MCV Develop October 2021

Page 1





05 The Editor

So long, and thanks for all the quotes

06 Critical Path

The key dates this month

10 Develop:Brighton

Highlights at this month's event

12 IRL

Photos and winners from our comeback event

18 Australia on the rise

A spotlight on the Australian games industry

26 Ins and Outs

And all our recruitment essentials

32 Playing for Better

EA is helping bring diversity to football

18 48


The Life is Strange studio's new normal

40 Zordix

The latest Swedish growth story

44 Something extra?


Developers on Unity service offerings

48 The Park Playground

Location-based VR done right

52 Unsigned

The best indies looking for partners

56 The Art Of...

Lost Ember

62 When We Made...



Tails of Iron

66 The Final Boss

Hendrik Lesser, rcp

October 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 03



“Journalism often feels like shining a spotlight at an issue and then hoping someone else will come and fix it.”

TheExitor It’s time to break the Magloop This issue marks my fifth anniversary at what is now MCV/DEVELOP. And it’s also my last issue, as I’m heading off immediately after typing these words on my final day. No change there, as running things right up to the deadline has always been our way. It’s not been an easy five years. Many people leave a job because they’ve become tired of doing the same old thing, trapped in a hamster wheel. By contrast MCV/DEVELOP’s Magloop has been defined by nothing ever staying the same – except the picture above! Across 73 print issues, plus thousands of online stories, the brand has seen three owners, three offices (four if you include my home for the last 18 months), three different print schedules (weekly, fortnightly and monthly), and three CMS. And just when things started to settle the pandemic came along and upturned them once again. Throughout all of that the Magloop never broke, deadlines were hit, events were delivered, MCV/DEVELOP went on. An amazing feat of continuity by all who worked on it. And it wasn’t simply a grind. Every E3 and GDC was a jetlagged joy – Gamescom too was incredible but somewhat marred by having to create daily magazines. Visiting studios up and down the country was always a highlight. There were some lengthy lunches, and big nights out, that I’ll remember forever. Our own events, once in full swing, were a huge buzz. Four MCV Awards, four Women in Games Awards (one virtual) plus a Develop Awards (with an England World Cup semifinal). And most recently we held our IRL comeback event and a better swansong I could not have hoped for (see page 12). Thanks to all who worked on the brand over the last five years: editorial & freelance, biz dev, events, design and production. It was not always easy but I’d happily have a pint with any of you if you’re in town. The same goes for all of our regular supporters in the industry, across platform, publishing, engine, development and beyond. Thanks for supporting the ever-changing brand across the last five years, I hope you’ll extend my successor the same support (whilst thinking to yourself, ‘they’re good but Seth was more funny/handsome/organised/ clever’ – delete my hubris as appropriate). And now, having written about the ‘Great Resignation’, I’m now taking part in it myself. I’m off to make the lives of developers and publishers better in a different way. I’ll be working on the tools you all use to bring your games to market. Journalism often feels like shining a spotlight at an issue and then hoping someone else will come and fix it. So it’s about time I moved over and tried to do a little bit of fixing myself for a change. The games industry is a fantastic one. Those spotlights must remain vigilant but don’t forget that games are an incredible medium with an incredible business behind them. You should all be very proud of what you do. Finally to paraphrase Douglas Adams: “So long, and thanks for all the quotes.” Seth Barton

October 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 05

Here are the key upcoming events and releases to mark in your calendar...

Critical Path Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania

Far Cry 6 I’m usually pretty keen to play the latest Far Cry – who doesn’t love setting a lush jungle on fire with a flamethrower? And I’m particularly keen to play this latest outing, given that it stars Giancarlo Esposito (of Breaking Bad fame) as the villainous Antón Castillo. Now I like Far Cry as much as the next guy, but quite frankly I’d play a paint drying simulator if Esposito whispered sweet nothings to me as I did so.

Step aside Smash Bros, this is the new most ambitious gaming crossover event in history. Now, I’ve never played a Super Monkey Ball game in my life, but you’re telling me they’ve put Yakuza’s Kazuma Kiryu into a tiny ball? And made him roll around with monkeys? Alright yeah, I suppose I’m down for that. Still, it’s hardly a surprise, given that Yakuza developer Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio is behind Banana Mania too. There’s probably not any karaoke to be found here though.



Metroid Dread Metroid fans, by far the most neglected of all Nintendo fans, finally have a reason to live again, with a brand new Metroid title hitting the Switch this month. Developed by Nintendo EPD and Spanish studio MercurySteam. The game is set after the events of 2002’s Metroid Fusion, and sees the return of the lethal X parasites. Now we just need a Metroid Prime Trilogy re-release and finally the agonised screams of Metroid fans will finally come to an end.

06 | MCV/DEVELOP October 2021


Nintendo Switch (OLED Model) Wait, this is out this month? Wild. This latest entry to the Switch family was somewhat overshadowed by longstanding rumours of a 4K-capable ‘Switch Pro’ which this is very much not. Still, it boasts a vibrant 7-inch OLED screen, so you can see the disappointment in your Animal Crossing pal’s eyes as they ask why you’ve abandoned them. Admit it, when did you last see Timmy and Tommy? You monster.


The Good Life This is, unfortunately, not an adaptation of the excellent British sitcom from the 70s. The disappointment ends there though, as this is looking excellent. The game is developed by White Owls, a studio run by Deadly Premonition creator Hidetaka Suehiro, better known as SWERY. The game sees journalist Naomi Hayward solving a mystery at the heart of a quaint English town, as she discovers a strange phenomenon where the townspeople transform into cats and dogs as night falls. Oh, and there’s a murder too. And I thought making magazines was hard (it is).




Disco Elysium: The Final Cut This MCV/DEVELOP award-winning game (as well as other, less important awards) is making its way to Switch and Xbox this month, which means I can finally play ZA/UM’s masterpiece without my laptop trying to melt its way through my desk. Yes, I don’t even have a good enough PC for Disco Elysium, please take pity on me in the form of money sent directly to my flat. Though being an impoverished drunk at least puts me in good company here.

Resident Evil 4 VR I’m sorry, Resident Evil 4 VR? Since when? What? This isn’t fair, I don’t have an Oculus Quest 2, which this will release exclusively for. What kind of world are we living in where Resident Evil 4 VR exists, and I can’t play it? Does that seem right to you? Developer Armature has a lot to answer for.

October 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 07

We’re Playing... CONTENT Editor: Seth Barton +44 (0)203 143 8785 Staff Writer: Chris Wallace +44 (0)203 143 8786 Design and Production: Steve Williams

ADVERTISING SALES Senior Business Development Manager: Alex Boucher +44 (0)7778538431

MANAGEMENT Media Director: Colin Wilkinson +44 (0)203 143 8777

SUBSCRIBER CUSTOMER SERVICE To subscribe, change your address, or check on your current account status, please contact: ARCHIVES Digital editions of the magazine are available to view on Recent back issues of the printed edition may be available please call +44 (0)203 143 8777 for more information. INTERNATIONAL MCV/DEVELOP and its content are available for licensing and syndication re-use. Contact Colin Wilkinson for opportunities and permissions:

It’s ironic that a person who often complains that games ‘get a bit samey’ after the halfway mark, then breezes happily through a game that’s literally the same day over and over and over. Deathloop’s ending is a bit unsatisfying but the work Arkane has done to make a complex structure digestible is truly incredible.

Once again, I’m playing about six games at once. It’s genuinely stressful – I finally finish one game and I start playing two more. I finally get Ghost of Tshushima and Deathloop out of the way, and what do I do? Start Lost Judgement, Disco Elysium and Demon’s Souls. Frankly, I’m not sure I’ll ever deserve to know peace. Chris Wallace, Staff Writer

So far this month I’ve been sinking my teeth into a few things – juggling my time between FIFA 21, Sable (from Shedworks and Raw Fury) as well as the fantasy city-building game, Elvenar. Plenty to keep myself busy with in the post-IRL haze, anyway. Alex Boucher, Senior Business Development Manager

Seth Barton, Editor

Paws the game The best furry friends the industry has to offer. Send yours to

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Biz Media Ltd, 44 Maiden Lane, London, WC2E 7LN All contents © 2020 Biz Media Ltd. or published under licence. All rights reserved. No part of this magazine may be used, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any way without the prior written permission of the publisher. All information contained in this publication is for information only and is, as far as we are aware, correct at the time of going to press. Biz Media Ltd. cannot accept any responsibility for errors or inaccuracies in such information. You are advised to contact manufacturers and retailers directly with regard to the price of products/services referred to in this publication. Apps and websites mentioned in this publication are not under our control. We are not responsible for their contents or any other changes or updates to them. This magazine is fully independent and not affiliated in any way with the companies mentioned herein. If you submit material to us, you warrant that you own the material and/or have the necessary rights/permissions to supply the material and you automatically grant Biz Media Ltd. and its licensees a licence to publish your submission in whole or in part in any/ all issues and/or editions of publications, in any format published worldwide and on associated websites, social media channels and associated products. Any material you submit is sent at your own risk and, although every care is taken, neither Biz Media Ltd. nor its employees, agents, subcontractors or licensees shall be liable for loss or damage. We assume all unsolicited material is for publication unless otherwise stated, and reserve the right to edit, amend, adapt all submissions.

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Pet: Hugo Owner: Aj Grand-Scrutton Owner’s job: CEO at Dlala Studios

Pet: Void Owner: Reese Wright Owner’s job: Senior producer at Robot Teddy

Hugo has been coming to the office since he had all his jabs as a puppy. He is the true boss and if you’ve seen him walking around the office you’d know it!

Despite having been in a shelter for a year and a not super great home situation prior to that, Void is the loveliest little sweetie-pie and will be spoiled rotten

Pet: Krampus and Warrior Princess Zira. Owner: Dániel Molnár Owner’s job: Senior development manager at Splash Damage. These excellently named cats couldn’t be more different, but they are best buds.


THE IRL HEALTHY LEADERS AWARD WINNERS Winner: David Bowman from Creative Assembly (collected by Douglas Pennant) “David continues to show his compassion and prioritization of people and team health at every turn, especially through COVID. He embodies the values and inclusive behaviours that Creative Assembly promotes, being a fantastic listener and mentor. Don’t just take my word for it, it’s truly wonderful to read the recommendations individuals across the industry have left for him on Linkedin!”

Winner: Tara Saunders from PlayStation London Studio “Tara is exemplary at leading with kindness at the centre of all her actions. She has particularly shone over the last year, putting the team’s mental health and wellbeing above all else. She frequently asks for feedback, fosters a transparent environment so that everyone’s input is considered, listened to and importantly – actioned. Her strength as a leader that believes in balance has created a lot of trust in our culture.”

Winner: Kit Goode from Wushu Studios “As a new employee I’ve never felt more accepted and happy within a company. Kit made it very comfortable for me to start my role, always willing to help with all my questions and I never felt judged. Coming from a very low period and entering a new company/industry, Kit has helped take so much worry/pressure off my shoulders and they’re just a wonderful human being.”

A brisk guide to Develop:Brighton 2021 We hope the sun is shining on this year’s Develop:Brighton for its return to the seaside. However, given it’s late October we wouldn’t bet on it. The silver lining to those presumed clouds is that it’ll give you more time to see more of the conference. There’s so much great information to absorb at this year’s event that compiling this list was tricky. Everyone has their own specialty and interests, so tastes will differ but we’ve concentrated on forward-looking talks from interesting perspectives. Here’s our top ten highlights.

THE KEYNOTES You really shouldn’t miss any of these, and that comes from a person who has overcome the traditional Thursday morning hangover to not only attend but actually host one of the things. All this year’s keynotes are essentials (and all in Room 2). Debbie Bestwick will be kicking things off at 9.45 on Tuesday morning, speaking about her 30 years at Team17. With that day finishing on a bang too with a Fireside Chat with Insomniac’s Ted Price at 17.45. Mike Bithell’s panel of indie creators will launch Wednesday by discussing creativity, again at 9.45. With that day’s finale being the brilliant Lorne Lanning and Bennie Terry III discussing the creation of Oddworld: Soulstorm. And we can testify that’s not a story to be missed.

10 | MCV/DEVELOP October 2021


Orthors Story: Running a Black Owned Games Studio

WEDNESDAY What’s Next for the UK Games Industry?


3D Audio in Games: What, Where, Why and How?

11.00 - 11.45, Room 2

11.00 - 11.45, Room 2

11.15 - 12.00, Room 5

FROM players to creators, Orthors will be diving into the key aspects faced when making their games - from figuring out how to develop a game with no coding experience, to watching their game being published on the Apple App store. This talk is a rare opportunity to hear from and ask questions about a truly diverse studio in the UK.

THE KEYNOTE has ended, so pop to the loo and then sit right back down. Jo Twist remains one of the UK industry’s most passionate voices. Things have been in turmoil over the last 18 months, and if anyone is going to do a great job of taking stock of all that in a single talk it’s Twist.

A BIG THING from the new generation of consoles has been support for 3D audio formats for unparalleled sonic immersion. In this talk PlayStation’s Cal Armstrong will explain the new approach needed for audio from the ground up, with best practice and tips for use on PS5.

Being Boring: How Less Innovation Made Overboard! a Hit

What Great Level Design Really Takes: An Entire Studio

It’s Not Real Money, it’s Robux: A Pan-European Exploration of Children’s Attitudes Towards In-game Spending

12.00 - 12.45, Room 4 12.00 - 12.45, Room 3 OVERBOARD! was a big success for developer Inkle and yet was made in just 100 days. The learnings from that process are intriguing enough plus we think Inkle’s Jon Ingold is almost as engaging a speaker as he is a writer. Recommended to challenge all your preconceptions about how games should be both made and launched.

10,000 Players, One Match: Experiments in Game Design with Massive Interactive Live Events 14.00 - 14.45, Room 2 EVEN if you think the metaverse is a bunch of bunkum, there’s no doubt that scale is exciting and that creating experiences for thousands of simultaneous players is a technical and design challenge of literally epic proportions. In this session you can hear from Improbable’s Bernd Diemer on all of that and get a glimpse of the future.

A REAL TREAT. Dana Nightingale from Arkane Lyon is responsible for the level design of Dishonored 2’s Clockwork Mansion, an all-time classic. Here she will talk about how such work is dependent on the entire studio getting behind such level design.

How Much Does This Even Cost? Using Analytics Tools to Measure ROI on Consoles & PC 16.00 - 16.45, Room 5 WITH STEAM’S introduction of UTM analytics to track paid marketing, the console and PC world has taken a step towards the mobile ecosystem. Kat Welsford will talk through setting this up and how it can be used by everyone from tiny indies to AAA – and being from Square Enix she should know.

12.15 - 13.00, Room 2 MONETISING GAMES that are designed for children has become a tricky ethical debate, one pushed to the fore by the rise of Roblox. Here Jelena Stosic and Raj Pathmanathan from UK research and strategy agency Kids Industries, discuss recent studies into the issue, what drives that spending and how to proceed ethically.

Delete Your Video Game Website (and other sensationalist advice)

14.00 - 14.45, Room 3 “WE NEED A NEW WEBSITE”... “We need to be on TikTok”... “We need to make dev diaries for YouTube”... “We need to do a weekly live stream”... the string of advice for marketing your game seems endless and is frankly unachievable for smaller developers. Here Etch’s Dan Thomas looks to help you prioritise your efforts.

October 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 11


Real Life Events from the industry

e the return of our This month we celebrat n IRL event (it’s not IRL section with our ow ks to the 500+ people confusing at all!). Than our Founders and who attended, and to all the dream of a Partners who supported all big congratulations to comeback party plus a erleaf) our award winners! (ov

Pictured: IR L was held at 26 Street in W aterloo’s fam Leake ous Graffiti Tunnel (top left). The sp acious venu held all, and e sundry, with ease (above Live music w ). as provided by Kia Jordan (below ). The ‘grab th ra stick first’ ga e me proved po glowy pular! (left)

12 | MCV/DEVELOP October 2021

Pictured: The main tunnel fills for the awards (top left), the virtual graffitti wall was a great fit for the setting (bottom left).


October 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 13




Supported by

Creative Assembly Douglas Pennant from SEGA Europe Stacey Jenkins from Effect! Everyone at Special

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Presented by Green Man Gaming

Supported by Hu tch

Leah Dungay from the National Videogame Museum Chris Entwhistle from Improbable Lauren Moses from Code Coven

Kit Goode from Wu shu Studios Tara Saunders from PlayStation London Studio David Bowman from Creative Assembly (collected by Douglas Pennan t)

STS... AND THE HHoOllie Bennett

Seth Barton and


Supported by Sa

Interactive Alex Bell from Sports Hangar 13 Stuart Godbolt from Snap Finger Click Joanna Haslam from Games (collected by ter bet Fail from Helena Morris ) Callum Underwood

14 | MCV/DEVELOP October 2021

NEW IMPAC’ TS London Studio

P Games Supported by CC PressEngine

Charlotte Callister from e Coven Karla Reyes from Cod Game If You Are Taya Beleanina from

Keynotes: The Spirit of Independence: Challenges and Inspiration from Three Decades at the Top A Fireside Chat with Debbie Bestwick, Team17

The Story of Oddworld: Soulstorm Lorne Lanning & Bennie Terry III, Oddworld Inhabitants

Fireside Chat: All Things Insomniac With Ted Price Ted Price, Insomniac Games

Creativity: The Indie Way Host: Mike Bithell, Pete Bottomley, White Paper Games Tom Mead & Dom Clarke, Spiral Circus Chris Olsen, Jumpship

Sessions include:

Why Marketing Your Studio is Just as Important as Marketing Your Games Abbie Dickinson, Rebellion

How to Get More Out of Your Code Reviews Joe Kilner, Independent

The FIVE Indie Marketing Mistakes I See Everyday Jon Calvin, Game If You Are

We Belong – A Look at the Industry’s Lack of Diversity, Challenges and Ways to Improve It Troy Aidoo and Andy Sesay, Streamcast

Behind the Split Screen Sound of It Takes Two: A Story About CO-LA-BO-RA-TION Anne-Sophie Mongeau and Philip Eriksson, Hazelight Studios

How to Build Amazing Mobile Games With Rapid User Testing Kim Kohatsu, PickFu

Great for Networking: Formal matchmaking plus informal networking, Expo and after hours parties.

Platinum Sponsors

What’s Next for the UK Games Industry? Dr Jo Twist OBE, Ukie

Dynamic & Different: Real-time Look Development for Stylized Games Nick Carver, Freelance Concept Artist

What Great Level Design Really Takes: An Entire Studio Dana Nightingale, Arkane Lyon


Register now at: MCV readers get an extra 10% off with this promo code: KVVKUJ Media Partners

In partnership with


Organised by

How to sell more games this Black Friday

Brought to you by

Peter Laughton, CEO of eebz, explains how you can make the most of special sales events with the aid of the right tools and some clever optimisation techniques… WITH its origins in North America, Black Friday is now an established part of the international retail calendar. And 2021 is set to be a bumper year in the post-pandemic world. In the UK, research conducted by Future’s The Lens panel indicated that 82 per cent of Brits will be the same or more engaged in Black Friday in 2021. 54 per cent of those 2,000 respondents stated they will make their purchases online, with online marketplaces, brand websites and online independent stores taking the top three positions for shoppers’ journeys. Moreover, 42 per cent said they will use Black Friday shopping for this year’s Christmas gifts. A quarter are expecting their Christmas and/or Black Friday budgets to increase, with over 70 per cent having the same amount of more money to spend on Black Friday and 78 per cent having the same amount for Christmas, compared to 2020. With the research estimating that the UK population has £198bn in lockdown savings, 82 per cent of the panel said they will spend this partially or fully on Christmas or Black Friday. Competition for consumer eyeballs in 2021 will be extremely fierce. Ensuring your games are visible in online stores is critical. So let’s recap some of the approaches we’ve touched on in our previous articles, namely the Four Pillars of Visibility that will help keep you front of both the store and minds. 1/ SERP (Search Engine Ranking Position) - This is all about the retailer website search engines. Put simply, the higher your product ranks on a retailer website, the more likely it’ll be considered for purchase. This means optimising your product name and titles in store listings, factoring in local translations, generic vs brand names, special characters, or being aware that a retailer itself is choosing to use Spiderman instead of Spider-Man. 2/ Product Landing Page Ranking - Product Landing Pages (PLPs) don’t just rank products by sales volume. If that were the case, new releases would never have a chance to be found and sold. In reality, PLPs are ranking products by various criteria, which are often not even known to the retailer’s own buyers. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not possible to influence the ranking of a product within the PLP, using tactics such as re-release, promotions or a name change - constant monitoring is key to increasing and maintaining sales. 3/ Recommendations - There is no more powerful sales tool than peers recommending a game to each other. On e-commerce

16 | MCV/DEVELOP October 2021

sites, recommendation panels are often found down the bottom of a product listing –they’re essentially the ‘gondola end’ of the online world. Crucially, recommendation panels are for the most part yet to be commercialised by retailers. So they represent a great opportunity to boost sales using some simple optimisation techniques. 4/ Search Word Accuracy - You need to understand how shoppers search for your game online. Use those keywords in your title or description to ensure that the search engines will produce results with your games near the top. In Russia, for example, Spider-man is usually listed as ‘Chelovek-Pauk’ – so if a consumer searches in English and you haven’t optimised the listing with the Russian title too, the chances are the retailer/ platform search engine will not display the game Keeping on top of the Four Pillars is not easy. Moreover, ‘offer fluidity’ needs to be considered as part of the online shopping experience: not only are deals everywhere during Black Friday, but prices and product availability are fluctuating constantly. You’ll need the right tools in order to spot those movements and adjust your own offers immediately, based on real time demand and the competitive environment. Factoring in live information across all retail partners and competitors for all your products, including pricing, stock availability, ranking position and more. eebz’ solutions can help you implement the above techniques to ensure you stay on top of your competitors - not just on Black Friday, but 24/7 across the world.

eebz is the world’s premier product relationship management system that integrates bricks and mortar, e-commerce and digital channels on an equal footing. To find out more, visit, or contact eebz to get unique Black Friday insights for your products. email info@eebz. com or call 020 3886 0265

The Develop:Star Awards will bring together the game dev community to celebrate the creative excellence and innovation behind the best games of the last 12 months and we’d love you to join us!

Develop Star Award

Honouring an extraordinary game developer for outstanding achievement and contribution to the industry, we are delighted to present the Develop Star Award 2021 to Team17’s Debbie Bestwick.

And the nominees are…

The Awards Par ty

19.00 Drinks and Ca napés 20.00 Awards Presen tations 20.45 Dinner 21.30 Awards Presen tations continue 22.15 After Party with a late bar upstairs , dj’s and a few more sur prises!

BEST VISUAL ART • Before I Forget • South of the Circle • The Last Campfire • Little Orpheus • Returnal • Munduan

DIVERSITY STAR sponsored by • Robin Gray, Gayming Magazine • Tentacle Zone Incubator • Cinzia Musio, Splash Damage • Anisa Sanusi, Limit Break • Rebecca Sampson, Hangar 13 • Dan Bernado, Platra

PUBLISHING STAR • Curve Digital • Wales Interactive • Wired Productions • Team17 • Kwalee • No More Robots

BEST NARRATIVE • Returnal • South of the Circle • Roki • Little Orpheus • The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope • Orwell’s Animal Farm

BEST QA & LOCALISATION PROVIDER • Testronic • PTW • Keywords Studios • Localsoft • Player Research • Universally Speaking

BEST MOBILE GAME • South of the Circle • Alba: A Wildlife Adventure • A Monster’s Expedition • Little Orpheus • Magic: The Gathering Arena (Mobile) • Orwell’s Animal Farm

BEST GAME DESIGN • Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout • Sackboy: A Big Adventure • Weaving Tides • Magic: The Gathering Arena (Mobile) • Lost Words: Beyond the Page • Returnal

BEST CREATIVE PROVIDER • Atomhawk • SIDE UK • Keywords Studios • PlayStation Studios Creative Arts • Liquid Crimson • Pitstop Productions

GAME OF THE YEAR • Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales • Returnal • Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout • Sackboy: A Big Adventure • The Last Campfire • The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope

BEST AUDIO • Sackboy: A Big Adventure • Returnal • Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales • A Total War Saga: Troy • DIRT 5 • Little Orpheus

BEST TECHNOLOGY PROVIDER • Unreal Engine • Unity • GameMaker Studio 2 • Genba Digital • Keywords Studio • Utopia Analytics

BEST MICRO STUDIO • inkle • Hidden Fields • Denki • Perchang • Polygon Treehouse

BEST ORIGINAL IP sponsored by • Returnal • Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout • Little Orpheus • Alba: A Wildlife Adventure • PowerWash Simulator • Rogue Company

TOMORROW’S STAR sponsored by • Reema Ishaque, Splash Damage • Dominic Shaw, Ukie • Julian Mair-MacFarlane, Mediatonic • Joshua Brown, FuturLab • Melissa Chaplin, Robot Teddy • Julia Kenny, SEGA

BEST INNOVATION • South of the Circle • Lost Words: Beyond the Page • Watch Dogs: Legion • The Oeuvre • Before I Forget • Hardspace: Shipbreaker

RECRUITMENT STAR • Amiqus Recruitment • OPMjobs • Datascope Recruitment • Sumo Group • Skillsearch • Aardvark Swift

BEST STUDIO sponsored by • Sumo Digital • nDreams • FuturLab • Housemarque • Mediatonic • ustwo games • Creative Assembly

Don’t miss out! You can book tables or premium tables for 10 guests, or single tickets and if you’re a micro indie studio with a team of 4 or less we have a special reduced rate.

Book now at:

Headline Sponsor

taxes are going down so head down under

The Australian Government has announced a 30% tax relief to further grow the nation’s games industry. Chris Wallace reaches out to the indies and triple-As there to find out about the explosive growth in Australian development 18 | MCV/DEVELOP October 2021

This feature was made in collaboration with Global Business and Talent Taskforce Australia.


or our latest industry spotlight, we’ve gone a little further than usual. While we’ve taken a look at the games communities across the UK and elsewhere in Europe, this time we’ve headed all the way to Australia (it’s all the same when you’re on Zoom after all), to get a better understanding of the nation’s burgeoning industry. Despite our countries' close relations, we don’t seem to talk about the Australian games industry much. But maybe it’s time for that to change – it’s a time of enormous growth for the Australian industry, now supported by its government Which has recently ramped up its efforts to help businesses flourish across the country. Looking back a way, the industry took an enormous hit during the 2007 financial crisis, and has had to rebuild itself in the years since. However, following an advocacy campaign from IGEA and the Australian industry, the Government has stepped up its efforts. In May this year, it unveiled its Digital Economy Strategy, which offers 30 per cent tax relief. Additionally, game developed in New South Wales will soon be eligible for the state's 10 per cent post, digital, and visual effects (PDV) tax rebate. As a result, the industry is booming, and only set to improve further once the tax relief comes into effect in the next financial year. Sledgehammer Melbourne launched back in 2019, bringing enormous triple-A attention to the country. On top of that, Mighty Kingdom stands as the largest independent developer in the country with 50 games, that have been played by 50 million players, under its belt. LIVING BY THE PACIFIC And so who better to proclaim the benefits of working in Australia than Mighty Kingdom’s own executive director and COO, Tony Lawrence? “The quality of life here is second to none,” says Lawrence. “It has four of the world’s top ten most livable cities. As a country, Australia is highly educated, creative, and pragmatic which means its talent pool is pretty deep in terms of potential developers. So we have the skills and the quality of life down pat. We’re close to many asian countries which makes it easier to collaborate in the region.” “The Australian games community is filled with wonderful people and there is a lot of incredible

talent both here in Victoria and across Australia,” adds Liam Esler, managing director of Summerfall Studios – a narrative driven indie he founded with Bioware and Beamdog veteran David Gaider. Which is working on its first title, Chorus: An Adventure Musical. “We briefly considered starting the studio overseas," Esler explains. "But when it came down to it, ultimately, there really was only one choice: Melbourne is one of the world’s most liveable cities, with kickass coffee and a vibrant arts scene. Why would you start a company anywhere else? “In terms of benefits, there is a massive pool of great creative talent, and the tight-knit community, coupled with the generous nature of Australian game developers is a huge asset to anyone looking to start a studio here. “Melbourne International Games Week is also a big draw, with both PAX Australia and Game Connect Asia Pacific (GCAP). The latter is run by the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association (IGEA) for which I am content director. Plus there are many other events for both game developers and players. “Finally, in Melbourne we have Film Victoria, who have been building out their games grant funding programs for many years. Film Victoria’s constant support of the games industry has been crucial not only for the state of Victoria but for the whole of Australia, and for a long time has made Victoria one of the best destinations for starting or running a studio.” “We’re based in Melbourne, which we believe is such a great place to be when you create anything related to the arts,” says Margarita Torres of Cocodrilo Dog, which specialises in music titles such as Moana: Rhythm Run and current tin development title Boom Fighters. “Melbourne is the capital city of Australia for video games because of the culture of the city," Torres continued. “People are very interested when it comes to artistic and technological innovation and video games are at the same time technology and arts. It’s a great place to be when you’re creating this kind of content. The programs of some universities confirm the devotion of the city to arts, science and technology. “We are also located within one of the biggest markets of the industry. Not only that, but we’re

Tony Lawrence, Mighty Kingdom, executive director and COO

Liam Esler, managing director, Summerfall Studios

October 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 19

Greg Palstra, Sledgehammer Games

very close to Asia which has China, Japan and Korea, the biggest markets in the world.” “Australia, and particularly Melbourne, has a long and strong history of game development,” says Greg Palstra, studio GM at Sledgehammer Games, Melbourne, which is currently putting the finishing touches to Call of Duty: Vanguard. “There is a depth of experience and passion for making great games here that goes back decades. "And Melbourne is often voted the most liveable city in the world. The city has a great combination of diversity, talent, culture and lifestyle that has enabled us to quickly grow an incredibly strong multidisciplinary team.” Of course no region is without its challenges – and with much of the English-speaking global games industry being based in the US, dealing with timezone headaches can be a concern. “One of the challenges is the time difference between the United States and Canada,” agrees Cocodrilo Dog’s Torres. “To maintain business with these countries, which are very important in the industry, the developer must have discipline to serve customers early in the morning and late in the night.”

Below: Game Connect Asia Pacific (GCAP) in pre-COVID times

GOVERNMENT SUPPORT Challenges aside – this moment of enormous growth for the industry seems to be offsetting any other concerns right now. And while of course, credit for the industry’s success goes to the wealth of talent at home in the country – the recent push of support from the Government certainly hasn’t hurt either. “Government support has been patchy over the years... based on one-off grants,” says Mighty Kingdom’s Lawrence, “But right now, things have changed dramatically.

Margaritta Torres, Corocodilo Dog

“Over the years, we’ve advocated for a whole of industry approach to government funding, and in a way that fits with Australia’s system of government. That has broadly been broad based tax offsets at a federal level, and top funding through broad based rebates and one of grants from State Governments. And as of FY22, that system will be in place for the first time. In three Australian states, game developers will have access to tax offsets and rebates that will be 40 per cent of their qualifying expenditure, and also have access to federal R&D tax incentives and statebased payroll tax incentives. “For the first time in a long time, Australia won’t be an expensive place to develop games. There’s also many government programs that developers can take advantage of, through export related grants, or education and employment related grants, there’s now a lot to support game development here," concludes Lawrence. “For me personally, I’m not sure I would even be in games if it were not for Film Victoria’s support of my career through various stages,” adds Summerfall’s Esler. “Between them and Creative Victoria, I have been able to attend GDC, PAX West, PAX East, visit and work at US-based game development studios, and bring that knowledge back home to start my own studio. “Summerfall’s, and my own, experience of local government support in Victoria has been nothing short of phenomenal – in fact, we were just the recipients of a production funding grant from Film Victoria. Federal support is another topic entirely – but that is starting to change, with the introduction of the DGTO (Digital Games Tax Offset) promised next financial year. We are all holding our breath to see the specifics of what it looks like, but it has the potential to massively impact the Australian game development industry.” HIRING BOOM The DGTO promises to offer more job opportunities in games than ever before. ”We’re gearing up for industry growth after the announcement of a 30% tax offset,” says Mighty Kingdom’s Lawrence, “where I think Australia will see the return of triple-A and publisher-owned studios. For the last ten years though, the industry has been made up of mostly smaller independent studio’s, with less than 10 studios with more than 50 people.

20 | MCV/DEVELOP October 2021

“For the first time in a long time, Australia won’t be an expensive place to develop games” “Mighty Kingdom has always had a growth mindset and is continuing to grow, and this is also the case for several Australian studios seeking to scale – so I really think there are more employment opportunities in the Australian games industry then there has ever been, and I’m really looking forward to being part of it and watching it grow. When I talk to my peers in other game development centres, they’ve all said that the growth and establishment of larger studios has been a boon for the industry, and I’m looking forward to the same result in Australia.” Of course, as things heat up in the industry, so does competition over the best talent. While there’s never been a better time to find work as an individual, how are companies managing to fill their studios with the best developers the country has to offer? “We are very lucky in that we have not had too much difficulty securing talent,” says Summerfall’s Esler, “but broadly speaking, competition for candidates is really heating up in Australia and it is definitely becoming harder. IGEA is working with the government to simplify and strengthen visa processes to help bring talent into the country, and studios like Mighty Kingdom are building pathways for graduates and early career developers to train and join the industry which definitely helps as well.” “Generally, we don’t have too much difficulty in finding junior and mid talent,” adds Mighty Kingdom’s Lawrence. “We do hire a little differently though – we hire as much for potential than we do with attained

skill level, and often take on people from adjacent industries such as VFX. That being said, there are some skill sets that aren’t prevalent in Australia, such as publishing related skill sets, and some senior developer skills that you’d tend to see in AAA studio’s that are more difficult to find.” “We’ve managed to significantly exceed growth expectations,” says Sledgehammer’s Palstra, “even while creating that growth during a pandemic. There is a rich and diverse talent pool, and the draw of Melbourne, Sledgehammer and Call of Duty has enabled us to attract and retain great talent from Australia and around the world.” So what do you do when you need skill sets that are less prevalent in Australia? With the country so far removed from the US and Canada, how easy is it to attract outside talent? In normal times, that is – obviously there’s very little globe trotting going on right now. “In our specific case, having an office in Latin America, we have mostly worked with people from the region,” notes Cocodrilo Dog’s Torres. “However, we have worked with talent from Spain, Canada, the USA and Malta. We have also worked with clients and publishers from the USA, Canada and Europe. This has provided us with very good communication skills in both English and Spanish. Thanks to this we have expanded our cultural awareness. At Cocodrilo Dog, we believe that the more you can communicate with other cultures, the better the odds of attracting talent become.” “It’s been rare that we’ve targeted talent from outside of Australia, but

Australian Game Developer Awards The winners of the 2021 Australian Game Developer Awards have been announced, with Victorian and Queensland studios dominating this year’s list. The awards were hosted by the Interactive Games & Entertainment Association (IGEA) as part of Melbourne International Games Week 2021, and the winners are as follows: • The Adam Lancman Award: Steve Wang (Wargaming Sydney) • The Raising the Bar Award: Chad Toprak (Freeplay Independent Games Festival) • The Rising Star Award: Kathleen Smart (Joy Everafter Stories) & Ashley Van Wyngaard (Wargaming Sydney) • Studio of the Year: Black Lab Games • Game of the Year: Unpacking (Witch Beam) • Excellence in Art: The Artful Escape (Beethoven & Dinosaur) • Excellence in Gameplay: Webbed (Sbug Games) • Excellence in Narrative: The Forgotten City (Modern Storyteller) • Excellence in Audio: The Artful Escape (Beethoven & Dinosaur) • Excellence in Accessibility: Unpacking (Witch Beam) • Excellence in Mobile Games: The Oregon Trail (Gameloft Brisbane) • Excellence in Serious Games: Sharmila (Chaos Theory Games and the World Food Programme) • Excellence in Ongoing Games: Pico Tanks (Panda Arcade) • Excellence in Emerging Games: Video World (Things for Humans)

October 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 21

when we have (before COVID), it hasn’t been too difficult to get people to work in Australia,” adds Mighty Kingdom’s Lawrence. “We currently have a few members of our team on working visas and we actively help them on their path to permanent residency if that’s what they choose. It’s been made easier recently with an update to the skills which qualify for visas now relevant to game development, and new visa’s that we’ve worked closely with the government that make it easier for game developers to work in Australia.” GAMING COMMUNITY While Australia is, obviously, an enormous country, there nonetheless exists a vibrant community of studios there. This is aided by, in normal times, a whole host of annual gaming events – with the likes of Melbourne International Games Week, PAX Australia, Game Connect Asia Pacific and The Australian Game Developer Awards giving plenty of networking opportunities. Does our panel have close ties with the rest of the industry in Australia? “Yes!” says Summerfall’s Esler. “And I would credit those relationships with much of our own success. Being able to openly and honestly talk with other studios in Australia for feedback, advice, and strategic help has been very important in our journey. We hope to do the same for other studios as we grow.” “Because Australia has a small and isolated industry, it’s pretty collegiate,” notes Mighty Kingdom’s Lawrence. “If we really need some

22 | MCV/DEVELOP October 2021

help, a contact, some insight or some advice, we really are able to get on the phone to most of Australia’s studios and have a chat.” “While we don’t have formal relationships with other games studios, the local games industry is close knit and there is a large degree of cross pollination between the studios,” says Sledgehammer’s Palstra. “I maintain good relationships with the other studios I’ve worked for, and the people I’ve worked with, and there is a common goal across the industry to strengthen and broaden the local ecosystem for the good of all of us developing games locally.” That collegial atmosphere is the result of both Australia’s success, and its historical challenges. It’s one that speaks to the innovation at the heart of the country's industry. “The Australian game development industry is pretty unique,” says Summerfall’s Esler, “in that it suffered a huge setback where after the Global Financial Crisis in 2007-2009, the industry more or less collapsed and had to rebuild. That created a sense of shared purpose and community, which persists even today. Australian studios tend to focus on their own IP, and for a long time have been experts in mobile IP (think Fruit Ninja and Crossy Road), which has created a fascinating ecosystem that spans everything from mobile to console to PC and everything in between.” The Australian industry may have a painful history behind it – but as Esler tells it, the future has never looked better. “I’m not sure there has ever been a better time to work in games in Australia, with the opening of Sledgehammer Melbourne, with Mighty Kingdom in Adelaide continuing to grow as the largest independent developer in the country, and Wargaming in Sydney moving from strength-tostrength, not to mention the many small-to-midsize studios constantly looking for talent. “Right now, if you’re a mid to a senior, there are many opportunities available—and even if you are a junior, there are more opportunities than there have been for a decade.”

Digital games in Australia: Get over here!

We want more digital games developers and studios. To prove we’re serious, we’re offering top talent a fast track visa with the certainty of permanent residency. And eligible businesses that spend a minimum of $500,000 developing games here can soon access a 30% refundable tax offset. Some of our states also offer additional incentives.

Australia. Better than you can imagine.

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Ins and Outs: Industry hires and moves 1




















Steel City Interactive has announced the appointment of four new hires to work on the development of Esports Boxing Club (ESBC). First, WILL KINSLER (1) joins as global communications director following a decade at Epic Games working on titles including Fortnite. EHSON KHALIQ (2) meanwhile joins Steel City Interactive as producer having worked on multiple AAA titles over the years for studios including Sumo Digital, Splash Damage and Guerrilla.

Kalypso Media Group has appointed DR. ANIKA THUN (5) as Managing Director with sole power of representation alongside Managing Partner Simon Hellwig. Dr. Thun holds a degree in business administration and a doctorate in media science. Heaven Media’s PR team has grown with multiple new hires: SAM BISHOP (6) joins Heaven Media as a senior publicist having been in the industry for five years, spanning journalism and PR, at Gamereactor and Team17 respectively.

MCV/DEVELOP 30 Under 30 alumni SOPHIE KNOWLES (9) has joined Viewfinder studio (see last month’s issue, MCV/ DEVELOP fans!) Robot Turtle as lead artist. Prior to that, Knowles was a 3D artist at Playdeo. The team over at Network N has announced that BEN MAXWELL (10), the former group editor for the company’s ownedand-operated sites, has been promoted to the role of publishing director, overseeing all activities in the publishing division.

Next up at Steel City Interactive, BYRON ANDREWS-SALVIETTO (3) joins the team as AI programmer following his graduation from Southampton Solent University.

JESSICA CULLTHOMAS (7) also joins Heaven Media, as a junior publicist, coming from the world of freelance journalism and has bylines in the likes of PLAY Magazine, Fanatical Blog as well as Next Gen Base.

As always, there’s a host of new hires over at Splash Damage this month. First, REGNER BLOK-ANDERSEN (11) joins as senior build/ automation engineer. Blok-Andersen has worked for the likes of CCP and Offworld Industries.

Last up over at Steel City Interactive, VIQHAAS MEHMOOD (4) also joins the team as a 3D Character Artist after having worked for seven years as a freelance artist working on a multitude of games and VFX projects.

After seven years at Premier, working with a multitude of clients of all shapes and sizes; from one-man indie darlings to AAA behemoths, TOM COPELAND (8) joins Heaven as publicity manager.

RICHARD JENNS (12) joins as a producer. Jenns originally started out in the music industry where he has a composing degree under his belt and toyed in various roles within this, but then landed his first gaming role at Sony.

THANOS KOUSIS (13) also joins Splash, as an animator. Before joining Splash, Kousis was a 3D animator working on various TV shows, films and commercials, including 2019’s The Lion King, Black Mirror and The Adventures of Paddington Bear. Finally at Splash, EMANUELE OLIVERI (14) joins as a gameplay programmer. Before joining Splash Damage, Oliveri was working as a Software Developer at Reel Time Gaming. To see us out, Sumo Digital has... far more hires than we can actually fit here, so here’s just six of them. Sorry! DECLAN LARKINS (15), joins Red Kite Games as studio marketing executive following almost four years at the Sheffield City Region Mayoral Combined Authority. SILVIO CARRERA (16), joins Sumo Leamington as a programmer. Carrera joins with more than six years’ experience programming with Unity.

Next up is JEMMA HARRIS (17), who joins Sumo Newcastle as executive producer. Harris, who has appeared in MCV’s Top 100 Women In Games is a multi-awardwinning British videogames producer and joins the team from Media Molecule. Harris has a wealth of experience, and was also part of the research and development team that delivered Kinect (or, as she knew it, Project Natal). Next is KARL MORLEY (18), who joins as principal game designer. Morley joins Sumo Sheffield. He joins the team from Naughty Dog, where he worked on The Last of Us Part II. ALEXANDRU BIRZANU (19) meanwhile joins Sumo Sheffield as a lead game designer. Birzanu joins the team with experience from Wargaming UK, Rebellion, and Gameloft. Finally for this month, ARI BASTIAN (20) joins Sumo Sheffield as a social media coordinator. Bastian has previously worked in the sustainable tech, banking and charity sectors.

Got an appointment you’d like to share with the industry? Email Chris Wallace at 26 | MCV/DEVELOP October 2021

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Rising Star

Every month, we pick the brain of an up-and-coming talent

Ed Mizrahi, junior games analyst at Hutch, talks about turning data into insights, prompting discussions and the wide variety of career opportunities that can provide

What is your job role and how would you describe your typical day at work? I joined Hutch in September 2020 as a junior games analyst. This was my first job after graduating with a degree in Mathematics and Statistics. Gaming has always been a huge passion of mine, and I’ve been fortunate to be able to marry that with a fascination for data. You might think that my day is all about crunching numbers, but it’s so much more than that. You need to look at data in a unique way to solve problems creatively. My typical day begins with looking at the data dashboards for our live games to check for any big changes or important trends. Has there been a change in daily active users? Has something prompted a big change in game performance? If so, why? We use this data to better understand our games and players. Alongside this, I’m regularly working on longer term projects such as the evaluation of specific game features. More often than not, this involves presenting back to the company, prompting discussions around how we can improve things for our players.

“My typical day begins with looking at the data dashboards for our live games to check for any big changes or important trends. Has there been a change in daily active users?”

understanding how you use your insights to improve a process or product. If you were interviewing someone for your team, what would you look for? An appreciation for games is vital, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be a gamer. As long as you understand what makes a game tick, what makes them fun and how certain features can impact the user experience, then that gives you a solid foundation. You also need to be highly numerate, and able to describe complex ideas in an easily understandable way. This ties into the ability to explain your insights well. Highlighting a piece of data on its own isn’t very interesting, but if you can explain what it means and what we should do with it, then that will make a huge difference.

What qualifications and/or experience do you need to land this job? One of the fundamentals is a relevant degree, or similar analytical experience, because we spend so much time looking at numbers. You need to understand what the numbers are doing, and how impacting one metric can lead to implications elsewhere. Talking about your own data-related side projects is also beneficial when it comes to showing your passion and interest. This could be as simple as how you assess your progress in fitness, or something a bit more technical like delving into the relationships between game updates and their effects on different items in that game’s economy. The important thing is

What opportunities are there for career progression? There are plenty of progression opportunities, whether you want to follow a linear or alternative path. You will naturally gain more responsibility as you rise in seniority with linear progression, which leads to growing your management skills, or potentially a technical specialism. You can consider a switch to a slightly different team however, depending on where your passion lies. You could work with the user acquisition team to focus on generating installs, or you could join the product or design teams. The role of the analyst is quite flexible, and there are opportunities for growth and progression in all corners of the business.

If there’s a rising star at your company, contact Chris Wallace at October 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 27


Cherry picked advice to help you reach the next level in your career

Samantha Luzon, senior QA at Payload Studios, talks about inclusivity, work culture and working alongside the award-winning Tentacle Zone

“Communication is a big part of the job, and at Payload we work really hard to have an inclusive culture where everyone’s opinions are respected and valued.”

What is your job role and how would you describe your typical day at work? My role is Senior QA at Payload Studios and a typical day can vary depending on the work that we’re doing. Our team is reactive due to the nature of our work since it depends on the progress of other departments. I usually start the day with a few meetings. This is when we review tasks from the day before and establish the goals for the day. I usually assist our QA manager which means while also being involved in our daily testing work I also help in supervising the team, making sure that everyone has everything they need to be able to perform their work and answer any questions they may have. Sometimes I attend talks hosted by the Tentacle Zone (Payload’s co-working space); Pre-pandemic I usually catch some of the Tentacle Zone residents during my break, but since working from home I’ve used the socials and panels as an opportunity to learn more and connect with other residents. What qualifications and/or experience do you need to land this job? I worked my way up starting from university. I graduated with a degree from a video games design course and managed to get my first job as QA at a testing house. There I worked on different projects and was promoted to lead. This opportunity landed me a job at a AAA studio and from there I’ve had a chance to work with different companies, always learning something new and improving my skills. When it came to working with Payload I was able to apply those skills and eventually was promoted to Senior QA. I think a degree

isn’t always necessary, but you’ll need to put the work in and be open to challenges, especially ones that are unexpected. If you were interviewing someone for your team, what would you look for? A common and essential criteria for testers is having an eye for detail which helps with the bug finding process. While playing games for a living sounds great, it’s important that they have the patience and grit to be able to perform monotonous tasks since finding bugs will take a lot of testing the same thing repeatedly. Communication is a big part of the job, and at Payload we work really hard to have an inclusive culture where everyone’s opinions are respected and valued. As well as being a great tester, we are also looking for someone willing to work as a team to continuously improve the work culture at Payload. What opportunities are there for career progression? There are a few paths and it can depend on what the goal is! There is the QA path which will lead to a QA lead or a QA manager role. You can even go the production route and become a producer which aligns with some of the work QA does. There are also other disciplines within the industry like art, programming, design etc but this might come easier to those who work as embedded testers since they closely work with these departments. In Payload’s case, we work in small teams which allows us to work closely together. The team are always open to a discussion and even some mentoring. All you have to do is ask!

Want to talk about your career and inspire people to follow the same path? Contact Chris Wallace at

28 | MCV/DEVELOP October 2021


Recruiter Hotseat Liverpool’s Lucid Games is hiring! Head of talent Hollie Lapworth gives us the inside story on its culture, remote working policy and making everyone feel right at home

How many staff are you currently looking to take on? We currently have over 20 positions open across art, animation, design, operations, production and programming. What is the culture like at your studio? Our studio/remote studio is very relaxed, very informal and everyone is super super friendly! We have regular social events/clubs ranging from active clubs such as yoga, running & climbing to celebrations such as summer, christmas and launch parties. Our studio management team created a culture ten years ago and have successfully continued to maintain and build on that ever since. Everyone at Lucid has a huge impact on the work we do. We have a relatively flat structure and find that this allows us to be as collaborative as possible resulting in making great games in a great environment. If you have recruited internationally, what is the process like? We do recruit internationally and this year we have sponsored numerous Skilled Worker Visas and relocated people from all over the world as well as having remote overseas workers. We start the process by having initial calls to understand what is required and also if they want to move to Liverpool or stay where they are. Candidates then go through our interview process that consists of two stages; one with the team they will be working with followed by a chat with a couple of our company directors. All our interviews are held on zoom and we know that timezones can make the process difficult so we are really flexible on timings and

try to make the process as accommodating as possible. If successful, candidates are offered the position and then assigned a dedicated in-house relocation specialist to help them apply for visas, attend meetings and move to Liverpool. We also provide candidates with a tailored relocation package to ensure they are supported financially when they make the move. What processes do you have for onboarding staff remotely? We introduced a new onboarding process in 2020 to ensure that we were giving our new starters the best introduction to Lucid. After accepting an offer from us, you will have calls arranged with our talent and IT team to ensure you have all the equipment you need. Whether you are a full time remote worker or hybrid worker we provide the equipment both onsite and at home (this is delivered to your address ready for your first day). On your first day, if you start in the office you can expect to meet the team at one of our amazing monthly breakfast mornings. If you are remote you are welcomed by our HR team to talk you through Lucid’s history, our current and future plans. We set up calls with your line manager and the team to talk you through projects and what you will be doing. We set everyone up on “Donut be Strangers” where everyone is randomly matched with someone in the company to have a catch up over a coffee, tea, water etc. We also have recently introduced a trip for all new team members to visit Liverpool before they join us. We provide accommodation and

Hollie Lapworth, Head of talent Lucid Games travel to Liverpool for them to experience the city, see the offices and meet the team before starting or within the first few months of joining us. How has the pandemic affected recruitment at your studio? The studio headcount has grown by over 40 per cent since 2020 and Lucid actually hired me in the midst of the pandemic. The pandemic has given us access to so many different talent pools, we were previously only accepting candidates who could move to Liverpool and we couldn’t facilitate remote working, we now have people working with us remotely across the UK and the world. We feel that the past year has given us the opportunity to be truly flexible to our team’s wants and needs. We have seen a huge growth here at Lucid in the past year and there is no sign of slowing down, we are actually hiring for more people to join our talent team to help us achieve our ambitious goals.

If you’d like to feature your recruitment team on this page then contact Alex Boucher – October 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 29

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Debugging D&I This issue, Amiqus’ Liz Prince talks to Mighty Kingdom’s CEO Philip Mayes about the studio switching to a four-day week When and why did you decide to introduce a four-day working week at Mighty Kingdom? We ran a trial of the four-day week shortly after we returned to the office after the COVID lockdown. As part of our pandemic response, we had adopted a flexible approach that allowed people to choose where they wanted to work, and we noticed a marked Philip Mayes, increase in productivity, which was the Mighty Kingdom catalyst for running the trial. There are so many facets of our relationship to work that are unexamined and are built on decisions made in the late 19th Century. There is a strong status quo bias, and once you start to challenge those assumptions you realise that there are lots of opportunities to innovate. What response did you have from your team? There was healthy scepticism from the team! We have a culture that encourages experimentation, and everyone was on board with running the trial and were honest in their feedback at the conclusion. The trial revealed several challenges with mapping our processes to the shorter work week, but there was a unanimous support from the studio to make it a permanent change. What are the benefits, in your opinion? In a nutshell, we get the same output, and everyone is happier! It is almost an ethical question. If you have two options, both yield the same output, and one makes everyone happier, why would you choose the other? How does a four-day week help a studio’s efforts and ambitions when it comes to EDI? The additional day off has made working here possible for people who may not be able to work a 40-hour week. This is particularly relevant to carers, or parents with young children. That said, the four-day week is just one of many policies that we have implemented that are part of our EDI strategy, which makes it difficult to measure its impact in isolation. An effective EDI strategy is not usually the result of one singular policy, but the cumulative impact of all your policies working together.

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At Amiqus, we have many resources available to help, so please do get in touch via

What has it done for employee mental wellbeing and health? We are coming up to the anniversary of the change, after which we will review the data on health outcomes, but anecdotal evidence supports the theory that people have more time for self-care. Many people tell me about the time they can now invest in their hobbies, time spent with their family, or just catching up on the latest games! Are there any disadvantages – to the studio or to your staff? The rest of the world is not on a four-day week, and international clients make it even more difficult. We aim to restrict the impact to only the leadership team as much as possible, and we have policies to reward that additional effort when it is required. We have found that many modern development methodologies are built on the assumption of a 40-hour work week. In a four-day week, meetings suddenly become very costly and we have had to invest in adapting processes to fit. There is a lot of scepticism around a four-day week, with many people feeling that it is too good to be true. It means we frequently have to defend the decision, which can be tiring! There are some biases that no amount of data can overcome. But it is worth reiterating that the benefits far outweigh the costs. What would you say to a studio who might be nervous about a drop in productivity/output? The easiest way to eliminate the fear is through data. Before you make any policy changes in your studio make sure you have effective tools to measure the impact of that change. Don’t rely solely on anecdotal evidence and be sure to run the trial long enough to be representative. There is often an initial burst of enthusiasm around changes before the data settles. For the four-day week in particular, do not change your budgeting, planning processes, deadlines, or milestones during the trial to ensure you are getting clean data. We are conditioned to think about productivity as a function of time invested, as if each additional hour of work leads to an incremental additional output. And yet we all know that we are not 100 per cent productive all the time. Time invested is not a good proxy for the quality of work produced. Shifting to a focus on measuring output allows you to measure the impact of policy changes on quality, and more accurately reflects how value is created in a creative business.

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How EA’s FIFA is helping make football more inclusive

Efforts to improve diversity and inclusion, right across our society, are finally getting the attention they deserve. But football, for better and worse, has been in the spotlight for such issues of late. We talk to EA about its efforts to make sure the beautiful game is for everyone

Caption: Hamza Choudhury (centre) and players from the Midnight Ramadan League

Below: James Salmon, EA SPORTS

DIVERSITY and inclusion have become hot topics and football is no exception. The women’s game is getting more exposure (and some more money) than ever before. While the youth and diversity of the England Men’s team was a key talking point over the summer. EA is closely linked with football culture through its FIFA series, of course. Which means it can bring together both its own efforts in the area of D&I, such as the recent Positive Play Charter, as well as support and kickstart initiatives within the game itself. James Salmon, marketing director, EA SPORTS FIFA, took the time to talk to us about the publisher’s outlook in this area. “Our focus is, as it always has been, growing the love of football across new platforms and communities while representing and celebrating the diversity of our players. Football and gaming is unique in its power to inspire and unite and we have a responsibility to harness that for social good,” Salmon tells us.

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Of course, the FIFA franchise already has a very diverse global fanbase. “FIFA brings together more than 100 million players worldwide – representing different geographies, backgrounds, passions and cultures… It is a privilege to support [such] a diverse, global community of that scale and we recognize it comes with both responsibility and opportunity. We have a responsibility to represent the world’s game authentically and to celebrate the diversity of fans which we know represent many different cultures.” Salmon continued: “With that in mind, we recognize the importance of engaging players in a way that respects those nuances that are unique to their community. Our opportunity exists in lending our voice and support to causes that enable positive societal change.” That support has come in a number of forms to date, both within FIFA and also by supporting football-born campaigns and grassroots initiatives. “We’ve been intentional in both creating our own D&I initiatives and amplifying and supporting existing efforts that align with our values,” says Salmon. “We’ve invested in developing programs that celebrate diversity, such as our work with the Midnight Ramadan League – highlighting the underrepresentation of British South Asians in the professional game.” A part of that work was an advert featuring Leicester’s Hamza Choudhury, which won Channel 4’s £1m Diversity in Advertising Award – money that goes to further funding the campaign’s reach. “We’ve been privileged to work closely with the Premier League in their No Room For Racism program,” Salmon says. “Through that partnership we have been able to apply


Below: Kiyan Prince as he appeared in FIFA 21

the power of our platform to the cause, making young fans increasingly aware of the damage racism can do.” Back in May of this year, EA also worked with the Kiyan Prince Foundation in order to “highlight the dangers of carrying knives and the negative social impact of knife crime amongst young people.” The campaign remembered the talented young Prince, a victim of knife crime in 2006. EA brought Prince into FIFA 21 as the player he would be today. Staying in London, Salmon tells us about the EA team’s collaboration with football media company COPA 90 “which provides underrepresented black creators with internship opportunities across multiple levels of football media.” Of course gaming has its own issues with racism, ones that EA is looking to tackle via its Positive Play Charter. “Building inclusive online gaming communities is hard and we take it seriously,” explains Salmon. “We provide players with choices when it comes to ways of engaging with other players, and we take swift action against any player that violates our code of conduct. We take action against the common issues such as language and some unfair play, through to the rarer incidents of threatening or harmful disruptive behaviour. “On multiple occasions we have had the opportunity to demonstrate how our values stand up in our actions,” he adds. “For example, we took action against a player who racially abused Ian Wright after he lost a match while playing with Ian Wright’s in-game version. We issued a lifetime ban to this individual. We’re diligent about warning, suspending and banning inappropriate behaviour.” Coming back to more positive efforts, Salmon tells us that EA is “exploring opportunities with potential partners in grassroots football and although this effort has just kicked off, it’s incredibly exciting for us.” One sign of that came last year, when EA announced a two-year shirt sponsorship and partnership with LGBTQ+ club Stonewall FC. It’s an “LGBTQ+ orientated football

team” which plays in the Middlesex County League Premier Division The company continues to promote and depict women’s national teams in the game. In FIFA 22, there’s 17 such teams, fully licensed with authentic crests, kits and playing squads. Plus for the first time there’s the inclusion of an english-speaking female commentator in the game: Alex Scott, who amassed 140 England caps in her career. On the announcement of her role Scott said: “Representation is crucial and the inclusion of an Englishspeaking female commentator on FIFA is game-changing. The impact it will have is simply stratospheric… I know this is just the start of stronger female footballing representation from EA Sports and the football community as a whole.” And in a broader sense Salmon too sees a bigger, brighter future for football and EA: “We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished but the opportunities to further embed FIFA in the fabric of football, represent and celebrate its Below: Former diverse communities and provide an inclusive experience England player that inspires the next generation of football fans are near Alex Scott is on the commentary endless. We’re all committed to accelerating this now and team in FIFA 22 into the future.”

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After the Storm: How DONTNOD is creating the next ‘new normal’ Work from home or come back to the office? Why not both? Chris Wallace talks to DONTNOD’s Oskar Guilbert and Matthieu Hoffman about their new flexible working scheme


n our post-apocalyptic times, I think back a lot to an MCV/DEVELOP feature I wrote almost two years ago now – an interview with OlliOlli developer Roll7 regarding their shift to remote work. The idea of working from home seemed a radical one to me at the time – having been tied to an office for my entire working life, it was hard to imagine being able to effectively work from my own house. Hilariously, the feature actually ran on the cover of the February 2020 issue, with the strapline “Welcome to Work” over an image of a home office – an image that would become much less novel just a month later. You’d think we knew what was coming and had planned it in advance. Quite a lot has changed since then. I’ve now made more copies of MCV/DEVELOP from my

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bedroom than I ever have in an office, and while the last two years have certainly been challenging, this at least has proven itself a welcome change. After all, the whole reason we spoke to Roll7 in the first place was that remote work had been a huge boon for the happiness of its workforce. While working from home certainly isn’t for everyone, I’m hardly alone in this. There are many who fear that once the pandemic is well and truly behind us, the more conservative-minded CEOs out there will push for a ‘return to normal,’ and insist on the return of the one hour commute, overpriced Pret sandwiches and tedious office conversations with our least favourite co-workers. The pandemic has taken a lot from us all, but one of the few victories from this experience has been gaining the freedom to work on our own terms.

That freedom is one that workers are keen to hold onto, and one that sensible companies need to cater to wherever possible, or else risk losing their best talent. Sensible companies such as DONTNOD, for instance. DONTNOD’S FROG The Life is Strange creator recently launched a permanent work from home policy for all employees. To be more specific it’s a hybrid model, with employees having the choice of working from home or in an office environment (or a combination of the two), a permanent system which will continue once the pandemic is over. The Fully Remote Organization (FROG) scheme, the idea for which actually predated the pandemic, is the result of an internal company referendum which found that 87 per cent of DONTNOD employees supported being able to choose where they work. Employees can now choose between Remote Mode and Office Mode, with the option to revise their decision at a later stage. Remote Mode allows employees to work from home, with all the equipment they need (such as chairs, desks, peripherals, etc) provided by DONTNOD. They can also choose to visit the office regularly and use dedicated ‘flex’ desks. Office Mode meanwhile entails working from the premises with a dedicated setup and desk and comes with a package of days of remote working per year. While the policy had been considered prepandemic, DONTNOD weren’t in a position to offer it until COVID forced all of our hands – with companies around the world rushing to help their employees adapt to the ‘new normal,’ providing equipment and IT support to ensure work kept running as smoothly as possible. “We had to adapt for the pandemic,” says DONTNOD CEO Oskar Guilbert. “We didn’t do it before because there were some things we had to do, such as delivering computers to people’s homes, because it’s not good to just work on a laptop. “And after that we thought, maybe it could continue like that. We shipped two games, Tell Me Why and Twin Mirror, with no delays. We had, of course, a small delay of a few weeks [at the start of the pandemic] in order to organise, so that we

can be sure that everyone can continue to work. But after that it was okay, and we can still deliver on time. So we thought, okay, it works. It’s cool. We can work like this” “We asked ourselves,” adds DONTNOD HR director Matthieu Hoffman, “‘is it possible to transform this challenge into an opportunity for the whole company?’ And from the feedback from the referendum, people were more than satisfied to work at home.” And since, thanks to the pandemic, the work had already been done to ensure a smooth transition to working from home, DONTNOD was “more than ready to pass this opportunity on to all our employees,” Hoffman adds.

Above (left to right): Oskar Guilbert and Matthieu Hoffman

MAINTAINING THE BALANCE The relationship between working from home and a healthy work/life balance is a complicated one. Time that has been gained from no longer having to commute, or being separated from your family, has sometimes been undercut by a sense of workers feeling as if they now live in their offices. It’s why a hybrid model seems like the more sensible approach, for the companies that can afford such a thing. Besides, any initiative that even has the chance to deliver a healthy work/ life balance is a welcome one, particularly in the games industry. “In the human resource point of view,” Hoffman notes, “we often talk about work/life balance. I think it’s one of the biggest challenges in HR, especially in our industry. We were already aware of this kind of topic with flexible working hours, being able to leave for a medical meeting for example. Improving this balance was one of our targets. You have the choice, and you can change that choice if needed. So during the same week you can work from home and you can come into

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the office. It means that you’re totally responsible for your own calendar, and for your own organisation.” The benefits of remote and hybrid working to the employee have been discussed frequently over the past 18 months. What comes up less often, perhaps, is the benefits for the employer. From a cynical business perspective (the MCV/DEVELOP speciality!), what is the main benefit for DONTNOD in all this? “The benefit is that your employees are happy!” exclaims Guilbert. “And usually when they are happy, they’re more efficient. You know, we are making games with values, games which are meaningful. People know why they go to work when they work for DONTNOD. So if you have good conditions, if they have a good balance between their personal life and their professional life, I will say it’s good for us. They will be more efficient, they will work better and they will be happier. And that’s really cool.” “I think in terms of benefits, we can talk about talent retention,” adds Hoffman. “87 per cent of our company were in favour of this new organisation, it means that we’re about to allow for a good way to work for a large amount of our employees.” Opening yourself up to remote work also increases your recruitment opportunities, as Hoffman continues: “More than 50 per cent of our recruitment has been done outside of Paris and Rome, this means we’re able to change the opportunities for talent to come work for us. And so as a HR manager, I think it’s a good opportunity.” “You know before, if you wanted to work from say, Bordeaux, and the main office of the company in Paris, you had to resign and you had to find a new place to work,” adds Guilbert. “Now it’s totally fine. People can work from all other parts of France, or even other countries. So for us, it’s really good. It’s very positive for the company.” STAYING FLEXIBLE As discussed, remote work certainly brings a lot of benefits – but it’s not a perfect solution, and it’s one that comes with its own challenges. That’s why the team at DONTNOD are keen to promote the flexibility of their system: It’s not either remote or office work – It’s both, if you want it to be. “We noticed that people are happy to come into the office, but not every day,” says Guilbert. “They want

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to see other people, to socialise and exchange ideas. Those things are really important.” “We still have a building, we still have an office,” begins Hoffman. “We have the option for all of our employees to come in one, two days a week, but they also have the option to work from home. We want to organise this kind of working. I think in this kind of situation, we wouldn’t want to be totally drastic, and only offer either remote working or office work. I think we have to do a kind of blend of both, where everybody is able to choose the way they want to work.” It’s the kind of flexible approach that, with hindsight, makes the old ways of working look completely ludicrous. Especially in a creative industry, you’re never going to find a one size fits all approach to working – a typical 9 to 5 office setup works for some, while others struggle to function without more freedom and flexibility. For companies that actually care about the quality of their work, it only makes sense to bend to the needs of their workers, instead of demanding that employees adapt to meet their stringent requirements. If game studios want their workers to be productive and creative, they need to create an environment that allows them to flourish. “You know, if you work with writers, for example, it’s difficult to ask a writer to write ten pages a day,” says Guilbert. Some days they might write one page, some days they’ll write none, and on another day they’ll write 30 pages…” Yeah, I know the feeling. “For creative people, it’s a lot like that. For engineers, maybe they want a little more regularity, maybe they like the quality of the space, they like the comfort. Either way, people have a lot more control.” Guilbert is less bullish about remote work than I am, choosing not to comment on studios that may have different philosophies. Though he maintains that the world has changed now, and if enough companies adopt policies like DONTNOD’s, it’ll be a change for the better. “I definitely think it’s different now, people are thinking in a different way. I don’t want to speak about the whole industry, as of the values of other companies – sometimes management wants to have the employees in the office. But for us, that’s not the case.”

Three entrepreneurs – all under one hat Zordix has come out of Sweden in 2021 to acquire both the UK’s Merge Games and France’s Just For Games. Putting all three under its wizard’s hat. So what’s the strategy behind this latest Swedish force and where does it go next?


ordix is the latest name to come to prominence from the increasingly ambitious Swedish games industry. Building out from a racing developer and publisher, the now listed Zordix Group has serious investment behind it and has now acquired four further games businesses. Most notable of those were UK indie publisher Merge Games and French publisher and distributor Just for Games. Alongside Hungary’s Invictus, also known largely for racing titles and indie developer Dimfrost Studio, the group now covers all the key industry sectors. So what are its plans for the future and how is it looking to synergise its various aspects into something greater than its already successful parts? We sit down with Zordix CEO Matti Larsson, Merge MD Luke Keighran and Just For Games CEO Philippe Cohen to find out. MADE IN SWEDEN While many complain that the UK markets have been shy of backing games companies, the same

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can certainly not be said of Sweden’s markets of late. With the money made from the likes of Spotify looking for new opportunities. Zordix’s Larsson expands: “Sweden is financially strong, with gaming superpowers including developers and publishers. So it’s a perfect foundation to build a larger group. Especially with our listing in the financial markets, as the financial families in Sweden have started to invest a lot in gaming.” Of course not just anyone can rock up and get a listing, Larsson fills us in on Zordix’s backstory: “I started Zordix ten years ago to make console games. Our vision was to take our simulation technology, based on university research and our local all-terrain vehicle community here in the north of Sweden, to a global market. So we started self publishing and building our own brands. And following our initial success, I was able to list the company on the stock exchange.” That opened up Zordix’s ambitions, which resulted in Just For Games and Merge coming

under its wing. Although that may not be the right term, as the group is keen to grow by finding successful businesses and investing in them to fly higher, not providing them with any kind of shelter. With Merge’s Keighran being clear on the strength of each element’s underlying strength. “We’ve shown that with our commercial acumen [Merge is] very good at taking independent games global.” And with a lineup that includes Spirit of the North, Cloudpunk, the retail versions of Dead Cells, plus many more and a wide range of upcoming owned IPs, that’s been proven. Cohen comes in to describe the background of Just for Games, one of the top three distributors in France, dealing with big franchises from some of the biggest publishers. “We set up Just for Games to lead the value segment and then we grew on this success with premium distribution and then gaming accessories,” Cohen tells us. “Then we started our own publishing strategy, and then our own game strategy as well. So we build the company stone-bystone, step-by-step, and each time, we’re reinvesting the profit we make, exploring new segments of the market.” All three companies have demonstrated an ability to grow and diversify then and that’s set to continue under their partnership, says Keighran: “So this group has been created in order to go on a journey, to start acquiring like minded people in different areas in order to actually complement the whole group. And of course, this is just the start of the opportunity.” STATUS GROW Larsson sets out where Zordix is looking to make further acquisitions. “We’re now six offices in four different countries. We have game development, distribution, publishing, and then we are spreading geographically so we’ll be in all channels, in all geographies, on all the platforms. “We’re especially searching for companies that can complement each other and support each other… to make organic as well as intelligent acquisitions. We’re a super friendly and approachable group that wants to expand on our experiences. We’re especially looking for game developers and interesting IP. “Now we have a better network than before,” he adds, “we’re looking for like minded entrepreneurs in gaming. Super entrepreneurs, like Philippe [Cohen] and Luke [Keighran], who have been

expanding their businesses by 30 per cent yearon-year. “They are expanding, and have been for years, with excellent market plans in their areas. So having such people on board is like a dream come true for me. I started my own publishing a couple of years ago, Zordix publishing, but now to have the real thing, so to speak, is like a dream come true.” Cohen picks up on that idea of growth. “What is very important is that after ten years of growth and success I had a strong feeling that we needed a platform to act globally.” To which Larsson adds: “It’s expanding from what we have been doing to a much higher level, which is fantastic. And we’re just at the beginning of the journey, it’s still early on. You’ll hear a lot more about us as we continue to grow. “While there’s organic growth, it’s also together that we can acquire games and IPs and grow. We can identify games that are breaking through so we can grab them and have them join the group and build our own IP portfolio together. In the long run, IPs can even be licenced for different things, like books etc.” BRANDING IRON While Zordix will become a more familiar name, the companies it takes on will retain their own brands, their own specialties, and their own independence to make decisions. “We each have our own strengths,” notes Keighran. “Merge has a great strength in terms of actually picking up games. This is not what Philippe [Cohen] does, this is not what Matti [Larsson] does, they leave me to my own devices to do that. “Though at the same time Philippe helps me with distribution in the French market. I help him in the UK. So they complement the strategy, when Philippe develops the strategy around his casual games or family games then we’ll help him with that, to expedite that growth through our distribution networks. “And then on the flip side, we’ve spent all morning actually brainstorming across eight people internally, what we’re going to do with Smalland,”

Pictured from the top: Zordix CEO Matti Larsson, Merge MD Luke Keighran and Just For Games CEO Philippe Cohen

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the upcoming survival title. “It has a massive [Steam] wishlist in place and it’ll probably be the first internally launched IP for the group when it comes out.” Elsewhere in the group Zordix continues to develop off-road racing titles, along with the upcoming Bramble from developer Dimfrost, while Just for Games has its Fantasy Friends IP “So all of a sudden we’re actually not just distribution, we’re also generating content as well,” Keighran notes. “And that’s really important for us in the longer term, to actually facilitate content growth across the group. At present the group’s activities are largely focused around discrete console and PC titles, whether that be single or multiplayer content, rather than ongoing games as a service. However, Larsson is keen to expand with the right partner. “As we go down the line we’ll probably move into some new business areas, such as mobile and games as a service, VR/AR etc. But for that we need an entrepreneur to come on board with that experience. So if we do an acquisition like that, it could be huge, we could double the size of the group and double it again, no problem, but we need it to be a really good entrepreneur. “That’s the philosophy, it’s very likely that we will go into new business areas along the way. But at the moment, we’re focusing on console and PC, and that simplifies it, because we can make sure that we cover the geographies, the platforms, the knowledge.” “It kind of snowballs, adds Cohen. “You bring one company in, which brings another company in, and et cetera, et cetera. So, everybody can contribute to the journey, and each company brings its own network. “Again, we are different, we are acting independently. We are seeing different market segments, we have different expertise, and skills, but on the other hand, we all look in the same direction and this is very important for the future. We’re trying to build something strong, sustainable for the future, all together. That’s the reason why I was very excited to join and excited for the next steps.”

OK how do we build our franchises – the Smallands of the world, where we own the IP? We’ve got another game Monster Harvest, we’ve got loads of really strong games as a service behind that. They become franchises. “Your average indie publisher won’t make it,” Keighran reinforces. “I think it’s something like 750 indie publishers now. So the question is, how many are going to survive in the next five years… Some will make it for sure. For some it’s a bit flash in the pan. How much of it is sustainable? There’s question marks across all of that. “And it’s so important for us strategically as a company that we’re thinking more about ‘who are the good developers to work with for us’. Establishing long term relationships with those content providers, then it becomes a very viable, sustainable, long term business for Merge Games. “We’re thinking about things from a publishing perspective, for the next 12 to 24 months, but there is also a strategy in place to actually go, what’s the future? Matti and Philippe will tell you: content is king, always has been key in this industry. And it’s so important that we’re working with those key partners and that we’re really strong in those niches which we feel that we’re strong in. “We’re already running successful businesses. So we’re thinking, how do we build that out? How do we look for the pitfalls that are in the marketplace? What can we do? Because I know for one, and Philippe will be another, we want to be long term, we don’t want to be short term. With the market changing rapidly, with subscription services and the power of platforms growing, it’s easy to see why Zordix is looking to invest in IPs. Then it can use its broad networks and understanding of the current market to build on those and bring the group as a whole forward into the next evolution of the gaming space. The group is now looking both for more entrepreneurial kindred spirits to further grow its access to markets and also to game developers and IP holders, Larsson tells us, who it can work in partnership with to do more than simply bring those games to market.

PUBLISHING NEXT While the future for games businesses such as these is an exciting place of opportunity, they will need to stay agile to continue to thrive, notes Merge’s Keighran. “Straight indie publishing, signing games, publishing them. It will end, it won’t make it over time. There is a job to do internally, where we’re strategizing now, to say,

“Your average indie publisher won’t make it”

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MCV OCT21 EEBZ:Layout 1 05/10/2021 13:29 Page 1

Can I interest you in something extra? Building a game in an off-the-shelf engine is par for the course for today’s developers. But such engines also now offer services that go way beyond the core technology. MCV/DEVELOP talks to three developers about the additional services which helped make their titles a success

G Below: Outer Wilds was an extremely ambitious title for such a small team

ame engines, such as Unity and Unreal, have enabled a huge creative swell in the industry, enabling indie games to go well beyond what had been previously thought possible with small teams. Now though, the engine itself is going beyond, offering more and more services to such creators. Those services range from the likes of additional technical support for developers, plug-ins such as voice service or player management, or even cloud-based development options – allowing for fuss-free workflows in an increasingly remotefocused world. To look further into some of these options we spoke to developers about the additional services, in this instance from Unity, and how their games simply wouldn’t have thrived without them.

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ALL THE ANSWERS Outer Wilds is undoubtedly one of the most ambitious and well-received indie titles of recent years. Making the game was quite an undertaking and to achieve it the team at Mobius utilised on Unity’s professional services during development, we talk to Alex Beachum (Co-creative lead at Mobius), Loan Verneau (co-creative lead), and Wesley Martin (art director) about how crucial that became. The game is built on Unity – Why did you choose it for Outer Wilds? The earliest of the prototypes that would come together to become Outer Wilds came to be when Alex Beachum wanted to test if you could have a ship you could walk around in, then sit down in the cockpit and fly it from planet to planet. This proved surprisingly feasible to implement in Unity 4, the engine used for the class assignment this prototype was made for. When the full project was started at Mobius, prior experience with custom engines had shown the limitations of such a choice and the team’s familiarity with Unity made it a far more natural choice.

What exactly did Unity’s professional services consist of? We were able to submit bugs and questions directly to the Unity engine team, with a great direct contact at Unity that would help prioritize and follow up on those tickets. How did the feedback help you create Outer Wilds as we know it today? We often joke that Outer Wilds is a game that does everything you should not do when making a game: the entire game world moves at all time, everything is built on spheres, all lighting is dynamic. This meant we would hit many edge cases that most games would not encounter. Having direct support from Unity allowed us to make Outer Wilds a reality at the level of polish it was released at, in particular on consoles where performance would be a significant issue. Would you use similar services on future projects? This direct line of communication with Unity has allowed us to push the boundaries of what we could do with a game engine and for as long as we continue to do that sort of projects, we will want to have that Unity Professional support.

LOOK WHO’S TALKING Nakara: Bladepoint recently launched into western markets after proving popular in open beta in China. With over 40,000 positive reviews on Steam, the 60 player martial arts battle royale has garnered strong reviews from western press and is looking to build a big community. As a part of that developer 24 Entertainment chose to use Unity’s Vivox voice comms solution. We talked to the studio about the game and that decision. Describe Nakara for those who aren’t familiar with the title? Nakara: Bladepoint is an online action battle royale developed by Chinese game studio 24 Entertainment with Unity 3D engine, presenting an unbounded and visually stunning fighting stage for players. Nakara has been open for Beta in mainland China for a period of time and is extremely popular and well performed on a variety of platforms. On August 12th, 2021, it will be launched on Steam and Epic platforms globally, aiming to be the world-class action battle title. And the game is built on Unity – Why did you choose it for Nakara? Unity is one of the top game engines in the world today. With the evolution of Unity in these years,

there are quite a few successful games that proved that Unity’s technology has been upgraded and perfected in many technical aspects with high stability. Especially for small and medium-sized teams, they don’t need to spend too much time maintaining the engine so that they can focus more on project requirements. Unity’s cross-platform functionality is the best among others. With the addition of SRP, it offers more flexibility. It can optimize the performance on PC platforms, fully utilizing the power of PC while preserving the possibility to work on multiple different platforms in the future. Nakara:Bladepoint is developed based on the Unity source code service and makes full use of many existing features inside the engine, such as movement system, physics system, DOTS, URP + HDRP, ShaderGraph and Visual Effect Graph and so on.

Above: Nakara blends martial arts, magical attacks and BR gameplay to great effect

More specifically on Vivox. What were your needs regarding voice comms, why are voice comms crucial to the game? Nakara:Bladepoint is a competitive multiplayer action game featured with the Chosen One mode, which has two options: solo and trio team. In the trio mode, three players need to maintain a high frequency of communication and interaction. Since the game is fast-paced and the battles are intense and frequent, the voice function is crucial for Nakara and quite an important support feature when players want to have a good gaming experience. In addition, the title is globally released, so we need a stable voice service that can work well under all kinds of network conditions in different countries and regions. Why did you choose to use Vivox over other similar tools? The most direct and convenient way to communicate between players in the game is definitely through the voice. We researched several voice libraries and voice service providers, and finally decided to use Vivox. For one thing, it has a large number of successful use cases in the gaming field, for another, it provides a very

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distinctive position-based 3D voice, by which teammates can determine the position of each other, making the cooperation between teammates more smooth and direct. This exactly met our needs. Besides, Vivox’s voice quality, network bandwidth consumption and service stability are superb, and it’s very easy to integrate with the Unity engine as well. How easy was it to integrate into Nakara? Vivox provides a dedicated Unity plugin and integration examples. To get a basic working voice communication function, all we need to do is just to import the plugin and follow the steps in the examples to complete the client and server connection respectively. When encountering problems, we can send our questions to Vivox directly and will get the answers within 24 hours (it could be sooner if it was not for the time difference). If we meet difficulties, Vivox teams will work with us to debug, spot errors and figure out solutions. And how well has it worked since launch? In our last large-scale test, we encountered some problems such as failing to connect to the server,and dropping the connection during use, which were subsequently solved by the Vivox team. This is due to the fact that we were using Vivox’s test environment with limited capacity. Although we had communicated with Vivox to raise the capacity limit, it still could not meet our needs. After the official launch, Vivox deployed a dedicated server for us and allocated a sufficient capacity limit. Up to now, the Vivox service has performed solidly without any obvious failures.


Below: Songs of Conquest is an update of the classic strategy-RPG genre

Just because you’re making a classically-styled fantasy title doesn’t mean you have to do it in a classic way. Lavapotion is working on its RPG-strategy title Songs of Conquest and is using Unity Cloud Build to reduce the effort needed for day-to-day workflow and builds. We talked to Lavapotion’s Magnus Alm (co-founder and CEO) and Niklas Borglund (coFounder and lead programmer). Please describe Songs of Conquest for those who aren’t familiar with the title? Inspired by classic

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games of the 90s, Songs of Conquest lets you control powerful magicians called Wielders. Players will explore adventure maps, battle opposing armies and quest for powerful artifacts. It’s a charming mix of RPG and turn based strategy, set in a fantasy world. The game is built on Unity – Why did you choose it for Songs of Conquest? Unity is a great engine in terms of accessibility and speed. It’s easy to get up and running quickly on multiple platforms. Given many of the team members’ backgrounds in mobile games, all of us had extensive knowledge and experience in using Unity, so it felt like the obvious choice. Why did you choose to use Unity Cloud Build in your development? At previous studios I’ve worked on we’ve either had to build manually or maintain our own build server - and that takes time and effort. Unity Cloud Build already had a pipeline for us to use, with the ability to customize the settings and build with specific Unity versions right away. It’s been super helpful. Our build machine only automatically uploads the builds to the correct services and is very easy to maintain. How did you improve the workflow of your team? I’ve always been advocating for automating our workflows. If you do a 10 minute task multiple times a week it quickly adds up. If you write a script for it, you effectively take that time away, or reduce it, so you can focus on something else. Unity Cloud Build did that in a great way. Usually building & compiling a game takes a lot of time and just sitting around waiting might be a part of that - since you basically locked your computer to build. Now it all happens automatically and we can focus on making the game instead. What SCM/repository were you using with Cloud Build? We are using Git for our source code, hosted on Atlassian Bitbucket. For the large and binary files (like audio, textures, videos etc) we are using Git LFS. Did Cloud Build help with distributed working? Yes, for sure. Having the build system in the cloud where all team members can configure is very helpful when we are not working in the same office. Other Unity Cloud Services also helped a lot with that, especially Unity Cloud Diagnostics with background crash reports and user reporting.

The Park is looking to supersize location-based VR

‘Scaling our footprint to hundreds of locations globally is the key to success’


ocation-based VR has huge potential. The Park is looking to fulfil that potential and with 13 locations open already, it’s set to spread right across Europe and beyond. We talk to CEO Philippe De Schutter about its approach, content, IP and development pipeline.

Philippe De Schutter , CEO, The Park Playground

You’ve grown to 13 locations in just 3 years (with a pandemic). What’s behind that success? The Park was launched in June 2018 and market data has deemed it a success. There are three reasons for that. First, The Park doesn’t emphasize technology; we focus on experience. It’s inherent in our design. Other VR franchises use cold colors and surfaces, going for the sci-fi look. We build large open venues with soft colours and natural light, abundant wood and plants, and a low-tech presence. This opens us up to a larger demographic audience interested in location-based social entertainment, not just virtual reality. We further that approach with story-driven games based on the longest-running, most popular shows

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on television. Fans are no longer satisfied with movies coming out every three years. They want more opportunities to connect with their favorite characters and storylines. Being owned by Telenet, the largest media company in Belgium, and part of Liberty Global, we have the opportunity to activate and engage audiences by immersing them in the stories they are passionate about. Our audience shows that this approach worked. Our customers are now 43% female, 40% company team builders and over 31-years of age on average. The Park isn’t just for kids and gamers, though we attract them as well. Tell us about your plans to expand the brand beyond Europe? With Liberty Global as our main investor, The Park was envisioned as a global brand. Since the success of its first venue we started to build a structure that would scale internationally and gained the trust of brands like Vodafone and Kinepolis. While we focus on growing to 30 owned venues in Western Europe very soon,

we believe the combination of focusing on experiences over technology; compelling story-driven games that fans love; with a data driven approach to the business; will let us expand rapidly via franchising across EMEA and into the US and China. We’ve already been granted our Franchise Disclosure Document and expect our first locations to open there in 2022. Location-based entertainment has come roaring back in the US. Most family entertainment center chains like Dave and Busters and Main Event are reporting sales up double digit percentages over similar pre-pandemic periods. People were tired of being locked down, and are now craving entertainment out of home. With the theater industry in shambles, The Park stands to benefit from the current reimagination of the story-driven immersive entertainment business. VR hardware is still improving but is there now enough standardisation that you can confidently invest in technology and software with a sustainable lifespan? A few years ago, motion tracking required six-figure investments per location. Expensive gaming backpack computers added to the cost burden. Now with the XR2 chipset, inside-out tracking, and rapidly evolving competition between Oculus, Pico, HTC, HP and others, prices have plummeted. The cost of the equipment is becoming immaterial. But consumer expectations increase as they continue to experience better immersive entertainment, so the cost of software development creating amazing experiences will continue to increase. Creating multiplayer social experiences based on leading media IP is expensive. This is why scaling our footprint to hundreds of locations globally is the key to success. Is the current flow of content sufficient to fulfil the needs of consumers? Is more content needed to drive? Six out of ten customers come to The Park via word of mouth. So we focus on getting strong initial traction via digital marketing strategies on one hand, and strong customer experience on the other. Some early LBVR companies relied heavily on the novelty of big IPs like Marvel and Star Wars to drive traffic. This strategy has its merits but the pitfall is that you pay a very high upfront cost that might not return profits when your scale is limited, which is the case for early movers. We design game mechanics with solid core loops based on actual customer feedback. We employ content scoretables ranging from asymmetric information, enemy proximity, lateral movement, etc. Then we wrap compelling IP-based stories around the game. And since our IP isn’t tied to tent-pole movies that come and go in weeks, our customers are reminded weekly that they can immerse themselves in these stories. The only way this business works for anyone is if our location footprint scales fast so we can amortize the development cost of the IP-based experiences over lots of locations. We are well-positioned to accomplish this because we have a solid, proven, sustainable operating model at the location level. Content will be the end game, but without solid unit-level economics, you cannot get to the scale to make it happen. We are having very exciting ongoing IP discussions at the moment to produce our best VR experiences ever.

What relationships do you have with VR content developers? We are an investor in an award-winning VR development studio that is crucial to the quality of our future experiences. But we are always open to working with high-quality developers. When the scale of locations, and ticket sales, increases, The Park will start to look like a platform for developers and content creators. Much like movie theaters became a distribution platform for filmmakers, and arcades became venues for game developers. Our process of VR development is unique to the extent it’s heavily steered by the customer feedback on past experiences. During the first six months of a new game deployment, we work with the developer to optimize the experience based on our data. The entanglement with our developer partner allows for beautifully designed game dynamics, but tailored to our audiences. Would the sector benefit from more big IPs? Only if the business model and its footprint supports it. Big IP increases the cost of development and comes with significant license fees. The Park has a business model that supports licensing, but we also saw what happened to The VOID. Having to carry the enormous weight of triple A IP development and then face a COVID crisis must have been a very big challenge. There’s more great IP right now than ever. Streaming platforms are increasing the rate of story development exponentially. Just look at Netflix’s Army of the Dead. It rolled out an LBVR touring popup based on that movie. Netflix understands they need to give fans more ways to connect with audiences. As more IP holders approach this business as a means of fan engagement, and less like a money grab, we will see more IP-based experiences roll out. For more information go to


Unsigned is MCV/DEVELOP’s monthly initiative to bring the best upcoming indie titles to broader industry awareness. We aim to help them find the support and partners they need to reach the best and biggest possible audience.


Hinge is a psychological horror VR adventure. You suddenly find yourself in an abandoned skyscraper, deprived of all your senses and memories. The laws of physics are broken and time is collapsed. The only way to get out is to step into the frightening unknown putting all the pieces together. Tell us about your game and why you decided to develop it? Hinge is an experimental VR horror game inspired by Lovecraft. We discovered the capabilities of Unity’s HDRP and then realized that we have to use this technology in an atmospheric game. Then we combined it with the idea that the atmosphere always matters in horror games. Who do you think the audience is? The audience is H.P. Lovecraft and horror fans. Also, those who love puzzle games like The Room VR: A Dark Matter. What experience does the team have? Hinge is our first PC VR game, but as a game dev studio we’ve existed for over three years. In the beginning we were developing games for locationbased VR. Arcadia has three LBE venues in Russia. Two venues in London and Paris were in the opening stage just before COVID-19 pandemic. So as you can see COVID-19 affected our plans regarding developing games for VR LBE. We’d been planning to develop games for Steam VR a long time ago, but the pandemic forced us to start developing VR games for Steam and Oculus platforms. Why did you decide to use Unity to create this game, can you tell us anything about using the engine on this project? That’s an easy question. First of all, Unity has a friendly interface (especially for artists). Secondly, Unity has excellent documentation and great support from the community. Also there is a great asset store which significantly accelerates our work. Besides, Unity has attractive license terms for indie devs. How long has the title been in development, how long will it likely take to complete? We started developing Hinge in spring of 2020. We released it on Steam nine months ago and now we are working on porting it to PlayStation VR. We estimate that the porting process will take six to ten months. What kind of support are you looking for from a potential partner? We are looking for marketing/PR support and development funding.

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Developer: Arcadia VR Location: Moscow, Russia / London, UK Team size: 22 Progress: Released on Steam Contact details:

Oleg Smirnov, executive producer


A game for PC and PC VR, that allows players to create their own, completely open ended adventures. Tell us about your game and why you decided to develop it? Dungeon Full Dive (DFD) is a game that makes tabletop adventures more immersive than ever before, by providing players with the toolset to create their own custom 3D fantasy adventures. Instead of the conventional 2D game environments, players can see, interact and walk around in their fantasy worlds and fight combat in first person. In the end, DFD plans to become the platform for tabletop on PC and for PC VR (crossplay supported). We ourselves are active members in the tabletop community, and during the extreme popularity growth of tabletop during the last years, we noticed that many players were longing for ways to make their games more immersive. Who do you think the audience is? Generally every person that likes fantasy worlds. It doesn’t matter whether they have prior experience with tabletop or if they are tabletop veterans. DFD’s immersive gameplay as well as its engaging combat takes away many of the initial hurdles that beginners usually have. And, of course, every person that is already into tabletop, was thrilled by the concept of DFD. What experience does the team have? TxK Gaming is a video game startup company based in Cologne, Germany. The team, though, consists of international talents that relocated from different locations. It was important to us to build up a team with unique members where everyone has expertise in a different topic: from experienced Unity veterans to animators, artists and networking developers . On top of that, we are working closely with two other studios: Spellfusion & Alpha Blend Interactive. Both are studios with exceptional talents who have expertise in VR development as well as traditional game development. How long has the title been in development, how long will it likely take to complete? We started the development of the concept and game design beginning this year and plan to upscale the team to finish the game by the end of 2022/beginning 2023. What kind of support are you looking for from a potential partner? We are looking for a partner that can help us with additional funding and potentially with PR and marketing. We are looking for a €150.000 investment. We are in the process of requesting a federal fund, which will multiply the investment of the partner. As we already received the “stage one” funding for the current development of the prototype, we are quite confident, that the stage 2 funding for the development will be granted to us as well.

Developer: TxK Gaming Location: Cologne Team size: 5 Progress: pre-production Contact details:

Khang Pham, founder & producer

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Kingdom Builders is a colony sim with the party mechanics of an action RPG. The gameplay alternates between gathering resources to build your castle and fighting monsters in the dungeons. Tell us about your game and why you decided to develop it? Kingdom Builders offers a unique experience in that players can build up a colony on a kingdom scale while controlling a single player avatar. This means that players are working together with individual villagers who they have to manage, train and satisfy. Meanwhile, players will also need to defend their kingdom and defeat monsters in the dungeons to progress through the game. Who do you think the audience is? The game is aimed at players who enjoy colony-sim and management games that focus a lot on individual characters (like Rimworld or Going Medieval). The goal is to allow players to build their kingdoms together, recreating the action of a Diablo 2 LAN party combined with the chill base building of games like Terraria. What experience does the team have? Tim Reiter (CEO): former founder of Kolibri Games | Daniel Bischoff (CTO): over five years of experience as Unity developer, formerly at Kolibri Games and Popcore | Bri Davis (Design Director): 18 years of experience as a Game Designer | Dominik Hackl (Unity Developer): two years of experience | Maiken Lubkoll (3D Artist): two years of experience Why did you decide to use Unity to create this game, can you tell us anything about using the engine on this project? Unity is a very versatile engine with very fast iteration times. The round-trip time between coding, launching, testing is super fast compared to other engines. This allows for a very fast and efficient workflow. The recent developments have really brought the engine further: we are using URP, the new Input System, Cinemachine, and TextMeshPro. Another huge advantage of Unity is how easy it is to implement any kind of tooling. We are relying heavily on code generation and have also integrated a lot of automation tools related to localization, importing and inspecting save files, etc. How long has the title been in development, how long will it likely take to complete? The game has been in development for about 13 months now. We currently have plans for the next 18 to 24 months. What kind of support are you looking for from a potential partner? We are mostly looking for support in marketing & strategy support and funding. We are currently looking into 2 scenarios for scope which range from €500k-800k to complete.

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Developer: ebb & flow games Location: Berlin, Germany Team size: 5 Progress: In early access Contact details:

Daniel Bischoff, CTO

The Art of... Lost Ember

Mooneye Studios brought us Lost Ember, a critically acclaimed indie title that lets players take control of a menagerie of animals across a stunning range of natural environments and beyond. We talk to art director Maximilian Jasionowski and CEO Tobias Graff.

WAS THE APPEARANCE OF THE GAME CORE TO ITS INITIAL CONCEPT? We always knew that the appearance of the game would be an important factor for creating the atmosphere we aimed for. An emotional story and captivating atmosphere was always at the very core of our design process. As such, the final art style itself wasn’t necessarily part of the initial concept, but we knew we had to put a lot of time and effort into finding that style. The art style changed a lot during the first year of the development and we had to toss and restart a lot of different ideas, but in the end we always knew that it would be worth it to spend this time at the beginning rather than realizing something’s not working at the end. WHAT INFLUENCES DID YOU DRAW FROM? The main influences for the art were drawn from Pixar movies like Up, but also some traditional art of Incan and Mayan cultures that were the basis for the old world players explore in Lost Ember.

Maximilian Jasionowski, Art Director

Tobias Graff, CEO

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TELL US HOW THE ART WAS CREATED AND BY WHOM? The concept art was created by one of our co-founders, Maximilian Jasionowski, and then built in 3D by another of our co-founders, Matthias Oberprieler. The rest of the founder-team consisted of myself as programmer, technical artist and author and Pascal Müller, also a programmer. After creating the core ideas and concepts at the start of the development, our producer Sinikka Compart joined the team. Apart from these five core team members, we also worked with a

handful of freelancers and partners, especially for sound and animation. CAN YOU PUT ANY NUMBERS ON THE SCALE OF THE PROJECT? We have about 1,750 textures, 1,700 static meshes (960 of which are character pose meshes for our memory visions), 130 skeletal meshes, 11 matte paintings and about 98k lines of code. WHAT TOOLS/TECHNIQUES WERE USED TO CREATE THE GAME’S LOOK? The main tools we used to create the art were Photoshop, Maya, ZBrush, Substance Designer and 3D Coat. HOW DID THE ART EVOLVE WITH THE PROJECT (IT AT ALL)? The art very much evolved with the project. Early on we decided to experiment with different styles and test how quickly and well we could implement things into the game. At some point

we landed on our guiding principle which was ‘stylized forms with realistic shading’. The Unreal Engine made it easy enough to create realistic materials and shading but we still wanted Lost Ember to have its own look and feel, which we tried to do with a simple form language that is aligned to story beats. As the story evolved, we tried to express certain moods with subtle changes in the environment as well. For example, once the general storyline was written, we created a simplified timeline describing the different moods and let every member of the team match these different moods to colors. A similar approach led to a change of the general shapes of mountains and level outlines that match sharper edges with more aggressive situations in the story and round and soft shapes at times of peace and relaxation. These correlations of shapes and colors and the story is something that only developed slowly once more and more pieces of the final puzzle were put together.

Above: “This shot was not only used as one of our main marketing images, but also served as an early concept shot that showed a colorful and diverse part of our world. This shot existed in many iterations since very early in the development process.”

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The Art of...

The Art of...

The Art of...

Left: For the architecture we looked mainly at Incan and Mayan city buildings and tried to incorporate parts of the mountains into our cities. The Yanrana people shaped nature to their needs and tried to build powerful and dominant structures.

Below: For the human characters we landed on a simple design with clear silhouettes and minimal facial features. These characters would only be visible in the memory scenes with a glowing red material.

Right: One of the earliest concepts of the game. Fire always played a big part in our concept as a kind of healing agent of nature. Especially the idea of flying through massive structures being obliterated by fire felt like a powerful image.

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Above: One of the most imposing characters of the game is certainly the buffalo. Not only is it in itself massive and strong, but it‘s also part of one of the most technically challenging scenes of the game: the buffalo stampede in which hundreds of buffalo gallop through a canyon, fleeing from a huge sandstorm. To make that technically possible we had to do various abstractions and simplifications to the model to be used in the distance without the repetition in color and animation becoming too obvious.

The Art of...

The Art of...

The Art of...

Right: A stylized illustration of the whole world of Lost Ember – from green meadows and forests to snowy and cold mountain tops.

Below: The story of Lost Ember is mainly told in memory scenes like this. Important scenes of the past are being visualized as glowing red figures of smoke and ash.

Right: This scene shows the final version of one of the earliest concepts. A canyon filled with waterfalls, overgrown by plants and huge swarms of parrots.

Left: At certain points of the story we interrupt the normal gameplay with prerendered visions of the past. This image shows a simple storyboard for one of those visions.

Right: One detail I think most people will miss when playing Lost Ember is the effort we put into developing our own symbolic language. The Yanrana people used to wear amulets of their names as a way of showing individual pride. For this we developed a system to write any name and create an individual Yanrana symbol. We even created a generator to turn your name into one of these symbols at

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When We Made... Tails of Iron

actually look at you. And even with that little bit of the game and asked questions about their experience – work, with the help of the animation and really smart even if most of these questions were actually very similar. designers and engineers, with everybody working “External playtests were mostly about ‘Okay, how do together, you could tell from the very beginning that people feel when they play? Do they like it or not like it?’,” Chris Wallace gets behind scenes she was a character thatthe people would really gravitate Alderson explains. “At the end of playtest we would ask toward.” the same question eight different ways. The question of Tails of Iron – a Hollow Knight meets Quill really becomes a fully fleshed out character with is really ‘What didn’t you like?’, but we would ask it Redwall title that might just be the most the help of the game’s strong world-building. As an differently: ‘What pulled you out of the experience? What adorable Soulslike yet interloper in Quill’s world, the player experiences it not took you out of the headset? If there’s one thing you through her eyes, but as an observer watching as she could change what would it be? If you had two weeks to lives her life in her familiar setting. It’s a strangely intimate finish the game, what would be the thing that you’d fix?’ feeling, and one which gives way to joint apprehension “Those help bring a playtester into their comfort zone, as both the player and Quill enter new, unfamiliar areas. because no one wants to play something that people put “When you go through Mousetown and you see Quill a lot of care and love into and then turn around and say run through there and you see she has amore hometown, ‘This is“After what releasing I didn’t like our about first game, it’. So itthe takes studio a little hadwhile ails of Iron is that a somewhat adorable the feeling of her leaving it, oftothat maybe being in you’re to get a somewhat the playtester uncertain comfortable, future,”and saidwe Jack found Bennett, that approach thetown Soulslike genre than danger, gives you perhaps more of aused bond,” finding co-founder different ways of Odd toBug ask Studio. the same “Because questionofmeans this, to. Alderson says. “If that part was left you rat wouldn’t like therefeels was as if he you eventually we wantedget to the create really a game good that stuffwe after really the wanted fourth or Theout, game’s princefeel protagonist much to fight for. Everything that done, the mood fifth time to play youasask weit.didn’t know what would come next. walked directly out of we’ve popular children’s fantasy settings, taking Quill from one area toonce the next letting don’t a studio, think anyone we loveinfantasy our studio RPGs hascombined ever madewith a a series Redwall, especially he’sand decked out in full “I As you rest andarmour. take inAdd this on environment… all supposed strong like this, andso distinctive I think it’scombat important system, that you which trustisthe what the dialogueIt’s system (or lack thereof),game to exaggerate and accentuate mood in that you’reof images, process. gaveYou us the trust foundation playtesting forand what youwe make wanted suretothat create you in which charactersthat will speak a series feeling. It alland ties it’s back into how you are connecting allowwith yourself Tails some of Iron.time Theand possibility freedom ofto our trydevelopment something maybe the cutest thing I’ve everwith seen. Quill and her world.” then keep beinggoing. disbanded Try something led directly new into and thebranch story of out, Which makes it all the more jarring when I see my and team the game use your withexperience Redgi having fromtogames rebuildthat his you’ve ‘kingdom’ beautiful rat boy being murdered again, and again, but also SAME QUESTION EIGHT and before rescue andhis you’ll brothers. be fine. As long as you’re having and again. It’s asWAYS if the game wants me to fall in love,made Collaboration was during theheart development of Moss , We enjoyed of Iron had playing threeMoss mainthroughout design pillars only to key stamp on my right before my eyes. It’s afun too!“Tails the when entire not just within the team itself, but with the help of external we first development, which I think still holds decision I respect, frankly. process andstarted I think that really helps.” playtesters. People were often brought in to feedback on true in the final game. The first pillar was story, which REBUILDING THE KINGDOM would be told through quests. We knew we wanted It’s the second title from the Manchester-based to deliver an interesting fairytale-like story, and we Oddbug Studios, following up on its debut title knew we wanted to create an RPG, so these two The Lost Bear, a 2017 PSVR and Oculus title. Its kind of went hand-in-hand from the very beginning of first game was received well enough – sitting at a development. The second pillar was brutal combat. respectable 77 on Metacritic, but its release had We knew we wanted the combat to be challenging, nonetheless put the studio onto an uncertain path and we knew we wanted it to be gory as this all Jack Bennett, co-founder of Odd Bug Studio going forward. supported the story of a young king fighting against


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Left: Just look at his little face. Who’s an adorable little rat murderer? all odds to reclaim his kingdom. The final pillar was exploration and RPG elements. We knew we wanted an open world for players to explore and for them to have a map, different equipment types and side quests as this all fed back into the other pillars. Together, these three pillars created a cohesive and immersive world for players to explore.” While the punishing nature of the game will draw inevitable comparisons to Dark Souls (to which all games must be compared, apparently), the game takes more inspiration from the likes of Hollow Knight. “We took inspiration from a lot of different places when creating Tails of Iron,” says Bennett. “From a game pointof-view it was things like The Witcher, Hollow Knight, Salt and Sanctuary and God of War. These games all combined a fantasy world with a strong and distinctive combat system which is what we wanted to create with Tails of Iron. “Other inspirations were things like Redwall, [children’s book] Mouse Guard and Wind in the Willows for the anthropomorphic characters set in a turbulent world. Finally other inspirations were Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones for their epic and brutal stories.”

It’s interesting that Bennett mentions The Witcher – as while the game’s characters don’t speak themselves (outside of crude pictograms), the game is narrated in full by none other than Geralt of Rivia himself, Doug Cockle. Which certainly came as a pleasant surprise to us. “I keep saying working with Doug is a career highlight!” says Bennett. “His voice is just amazing, and as soon as

Below: The game clearly telegraphs times where the player needs to block, dodge or parry

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Above: The protagonist is tasked with rebuilding his kingdom after an attack

you hear it you know you’re in for a dark, gritty but also epic adventure. Working with him is amazing too. He’s so nice and is always willing to work together to get the best out of the line, so yeah, it was just a great experience. In terms of getting Doug to work on such a small indie game, we were as surprised as you are! “When we were first talking about adding a narrator to the game, we were floating about ideas for who we would like it to be, and we always came back to Geralt of Rivia as an almost pie-in-the-sky idea. Thankfully though, our publisher United Label handled it all. They showed Doug the game and he loved it, so he was on board from there. We’re so glad he said yes because his narration just really brings the whole game together.”

KINDER SOULS Beyond its cuteness, what makes Tails of Iron stand out from other Soulslikes is how forgiving it can feel – relatively, anyway. While the combat is certainly challenging, checkpoints (taking the form of a nice park bench for your rat friend to take a break) are plentiful, and it’s rare to find yourself in a long stretch of combat without finding a place to take a breather. “We knew when we started creating Tails of Iron to have a brutal and difficult combat system that this could be a possible point of contention for players, especially when the art style is so ‘cute’,” notes Bennett. “A lot of players might not be expecting it. We never made the decision to make the combat more forgiving, but we did want it to be more approachable. Removing the stamina bar and giving the enemies attack indicators meant that, from a player perspective, they were able to understand the combat better, and the lack of stamina bar meant they were free to experiment with their combat style. “From a design point-of-view, our main issue was the stamina bar. When we first started developing Tails of Iron, we had a stamina bar like most souls-likes, however, we

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quickly noticed that players would watch the user interface rather than their enemy. This was not the type of combat that we wanted - we wanted the player to be watching their enemy, reading its attacks, and responding accordingly. By removing the stamina bar, the player was much more focused on the enemy and much more engaged with the combat. The lack of stamina bar also meant that players were much more likely to take risks, since they didn’t have to worry whether they could ‘afford’ to attack or dodge-roll. This made the combat feel much more fluid and those near-death victories more rewarding.” While the challenge might be a point of debate, the game’s art style certainly isn’t. Its distinctive style immediately sets the tone – often dark and grimey, and yet always a pleasing world to spend time in. It’s a style adopted from the studio’s previous game, and one that promises to be something of a brand going forward. “The art style is something that we’ve been developing since our first game The Lost Bear. We want every game that we create to have a very distinctive Oddbug style, similar to what you would expect from a Studio Ghibli or Pixar movie. Our art director is from the Czech Republic and is heavily inspired by Eastern European block printing. This is why our world and characters have the thick black outlines that give the game that high level of detail. In addition to this, all of the assets you see in the scene are individually placed. Rather than creating a few layers of depth, every asset is placed on its own z depth, which helps create that intense parallax effect you see throughout the levels.” A large part of the game’s charm is, of course, the rat protagonist. The Redwall comparisons may go some way to explaining the rationale behind a rat hero, but I’m happy to say the real truth is even more adorable than that. “All the main character rats in the game are actually based on the game director’s own pet rats,” says Bennett. “Unfortunately, we spent so long developing the game that they have all passed away, so Tails of Iron serves as a fitting memory to them. We even included a hand-painted image of them in the game’s main menu.” And so how are things looking for Oddbug Studios now? The team were on uncertain ground following the launch of The Lost Bear. Has Tails of Iron changed their fortunes at all? “The launch of Tails of Iron has been going well! We have a really strong fan base that really loves the game and is already crying out for a DLC or a sequel, so it’s really cool to see that we’ve had an impact on a lot of players. We’ve also had a lot of big influencers play the game, so it’s awesome to see them drawing a lot of attention to it!”

Brought to you by

A Swift Spotlight: nDreams Consistently reaching new peaks since their inception in 2006, VR-specialist studio nDreams have reached a new milestone with its new, action-packed AAA title: Fracked. Not only does it boast a back-catalogue of distinctive, visceral VR experiences, it’s also a company that prides itself on its studio culture, inclusivity, and innovative approach to staff wellbeing


ardvark Swift sat down with internal recruiter Katie Mcfetridge, and gameplay and narrative designer Adam Comrie to discuss nDreams’ position on the forefront of VR innovation, studio expansion, and its unique employee wellness initiatives. Its a studio with huge ambition; a cornerstone of its culture since the company’s inception 15 years ago and is reflected in the name. “nDreams started in a one-man room back in 2006, and with the recent studio renovation, it’s amazing to see just how much the studio has evolved in such a short period of time. CEO Patrick O’Luanaigh had lots of ideas, projects, and directions that he wanted to take the company. In maths, “n” can represent any number between zero and infinity - so nDreams is like saying there’s no limit to the studio’s ambition – we can go anywhere with this” says Katie. The studio renovation came during lockdown, while the entirety of their staff worked from home. They’ve since been welcomed back to a working environment tailored to parallel nDreams’ staff-wellness and hybrid working initiatives. “We’ve got loads of new facilities; top-of-the-range meeting and board rooms, all with video conferencing integration to accommodate the new hybrid flexibility in our working. We’ve also got lots of cool breakout rooms, informal creative rooms and even a wellness room” Katie mentions. “The company culture at nDreams is really forward thinking – I think one of our biggest things is that we really care about learning and personal development and having that good work/life balance and mental wellness. We strive to be really inclusive with everything we do and everything we push outwardly,” she continues. Aside from mental health support, inclusivity meetings, and other personal wellness resources, nDreams place a high value on the personal and professional development of their staff and offer dedicated days for people to hone their skills or cultivate new ones through project work. “We provide 10 Level Up Days a year for employees to work on personal projects and development; whatever they choose it to be. With an L&D manager on board now, these days can incorporate both personal and professional development goals to create a pathway plan, personalised to each employee,” Katie explains. The quality of nDreams’ projects is indicative of the internal support that the studio provides; with their most

recent title, Fracked, having already made a splash within the VR community, says Katie: “The anticipation and positive reactions we had from the trailers and reveals from the community have been incredible. The game features varied gameplay mechanics: climbing, skiing, and of course shooting. It also contains no teleportation or node-based movement, something you don’t often see in titles like this”. Adam elaborates “With high-energy motion such as skiing, a lot of studios will try to avoid the challenge of developing something like this in fear of the risk of motion sickness, so for us to be able to do it, and do it right is a big deal”. nDreams is playing a major role in taking VR to the cutting edge, reinventing and redefining what is possible in location-based gaming experiences with its codevelopment of Far Cry: Dive into Insanity. Adam tells us: “That collaboration [with Ubisoft] is important and vital for us – VR is not just suited for the home, I think it will really explode in a location-based environment. Arcades will resurrect, they’ve already started, but opportunities like this will only encourage this further.” You’ll be able to listen to Aardvark Swift’s full conversation with nDreams’ Katie Mcfetridge and Adam Comrie via the Aardvark Swift Podcast, available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, third-party apps, and the aswift. com website.

Adam Comrie, gameplay and narrative designer

Katie Mcfetridge, internal recruiter

October 2021 MCV/DEVELOP | 65

The Final Boss Every month an industry leader wraps up MCV/DEVELOP with their unique insight

Hendrik Lesser CEO Remote Control Productions

You have been working with games for more than 23 years now. How did you become an active player in the games industry? I started playing when I was four years old (40 years ago), and never stopped. I organized pirating clubs, not for the money but to get more games. That’s when the idea of working with and on games began to grow. As a teenager and early adult, I tried to make a game, I worked in a games store, I wrote reviews, and became an advocate for games at school and university. After the abrupt end of my academic journey, I got my first proper job as an intern for Take 2, and then a few months later as a product manager. This was around the time we released Grand Theft Auto 3 and Max Payne and crazy enough I worked on both for language and violence QA. These were basically my first game credits. Let’s say I got lucky after two decades of inhaling games culture. 16 years ago you founded rcp - Why was it needed? Especially in Germany, there were some cool developers out there, but many of them did not see this as a business or knew how to survive. There was a lack of lenses to see that you also need to do BizDev, professionalize leadership and get to grips with finance and other things you might consider boring or corporate. This is where rcp chips in. Often as a developer you want to focus on the game now and not think about liquidity, regulations or what to do for your next game. Thus, we help you to be able to do that but still confront you with important decisions in a guided manner while we take care of the other quests for you. On top of that, we can share our knowledge to guide strategic decisions, to help you build your team and structure the business so you can really thrive as a company. All while you stay the captains of your own ships.

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Besides we create an ecosystem around the studios with a gamification and marketing agency and playing an active role to shape the ecosystem through lobbying – European Games Developer Federation (EGDF) and other initiatives incl. other trade bodies, a culture club, educational initiatives etc. What are the main changes you experienced in the gaming industry since your beginnings? Back in the early days I felt I knew all the relevant developers and games, but this hasn’t been possible for quite a while now. And don’t get me wrong – this is awesome because there has never been more diversity in studios, games and communities. And there will be even more in the future, which is something I embrace. The present & future hold way more opportunities. What is the vision of rcp and the remote control family for the few next years? To conquer the world, in a good way. We want to continue this bottom-up approach to the world to enable game developers everywhere to be as independent as possible while fighting the good fight together: to make better games and live a fulfilling and sustainable life in a cultural industry. We want to grow this patchwork family constantly and we are always looking for fresh, driven studios to join and use the synergies of this collective Who couldn’t you do your job without? Most obviously the whole team. We have such a cool and diverse crew of people. We invite people to work with us and I am glad that the actual gang is riding along. Couldn’t be more proud of them and it feels great to be able to lead and guide them, and they more and more me.



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