MCV/DEVELOP ISSUE 960
THE ART AND BUSINESS OF VIDEO GAMES
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FRICTION-FREE GAME CREATION How Stadia’s State Share lets Crayta break down barriers
SWITCHING IT UP
Why the eShop is failing developers and what needs to change
The new tool designed to streamline press relations
UKIE’S JO TWIST IS...
...the new normal, Black Lives Matter, sexual harassment, loot boxes and more
WOMEN IN GAMES AWARDS – ENTER NOW! For all the categories and criteria... see page 12
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05 The Editor
Xbox: breezy and easy?
08 Critical Path
The key dates this month
12 Women in Games Enter the 2020 awards today!
14 Industry Voices
Comment from around the industry
16 Ukie's Jo Twist
On how the industry tackled 2020
22 Ins and Outs
This month's hires and moves
23 Rising Star
Unity Technologies' Vicky Clark
16 24 Levelling Up
Xbox's Imogen Beresford-Bone
25 Iterate for Better Defining the way we work
28 Crayta and State Share The cloud revolutionises making games
Are we best serving UK gamers?
36 Planet Coaster
Porting the PC smash hit to next-gen
42 Nintendo eShop
Why the eShop is failing devs
46 Press Engine
A tool for both press and PRs alike
High-tech, low-fi, retro thrills, anywhere
54 When We Made... Metro 2033
58 The Final Boss
Absolutely Games' James Brooksby
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“Netflix has shown that you don’t need to have the best exclusive content, critically-speaking, in order to attract a huge audience.”
TheEditor Should Xbox get breezy and easy? I’m once again tempting fate by writing on the eve of a major event. OK, so the Xbox Games Showcase isn’t quite up there with my earlier predictive failures of Trump’s election (god, have I been doing this that long?) and the Brexit vote (that one still stings!). Still, the event is a huge deal for Microsoft. Its last streamed event looked somewhat amateur in execution and failed to manage expectations around its content. This time it must hit E3 levels in terms of both presentation and quality of content. Microsoft has been building up to tonight since it announced a raft of studio purchases back in 2018. With its new console upon us, it must now show off games worthy of those investments, and worthy of attracting consumers en masse to Xbox Game Pass. But just how acclaimed do those games have to be in order to do that? Netflix has shown that you don’t actually need to have the best exclusive content, critically-speaking, in order to attract a huge audience. After all, Netflix’s recently revealed Top 10 watched movies contains little of its Oscar-baiters such as Roma, but instead films including Extraction, Murder Mystery and Spenser Confidential dominate the list – none of which bothered critics, with roundly middle-of-the-road reviews. But maybe truly great films aren’t the best bet for the service. Now I’m not suggesting that Netflix is, or should, make purposefully mediocre movies, but it is making ones that are in well-understood genres, with recognisable stars, movies that people are happy to flop into anytime, anywhere. And maybe there’s something in that approach for Microsoft as well. It should obviously still target excellence from its studios, but it should also understand that what people want from a subscription service can be different from what they want from a $60/£50 title that you pay for upfront and therefore commit to in a very different way. Some of the games I’ve most enjoyed in my life haven’t been triple-A titles with huge expectations heaped upon them, but instead things that sneaked up on me, things I picked up in a sale on a whim, and which won my heart nonetheless. Then there’s the recent (inevitable) announcement of xCloud and Game Pass coming together. Today it’s impossible to say what kind of games people might want to play on their phones or laptops, at lunchtime, at work (if we ever go back to work). But I’m pretty sure it won’t be the triple-A monsters, I’ll be saving Halo: Infinite for my 4K TV, thanks. And it won’t be anything too competitive, again Call of Duty: Warzone (for me at least) requires intense concentration and the best possible display and controller. So whatever Microsoft shows, it’s worth remembering that it’s now playing a very different game from any platform holder before it, it’s not only trying to sell a platform using one must-have game (although with Halo: Infinite it certainly will try), it’s trying to sell a broad ecosystem with a game for every mood and every part of your day… and that should involve a little comfort gaming too. Seth Barton email@example.com August 2020 MCV/DEVELOP | 05
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Here are the key upcoming events and releases to mark in your calendar...
GDC Summer GDC Summer, the replacement for the cancelled Game Developers Conference in March, will now take place online for the first time in GDCâ€™s 30 year history. During the online event, sessions, networking, expo activities, and more will be made available online from August 4-6. GDC Summer will also host an Indie Showcase, reprise GDC Pitch to help facilitate those business interactions, as well as a Sponsor Showcase.
A Total War Saga: Troy Troy is the latest entry to the Total War Saga, which recently celebrated its 20th birthday. The game is the first in the series to focus on the BronzeAge Mediterranean, set during the 20 year Trojan War between the kingdoms of Troy and Mycenaean Greece.
Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout Mediatonic and publisher Devolver Digital are bringing this massively multiplayer party game to PC and PS4 at the start of this month. First announced at E3 last year, the game throws contestants through a mad dash of escalating chaos, until only one victor remains standing.
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Microsoft Flight Simulator
Asobo Studio’s pilot simulator comes in three editions: standard, deluxe and premium deluxe. Each successive edition features additional airports and planes, but it’s unclear if any of them are capable of transporting me back to the late ‘90s, trying to figure out how to take off using the joystick.
Gamescom’s physical event may have been cancelled, but an all-digital event will be taking place from August 27th to the 30th, featuring “the best games, announcements, world premieres, events, Esport tournaments and special promotions.” The full schedule for the three-day event can be found on the gamescom website. With the event again launching with Geoff Keighley’s Opening Night Live.
Marvel’s Avengers This hugely-anticipated title from Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix is finally coming to PS4, Xbox One, PC and Stadia after seeing a delay from its initial release date of May 15th. The action-adventure title is based on the original comics and will tell an original story in the Marvel Universe.
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Editor: Seth Barton firstname.lastname@example.org +44 (0)203 143 8785 Staff Writer: Chris Wallace email@example.com +44 (0)203 143 8786 Designer: Tom Carpenter firstname.lastname@example.org Designer: Julie Miller email@example.com Production Manager: Claire Noe firstname.lastname@example.org
ADVERTISING SALES Senior Business Development Manager: Alex Boucher email@example.com +44 (0)7778538431
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Playing Minecraft Dungeons with a six-year old is proving divisive. Tricky levels have lead to heated mid-battle ‘debates’ about whether someone (him) should be conserving arrows, and whether someone (me) should be timing my heals better. We’re thoroughly enjoying it but it does not bring out our best sides.
I moved house this month so I can’t quite afford to play the spooky samurai game. Instead, I found a copy of Death Stranding for cheap, so I’m staying hip and current to the latest games like a real games journalist should. I’m a lifelong Metal Gear Solid fan, so I’m entirely on board for a character called DieHardman. Absolute poetry. Chris Wallace, Staff Writer
I’m really loving my time with Neon Abyss, I had been waiting on this one for quite a while now. On top of that, I’m also enjoying the serenity of Popcannibal’s Kind Words but I just recently picked up Soul Calibur, despite the bad dreams I get where I’m being chased by Voldo. Alex Boucher, Senior Business Development Manager
Seth Barton, Editor
Paws the game The best furry friends the industry has to offer. Send yours to email@example.com
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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.
Pet: Whiteshoes Owner: Euan McKay Owner’s job: Technical/ environment artist at Improbable
Pet: Rosie Owner: Arctyx Owner’s job: Arctyx Creative Studios
Pet: Liquorice Owner: Elle Osili-Wood Owner’s job: Video game presenter and journalist
This is Whiteshoes, who is a technical/environment artist at Improbable, while Euan is just the person takes credit for all of his hard work.
This is Rosie, the Westie Dev Assistant. She loves the freedom of a mobile office that comes with game development, especially when she gets to work outside.
Liquorice loves snoozing, stealing food, and taking a running jump onto tabletop games, particularly if they took more than 30 minutes to set up.
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KEY DATES FOR 2020 ENTRIES OPEN 30th July ENTRIES CLOSE 4th September JUDGING 21st September until 2nd October SHORTLIST ANNOUNCED 9th October EVENT 25th November
Enter the MCV/DEVELOP Women in Games Awards 2020 today!! We’re incredibly excited to (ﬁnally) be launching the Women in Games Awards 2020. Despite the ongoing pandemic, we’re still determined to celebrate the huge contribution of women in the games industry (whether it be in the oﬃce or working from home!).
We have a fantastic venue booked for the event, and we’re conﬁdent that we’ll be able to use it at a suitable capacity. However as we can’t predict the status of the pandemic, or the rules that will be in place, we have also organised a digital alternative, should it prove necessary.
Usually the event takes place in June, but this year we’ve had to move it back to the 25th of November.
The awards are open to those working in the UK games industry. Please get in touch with our team if you have any queries about the suitability of your nominee and the appropriate category for them.
Due to the shift in date of this year’s awards, we will be recognising achievements from May 1st 2019 up to the entries launch date of 30th of July 2020, so that’s 15 months of brilliance to pack into those nominations. So head over to www.womeningamesawards.com to enter either yourself or your colleagues.
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We’d like to thank our sponsors for this year’s event, without which it would not be possible: Rare, Facebook Gaming, Unity, EA, Amiqus, Creative Assembly, Hangar 13, OPM Jobs and Splash Damage.
AWARD CATEGORIES 2020 Rising Star of the Year – Development Sponsored by Creative Assembly This award recognises exceptional new talent in games development and design. This award is for an individual who has been working in games development for less than four years. Rising Star of the Year – Business This award recognises a leading up-and-coming talent working in the business/commercial side of the games industry. This award is for an individual who is working in any (nondevelopment) games role and has been in the industry for less than four years. Creative Impact of the Year This award recognises creative achievements in games development over the last year – including (but not limited to) art & animation, music & sound design, game & level design, plus writing & narrative design. This award is for an individual who has been working in games development for more than four years. Technical Impact of the Year In association with Made with Unity This award recognises technical achievements in games development over the last 12 months – including (but not limited to) programming, live ops, IT support, appropriate VFX and those working on development tools – both internally
or for commercial use. This award is for an individual who has been working in games development for more than four years.
inspirational and sometimes ground breaking in its approach, tone and focus. Career Mentor of the Year Sponsored by Hangar 13 This award recognises an individual who is dedicated to encouraging and mentoring others in the games industry. Be that internally as part of a studio, working in formal education, or through running events or meetups.
Comms Impact of the Year This award recognises an individual’s achievements in bringing games to the public over the last year, including those working in marketing, PR, events, esports, inﬂuencer and creative agencies, plus any other communications-related roles. Nominees must have been working in the games industry for more than four years. Businesswoman of the Year Sponsored by Amiqus The Businesswoman of the Year award recognises an executive who has had a stellar 12 months in terms of driving a company forward and generating signiﬁcant revenues. Nominees must have been working in the games industry for more than four years. Journalist of the Year Whether you work in print, online, in video, or any other format, if you have something to say and an audience who listens and trusts you then this award recognises your contribution to the industry. This award will highlight an individual who is using their voice to positively build the industry as well as hold it to account when needed. Their work should be
Games Campaigner of the Year Sponsored by OPM Jobs This award recognises women working who are actively campaigning for greater diversity in the games industry or who are using games to speak out on broader social issues aﬀecting women. Nominees will successfully occupy the space between the industry and the consumer, inﬂuencing the perception of the video games industry by the rest of the world. Outstanding Contribution Sponsored by Rare This award reﬂects upon the life of someone who has had a lengthy and successful career in the games industry. Winners will have consistently made positive contributions to the games industry, commercially or creatively, while enabling and inspiring others in the industry to succeed.
WWW.WOMENINGAMESAWARDS.COM Headline Sponsor
Award Sponsor (Businesswoman of the Year)
Exclusive Media Partner
Award Sponsor (Rising Star – Development)
In association with
Award Sponsor (Career Mentor of the Year)
After Party Sponsor
Award Sponsor (Games campaigner of the Year)
Attendance is on an invitation-only basis. To register your interest please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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How can the industry stamp out abusive behaviour? Joseph Carr, Abuse Solicitor at Bolt Burdon Kemp
MCV/DEVELOP gives the industry a platform for its own views in its own words. Do you have a burning hot take for the world of games? Get in touch!
LIKE other industries where immense power and prestige accrues in the hands of relatively few individuals, the gaming industry has a problem with abuse in its ranks. Much of the industry is relationship and influence driven, and those in control can use their money, visibility, and influence to abuse. Following another wave of allegations, many companies vowed to fight against abuse but usually offer few specific details of how they propose to do this. Promises made to cut ties with abusers are often made too late, with those connections having already ended under normal commercial arrangements. If a proactive and transparent approach to investigating allegations of abuse is not taken, abuse will continue to go uncovered for decades causing immense harm and pain. So what should businesses be doing? Address the culture Abusers proliferate in cultures that rely on secrecy, fear and power imbalances. Addressing abusive behaviour within the video games business will require ensuring that the culture of the business does not create a safe space for abusers. As a minimum requirement, each business should have a code of conduct that differentiates between appropriate behaviour and the wrong behaviour. Businesses will need to moderate internal conversations as well as their own online communities to ensure that any form of abuse does not remain hidden, is publicly denounced and that support is given. Defined complaint process Every business should have an easily accessible and clearly defined process for how allegations and complaints of abuse are responded to internally. Every business needs to ensure that complaints are investigated speedily and independently and that fair and reasonable conclusions are reached. These conclusions should be not kept secret within the firm.
Whistleblowing policy A complaint process may not be enough particularly if those perpetrating the abuse influence the outcome of the process. Businesses should have clear whistle-blower policies which ensure that disclosures of abuse can be made without fear of reprisals. Refer allegations to the police Any sexual act inflicted on someone without their consent can be a serious criminal offence. It is vital that employees are encouraged to report offences to the police. If the police are not made aware, they may miss information that would have helped to stop serial abusers. Ending non-disclosure agreements Sometimes, the worst abusers have been able to continue their offending even when allegations have been brought to the attention of their employer by the use of non-disclosure clauses. These will expressly forbid discussing the circumstances of the abuse. The use of these agreements must end: many see them as a secondary form of abuse, preventing women from reporting sexual violence, harassment and discrimination. The misuse of power is likely to lower morale and harm the companyâ€™s reputation. Businesses can be also held vicariously liable in the civil courts for the abusive actions of their employees, with their victims being awarded compensation for the abusive experiences and consequent losses that they have suffered. Employers can also be held directly liable under the Equality Act 2010 if they do not protect their employees from harassment in their work. JosephÂ Carr, Abuse Solicitor at Bolt Burdon Kemp. Joseph represents survivors of childhood sexual abuse in claims for compensation and also delivers training to external organisations on the civil claims process for abuse survivors.
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Private equity markets boost gaming sector recovery Piers Coombs, Goodbody
COVID-19 has been a sharp reminder of how public equity markets can make the difference between surviving or not. On the 25th of March, we saw food and drink outlet operator SSP Group announce that it was raising £1 billion in new equity, in what was the first UK-listed company to seek help from equity investors following the catastrophic impact of Covid-19. SSP was however the first of many, and in the following three months we have seen investors respond brilliantly to the needs of publicly listed companies, raising a total of £12 billion for more than 170 companies. But it isn’t just those struggling to survive who are raising new equity. In May, Keywords Studios, the Dublin-based technical services provider behind titles such as Fortnite, Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, announced it was raising £100m. What was different here was that after seven weeks of companies raising emergency cash, Keywords wasn’t issuing equity to repair its balance sheet, it was raising capital because it was doing so well. Keywords was the first PLC since the onset of Covid-19 to raise equity for acquisitions – which make a central part of its strategy. The £100m it successfully raised now positions the business to swoop on smaller rivals who are not as well funded. Since placing their new shares at 1450p, they have performed strongly with the share price rising to over 1800p. Keywords is one of a group of UK-listed video gaming companies which includes Codemasters, Sumo, Team 17 and Frontier Developments. All are excellent examples of how public markets can fund and support high quality businesses that reward their investors with structural growth. Many of these companies have actually benefited from the impact of Covid-19. Social
restrictions have accelerated growth across the sector with home entertainment, and video game consumption in particular, spiking. As a result, games platforms are experiencing record breaking levels of participation. British video game developer Codemasters last month reported that their daily active users had jumped from 351,000 this March to 802,000 a month later. As physical sporting events were cancelled around the world, esports are replacing them, with sports like Formula 1 including real-world rising stars in virtual races. But we don’t see these changes as being temporary – even as the world returns to a new normal we see the crisis delivering a permanent uptick in interest in these events. As the worlds of media, gaming, publishing, sports and social media all converge, the industry is set for a dynamic and very active period of M&A. Keywords Studios’ rapid expansion through acquisition has helped its market value to rise to over £1.3 billion since its c.£50 million market debut in 2013, demonstrating the potential of using public equity to fund an ambitious growth strategy. With the industry going through a period of such fundamental change, and investors willing to support market leaders, now might well be the perfect time for privately owned companies to take charge of their destiny and use investor backing to become consolidators, rather than targets, in a bright future for the sector. Piers is responsible for Goodbody’s UKfacing corporate advisory business and has been head of their London office since 2017. He focuses on corporate broking, equity capital markets and corporate finance advice. Contact Piers Coombs, Don Harrington, Charlotte Craigie and Patrick O’Donnell at Goodbody. www.goodbody.ie
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TWIST AND SHOUT
How Ukie’s chief is tackling 2020 2020 has been a year like no other. The pandemic has devastated lives and the economy, while the issues of racial prejudice and sexual harassment have swept the world and the industry respectively. But are all these challenges pulling the industry together or pulling it apart? Seth Barton talks to Dr Jo Twist, OBE about a really tough year – and it’s only August.
or many years, much of the industry has looked to Ukie when things get stormy, and more specifically to its CEO, Dr Jo Twist, OBE. Now a trade body’s job is a tricky one – both cheerleader and moral compass. It’s a role that can induce an overlycautious approach, but Twist has been adept at blending considered political influence with tub-thumping rhetoric. The passionate defender of the gaming faith is never short of a well-considered comment on any issue affecting the industry. So to really test her, we bundled up every disaster and problem of a constantly disastrous and problematic year and threw them all at her at once. A PLAGUE TALE The simple fact is the lethal pandemic has driven more people to play more games than ever, and been rather good for the bottom line of a lot of games companies. But is it unseemly to be celebrating our achievements, both cultural and fiscal, at such a time? “I’m not sure it’s a question of celebrating,” Twist replies. “But I do think that in a few years, when we look back at this period, we may well consider these past few months as the defining moment for the industry,” she predicts. “It’s true that many companies have risen to the challenge, managed to stay on course and in some circumstances, have thrived through the increased demand for games to play together during lockdown. “But we have so much more to be proud of, not least, that at the start of the crisis the government and the World Health Organisation both reached out to us and the industry as a whole to ask for help in conveying the public health messages. The response from the industry was extraordinary and undoubtedly played a big part in getting the ‘Stay home, save lives’ message to millions of players across the country,” with such messaging appearing in numerous games, in order to best reach those
demographics which traditional TV and print advertising struggle to target. And the industry did its own version clapping NHS and care workers too with the Games for Carers campaign. “It was such a generous response from our industry for such a deserving group of people but was just one of many initiatives that companies initiated, providing support to individuals and organisations during the pandemic. “In short, the industry stepped up to help those affected by the crisis. By demonstrating our care for our players and communities, as well as providing safe ways to have fun together while staying apart, we’ve been able to show that a successful games industry in the UK is good for the country at large.” RADICAL CHANGE The country at large is now facing a potential period of unprecedented, even radical, change. We await to see not only the changes wrought by the pandemic itself but also how the greatest disruption to our daily routines (since the second world war) could shake up our society as a whole – with home working being high on the agenda. Twist notes that most of Ukie’s members are working very differently right now. And that opens up both “opportunities and some challenges over the longer term and reveals some new stats.” “In terms of opportunities, the industry’s mostly successful adaptation to a new set of circumstances does give room for positive innovation. Our Playing On report demonstrates that games businesses have managed to stay at 80 per cent productivity while working remotely, that a relatively small portion – about 17 per cent - accessed the furlough scheme and that nearly a quarter carried on hiring despite the crisis occurring around them. Looking forward Twist feels that greater flexibility will suit some but not all.
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“Our Playing On report, which looks at the impact of COVID-19, shows that 56% of game businesses have had difficulties attracting investment.”
“Companies will now appreciate and embrace the greater flexibility on how they can reshape their working practices, as well as their work places if they have them, and hopefully that will mean the industry is more attractive to a more diverse range of people,” with both diverse individuals and those from more remote regions and locations potentially benefiting from such changes. “My only note of caution is that remote working does not suit everyone. Many who work in our industry are young and their work life is a big part of their social life. Many will live in shared accommodation where working from home is not easy. So we have to be mindful that this is not one size fits all and that a flexible approach may be the best one.”
James Veysey/BAFTA/Shutterstock license SSTK-008DB-4E76
BUSINESS (FLIGHTS) AS USUAL? After a year off the usual long-haul flights to GDC and E3 (plus as many more shows around Europe as we find time to attend) now seems like a good opportunity to reassess the industry’s need for events. Twist notes that large parts of the industry have struggled without them, though. “We’ve seen there is an appetite to attend events because people recognise the benefits of doing so. Our forthcoming Playing On report, which looks at the impact of COVID-19 on games businesses, shows that 56 per cent of businesses have had difficulties attracting investment and over half have had trouble reaching press without events – something which does need to be rectified. “That said, a return to business as usual will be unlikely for some time. It’s possible to make conference rooms and even exhibition spaces relatively safe but much harder in breakout areas and social spaces where so much
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Right: Games for Carers provided free games for NHS staff and care workers, to recognise their efforts in tackling the pandemic
networking traditionally takes place,” personally we miss the random meetings that occur in bars. “But I’m sure in time we’ll find ways to adapt trade events to that reality, because safety comes first. “In the meantime there have been a number of successful digital events which still enable ideas to be exchanged and provide companies with the platform they need to shine and thrive. We also think that progressive policy ideas – such as an expansion to the UK Games Fund to support the creation of new IP – could provide smart solutions to some of the challenges presented by the current environment.”
“We must do all we can to make sure black voices are heard at the top of the industry, to make black people working at all levels in games feel included.” BLACK LIVES MATTER While 2020 brought all new issues to overcome, longerrunning issues also returned. Most notable were the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests which swept the globe. With the industry recognising their import by delaying some of their biggest announcements of the year – a thankfully easier decision than it could have been, given the industry wasn’t all gathered in Los Angeles this year. “Racism and abuse has no place in our industry,” Twist states. “We must do all we can to make sure black voices are heard at the top of the industry, to make black people working at all levels in games feel safe and included and
that we inspire black people to work in games from the earliest age possible. “We need to improve representation of black people, stories and life experiences in games, but it’s also essential to eradicate toxicity from communities and to use – as many games companies did – statements and in game messaging to show clearly our industry stands in support of black people,” something that EA doubled-down on with its recent Positive Play Charter. “We’ll continue to highlight these actions through our channels and our work too. The best way to improve diversity is to encourage best practice, profile fantastic talent in our sector, celebrate positive action and use that positivity to bring more people with us,” that’s a great summary, but most will need help to achieve it. “I’ve been overwhelmed by the number of resources, funding pools and other initiatives driven by industry – both in companies and in our communities – that aim to embed the spirit of the movement into the sector,” Twist replies, adding “We all need to commit to do this together.” From what we see commitment isn’t an issue when you speak to people. Although we do worry that the industry has a particular issue with diversity, one that’s born out if you delve into the numbers. “The Ukie Diversity Census from February 2020 showed that while black and asian representation in the games industry was in line with the working age average, black representation [alone] wasn’t. It stood at 2 per cent compared to 3.4 per cent in the overall working age population, with the report revealing that black people were less represented in senior decision making positions. “This shows that we have work to do. I said earlier this
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year that diversity isn’t a nicety, it’s a necessity and we’re sticking to that.” Although certainly part of a much bigger problem, games cannot sit back and say the problem is bigger than it. “Whether or not there is a wider societal issue at play, we can do more to encourage black people to come into the industry when they’re still thinking about jobs, and do more to nurture working environments that attracts talent, retains it and develops people.” And Twist lays out Ukie’s plan for this: “We’re aiming to do this through continuing to push the guidance of the RaiseTheGame pledge to foster inclusive working environments, to further diversify the work of Ukie’s education initiatives to reach black and Asian communities and to support organisations such as POC in Play and BAME in Games in their work. “It’s important that while we acknowledge that we won’t be able to solve problems in society at large, there is plenty we can do together. We are such a powerful communications medium and we should use it. If we do that, then we should be able to make a positive difference.” And that seems to be the crux of it for games. The industry may have a mountain to climb itself, but in doing so it can then make the games that help initiate a broader, societal change, if we can change, then we can be a catalyst for further change. Which makes it all the more important that we lead, not follow, in this ongoing fight. SEXUAL HARASSMENT In another ‘ongoing fight’ not too far away, fresh allegations of sexual harassment have been a key feature of the news over the last few months, most notably at Ubisoft – which just goes to show that even the most professional-looking organisation can have serious issues. So how can the industry move forward? “It’s painful that in 2020 we’re hearing some of the testimonies that have been aired recently. It’s crucial that we ensure there is no place for this kind of behavior within our industry and in society as a whole. “Whilst this is an issue that is created by individuals, companies have a responsibility and a duty of care to do all they can to root out those that offend and provide safe ways of reporting for people. Sexual harassment, bullying and sexual abuse in all its forms is not acceptable, and we are totally unequivocal about that. We see the problem as something of a vicious circle too. High-profile revelations put off women thinking of joining the sector, which in turn perpetuates the male dominance and so increases the likelihood of further revelations. But Twist is somewhat more hopeful:
“I’m hoping that in light of these revelations women and anyone encountering this kind of abuse are beginning to feel stronger. This is an issue that grows more powerful and insidious in the dark. The light that is being shone on companies and behaviour at the moment, whilst uncomfortable, creates change. “We have to be careful how these stories are aired but I hope people are gaining more courage to come forward and report wrongdoing where it occurs. There is always more to be done and we are looking at what that is.” Again I ask Twist whether she thinks games have a specific issue when it comes to the issue, compared to similar industries. After all, it’s fairly easy to draw a line between Hollywood’s issues and cinema’s objectification of women.
“Whilst this is an issue that is created by individuals, companies have a responsibility and a duty of care to do all they can to root out those that offend.” “I don’t think the games industry has an exceptional issue, it just has an issue, like many other industries with sexual harassment and equality,” replies Twist. “As the Ukie Diversity Census shows, the number of women in games is below the national working average at 28%, there are fewer women in leadership roles and there isn’t a single discipline in the industry where there is an even gender split.” “This means that we’ve got to take a similar approach to getting more women into games as we do with encouraging more black people to get into the sector to help tackle the problem. “Improving representation of women in games, strengthening the hiring and retention of women within the sector and getting more women thinking about a career in games, and having more diverse voices in leadership and decision making roles will all play major roles in reshaping the industry culture.” Which are reasons why we’re launching this year’s Women in Games Awards this month, which last year was hosted by Twist. “But while that takes time to achieve, we must do everything we can to stamp out sexual harassment in the sector. It is unacceptable and abhorrent and it has no place in our sector at all,” Twist says emphatically.
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SHOOT AND LOOT While not as long-running a problem, loot boxes, like the undoubtedly more serious issues above, do seem to keep on coming back. Just this month we’ve had the Lords take a pop at the industry, seeming to tar everyone with a swipe at the monetisation strategy. And then the EU launched a new, and more level-headed, report. Twist is sympathetic to parental concerns: “We know parents are concerned about spend from our own research. 56 per cent of parents who responded to a survey we conducted with YouGov in December 2019 showed that parents were worried about in game spend or time spent playing. So there’s a perception there’s a problem with ingame spend. And as we saw with the debate around video game violence in the 1990s and 2000s, the best way to counter that is through compassionate, meaningful action to deal with concerns and allow time for the evidence base to develop. Twist points to Ukie’s Get Smart About P.L.A.Y. campaign on family controls, the paid random item descriptor in the PEGI age rating system, and the platform level commitment to disclose probability rates for in game items, as steps in the right direction. All these attempts to tackle the issue through education, though, don’t seem to have solved the problem, or at least the perception of the problem. With the industry repeatedly linked, unfairly in our eyes, to gambling, and so weak Twist whether the threat of new legislation is real? “There is a pervading myth that the industry is not regulated – it is. Companies in the sector are already extensively regulated, ranging from being covered under the PEGI age rating system to following consumer and markets law through to data protection. “The Government also continues to regulate the industry as a result of an increasing focus on developments in the digital sphere. We’ve seen that there has been a willingness to do so through both the Online Harms White Paper and the Age Appropriate design code, which we constructively contributed to through the work of our policy team and the consultation process “So when we consider the developments of the past year, we must accept that there could be evidence pointing to the need for further regulation, and we need to be prepared for that eventuality... [and] we are doing that. “It’s essential that regulatory decisions are based on robust, objective information and we need to make that argument... But as the Government prepares to enter a formal review process around loot boxes this Summer, we must listen to our audiences and respond to their concerns to ensure that trust in self regulation remains. We’re looking forward to the process beginning and are ready to contribute to it.”
Returning to gambling connection, Twist is clear that there’s a definite division to be established here: “This is a real challenge. At Ukie, we actively avoid using the term ‘gaming’ because the gambling industry has appropriated the term,” that’s proven by the sheer number of ‘gaming’ related emails MCV/DEVELOP receives every week. “But I do think the industry could do more to help us. We need to think really carefully about the imagery and iconography we use around in-game spend to ensure we don’t fan the flames further.” We’ve also seen classic IPs licensed out to online slots machines of late, further muddying the waters. We also need to continue to show the great self-regulatory work we’ve done much more effectively through our games and platforms. There is some great work being done in this area by developers and platform holders, but I think we can – and must – go further to tackle the conflation head on.”
Above: The Get Smart About Play campaign aims to educate families about parental controls.
TOMORROW’S PROBLEM All that leaves little time for Brexit. But Twist did have a few words: “If we’ve learned one thing from the COVID-19 crisis, it’s that games businesses are resilient and adaptable in the face of challenging circumstances. “Brexit certainly is, and remains, one of those. Our preference now is that the government secures a deal with the EU that minimises disruption to data flows, and creates a world class immigration system that does not put up unnecessary time, money and administrative barriers to hiring the best and brightest. “While we’ll work constructively with industry to prepare them for the impact of Brexit on their businesses, greater clarity from Government on what Brexit will mean as soon as possible will help avoid the risk of a painful double blow to businesses in 2020.” Out of the fire and into the frying pan. But with Twist in charge, we’ll have someone capable representing the industry, helping guide it as a force for good throughout the seemingly endless issues that beset us all.
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Ins and Outs: Industry hires and moves 1
Nequinox Studios has announced its plans to ramp up and create a major triple-A studio presence in the North West. MATT KNOTT (1) joins as development director to complete the management team. He joins the studio after an eclectic career including several years producing immersive and interactive experiences for the likes of American entertainment giant, Technicolor, and toy and game company, Hasbro. Mobile gaming company MAG Interactive has appointed two new members to the team in Brighton. First, GÜRAY EMEN (2) joins as senior game artist. Emen joins MAG Interactive from Gram Games in London and has worked on both hypercasual games as well as more IAP heavy casual titles. Second, GREG SMEE (3) joins as business intelligence engineer. Smee joins MAG with a background as a Data Developer, including working for London media agency PHD.
Deep Silver Dambuster Studios, based in Nottingham, have added two new starters to the team. First, DANIEL KRAMER (4) begins his new position of senior level designer at Deep Silver Dambuster Studios after leaving nDreams in June. Kramer was at nDreams for a year, having joined as a senior level designer in April 2019. Kramer has worked for several well-known companies in the UK and North America such as Eurocom, 2K, Hangar 13 and Sumo Digital – in a career that dates back to 2008, as level designer at Avalanche Studios. JOE WOO (5) has also joined the team in Nottingham as lead animator coming from Build a Rocket Boy in Edinburgh, where he worked for over 2 years, having joined in December 2017. Woo has worked in the industry for over 20 years and has held positions at notable studios such as Crytek, Ubisoft, Rare and Dambuster Studios’ previous identity, Free Radical Design
Green Man Gaming are continuing their hiring spree, adding two new members to the team. First MARTIN MARRIOTT (6) has joined Green Man Gaming as SVP business development. He has over 13 years’ experience in sales roles in the games industry, including ten years at Nintendo and more recently Guillemot Corporation. Second, DENIS FERRIER (7) also joins the team as SVP business development. With nine years of experience in the industry, Ferrier previously worked in business development roles at Bandai Namco Entertainment, CI Games and United Label. CEO Paul Sulyok celebrated the new hires: “This is an exciting time for Martin and Denis to join GMG as we continue to build our publishing and Digital Partners Program offering as well as expand our global presence with growth in markets including China. We are thrilled to welcome them to the Green Man Gaming team.”
JAMES CLARKE (8) has joined Creative Assembly as COO, following the announcement in April that Gareth Edmondson has stepped up as studio director. Clarke brings a wealth of experience after 15 years working for EA Studios holding a number of senior positions in finance, strategy and operations. Most recently Clarke was head of operations for the European Studio Group overseeing the continued improvement of business, live service and development frameworks. ASIM TANVIR (9) has joined 2K as their new global social media manager. Tanvir has worked as a social media manager for a number of companies such as Zynga, CI Games and Konami. “Delighted to say I will be Global Social Media Manager at 2K.” said Tanvir. “[I am] incredibly excited and happy to join such a lovely, amazing team. I look forward to getting to know the passionate global community and working on many, many incredible games.”
Publisher Wired Productions has announced a recruitment drive, as it expands its team. First, the publisher has hired industry veteran GARETH WILLIAMS (10) as head of publishing, Williams is an industry veteran having worked in online, print and broadcast, before joining Barrington Harvey and Premier Public Relations and later founding Little Big PR. “I’m delighted to join the Wired family,” said Williams, “a team I’ve worked with as a partner for nearly a decade. To become part of their team to help build the future is an honour. Our partner developers are outstanding, and I’m looking forward to expanding that roster with new and exciting products with this brilliant team.” Next up at Wired, the company has also promoted NEIL BROADHEAD (11) to head of marketing. Broadhead, has worked in the games industry for over ten years now, with a history of managing campaigns for both indies and globally recognised IP.
Got an appointment you’d like to share with the industry? Email Chris Wallace at email@example.com 22 | MCV/DEVELOP August 2020
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Every month, we pick the brain of an up-and-coming talent
Vicky Clark, software engineer at Unity Technologies, talks about how she broke into games, the challenges of working in lockdown and the importance of getting more women in technical roles
How did you break into games? I was just finishing studying Physics at University, and I felt a bit lost. I knew that I wanted a career that would challenge me and where I could make an impact. I loved video games, but I’d never considered it was an industry I could actually get into. When a recruiter from Unity reached out to me, the role sounded too good to be true, so I took the leap and I’m so thankful I did. What has been your proudest achievement so far? I’m proudest of how much I’ve learnt and grown in the last two years. I didn’t have the typical computer science or game degree background, but now I’m writing and optimizing complex systems to save disk space and download times for our customers. What has been your biggest challenge to date? It’s horribly cliché now, but I’d have to say working from home during COVID-19. I miss the office and especially my team. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve been well supported the whole way, but Zoom coffee breaks don’t really compare to chatting in person. On the other hand, it’s been a great learning opportunity. I’ve gotten better at working independently and communicating succinctly now that I don’t have my team all in the same room, and I’ve taken on new engineering challenges along the way. It’s pushed me outside of my comfort zone, even within the confines of my own home, and I think I’m a better engineer because of it.
brilliant excuse to get out of the office and meet colleagues and customers! What’s your biggest ambition in games? I’d love to see a 50 per cent representation of women in technical roles. Last year, at a conference, I was told “You don’t look like a developer.” No matter how it’s intended, it hurts. What’s even worse is that it’s probably true to their experience. Hopefully, by taking part in Women in Games events and participating in diversity initiatives, I can expand the representation of technical women in this industry and beyond. If I can help to inspire someone like me in the future, I’d count that as a success.
What do you enjoy most about your job? So many things... I’m lucky to work alongside extremely capable and experienced engineers who are always willing to help, guide, or just listen to me. It’s also incredibly rewarding to work on tech that is used in a huge variety of projects, and face the challenge of making sure that systems can both scale to all types of games and be performant on all of the platforms Unity supports. I also love to travel, and the conferences and events that my company puts on are a
What advice would you give to an aspiring software engineer? You don’t necessarily need the ‘right degree’ to start out as an engineer. Coding skills can often be developed on the job, but the passion for solving problems and the analytical mindset have to come from you. And if, like me, you don’t have a traditional coding background, it’s never too late to pick up an online course such as Harvard’s CS50. Lastly, just remember – there’s no harm in applying, even if you don’t meet 100 per cent of the job description.
“Last year, at a conference, I was told ‘You don’t look like a developer.’ No matter how it’s intended, it hurts.”
If there’s a rising star at your company, contact Chris Wallace at firstname.lastname@example.org August 2020 MCV/DEVELOP | 23
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Cherry picked advice to help you reach the next level in your career
Imogen Beresford-Bone, production partner manager at Xbox, talks about her varied role, the importance of collaborative work and of owning your mistakes
“There is an attitude here of ensuring that we’re learn-italls rather than know-it-alls”
What is your job role and how would you describe your typical day at work? I’m a production partner manager at Xbox, working out of our Reading office. It’s not a role that’s easy to define succinctly, but if it’s to do with publishing or production of games it probably falls under our team. We work with both third- and first-party publishers and developers throughout the lifecycle of their products, helping them bring their games to our platforms successfully and on time. A typical day can be quite varied, from title planning months in advance of release, to certification of content or supporting our live titles with post-release content roadmaps. We’re also often the first point of call for dealing with blocking issues, whether for tools and services or the games our community are playing right now.
What qualifications and/or experience do you need to land this job? There’s a whole range of backgrounds on this team, and that often brings rise to interesting, varied perspectives. Having previous experience working independently is important, as we are empowered to manage our own projects within our account teams as much as possible. Equally, however, having experience working in a team is vital. Not only are we part of broader account teams, but we also have production partner manager counterparts in both Japan and the USA. When you have a shared workload, you need to be able to work closely with your counterparts and therefore be a highly collaborative person. This ensures we maintain a consistent, best-in-class, global experience for our partners.
If you were interviewing someone for your team, what would you look for? In addition to the aforementioned ability to work both independently and as a part of a team, I’m always interested in someone’s ability to be accountable, or responsible. We’re all human, and we all mistakes at some point in our career, and I want to know how someone deals with a situation when something goes wrong. The ability to stand up and own an error is one of the things that I respect the most in colleagues. Being able to take responsibility for a mistake you’ve made, work to fix it and take learnings from that experience is vital for me. I’d also like to see an ability to be flexible, and open to different perspectives. This industry is fast paced and often evolving, and to effectively navigate that I think you must be open to change and new ideas. Having a rigid mindset, or way of approaching things, can cause friction nor is it conducive to a good growth mindset from a personal development point of view. What opportunities are there for career progression? Whilst this is my first job at Xbox, there are people who have worked in the team for many years in various roles. In my experience, Microsoft has a real desire to retain talent and this results in lots of opportunity to move to new roles within the business. There is an attitude here of ensuring that we’re ‘learn-it-alls’ rather than ‘know-it-alls’: we’re encouraged to spend time in working hours focusing on our own development, learning new skills. With Microsoft owning LinkedIn, we get access to LinkedIn Learning and there’s a whole wealth of knowledge we have access to there to help improve our personal and professional skillsets.
Want to talk about your career and inspire people to follow the same path? Contact Chris Wallace at email@example.com
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Iterating for Better As we take our first steps out of lockdown, we check in with Amiqus’ Liz Prince about how COVID-19 has changed people’s attitudes about how and where they want to work With lockdown restrictions starting to lift, businesses are carrying out risk assessments within their offices, implementing strict safety measures and, ultimately, looking forward to having their teams back together again after so many weeks of isolation. Defining the way we work, understanding the desires, needs and expectations of existing and prospective employees in this area is a new challenge for the games industry. The full time, onsite roles with set 9-to-5 working hours that we have been used to seeing, and recruiting into, are going to be less attractive now as we re-enter the world of working together post-lockdown. From our conversations with candidates, we are seeing an overwhelming desire for more flexible working – spending some time in the office or studio, but also working remotely too. The past few months have been a period of reflection for many – where they want to work, how they want to work, whether they really want a daily commute and, for some, there’s even a consideration of relocating homes. Mindsets regarding working life have changed – in line with that shift, studios may now have to shift their thinking on working practices in order to attract and retain staff. As well as the pandemic prompting reflection on where people want to work, it’s also challenged the status quo on traditional ‘office hours’. If the last few months have taught us anything, it’s that many people have been able to work effectively and productively from home – even when juggling childcare and home schooling, making their working hours fit around home responsibilities, rather than the other way around. Progressive employers are using their experience in lockdown to measure productivity based on the needs of the role and the outputs – rather than the traditional focus on the number of hours worked. Leaders and managers should be encouraged to continue to focus on performance, rather than time. If the job is getting done properly, does it matter whether your staff are working 9-5, Monday through to Friday? Communication and response times are important, of course, but otherwise trusting that team members will get the job done. Being judged on outputs will continue to motivate and attract and retain staff.
“We are seeing an overwhelming desire for flexible working.” Meanwhile, expect change to continue. Individual circumstances are likely to change over the coming weeks and months. Staff may have to isolate again; some, sadly, may get symptoms or have family members who are poorly. We are being warned of second waves, and local outbreaks with more local lockdowns. Of course, there is a lot to consider just to reopen offices in a COVID-19 secure way, but this is also a unique opportunity to rethink the way we work - to welcome the new challenges and opportunities to be creative with working practices to benefit both employers and employees. And to get ahead of the curve to not only retain great people but to attract from a wider talent pool than ever before. The phrase ‘we’re all in this together’ has gained genuine significance during this crisis and we’re absolutely here to help. Our team is fully focussed on you. We’re open for business and if we can help any existing or new clients during this time with insights or with hiring needs, please get in touch: 01925 839700; firstname.lastname@example.org; @weareamiqus
At Amiqus, we have many resources available to help, so please do get in touch via email@example.com.
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Building connections in Crayta Chris Wallace sits down with the team behind game-creation title Crayta, and discovers the huge potential that cloud gaming brings to such titles, eliminating friction and opening up game development to people from all walks of life
rayta, the game-creation title from Leamington Spa-based studio Unit 2 Games, is the first Stadia-exclusive title to truly feel soaked in Google’s cloud-gaming DNA. It’s perhaps comparable to the likes of Wii Sports, or PS4’s PlayRoom – not necessarily genre-setting, but utilising the platform in such a way that it’s impossible to imagine the title existing elsewhere. Because certainly, it isn’t the first game-creation title to hit the market. Just recently we saw the release of Media Molecule’s Dreams, while Roblox is a phenomenon. But Crayta has a unique selling point – it is the first Stadia title to make use of the long-awaited State Share
feature. Currently in Beta, State Share allows users to share a specific section of a game, or an in-game waypoint, via a simple URL, so others can jump in to that exact point. Its marketing potential alone is interesting – put into the hands of YouTube influencers, it could see their huge audiences directed instantly into your game like never before. But its potential for a game-creation title like Crayta goes beyond that, allowing the games created on Unit 2’s platform to be massively collaborative efforts. To find out how State Share helps Crayta stand apart from its rivals, and how cloud gaming can change how we interact with and create our own games, we sat down with Unit 2 Games CEO Richard Smithies, publishing director
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Chris Swan, operations director Hannah Waddilove and Identity Spark CEO Natalie Griffith WHAT A STATE The introduction of State Share allows users to work collaboratively on the games they create, wherever in the world they are – a crucial factor given COVID-19. An Engadget article prior to the game’s launch aptly described Crayta as a ‘Google Doc for game creation.’ “You know, it really is kind of like that,” begins Smithies. “It’s a bit weird to say that a lack of friction is a game changer, but it does make a lot of difference. “We’ve got almost the accessibility of a Flash game, except it’s an Unreal-powered, high quality experience. This is such a differentiator. It’s less friction. It doesn’t sound quite as sexy, but it does mean a lot that you can literally get in almost immediately to play alongside people. “We see it every day now, as we work with our community on Discord,” Smithies notes. “When someone has a problem, they just give us the State Share link and we jump into the game alongside them and start taking apart their game. We can look at the code together and we can see where it’s gone wrong. “Every time we do it, they go, ‘wow, that was cool! You just jumped in alongside me and helped fix my game!’ And it’s that kind of thing that really is making a big shift.” “It’s great for content creators and stuff as well,” Griffith adds. “We see it on our own streams, our guys will make a fresh game with community suggestions in 90 minutes, a couple of times a week. And now that we’re live, they can then drop the State Share Beta link into the YouTube chat,
and the people that made the suggestions can be straight in playing the game with them. “That’s brilliant for us and our community but it’s also brilliant for influencers and other YouTube content creators who can do what they like within Crayta and bring their community with them straight away.”
Above: Crayta’s more basic creative mechanics will feel familiar to Minecraft veterans
FEATURES FOR ALL As mentioned before, Crayta feels like the first Stadia game to take full advantage of the platform’s unique features. It not only sets it apart from other titles on Stadia’s storefront, but also, as a game creation tool, can offer those unique features to the games developed within Crayta itself. “When we started working with Google,” Swan recalls, “I think we had a very different lens from most people making games on their platform.”
Above (from top): Identity Spark’s Natalie Griffith and Unit 2 Games’ Richard Smithies
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Above: Crayta features some ready-made familiar games, such as Prop Hunt
Above (from top): Chris Swan and Hannah Waddilove, from Unit 2 Games
“Because we are a game-making game, we can start taking the view of: what does that mean to the game makers? If they have that power in their hands, how does it help them? “Obviously, things like Crowd Choice [where viewers can vote to affect in-game choices] would work well, Crowd Play too [where viewers can jump into games with streamers], but State Share was something that would work really well because you can link directly into the game, into the play session or the create session. “That solves so much of the friction problems and allows creators to share their games on Twitter and have their followers jump in immediately, without landing on the front-end menu and having to search to find it. It was such a natural fit for us,” Swan finishes. “When they launched in November last year,” Smithies adds, “Stadia didn’t lead with the convenience or speed of access. But for me, that’s one of the most exciting things about Stadia and cloud gaming. The fact that you can share something and someone could be in there with you, and that’s it,” we couldn’t agree more, with State Share being the feature that excited us most from the launch. “I’d say this is a really big differentiator for us, as everything in Crayta is designed to be collaborative. The whole process of game creation is collaborative – we’ve got different layers of access so that somebody who is say, used to Minecraft, can build stuff and access drop-down menus and things like that. “So right from the shallow end down to the deep end of people who are really serious programmers – wherever
you are, it’s collaborative. So even in the programming tool, even in the code itself, you can actually have multiple people in the code. You can have ten people coding and it gets very, very chaotic. “And that all goes down to that main goal, which is turning the process of game creation into a fun game itself. Fun, but serious. In the first week after launch, there were over 500 games published on Crayta. And in fact, we can obviously see behind the scenes, and there’s over 10,000 games that were not published – that’s probably people experimenting. But to have over 500 user generated games created in the first week is phenomenal,” notes Smithies. REMOVING BARRIERS Of course, State Share isn’t the only thing making it easier for users to develop games. The very nature of cloud gaming itself, with no downloads, installs or enormous updates (I’m looking at you, Warzone), all removes barriers from just jumping in and creating. “We were developing initially on PC, and we realised that there’s a problem with a game that is going to be like a 10GB plus download, with minimum compatibility specs,” notes Swan. “It could be that a game took 20 minutes to make for a bit of throwaway fun, but then it takes you an hour and-ahalf to download, patch, install, make sure you’ve got the right hardware... So we realised, I guess we’re talking over a year ago now, that cloud gaming would be the perfect solution for us. It was the hardware solution that matched our software solution. From there we had an introduction
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with Google and that’s when the partnership really kicked off. It just made perfect sense.” The mission statement of making game creation accessible to all goes beyond Crayta’s chosen platform. The team have gone to great lengths to truly make the game as accessible and representative as possible. “We want to be as inclusive as possible in everything we’re doing” says Smithies. “So for instance, we’ve been working with a fantastic woman called Kirsty McNaught, who is an expert on accessibility for severely physically disabled people. “She’s been helping us in terms of the UI and the UX, but also she’s also been working to enable things like eye gaze [eye-tracking technology] to work with Crayta. Because everything we’re doing is about trying to make the process of game creation more accessible to everyone, to democratise that process. And when I say everyone, I mean everyone. So that includes a severely disabled person. Why should they not be able to make games? And that goes right across the board, everything we try to do is that way.” Making things more accessible to everyone also means being representative of everyone too. In our time with the game, we were first struck by the character creation screen. You’d expect a game centred around creativity to have a wide array of options for character creation, and it does – but it also feels there’s been a specific focus on promoting racial diversity within those options. “It’s basically been our vision both as a company and for Crayta from the start,” replies Waddilove, “to be both accessible and inclusive, and you’re right to pick up on the character creator. “We don’t default you to white guy, we have a number of preset characters that cut across all ethnicities and genders. And if you delve into the character creator, we’ve made sure that there’s a wide range of skin tones. “You should be able to represent yourself or whatever character you want to be within the game. We didn’t want people to feel like they were being restricted to our vision of the platonic ideal human.” With this focus on inclusivity, alongside the marketing push provided by Google, it seems that Crayta is bound to find an audience among those looking for a creative outlet. And with 500 games produced in the first week, it seems well on its way. The team runs us through some of their favourite titles so far – including ‘The Incredible Shrinking Player,’ which feels like the Ant Man video game we’ve been waiting for. One story stands out, however, as Waddilove relates. “There have obviously been a lot of positive comments, but I think the one that that hit hardest for me was when
The Black Creators Fund The game’s focus on racial diversity turned out to be especially appropriate, given a new initiative from Unit 2 Games: The Black Creators Prize Fund and mentorship programme. In response to the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests that erupted in the United States and around the world following the death of George Floyd, Unit 2 Games decided to launch the Black Creators Fund. The fund is designed to encourage people of colour to get their first food on the creative ladder and into the games industry. The Black Creators Prize Fund and Mentoring Programme, awarded $10,000 in July plus $2,000 a month for the rest of 2020 to the
most promising black creators in the Crayta community. Additionally, the studio is offering six months of mentoring to everyone who applies, and will be featuring their creations within Crayta. “The death of George Floyd, and the momentum behind Black Lives Matter movement, felt to me like one of those really rare times, like the Me Too movement, when there’s the opportunity to see permanent change, and to right a terrible historical injustice. “We’re only a small player but establishing the Black Creators fund was a small but specific action we could take to back that. We just felt we had to do something.”
one guy came into our discord and said that he had moved to America from Europe. He’d been planning to come back to visit his family but obviously, COVID happened “Then he saw Crayta, and built a game with his three nephews, who are avid Minecraft players. So they helped with all the level design, and were really good at that. And he’s a coder, so he was able to code their design ideas. “Connecting people, especially in the current climate, where we’re all disconnected from one another is just, yeah… I might have cried a little bit.”
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The stats of the nation OFCOM’s Online Nation report is a deep dive into the UK’s gaming habits and how they’ve evolved since 2015, during the era of the live service game: popular genres, spending patterns and exposure to toxic behaviour. Seth Barton looks over the results.
ead the newspapers or follow ‘gaming Twitter’ and you’d be led to believe that children overspending on loot boxes is an industry-wide issue, that toxic behaviour online is ever present and that the games industry strides onwards with more influence and money than ever. But while there’s truth in some of these, and certainly issues to be tackled in others, the stats don’t entirely back up all these prevalent narratives. AUDIENCE APPRECIATION First up is a bit of a shocker. According to the data , the number of adults playing games in the UK has actually fallen since 2015. It’s hard to believe from within the gaming bubble, but while the stats show that the numbers playing has risen since 2017, we’re still well down on the 2015 figure of 44 per cent, and broadly the same is true for children and games generally. Now, you’ll likely be thinking, ‘but my company tells me revenue is up!’ And that’s largely true, there’s certainly been an increase in spending over that period, despite a small dip in last year’s figures. Generally speaking, developers and publishers are doing well. That’s in part down to consistent growth in digital revenue, which while problematic for physical retailers, has improved the profitability of the majority of the industry. One area that’s seeing consistent growth since 2015 is children playing online games – which often
equates to free-to-play titles which are monetised with microtransactions and subscriptions, as we’ll see later. Obviously, a handful of massive titles are likely to be a big part of this: Minecraft and Fortnite for instance. It’s hard to know whether these players will transition to a broader range of titles over time, or simply stop playing once they lose interest, with the figures from 2020 being skewed by the pandemic it will be a while before we know for sure. While there’s much to celebrate, the industry may be concerned about the falling numbers of adult gamers. And while that fall may not be equally distributed across all segments (console, mobile and PC), it’s something that needs to be tackled in the longer term, possibly with games that better suit non-core demographics. Looking at  for instance we can see that while the numbers of people who play games offline is pretty consistent from 16 to 54, the number that play games online with others nearly halves every ten years.
Above:  Overview of those playing games in the UK
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“While offline games are equally popular with men and women, playing online with other people is far less appealing for women.” Above:  Who plays online?
Obviously this chart may look very different in 20 years time, with a young cohort growing up playing wellengineered, easily accessible online games, but the industry can’t presume that’s the case and again must find ways to retain online players, the most engaged of gamers, instead of allowing this pattern of fall off to continue. It’s unlikely that we’ll ever reach a point where those 75+ are playing as many games as those under 24, but it’s certainly something to aim for. The other, possibly more worrying statistic here is that while offline games are equally popular with men and women, playing online with other people is far less appealing for women at present. The conventional answer is down to macho and toxic communities, and while that is a factor, my hunch is that most don’t make it that far, that the design and settings of such games fail to appeal to many. Take a look at thatgamecompany’s Sky: Children of the Light for an example of how to design a social, online game that isn’t centred on conflict. And looking at , we can at least see that there’s been consistent growth in the number of children playing online games over the last three years, across all age groups. 72 per cent of 12-15 year olds playing online games is an incredible achievement. Keeping these numbers up, largely by reassuring parents that their children are safe on our platforms, is the key to future success. ENGENDERING CHANGE OFCOM’s 2020 research shows the ongoing differences in platform and genre preferences between genders (and yes the data is, disappointingly, a simple binary split). We can see in  overleaf, the differences in platform preference are generally small among children (aged 8 to 15 in this data), with the 15 per cent difference in console use between boys and girls being the standout figure. That difference is then reinforced, as the number of women using consoles slumps once they hit eighteen (by
18 points) presumably because many do not buy their own consoles upon leaving the family home. That leaves a 22 per cent console gender gap that persists throughout most of adult life (though it does close again for the over 65s somewhat pleasingly). A similar pattern occurs for PC gaming, starting slightly later at 25. Looking at genres we can see that creative games have a standout pattern. They are popular with children but that interest nosedives going into adulthood, we’re presuming that such games are too time consuming or brain-taxing to engage adults as easily. Apart from that we can see that most genres fall in popularity over time, apart from puzzle games, which actually become more popular with age. Looking at gender divides we can see that competitive games fail to engage women from the very start, so some work to do there potentially, but there are few other standout patterns in the data.
Above:  Recent trends in children who play games online
SHOW ME THE MONEY And so we come around to money. We wish someone would actually ask respondents to estimate how much money they spend on gaming every year, even if answers to such questions are usually fairly unreliable, it would still be interesting to see how much people think they spend on playing games.
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Anyhow, back to the cash.  shows a slightly different dataset for online gaming revenues, from PcW, than the Ukie numbers you might be used to, and shows consistent growth over the last four years. Noteworthy is that the vast majority of UK gaming revenues remain transactional – direct purchases by consumers. Right:  Genre breakdown among gamers by age and gender, plus platform breakdown among gamers by age and gender
Below:  UK online gaming revenues
That said, there is strong growth in game network subscriptions (17 per cent from 2018 to 2019) that we’d expect to accelerate greatly in the near future. Plus the growth of hyper casual games should push game-based advertising revenue as well. Cloud gaming subscriptions will grow, but also be harder to track in future, with many such solutions being inseparable from the game libraries attached to them – say Game Pass and xCloud. By platform the notable trend over the past few years is the growth of digital console revenues, as a percentage of a growing total, relative to PC revenues. Cross platform engines and improved digital stores have allowed consoles to better compete in the digital space, with many more games available at more competitive prices than before. Of course we are seeing here the growing console dominance over the plumpest years of the current generation of hardware plus the incredible success of Switch in a new hybrid hardware segment. But with a smoother than ever next-gen transition (in terms of software compatibility), there’s little reason to expect 2020 to be a fallow transition year as it might have once been. Meanwhile mobile revenues remain remarkably stable.  lets us drill down into digital sources of revenues in terms of premium, free-to-play and genres – all based on Nielsen’s Superdata from 2019. And we were surprised that free-to-play console and PC didn’t take a larger slice of the pie, especially in the year of Fortnite’s dominance. What is also interesting is how much in-game revenues in premium games made, think FIFA Ultimate Team, compared to the sale of all digital games as a whole. Looking at the genre breakdown, we can see that shooter, puzzle and casino titles dominate free-to-play PC and console revenue. While mobile predictably takes big slices in puzzle and strategy, and premium PC and console are most prevalent in action, shooter, sports and RPG. Moving on to , new research shows the kind of items consumers buy in-game, something that’s particularly relevant with the House of Lords attacking loot box mechanics this month in its digital harms report. However, as we suspected, the monetisation strategy is actually rarely taken up by consumers in the UK, with the OFCOM report stating that only a very small percentage of gamers ever make use of such mechanics. The report, published last week shows that just four per cent of adults have purchased loot boxes, be that in free-toplay or premium titles. Although that figure rises to six per cent for children playing free-to-play games, surprisingly drops to just 3 per cent for children playing paid games – which would include EA’s FIFA, which regularly comes under attack in tabloid stories on excess spending. Factoring in the number of children who play games, which OFCOM reckons at 59 per cent for online games as a
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Above:  Breakdown of digital revenue in 2019
whole (ages 5-15), and you get around two to four per cent of UK children have bought loot boxes – ever. Whether that’s sufficient to require legislation is above our pay grade, but that’s pretty small potatoes when you consider a recent gambling commission survey noted that 11 per cent of 11-16 year olds said they spent their own money, actually gambling, in the previous week. Research shown in  also notes the fledgling state of games subscription services. While a hefty percentage of gamers (adults and children) have subscriptions to access online multiplayer services (such as Xbox Live Gold etc), only five per cent of adults currently subscribe to a library of games, such as Xbox Game Pass or Apple Arcade, showing the huge potential for growth in the new segment. ONLINE HARMS All that talk of spending brings us nicely into a couple of more worrying pieces of data. Firstly, of 12 to 15 year olds who have experienced spending too much money online, 15 per cent of them did so while gaming. Now that’s not great for the industry, but this is undoubtedly one of the most uncertain pieces of data in the report, with 64 per cent of respondents (these are children remember) being unable to identify the source of their overspending. Still of the clearly identifiable industries, gaming has the biggest chunk and that’s something it will need to work on reducing. Finally we come to OFCOM’s research into gamingrelated harms. The body asked whether those playing games (and using in-game chat) had experienced inappropriate or offensive messages in the last twelve months, and 21 per cent said they had. While such interactions will never be reduced to zero, especially within highly-stressful competitive games, there’s
Above:  In-game content purchase behaviour
obviously some work to still be done here, but the problem does not look unsurmountable if 70 per cent of gamers using in-game chat got through a year without issues. It is sadly likely that many such offensive messages are targeted towards certain groups, though with no breakdown here in the respondents gender or ethnicity we can’t know for sure.
Above:  The sleeping potential for game subscriptions
MORE PLEASE Generally speaking that’s the story of this data, it tells us a lot but still leaves a lot more unanswered. It tells us that the industry is losing women past 18 but doesn’t show exactly why, that creative games are failing to engage enough adults but not where those failings lie. Spending is rising, but the player base appears not to be, and the reasons are another big unknown. It looks like we’re singing to the choir a little too much still. But the real takeaway here is that the industry, an industry that has access to huge amounts of data, needs to stop looking at numbers and start asking people for the reasons behind the numbers. It needs to do more research and it needs to share the research it does publicly, or at least within the industry through its trade bodies, so that we can learn more about our problems and work together to fix them.
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The next Frontier for Planet Coaster As the hit theme-park simulator makes its way to current and next-gen consoles, we sit down with the team at Frontier Developments to find out about the work behind such a transition
ollowing its initial launch on PC in 2016, Frontier’s Planet Coaster has seen remarkable success, selling over 2.5 million base game units, plus DLC Theme and Ride packs, as well as a wealth of community requested content and features that have been added as free updates over the years. It’s not a huge surprise that the game has found such a passionate audience – as the spiritual successor to Chris Sawyer’s classic RollerCoaster Tycoon, with Frontier working on console ports and later editions of that series. It’s somewhat surprising, though, that it’s taken four years for the company to bring the hit title to consoles but it’s coming at last, later this year. To find out more we sat down with the Planet Coaster team for a peek behind the scenes.
“We have always wanted to bring the depth, charm and sophistication of the original Planet Coaster to the console audience, to thrill and delight as many players as possible,” opens game director Gary Richards. Now bringing a mouse and keyboard-centric title to consoles is one thing, but Frontier have the added task of straddling two generations, releasing on both current and next-gen devices from Xbox and PlayStation. “Planet Coaster: Console Edition is a unique gaming experience and to be able to tie that in with the upcoming next generation of consoles is a really exciting opportunity to be part of,” Richards tells us. “We’ve been able to take advantage of the improvements to our in-house multi-platform Cobra Engine to develop the game in a mostly platform-agnostic
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way that allows us to ensure that whichever console you’re playing on, you’re still having the same great experience. “Our Engine team is incredibly talented and has worked tirelessly to support the next generation of console hardware,” adds lead programmer Bradley Pollard. “With the next-gen consoles being so new there’s a lot of excitement around what they can offer, which of course creates fresh technical challenges that we have to solve every day. When compared to developing on PC, it takes a lot of time and attention to detail to develop and test the game across four different platforms to ensure the game behaves identically regardless of the players’ platform.” THE HOUSE OF MOUSE As mentioned, straddling generations isn’t the only challenge facing the port. Those familiar with Planet Coaster will be aware of how reliant it is on a keyboard and mouse setup. Taking that environment and adapting it to a controller setup required some creative re-thinking. “When designing the UI for console, we really wanted to take advantage of the gamepad and make the controls feel as natural and intuitive as possible,” says UI designer Jason Ware. “We started by looking at some of our previous parkbuilding and coaster titles, seeing what worked well, what we could learn from and what we could adopt for Planet Coaster on console. We then went through numerous stages of prototyping the interfaces, testing them and making changes based on the feedback. Gradually, each component has come together, tweaked and polished into the game that players will get their hands on later this year. “The main challenge was taking the depth and complexity of a user interface designed for PC, and making it work for console. In the original Planet Coaster, there are often several different interfaces on the screen at once, and the player can use the cursor to navigate between them. For console, we’ve focused on showing players the most relevant options for the action they are performing. For example, when building paths or sculpting terrain, we’ve condensed all the tools and options into a single panel that the player can navigate using the d-pad, allowing them to quickly adjust settings and styles whilst continuing to build and navigate around their park with the analogue sticks. We’ve also introduced a new context-sensitive radial menu that contains shortcuts to frequently used tools and options, making the process even more efficient and accessible.” If this sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is. As Ware explains, the team had to completely start from scratch for the new UI.
“The entire user interface has been redesigned and rebuilt from the ground up, completely from scratch. It was really important to us that the UI felt at home on a console, and that it worked comfortably with the gamepad, not against it. At the same time, we still wanted the style to feel familiar to players of the original” “From a design perspective there is so much that changes when you move to gamepad,” adds lead designer Andrew Fletcher, “and there isn’t really a precedent for a game like Planet Coaster on console, so we didn’t have any established conventions to fall back on. “We had to think carefully about fundamental elements, like where the player’s left-stick focus should be in different situations, which interface or mode should take priority over another, and how the camera should behave during various operations. “The mere fact that your cursor and camera are linked together so much more meant that our camera systems and object placement rules required continuous tweaking and testing across a multitude of different use cases.”
Above: The new console UI (top) and remember that a theme park is more than just rides.
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“Another aspect that’s had a significant overhaul is the camera system,” adds gameplay programmer Philippa Moore. “The Planet Coaster console camera needs to be extremely versatile – you can be right up close adding finishing details to a ride, or panning over your park for a high-level view of your glorious coaster empire, and the camera needs to feel good in both cases and every case in between. “We’ve really made the most of the gamepad controls for the new camera; the degrees of joystick deflection allow us to support both precision control and big, sweeping camera movements depending on the player input. We’re incredibly proud of the reworked camera system and how it works seamlessly with the gamepad. “The camera completely dictates how you explore and interact with your park, so it was really important to us that we got it right – from obvious things like the control scheme, right down to far more subtle details like input scaling and focus points. Hopefully the players won’t even notice some of the things we’ve changed because it will blend so seamlessly into the gameplay experience!”
Above: The new console edition will be taking full advantage of the horsepower provided by next-gen hardware
“We definitely focused first and foremost on creating a UI that allows you to build seamlessly on a gamepad,” Pollard adds in. “However, with PlayStation and Xbox both supporting mouse and keyboard, players who would like to try out the option can effortlessly switch.” MAKING A FUTUROSCOPE One benefit of rebuilding from scratch means you can make improvements on the original. This ground-up approach gave the team the opportunity to try new things and make some alterations along the way. “Whilst our primary goal was to remain faithful to the original game and deliver the same level of granularity,” says Ware, “developing for consoles has definitely given us an opportunity to evaluate certain aspects of the original, make improvements and even try out some new things. “One area of the UI that has received an especially noticeable facelift is park management. The important information is now presented much more clearly to the player, with useful trending statistics added to show not only how your park is currently performing, but whether things are improving or declining. We’ve also created a new section specifically for graphs, so players can easily compare data without needing to switch between different sections of the UI.”
“With PlayStation and Xbox both supporting mouse and keyboard, players can effortlessly switch”
LEFT HANGING Despite the room to make improvements, that isn’t to say the move wasn’t without its challenges. The team runs us through some of the most challenging roadblocks they ran into along the way. “There has been a lot of behind the scenes UI work that should probably get a mention here,” says Fletcher, “such as the underlying UI code architecture, and rebuilding the object browser interface in a way that performs well on console. However, from a game design perspective, it’s the creative tools and their usability that have posed the trickiest questions. “Planet Coaster is a deep game with a huge variety of tools and options, originally spread across a keyboard full of shortcuts and a wide array of interfaces, and while it is important that you can build beautiful coaster parks, it’s essential the process of building feels fun too. “Although the switch to gamepad introduced new challenges, because we’ve had to be focused in our use of the gamepad and design new controller conventions, we’ve found that there is more consistency between different tools now, and some are perhaps even more efficient. “For example, path-building is more straightforward as a result of locking the camera to the path as you build, rather than relying on precise cursor control. When building coasters you have the ability to adjust track positioning with the left stick, build and delete track pieces with the face buttons, and adjust track settings with the d-pad, all at the same time, so there’s no cursor movement around the screen and everything feels available at your fingertips at once. This means the control system feels both cohesive and incredibly intuitive.”
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Above: With a wealth of post-release content brought over from the PC version, plus community creations, the console edition will be packed full
SEASON TICKET While the team has nothing to announce regarding DLC at this time, console players will have immediate access to the content and features that have been provided as free updates since the PC launch – providing a fuller experience than was available on PC back in 2016. “One of the cool things about bringing all of the postrelease additions into one package is that it’s allowed us to integrate the newer levels and management features into Career mode,” Fletcher explains. “This makes the mode feel a lot more rounded and better presented, with introductory tutorial levels to teach you the ropes, and over twenty subsequent parks that gradually increase in difficulty and introduce new management features along the way.
“We’re letting players discover the creative freedom the game has to offer, building and sharing inspirational creations at their own pace and inspiring others” “Each level is now also framed with dialogue from our new cast of characters, who present the unique elements of each park and spur you on to achieve bigger and better things in your management career,” says Fletcher. Still, this wealth of content at launch could be confusing for new players. So we ask Fletcher how they plan to onboard newcomers without overwhelming them? “The original Planet Coaster was fairly bare bones in terms of tutorial and help features. With Planet Coaster: Console Edition not only did we want to improve on this area, we felt it was especially important given what a unique proposition this game is on console platforms. “The main additions are two new tutorial levels that sit at the start of Career mode. These introduce the player to the core tenets of the game, with our new characters guiding you through the key areas of park construction, finances, guest management, and coaster creation. There
is also a really handy resource of help screens that reside in the pause menu, and also appear at pertinent moments during the game, which offer a neat overview of the many toolsets and management options. “Aside from specific new features, we’ve also approached the UI redesign and content presentation from a new player’s perspective. For example the object browsers, where players choose new content for their parks, have now been reorganised and bolstered with hundreds of new pre-built creations, which makes it a lot more straightforward to start placing down attractive rides, facilities and scenery, without having to get involved in the creative intricacies of piece-by-piece construction until you are ready.” With all the work going on behind the scenes to make Planet Coaster’s creative process a seamless transition on consoles, the team is eager to ensure that all players will still be able to share their content, be it on PC or the range of consoles. “We have been both amazed and proud of all of the magnificent and incredibly detailed creations that the PC players have created and shared with the tools provided in Planet Coaster, and we want the console community to have that same experience. “We’re letting players discover the creative freedom the game has to offer, building and sharing inspirational creations, growing the community at their own pace and inspiring others. “As creating and sharing content is a core pillar of Planet Coaster’s DNA, we have created an exciting new seamlessly integrated workshop, which is available at any time during the game, allowing players to upload their own creations, as well as discover coasters, scenery, buildings and even entire parks created by the console community. We have made sharing on Planet Coaster: Console Edition a quick and easy process, so players can keep returning to find inspiration and ideas, or to share that iconic creation of their own and start to build a community of followers.” Interview by Seth Barton, feature by Chris Wallace
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Switching up the eShop The Switch has become home to a great many independent games over the last three years, but developers are starting to speak up about the limitations of the eShop. Chris Wallace finds out how developers are struggling to get attention for their titles on the platform
Below: No More Robot’s Mike Rose
ollowing its launch way back in 2017, the Switch’s eShop has become a key marketplace for indie titles. With a quick perusal of the top selling games at any moment being bound to show a selection of such games sitting alongside Nintendo’s first-party goliaths. The mix has proven a solid strategy for Nintendo, the company’s first party titles are released somewhat sporadically, and the technical limitations of the platform mean that the Switch is rarely the best choice for third-party, multi-format titles, if they even see a Switch release at all. A constant stream of popular independent titles, that don’t require a high-end machine to run, keeps Switch owners engaged and provides a stable income for Nintendo and a valuable one for indie developers. Speaking on a personal, anecdotal level, the Switch’s portability has easily made it my favourite place to play indies. While I might want to show off the latest triple-A release on the largest television I can find, there’s something more enticing about being able to take Undertale or Sayonara Wild Hearts with me on my quarantine-approved walks between the kitchen, bedroom and bathroom. Despite its undeniable success, many developers have concerns about discoverability on the platform. Nintendo itself commented on the problem back in 2018, promising to address the lack of discoverability – though the changes made, such as the introduction of the ‘Discover’ tab, do not seem to have fully solved the issue. Joseph Humfrey, co-founder of Inkle (creators of 80 Days and the upcoming Pendragon) and Mike Rose,
founder of No More Robots (publisher of Descenders and Yes Your Grace), explain to us how the core design at the heart of the eshop is making it difficult for developers to bring attention to their games, and what can be done about it. DELUGE OF CONTENT “The primary mechanism for indies to get featured on the eshop right now isn’t really in the eShop at all,” states Humphrey, “it’s in the news app.” “Nintendo currently does a popular roundup of each week’s releases, and thankfully they chose to feature 80 Days. We believe this was the main way that 80 Days received new players outside of our own marketing efforts. “Beyond this we haven’t had any help from Nintendo, though it’s not very surprising since we’re so new to their platform. We entered at a time when indie competition had already become very fierce, and it’s an old port rather than a platform exclusive. “The newsfeed is certainly better than nothing for getting noticed, especially since you have the potential to be featured right from the lock screen of every single device worldwide. But it’s also pretty transitory – once you’ve sunken down the chronological list, that’s it. “By comparison, when 80 Days first came out on iOS, it was featured prominently by Apple. It was exclusive, we specifically designed the art style with Apple’s then brand-new iOS 7 minimalism in mind, and having already released games on the platform we already had a contact on their App Store team. It then stayed within their regular rotation, being included in a multitude of features over the years.
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Left: Inkle’s 80 Days recently made its way to the eShop
Above: Inkle’s Joseph Humfrey
“In terms of organic discoverability, the main problem with the eshop is that it’s simply too basic. There’s such a small number of pages where you can be featured, that it massively limits the breadth of potential discovery. “Yes, they have a Discover page, but it’s just one page, where games of all genres and types have to fight for visibility. Beyond that, they have Recent Releases (which you’re guaranteed to be on, albeit for a very limited period of time), Current Offers (which appears to be full of games that are err... gaming the system), and the Charts (which doesn’t even break down into genres as other stores do).” Humphrey isn’t alone in these complaints. Particularly on the “gaming the system” remark. Anybody who spends enough time on the eShop would struggle to miss the games that appear with enormous discounts – sometimes as much as 80-90 per cent. It seems strange to point out sales promotions as a problem – Steam has built a remarkable reputation for its sales, to the benefit of both developer and consumer. But as No More Robot’s Rose points out, these sales are illustrative of a problem in the way the eShop was designed. “I mean, they’re not just gaming the system, they’re unfortunately using the system the best way they can. Massive discounts are now the core way to sell on Nintendo Switch. “If you’ve ever wondered why there are just reams and reams of 80-90 per cent off titles on Switch – including
at their bloody launches – it’s because the store is ranked by units, not revenue. The top charts are the games with the most downloads in the last two weeks. So in other words, if you put your game on 90 per cent off, and as a result, inevitably get a ton of downloads, you shoot up the charts. Then once you’re at the top of the charts, you automatically get a ton of extra sales due to being at the top of the charts. “I really hate it. I try to scream at game devs all the time “don’t devalue your work! Don’t deep discount!” At No More Robots, we haven’t discounted any of our games by more than 40 per cent, even titles that have been out for more than two years.
“In terms of organic discoverability, the main problem with the eshop is that it’s simply too basic.” “As a result, we see incredible sales on Steam every single day, because consumers have learned that we’ll never deep discount. Now I’m stuck in a situation where I may be forced to deep discount on Switch, otherwise I literally cannot sell units on Switch. It’s heartbreaking, and it makes me really sad for the eShop.” “The way it’s going now, I reckon in around a year’s time, the eShop is going to look like the App Store –
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“Now I’m stuck in a situation where I may be forced to deep discount on Switch, otherwise I literally cannot sell units on Switch. It’s heartbreaking, and it makes me really sad for the eShop.”
Above: Yes, Your Grace, developed by Brave at Night and published by No More Robots is available on Steam, Xbox One and Switch
tons of cheap-looking titles that were clearly thrown together in the space of a few months, all selling at a dollar each. And everyone trying to make an honest living on Switch, won’t be able to anymore. I can’t imagine how else it’s going to go” Rose shares Humfrey’s misgivings with the Discover tab too: “From my experience, [the Discover tab] doesn’t do a great deal,” says Rose. “We’ve had two games in the Discover tab (mid-lower, mind you), and I don’t think we’ve really seen many additional sales. In fact when our games disappeared from the Discover tab, we saw no drop in sales. I imagine it’s different if you’re in the top six slots, but realistically, those are usually always filled with the Deal of the Day / Game of the Day, and Nintendo games, so getting into those is unlikely at your launch. “The eShop has proven the hardest store for us. On Steam, you get tons of automatic promotion guaranteed, and there are plenty of ways to utilize the Steam store. On Xbox and PlayStation, it’s all about getting the store placement, getting Xbox Wire and PlayStation Blog posts etc. On Switch, for the vast majority of devs, it’s solely on you getting the word out before launch, and then knowing all the intricacies of how the store works.” Both Humphrey and Rose note that the issue here is in the design of the eshop, one that Rose is particularly pessimistic about. “The truth is that it wasn’t obvious how badly set up the store was at first – but once the floodgates opened, it became incredibly obvious very quickly why this store wasn’t going to work in developers’ favour.
“The eShop wasn’t built for discovery – it was built to be a catalogue of games. So that’s exactly what it is, and realistically, you need to know the game you’re looking for, before you even boot the store up, so you can search for it. I don’t see that changing anytime soon,” says Rose. Humphrey adds that it’s not a matter of Nintendo being dismissive of indies – in fact, the company does make efforts to be hugely supportive in other areas. It’s simply the design at the heart of the storefront causing these issues. “The strange thing is that Nintendo has actually invested in curation,” Humphrey notes, “they have multiple pages on their various international websites, such as #Nindies, Indie World and their Indie Games page. Indie World even produces editorial content – interviews with developers and so on. The problem is that this content isn’t being replicated in the one place where players need it – on the device itself. “My opinion as a developer is that this is a simple organisational problem. The website editorial and content teams are probably entirely separate from those responsible for developing features for the software running on the device. “My hope is that Nintendo will release a big software update in the future that will merge the news and eShop app together into one to create a seamless editorial and store platform all in one place. Currently the transition between reading a news item and going to a relevant eShop page is pretty painful. If they could do that while expanding their curation (and categorisation) effort within the eShop itself, that would be great!”
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Dolby Atmos hits the racetrack in F1® 2020 Formula One has the most recognisable ‘soundtrack’ in sport. And for 2020 the team at Codemasters utilised Atmos to rethink the game’s 3D soundscape F1® 2020 is the official videogame of the 2020 FIA Formula One World Championship and is developed and published by Codemasters. We are excited to have Lars Hammer, audio principal programmer at Codemasters with us to share insights about the sound design and audio mix for the game. This is the 13th game in the F1® series, how do you keep the audio fresh and exciting from year to year? There are three things that will keep it fresh: first, the F1 sport itself changes every year. New regulations, new cars, new engines, new teams. Even the smallest change in a car exhaust can make the sound of the car different and we will reflect this in the game. Then there are new circuits. In this year’s game we added the new Hanoi Circuit and Circuit Zandvoort. And last, but not least, it’s the power of the gaming hardware. We’re always trying to get the most out of the hardware platform, so with faster gaming hardware we can use better algorithms, new features like spatial audio, and simply play higher quality sounds than before. You mentioned spatial audio, did you envision incorporating spatial audio from the very beginning, and if so, how did that change your design process from 2019? Yes, it was planned to support Dolby Atmos in F1 2020 from the beginning. We were thinking about how we can make the most out of this added dimension and came up with a few things. For instance, the grandstands are always above the actual track level, so it makes sense to heighten the position of the crowd sounds. And then we have helicopters, planes and fireworks which are all playing above and around the player.
Luckily our middleware, Wwise, is already Dolby Atmos-ready, so the transition was fairly easy. We added some detection code and if a Dolby Atmos-compatible system is found, the game would take advantage of it. Is there a level/scene in the game that you feel really benefits from spatial audio? Yes, of course... When you drive into the famous Monaco tunnel, the audio really opens in all directions, this really is a ‘Wow!’ moment. Who doesn’t love a ‘Wow!’ moment?! Lars, thanks for talking F1 audio with us, we appreciate your time and getting a glimpse of your process. For more information on F1 2020, head over to: www.formula1game.com/2020
Above: Lars Hammer is a game industry veteran with more than 25 years’ experience. Since 2010 he has been working on the F1 franchise at Codemasters.
“We had to rethink how a sound is placed in the 3D space... we can also define how far above the player a sound plays. This really is a game changer.”
Did your workflow and mix process differ? We opened a new Dolby Atmos-capable audio recording/mixing studio at our headquarters in Southam, and we had to rethink how a sound is placed in the 3D space... we can also define how far above the player a sound plays. This really is a game changer.
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An engine of discovery There’s a new platform for press and PRs, which manages review keys, assets, press releases, reporting and much more. Seth Barton talks to Gareth Williams and Phil Collins about Press Engine
O Above: Gareth Williams, Press Engine cofounder, plus head of publishing at Wired Productions
Below: Key requests from press outlets, names blurred for privacy of course
nce upon a time all serious games PR was done in close proximity to a bar. Everyone knew everyone and it was all very matey. Review slots were agreed many months in advance, with a big shiny preview piece as part of the deal. And review code came by post in a jiffy bag. However true that once may have been, that’s not the case today. Yes, there’s still the big conferences and expos, and yes press events often have a drink or two available, but with the explosion of games, outlets and influencers, PRs can be dealing with hundreds, even thousands, of press globally, many of whom never leave their homes, let alone make it to a tatty Irish bar in Cologne. Managing all the contacts, review keys, assets and press releases has become a huge task. So a veteran PR has created Press Engine to help. It’s a service which aims to smooth the process for everyone involved in the great discoverability game, be they PRs, developers and publishers; or press, streamers and influencers. Press Engine is a two-man team. Many will know Gareth Williams already, he spent ten years in games PR, before co-founding Little Big PR, and is now head of publishing at Wired Productions, a role he combines with running Press Engine. Alongside Williams is co-founder Phil Collins, who has a broad development background and recently left Microsoft to work on Press Engine full time. Of course, it’s Williams who does the talking.
REAL ENGINE “We designed Press Engine for multiple uses,” Williams begins. “It’s for the press, but it is also for developers, publishers and agencies. And it automates an awful lot of time intensive tasks, allowing you to do things in just a few clicks, and be presented with information which you can act on.” Williams believes that Press Engine will be of particular value to smaller developers, who can’t take on PR expertise: “Press engine democratises the ability to talk to press and maximises discoverability for small games specifically.” At the core of that is Press Engine’s built-in database of global game press. “It’s an audited list that was built over six months,” Williams explains. “It was made using contacts that I had, but we also looked at every territory and we found people that wrote about video games across both specialist and mainstream press.” So just how big is this list? “I could turn around and say: ‘30,000 press on the list, this is an amazing number to have’. But actually, most of them wouldn’t be writing about games all the time, the number you actually should have is between 4,000 and 6,000 people. And those are people that write about it continuously.” “We audit every day. So if something disappears, or a person disappears from an outlet, we know about it before anybody else because we get the information back.” That information comes, quite simply, from bounced emails, which lets the team know they have to find a replacement contact at that outlet. You might think that GDPR would prevent such a list, but for such usage it’s permissible, and Press Engine is capable of more deft handling of such issues than a typical mailing list. “GDPR is really important for this, so if press cover games they can expect to receive emails about games. But they can choose to not receive emails about specific games. Traditionally, what happens is if you have a mailing list, they will unsubscribe from the mailing list rather than particular products so you can’t actually talk to them about your other games
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It also allows press to easily resubscribe to emails about a certain game, should the tide change for it, Williams brings up Fortnite as an example, which many had given up on in its early PvE incarnation before its spectacular pivot into Battle Royale. “But the biggest aim of the platform is to enable press to have a lot more control over what they receive. Because if you look at inboxes, at the moment, on a busy day you’ll get 400 emails. all with press releases in…” And while MCV/DEVELOP doesn’t quite hit those heights, it’s not far off come E3 time. CAMPAIGN MODE Some marketing tools, and in-house systems, can do some of what Press Engine does, but it’s unique to our knowledge in its combination of features and the way it can be accessed by both PRs and the press. It lets the content creators log-in and take control of exactly what they receive from publishers, as well as providing them with assets and review keys, all in one place. Williams is keen to note that the service isn’t going to put anyone out of work. “It doesn’t replace PR agencies because PR agencies are about relationships and what they can achieve. What it does mean for agencies is to not worry about reporting, to not worry about how they find an audience for that title, when you can do it in a minute on Press Engine. “For publishers it’s a way to analyse the results of their communications, to look at how they are doing on certain websites, to look at how effectively they are communicating with press,” in the same way they use data to analyse their engagement with consumers. Williams shows us a simple campaign for a press release. Much like MailChimp, it shows sends and interactions, opens by outlet, and has a nice map displaying geographical hotspots. “But then it does something interesting,” Williams says, “it proves that PR works because it shows the change in search volume [on the game in question] immediately after the press release.” Press Engine can then search for coverage from outlets and create a report, matching the press release to the particular outlet and the URL of the coverage. Now that’s reporting done simply. Of course, there’s an awful lot more to games-related content these days than web articles (sorry SEO types). “We can track Facebook,” Williams says proudly. “So we know when people post on Facebook and it will show you specifically when people do coverage about your product
on Facebook. Which nobody tracks at the moment but for some reason we managed to do it and I was amazed, to be completely honest.” “It’s all public data that we’re using and API plugins, to give you all the information you want in one place. Very soon we’re going plug-in Twitch and YouTube to display, per title, the number of streamers that you’re getting every day. We’re looking at implementing Steam partner API, so we can look at sales and what impact streamers and press have on those. So it’s all about giving people access to data that you don’t normally have or is fragmented in loads of different places. UNLOCKING KEYS And Steam integration brings us nicely around to another tiresome PR task, review key management. “We’ve integrated Steam API, we pull every game that goes on to steam 24 hours later... It populates all that data so the client doesn’t need to do it. And then it stores that in the system and it belongs to the person who owns that account, whether that is traditionally going to be the developer or the publisher, depending on who is managing it.” The owner of that account can then decide whether to turn on key requests, so you can start building up a list of interested content creators months in advance. Then it’s as simple as feeding a load of keys into the system and then approving or denying the requests, with the site providing some guidance in terms of audience size for each request.
Above: Press Engine pulls in search volumes for terms related to your campaign, so you can gauge its impact
Below: Press Engine co-founder Phil Collins
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“Every developer, and agency in the world can have a free account. And with that free account they can manage every single review request that they get,” says Williams. Collins adds: “That’s it in a nutshell. It’s managing those review keys, review key requests, putting the game in front of press that are logging in, building up that review key list and being able to select the best outlets and publications, influencers and streamers, for those review keys to go to.” However, that doesn’t include access to the press database, so you’ll need to promote the game yourself, Press Engine is just there to manage keys. “There are three tiers after that,” Williams notes. “The first is designed for freelance PRs and for a relatively small monthly fee they can access the database, send press releases and manage review campaigns. However, they don’t get reporting tools and analytics at this level. “The next step is aimed at developers, and provides reporting and the ability to send targeted press releases and will be available both on a per-title basis for a monthly fee, which works out cheaper if you have multiple titles. “With press engine, they will generate content without having to have a PR manager. It will never replace relationships. But what it does give you is the ability to maximise discoverability very quickly.” Finally, there’s a top tier for publishers and larger agencies, where you get search analysis and other upcoming features, so you can really drill down into the success of campaigns. Above: Targeting press outlets on a per-release or per-campaign basis appears easy in Press Engine
“The service will soon add various other metrics through more information from Steam, the Twitter API, so we can tell how many followers they’ve got. Average views for each video, how often they do videos, all of that kind of stuff. So it’s about presenting data in order to make better decisions.” And if you want to attract more reviewers: “There is a shortcode created that people can just share via Facebook, Twitter, or stick in an email. If you want a review key, click here and away you go. And because everybody’s already in the system, it knows which formats they’ve got because that information is already there.” And it handles region differences too: “The system knows that there are multiple types of Nintendo region codes, for instance. And every member of the press that is in the system has a region specific setting, so it will only give them the keys for those regions. So there’s less fussing around with ‘I’ve got the wrong key.’” PRICE COMPARISON Even at this early stage, it all sounds great, a tool designed by people who know what’s needed. And pricing starts from free, for review key management at least:
ENGINE ROOM Such upcoming features include being able to manage press events through the system. “The press can pick slots, and it can all be done automatically so people don’t have to spend time on the phone selling-in press events. We could manage the entire appointment schedule for all of E3 through the system that we’re building.” Press Engine already looks useful, and if enough press and PRs decide to take it up it could become a truly excellent tool for the broader industry – a go-to standard for disseminating keys and assets, sending press releases and organising events. Of course, its creators must be careful about who they give access to, too many abusive users, spamming the press with too many games could quickly lead some to simply mark all Press Engine emails as spam, despite the tools that it provides to tackle such a situation. With careful management though it looks like it could become a powerful, time saving tool for everyone involved in the effort to improve discoverability for games as a whole. And that’s certainly something we can wholeheartedly support.
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A Swift Studio Spotlight: Rebellion North With a strong foundation and ethos, TickTock Games completed a successful acquisition with Rebellion. But what does the future hold for Rebellion North? FORMED in 2006, Rebellion North, or TickTock Games as it was originally known, was founded upon the core principle of learning from past mistakes. Founded by studio head, Arden Aspinall, and supported by his longtime collaborator and senior producer Jonathan Seymour, this developer has big plans for the future under the Rebellion umbrella. James Bowers from Aardvark Swift spoke with them (safely and remotely) to understand more about the journey they have been on, and its ultimate destination. “My Dad ran his own business, and so did his Dad, so I never considered working for anyone. In fact, Chris and Jason (Kingsley), who own Rebellion, are actually the first people I have ever worked for,” explains Aspinall. “We had a skillset which complimented what Rebellion needed at the time, and it allowed us to jumpstart our long-term strategy for TickTock Games in terms of working on bigger projects and next generation hardware. We’d been working with Rebellion for five years and it seemed like the right fit. We liked working with the people we’d been working with and we got to work on more of their IP,” Aspinall continues. Joining the Rebellion group was an exciting prospect for this Yorkshire-based studio. With a huge amount of technical expertise at their fingertips, they have been supporting other studios across the UK and are now looking to expand. Rebellion’s heads of art, programming and QA are working closely with them to help them find the right candidates to form a well-balanced team. “The year we were acquired by Rebellion was a record year for us. We did a post-mortem on my original company, before TickTock, of what worked and what didn’t and that set the foundations for a really successful company. When I started talking to Chris and Jason, it became apparent that they shared the same vision I
Above: Rebellion now operates four UK studios as well as other interests such as 2000AD and a film and TV studio
did. The more we talked, the more in common we had. I thought, if you’re going to be part of a bigger group, these are the people to be involved with,” says Aspinall. Rebellion North have had several years of great success and supported many games from a number of clients as a co-development hub. From the difficult task of porting Goat Simulator to the Switch and trying to get Unreal Engine 3 to understand the Nintendo hardware, to Football Manager on the Stadia. “Our biggest title this year was Zombie Army 4, but there’s also Evil Genius 2 coming soon and a lot of exciting stuff in the pipeline. We can’t wait to let everyone know what we’ve been working on,” adds Seymour. Despite a history of being a programmer-led establishment, Rebellion North is starting to become a
Above: Arden Aspinall, Rebellion North
“To say Rebellion have a lot of IP is the understatement of the year. We’re working on an unannounced Switch game... something we’re excited to share.” fully rounded creative force in its own right. “Now that we’ve got the new studio, it can handle 60 of us comfortably. We’re currently at about 20. We want to become multi-skilled organically. We’ve just hired a lead artist, and we’re actively recruiting for a lead QA so we can build a team around them.” Despite the current situation, both Arden and Jon have seen hardly any impact to the work ethic of their developers. “We are proud of the team for how they have worked remotely. We’re striving to ensure our team has a safe space to come back to. We’re very lucky that a lot of people are keen to move back into our new office. It’s much bigger than what we currently need, so social distancing is going to be easy,” says Aspinall. As for the future, there’s endless scope for what Rebellion North will be able to work on. “To say Rebellion have a lot of IP is probably the understatement of the year. The current project we’re working on, which is an unannounced Switch game, is something we’re excited to share. We’ve knocked it out of the park, and I can’t wait to see the reactions to it.”
Above: Jon Seymour, Rebellion North
You’ll be able to listen to the full conversation with Jonathan Seymour and Arden Aspinall in an upcoming episode of the Aardvark Swift Podcast, available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, third party apps, and the aswift.com website.
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STREAMING THE PAST INTO THE PRESENT With the launch of Stadia last year and xCloud exiting its preview stage later this year, cloud gaming is finally having its moment. For more retrostyled thrills though there’s plucky brit Antstream, Seth Barton catches up with CEO Steve Cottam.
loud gaming currently sits at the cutting edge of games. With Stadia and xCloud using the long-hyped technology to bring the latest triple-A blockbusters into homes without downloads or discs. Ironically, though, the same technology is also rather handy for allowing people to play the retro console and computer games they loved in their youth. Which is where Antstream comes in. The service officially launched last year, having had a successful kickstarter campaign, and this year kicked on with some key senior hires and licensing deals with the likes of Taito and Atari. Streaming such games from the cloud means no fiddly emulators or dusty old hardware, plus it has huge benefits when it comes to running community competitions and it allows the original creators to be paid for their work. We catch up with Antstream CEO Steve Cottam (pictured below) to find out more. What is Antstream? Antstream Arcade is a friendly place to play the most iconic games ever created, as well as old-school cult classics. We’ve reinvented retro gaming with unique challenges, tournaments and global leaderboards for fans old and new to connect to games they loved and discover new treasures, all through the power of game streaming. You can play on your phone, your laptop, your TV – the choice is yours!
Why is streaming right for retro games? Our ultimate vision is to offer all games, from the first-ever released to modern titles. As we move forward, we are looking at games with bigger file sizes, and we wanted to create a consistent experience across our entire library regardless of size. With streaming, we can ensure the quality of the experience is consistent, and ubiquitous across all devices . Gamers typically have multiple devices and we wanted to make the transition between them seamless. Streaming makes it more immediate to start playing and having fun.
How did you end up launching Antstream? My heart has always been in gaming. I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to bring my passions together. At the age of 12 I taught myself how to code, learning assembler on the MSX, Amiga and PC. I continued to test and learn and make games in 1994 when I signed Nitro Racers with 3do and had a blast doing it. I have always been in tech and had a stint in the corporate world, but I kept a foot in gaming. I wanted playing games to be as easy as watching a clip on Youtube. Antstream has been around for a few years now, can you talk us through the timeline here? It started out as a hobby project, but the business started to take shape in 2015. In 2016 we applied then graduated from a Microsoft startup accelerator program which gave us a great jump start with credits to work with Microsoft Azure Cloud services. After this we raised seed investment from Creative England and then from industry legend Jon Burton of TT Games fame. This gave us the capital we needed to build the product that you see today. As we grew, we went to market to find a strategic partner to help us grow and ended up closing a Series A round with Tencent Holdings. It’s been a year now and the team is up to 40 people and we are continuing our development and expansion into North America, Asia and Europe. Any good anecdotes along the way? Not as much of an anecdote, but a moment of realisation of the love for retro games. I was wandering around a Mobile Games trade show where all the latest and greatest games and tech was on display. Looking at a number of empty display stands with reps eager to talk to anyone walking by. I noticed one booth with a queue of young gamers surrounding a machine. I walked up to see what it was and as I looked closer, I realised, to my surprise, that it was an old Centipede Atari Cabinet. It was a huge hit! That’s when the penny dropped - that amidst all of the latest software, something that was decades old was the hottest thing in the room!
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What kind of device support do you have? We actually started out on Xbox One and still have players using it. Microsoft are important partners to us, not only on Xbox One but also via the Cloud and Azure, so we’ve been working with them very closely. Watch this space! From the very start, the Antstream vision was to create a gaming experience that let people play how they wanted, to give them the freedom to play or replay some of the greatest games ever made. Our mission is therefore to work with partners and find ways for consumers to play on the devices they want. We currently support Android, Amazon Fire sticks, MacOS, PC/Windows, Nvidia Shield and Linux. How have you found getting the rights to the games you need? This has been a painstaking process and a labour of love. We have travelled the world for over five years now, working with partners, building relationships and finding ways to work together. We still have a lot of work to do, but the effort invested to get to this point has been immense. It’s also been one of the great pleasures of my job in meeting title holders and their teams – getting to know them on a personal level has been a huge privilege. Some great moments for us are when we get to remind some partners of games they forgot they owned! These hidden gems are something that really separates us in the market and lets collectors and enthusiasts of long-lost retro games finally find the games they’ve been searching for all these years! It’s disheartening to know there are so many games not being played by old and new fans, a problem that the music and movie industries have largely solved. Say I used to make games in the golden era of computer gaming, should I get in touch? Absolutely, if we haven’t already spoken, please get in touch. We want to bring life back to titles that have slipped through the cracks of time, whilst we’ve made some great strides in the past year alone, there’s more work to be done!
You’ve spoken against emulation, noting that many original creators are broke, so how are you recompensing them? Much like how vinyl sales skyrocketed after Spotify, what we hope is that we can contribute to and be a part of the growth of the entire retro industry. Antstream Arcade exists to make these amazing games accessible to everyone whether they are 7 or 70 years old. Convenience is everything in today’s market.We offer a generous revenue share to the rights holders of the games. Being able to give back to the people who influenced my life and career is incredibly rewarding. Competition seems to be an important part of retro gaming, be that high scores or head to head, how do you encourage that? Our tagline is ‘Challenge Accepted’ and we carry this through in everything we do. Antstream is built on the premise of friendly competition, high-score leaderboards and tournaments are a key part to retro gaming. When our users add their friends they can see how they stack up amongst their peer group, or they can go global and see where they rank. We have some great players in the platform now, but I am sure someone out there can and will beat them! What are the biggest challenges for Antstream going forward? I think changing perception around streaming and breaking away from preconceived notions of quality is important. Provided you have a good connection, you’re going to have a high quality experience – and this is something we believe we’ve cracked with Antstream. The immediacy of accessing thousands of titles, the management of our library and the assurance of quality via cloud hosting – these are all benefits which would not be possible without streaming. There are now several players in the space, who’ve encountered similar challenges, but recognise the same benefits and the unlimited potential which it brings to gaming.
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Can quality and quantity work together in user acquisition? Facebook Gaming’s Morgan Monnet explains how developers can sustainably scale their business for success with a great user acquisition strategy AS we’ve seen over the last number of months, how and why people play games is constantly evolving. What draws people to a game can change; one thing that remains constant is that a great User Acquisition (UA) strategy is all about finding players who will play often and will stick around. In this article, you’ll learn some fundamentals about UA to help you successfully grow and scale your app. Tracking how many players you have might seem easily quantifiable, but how can you measure quality? Quality UA drives long-term profitability by keeping people engaged and generating revenue. These are the players that engage with your app the most; that spend more time with it, and help you earn revenue through ads and frequent or higher value in-app purchases. They may even grow your user base through sharing or word of mouth. Over time, investing in finding these players delivers higher return on investment (ROI). A player’s lifetime value (LTV) is one of the most challenging numbers to calculate. This is the profit that they bring throughout their entire time using your app, so it can vary greatly in length and quality. However, if you can quantify engagement, in terms of retention or purchasing behavior, you can answer two key questions:
What is a user worth to my app? How much is an app install worth to me?
From here, you can calculate your ideal cost per install (CPI). Knowing this makes setting up your ads considerably easier. More importantly, you’ll have a much clearer idea of what it will take for your app to be profitable. In a nutshell, the goal of UA is to acquire new players at a cost lower than their respective LTVs, in order to generate a positive ROI. A lot of automation comes into play to make this possible. In all cases however, whether you’re trying to get someone to play your game, or download an app to order dinner while waiting for their morning coffee, your best shot to scale and sustain your app is to put your money where your UA is. When thinking about how UA fits into your business, it’s helpful to consider the following areas: DATA ANALYSIS In gaming, data is paramount. It helps to have a data savvy team in charge of UA, who understand the importance of leaning on rich data to make informed decisions. It’s common to see UA teams working closely
Left: Morgan leads Facebook’s Scaled team and is dedicated to supporting early stage gaming businesses in EMEA. He and his team are dedicated to helping advertisers sustainably scale their business for success.
“Ultimately, UA is about finding the right players. After all, they’re as big a part of your game as you are.” with Business Intelligence teams to create actionable reports using available data to inform investments and advertising parameters (e.g. modeling LTV/ROI projections). While comparing ad units is beneficial to assess different strategies, it helps to utilize aggregate campaign results and metrics to build a complete picture of your overall performance. MEDIA BUYING/CHANNELS UA can then happen through a variety of channels. It can be good to play the field, but ideally you should focus the bulk of your investment where you’re getting the best possible ROI. It pays to go where your high value users are, whether that’s:
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Social networks (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok, Influencer features, etc.) Search engines (Apple Search Ads, Google Play Search and Google Search) Video streaming platforms (YouTube, Twitch) Traditional TV channels, where relevant
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CREATIVE Creative is a key differentiator for your campaigns, but it’s frequently overlooked and often undervalued in UA strategies. Compelling and catchy creative can give you an edge in auction-based advertising, even if the ad has a lower budget. It can launch you into a cycle of outperforming your competitors, leading to a higher ROI. So, ensure you have the creative capability to step up your ads, so they properly represent your game, and leverage different formats like playable ads. Working with a creative partner can also help you stand out.
OPTIMISATION Once you have your data set up, decide which channels you’re using to acquire players, and how you’ll measure LTV according to the monetization mechanics of your game. It’s important to consider the following:
INDUSTRY KNOWLEDGE Competition tracking, industry tracking, and trends enable you to make better-informed marketing decisions. When reviewing data and optimising campaigns, think about the players you’re targeting and where they’re located. Sometimes, you can pull insights that garner better results for your campaign. For example, users in Brazil are more likely to have Android devices, so android campaigns might perform better there.
Your answers can inform how you calibrate campaign performance. This is one of the ways UA is becoming more accessible and sophisticated, and more competitive. That’s why making data-informed decisions and in-flight (or in-campaign) optimisations regarding UA is critical. It’s common practice to optimise your campaigns along the way, as many factors can affect performance:
MONETIZATION There are two main business models in mobile gaming: in-app purchasing (IAP), and in-app advertising (IAA). How you set your UA objectives and measure against these will vary according to the model you’re marketing for. For example, IAA works with much smaller margins, so volume is essential to gain a significant ROI. Clarifying your monetization model (whether IAA or IAP) will determine if you optimize towards the cheapest possible installs (app install optimization), the highest amount of transactions (app event optimization), or even higher-value users (value optimization). All three serve a purpose, as each method will yield different CPI and LTV ratios.
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• • •
“Creative is a key differentiator for your campaigns, but it’s frequently overlooked and often undervalued in UA strategies.”
What does user retention look like in the app (up to 30 days at least)? What is the LTV per paying/non-paying user? How much can you pay per acquired user and stay ROI-positive? What is the target return on ad spend (ROAS)?
Which countries are providing the most valuable users (volume of installs, ROI etc.)? What platforms are driving the best installs (e.g. Android or iOS)? What channel is the most effective (Facebook, Instagram, Google ads, Apple Search Ads, Video Networks, etc.)?
Ultimately, UA is about finding the right players. After all, they’re as big a part of your game as you are. The best game in the world won’t go anywhere if people can’t find it to play it. So, take your time, crunch your numbers, and decide who your audience is. Then show them why your game is the one for them.
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When We Made... Metro 2033
actually look at you. And even with that little bit of work, with the help of the animation and really smart designers and engineers, with everybody working together, you could tell from the very beginning that Chris Wallace takes a look thereally gravitate she was a character thatbehind people would toward.” scenes of Metro 2033 as it celebrates its tenth Quill it really becomes a fully fleshed out character with birthday, and sees how laid the groundwork the help of the game’s strong world-building. As an for the highly succesful franchise interloper in Quill’s world, the player experiences it not through her eyes, but as an observer watching as she lives her life in her familiar setting. It’s a strangely intimate feeling, and one which gives way to joint apprehension as both the player and Quill enter new, unfamiliar areas. “When you of goitsthrough Mousetown andinyou see Quill TO MANY fans, particularly those Europe and runthe through thereisand see that she has hometown, US, Metro andyou always has been an aoriginal video thegame feeling of her leaving it, of that town maybe being in franchise. danger, givesto you morethem of a – the bond,” Alderson It’s hard blame first game insays. the “If that part wasMetro left out, youiswouldn’t feel its liketenth thereanniversary, was franchise, 2033, celebrating much fight for.aEverything that we’ve and to has seen level of success that, done, outsidethe of mood its settings, Quill from one area to the next and letting Russiantaking homeland, outshines Dmitry Glukhovsky’s novel you and take in this environment… all supposed of rest the same name. Indeed, the EnglishIt’slanguage edition to of exaggerate and accentuate mood thatvideo you’re the novel was released as that a tie-in for its game feeling. It all ties back intoMetro’s how you are connecting adaptation, cementing legacy as a video with game Quill world.” firstand for her English-speaking audiences. Above: Jon Bloch, 4A Games
To understand the complex dynamics of developing a SAME EIGHT WAYS gameQUESTION that for many outshines its original source, and to Collaboration wasakey during development of Moss look back over decade of the Metro 2033, we sat down, notwith justJon within the team itself,producer but with at the4A help of external Bloch, executive Games playtesters. People in to being feedback on of As it turns out, were ratheroften than brought Metro 2033 a child Glukhovsky’s novel, it’s more accurate to describe them as cousins – both born from an online short story. METRO ORIGINS “Before Metro 2033 was published as a physical book, it was a slightly different and slightly shorter digital story available on the internet,” says Bloch. “Back in those days our creative director, Andrey ‘Prof’ Prokhorov, had read this story and loved it.
the game and asked questions about their experience – even if most of these questions were actually very similar. “External playtests were mostly about ‘Okay, how do people feel when they play? Do they like it or not like it?’,” Alderson explains. “At the end of playtest we would ask the same question eight different ways. The question is really ‘What didn’t you like?’, but we would ask it differently: ‘What pulled you out of the experience? What took you out of the headset? If there’s one thing you could change what would it be? If you had two weeks to finish the game, what would be the thing that you’d fix?’ “Those help bring a playtester into their comfort zone, because no one wants to play something that people put a lot care andout love andGlukhovsky then turn around and say “Heofreached to into Dmitry and proposed is what I didn’t like about it’. So it takes a‘This collaboration on a game. Dmitry had heardaoflittle Profwhile to get playtester comfortable, andS.T.A.L.K.E.R. we found that so and thethe team, as he was familiar with different ways to ask thebegan same on question means itfinding seemed a good fit, and work a prototype you was eventually get the really goodatstuff the Games fourth or that eventually sold to THQ [the after Leipzig] fifth time youofask it. Convention 2006.” “I don’t thinkbeginnings, anyone in our studio has ever made a From these Glukhovsky has remained game likeinthis, so I think important thatinto youfurther trust the involved the series as itit’shas expanded process. You trust playtesting and you make sure that titles, as Bloch explains: “Dmitry has been involved in you allow yourself some time and freedom to try something every game from start to finish. What he focuses on and then over keeptime going. newdevelopment, and branch out, changes as Try we something move through but he’s also always use your experience fromextent. games We thathave you’ve but involved to some a made collaborative before and you’ll be fine. As you’re having highly relationship withlong himas that starts with fun too! Wethe enjoyed developing main playing story ofMoss the game, refiningthe it into throughout entire chapters andI missions, thehelps.” way to dialog. process and think that all really “For Metro 2033, the main story and a lot of dialog was done already as we followed the book pretty closely. For Metro: Last Light and Metro Exodus we developed original stories together with Dmitry that fit into his world and paralleled some stories in his other two books Metro 2034 and Metro 2035.” Despite having such a rich, existing blueprint for 2033, it isn’t to say that the team had an easy job adapting Glukhovsky’s novel – soon realising they had perhaps bitten off more than they could chew in their initial plans.
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Left: In the world of Metro, society has retreated underground for safety
“The original design for Metro 2033 was a lot more ambitious than the released product. It was a much more open game, leaning on the team’s experience having just come off of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and incorporating a lot more RPG style gameplay. GROWING PAINS “Eventually the game was redesigned to be a much more tightly constructed linear and incredibly atmospheric experience that everyone is familiar with. Only with recent advancements in technology were we able to realize part of that original dream in Metro Exodus, where we introduced the more sandbox style larger levels to the franchise.” Of course, it wasn’t just the technology of the time holding the team back either. When you’re working as a small team on such an ambitious project, you inevitably discover that there just isn’t enough time in the day. Which not only limits your scope, but has a real detriment to your team. “When you have a small team, with a big passion for details, time is your worst enemy. Unexpectedly, it turned out there are only 24 hours in a day, while catching up and surpassing the industry leaders seemed to require more.”
“Looking back, if I could change anything it would probably be planning and time management. A smaller team usually operates under the assumption that if you hire more senior people you don’t need to do large scale planning because the senior people can manage their own time appropriately. But when those people also have a passion for chasing perfection, and attention to detail, time becomes your worst enemy and you find ways to fight it that put your physical and emotional health at the end of your priority list. “That leads to burnouts, and even health complications. When the team grows, and the scope increases, this only gets exponentially worse and the need for planning and time management becomes critical. We took a stand to try to change that on Metro Exodus, to try to dedicate more time to planning, and while that was a transition project for us and we certainly could have done better, we are in a better place now to move forward to protect the team while still aiming to achieve our goals.” The importance of time management and working within your limits weren’t the only lessons learned during the development of Metro 2033. In fact, a major lesson learned is not a direct workflow issue, but an issue of understanding how your fans engage with your game.
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Above: After 2033, the team learned to be more explicit in guiding players through gameplay mechanics
“We discovered that the modern player needs to be hand-held through a lot of details when you make a complex game. Hundreds of tutorials explaining every tiny detail, and follow up reminders, hints etc all need to be carefully crafted and inserted throughout the experience, and that takes as much energy as any other major feature in the game. “You have to explain everything, including those we were initially planning to leave unexplained to be discovered by players themselves. This can range from something intended to be hidden like our Karma system, or something overt like how to move. “For example, the first game had a feature which we still consider quite cool – armor attachments worn by NPCs. We had created specific particle effects and sounds which were supposed to let the players know they were hitting such armor attachments and not dealing damage to the enemy. It was incredibly satisfying to use stealth to approach an enemy carefully in order to kill him through a gap between armor plates with a perfectly aimed throwing knife… “So what do you think happened in the end? Most players completely missed the feature and we received tons of negative feedback about enemies being bullet sponges, taking different numbers of bullets to kill every time. It was a sobering experience, we understood that if we want the players to understand the less obvious mechanics, they need to be explained explicitly, we just can’t rely on players to discover them all by themselves.”
Still, despite the challenges, the game went on to see critical and commercial success, in no small thanks to the series’ focus on realism, a trait it inherited from the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series before it. REMEMBER YOUR MASK One feature from 2033, which was carried forward throughout the rest of the series, is the game’s focus on its gas masks. Often used as a throwaway, forgettable accessory in many games, Metro’s gas masks are a central mechanic. They need to be maintained, and if damaged in battle you’ll need to quickly find a replacement or face the deadly consequences. Block explains why this level of realism has become such an important pillar of the franchise. “A major pillar of all the Metro games, and in general for anything we like to build at 4A Games, is realism. Not only in visual, but in backstory, justification for existence, and in experience. “We ask questions like: What would you need in real life in this situation? Where would that come from? How would it work? Instead of gamifying it, or hiding it behind some automatic contextual animation, could we actually make players do that? What tool would they use? Where would the screws be on that device and why? “There’s a great story from development of Exodus where game designers wanted to have an explosive tip version of the arrows for the crossbow, but weapon artists argued that the barrel would have to be enlarged
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to support that and if we did that, another part would end up structurally too weak to make sense. The weapon had to go through a bit of physical re-design to accommodate, and the way the explosives were attached to the arrow was rethought. “There of course needs to be a balance between being too real, as real life is hard work, compared to the ultimately fun experience we’re trying to make in a game. But this can be seen all throughout our design philosophy ranging from intricate and mechanically sound weapon design, physicalized HUD information, features like the gasmask, and even the little micro-stories that players can experience when exploring dark corners that in other games would have been dressed with cookie cutter environment design. In particular, features like the gas mask, the watch, the charger, all contribute critically to the thick atmosphere and immersion that are unique staples of the Metro franchise.” These unique staples are among the reasons for the franchise’s ongoing success. The past decade of the Metro video game franchise is owed in no small part to this dedication to realism and measured gameplay. Though realism isn’t the only thing you think of when talking about Metro. The game has an unmistakably Eastern European feel – making it easily stand out from the usual pack of Western releases or Japanese titles. The game’s Russian roots run deep throughout the franchise. “There’s still a sort of exotic impression that people in the ‘west’ have of Eastern Europe. The differences in society and culture provide a lot of opportunity for intrigue,” Block notes. “Also for Americans having grown up with Hollywood always making Russians out to be villains that the Americans need to save the world from (or some other cliché), the Metro stories provide something vastly different and refreshing.
“It’s a story set in Eastern Europe, told by Eastern Europeans, that doesn’t speak to international politics, but to humanity and who we are as a species. While this means the story could have taken place anywhere in the world and had the same sort of message behind it, the perspective is very different to how this same sort of story might have been written in the west, and is a foundation of why it’s so unique, particularly for western audiences. “The fact that there are other books in Dmitry’s universe that take place in other countries, speaks to this as well.” Looking back, it would have been hard to predict the game’s success a decade ago. At the time, Metro 2033 was a remarkably different beast to THQ’s usual fare, and one that the publisher struggled to find a voice for. Still, with each game’s successive release, the game has slowly found its footing and gained more and more attention. “Originally THQ was not sure what to do with Metro 2033 as it was something so different to what they were used to publishing. It is distinctly Eastern European, which was something they didn’t know how to market at the time – later stating this struggle publicly in hindsight! “This combined with some structural changes in the company created a situation where the game didn’t get much marketing or exposure, and ended up being more of a sleeper hit over time than an initial hit. Metro: Last Light got more attention and marketing budget, but was cut a bit short by the transition to Deep Silver in the THQ bankruptcy. Metro Exodus’ exposure was built on the foundation of that slow accumulation of fans over time, and the sort of ’cult’ status that comes with that. “There was a huge sense of pride for all of us on the team when Exodus was revealed on the Microsoft stage at E3 in front of all those eyeballs. That was the most exposure we’d ever gotten and it was a huge motivator after all that time in the metaphorical tunnels.”
Left: The Metro series has an unmistakably Eastern-European feel
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The Final Boss Every month an industry leader wraps up MCV/DEVELOP with their unique insight
Absolutely Games is your new studio, what can you tell us about your ambitions for it? Absolutely Games will be a culmination of many years of learning in this great industry, not just from me, but from the team and partners I am forming. There will be a laser-sharp focus on making smart and great games and we will be reducing any roadblocks that prevent us from getting there, by simplifying elements like internal bureaucracy, office politics and any other invented distractions. Instead we will be putting our energies into building games in a great environment that remains fun. For this there will be a formed and agreed upon culture and values that will be a backbone as the company grows. You’ve had a long career, with the usual acquisitions and spin-off ventures. Are things more stable today? Hah! This industry is a rollercoaster, and it is still so young, but on average it has always been on-the-up. I am not sure I want it to be that sensible, and I am not sure it would do us good to be all grown up and sensible, like a aged bank – no, we should embrace and accept that we are a cutting edge entertainment medium at the whim of tastes and technology, where the future is very hard to predict, but also serves us very well. Anyone who says they know what this industry will be like in 2-3 years... listen, but don’t bet on it. With the greatest respect to your current role, what is your dream job? I can, hand-on-heart, say that I am doing it. I once wanted to be a pilot, then trained to be an electronic engineer, but I always remembered the fun of making and playing games with my brother in the 80’s and then at uni, I discovered I was good at 3D art. Today I have the privilege of working with great people, in the team and as friends, partners and contacts all over the industry. I am making games to allow players to be entertained and ultimately escape into and hopefully become their hobby – what else would I ever want?
James Brooksby CEO, Absolutely Games
What are the biggest challenges today in the industry? One of the biggest is discoverability. It’s due to our own successes, but there are so many games and only so many platforms. With that many people making really good games, some are likely to have their dreams dashed as nobody sees their game. They may give up on something great, potentially even leaving the industry. I was very lucky to be early on with digital distribution on Steam, PSN, XBLA, Apple as Doublesix and Born Ready games, but things have changed a great deal since those early pioneering days. From a games publishing standpoint, I think we are likely to see a swing back to medium-to-large publishers who have more clout.
“We should embrace that we are a cutting edge entertainment medium at the whim of tastes and technology, where the future is very hard to predict, but also serves us very well.”
What did you learn from launching and running the free-toplay Fractured Space? An incredible amount of things, far too many for this short space, and detail and context is required for all of them. One of the biggest, personally, was learning that live, free-to-play games are an incredible mixture of science, psychology and game design – every single day. I am very proud of what we did, not only did we have a very highly rated (maxed out at 91 per cent on Steam) game, and a loyal audience, but we built a fantastic team.
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MCV/DEVELOP is a key source of information for the entire games industry. Whether you’re a developer looking for inspiration, an indie searc...
Published on Jul 24, 2020
MCV/DEVELOP is a key source of information for the entire games industry. Whether you’re a developer looking for inspiration, an indie searc...