long next time we play.
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The Sounds of... Martin Stig Andersen
Every month, we discuss the unique process of making music for video games. This month, Marie Dealessandri dives into the musical universe of Martin Stig Andersen, who worked on the soundtracks of the recent Wolfenstein entries, Limbo, Inside and Remedy’s Control
Can you tell us more about your organisation and approach when you work on a game’s score? Working independently as opposed to in-house, I mostly get involved around the pre-production period. This is when the developer has a clearer idea of the project and what it needs musically. Typically, I’d start working on a project a year or two before shipping. I’d rarely work full time on a project during the entire production. Ideally, I’d have a build of the game in my studio, although that’s often difficult to arrange with the developer due to security reasons. Alternatively, I’ll have the developer’s music integration project (such as a Wwise project) available in my studio, along with concept art, video captures, scripts and so on, and then occasionally visit the developer to play the game and help with implementation. How closely do you work with the sound designer(s) when you write music for a game and how important is this for you? I always try to encourage some overlap between music and sound design, and the developers I’ve worked with so far have been into the idea as well. In my two most recent projects, Wolfenstein: Youngblood and Control, the developers provided various SFX and recordings that I could manipulate and integrate into the score. For example, on Control I had a whole bunch of materials which the audio lead Ville Sorsa created for SFX using a Eurorack system. On Youngblood I also did some source recordings for the sound designers for SFX creation using an electroacoustic instrument called the Resonant Garden which I’ve also used in the score. This kind of overlap really helps binding the game’s sound world together.
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It reminded me of when I did the Limbo soundtrack release and had to play the game in order to capture a specific part of the score, as it was ‘composed’ by a game mechanic.
What are your typical challenges when writing for games as opposed to more linear narrative forms? In linear media you always know what happens next. In non-linear media you don’t, and the music has to accommodate that. There’s always a tradeoff between a score’s inherent musical logic and its level of interactivity. On Wolfenstein I aim at making the music respond to changes in the game state within say, two to five seconds, which rules out the existence of elaborate musical themes. At other times I prioritise materials having longer musical structures, at the expense of interactivity. Generally, a five minute cue would consist of around 100 segments, stitched together in real-time by the game, with overlapping pre-entries and tails. On Control, the Remedy audio team took interactive music to the extreme. Here I was asked to deliver a number of compositions and assets used, edited into stems, or grains. So, for example, rather than building sample instruments in my sequencer I would build them in the music implementation software Wwise to be triggered by the game. The audio team at Remedy then built a system that would try replicating my above compositions in real time, corresponding to a vast amount of input from the game, such as game-state, distance to closest enemy, your health, and so on. One could argue that the game becomes the composer! This approach is similar to what I did in Limbo and Inside. I like to call it meta-composition in that we organise how the game organises the sound. When arranging the music for linear listening for the Control soundtrack release, I actually captured materials generated by the Wwise project and mashed it up with my compositions before polishing.
Pictured above: Remedy’s Control takes interactive music to the extreme
How free are you to experiment when you take on a mandate from a studio? As I’m always asked to come up with something unique for any given project, it comes with a great deal of creative freedom. If the developer wanted a specific, predetermined style, they wouldn’t have come to me in the first place. When a developer is looking for something unique for their game it’s important to do a lot of experimentation, trusting your gut feeling. I usually don’t present mockups or too much work in progress as it’s difficult to imagine the final result. I prefer to wrap it up properly before presenting it. The music should speak for itself, and I allow the developer to listen without accompanying descriptions. It’s always tempting to explain and justify your choices but doing so disturbs the listener. You want the developer to listen and associate freely, without preconceptions. Does your approach differ between writing for a big triple-A title like Wolfenstein II vs an indie game such as Limbo or Inside? All games have different needs. Usually on indie games it’s easier to get permission to have the game engine available in my studio which allows for more hands on and control in terms of implementation. Also, as they’re usually smaller scale projects I can be involved in different parts of the audio production, doing both music and sound design for example. Triple-A development is inspiring, and challenges you to go new places. It allows me to focus on composition and sound production, which I love. Whether indie or triple-A, my experimental approach is somewhat the same, with an equal amount of creative freedom. Can you tell us a bit more about your work as ambient music designer on Shadow of the Tomb Raider? I was asked to occupy the midfield between music and sound design, making soundscapes for the game’s underwater environments. I mashed-up materials from the game’s score with sound effects provided by audio director Rob Bridgett. Rob had done a lot of interesting recordings of the ‘Tomb Raider instrument’, a sonic sculpture created by Matt McConnell for 2013’s Tomb Raider. Convolving and interpolating those sounds with materials from the score resulted in some muffled, eerie textures that I would process and compose into sequences, creating a sense of claustrophobia.
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CELEBRATING THE PC AND TECH INDUSTRY
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BETWEEN art and code lies the role of technical art. There are many definitions of the role, and all of them are correct – the role of tech art can vary so much. They are helpers, innovators, problem solvers and diplomats. Technical art originated with artists who liked to fiddle – those who didn’t have the patience for menial tasks and learnt scripting to speed up their workflow. Over time, that role has evolved into its own discipline. Studios now have entire teams of technical artists whose role is to improve workflows, scrutinize pipelines, and work with the coders to bridge that gap. University courses that focus on technical art have begun to emerge, students are encouraged to embrace the merging of tech and art instead of trying to find their place within the boundaries of each. Our role can suit the entire spectrum from technical to artist, where technically-minded artists and artistically-minded technical folk all fit.
“There are many definitions of Technical Art, and all of them are correct – the role can vary so much.”
The team at Creative Assembly debunks some common dev role myths. This month, Mohrag Taylor, principal technical artist explains how the role requires a modern-day renaissance woman, with a love of both art and maths
Making shaders is one area that fits the role perfectly. Making things look good and run at realtime has its limitations, and over the years we have realised we can put more of that on the GPU. Shaders have become not only the place where you describe how your objects react to light, but also a place for computation, and ‘faking’ effects. In Total War: Three Kingdoms, we used a flowmap technique to emulate the flow of ink across a page dynamically based on gameplay. We wrote shaders to emulate wind and other natural movements, sometimes reducing the need for skinned animation. To wrangle shaders effectively, a good core understanding of maths is essential, as you open so many doors once you understand how to make matrices, SDFs, and other data bend to your will. The role of tech art has also grown alongside the popularity of procedural generation. Creating rules and procedures that define artistic and natural processes is another strong suit for tech art. Houdini is becoming a greater used tool in the industry and with it a whole bunch of features that allow for easier proceduralism. On the Total War team, we are investigating ways to allow the massive amounts of design information to dictate object placement in our battle maps, and how the artists can work with this to get the best out of all the inputs we give. Understanding the artist’s mindset is paramount to creating tools that enhance their workflow and allow them to focus on making amazing visuals, and not on tasks like placing objects and making simple variations. It’s important for us to be able to prototype and innovate. With connections to all areas of the pipeline, it’s great to be a driver of new tech and tools, and to be able to make a difference to artists’ work. From testing the latest apps, to helping create new systems for in-game needs, there’s always something new, and having an understanding of how and where we can use these new things is always important. Most people fall into the role of Tech Art having loved maths and art equally and never knowing this was a path they could take. It’s great that it has become its own specialism, and that more and more people may find their way here.
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Casting the Runes
I’M in a dark cavern of a place; I can’t make out how high or how wide the space is. It’s just so damn big. Smokey mist swirls around my feet and covers the ground ahead of me. In the distance, I can hear the deep rumble of a volcano on the edge of eruption; I can feel its tremors through the soles of my boots. The atmosphere has me on edge. In the shadows, two piercing bright, electric-blue lights emerge.
Jagex’s developers visit us from RuneScape’s Gielinor to talk about their latest adventures. This month Rich Eddy, director of communications, relives the Runefest experience as the game smashes through the fourth wall and gives players a real-life weekender They’re moving towards me at eye level. Eyes! Fierce, glowing eyes! From the shadows, the form starts to become clear; a monstrous shape. Huge, edged with sharp points, all black and blue, except for those illuminated eyes. I recognise it – The Dark Lord, a creature of Gielinor, a deathly horror through which no light can pass. He’s coming for me…
Jagex CEO Phil Mansell kicks starts Runefest’s Friday night Golden Gnomes Awards show
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Thar she blows! The volcano, Runefest’s central feature, erupts in excitement
“Good morning Rich” chirps The Dark Lord cheerily as he removes his headpiece and switches off his illuminated blue eye lights. “Don’t we need to be the other side of the wall drapes?” Pushing the drapes aside, we’re just in time to see the ten-metre high volcano prop fire a test eruption – huge sub-woofers fill the space with deep explosive sound effects, jets of sparks shoot into the roof and some clever LED trickery makes lava flow down the volcano’s sides. I’m grinning from ear-to-ear… It’s Runefest baby! For Team Jagex, scenes like this happen every year. Its Runefest weekend – our annual festival where thousands of Runescape and Old School Runescape players come together for a convention that’s more impressive and immersive than any other event we run during the year. The Dark Lord is my buddy Teezkut, a celebrated cosplayer and Runescape member. Every year he creates a spectacular costume based on an iconic game character and together we host The Cosplay Show at Runefest. That’s what Runefest is about – Jagex staffers and players coming together to make the event something very special for all of us. Runefest takes over more than 8,000 square metres of Farnborough Exhibition Centre and turns it into an extension of the game’s world of Gielinor. Here we build an enormous set that recreates parts of our fantastical world for players to adventure into, complete with real-life skilling activities. Runefest is where friends reunite – players with players and, importantly for us, players and us Jagex folk. Several hundred Jagex staff have given their time to be part of the weekend – taking our in-
game, on-stream, and online connection with players and recreating it out into the real world. At the heart of Jagex is a mission to connect and inspire through play. We believe forging and maintaining a close connection with players though personal interaction is a key part of what has transformed Runescape and Old School from live games to living games. Living games go beyond the game screen with experiences and content for players to interact with – be that online, on streams, on social channels, or at events that bring players and game makers
The Dark Lord, aka cosplayer Teezkut, hosts Runefest’s Cosplay Show, with his minions Rich Eddy and Jagex’s partnerships manager, Laura McGreary.
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together in person – and Runefest is our ultimate meet up. Think E3 or Gamescom mashed up with The Crystal Maze and Disney World and you’re somewhere close to the Runefest experience. Runefest offers attendees a multitude of experiences and activities. The space is divided into six main attractions: an 1,800-seater main stage from which the keynotes, game shows and talks are given; there’s a LAN with hundreds of PCs; an expo area is packed out with props and dressing recreating Runescape’s dinosaur-infested area of The Land out of Time and Old School’s Fossil Island; a Panel Stage to host Q&A sessions; a social space for players to meet and lounge, plus the always-in-demand merchandise store with exclusive new t-shirts and collectible designs. Runefest is for our whole player base – our most enthusiastic fans travel from all over the world to be part of the club that attends in person, while the wider player base watches the marathon live stream of keynotes and interviews. This year we broadcast an incredible 12 hours of live content from the stages and from our on-location studio. For attendees and stream viewers, Runefest 2019 began at 6pm on a Friday in early October. Once everyone caught up with old friends, the evening’s highlight was a new event for Runefest. One that shone the spotlight of the stars of our community and delivered them a gala presentation in the Golden Gnome Awards Night. The Golden Gnomes has been one of the most popular parts of past Runefests, but was previously a 45-minute slot during the afternoon.
The Dark Lord, aka Runescape star cosplayer Teezkut This year, we gave players a full-on gala awards night, with high value show and stage production and entertainment to deliver the full redcarpet experience. The Golden Gnome Awards celebrated our community’s achievements throughout the last year. We named the best streamers, best artists, and best video producers. We crowned our Community Champion for her amazing work in producing Runescape comic strips and animated cartoons. ADVENTURES AND ANNOUNCEMENTS The following day, Saturday, the Runefest experience kicks into overdrive. Our opening ceremony teases some of the announcements to come during the day and it gives us a moment to thank our community for their support of Jagex Charitable Giving. We announced that, with their support, together we hit a fundraising total of £175,636 so far in 2019, which we divided between our three mental health charities live on stage to enormous cheers. After the opening ceremony, a black drape, which kept the expo area hidden on Friday, is dramatically removed to reveal the Jurassic-themed playground, inspired by landmasses from Runescape and Old School, for players to immerse themselves in. There are selfie-spots at every turn and activities for players to complete and earn collectible rewards. Tunnel entrances in the side of the volcano prop revealed a gaming cave, providing players with hands-on experiences of the new content
Pictured: Old School RuneScape takes to the stage for its keynote
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It’s a Holeinoneasaurus as RuneFest attendees play dinosaur-themed mini golf
announced at the show; including Runescape’s new Archaeology skill and the latest beta build of RuneScape Mobile. Just-for-fun pieces gave players entertainment to enjoy ad-hoc – from a dinosaur-themed mini golf course, to a crafting and art area hosted by our games’ artists and animators, plus a voice-over booth where players could record lines from the games. Meanwhile, over on the mainstage, we put the spotlight on our studio teams to deliver blow-you-away keynote presentations. The Runescape team reveal a new skill for the game: Archaeology, raised level caps to 120 for Farming and Herblore, introduced The Ranch out of Time where players will be running dinosaur farms, and revealed that an Early Access programme for Runescape Mobile will arrive in the next few months for every Runescape subscriber. The Old School team’s keynote announcements were met with hollers of approval and applause when they announced a new expansion for the game, complete with new city, quest, new skilling content and a new group boss. Perhaps the biggest shout of the show followed the announcement that a new Clan system and a Group Ironman mode will be coming to the game. In addition to giving a glimpse into the future, the main stage is there for entertainment throughout the day. We had a live bake off as members of the development team and content creators attempted to cook iconic meals from the games, the Dark Lord and I hosted the catwalk of creativity that was The Cosplay Show, we dug deep into the game’s lore, we had a quiz show, and a Q&A with some of our most famous content creators. For all the effort we put into making Runefest a success, the community do just as much. Whether through designing their costumes, making their own badges and gifts that are freely given out, or running a series of fringe events. This year the community hosted their own Spoonsfest, a Thursday meet-up for players in a nearby Weatherspoons,
and Noonfest, a Friday lunchtime event and charity auction that raised more than £5,500 for SpecialEffect. WHERE EVERYONE KNOWS YOUR NAME What happens in a Runefest weekend takes around ten months of planning and production to pull it all off. It’s a totally internal production led by the Events and Live Production teams with support from pretty much every department across Jagex. It’s our biggest companywide collaboration and has become Jagex’s biggest team building experience of the year. Since 2010, Runefest has been a way of humanising Jagex with players. It enables us to connect with players and, for the community, to connect with us, the actual people behind the in-game and on-stream names we use. We always want Runefest to retain its intimacy and build on the close connection we have with our players – essentially it’s a recreation of the game world in real life; the place where we all catch up with old friends, some of whom we won’t have seen since the previous event. I’ll leave it to one of the player comments we received to summarise the Runefest experience: “Runefest was one of the best experiences I’ve had in my life. The festival has given me the chance to meet long term friends and clannies that I’ve known playing RuneScape. Getting the opportunity to meet the creators and Jmods behind the game was insane, it made the game feel like a communal experience and made me feel cared about as a player.” “Going to Runefest has opened a lot of opportunities up for me in game, like getting player moderator status, and leadership in an amazing LGBT+ clan. Without Runefest, I don’t think I would had been able to be so involved with the Runescape community. Runefest has brought people together from all around the world, into one big celebration of the game we all enjoy together.”
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The Final Boss Every month an industry leader wraps up MCV with their unique insight
You started off in QA and then moved into design, working on mobile, handheld and home console titles across six companies, how has that broad experience helped you? Starting my career in QA was hugely beneficial as it allowed me to understand the dev cycle of a game, and how the different disciplines contributed to it. Working on mobile in the Java days was a great introduction to my game design career. The dev cycles were so small, so I made a lot of games across every genre. Not only were the dev cycles short, but the file sizes were tiny, which led me to be super efficient, designing games to re-use assets in clever ways. A skill that has transferred to managing projects. Running a studio and establishing a culture is tricky, so I was fortunate to be able to experience this first hand at prior companies. I have definitely cherry-picked practices which worked and have avoided those which I felt didn’t work. With the greatest respect to your current role, what is/was your dream job? My dream was always to be a dancer. You spend ages learning, mastering and polishing a dance before presenting it to the world, which is not dissimilar to making a game. Also, there’s something about falling into the flow of a dance that makes you feel powerful, which definitely inspired my design sensibilities. In respect to the industry’s endless changes, are you keen to grow FuturLab or is it just the right size? I would like to take FuturLab from 16 people to around 35. To go from one team to two, with the second team alternating between work for hire projects and creating pitches for new games. Publishers and investors are becoming more and more risk-averse and want to see games at a vertical slice stage before making decisions. This is hard for a studio of our current size, VGTR has been a massive help in this respect. What’s was the greatest moment of your career to date? One of the more ludicrous moments was reading an article about one of the Fast and Furious mobile games I worked on and seeing the tag line “A racing game designed by a girl?!” I also managed to break a prototype of Sony’s PS Move controller. I used to wear wellies a lot and one day I managed to accrue an exceptional amount of static electricity. I picked up the prototype and pulled the metal trigger – cue big spark, a massive electric shock, and one dead controller. This prototype happened to be one of only three prototypes in Europe at the time…
Kirsty Rigden Development director, Futurlab “There’s something about falling into the flow of a dance that makes you feel powerful, which definitely inspired my design sensibilities.”
Who (or what) continues to impress you in the industry? Siobhan Reddy of Media Molecule is a real inspiration. To coordinate a game like Dreams, and to push boundaries like that is remarkable. Just thinking about the logistics of managing that game gives me a headache. I don’t know how Siobhan has time to include the amazing diversity work Media Molecule does or how she manages to stay sane. You’re a Ukie board member, do you think that there is a single entity we can call the ‘games industry’? And is that a unifying strength or a problematic generalisation? UKIE’s definition of the ‘games industry’ is interactive entertainment and that’s a pretty good umbrella term to gather us all under. It can be problematic to be lumped together when the mainstream has an issue with, for example, violence in video games when only a small number of the games being made contain depictions of violence. However, it does mean that we can all unite and answer with one powerful voice when challenged.
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Returning for its third year but with a fresh format, FGS19 will be the UK’s premium gathering of executives, senior leaders, practitioners and thinkers from within and around the interactive entertainment industry.
25th and 26th November 2019 ALTITUDE 360, MILLBANK, LONDON
Over the course of two inspirational days, attendees will be exploring the impact of future technologies, the business of games, and creative innovations. The programme will feature two tracks per day, with break out business zones, an evening networking drinks reception, with bespoke sponsorship packages also available. Make Altitude London your exclusive members club for a couple of days and be a part of the Future of Games.
PREVIOUS ATTENDEES Some of the influential visitors who previously attended the summit include… 505 Games Amazon Appstore BBC Blizzard Entertainment Bossa British esports Association Capcom Cavalier Game Studios Channel 4 Creative Assembly Curve Digital Digital Cinema Media Dovetail Facebook Failbetter Games Fnatic Green Man Gaming Hi-Rez Studios
IMG Imaginarium ITV Jagex M&C Saatchi Sport & Ent. Microsoft Nintendo Osborne Clarke Prudential Revolution SEGA Europe Sony Interactive Europe
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Space Ape Games Supermassive games Team 17 Twitch Ubisoft Universal VR/AR Association
Warner Music Xbox YouTube
Don’t just take our word for it, hear what our previous delegates said:
of delegates said the content was good or excellent
of delegates said the speakers were good or excellent
of delegates said the Future Games Summit organisation was good or excellent
A Datateam Media Group Event
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