MCV ISSUE 937 THE BUSINESS OF VIDEO GAMES
LI V ING
Meet us at Develop: Brighton
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WE ARE JAGEX A leader in creating community-driven live games, Jagex’s flagship MMORPG, RuneScape, has welcomed over 250 million player accounts and become a $750m franchise. Today our RuneScape titles are more than live game services – they’re thriving living games that connect and inspire a deeply-engaged community of empowered players. Now, we’re building on over 17 years’ experience and expertise to create new living games and looking for exceptional new talent to join us, and ambitious live game studios to partner with, as we bring life to the living games of the future.
BE OUR FUTURE TECHNICAL DIRECTOR
TECHNICAL PROGRAMME MANAGER (PLATFORM)
An amazing opportunity for an experienced Technical Director to lead a large team of coders creating a huge new open world MMO.
As we expand our core and new product teams, we’re looking for an experienced, big-team, big budget production professional for an unannounced MMO project.
Spearheading the creation of a new platform, the TPM will build out and lead a new team to guide the software design and steering the processes for our platform technologies.
VISIT JAGEX.COM/CAREERS Engineers | Artists | QA | Research | Product Management | Marketing | Analysts | User Acquisition
DAVID BRABEN FRONTIER ON BRINGING SCIENTIFIC AUTHENTICITY TO
GAMES AND WHY THE STUDIO STILL USES ITS OWN ENGINE
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05 The editor s the
or d u our
06 Critical path
The key dates this month
14 Life on the Frontier
The scienti c heart of rontier s ames
20 Shuhei Yoshida is ath to the e e o
26 Ins and outs
nd a our recruitment ad ice
38 Curve Digital
t takes years to be an o erni ht success
44 We built this city s the city bui din
48 Searching for a star o
ard ark S ift he s raduate hirin
The bene ts of usin
ames at schoo
56 Square Enix Montreal
hy the studio is shiftin to freemium
60 Digital Extremes rom ork for hire to
64 Strauss Zelnick
Take T o ets ready for a smashin year
irt oso o
om oser areth oker on ritin for ri
70 Ubisoft Barcelona The return of
74 Income stream i ita data is o
76 AI and games
by r Tommy Thom son
78 Fresh meat
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backed an ar
80 Mechanically sound ook into
init s constant tickin c ock
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a e s hi
â€œ...cementing our national achievement with our enthusiasm for video games for decades to come.â€?
TheEditor Gaming legends?
As regular readers of this page will have by now learnt, never bet on Seth. y e orts to predict the future, the games industry aside, through this column have been woeful at best and downright dangerous at worst hile m not responsible for rump or Bre it, was cheerily upbeat about the outcomes of those elections Based on that, m taking the possibility of an ngland orld Cup semi final on the night of the Develop Awards very seriously indeed es, the semi finals seem like a stretch for our likeable young side, who will likely be back at home en oying a game of Fortnite by uly th, but m making contingency plans already ust in case And hoping that the prediction hoodoo around this column for once lands butter side up alking about the orld Cup and what else is there to speak of right now while writing this ermany has ust crashed out of the competition at the hands of South orea t does remind me that all this brilliance, all this entertainment, is being hosted by a combination of A and the Russian government now there s a challenge for you R types to consider And yet it looks like it s coming up smelling of roses on this one. ur games industry, another entertainment colossus, never seems to get such a break ur crimes against humanity, and any corruption within our ranks, pales in comparison to those of the orld Cup s hosts and organisers Despite that, the industry is being pilloried over simply making an incredibly popular game, and by the so called popular press no less, while a genuinely repressive regime is getting a light touch treatment for a month because it s hosting a football tournament So let s hope ngland go all the way, score a ga illion goals, and celebrate every last one with a Fortnite dance cementing our national achievement with our enthusiasm for video games for decades to come Come on ngland Despite us probably having been knocked out by the time you read this Seth Barton email@example.com
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CriticalPath Here are the key upcoming events and releases to mark in your calendar...
July 24th The Banner Saga 3 Stoic and Versus Evil’s The Banner Saga will shine this July. It will start with the digital release of its last chapter, The Banner Saga 3, on July 24th for all platforms, with the physical release of the entire trilogy then following on July 27th for PS4 and Xbox One only, courtesy of 505 Games. The trilogy bundle will also be available digitally on PC.
Develop:Brighton Hilton Brighton Metropole, Brighton Develop:Brighton is now bigger than ever, having expanded its full conference from two days to three. With over 90 sessions, the event is now divided into eight tracks: art, audio, business, coding, design, discoverability, evolve and indie. Alongside these tracks is the free indie bootcamp, aimed at students, start-ups and aspiring devs. As always, a wealth of speakers from a wide variety of firms will be present across the three days, including Fig, Rocksteady, Ninja Theory, Guerrilla Games, Bossa Studios, Ubisoft Reﬂections, Creative Assembly, Splash Damage, Unity, Sony, Jagex, Xbox and many many more.
Brains Eden 2018 Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge This year is the 10th anniversary of Brains Eden, the largest student game jam in the UK. As always, the theme of this year’s event will be revealed at the start of the competition. In addition to the game jam, students will have access to seminars and will be able to meet professionals of the game industry who will be giving career advice. Brains Eden 2017 was the biggest to date, with 165 students taking part in the competition around the theme of ‘Give and Take’. With this year’s festival selling out quicker than ever, it’s set to be another record year, with 35 international teams registered.
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July 11th Develop Awards 2018 Hilton Brighton Metropole, Brighton Every year, we host the biggest awards night in the game development industry calendar, running alongside Develop:Brighton. This year, the Develop Awards will be hosted by comedian and journalist Ellie Gibson and will welcome over 500 people, representing more than 170 companies. In consultation with a panel of experts from the industry, we’ve redesigned the categories, criteria, entry and judging process, with 17 awards to be won on the evening. Shuhei Yoshida, president of Sony Interactive Entertainment Worldwide Studios, will receive the Develop Legend Award, while Jade Raymond will be presented with the inaugural Develop Vanguard Award, which recognises someone who has “blazed a trail in games development that will inspire others to follow them.” Both will also deliver keynotes at Develop:Brighton. We’d like to thank our partners Aardvark Swift, Amiqus, Jagex, Edge, GamesAid, OPM Jobs, Pole to Win, Rare, Universally Speaking, Xsolla as well as our event partner, Develop:Brighton.
Lego The Incredibles TT Games and Warner Bros are bringing a new Lego title to market, with Lego The Incredibles launching on PS4, Xbox One, Switch and PC this July, a month after Incredibles 2 released in cinemas. It’s based on both entries of the Pixar franchise.
Octopath Traveler Switch exclusive Octopath Traveler, co-developed by Square Enix and Acquire, is finally hitting shelves this month, ready to show its unique ‘HD2D’ look. Apart from its distinctive art style, Octopath Traveler is shaping up to be a classic turn-based JRPG, with hours of content to enjoy.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker Wii U title Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker will release on both the Switch and the 3DS on July 13th. The Switch version will support co-op and include a brand new level set in New Donk City.
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CONTENT Editor: Seth Barton seth barton futurenet com, Content Editor - Development: Jem Alexander em ale ander futurenet com,
Content Editor - Business and Esports: Jake Tucker ake tucker futurenet com, Senior Staﬀ Writer: Marie Dealessandri marie dealessandri futurenet com, Content Director: James McKeown ames mckeown futurenet com, Designer: Sam Richwood sam richwood futurenet com Digital Director: Diane Oliver dianne oliver futurenet com, Production Executive: James Marinos ames marions futurenet com,
ADVERTISING SALES Sales Manager: Sophia Jaques sophia aques futurenet com, Account Executive: Ashleigh Sadler ashleigh sadler futurenet com,
SUBSCRIBER CUSTOMER SERVICE To subscribe, change your address, or check on your current account status, go to www.mcvuk.com or firstname.lastname@example.org ARCHIVES Digital editions of the magazine are available to view on ISSUU.com Recent back issues of the printed edition may be available please contact email@example.com for more information. INTERNATIONAL MCV and its content are available for licensing and syndication re-use. Contact the International department to discuss partnership opportunities and permissions International Licensing Director Matt Ellis, firstname.lastname@example.org
There’s little that distracts me from playing games. But the World Cup only comes around every four years. I did still ﬁnd time to organise a board game weekend by the sea: two epic games of Scythe, some Blood Bowl: Team Manager and lots & lots of beer.
I’ve been playing so much Hollow Knight since it came out on Switch that Cornifer’s song is forever stuck in my head and I’m seriously considering buying a grub as a pet. This game is a wonder and I hope it never ends. Marie Dealessandri, Senior Staﬀ Writer
As my God of War journey came to a close, I wasn’t yet ready to leave the game’s incredible world. So I set out to get my ﬁrst platinum trophy since 2013. Mission accomplished! And it only took me three solid hours to beat the Valkyrie Queen.
This month I’ve ﬂitted between games like a moth in a room full of candles, spending time with Escape From Tarkov, OnRush and more but rarely settling on one thing. Instead, I’m looking forwards. Spider-Man, Rage 2 and more are just around the corner. Hype. Jake Tucker, Content Editor
Jem Alexander, Content Editor
Seth Barton, Editor
Paws the game The best furry friends the industry has to oﬀer. Send in yours to email@example.com
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Real life events from the industry
E3 2018 Each and every year, E3 grows impossibly more vast and this year was no exception. A business show hiding beneath a cloak of consumer booths, thereâ€™s still no better place to press the flesh and get a look at next yearâ€™s GOTY contenders.
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Unite Berlin Unity developers got together for Unite Berlin 2018 last month for three days of networking, workshops and insight into what the future of the engine might look like. The event included some big announcements, including a strategic alliance with Google Cloud as Unity moves its infrastructure to the service. This alliance will benefit developers by giving them access to the technology to make it easier to produce connected games.
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by Jake Tucker
London’s growing esports scene by Martin Wyatt, head of partner relationships at Gfinity WORKING in the esports industry, surrounded by some of the most passionate and creative individuals I could ever hope to associate myself with, I consider myself one of the lucky ones. Although it’s hard work, it doesn’t feel like a job and I love that. I also love that I get to travel the world, working closely with games publishers, major sports rights holders and commercial brands on a plethora of projects, diverse in type and all amazing in their own right. However, one of the things I love the most is that London is home and our global HQ. At one time or another, London has been a cultural and economic capital of the world and as we predicted, it has become a major esports destination with something esports related happening in the city at any moment. Over the last 12 months, London has welcomed some incredible esports events in the shape of the RLCS Finals, the ECS Finals and many more ater this year, for the first time ever in the UK, it will host a CS:GO major, which is an amazing achievement. SUPER SUNDAY Equally though, and if not more impressive, is the growing number of esports related brands that now call London home. Either physically, in the shape of the world renowned Fnatic. Or by association (currently), with our very own London-linked Overwatch team: ondon Spitfire You can even enjoy a pint at any of the growing number of esports and gaming bars that are expanding throughout the capital while catching up with your favourite tournament, just like you would watching the football on Super Sunday. Then of course you have our London home, the finity Arena, in ulham Since our inception in 2012 and opening the finity Arena s doors in arch , we have invested heavily in ensuring that London is a regular destination for those who want to experience world class esports week in, week out. We have brought well over 100 esports events and broadcasts to thousands of visitors, and tens of millions of viewers all the while doing our very best to promote London as one of the world’s premier esports capitals. We can be one of the best cities in the world for esports in the future, and it’s a future that’s getting closer every day.
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The shutout in Shanghai SHANGHAI DRAGONS has wrapped up the worst possible professional esports season, ending their most recent Overwatch League without a single win, with a 0-40 record. With this, the Dragons join a not-so-elite group of professional sports teams to have closed out a season without a victory. Dragons won 21 maps and lost 141. This creates a massive problem for OWL, which needs to be competitive to keep fans interested and sponsors invested. The Shanghai Dragons aren’t competitive, they’re barely even plucky underdogs. However, they’ve paid their multimillion dollar franchising fee, and so they’re guaranteed to return for the next season and it seems like there’s not much the Dragons can do to fi it heir issues are clearly much deeper than their roster, with structural problems that are unlikely to be fi ed quickly This puts the Overwatch League in an awkward position, and shows that they’ll need to be more careful about selecting future owners as they expand. Otherwise, you can have a team like the Shanghai Dragons, a team that attracted a significant fanbase as people waited for them to finally scrape a win, but could quickly become a punchline if they don’t show up much improved in the next season.
the big events ESL One Cologne July 6th-8th Cologne, Germany or the fifth year running, S ne Cologne is bringing the best talent in the Counter-Strike: Global Oﬀensive world together for a weekend of action. ESL One Cologne is a great yardstick of where the Counter-Strike scene is at, with thousands of fans returning to the so-called cathedral of Counter-Strike that is the Lanxess Arena each year and thousands more tuning in online.
UK Esports Awards July 7th Leicester, UK The UK Esports Awards comes to Leicester, aiming to recognise people who go above and beyond in improving the UK scene, esports talent from across the range of the industry, including players, managers, coaches and casters. The community will be nominating people for each award, before it’s voted on by a panel of judges.
VSFighting July 20th-22nd Birmingham, UK
University Esports Masters July 16th-19th Tenerife, Spain The University Esports Masters is an esport league that sees students from across Europe representing their universities and coming together to fight for the title of European champions. teams that have qualified through their countries separate national competitions will appear, and it should be interesting to see a new generation of League of Legends players make an appearance.
VSFighting returns to Birmingham, with a weekend of top quality fighting game tournaments including Dragon Ball, Street Fighter, Tekken and Injustice. The quality of competition at VSFighting is decent, and for those jonesing for their fighting game fi ahead of August s , this is a good watch. Keep an eye on Street Fighter, as it’s a leg of the Capcom Pro Tour in the UK and should see some of the brightest pop in for a warm-up ahead of August’s huge tournament.
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Life on the
As they settle into their shiny new building, David Braben and his team talk to Seth Barton about the scientific a thenticity that lies at the heart o each and every rontier game
Pictured, various: Frontier Developments new building on the Cambridge Science Park feels bigger inside than out and is a great new HQ for the o pany, its sta and brands.
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rontier Development’s latest game, Jurassic World Evolution, is just being finished as we visit the company’s new building, which is part of the science park on the outskirts of Cambridge. It’s easy to spot, despite being so new that the council haven’t yet given permission for a nice shiny sign outside. The gleaming building looks like something you’d find in the game’s dino-park simulation, while in buildings nearby there’s actual genetics research going on. And it doesn’t feel like simply a coincidence that the game and Frontier’s own choice of locale chime so sweetly. Frontier takes scientific fact very seriously, using it to build an authentic core to fantastical pieces of entertainment – much like Michael Crichton did in his original novel. Thankfully, the chances of a geneticallyengineered dinosaur rampaging through Frontier’s lobby below us remain slim. Safe in that knowledge, we settle down in a smartlyminimalist new board room, to meet Frontier’s top trio, with founder and CEO David Braben flanked by chief creative officer Jonny Watts and chief operating officer David Walsh.
A NEW OUTPOST The trio look to still be in the honeymoon period when it comes to their new building and while it’s undeniably a status symbol, the company sees it more as a statement of intent. “We’re expecting and demanding genuinely worldclass work from people and they need a suitable environment,” Walsh tells us, adding that “it’s a fantastically better tool than we had before.” There’s plenty of meeting rooms plus onsite recording studios. Best of all, it unites the company in a single building for the first time in many, many years. That means the 370 staff, split across an undisclosed number of development teams, can easily meet and discuss their projects. Plus it brings the in-house publishing and marketing functions closer to the development teams than before. There was never any thought of leaving Cambridge, Braben tells us: “We’ve grown up here and it’s actually quite hard to move. I think it’s nice to be in a competitive environment, where we have to work hard. After all we’re not the only games company on the science park.” With Jagex and Automaton nearby and Ninja Theory in town as well, there’s both a big talent pool and plenty of competition for it, Watts points out: “All these prestigious companies want really talented developers, so it just goes to show that we must be doing something right to retain our staff.” And it’s not just about experienced games developers. Braben explains there are lots of skilled programmers
on the science park who do not currently make games but who have transferable skills from their current roles. To that end they put up clear hoardings around the site when it was being built, to ensure their neighbours knew who they were. RED ENVELOPE Sitting in that building, it’s impossible not to think about the double-whammy of investment that Frontier has come into in recent years – first through its IPO and then from last year’s £17.7m Tencent investment – the Chinese giant now owns nine per cent of the company. However, Walsh explains that these acted as a security net to the company’s expansion rather than necessities to fund it. “We got our IPO money but then Elite Dangerous generated cash and it turned out we didn’t need the IPO money. Other than that it was very important because it gave us the confidence to go in that direction, in terms of scaling up our development to do new game releases more frequently than we have done in the past. The Tencent money fulfils a similar role today, and so far we haven’t needed it but it’s great to have it there.” An IPO naturally brings greater scrutiny of any company’s earnings on a quarterly and annual basis. Which can be something of a roller coaster for developers who don’t have annual releases. However Braben points out that because Frontier’s games “are successful year after year, it becomes less of an issue. “We are bringing the releases closer together just by the fact of scale and the other opportunity it gives us is working with other developers. We can use what we’ve learnt in [self-publishing], there are a lot of interesting opportunities there going forward.” There has been some concern at the size of investment from Chinese companies into the UK games industry recently. But Braben doesn’t equate the relatively small stakes involved to the swathe of American takeovers of 20 years ago. “You look at the list of once great British companies that were acquired by US giants and then slowly suffocated. Which is tragic. There are a lot of them, I won’t list them out. Then they end up getting disbanded and various staff moved to the head office of the US acquirer. We took an investment from Tencent. I think they’re great. They are very supportive. There’s a very different model to the US acquirers. Beforehand, I spoke to Fred Wester of Paradox, he had high praise of Tencent’s support.” Watts adds: “From a development point of view we feel very supported. Our games are getting better and better in my opinion because we have enough resources to make them. And that’s the bottom line.” Walsh agrees: “It’s enabling. We’ve gone public, we’ve changed our business model and it’s all to make
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Pictured above: Jurassic World Evolution’s theme of s ientifi endea o r marries well with threads that run through many of Frontier’s titles
better games.” He adds that working with Tencent has other benefits: “It’s a genuinely a strategic investment both ways. We knew China was an interesting and strategically important region for us. [Tencent] sees that the type of games we make are starting to really resonate with Chinese consumers. China is an amazing country that is going from strength to strength at the moment. And we were already selling in China when we first had discussions with Tencent.” And with the reach of the Jurassic World license and the huge boom in theme parks and rollercoasters in the region, the firm’s slate has definite appeal to Chinese consumers. SELF HELP The investment and the building are both plain indicators of the success of its long-term strategy, which started with a steady transition from work-for-hire projects, such as Kinectimals for Microsoft, to being entirely self-publishing today. As Walsh explains: “If we were talking five or six years ago, we would have been very excited because we’d just have got the Jurassic World licence, from say Microsoft, to do a game for them. But now we have the license and we’re publishing it. And that’s the real transformation here.” He goes on to admit that before “[they] were not making the games that [they] probably would have played [themselves].” However, the experience did have its upsides by teaching the team to “hone in on exactly what it was about the game that will be exciting and
appealing to the intended audience,” and in pushing the team into “a range of different genres.” Walsh is clear though that self-publishing is just that: “We didn’t fall for the trap of ‘we don’t need a publisher, we’ll just go off and make our games’. You absolutely do need a publisher, it’s just that we’re our own publisher.” And Watts too is positive about the publisher role: “One thing the publisher used to do – this is the one positive I will say – is that they are your conscience, a good publisher, a good external producer, pushes you and challenges you and tries and make that game good.” We wonder how this is managed internally, whether there’s a separation of church and state so to speak? Watts replies: “The beauty of where we are now is that we do have a publishing department, that we get the benefit of. But we are on the same team. So we’re getting the constructive criticism, we’re getting that conscience, but we’re not getting that division.” Braben won’t name names, but it also means they’ve now sidestepped “some of the more bizarre decisions [of publishers] that happen, where you get a lot of wastage in the process.” Braben continues: “We’ve got decades of experience working with publishers, including companies such as Sony and Microsoft, and they work hard to get their games noticed. It doesn’t just land in their lap. Knowing this competitive landscape, knowing that there are lots of great games out there, this is why we have to make our games really good.”
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SCIENCE AND NATURE Not only is Frontier making some great games, there’s a clear theme running through the studio – that sense of authenticity and scientific accuracy. This has come out of the passions of the team, explains Watts: “We are fans of the genre of games we make. I am a roller coaster enthusiast. David ‘might’ like space,” he laughs. “While dinosaurs are the reason I went to university.” Braben explains that even Elite Dangerous is built on scientific fact, with a one-to-one recreation of the galaxy with “all 400 billion systems” included. Though, as Watts tells us, the gameplay is of course predicated on “one big lie” – that being the faster-than-light travel that underpins everything you do. The simulation’s mass model was accurate enough to roughly predict the placement and size of planets which hadn’t yet been discovered, Braben explains. Though of course hard scientific fact rarely makes an enthralling game on its own. “There’s truth and believability and then we build a game on it but it immerses people a lot more because they can latch onto reality. And that’s why science fiction is such an amazing genre because you can get transported to a totally different world. Some of it feels real and that’s how you get this immersion,” Watts enthuses. COBRA MEETING The simulation aspects of Frontier’s games do make some unusual demands upon the company’s in-house Cobra engine technology.
“Rendering planets, you’ve got such a big draw distance, unless you make them into ‘Clangers’ planets that you can represent with 32-bit floats. When you need full 64-bit, it’s a challenge and there isn’t another engine that does that,” Braben says. That means the company has more programmers than most developers these days, companies using offthe-shelf engines. So it would only be natural for the company to not stick with its own tech. “It’s one that we do debate internally, I don’t know about the future, but I will say that every time we’ve had this debate our engine has won hands down,” Watts tells us emphatically. “The reason, is that we pick various parts of the game that we want to be better than anything.” Whether that’s Elite Dangerous’ huge galaxy, or the intricately modelled crowd in Planet Coaster, as it pathfinds and spends the cash in its pocket. “That’s where we put all our energy in and so it gives us this
Pictured above, from left to right: Frontier Development’s Jonny Watts, David Walsh and David Braben
“The beauty of where we are now is that we do have a publishing department, but we are on the same team. So we’re getting the constructive criticism, but we’re not getting that division.” July 2018 MCV 937 | 17
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Pictured above: Developers working in the ne o e
competitive advantage to choose core aspects of the game where we really go to town on it,” he continues. “Our engine is multi-platform, it’s been in development in various iterations for 30 odd years.” And having their own tech allows the team to move quickly to keep up with the latest trends, such as when it provided Oculus Rift support in Elite Dangerous within weeks of DK1 headsets becoming available. And it’s flexible too, Watts says: “It’s the engine that’s done Elite Dangerous, Kinectimals, Planet Coaster, Lostwinds, Jurassic World Evolution, Wallace and Gromit: Dog’s Life…” The list could go on. “It is a balance, because you take Unreal off the shelf and it gives you so much great stuff, it’s just when you want to push it in a direction where we can’t compromise. That’s where your headstart is caught up… We don’t believe our own hype. We like to keep testing ourselves and challenge ourselves that these decisions are correct,” Watts explains. FRONTIER BRITAIN With Braben at the helm, it’s hardly a surprise to find that the company is both scientifically-inclined and, in a way, programmer-centric. After all, as a co-founder of the Raspberry Pi project, teaching the world to code has long been important to him. “There are worldwide issues and local issues,” he says. “I think it was a real shame that computer science was removed from schools for the best part of the decade. I think that was unforgivable… Just a terrible act of
vandalism. A number of us lobbied to get that change made and we we’re told by members of government that we were special pleading [self-interested lobbying] which is really terrible ” But, in part thanks to the Raspberry Pi, plus “the British Computer Society, Microsoft, the whole games industry” who were “all very supportive,” it’s back on the curriculum today and Braben sees things looking up for the UK industry in general: ”Over the years various changes of government started to support this whole sector, and the current government is very supportive which is fantastic.” Tax breaks are obviously a big part of that, he adds: “What we were trying to achieve with that was a level playing field because other countries already had them for many, many years before we did, including France, Canada, a lot of US states.” He goes on to note that a lots of the development and revenue now in Canada could have been in the UK if things had changed quicker. And change is going to keep on coming, the co-creator of Elite predicts. “If you look over the 36 years I’ve been in the business, the amount of change that has occurred over that period, from frankly a completely amateur industry – which was lovely, don’t get me wrong – to where we are today... And it still feels we’re at the beginning of a process. “We’re not at the end of the process. We’re beginning to become very, very significant in the entertainment sector, beginning to have all those great relationships. It’s amazing.”
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Shuhei Yoshida: Triple-A titles ‘feel too big to fail’ Sony’s Shuhei Yoshida will receive the Develop Legend Award at this year’s Develop Awards. MCV asks him about the state of triple-A development and his studios’ incredible critical success in recent years
t’s been ten years since MCV first interviewed Shuhei Yoshida in his then new role as president of PlayStation’s Worldwide Studios. A decade on and he’s cemented his position as a true industry legend, enabling and guiding the teams that have created some of the most memorable games of that period. We’re honoured and delighted that Yoshida will be receiving the Develop Legend Award at this year’s Develop Awards in Brighton on July 11th. Additionally, Yoshida will be delivering the opening keynote at the Develop:Brighton conference, which takes place between the 10th and 12th of July. We take time, before the event, to talk to him about his role in Sony’s incredible first-party hit factory. What have been your career highlights? There are so many memorable moments in my career working with enormously talented devs, but receiving Game of the Year awards for our titles and sharing the moment with dev teams as they accept awards at industry events has always been special. Among those moments, two occasions come to my mind as most significant personally. The first was receiving the Game of the Year Award for God of War at the 2006 D.I.C.E. Awards; the first Game of the Year Award ever for Sony Interactive Entertainment first-party titles at a major industry event. I was sitting with Allan Becker – then the studio head of Santa Monica Studio that he had founded – and we hugged each other when the announcement was made. Another occasion was when Journey received the Game of the Year Award at the 2013 D.I.C.E. Awards, sweeping most award categories it was nominated in – an amazing accomplishment for the small, young
indie team of ten or so at Thatgamecompany to be able to compete and beat other triple-A titles nominated. What drives you in your work? Do you have an ultimate goal? I joined Sony in 1986, right after I graduated from university. At that time, one of my career goals was to join a video game business at Sony, which did not exist but somehow I believed Sony would make its own video game systems in the future. Sony then was making some PC products, so I imagined a video game system as an extension. I was a Sony fan and a big video game fan. So by some miracle when I joined Ken Kutaragi’s original PlayStation team in 1993, it had become my goal to help make PlayStation successful so I could continue to work in the video game business at Sony. After 25 years, I could say it still is my career goal! How do you feel to be receiving the Develop Legend Award in Brighton this July? I’m super honoured to receive this remarkable award. I have been a fan of Develop:Brighton for many years; I like the small, intimate feel of the event, especially with many talented indie developers attending. I always try to schedule my regular summer visit to our UK-based studios in the week of Develop:Brighton. Attending the Develop Awards show is always a fun part of the week, as I’m able to share the moment when our titles get awards and our devs go up to the podium to accept them. It’s a moment to celebrate the success of our titles and a chance to reflect on the time it took to develop those titles receiving awards.
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It had never occurred to me that ‘I’ could be receiving an award; I should always be there to celebrate our teams receiving awards. So when I received an email by the organiser with the news, it came as a total surprise. I highly appreciate the consideration by the MCV team and all the warm congratulations that I have received from people in the industry and game fans since it was announced. It makes me feel very, very warm and happy. What are your feelings about the state of the industry right now from a development perspective? On one hand, in the triple-A space, the scale and the tech of game development has grown so much that I feel like we are making a huge bet every time we start a new project. The end results are, when successfully executed, an amazing fusion of art and tech, providing hours and hours of highly engaging interactive entertainment in a big, often open, world to explore with lifelike characters and imaginative creatures. Because of the size of the investment, each title feels too big to fail. It creates an enormous pressure to manage these triple-A projects. These games are the drivers of the industry to become more and more mainstream entertainment. We need to keep pushing the art of making triple-A games. On the other hand, it is a golden age of indie developers; tools like Unity and Unreal Engine offer talented individuals and small teams from around the world the opportunity to create great games that can be published to a global audience. With the number of triple-A titles becoming smaller and the type of these triple-A games becoming somewhat similar to avoid taking risks, there’s a vast, open field of types of games
“I joined Sony in 1986, right after I graduated from university. One of my career goals was to join a video game business at Sony, which did not exist but somehow I believed Sony would make its own video game systems in the future.”
for the indie devs to explore and succeed. I’m a huge fan of indie games as I always enjoy fresh game experiences and artistic expressions. Indie titles drive innovation and experimentation in the industry and it’s important for the gaming landscape that we continue to support this flourishing market. The industry seems to be very clearly delineated between incredibly strong narrative single-player experiences and ongoing live multiplayer games. What are your thoughts on this dichotomy? It is extremely challenging to create a successful single player game or a successful live multiplayer game these days. The art of making each type of game has progressed so much that devs tend to pick and choose where their strength lies and where they should put their focus. It does not help to attach a half-baked online mode to a single player game, or vice versa. I think it is a result of rational thinking on the side of devs and publishers. Sony’s E3 showing and recent releases have demonstrated a growth in maturity, minority representation and diversity. How important are these things to you personally when it comes to games as a medium? I think it is extremely important as the games become more and more mass-market entertainment; we need to cater to all kinds of people, whatever the age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity or belief. As we provide an experience to game players to become a hero or heroine to do amazing things in our games, it is good to try to create protagonists that people of different backgrounds could associate with. It feels like the quality of PlayStation first-party games has steadily increased over recent years. What are your reactions to the critical success and why do you suppose that is? It is great to hear comments like this, thank you very much. I think what we are seeing today are the results of many years of our belief and our teams’ efforts to create the highest quality titles possible. I’m super appreciative of SIE’s management team for understanding the importance of quality and their support for the needs of our studios to achieve the level of polish that each title needs especially towards the end of development.
Additional reporting by Jem Alexander
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Ins and outs: Industry hires and moves 1
Jagex has strengthened its creative and production team, with three new hires. DARYL CLEWLOW (1) joined as senior director of art, MATT HIGBY (2) is the firm s new design director and JULIAN HUEHNERMANN (3) was appointed as executive producer for RuneScape. They join from senior positions at ordeus, Ubisoft s assive Entertainment and Mobile Monsters respectively.
After its acquisition by Adult Switch, mobile developer
Big Pixel Studios has hired WILL LUTON (4) as its new director of product. He previously worked for the likes of Sega and TinyCo, with his most recent role being as product lead at Rovio. Esports talent HARRY ‘LETHAL’ THOMAS (5) has joined ESL UK full-time, to host and cast a variety tournaments and events. A former professionnal Halo player for 14 years, he has worked as an esports analyst and caster since his retirement in 2016. Junior PR manager DAVID BURROUGHS (6) has changed positions at Ubisoft and has moved to the brand marketing team as junior brand manager. Studio Wildcard has hired MARC DIANA (7) as vice president, partnerships and marketing. Joining the studio after four years at Xbox, he will lead all marketing and communication strategies for the company and help launch Ark: Survival Evolved’s expansion pack Extinction, as well as platform expansions such as mobile and Switch.
“I want to use my experience as a newbie in the industry, advancing through hard work, to help others.” Claire Sharkey, Sharkbit
The British Esports Association has appointed NATACHA JONES (8) as student esports coordinator. Working alongside school projects lead Tom Dore, she will be primarily developing the British Esports Championships for schools and colleges ones previous experiences include being project manager for the King of the North gaming festival and working as a freelance esports observer and producer, for instance with GAME. DAVE NELSON (9), formerly the head of UK sales at PDP, has joined Sony DADC to head up its UK consumer sales. Nelson has worked in the industry for over 23 years, for the likes of Atari, Midway Games and 505 Games. GamesAid has hired a new operations executive, LAUREN BILLINGS (10), to replace Tim Phillips who is taking over a games designer role at Falmouth University. Activision Blizzard has appointed KRISTIN BINNS (11) as its new
senior vice president and chief communications o cer She previously was head of corporate communications at Twitter, having also worked for the likes of NBC Universal. At Activision Blizzard, she will be in charge of managing and creating the communication strategies for the publisher s biggest franchises worldwide.
and media, particularly the indie scene, with their marketing and PR needs. She commented: “I want to use my experience as a newbie in the industry, advancing through hard work, to help others, making use of the skills ve gained
Formerly producer at Alto’s Odyssey co-developer Built by Snowman for two years, ELI CYMET (15) has joined Cuphead creator StudioMDHR in the same role.
Following the departure of Alice Bell (more on that below), COLM AHERN (12) is now VideoGamer editor. Having joined the publication in 2016, he had been deputy editor since October 2017. Games developer and journalist NATALIE CLAYTON (13) has joined Steel edia as a sta writer, working across both PCGamesInsider.biz and PocketGamer.biz. As a freelancer, she s written for the likes of PCGamesN, Rock Paper Shotgun, Eurogamer and Polygon. CLAIRE SHARKEY (14), former head of brands and marketing at Level Up Media, has launched her own company, Sharkbit. It aims at supporting gaming
More job moves at Rock Paper Shotgun. Following the departure of Adam Smith, ALICE BELL (16) has been hired as deputy editor, joining from her role as editor at VideoGamer. Meanwhile, DAVE IRWIN (17) has joined as guides writer and NOA SMITH (18) will bolster the video team. Editor-in-chief Graham Smith said: “While Noa and Dave will help us expand into new areas, Alice is here to make the things we ve always done better. That means writing and editing reviews and features... and supporting the rest of the team to be their best selves
Got an appointment you’d like to share with us? Email Marie Dealessandri at firstname.lastname@example.org 26 | MCV 937 July 2018
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Xalavier Nelson Jr, freelance narrative designer
ALTHOUGH only 20, Xalavier Nelson Jr has already accomplished a scary amount during his freelance career, including narrative work on indie titles like Dead End Job and Hypnospace Outlaw, in addition to work on his own varied selection of releases.
“My parents ended up creating their ﬁrst role playing characters ever within 15 minutes, and then om rolled a annon down the stairs of ra ula’s astle and shot Dad in the face.”
How did you break into games? It actually happened just as I was going to leave! I saw too many people I respected and admired burn out or drop o the face of the Earth when I was a hobbyist. So, I was going to give a talk at AlterConf Paris about how the working practices in games ignored the humanity of the people who made them, and churned through some of the greatest potential talent in our industry as a result. However, I decided it was worth developing and releasing a video game to cap o that stage of my life downloaded wine and was hooked he process of building a narrative experience was intoxicating. I ended up doing that AlterConf talk on how wanted to stay in games, and fight for a better, more visible future for their creators. What is your proudest achievement so far? When you plan a vacation, you think about sand, sun and landmarks, but never the occasional lulls in-between. I was on vacation with my family when they hit one of those lulls and I was ready. I pulled out the prototype version of a role-playing ruleset I had been working on in my spare time, called Ellipses RPG. It’s accessible, setting-agnostic and features expandable systems that encourage improvisation and inhabiting a character over rote statistics... At least, that’s what I hoped it would be. I had only tested the game on other
developers y parents created their first R characters within 15 minutes, and then Mom rolled a cannon down the stairs of Dracula’s castle and shot Dad in the face. It was one of the best experiences of my life. What do you enjoy most about your job? Limitations, without a single doubt. Boundaries, and the caprices of technical frameworks, often define what a pro ect will be moreso than a game design document, so discovering the best way to tell a story or evoke feelings within the arbitrary set of diverse rules you have to work around in narrative design is incredibly exciting. Using a given set of boundaries for creative e ect can often result in a more emotive e perience for a player as well he first thing do when oin a pro ect is find out where the lines are, because working inside them is an enormous advantage, when you don’t see them as a hindrance. What’s your big ambition in games? Creative leadership. I love writing, and making the small decisions that come together and make a project what it will become. However, high-level problem solving and empowering others to do their best work in a creatively healthy environment is my ultimate goal. Many disciplines in game development seem to speak entirely di erent languages earning about the workﬂows of other departments is a priority in every job I take, which has resulted in my researching or directly contributing to everything from the video rendering pipeline to audio production and implementation. What advice would you give to someone trying to get into narrative design? Finish projects and release them. On a portfolio level, it shows that you can bring a project to completion – an all too rare skill. On a personal level, actually releasing something into the world is a draining, rewarding, educational experience that a creator really can’t do without he gulf between what you learn simply developing a project, and launching it, is vast, and you only realise how large this gulf is once you’ve come out on the other side. You grow a lot, and you’ll be a better person for it.
If there’s a rising star at your company, contact Jake Tucker at email@example.com, and we might feature them here July 2018 MCV 937 | 27
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Cherry picked advice to help you reach the next level in your career
Harry Semple, a programmer at Codemasters, talks about the multi-disciplined aspect of his job and the importance of tenacity when you interview for a similar role What is your role and how would you describe your typical day? I’m an experienced programmer in the gameplay feature team, and I’ve worked at Codemasters for a little under two years. Being part of the feature team means a variety of di erent activities day to day, which makes it engaging and challenging. A typical day for me starts with getting the latest build and checking what’s new, then a gym session with the on-site personal trainer. After breakfast, I’m ready to start my day’s work. On any given day, I could be adding new gameplay features such as a variable weather controller, adjusting and changing game modes to better represent the motorsports we o er, building menu screens to guide players into the game, fi ing bugs that have crept in as a result of other changes, or creating designer tools to reduce workload. These can all involve meetings with designers, production, and artists, in order to build the best experience for the player. Being in the feature team is a multi-disciplined job, so you’re having to stay on top of many di erent areas of the game in order to best tackle your workload. The team is also very collaborative, so we often chat about best practices, ways to approach problems or fi tricky bugs together. We also conduct code reviews, so we can all share knowledge and improve our skills every day. W at ali ations and or e erien e do o need to land t is o To hit the ground running as an entry level programmer, we at Codemasters expect at least a Bachelor’s degree, ideally in a computing related discipline, such as Computer Science, Computer Games Programming or Computer Games Technology, or a strong computing background. As we use a proprietary game engine, we’re interested in people with good C++ knowledge, up to C++14. In general, you need to be able to use logic and reasoning to solve interesting and tricky problems, while balancing a variety of factors such as performance, memory, and parallelisation. If you were interviewing someone for your team, what would you look for? If your skills are solid with a great CV, the application process has three stages: a telephone interview, an online coding test, and an on-site interview, involving some whiteboard programming and problem solving. The questions we ask will assess key topics of C++ knowledge that we require at a minimum to understand the game engine, along with some
“With the knowledge and experience in the studio, you’ll learn more in three months than in a year of university tuition.” problem solving and algorithmic questions. During the interview, we’re not looking for immediate perfection in answers, but rather that you understand the problem you’re trying to solve. Even if you’re not sure, tenacity is important, as you ll get some prompts to help you find the solution his is very much the ethos at Codies: teamwork and getting great results. What opportunities are there for career progression? Career progression at Codies is ﬂuid, as you can ask to move to other departments if that’s your interest. Advancing from entry-level involves being comfortable with areas of the engine, so that you can add to existing systems under your own steam. When starting, it can be a steep learning curve, but with the knowledge and experience in the studio, you’ll learn more in three months than in a year of university tuition. Staying on top of new techniques and language features is an everyday occurrence. Personally, joining the studio was the best way for improving my programming and confidence As you learn more and improve, the scope of what you work on will increase, so you ll find yourself being the owner of existing or new tools, or systems you’ve been able to design yourself. Taking the initiative, being passionate and enthusiasm will always help, as taking that extra step to do something more will get you noticed and respected amongst your peers and your superiors.
Want to talk about your career and inspire people to follow your path? Contact Marie Dealessandri at firstname.lastname@example.org 30 | MCV 937 July 2018
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“It’s every game programmers’ dream, at least from my generation, to create a genuine arcade game.” Name: Andy Parton
Studio: Sega Amusements Job Title: Lead Developer
28 DAYS LATER
Taking a new opportunity in the industry can open a door to the job of your dreams. We catch up with a recent career mover at the start of their exciting new role through recruitment specialist Amiqus Congratulations on the amazing new job! What inspired you about Sega Amusements to come and join them? It’s every game programmer’s dream, at least from my generation, to create a genuine arcade game, in a custom-made cabinet with unusual input controllers and so on. Arcades are what got me into ritin ames. The o ortunity to na y achie e my ofty ambitions was something I couldn’t pass up. What’s the culture like at Sega Amusements and what’s your e erien e een li e ttin in Se a in ardiﬀ is an ama in ace a ro er addin s ca e for someone like me. I was made very welcome, felt at home immediately, and the team here is dedicated and professional. There’s not an ego in sight, I’ve never heard a raised voice. Everyone loves what they do and they are very good at doing it. What are you most excited about bringing to the role? I hope to bring my long, varied and sometimes scattershot experience in the industry to good use. Creating games for the arcade is
sur risin y diﬀerent to creatin to learn.
ames for the home and there s a ot
What will working at Sega Amusements do for your career? Well, it can’t do any harm having Sega on your CV can it? At the moment, I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing, and I certainly don’t have any more ambitions to speak of. They’ll have to carry me out of here in a box – preferably a big box with joysticks and Sonic the Hedgehog painted on the side. At my age, that is a distinct possibility. What would you like to say to anyone thinking about or undertaking a job move in games? This isn’t a particularly secure industry; redundancies are an unfortunate way of life. The only advice I can give is to not spread yourself too thinly amongst recruiters. Pick one or two of the best – and only ones that specialise in the industry – and stick with them. mi us did an ama in job ettin me here for hich be forever grateful.
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This monthâ€™s question: What are the biggest development challenges facing studios in 2018? Claire Boissiere, Co-founder and Studio & Dev Director, Harbee Studios
Discoverability it s increasingly di cult to get games into the mind space of potential players among the sea of gaming content that is released daily t s already a struggle to create a sustainable living as a studio and discoverability issues only make it harder ne possible way forward is to think about target audience here are many groups e cluded from gaming but by targeting them directly with a marketing story that emotionally connects your game to them, you might open up new channels of discoverability he games industry is inventive, maybe it s time to rethink who we promote games to and how
Stewart Gilray, CEO & Founder, Just Add Water
aving been in the industry for years ve seen it change countless times Rarely has there been issues that aren t solvable in a decent amount of time, however where we struggle today is hiring e perienced, knowledgeable, skilled developers here seems to be a massive skills gap for new entrants into the industry his has a critical impact on companies e panding to complete pro ects on time his is especially true for e perienced programming engineers hat s the answer e need to be encouraging programming and computer skills in schools, not ust which rarely covers programming
â€œThere are many groups excluded from gaming, but by targeting them directly, you might open up new channels of discoverability.â€? Sitara Shefta, Senior Producer, Dream Reality Interactive
he rise of indie developers is a great turning point in our industry A constant stream of new ideas means that competition in securing funding is ever increasing n one respect, it seems easier for micro studios to raise funds and we already know that triple A development is generally well backed by publishers But what does this mean for mid si ed studios hose teams developing games on smaller budgets face greater challenges, particularly with growing e pectations of consumers for higher quality here is uncertainty around Bre it, potentially a ecting funding from the U and also sourcing talent from beyond the U t s becoming more important that studios define what makes them unique
Brynley Gibson, Head of Studios, Curve Digital
ach year the business challenges shift, in work for hire it will about ad usting for a broader audience he console platform audiences are large and still growing outside of the dedicated core and that means we need to pitch and look to sign new games for that market t can t ust be a rehash of the party games from the last generation Alongside those, developers will need to find new social e periences that work well on console and provide something fresh without seeming niche
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BRINGING YOUR STORY TO THE WORLD 30+ LANGUAGES 20+ YEARS EXPERIENCE 37 STUDIOS 03 CONTINENTS
INDUSTRY VOICES MCV gives the industry a platform for its own views in its own words. Do you have a burning hot take for the world of games? Get in touch!
We need to talk about in en ers Ravi Vijh Bastion PR
WE need to talk about inﬂuencers ore specifically, we need to talk about how inﬂuencers have become a key sector in the make up of modern media and usually in the form of streamers absolutely central to the games media landscape in particular erhaps the first thing to digest and accept is that simple fact inﬂuencers are not a fad heir voices while still, admittedly, evolving and occasionally struggling to find the right tone are getting louder and they are here to stay All of which means that engaging with them is crucial to the games media in general and the R comms community particularly here is a strand of thinking amongst some R folk that pegs inﬂuencers as other , as outside the media tent and therefore someone else s problem opportunity here might also be some cynicism, possibly resentment, at the unstructured nature of the new breed, at the lack of training, loose thinking, and colourful language But the truth is, streamers, at least the best of them, have more in common with games ournalists from any era operating in whatever medium they have a passion for gaming and they want to communicate that passion to as wide an audience as possible in their own distinctive voice ur ob, as it always has been, is to help them in that mission and, of course, to try and include our clients stories in their content mi t s true that there is a whi of the ild est about the sector, but then it is very new immature, if you like and it is, by its very nature, quite anarchic these are individuals, not
corporations, and the business is built on a D ethic t s the games media s punk moment ournalists need content and access e need to tell stories and reach consumers nﬂuencers are a new and e citing way of doing that, which is why we re working with them more and more, getting to know them, as a sector and as individuals t s also because we want to make sure they are treated as an editorial platform, not as advertising space n some cases, inﬂuencers are being seen as not much more than real estate, with media agencies buying time, but then ending the relationship there, not helping to shape the content At its most e treme, this approach leads to the duBirdie e am cheating scandal and to a most unwelcome slot on the evening news he risks arise because control has been surrendered And, no, you re right, Rs can t and shouldn t control editorial content, but they can control the materials that are made available, they can brief, they can steer and they can suggest hey can, in other words, do everything they can to ensure their clients products and messages stand the best possible chance of being shown and discussed by the fastest growing and most vibrant branch of games media in a positive and professional light And that is why we don t ust need to talk about inﬂuencers e need to talk to them n fact, we already are
Ravi i h is account director at Bastion, a R agency that has been briefing and steering in games for years
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Why we need education and awareness around game age ratings Richard Wilson TIGA
IF you speak to most individuals in the game industry, you re likely to find a supporter of robust age ratings ortunately, that is an attitude that presently prevails in the U At least with regard to sales of physical copies of games, and increasingly, mobile releases, we equally en oy robust age ratings hanks to the e orts of the U s SC Ratings Board e perts, who assign age ratings to bo ed games here, we have a clear, carefully considered system where age appropriate gaming content is concerned hat brings tremendous benefits ideo games provide society with such a wonderfully diverse medium, but not all content is suitable for everyone Age ratings provide consumers with information about the nature and appropriateness of games qually, they allow games that tackle adult issues to e ist n that regard they are far from a form of censorship A game that e plores mature content and adult themes is appropriate to an adult audience Such titles can be personally important, thought provoking and promote critical thought and public discourse Books, films and games designed for an adult audience can inform us, challenge us or make us think So, while age ratings protect the young, they also preserve the video game medium s ability to e plore comple and mature themes An years plus rating doesn t ust stop youngsters playing a given game, it also allows the game to e ist for appropriately mature gamers As such, age ratings are e tremely important hat in turn means they must not only be robust and reliable, but also readily understood
â€œWhile age ratings protect the young, they also preserve the video game mediumâ€™s ability to explore complex and mature themes.â€?
and respected egally speaking, a parent can decide what content is appropriate for their children within the home, so in that conte t the U game age ratings implemented by serve only as a guide t s not unusual, however, to hear anecdotal tales of parents and guardians happily and knowingly buying their children rated or rated games, perhaps due to misunderstanding around video games status as playthings t s a misconception that has plagued games for many years hat means a very delicate balancing act is needed to accurately represent game s status and place in society something that in turn can help strengthen the U game industry, those employed in it, and the economic contribution it makes within the U f di erent games are only reaching appropriate audiences, then the medium has found an appropriate place in society, and can thrive, rather than be misunderstood or reasonably warrant concern that leads to limitations here is a collective responsibility here Developers, publishers, platform providers and the industry must continue to provide detailed, accessible information about games and content so that consumers can make informed choices or e ample, pointing consumers not ust to age ratings, but to the additional consumer information provided with each rating, that clarifies the content elements that inspired a given rating ublishers and platform holders should ensure through the use of parental controls that children and young people cannot access inappropriate content ncouragingly, we are today seeing generations who have grown up with games now becoming parents compared to previously, where many parents had no e perience of the medium they were trying to police within their homes arents and guardians that are familiar with games are better placed to make sure the medium is appropriately consumed within the family home hat is an encouraging foundation for a new era of awareness around the value, structure and power of game age ratings
Dr Richard ilson B is C of A, the award winning trade association representing the U video games industry
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IT TAKES YEARS TO BE AN OVERNIGHT
Marie Dealessandri talks to Stuart Dinsey, Simon Byron and Rosemary Buahin about Curve Digital’s transformation, its partnerships with Sumo Digital on Human Fall Flat and with Microsoft on Game Pass, and how its prepping for its future as a grown-up publisher
o say that Curve Digital has changed in the past few years would be quite an understatement. The London-based digital publisher has now joined the big boys’ club and the reason for this success has a name: Human Fall Flat. Having launched on PC in July 2016, Human Fall Flat then came to consoles in May 2017, before landing on Switch at the end of last year. But it was the launch of PC online multiplayer in October that changed everything. The rest of the story is best told by those who experienced it. “You know I wish we could pretend it was deliberate and maybe when they make the film of Curve that will be how it comes across,” Curve’s publishing director (and MCV’s Industry Hero for 2018) Simon Byron laughs. “We worked very closely with Valve making sure that it was getting the treatment that we feel it should deserve, then it took a little spark and everyone went…” Byron mimics the noise of an explosion – and that’s really what it was for Curve: an unexpected, massive and well-deserved explosion of success. “It went crazy,” he continues. “I was on paternity leave over Christmas and I could see the emails and people being like ‘Have you seen what’s going on with Human Fall Flat?’. It was unbelievable. From July 2016 to October 2017, we’d sold about 300,000 copies on Steam and then over Christmas last year, in single days we were doing over 100,000 a day. It got absolutely crazy and it’s been transformative and
it’s meant that we needed to really up our game in terms of making sure that we’re supporting it.” Human Fall Flat has sold over 3m copies to date, a feat Curve had never achieved before. The publisher now wants to make sure it supports the title properly, as it effectively ended up with two versions of the title, with the console versions “lagging,” Byron says. The publisher will launch the online multiplayer on consoles “over the coming months” and will then “build up a live team, who’s going to regularly produce additional content.” And to do all that, Curve has found a great partner. “We’re working with Sumo Digital, who will initially be bringing the online multiplayer to consoles,” Byron reveals. “We’re really excited about using that opportunity to re-launch
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it on console and then they’re going to be creating a live team, who not only will work alongside Tomas [Sakalauskas, Human Fall Flat’s creator], but also make sure that we’re able to maintain feature parity across all formats where we can and generate loads more additional content. We wanted an excuse to work with Sumo for a long time so it’s brilliant to finally be doing something with them.” There is definitely a before and after Human Fall Flat for Curve, with Byron saying: “It’s true to say that Human Fall Flat has put us on the global map. We’re talking to companies now, where we were struggling to get a foot through the door before, but because of its success in Asia, it’s really opened some doors for us. We worked so hard to launch that game and keep the momentum going.”
FLYPASS And Curve has certainly managed to keep that momentum going, with a myriad of projects on the horizon. The launch of Bomber Crew on consoles this July is one of them and Curve has another exciting partnership for that, with the title launching date-anddate on Xbox Game Pass. “It’s really interesting these days how games have moved from being essentially a premium launch and then you forget about it, to actually loads more,” Byron says. “We’re really excited about working with Microsoft on Game Pass, we’ve been fans of that particular service since it launched. I know there’s a lot conversation between publishers about whether it’s the right thing to do but we’ve been really pleased with the results. We put seven games in at launch and we’ve not seen any impact on core digital sales. In fact from the stats that we see, players are more engaged with our titles. We’ve seen a slight increase in those buying the
titles to own. So when it comes to the next stage of Game Pass we’ll be working with Microsoft to do a Bomber Crew day-and-date release on Game Pass and it’s fair to say that there will be more titles along those lines throughout the year.” Bomber Crew was meant to release at retail as well, courtesy of Sold Out, though when we mention this deal, Curve’s chairman Stuart Dinsey explains this will not be the case anymore. “Ultimately we’re a digital company,” Dinsey says. “We were very excited about doing something with Sold Out, we really admire what they’ve done and we’re very close to them. But actually retail can find things like Game Pass and day-and-date quite difficult. And so we’ve mutually agreed that that’s probably a reason not to do a Sold Out boxed launch.” However, that doesn’t mean nothing will come out of this partnership, he adds: “Our intention is absolutely to do something with Sold Out when the circumstances are correct. There are future titles. I think to some extent retail needs to get used to the idea of day-and-date Game Pass. It’s not going to go away and possibly they may find out that some of the things they are worrying about aren’t quite as drastic as they’ve considered.” Byron is keen to highlight that it’s “not really a case of ‘Game Pass instead of retail’.” He explains: “It’s because retailers are unlikely to want to put in the same level of orders for a title that’s going up dayand-date as one that isn’t. That’s a broad point, it’s not just a Bomber Crew point, and rather than have to take on that challenge, we would rather focus on our core business which is digital.” Game Pass is also a case of allowing Curve to increase its visibility and to overcome the discoverability challenge that many developers and publishers are experiencing. “Sea of Thieves was the first game to go day-and-date on Game Pass and that still went to No.1 and I think all of the activity around it just combines to make it a much more high profile launch,” Byron says. “There are so many games coming out across all platforms at the moment that actually getting some guaranteed discoverability, some featuring [is key]. “We’re out on two other formats at the same time – so it’s PS4, Xbox One and Switch. Each store has its challenges. I think discoverability is the key challenge for anybody, making sure that people are aware of your game. There are so many games sucking up money and notably time that actually competing for either of those
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becomes difficult. So was it essential? I wouldn’t say that it was. But will it help? Certainly.” Marketing director Rosemary Buahin adds: “It’s more for amplified presence. I think we’re getting quite good at conceiving really strong campaigns and this will actually take it to another level for us.”
LICENSED TO KILL Pictured above: Curve Digital’s publishing director Simon Byron
Another big project on the horizon for Curve is publishing Narcos, in partnership with film company Gaumont. The adaptation of the successful Netflix series has been handed to Curve’s sister studio Kuju Entertainment. And there are many advantages to working on licensed content, Byron tells us. “It’s part of the challenge that modern publishers face – every time you launch a game you’re effectively starting from ground zero, introducing a new concept across crowded digital stores. Dominic [Wheatley], our CEO, was very successful back in the day with licenses, it’s a type of game he understands, and it was a concept that he was very keen to bring to Curve. When we started talking to potential partners about it, it became very clear that, while at heart we still want to continue doing high-profile, original, indie digital games, we could actually complement our endeavours there by bringing licensed titles into the family.” With the amount of films, series and books available to iterate on, Byron adds that it “became quite a
challenge narrowing them down.” However, Narcos stood out for everyone in the team as “the subject matter is perfect for a video game,” he says. “If you look at the way [digital] stores are evolving and the types of entertainment they’re packaging, the ability to work with TV, alongside games, becomes really appealing. “We talked about boxed earlier and Bomber Crew is a game that’s done incredibly well for us but stick that on shelves in Sainsbury’s and the majority of the people walking past it aren’t going to necessarily understand. But if you’ve got that with Narcos, or any other property, it really does give you a head start.” Dinsey adds that it’s also the right time to do it. “We’re talking about licensed games coming now, in 2019, 2020 and beyond, when install bases across the platforms have all got much bigger,” he explains. “That tends to be, in the progress of a format, when slightly more casual non-core gamers come in and that’s where licenses can make a real difference in terms of attention from the consumer. I think there’s a bit of a movement in the industry at the moment to look at licenses.” Dinsey continues, saying he wants Curve to pick up “at least one significant license a year,” before adding: “We’re trying to move in line with the market progression. So if a license is available and we have a world-class studio that we can use ourselves, it’s expanding what Curve does while absolutely staying true to our roots of
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bringing indie games to the market. We want to become a bigger player, so we’re going to do bigger things.”
CURVE-AS-A-SERVICE The team’s ambition and passion is tangible, with Byron joking about Curve Digital becoming a proper grown-up publisher. “What Stu and Dominic have been really keen for us to do is to grow up. We sort of talk about it from a joking point of view but, you know, to stop being the company where just four people do everything, to one which is operating within the digital space and everything which that entails.” He continues: “Our intention is to grow in terms of size in what we do. We will always look to do eight or nine games a year but we want them to be higher profile games, much bigger budgets, moving away from the games that Curve made its name on, the sort of ten dollar titles. This year, we’ll see our first $20 to $25 games and we see that as a natural progression – and that’s not us being greedy. Bomber Crew is our first title with any significant DLC and it certainly won’t be our last. We’re building up live teams around other titles in our portfolio to make sure that people still play your game weeks, months, years down the line. It’s so crucial these days, so we’re willing to invest more in that and I think the results are evidence. I think the games that we’re working on now are very different to our first wave of games. It’s not that we’ve lost our roots or anything like that, but we’re moving where the market is.” Curve has had a massive recruitment push since the beginning of the year to go alongside its transformation, with Byron joking about the fact they’ve got departments now. One of these key appointments was Rosemary Buahin, who joined as marketing director at the end of January, having worked at Warner Bros and Sony. “It can be tempting to think of us as a UK company and therefore put all of our focus on the UK but being able to operate globally is absolutely key,” Byron says. “Bringing some of the principles from a proper grownup publisher into Curve has been absolutely eye opening. We made a lot of assumptions about how we worked and Rose has come in and taken a top down look and it’s changed how that department looks.” Buahin has been instrumental in harmonising the company, as well as aiming to unify its community. That’s why she hired former Call of Duty social manager Jack Gosling to manage Curve’s social channels. “I think it came to the point when I came in, due to the success of Human Fall Flat and others, that we actually built a community but we didn’t have the time to engage with it as much as we could and I just found that a lot of the information that helped us construct
our marketing plan laid in the community, so it was just about a matter of having that constant engagement,” Buahin explains. “As Simon said we are getting to be a proper company. It’s just a matter of installing some key processes, just to align things that we’re already doing but doing them a little bit better.” Curve has started its second wave of games by announcing Slow Bros’ Harold Halibut. The handcrafted stop motion narrative exploration title will release next year, with Byron saying he “loved it from the moment [he] saw it.” During our chat, we discuss the definition of what ‘a Curve game’ is at length. ‘Something that captures the imagination’ came up a lot, and that’s something Harold Halibut does perfectly through its wonderful art direction. But in the end, more than a type of game, it’s a relationship that defines what a Curve game is. “Simon looks for a bond with him personally, and the company, with the developer,” Dinsey explains. “And that is probably the closest you’re going to get to a definition of a Curve game: a bond between the people who have got to bring it to market and the people who are making it. As opposed to ‘just another game down the pipe’.” On top of all the projects we discuss, Curve is working on a couple of unannounced titles and is bringing Manual Samuel and Velocity 2X to Switch in August. Curve is nominated for Publishing Hero once again at the Develop Awards this year, having won the prize in 2017. And for Dinsey, that was a defining moment for the company. “I’ve got to admit the Develop Awards was genuinely an emotional one for me. Seeing the level of fraternalism there is in that room... To actually go up there and collect an award for this little company called Curve was such a surprise. It was really emotional for all of us. That felt like we were on the right road. It was the first signal that we were starting to do things right. It’s the old: ‘It takes years to be an overnight success’. That was the moment and things have gone very well for us since. Now we have to work harder than we’ve ever worked to maintain it.”
Pictured above, from top: Curve Digital’s Rosemary Buahin and Stuart Dinsey
“WE’RE BUILDING UP LIVE TEAMS AROUND TITLES IN OUR PORTFOLIO TO MAKE SURE THAT PEOPLE STILL PLAY YOUR GAME YEARS DOWN THE LINE.” July 2018 MCV 937 | 41
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TOMORR O Surviving Mars and the long-running Cities Skylines are both selling faster than a new-build semi
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t’s a great time for anyone who likes to build cities. Surviving Mars brings harsh environments to the genre, as does recent hit Frostpunk, and both have stormed the Steam charts. Meanwhile, Cities: Skylines continues to sell, having alone shifted enough copies to fill most capital cities. Strategy games’ city-building subgenre is flourishing, both commercially and creatively. The shadow of SimCity still looms large over the genre, though, like one of the game’s own huge arcologies. However, with EA having moved away from the brand after the 2013 iteration, it’s left space for smaller developers to prosper. “Things that aren’t big enough for the biggest publishers, are big enough for us, and Cities: Skylines is an example of that,” says Shams Jorjani, VP of business development at Paradox Interactive, publisher of the game. “Those publishers find greener pastures, and that leaves space for us to grow.” And without the traditionally dominant brand of the genre, it’s Paradox that’s benefitted the most. So we catch up with the minds behind the publisher’s two such titles: Cities: Skylines and Surviving Mars.
on a realistic Berlin for months now, trying to recreate what is actually happening.” COUNCIL AGENDA Of course, in this often intolerant age, not everyone always agrees on ‘what is actually happening’. A simulation of the way we live can generate disagreement on how we should live. “A game like this caters to a lot of different kinds of players. For us from the Nordic countries, we have these things we take as granted and these show in the game – we have same sex couples for instance, you can’t really see that, but it’s there in the simulation,” Hallikainen says. Other possible disagreements can occur around the staples of the genre, where a car-based transport system almost always gets gridlocked in the end, with such simulations preferring public transport for its greater efficiency. Not something that will go down well with many Top Gear viewers. It’s also accepted in such games that polluting industries are a short term gain for long-term pain, while investing in education is usually the sensible option.
R OWLAND in the south-east, so is the city-building genre having a renaissance? Seth Barton reports Skylines’ developer Colossal Order name checks the EA-owned brand when we speak to the studio: “SimCity 4, that was the game we looked at and thought: ‘We want to make something like that’, but bring it into the modern day,” says CEO Mariina Hallikainen. Being contemporary is key to Hallikainen, who sees that such simulations must reflect the world around us: “The beauty of it is people want to create their own surrounding, how they see things running, how they want things to run, I think the evolution of simulation games reflects what’s happening in the world, it’s very realistic.” That wasn’t how it started out though, Hallikainen says: “I thought people would want to try building something you don’t see, possibly futuristic or from the past, but it seems for the asset creators in the community, they are making their own house, they are making the buildings they see everyday, they are building their own cities. “There’s a lot of different ways of doing it, but the majority really just looks outside and translates that to the game, which was surprising to me. When you’re in a game you want to explore worlds but not in a city builder. Two guys from Berlin have been working
“I hope that the Finnish government would play our game and see that!” exclaims Hallikainen. And the whole concept is built around top-down control, she explains: “If you think about city-planning and city-building games, they are kind of socialist, you collect taxes, you have services…” Which is exactly the kind of comment that could have some on the American right-wing reaching for the uninstall button. Hallikainen is clear that they try for realism but that their “point of view is reflected in the game.” That said, it’s “not full realism, because that’s not fun.” HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM Balancing realism and fun was a topic under intense discussion at Haemimont Games in recent months. It’s latest title tasks players with setting up a colony on Mars, a city of sorts but under the most extreme conditions. That means when things goes wrong, they go wrong fast, and some players have struggled to get to grips with that, Gabriel Dobrev, CEO, tells us. “In Tropico you always have a country going on, it’s you’re more like deciding what type of country you’re having. In Surviving Mars,
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“It’s the best launch we’ve ever had. So that’s a good thing,” he tells us. “And it’s almost the worst-rated game on Steam we ever had,” he adds, surprisingly. “Which is not to suggest that people don’t like the game, because they do, but they find a lot of little things that are not the way they expect them. “We thought: who wants to play a tutorial? So let’s make this in-game system that will give you hints all the time. Which tries to figure out what you’re trying to do,” he explains. As it turned out players found the combination of difficulty and the lack of an overview of the game’s systems overwhelming – thus the negative feedback. The company is redesigning the system at present, with a series of five shorter tutorials that cover key concepts in the game as you progress. Hallikainen has had similar issues, in Cities: Skylines: “We didn’t do the best job with the tutorial, we haven’t changed the system, but we’ve been making it clearer, adding stuff. It’s something that’s under development and improvement all the time. And with new features coming in, we have to make sure people can get into those smoothly.” Skylines is of course more-forgiving than Surviving Mars, but the tutorial process and the game as a whole is becoming a victim of its own success, with large amounts of DLC available. “The more content we have the more difficult it gets to balance the game. It’s certainly something we need to put effort into,” says Hallikainen. “We will eventually be in situation where we just can’t possibly add more to the game. But not yet, we have Parklife going up now,” she says – which adds more options for parks, zoos and nature reserves. “But we’re not going to be able to do this forever, it’s still ongoing development, the game is now three years old, we hope to go on a couple of more.”
Pictured above: Haemimont Games’ CEO, Gabriel Dobrev
at certain times, certain decisions are plain wrong, you don’t do that.” And these are usually quickly followed by numerous fatalities. We wonder whether Dobrev had set out to create something in the new ‘survival-builder’ sub-genre, also inhabited by the steampunk-styled Frostpunk, but that wasn’t his reason. “For us it wasn’t a decision to go into a particular genre as much as the subject matter itself,” he says. “You know Mars is a pretty rough place, just keeping going is a big thing.” Whatever the motivation, it provides a more gamelike experience, with a pretty definite fail state when compared to most city-crafters: “You can definitely lose the game. And it’s not even easy to get it right,” Dobrev admits. And that has caused its own problems.
COHERENT WORLDS All that extra content allows Cities: Skylines to offer an increasingly varied and realistic rendering of the modern city. And creating something believable and coherent is where Dobrev feels the whole strategy genre is headed. “Before they were kind of gamey, they would get away with these weird things. For example a game like Civilization would be very hard to launch now because it’s abstract with its rules. Maybe you start playing as the Americans, but you have Abraham Lincoln in 2000 B.C. and that’s something that’s hard to pull off now.” He explains that the games themes and metaphors must be much more closely aligned to the subject matter, with worlds that fit neatly with the mechanics of the game, as they do in Surviving Mars and Frostpunk – even if they are to varying degrees fantastical settings:
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“Essentially you’re getting much more coherence of games around the themes that they are exploring and much more true to their core metaphors.” CONSOLE-ATION PRIZE Surviving Mars is unusual in that it launched simultaneously on console platforms as well as on PC. And it’s not alone in this respect, with Frostpunk also coming to console in the future, and ports of Cities: Skylines also available. “You know, ten years ago I was trying to sell the idea for a city builder for a console,” Dobrev recalls. “And everyone was like: ‘There are no city builders for console’.” That’s now changing, for numerous reasons. The higher resolution and larger screen sizes of modern TVs help. As do the relatively higher power and PC architecture of modern consoles. As Dobrev explains, Surviving Mars targets PCs with a lower specification than the typical current-gen console anyway. And Haemimont considered everything from the ground up for the title. From “simple stuff like the size of the fonts in the UI” to quality of life improvements for controller users, be they on console or PC, such as making sure it’s easy to select all the elements onscreen and in the UI. Console gamers are more varied than before too. “I think something is happening with the console audience,” Dobrev says. “It’s not just players who want this action-type of gameplay, this is just a very versatile platform where you can play a variety of games.” With backward-compatibility looking likely to become more common, titles with a relatively niche appeal can sell digitally well beyond their original target platforms lifespan. Console is also a space that Cities: Skylines has long taken advantage of, although the small PC team doesn’t have the capacity to take on the other versions, which are handled by publisher Paradox. “The passion is focusing on the PC experience, but I do see the value in the ports for console. I was really please when I tried the Xbox version,” says Hallikainen. Still the number of titles is limited, Dobrev adds: “There is a very small selection of such games on consoles. So I say that’s a good market. We’re very, very happy with how the game is doing on consoles.” BUILD IT AND THEY WILL COME So there’s a suburb’s worth of keen developers making the city-builder their own. As well as the games mentioned here, there are close relations such as Frontier Development’s Jurassic World: Evolution (see page 14), Prison Architect and even Northgard. Players love to build things and there are increasingly varied and wonderful worlds in which to build them. The future is bright, the future is building.
Pictured above: Colossal Order’s CEO Mariina Hallikainen
“Things that aren’t big enough for the biggest publishers are big enough for us, and Cities: Skylines is an example of that.” July 2018 MCV 937 | 47
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SEARCHING FOR A
Ten years in, Aardvark Swift’s Search for a Star program has made graduate hires an attractive proposition. Jake Tucker speaks to Ian Goodall about the contest and how the recruitment outfit is changing the face of student employment
e don’t just find the best students anymore, we make them,” says Ian Goodall, the managing director of Aardvark Swift Recruitment. It may sound like a smart soundbite, but after ten years of Aardvark Swift’s Search for a Star competition for student game creators, it’s hard to disagree. The competition was originally created, Goodall tells us, as “the X Factor competition, but for video games development students.” It puts game development students through a variety of challenges looking to prepare them for a career in the industry – though thankfully you don’t need a sob story to back-up your talents in this contest. “We wanted to take the best students that were out there, push them through some tests and some stages, and then hopefully come out with the real crème de la crème, if you like, of students in the UK,” Goodall says. Now, after a decade, the event has grown considerably from its roots as a competition to foster the next generation’s programming geniuses. “Originally, we started out with a programming competition. That’s where we know the games industry feels the most pain at the moment: finding really good coders,” Goodall explains. “What we did with the competition is we tried to mirror the typical recruitment process that a coding student would face when trying to get into the games
industry. The first stage of the competition was – and still is – a C++ code test, because if students aren’t capable of coding in C++ or if they’re not up to a very good standard, then they’re not going to get past that first hurdle.” He goes on to explain that the test is largely what studios will ask new coders to attempt anyway. The company then surveyed the games industry to find out what it really needed, something it still does annually to ensure that the competition is kept bang-up-to-date with the needs of employers. “What do you want the students to do? What do you want to see in students when they graduate?,” Goodall asks. “What most studios want to see is a working game. They want students to have made a small game. It doesn’t have to be something epic, but just some experience in the process of designing a game, coming up with the idea and then fitting all that together and making it work. “The tools have changed, but the second part of the contest is to give the students Unity and a month, and see what they come back with.” He adds that the event started after the team at Aardvark Swift saw a disparity in the market: “We’d been going out to a lot of different universities up and down the country for career talks and we started to realise there was a big gap between what the students were being taught and the level they needed to achieve to transition successfully from student developer to professional developer.”
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Pictured above: Aardvark’s Search for a tar finals day, Grads in Ga es se tion
i t red belo an Goodall, M at ard ar ift
Inspired by this, Goodall sought to create a vehicle for students to polish the skills that games companies expect from graduates. Tamsin O’Luanaigh, the talent director at game development outfit nDreams, says that the competition has delivered real value to the studio. “NDreams has been involved with Search For a Star for two years now,” she tells MCV. “We believe it’s important to encourage graduates at this stage of their careers and this competition allows them to showcase their skills with the real chance of employment at the end of it. The graduates that we recruited in the program have already made a great contribution to the studio. It’s also been a great experience for our staff, who have been involved in judging competition entries in a variety of disciplines.” Each year the judging panel has gotten more involved, with games development studios setting tasks in a variety of disciplines. Studios like Sumo Digital, NaturalMotion and Red Kite Games will often attend the finals day to meet some of the industry’s best and brightest students face-to-face. There are now entrants for art, animation and VFX in addition to programming, with the competition offering a balanced look at the industry. “These sorts of challenges are vital to the industry’s future,” says Simon Iwaniszak, managing director at Red Kite Games. “Frankly, if you’re a student who isn’t entering Search For A Star or Rising Star competitions then we don’t believe that you’re serious about getting a job in video games.” From the last decade, Goodall is most proud of the time Aardvark Swift has spent with students and universities. Working hard to make sure studios in the UK are informed and positive about taking on the best graduate talent.
However, he’s also pleased with the work that the recruiter has done using the employment surveys conducted for Search For A Star, to make portfolio and careers advice available to students and universities across the UK. “Improving the links between employers and academia is key to moving the industry forward,” says Goodall. Aardvark Swift went to 30 universities across the UK and Europe last year to talk to over 2,000 students, in many cases taking along members of the games industry to improve studio engagement. Another step has been the launch of the Grads in Games initiative, which has grown from the foundation set up by Search for a Star to give even more students a place to shine. “Ten years ago, many, many studios dismissed graduate hiring. They got inundated every year by weak, badly written CVs and badly prepared portfolios. They’d come to the conclusion that all the degrees out there were rubbish. The students weren’t worth bothering with. They weren’t really too keen on graduate recruitment,” Goodall says. The industry seems to have changed its mind. Talent acquisition manager Holly Youdan adds that for Sumo Digital, it’s an essential event. “Search for a Star has been an amazing event to be a part of over the past couple of years. We’ve seen excellent talent participate with several of those stars having bright careers at Sumo. It’s important to be able to support Search for a Star to help foster the best and brightest game developers for the future.” Since Search for a Star started, Aardvark Swift has placed hundreds of students in roles, landing 14 graduates in jobs in just the last two months. In the first year, there were 50 to 60 students from 20 different universities entering the competition. 2018’s contest had 1,000 students entering from over 100 universities. For Goodall, the next step is to make the contest truly international, encouraging more entries from mainland Europe and the US. Whether this means the same contest growing even bigger, or separate geographical contests springing up, will have to be worked out, but Goodall is passionate about offering the opportunities to even more students. “It’s got a real positive output,” he says. “We’ve, quite honestly, taken students that would have never made it into the games industry and we’ve pipelined them successfully into many, many UK studios. “They would have been lost to the UK games industry, and they would have gone off and got jobs in IT or tech or banking or finance or whatever. I’m very proud that we put a lot of work in, but it actually does get people jobs. Simple as that.”
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TeacherGamingâ€™s material being used in a classroom. The TeacherGaming Desk gives access to over 40 games and more than 180 lesson plans
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Back to school On the back of the announcement of its partnership with Cities: Skylines publisher Paradox Interactive, TeacherGaming’s CEO Santeri Koivisto tells Marie Dealessandri about the many benefits of using video games in the classroom, why developers and publishers should get involved and how the firm intends to become the ‘Steam for schools’
or most of us, playing video games at school either meant taking every break opportunity to play on a handheld device or sighing at the sight of an umpteenth boring educational game. TeacherGaming aims to bridge the gap between the two, minus the boring part. Co-founded by two teachers (American Joel Levin and Finn Santeri Koivisto) and a developer (Aleksi Postari), TeacherGaming started with Koivisto and Levin doing the same thing on two different continents: using Minecraft as a learning tool in their classrooms. Having joined forces, the three partners got Mojang’s blessing to develop MinecraftEdu, an educational edition of Minecraft specifically designed for use in the classroom. It remains to this day their most successful product, with thousands of schools using the software to teach everything from computer science to chemistry and storytelling. Having showed thousands of teachers across many countries that video games were more than just entertainment, TeacherGaming sold MinecraftEdu to Microsoft in 2016. It also created the educational version of Kerbal Space Program and then decided to go even further, providing a platform for schools wishing to use games: the TeacherGaming Desk. This subscription-based platform gives access to the firm’s entire library (over 40 games), with a curriculum interface where teachers can pick topics, which then funnels the right game to the kids, with the teacher able to follow their progress. “For example if you have a Kerbal license, you go to the desk, the lesson is there, with ready-made activities,” Koivisto, now TeacherGaming’s CEO, starts explaining. “They can just launch Kerbal, they don’t need to use our materials but they can also pick up activity ideas. If you pick, let’s say ‘Newtonian physics - Law II’, then automatically there’s a scenario in the game that would match that.” Working hand-in-hand with traditional materials and teaching methods, video games in the classroom naturally boost the students’ engagement and benefits everyone involved, Koivisto explains.
“Starting from the very basic and obvious things: of course the academic side is important but raising a human being is another important part. I would say that schools have part of that responsibility and games are just such a huge part of people’s lives nowadays, especially young people, that we should address games in some way in any case,” Koivisto tells MCV. He continues: “Because it’s such a huge part [of kids’ lives], it becomes a massive sort of leverage potential because then you can turn the informal side into more effective learning. You can connect through this medium both the informal side and the formal side. For me as a teacher if my only comment about games is ‘Don’t play so many games’, then teenagers would look at me and be like ‘You just don’t get it’ and then you lose the connection.” Koivisto also advocates that teachers should at least take interest in games, if not able to use them in the classroom. “Being interested and having some of your own experiences, being able to have a conversation about games with your students already has a big positive impact and that is typically strongest on the very weakest of students that don’t necessarily thrive in school but tend to thrive in video games quite often,” Koivisto says. “I would say that’s the first argument. That’s a very binary argument but I think that alone should be enough for anybody who cares – you know, pay attention to this stuff.” NEWTON’S LAWS Boosting kids’ engagement is just one of the benefits of using games in the classroom, but there’s more to it than that. This includes improvements to natural learning, cross learning, increased clarity and context and teaching skills outside of traditional school topics. The benefits are numerous and far-reaching. “For example if you have attention problems, hyperactivity, things like that, when you are engaged you are much more able to focus,
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Pictured above: Kerbal Space Program is a prime example of what video games can o er in a lassroo environment, by pro idin a reat first look into how physics work in practice
concentrate, sit down or actually be on task. So of course the engagement is a big part,” he continues. “Schools are often blamed for teaching things in silos and having no real impact whatsoever. You’re setting this module that in the worst case scenario is just sort of an island, whereas games can be much more, integrating many things, not only in school but outside. “Let’s take Cities: Skylines, which is one of the very big games that we work with... It’s a game that naturally teaches all kinds of skills, for example problem solving, critical thinking and creativity. That skill development is often very well integrated but at the same time we want to implement curricular topics and themes, for example sustainability or CO2 emissions. “So one great way of using games might be that you use your standard material about sustainability, but then after every lesson you say ‘You now have 30 minutes after school to play the game and integrate what you learnt during this lesson to the game’. So you don’t even have to use it in your class hours and you can still reap the benefits. “It lets us more naturally put things in context and create purpose on difficult topics that we need to teach in school – physics being a great example. When was the last time you actually needed Newton’s laws in your real life? I mean, never,” he laughs. “For a teenager who is always struggling with this stuff, the reasons why we are learning this might not be very obvious. But games can provide that sort of platform and context where you can instantly find that type of information useful. “Games really reinvent themselves, even if the game is something that the student has already pretty much exhausted at home. When there is an adult involvement
and all your friends are playing the same game, it’s such a different context. So we have seen very positive reactions from the students in the classrooms.” FINDING THE RARE GEM TeacherGaming targets quite a variety of topics such as biology, languages or maths, with STEM, computer science and social sciences being its “sweet spots” Koivisto says. He once again mentions Kerbal Space Program and Cities: Skylines as good examples, as well as Positech’s Democracy. We ask him if there are specific features in a game that make him think it would be a good fit for a classroom. He takes some time to think before answering: “We don’t really like educational games... We have some for some borderline cases, of course – maths is very difficult to integrate or facilitate into a sandbox game. So in terms of gameplay it tends to be more maths games-like. Which is unfortunate but that’s typically the most approachable way of doing maths in a game. Now of course there are certain deal breakers, like if it’s a very violent game or if it introduces sexual content, it’s something that is hard for us to bring to the classroom. “If there is a good game that first of all gives you freedom and flexibility to make decisions, experiment, be more of a creator than a consumer, that’s always something that is very nice for us. Something games do very well is to teach and integrate skills. But the skills, in order to develop, require that you can make mistakes and learn from your mistakes. Of course creativity is important as well. “The best is if it’s close enough to realism and a factual side with the game mechanics integrating those
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in a natural way. So for example Kerbal Space Program: it’s an important part to understand about physics and Newton’s laws in order to make successful rockets. So it actually provides a very good context for you to first look into how physics work, understand a certain concept, be able to do a bit of maths around that and then you can really nail your design. So if the game mechanics and what we’re trying to teach align very well, that’s always something really nice. “But also something that many educational games miss and lack is that the production values are just not there. It has been hard for educational game makers because you cannot expect much business to come to your game and then you need to put your price very high. I would even argue that the business is, in a way, broken. I would strongly advise everyone not to do educational games in this traditional format because the schools are not able and willing to pay without the production values that are really needed for the game media to work.” That’s why TeacherGaming works very closely with developers to produce classroom-ready versions of highstandards games, rather than just delivering traditional educational games that could lack production value. “We try to take everything off the developers’ hands because we know that everybody is very busy and I think developers’ time is best used when they are making great games and not educational versions of great games,” Koivisto says. “So basically our ideal situation is where we get a full or partial access to the source code where we can make our necessary changes and the basic integration to our system and then where we can also deliver that code to our TeacherGaming app. The paperwork, reporting bug fixes and whenever we need help with the code, we try to be very transparent and connected with the developers.” Studios wishing to get in touch to bring their titles to TeacherGaming can contact them via email or Whatsapp, Koivisto adds. “We’re very casual, so anyone can approach us at any time,” he smiles. “We are happy to have a discussion about all kinds of game ideas.” STEAM FOR SCHOOLS That brings us to discussing how TeacherGaming’s partnership with Paradox Interactive came about – and why other developers and publishers should be looking into publishing educational versions of their games. “Paradox is a really nice match for us because they tend to focus on historical IPs, simulations, things that can be played for over 100 hours. And I would say that many things that I have learnt about history or city urban planning comes from Paradox games,” Koivisto laughs. “It’s also a small – or smaller – publisher so I
would say that their decision making so far has been proven to be quite nimble and they have been a very flexible partner. Kerbal comes from Take-Two. We have been having conversations with them about other games and we have been having conversations with other publishers as well. “Maybe the key point that I should mention is the value for the game developers. Many game developers and publishers are like: ‘Okay Steam and app stores are getting very saturated, where can we find users, where can we find the retention, people getting excited and getting to know our games?’ And I claim that quite a bit of that Minecraft hype, especially amongst the younger children, was built in schools. I mean for games like Cities: Skylines that’s the place where you get the first positive experience about that game and then it’s very likely that you go home and you buy the game. “What kids are playing on their devices is not necessarily very high quality and it’s unlikely that we can reduce the amount of time they are spending with games but what we can do is to affect the quality of what they are playing. And so far every feedback from parents that we have been getting is ‘Thank you very much because now my kid is not playing Counter-Strike or GTA’ – which are both great games, I would say that, but at the same time for a 12-year-old, it’s maybe something they shouldn’t be playing. And now they are building rockets or castles with friends and parents tend to be very happy with this.” Bringing games to the classroom is a win-win situation, with developers and publishers being able to find new users, while it’s also showing kids (and more importantly: their parents) the value of good games. Which is why TeacherGaming won’t stop here, as Koivisto has big ambitions for his firm, having raised $1.6m earlier this year. “I guess our ultimate ambition is more or less to become the ‘Steam for schools’ which will be very different compared to what Steam is for consumers. But in a way Steam is a good comparison,” he says. “But especially what this fund helps us to do is to fine tune the retention and how we can build the features teachers really need, like easy access to connecting all of the content to a curriculum, easy reporting, easy for them to find the right content at a given time. “But schools are slow in terms of making decisions and purchases. So that also gives us the time to really nurture the customers that are coming in and helping them to get started and then understanding how this is the best service for schools – is it the subscription model that we currently have or is it something else? Based on that, hopefully it gets you on a growth track and then we’ll be able to build a proper growth business.”
Pictured above: Santeri Koivisto, TeacherGaming CEO
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The more things change, the more they stay the same As Square Enix Montreal announces a shift in focus to ‘freemium’ titles, Jake Tucker talks to head of studio Patrick Naud
quare Enix Montreal is at a tipping point. The studio has barely paused for breath since the release of 2014’s Hitman Go. The Montreal studio was founded in November 2011 with the purpose of creating a new Hitman game for consoles. However, in 2013 it was decided that the company would instead create mobile games, and they quickly became one of the biggest developers in the premium mobile space. Patrick Naud, named as the studio head of Square Enix Montreal in 2013, and Square Enix’s head of mobile in 2016, was at Casual Connect to kick off the next stage in the studio’s evolution: freemium. “We’re at a very exciting spot right now,” enthuses Naud. “We’ve announced that we’re officially moving into the freemium space, but actually we’ve been transitioning over the last few years toward that mindset.” Currently, the team doesn’t have any titles to announce, but Naud says that they will still be making games that feel familiar to fans of the studio’s previous titles. “We’ll keep the DNA that we had when we created the Go series, or even Hitman Sniper. That is the DNA which shows that we want to create something different, something that will change the industry because no one else has given it this treatment before.” Naud talks about the success of Hitman Sniper, which came along after several other sniper games were already on the market. He says: “There’s none [of the clones] that have the level of depth and the level of complexity that Hitman Sniper has, and no one has found a way to clone it yet so we’re still very happy. That’s going to be the same focus going forward, even if we’re in the freemium space. If we attack a genre or an IP we’ll have our own special
twist on it, and it’s going to be definitely a Square Enix Montreal product.” Hitman Sniper is an apt example, as it’s come to be emblematic of the studio’s journey to freemium. It launched as a paid game, but lit the way for the studio to start working on live titles, with Naud saying that the version of Hitman Sniper that exists now is “drastically improved” from the title that the team launched in 2015. Back then, Naud says, the team wasn’t using analytics much and hadn’t yet picked up the mindset of saying: “We made a great game, what can we do to make it better?” He continues: “We’ve taught the product to evolve now, we brought it to new territories, we improved retention, we’re tracking things better, we’re proposing in game campaigns. We’ve grown Hitman Sniper so that it actually performed better in its third year than its second or first year. All the projects that we’re making now are influenced by that journey.” Naud says that while most people focus on Square Enix Montreal’s Go series, many of the innovations are actually coming to Hitman Sniper. “The technical innovations on Hitman Sniper are amazing. We’ve heard from a partner in Asia that has tried to clone it and couldn’t,” Naud laughs. “The amount of characters, the scripting, the depth, the physics... There was so much happening in that scene that they were not able to do it.” However, the premium games market is in decline, he adds: “Right now, premium games just cannot reach a big audience, even if they’re amazing. It’s disappointing for us content developers that are crafting something with love to see that so few people are interested in paying a
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“Premium games, even if they’re amazing, just cannot reach a big audience. It’s disappointing for us content developers that are crafting something with love to see that so few people are interested in paying a few dollars for it.”
few dollars for it. The state of the premium market has declined since we released Hitman Go four years ago.” Naud says a large issue is that, despite an ever-growing mobile install base, the amount of games on offer has increased exponentially over the past five years. In a marketplace where players have been conditioned to expect their games for free – often supported by microtransactions – getting people to pay for a game is proving increasingly difficult. “People often won’t buy a premium game, even if they have been told it’s really good,” Naud adds. “In order for people to convert upfront they need to be very convinced by it, whereas people are much more likely to try a game they’re not sure about if it’s free-to-play.” As players expect more and more, Naud says that Square Enix Montreal is just trying to show them the games that the studio is making are worth playing. “Players have so much on offer they can take their time and pick-and-choose what they really want to play and whether they want to pay,” he says. Naud points to the launch of Lara Croft Go, a game which he describes as “the talk of the town,” with positive press, word of mouth and even prominent placement on Apple’s app store. Naud says they got somewhere in the region of 11m people on Lara Croft Go’s store page, but describes the amount of people that actually bought the game from that store page as a fraction of that number that is “much lower than you would expect.” He explains: “People that follow the press are more likely to buy premium games. They trust their favourite journalists, they know if they like that kind of game and it is well reviewed, it’s worth trying. Thing is, that’s an
infinitely small part of the mobile audience. Most people discover games in the store and buy from there without ever knowing a title is critically acclaimed.” However, although the way Square Enix Montreal does business might have changed, the way they make games has not. “Originally we were working on a new console version of Hitman, right? So we were all recruited from triple-A development backgrounds,” Naud says. This led to two mobile games, Hitman Go and Hitman Sniper, although the team originally shied away from free-to-play because it seemed like it would have been too big of a leap. “The DNA in the studio is still the same. The same DNA that we had in crafting the Go games is still there,” Naud says. “So whatever we do, even if we change the way we monetise our games, or the way that we approach the design of our game, the craftsmanship is still going to be there. “I believe that you win by making great games that engage people, and engage them for a long term. Then these players become your biggest evangelists.” Square Enix Montral is still early in this retooling process, but the studio is currently hiring heavily for the next step – a process that it’s taking seriously to ensure it retains what makes its games so unique. “Our triple-A legacy of crafting these pristine experiences is something that we’re keeping in the business model,” Naud says. “It’s just a different way for us to reach more and more people. Our fans will recognise what we’re putting out, and although we can’t reveal anything just yet, we know we’re still doing what we do best: making great games to engage people.”
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FORTUNE No one backed Warframe to be a success, but five years on its going from strength-to-strength. So how did work-for-hire studio Digital Extremes use the free-to-play model to take control of its own destiny? Seth Barton reports
ight and day.” That’s how different Warframe feels to play today compared to when it launched five years ago, according to Meridith Braun, VP of publishing at developer Digital Extremes. And it’s an equally stark difference in terms of its business fortunes. When it launched, few saw the title’s potential, as a free-to-play minimum viable product it was compared unfavourably to the likes of Destiny. “We kind of threw out this vertical slice and hoped that it would gain traction,” Braun remembers. After five years, the game has gained that traction, and then some, amassing a playerbase of 40m registered users. And it’s far from done yet, with Braun telling us that active player numbers “more than doubled” last year after the launch of the game’s huge open-world update, Plains of Eidolon, while last month’s The Sacrifice quest saw concurrent player numbers hit nearly 130,000. It’s arguably unusual in design too – a purely PvE free-to-play title, one that’s generous with its free content, and which contains no random paid loot boxes of any kind. Despite, or maybe because of, its differences Warframe has quietly become a huge success. With its fifth anniversary this year, as well as Digital Extreme’s 25th birthday, it’s an ideal time to look
at how this unusual game found its place and why it could easily make it to a decade. COME ON IN, THE FIGHTING IS LOVELY No one in the free-to-play space wanted to back Warframe when it was first pitched. “We were super nervous after being turned down by a lot of the large free-to-play publishers,” Braun admits, continuing: “We were hoping someone would help us publish this originally, and when they didn’t see that this could be a successful product, we ultimately decided to just do this on our own.” That’s a decision that some must be regretting now, though arguably Warframe might not be the game it became today had a publisher had a steer on it. Braun says the decision to go it alone made the developer determined not to just follow a template of “cookie cutter publishing.” And it certainly stands out from the crowd. Braun is keen to point out that other big free-to-play titles legitimised the space, such as World of Tanks, Fortnite and Paladins, especially on console. But all of those games revolve around PvP play, making Warframe’s purely PvE gameplay somewhat unique. That lack of competitive one-up-man-ship makes its community a far more
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welcoming proposition. “Because it’s a co-op game and not PvP, there isn’t that immediate adversarial stance from the players,” Braun says. “It’s more about all coming together and making Warframe great together, and that’s how we treat it.”
Pictured above: Meridith Braun, VP of publishing at Digital Extremes
PAY-AS-YOU-GO It’s arguable that it helps players respect each other when the game respects them all. Microtransactions in console games haven’t had the best press of late – but Battlefront II’s problems have actually made well-designed freeto-play titles look comparatively clean. And the critical consensus is that Warframe is the kind of generous title that players are happy to support. Braun is happy to agree with that: “I think we’re finally showing gamers that you can have great gaming experiences with this kind of business model and it doesn’t have to be gross.” There are no purchasable random loot boxes in Warframe, and if you’re buying anything with the ingame currency you know exactly what you’re getting and exactly how much you’re paying. “That was a conscious effort, when we started looking at all the other free-to-play games out there, and primarily most of them started in the east, and seeing the tactics used to just attack someone’s wallet was so gross to us,” Braun adds. Those games didn’t put the studio off though: “We still felt this model was the best way to make the game we had always wanted to make, we just had to be sure we were respecting our players, respecting their wallets. “And it goes back to our roots as a shareware developer, if you make a great game they will pay for it. If you’re giving them a great experience, giving them great value, giving them great service… We get a lot of comments where people say ‘I didn’t have to pay a dime into this game but I still did because they did the work here and it’s amazing’.” There are of course those who have spent a lot of money on the game, we proffer a figure of $600 that we saw online: “It actually scares us when we see those kinds of numbers, but then we see that person has played the game for four years,” Braun reacts. And some players have put in truly epic numbers of hours, with a recent trailer highlighting numerous players that have clocked up north of 2,500 hours playing time. THE SECRET DEVELOPER There’s lots of content keeping them busy, plus lots more to come, says Braun. We ask her if the studio has a more realistic idea of how long it takes to implement new features now, so they can better plan the game’s roadmap? “Oh no!” she replies laughing. “Our creative
director [Scott McGregor] certainly has a vision for where he wants Warframe to continue going, and he comes up with these grand ideas and determines whether or not we can technically do them. But it definitely is a malleable process with our community on where the game goes.” And McGregor knows that community well after clocking up over 2,000 hours in the game in 2016, playing anonymously with a fresh account and no developer privileges, to gauge what the new player experience was like. Efforts like that are supported by the usual balancing act of social media and forum feedback, tempered with an increasingly sophisticated set of in-game analytics that Digital Extremes has built for the game. Though at first Braun admits it was just ‘who’s screaming the loudest.’ “Change is hard for everybody, so when you change something, you see what shakes out of the tree in the first couple of weeks and then you start to manage the feedback from there – because all the tempers have started to cool. You can’t take the first crack at feedback, you have to wait it out a little bit.” Good advice, especially for a game where massive changes have occurred on numerous occasions. FREE AND OPEN The most significant of those updates to date was adding an open world last year: “With the Plains of Eidolon last year, we knew it was going to be really exciting for our playerbase that we were adding this humongous new mechanic of open world. We didn’t realise how far it would reach beyond even our Warframe community and gather a whole new set of gamers who hadn’t thought of giving the game a try before,” Braun says. “We haven’t even started to plateau five years in and we’re excited to offer another few updates like that this year , with another big announcement at Tennocon 2018.” That being the third annual community event which kicks off in just a few days time, where over 2,000 passionate fans make the pilgrimage to London, Ontario to meet up and talk to the developers. After five years the constant demands of a live game are taking its toll though: “We’re tired,” Braun admits. “In January it eases up a little bit, but the rest of the year our hair’s on fire! We have a team that just doesn’t stop.” Digital Extremes, as with UK outfit Splash Damage, is now owned by Chinese gaming investment vehicle Leyou. “They give us everything we need to manage Warframe ourselves and grow it as much as we can,” Braun tells us. That doesn’t mean the company is concentrating its efforts on cracking the Chinese market specifically. Braun won’t be drawn on a longer-term strategy for the game, but affirms that the company is done with work-for-hire and retail games, stating: “Free-to-play is definitely the future for us.”
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Strauss Zelnick, the chairman and CEO of Take-Two Interactive, has deftly guided the publisher for 11 years now, and will preside over what is set to be a smashing 25th anniversary year. Jake Tucker spoke to Zelnick at the halfway point of E3 2018, and he was happy to discuss a range of subjects, delivering thoughtful answers about Brexit, Xbox Game Pass, monetisation and its VR strategy
Why was there no public booth at E3 for Take-Two this year? It all depends on the year, Rockstar typically does not participate in E3, and our biggest release – and we believe the industry’s biggest release for fiscal year 2019 – is Red Dead Redemption 2. Last year we had a corporate presence and we found it worked really well, a great time for our sales team to meet with our customers, great to have press and analyst meetings. We found it was an incredibly productive show for us even if we’re not showing product. In fact I would argue it’s more productive for us this way, we can show product to retail anytime.
TAKE-TWO: ALL SET FOR A SMASH HIT ANNIVERSARY
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What is Take-Two looking forward to over the next six to 12 months? Probably the things we’re most looking forward to are the release of Red Dead Redemption 2 on October 26th, the release of NBA 2K19 on September 11th, our upcoming fall release with WWE 2K and, of course, the launch of the sequel to NBA 2K Online in China. That’s coming out in September. The continued performance of our free-to-play titles from Social Point, continued performance of our catalogue, including Grand Theft Auto and Grand Theft Auto Online – I think that’s generally what’s going on. EA and Microsoft have both pushed their own subscription services in their conferences, do you feel a subscription model is the future for the industry? No. A subscription model would have to speak to consumer needs and interests first and foremost. You’d have to believe that consumers want a lot of video games in a given month to choose from and the model under which those can be distributed now somehow doesn’t work for consumers. I’m not sure consumers like to play lots and lots of video games a month. I think they tend to focus on a small number of high value titles. I’m not sure they’re looking for a huge number of catalogue titles and I think the economic model is very beneficial to consumers now. So, I’m a little sceptical, but I wouldn’t rule it out and our goal is to be where the consumer is. If the consumer feels like a subscription model makes the most sense, as long as we’re properly
rewarded for the work that we do and that our creators do, then we would participate. Take-Two currently works with Xbox Game Pass, will you continue to support it? We selectively supported Game Pass. It all depends on the model. It depends on whether consumers are benefitted by it. Full-priced titles and microtransactions have caused some publishers problems of late. What are you thoughts here? We try really hard – and I’m not saying always successfully – to put the consumer first, our goal is to entertain and engage with the consumer first and foremost, and it’s only at that point that we begin to think about how to monetise our engagement. It’s our job to be in business, we’re not naive about that, but the minute you start using data analytics to drive monetisation versus using creativity to drive entertainment, I think you’ve lost the track. And I think consumers recognise our ability to deliver much more than we charge for, and never use monetisation as a roadblock. Though, frankly, we’ve also been subject to some criticism. Do you feel like it’s increasingly difficult to monetise live games and games-as-a-service? It’s not harder to monetise, you do have to listen to consumers and we did listen to consumers. We did get some push back with the NBA 2K franchise, it was modest, but we got it and we heard it because the nature of a consumer experience is not just whether you love the experience, but you also have to feel like you were charged appropriately. Now, I do think there is a very small subsection of consumers who feel like everything ought to be free, we can’t help those people. But, I think it is appropriate to say: “Look, are you an entertainment company or a monetisation company?” – well we’re squarely an entertainment company. We believe in providing this incredible, engaging, captivating, consumer experience. We want to make the highest quality entertainment, nevermind interactive entertainment, on Earth. So our view is make that great entertainment, engage your customers, revenues and profits will naturally follow. We don’t need to focus on those overly and if consumers are pushing back we want to pay attention. 2K, through Hangar 13 Games, has recently opened a studio in Brighton (see more on page 78), do you feel like the UK is rich for that sort of investment for development at the moment? I do. First of all, the tax regime is favourable. Secondly, there’s a lot of talented people there. When we locate a studio what we’re really looking for is a pool of talent that we’re not otherwise addressing. If you’re in any one location with a meaningful presence, we’re looking for the best and the brightest, it’s not easy to come by those people. That’s the reason we have something like 17 studios around the world. If we could do it all in one central location I suppose we would be more efficient, but we can’t. And we like diversity of social backgrounds and diversity of opinions.
“The minute you start using data analytics to drive monetisation versus using creativity to drive entertainment, you’ve lost the track.” UK is going through Brexit at the moment, did that factor into your decision? It did actually and we know concerns about Brexit has had some chilling effect on people’s willingness to work in the UK. We don’t think it’s a good thing. For a small island, it’s really a bad idea. People are concerned that it won’t be safe. If you’re not from the UK and you’re working in the UK there are people who are concerned, thinking: “Maybe I better go work elsewhere.” What do you feel are some of the big trends that are emerging for you at E3? What do you pay most attention to? If there’s a trend that would speak to our business as well as everyone else’s it would just be the shift of what we call “concurrent consumer spending,” which is nearly half our business in the last fiscal year. So, five years ago the business basically was: make something, hope it’s great, put it in the market, see what happens, go on to the next. Today, we try to make something great and then if it works we try to keep our customer base engaged over a very long period of time. So, that’s a sea change in the business. I’d say another big change in the business is the development of free-to-play, now a $60bn business that didn’t even exist just a few years ago. We’re in that business through NBA 2K Online in China, through Dragon City of Monster Legends, WWE SuperCard, and others. So, we are exposed to the business, but it’s still a relatively small part of our business and an area that we think we can develop. Do you feel, with the back catalogue that Take-Two has, that remasters make sense for the business? They can and we’ve done well with them at times. The other thing we’ve done, of course, is create new products based on old products like L.A. Noire for VR, which has done very well given how small the VR market is. Could this open the door for more VR products for the studios? We’re working on some things that would interest people, but it’s still a tiny market and I have expressed a good deal of scepticism about in the past, which I have retained. It’s not that I’m against it, I was never against it. It was a perception about what would occur and that has occurred. I’m not against anything, it’d be great news for us if VR turned into a big business because we have the technology, we know how to do it, we would love it if consumers liked it. But I didn’t believe the hype and I still don’t believe the hype.
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Virtuoso o ce Jem Alexander talks to composer Gareth Coker about writing for Ori and the Blind Forest and its sequel, working in a virtual office and why having a strong team relationship leads to better music
omposing music for video games is more similar to writing story and dialogue than you might expect. In many cases freelancers are brought onto a project for a short period of time and they tend to work in silos with limited access to the team or the game itself. With Gareth Coker’s Ori and the Blind Forest score, a strong case can be made for integrating composers into a development team and giving them the trust and freedom to experiment and make mistakes. Coker is continuing to work with Moon Studios on Ori and the Will of the Wisps, furthering this strong relationship with the team that resulted in the muchbeloved soundtrack to the original game. Even though Moon Studios doesn’t have a central office and its workforce is spread across several countries, this didn’t stop Coker from feeling like he had a seat at the table. In fact, the virtual office made it easier for him to feel like a part of the team. “We’re all working online,” he explains. “It sounds crazy to most people and it requires a certain type of person to work in that environment. Some people need to go to work and be in an office every day, and that’s totally cool. Everyone at Moon is a self starter; they don’t need to be told what to do. As a result, the structure of the studio is flat. Yes, there is a boss, but fundamentally everyone has an equal opinion. “That’s really awesome because you feel like you have a stake in everything. If an artist wants to give feedback on my terrible piano playing, they can. They probably won’t, but if they feel strongly about it they totally can. And this happened on Ori and the Blind Forest and it’s happening right now on Ori and the Will of the Wisps. I give feedback on things that I don’t like and they give feedback on things they don’t like, because at the end of the day we’re all players.” As a freelancer, Coker also works with larger studios that exist in local offices, which have their own pros and cons. “My work with Insomniac Games [on VR title The Unspoken] is a good example,” Coker continues. “I had an audio director at Insomniac who communicated to me and distilled all the feedback for me, because with a bigger studio there’s more feedback coming in.
50 people give feedback and you need to pay attention to all of them. How do you know which one is more important? But I had someone filtering all of that for me and then giving me actionable points. “Generally speaking if you’re working in a studio environment, you’re probably going to have an audio director to work with. Which makes your life a lot easier, because they’re full time at the studio and they know all the politics and so on. That can actually let you focus on what you’ve been hired to do. Whereas in the Moon Studios setup you’ve got to fill many more roles. You’re doing a lot more but at same time you’ve got a lot more freedom. So you’re doing more work but that can also be liberating.” The freedom that Coker enjoys while working with Moon Studios is a direct result of a level of trust and a relationship with the team that can be rare to find for freelancers. Something that develops over time and with experience, as natural bonds build between coworkers and industry colleagues. With Ori and the Blind Forest, this gave Coker a level of control over the game’s cut scenes that isn’t often afforded to freelance composers. “Normally when you’re doing cut scenes you get an animatic,” Coker says. “You’re working to that animatic and you are told to just get it done. In the case of Ori, they said: ‘Here are rough storyboards of what we’re doing. Write a piece of music for it and then we’ll time the animatic according to the pacing of your music. As long as it’s not completely crazy’. Because there were storyboards, I could extend or shorten things as I wanted. I could say: ‘Ooh, can we get a couple more seconds here just so I can make it a more musical build?’. “It’s very rare. You need to have a good relationship with the rest of the team. You need to be on a project long enough to have that kind of freedom. Because music is usually one of the last things to be added to a media project, it’s always better if you can come on early, but it’s not always the case.” NOTHING IS EMPTY This freedom to experiment even extended to aspects of the gameplay and environments. Coker was able to feedback on moments within
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“If everything is intense in the game then nothing is intense in the game. It’s the same with music.”
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Pictured above: Gareth Coker on stage at E3 2017, introducing Ori and the Will of the Wisps with a live piano performance
the game as he was experiencing them by playing each of the latest builds, thanks to his unfiltered access to the company’s Dropbox. “The first time you get a major ability in Ori you approach one of the ancestral trees,” he explains. “And I said: ‘I need a bigger room, we need to make more of a moment of this. Can we make the room larger so it takes longer to walk across?’. They said ‘Well, it’s empty space’ but I disagreed. ‘No, it’s not empty space, because the player is experiencing the joy of being in this room and the fact that something special might be about to happen’. It’s a subtle psychological thing for the player when they’re doing that. “If you’ve played an open world game like The Witcher, for example, there’s a lot of open space and you might think that gets boring. But is there any boring open space in The Witcher? Not that immediately springs to mind! You feel like there’s always something to look at. “I think you need those moments of breathing time with the simple joy of pressing left or right and you’re overwhelmed with awesome visuals, nice music or narrative. You need a little bit of that to punctuate the gameplay, because Ori is quite an intense game. You need the ebb and flow in the gameplay as well as the art and the music. If everything is an iconic landmark then nothing is an iconic landmark. If everything is intense in the game then nothing is intense in the game. And it’s the same with music. It’s all about this push/pull and that is what I feel like the best games do. That’s all part of storytelling.” FAILING IS COOL Experimentation isn’t risk free and part of having the freedom to try new things is having the freedom to fail at them. This is only possible in a safe space built on trust. “You need to be working with a studio that trusts you enough and gives you enough of a leash to experiment
and to fail,” says Coker. “I think that’s one of the things that’s starting to happen now. But we’re not there yet because there’s a lot of pressure, especially at the studio level. You’ve got to make something that works and is successful. But, especially on a triple-A indie level, I feel like I have a leash and I am encouraged to fail. There is no reprimand for me if I fail. It’s more: ‘Well, try again and make it work’. There is no punishment. There’s no ‘Oh, this just doesn’t work. It sucks’. And it’s okay to suck. And that is the best creative environment to work in.” Coker believes that a willingness to fail and to learn is vital for anyone, whether they’re already a professional composer or just starting on their career. “What most creators have a tendency to do at the beginning of their career is create a big bunch of ideas that never get finished,” he says. “I would encourage anyone to finish ideas even if they’re bad. Don’t be afraid to fail. If you are afraid to fail you’ll never progress. You learn more from failure and being able to self evaluate and figuring out where things went wrong so you don’t do them again. But it takes courage to be able to do that. Ideally you need someone, whether it’s a friend or mentor, who is willing to listen to your crappy music and tell you what’s wrong with it and be honest with you in a nice way. “Once you start getting into the cycle of finishing things it becomes easier and easier and you start caring less. This also comes with age as well. Once you get over the fact that not everything you write is going to be a masterpiece, then it becomes easier to progress. That for me is the one thing I wish I’d started doing sooner. Just getting over myself. Because you progress so fast when you finish stuff.”
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How Ubisoft Barcelona is giving a fresh twist to Might & Magic with Elemental Guardians Marie Dealessandri talks to Sergi Berjano, producer on Ubisoft Barcelona’s latest mobile title Might & Magic: Elemental Guardians, about working on the iconic franchise, the potential of AR and how its shiny art style makes it different from other titles in the same genre Why did you choose the Might and Magic universe for this new title? From the very early stages of the project, our vision was very clear. As huge RPG players ourselves, we wanted to build a mobile RPG in a medieval fantasy world. Might & Magic looked like the perfect fit! Therefore, we decided to pitch the idea internally with the brand team and it was a quick match. In Might & Magic: Elemental Guardians, players will be able to discover a fresh twist on the classic IP, featuring iconic creatures from the franchise as well as brand new ones. How was it to work on the iconic franchise? What challenges did you overcome when adapting it for this title? The Might & Magic franchise is over 30 years old; it represents many opportunities and challenges. One of the biggest challenge we faced during the production was to adapt the classic PC franchise to mobile. The most iconic games like the Heroes series have always been ‘hardcore’ strategic PC games with a very dark and realistic style. We needed to move away from that and try something new to fit with the mobile platform constraints. We also wanted to appeal to new players. The title launched on May 31st on iOS and Android – how has it been performing so far?
While we cannot reveal this kind of information, I can share that the team is very pleased with the results and overall feedback received so far! What regions did you soft launch in, where is it available now, and do you plan to expand or localise into further regions? We soft launched the game in Canada, Australia, Singapore, Philippines and Taiwan. The game is currently available worldwide on the app store and Google Play. It is fully localised in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, Turkish, Korean, Japanese and Traditional and Simplified Chinese. There are no plans to add more localisations for now. Can you tell us more about your monetisation strategy for the title? Might & Magic: Elemental Guardians is a free-to-play game. Everything the player needs to finish the game is unlockable through gameplay without paying a dime. The experience is designed to be delightful for players without forcing them to spend real money. The game offers players various ways to enhance the specific parts of the experience they care about most (progressing more quickly, customising the game...) through optional payments. Players can also unlock some of the items available for purchase via in-game currency.
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Pictured above: Sergi Berjano, producer at Ubisoft Barcelona
How do you differentiate it from other titles in the same genre? I would say that we have worked really hard on the production value: our graphics are shiny! Our talented team designed all 400 creatures with a lot of love and care, from spell design, to the art style and the animations. This is one of the most praised aspect by our players. Gameplay-wise, we do offer the avatar system. A fully customisable character, in appearance and gameplay, which can greatly influence the outcome of the battle. In addition, we have the newly released Guild feature. We do believe that the Guild collaborative quests we offer is a strong feature and we do have big plans to enhance this feature even further. Lastly, augmented reality brings a whole new layer in the game. Players can take snapshots or selfies with their favourite creatures by their side. They can also choose to play PvP battles in augmented reality.
In terms of design, how did you find a balance between trying to satisfy longstanding fans of the franchise and being welcoming to newcomers? We want every Might & Magic fan to enjoy the game, thanks to its faithfulness to the saga and the huge work that has been done to replicate on mobile the key components of the Might & Magic universe. Since the game is both accessible and complex, it completely fits with newcomers who never played any title of the series and RPG mobile gamers. Even though we introduced big changes in regards to art style, we always had the fans in mind. We shared our vision and the game early on with some of them during soft launch and we took note of their feedback. Even if the first reaction from some of them was not overly positive at the start, they changed their opinion after playing a bit and we are proud of that!
What made you want to include an AR mode? Is there a key gameplay reason, or is it just to make it stand out? To be completely frank, it started as gimmick feature from the team but finally ended up into something great. All players are now praising the AR mode. It also has a big potential for social: pictures sharing, competitions and so on. After seeing what the first parties like Apple and Google have in mind for their AR technology, we are also very excited to see what we will be able to do with the upcoming AR features, like the shared environments. Stay tuned!
What are your expectations and ambitions in the longer term for Might & Magic: Elemental Guardians? We are planning to support the game as long as players keep playing it! The updates will include free additional content such as new levels, new creatures, new events, but we also plan to add many other elements that we hope will please our players. We have big plans for the future and we will follow the same strategy as we did during soft launch. We are going to listen to the playerâ€™s feedback and include it in our production roadmap.
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Call: 01202 489 500
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Digital data is go!
IncomeStream The numbers, stats and market stories that matter and why they do
After years of waiting we re finally receiving weekly sales data from across urope including pan uropean digital sales rankings he new ames Sales Data SD comes to us thanks to the e orts of the nteractive Software ederation f urope S as we detailed in last month s interview o recap brieďŹ‚y, the new data will cover both digital referred to as network and retail sales owever at present it s only the network data which is largely complete hat data is comprised of full game sales figures taken from S , bo and Steam platforms though not the Switch eShop aggravatingly for most of the ma or publishers amely Activision Bli ard, Bandai amco, Capcom, Codemasters, A, ocus, och edia, icrosoft, ilestone, arado , Sega, Sony, Square ni , ake wo, Ubisoft and arner Bros etwork data is coming in from countries across the whole A region, that includes all the big hitters in urope such as U , rance and ermany, plus a couple of e tras that made up part of the now outdated A territories, such as Australia, ew ealand and even ndia he data is compiled by B Boost hysical retail data is still a work in progress, with only countries reporting at present, including rance, taly, olland and Spain, but not ermany or the U , which will start providing data from the beginning of ne t year or this reason we re not going to be looking at the combined network and retail data at present, but rather concentrate on the very e citing proposition of urope wide digital sales, for which you can see an aggregated op en below his is unit data, as we don t have value at present ou can keep up to date on weekly charts at www mcvuk TITLE 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10
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opping ay s US game sales figures (bottom left) and coming in at o in the U retail chart as well (left), icrosoft s State of Decay 2 shows there s still plenty of life in the ombie survival genre he original title was a big Steam hit, so icrosoft took something of a chance by launching this sequel e clusively on bo and its own icrosoft Store hat gamble seems to have paid o and that s despite the game being released day and date on bo ame ass as well icrosoft reported that the title hit m players in ust two weeks hich is good going for a title that many thought wasn t worth making an e clusive when it was announced at last year s Creator Undead abs has since been acquired by icrosoft and you don t get a more positive response than that from your publisher
DONKEY KONG COUNTRY: TROPICAL FREEZE
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uantic Dream s latest narrative thriller topped the U charts at launch, unseating fellow Sony title God of War he developer later announced that the title was its fastest selling game to date, with one million sold in two weeks hat s less than half the amount of time that Heavy Rain took to achieve the same milestone aunching towards the end of ay, its o spot in the U retail charts and o spot in the combined US charts are both more than respectable for a title that was always going to stand out and sell long term thanks to a lack of serious triple A competition in its genre
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AI and games All your games are belong to us by Dr Tommy Thompson
Welcome to our new regular discussion on games AI, written by Dr Tommy Thompson. He’s the creator of the Patreon-funded ‘AI and Games’ series on YouTube and a freelance AI consultant to the games industry. Thompson is an active game AI researcher, senior lecturer in computer science and an independent video game developer. He founded his own company Table i ames ith his rst ame Sure ootin out on Steam and comin to consoles in 2019
IT’S hard to go a day in the tech-world nowadays without reading a headline about artificial intelligence, with every new breakthrough accompanied by a fresh take on the robot driven apocalypse it will bring forth ideo games are increasingly prominent in A news, mostly because they re learning to play them achine learning systems taking on the world s best at the likes of Dota 2 and StarCraft II isn’t the end of the world as we know it, it s ust the ne t step of a long and storied relationship between the two industries. Artificial intelligence is all about building software that is autonomous thinks for itself and rational does the best it can with what it knows and while in most sectors A is sought for optimisation or e ciency, the games industry provides one of the most novel applications: entertainment. This ranges from non-player characters in Call of Duty to squads in Ghost Recon: Wildlands, procedurally building worlds in No Man’s Sky or characters in Sea of Thieves n many of these instances, the best solution is either too sub ective to quantify, or ust not any fun to play against n providing an enemy for players, A is sought more to provide theatre rather than challenge, given it s no fun if opponents are landing pistol headshots with perfect accuracy. ver the last to years game A has carved its own niche that bridges the two disciplines his resulted in innovations for combat in games such as the NPCs in F.E.A.R. and the director AI hunting players in Left 4 Dead, all the way to more contemporary releases such
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as herds of robots in Horizon Zero Dawn and the nemesis system of Middle-earth: Shadow of War where Uruks develop a history with the player n many cases, these games utilise e isting academic research in new and interesting ways. owever, many of these achievements are through classic A tools and methodologies But as games become bigger, new challenges faced in development are beyond the status quo, given their scale and comple ity But they re problems that machine learning algorithms are well suited to tackle, given they can learn the solution rather have it programmed by a developer he boom we re seeing in the media is evidence of this shift happening in AI research and there are plenty of opportunities where games could benefit from this, be it in character control, procedural tools and content, player analytics and modelling, and in game balancing – where all those self-learning AI players come in real handy! ortunately, the U continues to be prominent in A research and development, with a lot of work happening in the gaming sector Studios such as orsham based Creative Assembly invest heavily in A tools and teams to build award-winning titles such as Alien: Isolation and the Total War franchise, while ondon s own Bossa Studios is currently e ploring A driven storytelling utside of the final games, there is significant innovation in the underlying tech, with continued development of the rueSkill ranking system for bo ive and Drivatar player modelling systems at Microsoft Research in Cambridge. Meanwhile AI and cloud-powered testing helps Rare and Playground ames run large scale automated tests for the likes of Sea of Thieves and Forza: Horizon. utside of the industry, many U universities publish at top ranked ournals and conferences worldwide, using games as a testbed for A research and often bringing innovations to commercial games through collaboration with triple-A studios. AI is now a huge industry in and of itself and its impact on the games industry will become even more significant in the coming years e re going to help you get up to speed or the ne t si months, we ll look at the big trends that took shape in the games industry over the past ten years, the academic research communities that arose in tandem, the innovations happening in the industry now and where it might all wound up in the coming years.
“AI is now a huge industry in and of itself and its impact on the games industry will become even more significant in the coming years. We’re going to help you get up to speed!”
Pictured above: Thompson runs Patreon-backed YouTube channel AI and Games
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Fresh Meat BY JEM ALEXANDER
Every month in Fresh Meat we check in with a new and upcoming developer. This month we chat to Hangar 13’s Brighton studio head, Nick Baynes, and VP of development, Andy Wilson, about Brighton’s development legacy and the company’s triple-A future BRIGHTON was once one of the UK’s main game development hubs t s su ered ma or losses in the past with the likes of Relentless Software, Bi arre Creations and Black Rock Studios all sadly closing their doors But now we re seeing a new development studio opening in the area, and it s one with the backing of a large publisher angar , the team behind a a III, is e panding with a new Brighton o ce and it s brought back the director of Split/ Second developer Black Rock Studio, ick Baynes ictured far rig t , to head it up n fact, the formation of angar Brighton is something of a reunion for Baynes and his senior producer from their Split/Second days, Andy Wilson ictured above rig t . Wilson is now angar s of development in ovato, California and this whole deal started, as many do, with a drink met Andy ilson for a beer at DC last year and told him about my ambitions for the studio that had ust started in Brighton literally ust started, three days before Baynes says ittle did know that the senior team at angar in ovato had been considering the potential of a U studio for a while, but were waiting for the right time to take the idea forward A few months later, Andy got back in touch to pitch me the idea of my team becoming the nucleus of angar s U location hanks to the e isting working relationship and mutual trust between Andy and myself, over the course
of the conversations began to become more serious about us working together until eventually we o cially oined the family earlier this year Baynes sees this as an opportunity for the Brighton area, as he hopes to leverage the talent that s already there and remind the world of its skill in games production hen first set up a studio in Brighton, before oining angar , the goal was to build a world class team that would develop high quality console games, working with the e perience and talent already in the city while attracting new developers to the area, of all e periences and backgrounds, he says hen started talking to Andy and aden Blackman, global studio head of angar and we discussed my team and forming a new angar o ce, it became clear that we d be able to achieve those goals together but with the backing of a massive publisher rather than trying to make it alone as an indie ow it feels like for the first time since , we have a big publisher backed studio in town in angar think the future will see continued investment by us, and others, into the area that will continue to make it a hotbed of development talent, and a really e citing place to work Despite the loss of some large studios over the years, many developers still reside in the area ilson has strong opinions about the
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talent that can still be found in Brighton and the U in general he U market has always been robust when it comes to talent, even as the overall balance has shifted from console development towards mobile and indie, he says Actually the indie boom has resulted in a lot of very well rounded developers who have a good appreciation of disciplines outside of their own and we re very interested in talking to people from that background who want to move into console. think the only things we re really lacking are more publisher owned, console focused developers to provide opportunities for people who want to work on those kinds of games as opposed to work for hire or secondary production houses, which have their own set of pros and cons and ultimately o er something di erent to what we re bringing f course there are some great companies already ﬂying the ﬂag but we feel that the addition of a fully ﬂedged internal studio in Brighton will pull even more talent into the U A rising tide lifts all boats
But despite being part of a large publisher, angar s Brighton o ce is promised to have a start up vibe, with a small team initially aving said that, the studio is planning to hire up and is looking for developers of all kinds to get in on the ground ﬂoor e have open roles across all disciplines, including engineering, art, design, production and writing, says Baynes e re in this for the long term and have huge ambition, so we always want to talk to anyone with superstar talent or potential who could add to our team e re looking for people with a whole range of e perience from recent grads to industry veterans rowing a balanced team of emerging talent and e perience is key for us ilson echoes this, making some very compelling arguments to oin the company e want to talk to people who are e cited by the challenge of e ectively establishing a start up studio, albeit one built on some strong e isting relationships and backed by one of the Big our publishers, he says eople who care about culture and want to have a hand in defining it from the ground up are high on our list, as are great communicators who are ready and willing to work with their colleagues in other locations to build games together n top of that, we re looking for people who want to work with and build bleeding edge tech we have our own very capable open world engine , create entirely new franchises and who have the ambition to utterly master their trade pportunities like this really don t come along very often, he continues Anyone oining us over the coming months as a ear ne team member will get to look back and say that they helped build an entirely new studio, proprietary industry leading tech and triple A games which the studio has complete creative control over All backed by a light of touch publisher who trusts us and lets us get on with the ob e ve been part of for almost si years now and we ve released a game together in our previous three studio configuration, so get to say that with absolute certainty Baynes concludes t s a hugely e citing time to be making games, and Brighton is an ama ing place to do it e re going to be making headlines for years to come so come oin us
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MechanicallySound by Jake Tucker
Designer Jan Willem Nijman discusses how Minit’s constantly ticking clock encourages players to take time over the details MINIT is a digital memento mori – the medieval practice of reﬂection on our mortality and the transience of earthly life. In more prosaic terms, it’s an adventure game played against the clock where every 60 seconds delivers your instant death ou can t avoid it ou can t delay it But you can plan around it Because, despite the constant tick of the clock that leads to your death, Minit is a relaxing experience, with each second loop feeling like ust enough time to see something new or solve a challenging pu le Uniquely, while death here is certain, Minit instead feels like a tiny celebration with each life. We talk to Jan Willem i man, one quarter of the indie collective that created Minit (alongside Kitty Calis, Dominik Johann and ukio allio to find out where the idea came from. itty and were in Austin at antastic Arcade and there was an Adventure Time game jam,” says Nijman. “We both love Adventure Time, and what we like the most about the show is the way that every cartoon is completely di erent hey go on unique adventures every time, always moving in new and interesting ways. So we tried to make a game about that he result was Adventure Minute, a game where you played as the cartoon s protagonist inn ach minute
would tell a unique narrative, opening up like an episode of the cartoon Nijman and Calis won the game jam, and were presented with a crossbow by Ultima designer Richard arriott he crossbow remained a physical reminder of the concept s promise, but the pair sat on the idea for four more years, while Calis went o to make Horizon Zero Dawn and Nijman worked on Nuclear Throne. hen, the pair discussed the idea again. “We were like: ‘Hey why don’t we make that adventure into something bigger, something that does the concept ustice and Minit was born,” says Nijman. He adds that the decision to make a game with 60 second segments was an arbitrary choice and that, surprisingly, the team all dislike the idea of in-game timers. Really. GONE IN 60 SECONDS imers are very stressful and the idea that you might mess up early and get punished way later is really scary too,” Nijman says. “So we though that making it one minute was kind of the perfect amount it s easily understandable, but also short enough to not be stressful Nijman explains that he and Calis wanted to make sure that the player didn’t have the stress of trying to optimise each second run to
“We both love Adventure Time... the way that every cartoon is completely different. They go on unique adventures every time, always moving in new and interesting ways. So we tried to make a game about that.”
Pictured above right: Illustration by Sam Richwood
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a palette cleanser for a team that had all been working on huge and involved pro ects hese limitations range from the artistic design, which saw Minit’s two colour look, to several parts of the game’s core design. he time limitation put a framework in place that allowed the team to slowly unfurl a world around the player through a series of vignettes. he definitive moment, for i man, is an early segment at a lighthouse with a slow spoken lighthouse keeper e s talking, you re ust standing there, time is ticking down and you re like: ‘Come on, talk faster, give me the details , i man says with a laugh But to get the reward you have to listen until the very last word, and if you try to mash buttons to speed it up he ll ust start all over again.”
ensure productivity nstead, most of the pu les in the game are designed around a two minute loop ou spend a minute e ploring ou plan out your solution, and with your ne t minute, you e ecute that, i man e plains here s always enough time to get it done in like 40 seconds.” Minit feels unique among games based around the concept of time, with the curse which causes the player to
die every minute being a burden that players have to carry and plot around, with the goal of eventually lifting it Minit isn t a game about time, it s a game about limitations, and how the player is going to make the best of the situation until the curse is lifted rom a design point of view, everything comes from external limitations that the team put on themselves his was supposed to be
TWO MINITS TO MIDNIGHT? Nijman seems certain there won’t a Minit 2 he development for Minit seems to have existed with a lot of the same limitations as those encountered while playing it his means there s no further iteration planned, and i man says the team is happy with the work they achieved on it. t s a game about doing one minute things,” he explains. “If we tried to do it again, it would have outstayed its welcome, whereas as it is we ve used these short, quick, loops to let you e perience an advanced adventure in bite si ed chunks Nijman says Minit is a game that balances the duality between trying to accomplish something with every loop but also encourages the player to take the time to smell the ﬂowers and think about the smaller details. When it works, Minit is a game about e ploration, guided by the timer that leads to your character s eventual death If Minit truly is a momento mori then, it’s a celebratory one that developers playing with timers should learn from ife is short et out there and explore.
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You’ve been CEO for 18 months – what have you learnt? Something I always considered previously and which has become even more apparent now as CEO, is that everything we do is connected to people. Vision, creativity, technology, processes… Those are all of course important, but talented and empowered people make the critical di erence his is why we re doing so much to invest in people at Jagex and why recruitment is so important to our growth plans. The point about people also ties to our player communities, how we always strive to break down barriers between us, as game makers, and the community, as game players, by connecting the people involved in each. RuneScape launched back in 2001 and it’s still Jagex’s best known title. Are you in a unique position in the industry? Yes, for sure. RuneScape is one of the longest standing MMORPGs, and the fact the community is still growing says a lot for the investment our players have made in the universe and the community. The 17 years of running and evolving the RuneScape franchise has given us a unique understanding of how to successfully operate big online games. RuneScape was one of the first big free to play games in western markets and we ve continued that pioneering spirit with our initiatives in community empowerment, events, esports and livestreaming e ve evolved it year on year, ultimately turning a live game into a living game. Live games are big business now, what advice would you give developers looking to get involved in live operations? Development is only one part of the business – the actual operation of running a successful live game is a complex and specialist challenge for any studio ver the years we ve adapted and built bespoke backend services and systems, established all the support services required for a live game – billing, data science and analytics, community management, player lifecycle management, events, marketing, and 24/365 customer support. Running a living game is so much more than maintaining an online presence t s our e pertise, and now we re e panding our publishing division and talking to other studios to explore publishing partnerships for their games – so the key advice would be to come and talk to us!
The Final Boss Phil Mansell CEO, Jagex
“We’ve learnt a lot over the years that we can now use to support other developers and bring their live games to market.”
Jagex has raised a lot of money for mental health charities, do you think big companies have a responsibility to give back? Yes! We have found success through the trust and dedication of our player communities, and this drives us to do our bit and give something back age s Charitable iving initiative has raised more than £225,000 for our three chosen mental health charities in its first year, and our generous RuneScape communities have supported us in achieving this. What has been one of the hardest parts of your job? There are so many opportunities in gaming, and the challenge is to pick the right ones at the right time e re fortunate to have a strong heritage, funds and ﬂe ibility, and while it can be tempting to jump into tons of new things, we are ensuring we stay sensibly ambitious and retain focus on what we can do well. What can we expect from Jagex over the next 12 months? Our biggest milestone will be taking both RuneScape and Old School RuneScape to mobile devices – in full and with completely interoperable play between C and mobile e re also progressing our third-party publishing strategy, which is part of our long-term vision to become the home of living games. e ve learnt a lot over the years, about nurturing player communities, running robust services at scale, monetisation, customer relationship management, marketing automation, and social media, that we feel we can use to support other developers and bring their live games to market t s an e citing element of age s future
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The significance of RuneScape’s debut on mobile devices is huge Touch Arcade
RUNESCAPE & OLD SCHOOL
ON MOBILE COMING SOON
All of RuneScape - anywhere RuneScape and Old School are both coming to mobile in full. The games loved by millions, on phone or tablet, with a mobile-optimised interface and cross-platform play between mobile and desktop versions. Your game, your character, anywhere. We’re hiring mobile expertise:
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People: jagex.com/careers Partnerships: firstname.lastname@example.org Â© 1999 - 2018 Jagex Ltd. 220 Science Park, Cambridge, CB4 0WA, United Kingdom