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Interviews with Xbox, Ubisoft, Naughty Dog and Obsidian Are you earning enough? The results of our careers survey Why VR might be the next weapon in the war on dementia

REVEALED: The 100 most influential games people in Britain

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02 Magazine Gamer Network Ltd 1 Grand Parade Brighton BN2 9QB, UK +44 (0)1273 746 864  Web: Editorial Project Lead/Senior Editor: Christopher Dring Editor-In-Chief: James Brightman European Editor: Dan Pearson  Deputy European Editor: Matt Handrahan Senior Editor: James Batchelor Senior Editor: Brendan Sinclair


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The guide to London Games Festival 2017

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The state of the UK games market

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Phil Spencer on the future of Xbox

Contributors: Rob Fahey, Brie Code, Kim Belair Design: Magazine Design: 155 Creative/Adam Butler Cover Design: Anni Sayers Gamer Network Lead Designer: Karl Cox Advertising Trade Events Manager: Charlotte Nangle

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VR vs dementia

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Obsidian: survival, success and independence

Global Sales Manager: Chris Buckley Management CEO: Rupert Loman COO: Simon Maxwell Head of Audience Development: Jon Hicks Finance Director: Paul Loman Chairman: Greg Ingham Printing and Distribution Pensord, Tram Rd, Pontllanfraith, Blackwood, NP12 2YA

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“Original games were made by testicles for testicles” - Ubisoft’s Tommy Francois

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“It made me feel less alone, realising other girls want to make video games”

© 2017 Gamer Network. All rights reserved. No part of this publication or its content may be reproduced without the permission of the copyright holder. 

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How much are you worth? Discover the results of our latest careers survey

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The 100: Britain’s most influential games people

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Introducing the new This June marks the 15th anniversary of On June 10th, 2002, Gamer Network recruited Rob Fahey (fresh from UK games industry trade magazine CTW) to launch a website that would provide the games industry with daily news and a place to find jobs. At the time it was all PS2 vs Xbox vs GameCube. Since then, we’ve witnessed the rise and fall of Nintendo, the fall and rise of PlayStation, the birth of Steam, iPhone, motion control, AR and VR, the return of the indie games sector and the movement from physical products to digital. We also like to think that we’ve become a globally recognised B2B brand in that time, and we now boast writers from the US, Japan, Germany, Canada and the UK. But it’s this 15th year that may well prove to be our most significant. We’ve already launched a brand new website. And we’ve recruited some experienced names in the form of ex-MCV editor Christopher Dring and former Develop editor James Batchelor, who join our already talented roster of journalists that includes James Brightman, Dan Pearson, Matt Handrahan, Brendan Sinclair and Rob Fahey. Then earlier this year we resurrected the podcast, which features industry guests every two weeks. And in addition, we’ve developed three new newsletters that specialise in mobile, AR/VR and the UK market. And now you are holding the first ever Magazine. It’s full of exclusive data, market analysis, interviews and some of our best editorial features from the past six months. That includes the results of our inaugural careers survey, which looks into pay and working conditions for those operating within video games. It’s all linked to our improved Careers Fair, which begins today (March 30th) at EGX Rezzed in London. Half of the magazine is also devoted to the 100 - a new venture recognising the most influential people working in the UK games business (page 47). This will be the first in a series of ‘ 100’ lists, and we are marking this one with a party, also on March 30th. That’s not all. We have also launched our ‘Meet The Indies’ initiative, which connects leading games businesses with the next generation of creative talent. Then in May, will be running its very own track at the Nordic Game Conference in Malmö, Sweden. And that’s all just in the first half of the year. We love this exciting, eclectic, ever-changing, difficult, brilliant industry. Our goal is to be the destination for everyone that works within it, no matter how big the company or where in the world they may be based. We hope these new initiatives will allow us to better cover and support the industry through the next 15 years. And we’d love to hear your feedback on how we can improve even further.

The team

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State of the nation Depending on whom you talk to, the UK games industry is either enjoying a second golden age or is under serious threat. As usual, the truth sits somewhere in the middle Christopher Dring Senior Editor Here’s the PR line for the UK games industry: it’s bigger than it has ever been. Consumer spend on video games hit a record £4.33bn last year, a rise of 1.2%. That’s based on figures compiled together from GfK (physical games and hardware), SuperData (digital and mobile), Kantar (pre-owned) Nielsen (books), Official Charts Company (soundtracks and movies), NPD (toys) and UKIE (events). Yet the numbers hide a multitude of sins particularly when it comes to the changes within the physical console market. £766.7m was generated from boxed software, down 15.2% year-on-year. Even pre-owned fell 3.3% to £119m - driven primarily by the falling price of second-hand products. Console hardware fell 26.7% to £507.4m, while console accessories dropped 16.6% to £300m. However, not every part of the physical games space declined. In fact, PC gaming hardware leapt 64.3% to £258m, while VR headsets alone generated £61.3m. The success of Pokémon Go had a positive impact on sales of books and magazines (up 13.2% to £18.4m) and toys (up 7.2% to £66.8m). Without Pokémon, these areas would have declined. Meanwhile, the release of several big movies (namely The Angry Birds Movie and Warcraft) boosted sales of soundtracks and movies to £7.8m - that’s a rise of 14.4%. In total, around half of all game products (around £2.1bn) were sold in physical form. Of course, digital is where the growth remains. Digital console and PC - according to Superdata was worth £1.22bn (11.1% growth), while mobile is now on the brink of joining the £1bn club with £995m generated (up almost 17%). Once again, Pokémon Go playing its part. DEVELOPING NATION Away from the consumer space, it’s also been a mixed year for the development sector. Major studios, including Lionhead and Guerrilla Cambridge, closed their doors, while Activision’s FreeStyleGames and Sony’s Evolution went through a period of deep uncertainty before being picked up by Ubisoft and Codemasters, respectively.

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Nevertheless, UK studios were either directly or partially responsible for some of last year’s best-selling physical games - such as LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens and LEGO Marvel Avengers (TT Games), The Division and Watch Dogs 2 (co-developed by Reflections), No Man’s Sky (Hello Games), Forza Horizon 3 (Playground Games), GTA V (Rockstar North), Minecraft (4J Studios) and Star Wars Battlefront (co-developed by Criterion Games). UK studios also played a leading role in the launch of new VR hardware, having been responsible for the likes of Star Wars Battlefront VR Mission, Batman Arkham VR, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood, Rigs, PlayStation VR Worlds and Battlezone. Studios of all sizes are also benefitting from an increase in investment in Britain, boosted by UK tax breaks. The Government awarded tax relief to 167 video games between October 2015 and September 2016 – that’s 117% up over the year before. This success has even inspired companies to move to Britain - Eve Online creators CCP moved its management to the UK, Six! creator Gram Games has relocated to London, while Rovio also has a new studio on these shores. Of course, one looming concern for the industry is Brexit (see The Brexit Threat) and for all the investment in the creative sectors, the fate of Lionhead and Guerrilla Cambridge are a warning of the dangers that continue to exist in this fickle and ever-changing business.

LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens was one of the most successful UK-made games of 2016

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UK consumers spent £4.33bn on video games-related products in 2016

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THE BREXIT THREAT UKIE research has highlighted an industry bracing for the impact of Brexit, with many expecting our uncertain future to have a negative effect on their ability to do business. In fact, 40% of respondents say they are considering the total or partial relocation of their business to another country as a direct consequence of the referendum result. Of those companies consulted, 61% said they relied on international talent. 35% of the workforce of those companies comes from the EU and 17% from elsewhere in the world. 40% of respondents said they had already noticed more difficulty in recruiting and retaining these overseas workers as “Brexit is perceived as weakening the UK’s attractiveness as a destination.” Given that such a high percentage of the UK industry’s employees are non-native, ensuring that foreign workers are able to either join the workforce or remain here if already employed in the UK is considered to be a top priority. The report makes it clear that maintaining the pipeline to educated and highly-skilled, highly-sought after employees from both the EU and elsewhere is critical to the continuing success of the British video games economy. Market access proved to be another issue. Although few companies are feeling the squeeze of non-tariff or financial barriers to trade yet, retailer GAME cautioned that this ease of trade must be protected in forthcoming negotiations. However, some respondents felt that the change in formal trade agreements could result in a better position for the UK in the long run, as a strong production market drew in favourable deals from major consumption territories and high growth areas such as China and Brazil. Lastly, the paper considers the importance of securing access to existing international funding and the establishment of new sources of money. As well as the preservation of initiatives which directly influence games companies, such as the video game tax relief, respondents felt it was important to consider the knock on effects of factors such as inner-city regeneration funds, which have provided the infrastructure upon which to create new industry.

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V i s i t us to d ay at: WWW.G R E E N MAN G AMI N G . CO M STORE | CONTENT | COMMUNITY

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London calling Last year’s London Games Festival attracted 38,000 visitors and generated millions of pounds for the UK industry. Games London boss Michael French lays out his vision for this year’s show

London Games Festival 2017 began on March 30th

Despite having the same name, last year’s London Games Festival was a completely different affair to the festivals that preceded it. Supported by the Mayor of London, LGF 2016 featured a number of conferences, consumer shows, awards and galleries - mixed together with a plethora of esoteric and unusual events - designed to change perceptions around games, both from the wider public as well as potential investors. And it was a success in both attracting business to the capital and reaching some 38,000 people. Now London Games Festival returns with an even more ambitious programme of events beginning with EGX Rezzed. “As games is a continually evolving and changing medium, it means we can keep refreshing the content to reflect new developments,” says Games London boss Michael French. “A good example is two new B2B conference-style events, the Mixed Reality Summit and the Artificial Intelligence Summit. On a cultural front we’re hosting the revival of Dear Esther Live and planning a largescale parade on the streets of London. “But the core of our activity and returning events are just as exciting. Now Play This is back at Somerset House for three days and will showcase nearly 50 alternative and innovative games in a setting that usually houses art exhibitions, proof that interactive entertainment has earned consideration alongside other art forms. And our

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Games Finance Market returns, but has doubled in size – we have 60 companies meeting a similar number of investors worth around £400m.” Games London, which runs LGF, operates all year round and says it has already brought in potential deals worth in excess of £10m. It wants to accelerate that growth, and hopes to attract 50,000 attendees to LGF this year.

“There couldn’t be a more crucial moment for something like Games London to be around and promoting the industry” “There couldn’t be a more crucial moment for something like Games London to be around and promoting the industry, whether you look at the games sector specifically or the context around it,” French concludes. “Our industry is growing at a great pace but access to finance and stability for games companies isn’t always a guarantee, so when we’re out there making connections and evangelising the city to investors we’re doing our part to offset that. And in the wider context of Brexit, that sort of messaging is doubly important. It’s a great city to work and do business in and that’s what we’ve got to keep telling people. Our invaluable support from the Mayor of London and his #LondonIsOpen campaign tie into that, too.”

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Your guide to London Games Festival 2017 THURSDAY, MARCH 30TH


EGX Rezzed (Runs until April 1st) 10am - 6pm Tobacco Dock London’s Premier games event for consumers and business ----------------------------------------------------Fringe: 100 Party 6pm - Late Studio Spaces, 110 Pennington Street ----------------------------------------------------Fringe: Defold Open Training King’s Offices, 178 Wardour Street A unique opportunity to be trained, for free, on King’s game engine Defold -----------------------------------------------------

Fringe: London Gaming Market 11am - 4pm Royal Hotel, Russell Square ----------------------------------------------------Fringe: Bonus Stage Loading Bar, Dalston A showcase of upcoming indie games ----------------------------------------------------Fringe: Evasion 1:30pm - 4pm The Mad Hatter Hotel A high-octane spy adventure ----------------------------------------------------Fringe: NBA Jam 5pm - 8pm Ace Hotel London A 64-player rooftop transatlantic tournament of NBA Jam -----------------------------------------------------


Games Culture Summit 10am to 1:30pm Regent Street Cinema Speakers will discuss their experience of cultural work in games ----------------------------------------------------UK Games Showcase 6pm 100 New Oxford St A livestream showcase of new games from the UK, followed by drinks ----------------------------------------------------Fringe: Joypad - Cinedouken! 5pm - Midnight Studio Spaces, 110 Pennington Street Watch one of the all time great “so bad it’s good” movies and join in the fun -----------------------------------------------------


Dear Esther Live 7pm St John’s at Hackney A play-through of the award-winning game with a live performance ----------------------------------------------------Fringe: Game On @ V&A 10am-16.30 V&A Museum of Childhood Hear from designers, see the collection and join in the board game jam ----------------------------------------------------Fringe: Cash FIFA Tournament 5pm - 11pm Meltdown, 342 Caledonian Road ----------------------------------------------------Fringe: Joypad’s #SuperWarehouse 5pm - Midnight Studio Spaces, 110 Pennington Street The ultimate gamingwarehouse party


AI Summit 2pm - 5pm Regent Street Cinema, W1B 2U A conference examining the role of AI in video games -----------------------------------------------------


Mixed Reality Summit 10am to 1pm Regent Street Cinema, W1B 2U The three-hour summit will explore AR, VR and everything in between ----------------------------------------------------Fringe: Digital Schoolhouse eSports Tournament Gfinity Arena, Fulham Broadway The tournament is designed to engage and inspire students ----------------------------------------------------Fringe: Rocky Horror Show: Touch Me (Soft) Launch Party 7pm - 11pm Lucky Voice Soho ----------------------------------------------------Fringe: VideoBrains 7pm - 10pm Secret Weapon, Stratford Six speakers explore a single theme in relation to video games ----------------------------------------------------Fringe: French Invaders 120 Holborn An informal networking event organised by French Tech London for international gamers and businesses

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Fringe: Realms: Games Architecture 6:30pm - 9pm Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL A discussion on the relationship between games and architecture -----------------------------------------------------

Fringe: More than Just a Game III 10am - 7pm (Runs until April 7th) Stationers Hall, Ave Maria Lane Academic-led conference on game law -----------------------------------------------------

Games Finance Market (Runs until April 7th) The Grange Hotel, Tower Bridge, Connecting developers with investors from around the world ----------------------------------------------------Fringe: UKIE Student Conference London South Bank University Students will have the chance to learn about different career paths in games ----------------------------------------------------Fringe: eScon Europe (Runs all day April 5th and 6th) Le Meridien Piccadilly eSports conference featuring a range of speakers -----------------------------------------------------

W.IN 2pm The Hospital Club A platform for women to network, share ideas and hear from speakers ----------------------------------------------------Now Play This (Runs until April 9th) Somerset House Events and installations on games. A series of Microtalks will run on Friday ----------------------------------------------------Fringe: Rumpus Party 10pm - 6am Islington Metalworks A space age, hypnotic neon party -----------------------------------------------------



Leaders Forum 3pm An invite-only forum for CEOs and decision makers, examining trends ----------------------------------------------------BAFTA Game Awards 7pm Tobacco Dock One of the biggest nights in the industry calendar ----------------------------------------------------Fringe: Hit Play UK 9am - 1pm Royal Society of Chemistry Delegates will discuss the talent required to sustain the UK industry ----------------------------------------------------Fringe: Marioke 7pm - 10pm Dalston, Loading Bar A night of karaoke with a games twist ----------------------------------------------------Fringe: GoldenEye Royale 7pm - 12am Six Yard Box, Elephant and Castle GoldenEye gaming with a Martini ----------------------------------------------------Fringe: Horror Lock 7pm - 2am Secret Weapon, Stratford Play scary games after-hours



Games Character Parade 1pm City of London (Guildhall Yard, New Change & Paternoster Square) Hundreds of games characters take to the streets of London ----------------------------------------------------Fringe: Mayamada Gamepad 12pm - 5pm Bethnal Green A social gaming event promoting inclusion and diversity in gaming ----------------------------------------------------Fringe: Super Stealth League 1pm, 4pm, 7pm Great Fire of London Monument A super hero adventure in London ----------------------------------------------------Fringe: For the Record: Data Discs 7pm–2am Loading Bar, Dalston A night of music, records and gaming ----------------------------------------------------Fringe: Off The Page 1pm - 4pm British Library Knowledge Centre A free event on literature and games ----------------------------------------------------Fringe: UK eSports News Gathering 5pm - 10pm Secret Weapon, Stratford A meet-up for the UK eSports scene

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© Games Workshop Limited 2017. Published by SEGA.

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Scorpio and Xbox One S sales don’t actually matter Microsoft’s Phil Spencer explains why you shouldn’t think “that everything we’re doing is about selling you an Xbox console” James Brightman Editor in Chief During a busy E3 2016, I sat down with Xbox boss Phil Spencer in the aftermath of the announcement of Xbox One S and the super-powered Scorpio. My head was filled with questions: Is this really a sea change for the console market as we know it? How does Microsoft view the technology curve now, and will developers and consumers be willing to ride along? What about Microsoft’s reticence to disclose Xbox One sales numbers while the PS4 races ahead? On that last point, it’s evident that the Xbox business is no longer about selling Xbox units. Wrap your head around that; Phil Spencer doesn’t care if you upgrade from Xbox One to Scorpio, so long as you’re an Xbox user. Yes, there needs to be a certain number of boxes out there, but what matters most to Microsoft now is that you’re an active user of Xbox Live and its ecosystem, purchasing games, DLC and playing online. Whether you’re doing that through an Xbox One, an Xbox One S, Scorpio, a Windows PC or some other device is of little importance.

Name: Phil Spencer Joined Microsoft: 1988 Current Position: Head of Xbox Previous Positions: General Manager – Microsoft Studios Development Manager – Microsoft Money You’ve hinted in the past that we could be headed in the direction of the smartphone curve, where every couple of years a consumer might want to upgrade their hardware. Does Scorpio mark the beginning of that happening? I think about the motion in console a little differently to the phone market, though I’ve used smartphones as an example, so I’m not being critical of you. When I think about gaming technology, there are certain inflection points that excite gamers and developers to a point that they create a foothold for themselves. 2D to 3D was one of those. Cartridges to discs was another. Standard def to hi-def was one. And frankly, when you think about PS4 and Xbox One, I don’t think there was actually that big thing that we could all point to. When we were looking forward with Scorpio, we saw 4K as something that’s catching on on PC, and we said, ‘okay, is there a way for us to bring that to console?’ But to also not create a scenario where somebody has to start again at zero with their library and their overall experience; the put all my stuff in the closet, buy something new and start

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again that we’re used to in that kind of generation change. 4K was that thing on the horizon that we saw and said, ‘let’s go and build a box.’ And when we started talking to creators, six teraflops of power was what they were looking for. Where it differs a little bit on the business angle, cell phones are sold almost always at a positive margin on the device. For us in the console [industry], the business is not selling the console. It’s more of an attached business to the console install base. If you’re an Xbox One customer and you bought that console three years ago, I think you’re a great customer. You’re still using the device. That’s why we focus on monthly active users, because you want this large install base of people active in your network, buying games, playing games. That’s the actual judge of the health, not somebody who buys a console and puts it in the closet. That’s actually a horrible customer for us because we probably paid money, subsidised the console and nothing ever happens with it. Our model’s not really built around selling you a new console every one or two years. The model is almost the exact opposite. If I can keep you with the console you have, keep you engaged in buying and playing games, that’s a good business. But when you see things like 4K coming, I want to make sure we create a part of the Xbox One family that supports it but doesn’t have you feel like you’re leaving all the content investment that you made in the platform. I think you can say that 4K will be a generation, but unlike with previous consoles we don’t want you to feel like you left behind the experience you had… If and when you decide 4K and Scorpio is for you, we’ll be there. And if you never do, you’re a great customer for us. I don’t need to abandon you in any way. In fact, I want to keep you as happy with your Xbox One as you’ve ever been.

Xbox One S caused an upturn in sales of the console But we’ve seen developers on Twitter saying, “How can we afford to support yet another console?” And if they’re building a game that takes advantage of Scorpio’s power, how do they make that same experience for Xbox One as well? When we were talking to developers about the design point for Scorpio, we talked to the

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PC community. The PC community has been doing this for a while and, frankly, we know this: there’s no developer out there today, except for maybe a first-party, that’s only focused on one platform. When you say PC there’s probably a minimum [spec], a recommended [spec], and then an uberconfig that they’re focused on. What we’ve been talking about for the last couple of years is how to unify that PC and console development ecosystem on Xbox. So if I’m a DirectX 12 developer [games] run on both consoles and Windows. If I’m using Xbox Live, that’s available on console and Windows. So my social connection and my graphics layer all work. Engine and middleware providers are almost all on console and Windows. We’re continuing to grow the capability of the Universal Windows Platform to literally allow you to build one game that would run on console and on PC. That’s an enabler. Xbox One is at an install base now where, as a developer, you’re going to look at the Xbox One and Xbox One S capability and... there’s tens of millions of customers there. So you’re going to say, ‘absolutely, I’m going to focus on that config.’ Then we want to create that same capability with Scorpio, and we bridged to some of the 4K capability in PC to say, ‘okay, here’s a common design spec.’ And then other people will do unlocked framerate 6K games on PC, and we want to freely support those as well.

We want to focus on making consoles as affordable as we can. I love that Xbox One S is $299. What I can say to the price sensitive customers, which is a vast majority of them, is to go and buy [Xbox One or Xbox One S] now and start building the library of games that you want to play. When you move over to Scorpio, if you ever do, those games are going to continue to run on that machine, just like we did with Xbox 360 backwards compatibility. It seems like Scorpio is being built to support VR in part. I realise Microsoft is building its own mixed reality ecosystem with Windows Holographic, encouraging devices to be built around that, but how do VR and AR fit into Xbox and Scorpio? When we were designing Scorpio, we went out and talked to developers about what they wanted from us and, as I mentioned, 4K was really important. As we continued along that journey and people were doing VR work... we made sure that our device capability and graphic capability could support the high-end VR that our creators wanted to go and make. That was an important point for us, because, like you said, VR is an emerging technology, an emerging art form and entertainment form, and we wanted to make sure we were building a box that was part of that. The mixed reality work we do with Hololens, I would say, is further out, when you think about How do consumers a device where all of the afford that quicker upgrade compute capability is built “Our model’s not really built into a head-mounted display to Scorpio? Is there a scenario where the business around selling you a new [and] it doesn’t really dock to console every one or two model changes so that anything or tether to anything. an Xbox Live subscription But as you mentioned, we years. The model is almost helps subsidise a new Xbox the exact opposite” have announced Windows purchase every few years? Holographic as a part of To some extent, that model Windows that we would already plays. Most of the hardware out there - if make available to virtual and mixed reality you look at the fully burdened costs of all the companies. Since Xbox One is a Windows 10 design work and everything else - is not really sold device, we want to enable the developers that are at a profit. Most of it’s sold at break-even to a loss. doing so much incubation on Windows to see that The model is selling games on top of that, and I capability come to console. We will talk more have services that I sell on top of that. about what we’re doing with Scorpio later, but In terms of subsidising even more, we looked it was an important part of the road map as we at this at the tail of Xbox 360. Effectively, they’re designed it. financing plans, because in the end it’s, ‘okay, how much do you pay up front, how much do you pay You’ve spoken of your pride in Microsoft over time, and what’s the interest rate on that?’ Studios’ diverse product line-up, but many There’s no secret math there. Clearly, the cell people characterise Sony’s studio system as phone model has attached data plans... We don’t being stronger in that regard. Is that an unfair really have a data plan necessarily that we would comparison at this point? add on. If I was to add something on top of your I was very proud of our line-up in 2015. When I purchase today - buy your next console early or look at 2016 - I’ll just take the E3 conferences - we something - in the end it’s just a financing or a showed four big games launching exclusively on layaway plan, depending on how you look at it. Xbox One and Windows 10. Gears of War 4,

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“If you’re a PC customer and you want to play all our games on PC and never even learn to spell Xbox, that’s great”

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Forza Horizon, ReCore and Dead Rising 4. All of those games are launching this year. They’ve been announced and there are dates next to them. On the indie side we’ve got games like Inside, we’ve got We Happy Few. There are a ton more, but I’m just thinking about some highlights in indie games that are coming this year. When I watch the other platforms, it’s not always clear to me when the games are shipping or how many of them are shipping this year. When I think about next year for us, I think about Sea of Thieves, I think about Halo Wars 2, we’ve got Crackdown coming, we’ve got State of Decay 2. We continue to deliver year-in and year-out. It’s an art form, so it’s not like every game is going to be perfect for every person, but it’s a diverse set of games, like you said. They’re not all shooters, they’re not all this, they’re not all that. This is a pretty diverse set of games from a great set of developers. And to say that the other consoles are doing a better job shipping more games for their customers - I don’t see that. I see what the other first-party is doing. Uncharted 4 was an amazing game; I think Naughty Dog did a really great job. I’m sure The Last Guardian is a great game, too. But I look at the quantity and the quality that our development

team’s been shipping and I feel really good about that. Xbox has evolved its strategy in the past: the about face with the always-on approach for Xbox One, separating Kinect from the bundle. Now the real focus seems to be Xbox Play Anywhere, the ability to play cross-platform and create one ecosystem between Windows 10 and Xbox. I think the strategy is really based on what we see our customers doing. Our biggest Xbox customers play on console and they play on PC, and I want to embrace what they’re doing. I see all the snarky comments that people send me - “Thanks for putting all your games on PC. Now I don’t have to buy an Xbox One” - and it’s this kind of weird [perspective], like somehow they’ve caught me in a trap that I didn’t realise we were creating. I want to build games and services that can reach people where they want to play. We have a great console experience when you’re sitting on your couch with your controller in your hand. That is a different experience than playing on your PC. I want to embrace the console gamer, PC gamer and, frankly, a lot of people who play on both. I think we’ve got a unique capability there. I’ve noticed certain people, certain constituents out

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there are looking for manipulation. We’re trying to offer choice in what people can do, and if you want to buy our first-party games and play them on Windows, as Microsoft that’s a good thing for us. At the same time, we just announced two consoles in the same conference. I mean, who does that? It’s kind of crazy. The strategy is focus on the customer, giving them choice about what they want to do. If you’re a PC customer and you want to play all our games on PC and never even learn to spell Xbox, that’s great. We’re not trying to build any false lures to move you back and forth. If you’re a console customer and you don’t play on PC and it’s not for you, we want to make a great experience there. Xbox Play Anywhere is, ‘hey, if you’re playing in both places, I don’t want to have you buy the game twice.’ We’ll authenticate you in both places through your Xbox Live account so you can play in both places. We’re just trying to put the customer at the centre of it. Usually, good things happen when you do that.

“Certain people say it’s a cop out that we focus on the monthly active users. It’s actually more risky than install base. Install base always goes up. Monthly active users, actually, year-over-year can go down if people are less engaged on Xbox” We haven’t heard a whole lot about how the Xbox Insider Program is doing. Steam Early Access has gained momentum, and I’m curious if you’ve been watching and learning from that. Have you been getting a lot of developer feedback? I’m usually not a big fan of talking a lot in numbers on stage, but Chris [Charla] did go through some of the numbers in terms of Insider. It’s been really successful for good games, and for good pre-games that are a little earlier in development it’s less good. That’s the way it should be, right? Good games do well. Do I watch what Steam does and take the learnings from what different people do? Absolutely. I think that’s just trying to be smart about the path forward. Developers definitely give us a lot of feedback. They love the Insider Program. They see it as a way for them to get in front of a lot of active gamers that play a lot, get feedback and evolve what they’re doing. You mentioned the Xbox install base earlier, but are you able to address where Xbox actually is in terms of install base now? You’ve acknowledged previously that Sony is way ahead, but we haven’t had an update in a while. I focus our team, I focus the studios we work with, I focus the company and Microsoft on our monthly active user number - and I get some pushback sometimes, as if I’m just trying to dodge a PlayStation 4 vs Xbox One number. But I will say over and over the core of our strategy is to drive more and more engagement on Xbox Live, which means more people playing our games, which means more games get sold for our partners, and our customers are happier. That is the total focus for us.

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The last number we announced was 48 million monthly active users. Certain people say it’s a cop out that we focus on the monthly active users. I would like to say it’s actually more risky than install base. Install base always goes up. Monthly active users, actually, year-over-year can go down if people are less engaged on Xbox. I know how games that sell on Xbox do relative to the competition to some extent. What I would say is Xbox Live has grown 26% year-over-year... our customers buy a lot of games. I’m trying to reach them on Xbox and on Windows. The real reason I’m less focused on how many consoles I’m selling versus Sony is because it falls right into the trap of the guy tells me, ‘thanks for putting your games on Windows. Now I don’t have to buy one of your Xboxes.’ I don’t want people to start painting a strategy onto us that everything we’re doing is about selling you an Xbox console, because that’s not actually what we’re trying to do. I feed the wrong view into the business and what we’re trying to get done if I play into a number that’s actually not what we use to drive our strategy or our focus on delivery of games. I know certain people will say, ‘oh, that’s PR speak and he’s just a suit and he’s walking around it.’ I will say, fundamentally, how many people we can get on Xbox Live... having those people engaged on the service and buying games is the fundamental part of the strategy, whether they’re on Windows, Xbox or, frankly, on other devices. I understand that, but what’s the big deal if it’s not going to hurt you or harm you? Even if the number of engaged users on Xbox Live matters more, why is it going to harm you to put the install base figure out? Because the dialogue then turns into the other discussion of, ‘what can you do to sell more Xbox Ones?’ The answer would probably be to not put my games on Windows, because then you have to buy an Xbox One in order to play those games. But that’s not what we actually get from our customers in terms of what they want. I start having to answer the other question of, ‘well, why don’t you do more things that are counter to the actual core strategy that you have?’ When the discussion that I want you and I to have is the engagement success of the studios putting the customer at the centre. Xbox Play Anywhere is a program you would never do if all you were focused on was selling more Xboxes. So then I end up having this weird conversation with you about the things that I really think we should be doing, and you’re going to keep asking me about something that’s actually not what I’m [trying to achieve]. Honestly, I’m not focused on doing things purely to outsell PS4 with our Xbox One. We’re doing things beyond that.

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Why VR might be the next weapon in the war on dementia One company’s quest to bring peace to the suffering Dan Pearson European Editor Here’s a truism for you: dementia is a god-awful thing. A savage and remorseless condition, it strips away a lifetime of accumulated experience and personality, eradicating memory and emotional attachment, sometimes seeming to erase a person entirely. It’s a heart-rending process to witness, watching somebody vanish by degrees, seeing them become angry, depressed or violent, and losing all recognition of the people they’ve loved for their entire lives. Sometimes the decay can be kinder than others; sufferers may drift into a kind of happy reverie, a sort of peace descending as their ember fades. Often it does not. In many cases, someone who has begun to exhibit the early signs of dementia will be aware of what’s happening, the unavoidable degradation made all the more bitter by the diminishing moments of clarity that pass fleetingly across the lens of their consciousness. For those around them, it can be agonisingly difficult not to will on the acceleration of the process, or indeed the final embrace of death, in a desire to see the tragedy of this recognition extinguished for good. There is scant comfort in knowing that the final stages of erasure leave little room for self-reflection. And yet, for every guilt-saturated second in which you may wish for the release of a friend or relative from this inexorable grasp, you can be stung a thousand times by the merest hint of recognition in their eyes; a tiny smile, a grateful squeeze of the hand. The darkest curse of dementia can be the fragments of the person it leaves behind. This conjecture comes from the selfish perspective of the witness. I speak with a little

“People living with dementia are often incredibly sensitive so being able to control simple things, such as the distance birds are from the camera or position of the audio, is vital”

experience: both my father and grandmother were ravaged by dementia in the final stages of their lives. I know that it’s difficult enough to be involved in the process - even at considerable remove - that it becomes easier to grieve in advance. To begin, quite frankly, to think of them as dead already. Then, someone you thought had vanished resurfaces, gasping, for even the briefest moment. In her last days, I visited my grandmother in hospital and talked about things that had happened in my childhood in astonishing detail. She was frail and faltering, but she had clarity and emotional continuity. A woman I hadn’t seen for years was there once more. She never left that bed, and did not go gently. I never forgave myself for all the conversations we didn’t have in the years prior, the encounters rushed through, the moments wasted. Years later, when my semi-estranged father passed, I wasn’t lucky enough to have another chance. Never tremendously close, we had precious few shared memories to revisit and he’d lost all recognition of me well before his final days, but I know there were things that eased his passing - happy recollections of his own. Even when he began to exhibit signs of unpredictability that sometimes escalated to violence, there were pieces of his old self in between. The point is this. Dementia can present us with a locked door, a sullen slab of unresponsiveness. It’s exhausting, harrowing, alienating. It’s only going to become more common, but there is hope. Pharmaceutical trials are showing some results in the amelioration of its onset. Mental health practices and dietary advances are leading to fitter, healthier brains more resilient to its advances. VR may have a part to play, too. A video found its way onto social media. I noticed it twice before I could bring myself to watch it. I’m glad I did. A NEW HOPE It comes from Alex Smale at Tribemix, primarily a social media marketing company. Smale himself has a rich games industry background, beginning his career at NMS Software, developers of pinball sim Tilt. After a few years of moving around “in search of ever higher pay cheques,” Smale eventually

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Tribemix has created procedures for VR use amongst dementia patients

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“Our friends, Stan and Dulcie, are 99 and 94 years old respectively. Over the past two years, we watched them go from active people walking into town to do their shopping, to losing their confidence and never leaving the house”

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found himself at Bitmap Brothers as head of art, where he rounded out a decade in games. Since then, he’s run a pub, and set up a photography business just as Facebook began to take hold, getting an early grasp of the potential of the medium for promotion. After an even wilder turn working as the head of marketing in a zoo, Smale set up his current business. “I decided to set up a social media agency, Tribemix, to help other businesses use social to grow,” he says. “That’s been going really well. I’ve had one eye on VR. I knew that social media and VR would converge, and brands would need to create engaging experiences on this new platform. So I’ve gone back to my roots and we’ve been working on developing branded social VR experiences for our clients. “We had some elderly neighbours who hadn’t left the house for a long time due to disability. We’d taken them back to some of their favourite holiday destinations using Street View and an iPad already, and I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be great if we could take them on holiday again using VR?’ So I created a basic beach scene to run on the Rift for them to try.” The experiment was successful, and Smale realised the potential of the technology to offer hope. “I had a friend who worked in care homes, and I asked him to introduce me to one so I could try what we’d made on some other elderly people. He put us in touch with the amazing folk at Belmont View in Hertford, which specialises in dementia care and is run by the Quantum group. They were really openminded to the idea. Before this, I didn’t have a clue about dementia, but we’ve learned a lot. “We worked with them for over a year, developing and fine-tuning a range of experiences specifically designed to help people living with dementia. The carers, managers and residents have all given us invaluable feedback, which has enabled us to create something really unique and effective. The change in the residents’ behaviour is stark.” The sort of experiences that Tribemix has been developing are at the gentle end of VR, for obvious reasons. They’re relaxing environments rather than games, but Tribemix doesn’t use 360 degree video or photography of real locations, instead preferring the environmental control offered by 3D modelling. “This is all real-time 3D,” Smale clarifies. “Yes, there’s a trade-off in realism. But the control we have in a 3D environment is a world apart from what we can set up to film around a 360 camera rig. And it’s this control that makes all the difference. People living with dementia are often incredibly sensitive so being able to control simple things, such as the distance birds are from the camera or position of the audio, is vital. “And because of this sensitivity, you can’t just put an Oculus Rift on an elderly person’s head and walk away. There’s a carefully developed process we’ve created that ensures the well-being of the patient and ensures a positive experience for all. It’s important

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“Hardware is our biggest hurdle to get over. Oculus has been really helpful for VR hardware, but we also need help with the PCs to run it”

to understand, this isn’t for everyone. And even for those people who do like it, they don’t necessarily always like it. So it’s important to ensure that the experience is carried out on a voluntary basis.” Smale raises a good point. It can be incredibly difficult to understand exactly what a dementia sufferer wants, and even harder to predict how they may react to a sudden change in environment. Smale says that not only does the experience tend to relax people, it also offers a longer-term respite from some of the emotional peaks and troughs so common with the condition. He assures me that the assessment processes are based on science and the concrete experience of healthcare professionals. “That video is just the tip of the iceberg It only shows a few brief minutes from a small number of patients who were kind enough to let us film them. We’re really grateful to them for letting us do that, as it has opened a great many doors for us. “But what you don’t get from the video are the long periods of serenity that the patients enjoy. It’s really relaxing just watching them use it. You often wonder if they’ve fallen asleep behind the headset. But then they’ll whisper something about the scene they’re in, and you know they’re just very relaxed. “People living with dementia are often confused and distressed. Rather than trying to bring them back to what we consider to be reality, it is better to live with them in the reality they’re in. A virtual experience is a way of taking them to a nice place, in a way that is actually far less stressful than taking

them there in reality. For many, leaving the comfort of a care home and getting on a bus to travel somewhere is just not possible. Our experiences allow those who haven’t been able to leave the care homes to enjoy a day out. With our robust processes we ensure that, if at any point there is a risk of distress, we end the experience immediately.

“Sometimes patients will come out of the experiences and recount childhood memories linked to the experiences for half an hour or more. It’s magical to watch” “The dementia experts at Quantum have developed a well-being assessment tool based on the Abbey Pain scale. This records the wellbeing and behaviour of the patients before, during and after their experience. It’s useful data that clearly shows a positive benefit across the board. We’re now working with two NHS hospitals on a behavioural research study which will expand on this work. It will also demonstrate the effectiveness in an acute setting.” One of the key challenges facing dementia research is that the condition is often not treated until well established. Often it will go unnoticed, and many sufferers express reticence to bring it to light, fearing stigma attached to it, not wanting to cause concern or present a burden. Stimulation and

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emotional engagement are increasingly considered to be effective methods of strengthening the brain against dementia, so I ask Smale if his work has potential in preventative care, or whether it might actually slow the onset of an established condition. “This has yet to be determined,” he admits. “We’re hopeful that our research studies will begin to demonstrate some really useful outcomes, such as reduced medication or improvements in appetite. We have already seen countless memories brought vividly back to life in the patients. Sometimes patients will come out of the experiences and recount childhood memories linked to the experiences for half an hour or more. It’s magical to watch.” Tribemix is a for-profit company, not a charity. While he may have noble goals, Smale also has his own bills to pay, and VR is an expensive business. Nonetheless, this isn’t an exploitative venture. “The care providers will be the ones who have to cover the costs of the systems,” he says. “We’ve tried to keep this as low as possible and we’re at a price that works well for the industry and allows care providers to have access to the systems 24-7. Hardware is our biggest hurdle. Oculus has been really helpful for VR hardware, but we also need the PCs to run it. So we’d love to speak to manufacturers who might be interested in sponsoring. It’s getting a huge amount of interest. We’re also keen to make any connections in the care world. “The more places we can get the systems into, the more people we can help.”

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Obsidian Entertainment: Survival, Success and Independence CEO Feargus Urquhart on 13 years in AAA development - “We just want to be in a financial situation where we’re not worried all the time” Matthew Handrahan European Deputy Editor Even if you don’t know Feargus Urquhart’s name, you’ll be familiar with his work. In fact, Urquhart may have worked on some of your favourite games: as a producer at Interplay, Baldur’s Gate; as the president of Black Isle, Fallout 2 and Planescape: Torment; as the CEO of Obsidian, Knights of the Old Republic 2 and Fallout: New Vegas. Urquhart has spent 25 years in the games industry, nearly all of it working on AAA projects and collaborating with publishers. Getting there and staying there hasn’t been easy, though, and Obsidian’s path has often been defined as much by compromise and error as the wit, verve and unique ideas found in its games. In this refreshingly frank interview, Urquhart reflects on what it means to be a AAA independent studio in 2016, the “kinda broken” dynamic between publishers and developers, and the true value of Obsidian returning to its roots with Pillars of Eternity.

Owned IP Pillars of Eternity has put Obsidian on safer financial footing I used to be a consumer journalist, and there was a great period for Obsidian towards the end of my time in that role: Alpha Protocol, Fallout: New Vegas and Dungeon Siege 3, all in the space of two years. It felt like you were about to break through. They were big projects, yes… It was interesting. As an independent developer you can be on this treadmill, and we were always trying to break away from that. It was a period with all this opportunity, and sometimes we got in our own way. With Fallout: New Vegas, sometimes I look back and think, ‘Should we have pushed for a larger budget?’ Because there’s two parts to a launch: the publisher and the developer. So what could we have done? With Dungeon Siege, I should have pushed much harder to do a multiplayer. The multiplayer we had was just what fit into the budget. We were running into those issues, and that was my day-to-day. A penny here and a penny there. The difficult thing, and I’m sure you hear this from independent developers all the time, when you get done with a game not many work with the same publisher again - not right away.

18,19,20,21 GamesIndustry.Biz Top 100 Supplement - Feargus Urquhart interview_v5.indd 1 There’s a lot more indie studios now, but they’re much smaller. Does working on that large scale require a different approach? It feels more dangerous. When you’re a five-person studio you can all go unpaid for a while. I’ve got 200 people and they’ve all gotta be paid. That changes your whole mindset. That totally matters. The owners have had moments where we didn’t get paid, but it’s our company - we can do that. Everyone else has always been paid. The challenge is that there’s always a gun to your head. So that’s the game, right? ‘Developer, you need to do this.’ But I don’t think I should do that. ‘Well, then you don’t get paid.’ I want to pay my people, so the math is pretty simple.

“I’ve got 200 people and they’ve all gotta be paid. That changes your whole mindset... That means there’s always a gun to your head” The math is simple, but not every company finds the answer. When you’ve got a gun to your head the challenge is also to stay honest. Well, you have three choices: you can spend your own money, you can lie, or you can do what you’re told. And, generally, we’ve always chosen to just do what we’re told - even when we don’t believe in it. That’s maybe the difference now from where we were before. I also know this - and I’d give this piece of advice to anybody - when you have that gun to your head you’ve gotta get the gun away. At some point in time you have to go, ‘I’m not going to keep on doing this.’ I solve a short-term problem so my people will get paid, but to do that either I’m going to feel dirty or I’m going to tell my team that all of your creativity doesn’t matter. You have to do what our publisher tell us. The contract is the contract. Right. ‘You’re a contractor.’ But that’s not what a lot of people signed up to be. And we’ve had these moments where people get mad. ‘Tell ‘em to go screw off,’ right? And I’m like, okay, but they might say, ‘Well, you screw off then, and you won’t get paid.’

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Feargus Urquhart regrets not asking for a bigger budget when making Fallout: New Vegas

Another example is not compromising at the start. I’d rather blow up a relationship at 6 months than month 18. At 6 months, it’s recoverable. We may figure something else out with that publisher. At 18 months, and you’re $18 million in everybody is enraged. It’s better to blow something up early, and that’s what we’ve started to do. Back then, Obsidian had a reputation for technical issues. Is that a consequence of towing the line, and working to imposed budgets? With Alpha Protocol, the challenge was that we weren’t even totally sure what we wanted to make until, like, way into the game - and that’s bad. You can do that with your own money; when you’re doing that with someone else’s, they’re just getting mad at you more and more. I’d go back to what I was just saying: you’ve gotta cut it early. That’s where we’ve made big mistakes. When you look at your game and go: ‘Oh, it’s like an ugly little child. That’s not good. So what do we do?’ It’s too easy to add just a little bit more here, and hope it’ll be good, and everything will be fine. Publishers should kill more games way earlier, but if we do

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that ourselves it makes us more reasonable about what we can actually accomplish. We weren’t doing that, and that put pressure on our publishers. Isn’t that the publisher’s call anyway? Surely Obsidian wouldn’t decide that on most projects? No, it wouldn’t be my call, but we always should look at the fact of, ‘Would we kill this game?’ It’s nice if the publisher keeps on paying us for another year, but if we would kill it then it really should be killed. So what are we doing today to make sure we can do what we want and have the game not be killed? We’re now doing that on day 2, and not day 430. That’s what we did too much of before. We just kept on going, sweeping problems under the rug - sweep, sweep, sweep, it’s all fine. And you get to a point and it’s screwed. It’s like Jenga. The tower keeps getting taller, but you’re only doing that by making the whole thing more unstable. Yes. I think that’s what happens to a lot of developers. They’re just keeping it all together. We frustrated our publishers a lot, and ourselves.

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20 That’s very honest. But there did seem to be a few big setbacks that were outside of your control. Like with Fallout: New Vegas where you missed out on part of your bonus because of just 1% on its Metacritic score. That’s something not entirely in your control. No it’s not, and that’s...yeah. And THQ went under while you were working on South Park: The Stick of Truth. These were factors that led to a period of instability for your company. You released three of four games in twoand-a-half years, and then nothing for the next three. Is that just the nature of the beast? Yes, you’re right. I can do the best job ever, be on budget, on time, on everything - and that has actually happened with a game or two… Then there’s these odd things that we’re not in control of that can really impact us. It really frustrates me when I’m fighting with a publisher to put some testers on a game, or I’m fighting with a publisher because they have some other game that they’re shipping earlier and they move all the testers off our project. There are periods of time with our games where there’s been, like, two testers at a publisher working on it at a time. I can’t make them do it. I can’t simply terminate the contract. But that has coloured the way people have seen your studio in the past. Absolutely. And what do we put in our contracts now? A minimum number of testers. And presumably there’s no Metacritic bonuses, either? And no Metacritic-related bonuses, absolutely. Because I can’t control it. It is not in our interests. Do you have to be comfortable with your work not always getting its reward? There aren’t many ways you could have done a better job with the South Park game, but you’re not making the sequel. Ubisoft can probably benefit from all kinds of efficiencies by bringing it in-house, but in Obsidian’s position that’s just something… That’s just the way it is. You’ve gotta roll with it. I hate making excuses, but what’s also very interesting about our industry is that developers are uncomfortable and feel that they shouldn’t ever criticise the publishers. That’s one of the other challenges, and I don’t really know what to do about it, because there’s a whole group of people that have an effect on our businesses, and is there any sort of responsibility there? They can kind of do what they want. I don’t know if that’s a bad thing to say.

18,19,20,21 GamesIndustry.Biz Top 100 Supplement - Feargus Urquhart interview_v5.indd 3 I don’t think it’s bad to say if there’s truth in it. We were just saying how few independent developers are still making games on this scale. So many resources in that part of the market are now concentrated in a handful of publishers. They’re less reliant on external companies. It gets even more interesting when you start thinking about the economy of it as well. At some point we have to look at ourselves as a business, so it’s our job to make money. For me to go off and do - and we’re not doing this, but let’s just say - Knights of the Old Republic 3, and it’s going to cost $50 million, and I’ll make $7.5 million on milestones and then maybe another $5 million in

“There are periods of time with our games where there’s been, like, two testers at a publisher working on it. I can’t make them do it” royalties. That’s pretty good. But, y’know, I can make more profit from two Pillars of Eternitys. And then on top of that, if it’s a smaller game and it’s successful, I’ll own it. I’m not gonna own Star Wars. I’m not saying that publishers are bad for that - it’s an immense amount of money to invest in something - but that’s where, working with an

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independent developer, the system is a little broken. When someone builds an aircraft carrier for the Navy, do they run that project like an independent developer does in games? That ship builder is independent from the Navy, but that relationship is immensely different from what we have. Let’s say you need some contracting work. The contractor shows up, you figure it out, and maybe it’s going to be $10,000. They’ll ask for $3,000 upfront, and you’re like, ‘Okay. I get it.’ Let’s say I do a $50 million game. For me to get more than $500,000 upfront is a fight. Again, this is not ‘publishers are evil’ or anything like that, but that world is kinda broken. You mentioned Pillars of Eternity, and that game seemed to arrive at a crucial time for the company as South Park had challenges and you’d had a project cancelled by Microsoft. So you raised a lot of money through Kickstarter and made a game that was well reviewed and earned a healthy profit, and it was also a return to your roots. Oh yeah, absolutely.

Despite the success of South Park: The Stick of Truth, Obsidian is not making its sequel Were there benefits for the company beyond the commercial? Really we just want to be in a financial situation where we’re not worried all the time. Worry is the gun to your head. It changes how you make decisions. Pillars of Eternity’s success lets us do things. It lets us make a game in the way we want to make it, and that is so helpful. Everyone feels really good about the work, and the crowdfunding was really huge. Having the IP, for once we get to do cool stuff with it. We’re making a board game. You have more pride in your company when you have something like that. You have a few projects on the go now, including Tyranny, which seems to be similar to Pillars of Eternity in the exact way you’re talking about. It’s one for you. We are starting to move forward on Pillars of Eternity 2 [crowdfunding campaign recently completed via Fig], and we’ve just shipped the digital version of the Pathfinder card game. Then we have a few people working on something new. We hired Leonard Boyarsky last year, who’s one of the co-creators of the original Fallout. Can we take a hint from that as to the nature of this new project? Well, no [laughs]. We’re not working on a Fallout. People have said that we should just crowdfund everything, and I think we should some stuff, but if we want to go and do something big we need to get extra funding. We can’t raise $30 to $50 million via crowdfunding.

18,19,20,21 GamesIndustry.Biz Top 100 Supplement - Feargus Urquhart interview_v5.indd 4 Some ideas demand to be executed in that way. Star Citizen aside, crowdfunding hasn’t yet reached the point where it can support that. And then there’s the question of how many times you should go back to that well, and what’s fair, and what’s right? With Tyranny also, that was a number of people who had just come off the South Park team, so that started in early 2013. We had the Eternity money, but that was for Eternity. How we stay in business is just constantly managing that cash, so with Tyranny we funded it for a bit and we reached a point where we needed to either shrink the team, to shut it down, or we needed to partner with somebody [Paradox Interactive].

“People have said that we should just crowdfund everything, but if we want to go and do something big we need to get extra funding” Obsidian has been around for 14 years, and it would have been impossible to predict the ways the industry has changed since. How has the reality matched up to your expectations from 2003? I thought we would have our own engine at this point - and we tried. I thought we would have been purchased by now. I thought we wouldn’t be as big as we are. The last two seem at odds with each other. Yeah, exactly. If you told me four or five years ago that we’d work on a free-to-play tank game, and our own crowdfunded IP, and that we’d shipped a South Park game - there was nothing in our business plan five years ago that said any of that. There isn’t a single thing we’re doing today that was in that business plan. So what do you want from the next 13 years? Do you still want to be independent? I am fine being independent in 13 years. I would be okay if we got purchased, but I would be fine independent. We need to be good at what we do. It goes back to what we were saying about things that are beyond our control. Well, there are things that are in our control, so let’s not screw those things up. We can keep doing great stuff with Eternity. I’d love to turn Eternity into more like a Skyrim product. I’d love to do a science fiction game. I just want to keep making role-playing games - I do, and the team does. Whether that’s independent or not, making RPGs we can be proud of is the goal. And that’s what I can look back on. We’ve been very proud of a lot of what we’ve done as a team. Whether the Metacritic was 75 or 95, we’ve been very proud of what we’ve done.

21/03/2017 14:53


Come dream with me: Imagination vs. Immersion Kim Belair on the shift from playing ‘with’ to playing ‘as’ Kim Belair Contributor Recently I was replaying Super Metroid, which I’m fairly certain is the opening sentence to one out of every four introspective video game articles. I was in Norfair, on my way to fight Crocomire, when a creature emerged from the wall above me, armoured and eyeless, and spewed a fireball into the darkness. It missed me, but I couldn’t be sure it intended to hit me at all, or whether it could even detect my presence. It is possible, given the strangeness of this hostile planet, that I was inconsequential to its routine, and it would have behaved in this way whether or

“Samus knew all along who she was, but only in accompanying her on this journey could we learn more about her. The character, for as much time as we played as her, was not us”

Concept art for Earthbound shows what we were meant to see in the pixels

not I had stumbled in. I had no idea. I didn’t know what triggered it. I didn’t even know what it was. But I had the distinct feeling that Samus did. There was no doubt in my mind, even as I moved her nervously and frantically through increasingly treacherous environments, that she knew her mission and this world better than I did, and whatever fears I had were entirely my own. I was with her, but I was not her. And that’s interesting - at least to me. Because in order to experience the dread and the isolation of the 16-bit world before me, I had to imagine what Samus was contending with, what she was seeing and what she might know, without experiencing it myself. The onus was on me to take a relatively crude assemblage of pixels and envision something more. What the game was asking me, as a player, was to bridge the gap between what they showed me and what they wanted me to see. With our limited technology, we couldn’t achieve the kind of immersion that’s become an industry

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norm in 2016, and so we relied instead on the imagination. If we couldn’t show the player what we saw in our mind’s eye, we could ask them to come and dream with us. FILLING IN THE BLANKS We never drew in pixels. I’m kind of obsessed with that. In the manual for Super Metroid, the boss monsters are rendered in all their comic book glory, all curves and shadows, and Samus herself is a blend of metal and glass in dynamic poses we’ll never see in the game, leaping off the page. The emblematic crest on the cover of The Legend of Zelda is far smoother than any of the icons it represents. Even the character designs for a game as colourful and evocative as Earthbound, notably, were 3D, built out of clay. In the end, all were reduced to pixels beautifully of course, as I’m using ‘reduce’ in as non-reductive a way as possible - but we understood that we were meant to see beyond. Developers were building worlds and devising ways to share them with us, and what they asked from us was to meet them in the middle. In a sense, video game art at that time was akin to elegant translation: something may be lost along the way, but the new language had a beauty and nuance of its own. Many of the backgrounds in Super Metroid are black. A few bits of suggestive rock, some curious machinery, a hint of colour or gradient, but beneath it and outside it, black. The advent of parallax scrolling meant that our characters could inhabit a world with some depth, but that depth was generally a repeating pattern, extending into infinity. The jungles in Donkey Kong Country went on forever, home to a thousand creatures and thrilling locales we would never see. Sonic’s Green Hill Zone was seemingly bordered by a dark mountain range we would never explore. Today, we still use these ‘natural’ borders (mountains, dense forests, high rock walls), but within them we’ve become accustomed to spotting something interesting in the distance, dropping a waypoint on it, and making our way there to sate our own curiosity.

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This is, in itself, an incredible freedom and something that dazzles me in something like Red Dead Redemption, or while unlocking a coveted shortcut in the interconnected paths of Dark Souls, but it’s a different form of engagement. The world feels more real, yes, but - if this is possible - simultaneously more expansive and much, much smaller. I brought this idea up to my art director recently, that the emptiness or vagueness of old games’ landscapes contributed to a dreamy atmosphere. It made us wonder rather than expect. Thoughtfully, he compared it to the difference between a sketch and a finished piece, and the fact that people often prefer the former because it allows them to imagine what might be there, and follow the rough lines they prefer, rather than the ones given to them. They can still be surprised.

“As gaming has evolved, our relationship to the protagonist has changed from playing with to playing as”

YOUR CHARACTER AND YOU One of the more notable surprises in video game pop culture is the reveal of Samus’ gender at the end of the first Metroid. What fascinates me about that is that it isn’t a twist, or a deceit of the player. Yes, it played against our expectations of what a video game hero tended to be back then (a dude), but it’s simply a fact to which we weren’t privy. Samus knew all along who she was, but only in accompanying her on this journey could we learn more about her. The character, for as much time as we played her, was not us. She was her own entity, and that was how we engaged with games at the time. This isn’t to say that the characters we play now don’t surprise us. Nathan Drake revealed an estranged brother in Uncharted 4, Call of Duty: Black Ops offers hallucinations as truths for a great deal of the campaign, and Bioshock’s big reveal undoes an entire game’s worth of player agency. The difference here is the way we justify it: we either retcon, expand backstory, or use madness and outside influence to explain why our playable characters failed to show all of themselves to us. Anything else would break immersion. Immersion is about putting ourselves inside of a game, being surrounded by it, and getting lost in it. As gaming has evolved, our relationship to the protagonist has changed from playing with to playing as. With many games in the past, we told a simple story, gave a character a stark but sturdy identity, and then asked the player to accompany them from point A to point B. If you were lucky, you might even get a “THANK YOU!” screen

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at the end of it all, featuring some cast members applauding your efforts. If, today, at the end of Arkham Knight, Batman turned around, grinned and said “Thanks for playing,” we wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves. The fourth wall is rock solid. But what does that mean? I promise I’m not campaigning for more protagonists winking knowingly to the camera here, and I love nothing more than spending an hour on character creation to ensure I get the optimal chin height or eyebrow width, but sometimes it can feel as though the cost of immersion is faith. With the player ensconced deep within a simulation, the slightest flaw becomes a jarring and unwelcome bit of reality. It becomes

“Developers were building worlds and devising ways to share them with us, and what they asked was for us to meet them in the middle” more difficult to watch our character make choices that don’t jibe with our own, or to accept that we just can’t swim past that invisible wall. THE BIG PICTURE If at one point tech limitations meant we had to ask for the goodwill of our players, and to invite them to believe in what we were telling them, advancing technology means that we need ask nothing of them but to look at the world we’ve made, and to live in it. Our concept art requires no translation: we can replicate it in-engine almost perfectly. Our characters tend toward the extremes: either they are so well and clearly defined that the player contributes nothing but movement, or else they are so loosely and vaguely drawn that the player must give them the personality they lack. The player doesn’t need to use their imagination because we do all the work for them, be it simply because we can, or out of the deeply human desire to tell a story and be understood. It could also be money. Games aren’t cheap. Independent studios often hope to break even at best; their motivation is strictly to get their art out into the world for people to experience. Beyond the lure of nostalgia, there’s a reason that most indie games more closely resemble older titles: limited means create ‘limited’ experiences, and players are more likely to offer them the break for which AAA titles can no longer ask. Stepping into the world of something like Toby Fox’s Undertale, we can imagine how Papyrus and Sans might sound or speak, hear our own mothers in the voice of Toriel, and guide our aloof little protagonist through some very unlikely situations.

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We’re imagining what these places might look like to our eyes, and often the work of constructing our own mental images creates something akin to a ‘mind palace’: a collection of memories we can easily visualise. I compare it to a recommendation I received when I realised I was forgetting people’s names immediately after an introduction: if they tell you their name, you’ll forget it, but if you

“The player doesn’t need to use their imagination because we do all the work for them, be it simply because we can, or out of the deeply human desire to tell a story and be understood” speak their name back to them, you’re more likely to recall. Asking for that additional input from the player is a type of engagement that creates memories rather than anecdotes. But, as backwards as it sounds, it’s not always something bigger companies can afford. If you see concept or even marketing art for an old SNES or Mega Drive game - or an independent title today - and it shows the vision of the creators rather than the actual product, we can be inspired and begin to dream along with the teams behind it. Lately, though, if an overly polished CG trailer or lavishly illustrated poster for a AAA title seems at all disparate from the finished product, we’re quick to call it a downgrade at best, a lie at worst. We expect a certain kind of game to be delivered to us, one that is fully-formed, one that does what it says on the tin. This isn’t necessarily a problem - the increasing power of immersion and the push toward VR means that we’ll only be getting deeper into virtual, hyper-realised worlds - but it does mean that more subtle or minimalistic worlds and designs might be increasingly difficult to sell, with protagonists and players one and the same. They don’t really need to dream when they can simply live. GOODBYE TO ALL THAT Old games aren’t better than new games. They’re different. It’s easy for me, at 30, to fall into the trap of romanticising the games I played as a kid, and let myself become so jaded that I dull the shine of the games I play now. The reality is that we’re still making incredible works of art, regardless of their scale.

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Whether we experience those as dreamscapes and imagine our way into them, or explore a fullyrealised environment built for us, there’s magic there. Ultimately, my yen for the relationship I had with Super Metroid is a pull toward a satisfying, maybe old-fashioned engagement that was once more commonplace. And I wonder, maybe idly or selfishly, if we can’t find a way to bring more of that back. There’s a point at the end of Earthbound, during the final battle against “Universal Cosmic Destroyer” Giygas, where the characters, four children from different parts of the world, have exhausted their abilities and must literally rely on the power of prayer. Earlier in the adventure, in a cute little trick, a kid named Tony phones the protagonist and says he’s collecting players’ names for a school project. He clarifies that he means players just like you - “the one holding the controller” - and you register your name with him. It’s something quick and forgettable, until Ness, Paula and friends are up against the final boss. He is too strong for them, too monstrous, and despite their best efforts and all the powers they have gained, it becomes clear that this is a fight they can’t win. And so Paula begins to pray. The screen goes dark for a moment, but then opens on some of the NPCs they’ve met along their journey, and those NPCs begin to pray for the safety of Ness and the gang. Giygas’ defences falter. As Paula keeps praying, we see other people they have helped, we see their loved ones, their families, all praying for the safety and well-being of these kids who touched their lives. Giygas is weakened. Finally, Paula runs out of people, realises she has thought of everyone she knows, everyone who cares. Into the darkness, she calls out for “someone” to give them strength. And against all odds, she gets you. The player. “The one holding the controller.” You’ve already led them through the toughest battle of their lives, and now they just need you to believe in them. I remember sitting there, as a kid, earnestly hoping, sending my prayers out to these pixels and imagining that I was helping. I’ve never been so aware of myself as a player, outside of a game, but I’ve also never been so deep within one. It was pure belief and precious little immersion - at least immersion as we’ve come to define it today - but that was okay. And it is still okay when I play it as an adult, because I’m happy to dream with them. These kids weren’t me, any of them, but they were my friends, and so I was willing to do the work. All they had to do was ask.

Games like Earthbound (top) and Undertale (above) ask players to dream with the creators

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Uncharted 4 is not as scripted as you might think Designer Matthew Gallant explains how the studio incorporated systemic combat AI into Uncharted 4, and what went wrong along the way

Brendan Sinclair Senior Editor The Uncharted series is industry shorthand for the type of highly polished and diligently authored roller coaster rides that have made up the AAA market for some time. However, the most recent installment in the series may be slightly less authored than some players expected. In a conversation with, Naughty Dog game designer Matthew Gallant explained that the enemy AI in Uncharted 4 adopted a more systemic approach to previous games in the series. “The things that worked really well in Uncharted 1 to 3 were the designers having a really heavy hand and making these bespoke, hand-authored layouts,” Gallant says. “Design was often going to the point where we’d say: ‘These NPCs are going to hang out here, and if the player moves here, they’ll counter by moving here.’ Or we’ll send in the heavy guy and when he dies, the other guys will move up... It was really terrific for those games because we had combat designers who had time to go in and sweat all those details really, really carefully.”

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That approach had to be modified for Uncharted 4. One of the game’s key additions were expansive areas that bordered on open-world (Gallant prefers the phrase “wide linear”), like a Madagascar section that players can explore on foot or in a Jeep. With gamers given more freedom to choose how they approach wide linear combat

Naughty Dog took inspiration from The Last of Us with Uncharted 4’s AI

“We never want the combat AI side of it to show through at all. We don’t ever want people to be thinking, ‘Why did that NPC do that?’” encounters, it seemed a fool’s errand to customise AI actions for every possible scenario in play. To address that problem, the Naughty Dog team took inspiration from its previous critically acclaimed project, The Last of Us. “In a way, The Last of Us really got us thinking about systems,” Gallant says. “It’s not that the AI was completely unauthored, but we had interesting AI systems driving AI behaviors for regaining stealth, flanking, and NPCs that could really interact with the environment in lots of interesting ways.”

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Name: Matthew Gallant Current Position: Game Designer, Naughty Dog Joined: 2012 Previous Position: Game Designer – Lightbox Interactive Notable Works: Uncharted 4, The Last of Us, Starhawk Next Project: The Last of Us II

Early in development, that inspiration took Naughty Dog a bit further down the systemic path than it needed to go. It created AI systems so that enemies in combat would try to identify strategically desirable locations, or give them hyperefficient routines to search for players when they run and hide. The problems with that approach quickly became obvious. “Although in an algorithm-y, computer science sense they were searching very efficiently, when a player saw them they looked not human, not how a person would look,” Gallant continues. “They looked a little lost, or hesitant and undecided. And they also didn’t present an interesting stealth challenge to the player. “We had to take a step back and say that the goal of these NPCs searching for the player isn’t to find the player; it’s to present interesting gameplay, to spread them out in a layout, have them looking human and smart, and moving in ways that are mildly predictable for the player so they have some ability to sneak up behind them. “A lot of those things we tried couldn’t create good enough results consistently. But more importantly, in some ways I felt we were reverse engineering the high-level decision making, and that just wasn’t a great idea in this particular case.” HYBRID THEORY Ultimately, Naughty Dog settled on a hybrid approach where there would be a hand-off between authored and systemic control of the characters. For example, to deal with issues presented by the wide linear combat situations mentioned above, level designers would mark up combat zones, telling the AI where the exit is supposed to be, highlighting where a few strong positions might be, and setting variables like how inclined they are to flank or take cover, how easily they lose track of the player, or how dogged they are about chasing a fleeing player to finish the job. In another instance, Naughty Dog used pathfinding AI from The Last of Us to get enemies from point A to point B. Gallant said it was soon clear that the AI worked especially well in The Last of Us because the game’s tight, complex environments ensured that the enemies would traverse in mostly human ways, using aisles and doorways, walking around desks and other obstacles in the layout. However, in Uncharted 4’s larger, more open environments, moving from point A to point B usually meant travelling in a perfectly straight line, which wasn’t terribly interesting. The solution was to run paths throughout the layout that AI would move along, trails that would have them reasonably making their way throughout the level, perhaps clearing out corners or places the player could be hiding en route to their destination.

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While systemic design may be experiencing a boom period these days with the resurgence of Deus Ex-like action sims, systems-heavy series like Fallout and The Elder Scrolls, as well as more experimental independent efforts in procedural generation, it’s not a trend Gallant expects Naughty Dog to chase. The more systemically driven games are, the more likely players are to stumble upon scenarios the developers never planned for, and the more likely that the AI will fail to respond appropriately.

“Our design values at Naughty Dog mean we’re never really going to be OK with AI quirks or difficult situations like that” “Our design values at Naughty Dog mean we’re never really going to be OK with AI quirks or difficult situations like that,” Gallant says. “We’re going to push to make these guys look terrific and smart in as many locations as we can.” TESTING TIMES Even though Uncharted has a fairly limited set of verbs for players, Gallant says unconsidered scenarios still crop up in testing. For example, when players hunker down in Uncharted, the AI actually gets more accurate because they’re aiming for a stationary target, while it suffers a penalty when the player is jumping, running away, or swinging on a rope. That seemed fine until the QA team found out that they could abuse that modifier by simply hanging out on ropes for long stretches in the middle of a firefight. “Even relatively simple games have a lot of states the player can be in and things the player can do,” Gallants says. “You have to be really thoughtful about catching all those examples.” Of course, most Skyrim players understand just how wide open the game is, so when they throw the game a curveball and it reacts inappropriately they tend to be more accepting. But even if it fosters a greater sense of forgiveness from players, Gallant clearly isn’t enthusiastic about communicating exactly how systemically driven Naughty Dog’s games might be. “My hope is always that the work we do is not obvious to them at all,” Gallant says. “We never want the combat AI side of it to show through. We don’t ever want people to be thinking, ‘Why did that NPC do that?’ We want them to be thinking of it in terms of ‘that guy over there with the gun’ and really be in the moment. And when things are good enough end-to-end, you really get lost in the experience and don’t have to think about whether it’s authored or systemic. It’s just believable.”

The more open nature of Uncharted 4 presented new challenges for the game’s AI system

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Video games are boring Video games should be the most relevant form of art and entertainment, yet many people don’t like them. Brie Code asks why, and arrives at some difficult answers

Brie Code Contributor “Games are bigger than movies. Everyone’s a gamer.” I’ve devoted my life to games for 14 years, working on titles like Company of Heroes, a few Assassin’s Creeds, and Child of Light. But everywhere I go, I meet people who don’t like them. Most of my friends don’t. And one of my favourite things when I’m meeting a new person is to watch them squirm, to struggle to relate, after I say I work in games. They’ll mention some old title they used to play and then confess that they don’t play video games. Meanwhile, our lives have changed radically compared to our parents’ lives. As we adapt to new technologies, our lives are becoming increasingly fragmented, multifaceted, interactive. Linear novels and films are less relevant now for reflecting our realities. What forms of art and entertainment are most relevant now? Collage? Memoir? No, it should be video games. Yet, many people don’t like them.

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PART 1: WHY? Groups of people who are similar to each other get stuck. People who are similar think similarly, draw on the same knowledge base, and approach problems from the same angles. There’s even a further psychological effect where an individual in a group of similar people will have fewer good ideas than the same individual in a diverse group. If there is any workforce full of people who are similar to each other, it’s the video game industry workforce. We are mostly men, mostly white, and even more importantly, we are mostly gamers. Could it possibly be that maybe, just maybe, we could be missing something? Maybe everything we know is wrong. PART 2: EVERYTHING I KNOW IS WRONG Three years ago, my friends who don’t like games started to ask about them for the first time. This was because they were starting to buy tablets, and some of them were getting castoff consoles from

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Brie Code was the lead programmer on Ubisoft’s Child of Light

neighbours or family members who upgraded. This was exciting - I thought maybe I would finally be able to share the thing I love with the people I love. Spoiler: I was wrong. They didn’t become gamers after they played the games I recommended. But something interesting did happen. My closest friend, my cousin Kristina, has been perhaps the most hostile towards my affection for games. She’s an art historian who loves contemporary feminist art and she sees me as a designer. But not a game designer. When I would message her stressed about work she wouldn’t offer her support. Instead she would encourage me to quit and go back to school to study interior design or industrial design. She thought I was wasting my life in the video game industry. And then one day she started to ask about video games. I was thrilled. Of course I recommended Journey. It seemed like the natural fit. To my surprise, she didn’t finish it. She didn’t like that there’s a snake that can kill you. It’s not that it was too hard; it’s that she is deeply uninterested in being attacked in a game, but it did intrigue her enough that she asked for more recommendations. So I started testing games on my friends who don’t like them, to see what they would like and dislike. One night I decided I had built enough trust with Kristina to recommend my favourite game, Skyrim. She googled it and texted me back something like, “uhhhhh I don’t know why you think I would play this. I don’t watch Game of Thrones. I don’t like swords. I don’t like fighting. I don’t like dragons.” I told her she would hate the first bit with the dragon, but just to give it a chance and get back to me with her thoughts. I never heard back. Three weeks later my phone rang. No one calls me because they know I don’t answer. But I glanced down and I saw Kristina’s name. My stomach sank as it occurred to me that there must be some family emergency. I answered, and Kristina was crying. She said to me, “Lydia died.” We have no Lydia in our family. She was talking about the character in Skyrim. For three weeks

“I realised that I was stuck. This is what happens when everyone is the same as each other. We make boring things” she had been playing Skyrim obsessively, and now she’d accidentally killed Lydia and she didn’t have a recent save game. Kristina said to me through her tears that she didn’t realise that you could develop an emotional attachment to a character in a game. She didn’t realise that you could create your character and exist as a version of yourself in a world full of

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characters about whom you care. I had never realised that she didn’t know this, because I knew this so deeply. She said to me that, for all these years, it wasn’t that she didn’t like video games, it was that she didn’t know what they were. (When I tell this story at conferences people tell me their Lydia stories afterwards. We all have one.) My cousin loved Skyrim. My friends who don’t like video games might like video games. This changed my whole focus. I helped make Child of Light. I thought my friends would like it. But I never showed it to them while it was in development. And when it came out, to my surprise, my friends didn’t like Child of Light either.

“My friends started asking me about games. This was very exciting - I thought I would finally be able to share the thing I love with the people I love. Spoiler: I was wrong”

Games like Papers, Please (top) and This War of Mine (above) prove that games can convey meaning more efficiently than books or film, says Code

The truth is that Kristina stopped playing Skyrim pretty soon after Lydia died, because she doesn’t like swords nor fighting nor dragons. And three years have gone by and there is still no game that resonates with my friends. In Tim Gunn’s words, “this is a design failure and not a customer issue.” I love video games and I work with people who love them too. But when I listen to Kristina describe the ones she says she wishes she could play, the video games she says she wishes existed - games that would sound extremely boring to most gamers but interesting to most of my friends - I realise that I too would love those games so much more. Listening to Kristina made me realise that I hadn’t been having good ideas. I had been working with people who think too similarly to myself, who draw on the same cultural references (geek culture), who use the same game design theory that was developed mainly by (white, male) gamers for (white, male) gamers. I realised that I was stuck. This is what happens when everyone is the same as each other. We make boring things. My friends are still asking about games. The interest is still there. Finally I came to the realisation that it wasn’t about convincing my friends to play games I liked. It wasn’t about answering them; it was about asking them. It was about really talking with them, and then making a game that they would like so ridiculously much that they couldn’t help but play it. PART 3: LIFE IS REALLY DIFFICULT So why don’t my friends like video games, and what would they like? When my friends talk about why they don’t like games, they are talking about three things. The

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“I’m not that interested in adrenaline. My own life is thrilling enough. There is enough fear and hatred in the world to get my heart pounding”

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most important thing is that they think video games lack depth. They say things like, “unlike books/films/ podcasts, with video games I don’t learn anything or change as a person.” Secondly, on a surface level, they are also often just flat out repulsed by video games. Few women, for example, are going to play a video game with terrible portrayals of women. They say things like, “they insult me/my demographic.” And thirdly, they don’t find their own cultural references or interests in games. They say things like, “they ignore me,” and, “I’m failing at things I didn’t care about in the first place.” Other things they just don’t care about: realistic graphics; action. So my friends want not to be repulsed, to recognise their own tastes, and to find depth. Because we as an industry fail at the first two, my friends don’t get to experience that gaming is perhaps the most powerful medium for learning and for growing and changing as a person. As gamers, we know that a well designed mechanic can convey meaning more efficiently than a novel or film. Papers, Please taught us that. Train taught us that. This War of Mine. Etc. Identifying these criteria helped me understand why neither Skyrim nor Child of Light worked for

my friends. Skyrim has the depth, but not the taste. Kristina enjoyed playing with her identity and connecting with characters, but she doesn’t like swords nor fighting nor dragons. Child of Light has the taste but not the depth. The linear story and turn-based combat didn’t provide space for her to play around with the kind of questions she cares about in life. (Plus the controls were not accessible, which we would have known if we had play-tested with people who weren’t gamers.) It’s not enough to remove the things that my friends don’t like and think they will like games. The experience must be based in things that they care about, in problems they have in life. It must help them understand their lives more. Life is really difficult. So asking my friends what they don’t like about games is half the question. Asking my friends what they don’t like about life, and how a video game could help them with that, is the second and more important half. Like many women, Kristina’s life is very different from her parents’ lives. She is the first woman in her family to earn a university degree and build a big career, but school didn’t prepare her for office politics or many of the other aspects of her careeroriented life. She is tiny, and so even though she is

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Non-gamer Kristina loved the relationships in Skyrim, just not the subject matter

also very smart and very strong, people often don’t take her seriously. When she walks to work she is cat-called, and when she works late and walks home she fears for her safety. The cost of living in Vancouver is very high and she has student loans. She doesn’t know how she is going to balance career and family. Her friends are all as busy as she is. She has no obvious role models. She is figuring everything out herself. When Kristina gets home from a long day, she doesn’t want to battle it out or get frustrated in a game. She wants to experiment with who she is in a social context of characters whom she cares about and who care about her. This is how she felt about Lydia in Skyrim, and this is how I feel about the characters in Skyrim, too. The artist Harry Giles recently put into words everything I was feeling about art and therefore about games. He talks about how artists have often used shock to get through to audiences, but how that technique has been absorbed into our culture and now we exist in “a state of constant shock, of constant stimulation.” At the same time, we are experiencing a “dramatic erosion of structures of care.” I really feel this. We’re throwing out resources of care our parents had, such as religion and housewives (which is fine with me), and not replacing them with much (which is not fine with me). Giles says: “Is providing care thus a valuable avenue of artistic exploration? Is the art of care a form of radical political art? Is care, in a society which devalues care, itself shocking?” I’m not remotely interested in shockingly good graphics, in murder simulators, in guns and knives and swords. I’m not that interested in adrenaline. My own life is thrilling enough. There is enough fear and hatred in the world to get my heart pounding. Walking outside in summer clothing is enough for that. I’m interested in care, in characters, in creation, in finding a path forward inside games that helps me find my path forward in life. I am interested in compassion and understanding. I’m interested in connecting. As Miranda July said, “all I ever wanted to know is how other people are making it through life.” I want to make games that help other people understand life. We are all overwhelmed with shock, with information, with change. The degree of interactivity in our lives is wonderful, but it is also overwhelming and it’s causing us to find some peace by shutting each other out. On all sides of the political spectrum we’ve stopped listening, and I fear we are all leaning toward fascist thinking. We should be using this medium to help us adapt to our new, interactive lives. This is how we become relevant. PART 4: INTERESTING VIDEO GAMES So caring about your audience is good, relevant,

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and necessary art. But it is also good business. You can read any book about how to run a start-up and encounter ideas about customer development and value proposition. Read a few more and you encounter ideas about co-design to take the risk out of creating for new markets. This is care. Tim Gunn says, “today’s designers operate within paradigms that were established decades ago... but this is now the shape of women in this nation, and designers need to wrap their minds about it.” In my last days before quitting my corporate job I couldn’t get John Baldessari’s 1971 piece I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art out of my head. He burned all his paintings because he was also questioning

“The degree of interactivity in our lives is amazing and wonderful and I wouldn’t exchange it for anything, but it is also shocking and overwhelming” paradigms. When I talk with my friends about what they would like in an interactive experience, it doesn’t fit conventional games industry wisdom about what makes a good game. When I think what I would like in a game, it doesn’t fit conventional games industry wisdom. And I’m surprised at how slowly the conversation is evolving. It’s been three years since my friends and I bought tablets and have been looking for games. For years I’ve been bored of trying to prove to my colleagues that women are human, that women aren’t too unpredictable to study, that what women like is not less worthy or boring or wrong or hard to understand. That it’s garbage to say that women don’t need deep, rich experiences. I know that we never needed to sneer when the words Kim Kardashian: Hollywood were mentioned. I know that the success of a game about collecting cats is not a mystery. I started my little studio because I care about games, I care about my friends and people like them, I want my friends to care about games, and I want to make games that care about my friends. At my studio we are making games with people who don’t like video games because we want to break out of established paradigms. We want to think about ideas from different angles and draw on different references. We want games that aren’t gritty, toxic, pseudo-realistic, pseudo-masculine nonsense, nor frustrating time wasters that leave you feeling dead inside. We want games about how each of us could be in the future, how the world could be in the future. We want games built on compassion and respect and fearlessness. This is so much more interesting.

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“I am sure that someday someone will create a GTA with no guns” Tommy Francois, Ubisoft’s vice president of editorial, on violence, building open worlds and why George Lucas let him down Christopher Dring Senior Editor

Name: Tommy Francois Joined Ubisoft: 2006 Job title: VP of Editorial Previous roles New IP director Ubisoft Editorial manager - MTV Producer - Shiny Entertainment Notable works: Child of Eden, Watch Dogs 2, The Division, Steep, Assassin’s Creed (Various)

“One of my original mandates coming to Ubisoft was to create a new IP - just so you know how adamant we are about doing something different that was an RPG that wasn’t sci-fi, wasn’t fantasy, had no guns, no deaths and no enemies.” Tommy Francois is Ubisoft’s VP of editorial and one very interesting person. He has worked at the company for over 10 years, and in November he delivered a lecture in London on creating open worlds. It was a fascinating 90 minutes, and the exact sort of thing you’d expect from a man with a multi-coloured hat and a Donkey Kong backpack. Early in that talk, he made an aside about how his dad would love to explore the historical worlds of Assassin’s Creed, but he is put off by all the stabbing. This bothered me, so I’ve met up with Francois to discuss it further. He tells me about his original mandate to make a non-violent RPG, and insists that there is a desire within Ubisoft to create open worlds that aren’t predicated on killing. He adds: “I am sure that, someday, someone will create a GTA with no guns.” Yet I wasn’t satisfied. If it’s possible to make these sumptuous, realistic open worlds with a range of inventive ways of murdering people, why hasn’t the industry created one without the violence? “The easy answer is that the original games were made by testicles for testicles,” Francois acknowledges. “It sort of caters to the extremely reptilian, survival part of your brain. But we need to be more mature, we need to find different ways of interacting with our worlds, and that’s what we’re trying to do with our upcoming games.” He pauses: “I also think, and maybe it’s a sad statement to make, that the reason we go back to shooters is because they’re fun. But we need to challenge ourselves to think of different fantasies. We need more females in the industry, which will contribute 1,000 points in making our medium more welcoming to new people. I think doing this is necessary for our survival and if we want to be an impactful medium.” Francois’ words echo that of Brie Code [see p.28], who suggested that video games will reach

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a broader audience when people who currently dislike them start making them. “Exactly,” he agrees. “At Ubisoft we were looking at new areas for casual games, and we were going to people’s houses to do interviews in the context of: ‘why do you like games?’ And: ‘why do you hate games?’ I clearly remember one woman saying she hates games because you can’t look at your friends in the eyes. I thought: ‘Wow. That’s cool. Could that be a design principle for me?’ How do you make a game where you are gazing at one another? “We are trying. Everyone collectively as an industry is trying.” VIOLENT DELIGHTS It feels a little unfair to challenge Ubisoft on violence. Compared to its AAA peers - EA, Activision and Take-Two, for example - it has a good reputation for developing different types of games for a wide range of people. Besides, Francois didn’t take this short trip from France to London to discuss Ubisoft’s approach to violence. He was here to explain the processes behind building its open worlds, and it’s an eye-opening procedure. To ensure each world feels as authentic, Francois sends his various teams to the real-world location where their game will be set. These teams proceed to interview people and take thousands of photos and videos, which they upload to its online platform, delightfully named “World Texture Facility” - or WTF for short. “It’s not only about artists and considered creative positions. We send programmers; anyone on a team should get to go,” Francois explains. “We’re a company with 10,000 people, so it has been an incremental, step-by-step process. The first time we did this was for only ten days, and now it is three, four, five or six trips, and that’s multiplying the number of people. We are so adamant about people becoming experts that we almost sponsored someone to move somewhere for a year before we even started a project. This is where we want to go. “One day, with virtual desktops and different ways of doing things, maybe some of the team can live in the environment that they are making.” Francois offered several examples of how this process has improved Ubisoft’s world-building, but

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Tommy Francois joined Ubisoft to initially make a non-violent RPG

“Early video games were made for testicles by testicles�

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“We are so adamant about people becoming experts that we almost sponsored someone to move somewhere for a year before starting a project”

it can seem wasteful. During his talk he showed a video about Scraper Bikes, a fascinating business based in Oakland, California that modifies bicycles for the local community. Ubisoft researched this thoroughly ahead of Watch Dogs 2, including interviewing those behind the concept, but you won’t find these bikes in the game. They had to be cut. Nevertheless, Francois says that even research that amounts to nothing can be inspirational, and extensive field trips are worth the expense. “I used to live in Laguna Beach when I was a journalist,” he says. “I remember having to do a piece on Novologic, who made all these chopper sims, and they’re famous for Voxel tech. If you played Apache or any of their games, you’d see these Voxel mountains. As I was driving to Malibu, where Novologic used to be, I could see all these mountains and I thought, ‘shit, I am in the game.’ Without even doing it on purpose, they had reflected their environment in their game. “Look at Tetsuya Mizuguchi [who Francois worked with on Child of Eden]. When he worked on Sega Rally he came out to Europe. Japan doesn’t have a rally culture, so he was here for two months. In today’s world, where we feel hyperconnected and hyper-informed, we need to fight even more for that. “For New York [The Division] we spent about 126 days on location - if I take the ratio of one person spending a day over there - whereas some of our later games are closer to 200 or 300 days. I

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hope that in two or three years’ time, it will be 500 or 600 days spent on location.” It all sounds impressive, but for a lot of the people who were listening to Francois’ talk in London last year, it is a world away from their reality. I recognised many indie devs sitting around me at the lecture, and for them the idea of sending teams to foreign climes for hundreds of days just isn’t plausible. Yet Francois says there’s a message here for small teams: it’s not all about research, it’s also about experience. He references the open-world extreme sports game Steep, which is developed by Ubisoft Annecy. That team didn’t go on any fact-finding missions, because the studio is already based in the French Alps. “Inspiration has nothing to do with the number of people on your team,” Francois says. “The guy who writes a book should be able to inspire himself, and he is alone with no technology. Anyone who writes and has not lived, I’d probably not want to read his book. An indie or a garage developer needs to go through the same process.” It’s familiar advice. I tell Francois of an incident in my life when I was 20 years old. I had written a short story about a grieving husband whose wife had been murdered by her lover. I was proud of it and took it to my university lecturer. He read it in front of me, and after a moment said: “This is terrible. What right do you even have to write a piece like this? You’ve clearly never experienced anything like it.”

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Ubisoft sends its teams on extensive fact-finding missions to places like New york

“I was so disappointed when I met George Lucas. Everyone listened to him but he didn’t listen to anyone”

It hurt at the time, but the lesson was a valuable one and it echoes Francois’ advice to indie studios the old cliche of ‘write what you know.’ “It’s not a cliche, it is the meaning of life,” Francois responds. “One of my best friends works at Ubisoft, who like you was a journalist but wanted to write stories. I think he is his tenth book in. They all suck. Not so long ago, he was going through a tough time in finding a partner and he started online dating. He tells me stories about these dates. I said to him, ‘you know what, you’ve brought me ten books and they’ve all bored the shit out of me because you’re writing about things and places you’ve never experienced. It’s quite insulting. But I’d love to read a book about your love life.’ Because he lived it, these stories have more granularity. “Some people think they haven’t lived but they have that power within them. There is not a single life that isn’t interesting; it’s just sometimes we don’t see the value in what we’ve lived, which is kind of sad. We think it is better to write about other stuff.” HEY, LISTEN The notion that every life is interesting gets to the heart of Francois’ final piece of advice for

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creators – ideas can come from anywhere and anyone, so pay attention and listen out for them. “My paranoia at Ubisoft is that I would look down on someone and not talk to them and miss a great idea, regardless of where they are at in the company,” he continues. “You must make sure you never look down on people and never buy your own bullshit that you are great. “In my press days I was fortunate to go and meet George Lucas a couple of times and Steven Spielberg. I was really looking forward to this as a geek and I couldn’t wait to visit Skywalker Ranch. I was so disappointed by George. Everyone listened to him and he didn’t listen to anyone. With him, there was no conversation. A few months later, I got to meet Spielberg. He was talking to me and then he hears someone say something at the end of the table, and he switches; he immediately wanted to hear it. He was avid. He was avid for more life, more stories, more everything. To me that is so, so important. “The reason Star Wars was so great is because George wasn’t on his own. The teams around him would challenge him all the time. You need good friends to tell you when you’re talking shit.”

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Political chaos threatens the whole games business From Trump to Brexit, the conditions that allow games companies to do business are under attack

Rob Fahey Contributing Editor Political developments around the world should concern you. I’m sure, of course, that a great many of you are concerned about things ranging from President Trump’s Muslim travel ban to the prospect of a ‘Hard Brexit’ or the looming elections in Holland and France simply from being politically aware. However, there’s a more direct way in which these developments will impact us. Regardless of personal ideology, there’s no denying that the environment that seems to be forming is one that’s bad for the medium, bad for the industry, and will ultimately be bad for job security. Creative mediums benefit from diversity; a wide range of voices and backgrounds being represented within a creative industry feeds directly into a diversity of creative output, which in turn allows an industry to grow by addressing new groups of consumers. Moreover, creative mediums benefit from economic stability, because when people’s incomes are low or uncertain, entertainment purchases are often among the first to fall.

Once upon a time, games had such strong growth that they were ‘recession proof ’, but this is no longer the case. Indeed, it was never an accurate reading since recessions undoubtedly slowed the growth. Finally, due to the industry’s broad demographic reach, expansion overseas is now the best path to future growth, and that demands continued economic progress in the developing world to open new markets for hardware and software. What is happening on a global basis threatens all of those conditions, and therefore poses a major commercial threat. That threat must be taken especially seriously given that many creators are already struggling with the enormous challenges of the messy transition towards smart devices, and the increasing need to find new revenue streams to support AAA titles whose audience has remained largely unchanged even as budgets have risen. Even if the global economic system looked stable, this would be a tough time for games; the prospect of restrictions on trade and hiring, and the likelihood of yet another deep global recession and a slowdown in the advances being made by developing economies, make this situation outright hazardous.

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“The political attacks on the existing order of trade threaten to cut developing economies off from the system that has allowed them to grow so quickly”

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Trump and Brexit could seriously harm the growth of video games

“A wide range of voices and backgrounds being represented within a creative industry feeds directly into a diversity of creative output”

Since over a decade ago, if you asked just about any senior figure in the UK industry what the most pressing problem they faced was, they’d give you the same answer: skills shortages. Game development demands highly skilled people from across a range of fields, and assembling that kind of talent isn’t cheap or easy - even when you have access to the entire European Union as a hiring base. Now UK companies face having to fill their positions with a much smaller pool of talent to draw from, and hiring from abroad will be expensive and complex. The US, too, looks like it may tighten visa regulations for skilled hires from overseas, which will have a hugely negative impact on development there. There are, of course, many skilled creatives who work within the borders of their own country, but the industry has been built on labour flows; centres of excellence in development, like the UK and parts of the US, are sustained and bolstered by their ability to attract talent from overseas. THE TRADE CHALLENGE Then there’s the question of trade barriers; not only tariffs, which seem likely to make a comeback, but non-tariff barriers in terms of regulations that will make it harder for companies to operate across borders. The majority of games are multinational efforts; assets, code, and technology are created in different parts of the world and brought together to create the final product. Sometimes this is because of outsourcing, or staff working remotely, or simply because certain technology is licensed from overseas. If countries become more hostile to free trade, all of that will become more complex and expensive. And that’s even before we start to think about what happens to hardware that sources components from across Asia before assembly in China or Japan. If tariff barriers are raised, all of those things will get a

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lot more expensive, limiting the industry’s consumer base at the most damaging time possible. Such trade barriers would disproportionately impact developing countries. Free trade and globalisation have had negative externalities, but they have contributed to an extraordinary period of prosperity around the world, with enormous populations of people being lifted out of poverty and many developing countries showing signs of a large emerging middle class. Those are the markets game companies desperately want to target in the coming decade. In order for the industry to continue to grow, the emerging middle class in countries like India, Brazil and Indonesia needs to be cultivated as a new wave of game consumers. The current attacks on the existing order of world trade threaten to cut those economies off from the system that has allowed them to grow so quickly, potentially hurling them into deep recession. That’s an awful prospect on many levels (it goes without saying that the human impact far outweighs the damage to games), but one consequence will likely be a hard stop to the games industry’s capacity to grow in the coming years. It’s not just developing economies whose consumers are at risk from a rise of protectionism and anti-trade sentiments. If we learned anything from the 2008 crash and the recession, it should be that the global economy largely runs not on cash, but confidence. The entire edifice is built on a set of rules that are designed to give investors confidence; the structure changes over time, but only slowly, because stability is required to allow people to invest and to build businesses with confidence that the rug won’t be tugged out from underneath them. From the rhetoric of Trump to the hardline Brexit approach of the UK, let alone the extremist ideas of politicians like Marine le Pen and Geert Wilders, the current political movement threatens that confidence. Of course, the games industry isn’t in a position to do anything about these political changes - not alone. The same calculations, however, apply to a wide variety of industries, and they’re all having the same conversations. Creative industries are at the forefront for the simple reason that they will be the first to suffer should the business environment upon which they rely turn negative, but in opposing those changes, creative businesses will find allies across a wide range of industries and sectors. Any CEO that wants to throw their weight behind opposing these changes on ethical grounds is more than welcome - it’s a laudable stance - but regardless of personal ideology, the industry should be making its voice heard. The livelihoods of everyone working in it may depend on the willingness of the industry to identify the commercial threats and respond to them powerfully.

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“It made me feel less alone, realising other girls want to make video games” The XX+ Game Jam is a new initiative to bring more women into games development, but what impact did it have on its participants?

The XX+ Game Jam is designed to encourage more women developers

James Batchelor Senior Editor It is no great secret that the games industry has a gender diversity problem. In the UK alone, well under one-fifth of the development workforce is female - a shocking statistic when research has shown that women account for more than half of the global audience. This is changing, albeit slowly, and organisations around the world are finding new ways to encourage young girls to pursue a career in the games business. One recent example is the XX+ Game Jam, a 24-hour competition held in five British and two Canadian locations that was only open to women, trans and non-binary people. Attendees were split into teams and given just one day to create a game prototype based on a theme: borders. No previous experience

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was necessary, with the organisers hoping to entice people that were still on the fence about considering a role in games. For many of the women who took part, it was one of the few events that helped allay concerns about working in a maledominated industry. “For a lot of women - myself included - there’s that fear of not being heard,” says Steph McStea, a university graduate who previously helped develop Plinky Plonk, an iOS title that helps teach children how to play the piano. “It’s easy to become intimidated in large groups - particularly one with excited men, who can get quite loud - and I’ve often found myself shying away from situations that could have otherwise been handled better by a louder voice. “You want to appear confident but not over confident, but then you want to seem approachable yet not too laid back. It’s a bit of an internal battle that I think a lot of people aren’t aware that we face. That being said, I’m also extremely thankful to the males in our industry as I’ve always felt very

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Meet the XX+ Game Jammers: (From left to right) Robin French, Steph McStea, Hsiao Wei ‘Michelle’ Chen, Iliana Pavlova and Alice Roberts

welcomed and accepted within events that I have attended - it’s just that they’re so much louder than I am.” Rommy Bariga, a student and aspiring developer currently training to use Unity, adds: “Maybe more women would like to be involved in games if they feel they are wanted. Otherwise, the bravest women who don’t give up on their dreams will be the only ones. Even then, I’m uncertain of getting a job as a developer because my nine classmates are all male, very skilled and very smart.” This is an issue that events like XX+ seek to resolve. Alice Roberts, another university student who took part, observes that there seems to be “a stigma against women.” “Although that might not be the case within the industry, as an outsider it feels like the industry relies strongly on a male workforce,” she says. “It feels like women are not taken as seriously in the same career position as a man would be.” Hsiao Wei ‘Michelle’ Chen, a mobile programmer of eight years, agrees: “It looks intimidating from the outside. I had always been one of the very few, if not only, girl programmers at work. That ratio isn’t encouraging more girls to get in.” FORTUNE FAVOURS THE BRAVE The jam attracted more than just students and hopeful would-be developers. Iliana Pavlova has been a programmer for four years, previously working at Codemasters on the Dirt and Grid games and now embarking on her own indie adventure as the head of a new studio, Bits of Beards. Pavlova believes that while the industry can seem intimidating from the outside, it’s not entirely a one-sided issue: more women need to have courage and take the leap, to discover just how accepting this industry can be. “The biggest barrier we face is our own prejudice against the games industry,” she says. “From my experience, video game companies are a great place to work and everyone is very friendly and inviting. The lack of women in technical roles is mostly due to lack of applicants - although at one point we did have a 50% girl programming team at Codemasters.

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“I think women feel intimidated to work in a mostly male environment but the gender imbalance really makes no difference to me. If anything, some of my male colleagues were more in touch with their feminine side than me.” Nida Ahmad, who previously worked with Exient focusing on player psychology and the user experience, adds: “There’s often a self-fulfilling prophecy problem going on. When you visit a studio or just read up on them and you don’t see many women there, or any at all, that can be

“Women are not a monolith - there are many different women who will face different barriers to entry which we need to recognise” – Nida Ahmad off-putting. In turn, some women may choose not to work in games development as it does not reflect positively on the industry culture, reinforcing that it’s a ‘boys club’. “Similarly, visibility of women and their work is essential as a way to combat these feelings, because we are here and we’re good at what we do. It’s also important to understand that women are not a monolith - there are many different women who will face different barriers to entry which we need to recognise. There are huge, complex and ingrained norms and assumptions about women in games that are being redefined by great organisations such as REFIG [Refiguring Innovation in Games] and WIGJ [Women In Games Jobs], as well as through changes in hiring practices, but we still have a while to go.” Robin French, who has experience at several games studios around the UK, suggests that the barriers to entry might not be as high as some women may think, pointing to herself as proof that it is possible to establish a career in this sector. “Personally, I’ve never really felt that I’ve hit any barriers,” she tells us. “I got into a games job straight out of university, and at most places I’ve worked I’ve never really felt treated too differently due to my gender. I’ve heard much worse

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experiences from friends, so I think I’ve been pretty lucky to have not run into much toxicity, and I know that there definitely is some towards women in games jobs, both online and offline. “I do find that the fact most gamedev environments are largely male can make for a more ‘blokey’ environment where it can feel harder to make your voice heard. I think it’s also still very apparent that there are so few women in lead or senior development roles. Hopefully the current generation of awesome women/non-binary people moving into the industry will help change that.” JAM POWER While recruitment drives, mentorship and conferences discussing the hurdles women in games face can help explore the issue and find new solutions, the participants of XX+ say that game jams in particular can be a great way to encourage girls to consider a career in the industry. For one thing, showing that more women share their ambitions can be massively influential. “It made me feel less alone,” says Chen. “It made me realise that there are other girls like me who want to make games. I think there should be more events like this to encourage girls or to let them know that game development is not just for boys - they can do it too.” Bariga adds: “I really don’t know why there are so few women in this area. Events like game jams can help, especially if they mix experienced developers with newcomers like me. It encourages us and shows us many things are possible to do.” According to Roberts, game jams that both reflect the process of development and attract plenty of

“Visibility of women and their work is essential as a way to combat these feelings, because we are here and we’re good at what we do” – Nida Ahmad fellow female game makers can “make women feel comfortable about their career choices.” She currently finds herself in a “very male environment” as one of only five female students out of the 40 taking her university course. Even the majority of Roberts’ lecturers and teachers are male. “To come to a very open and honest environment where women can talk and work together on games is a new experience that I thoroughly enjoyed,” she says. “It was a breath of fresh air and gave me a new perception on how games can be made.” McStea agrees, adding: “Anything that can get a group of wonderfully creative women together has

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got to be good for our industry. It’s about making those bonds with one another and strengthening connections so that we can help each other out. “General events are great because you get to spend a few hours mingling, but I feel that game jams are that bit more intimate. You’re actually creating with a dedicated group of people for

“I look forward to the point when the discussion about diversity in games becomes more of a celebration and less of an argument” – Robin French maybe a day or so, and that gives you a lot of time to talk with one another and share experience.” While the XX+ Game Jam has encouraged a more diverse demographic to sample a career in the industry, Chen stresses that it’s not enough just to get more women into games. There is also a growing need in wider technology industries, although she observes that great steps have already been made towards this. Looking at her own experiences, she notes that the RiseConf tech conference in Hong Kong helped change the ratio of its audience by giving away free tickets to female attendees, while a Women in Tech scholarship helped Chen learn the skills she needed. “I am very thankful and appreciative of these initiatives that help more girls enter the tech industry,” she says. “I wish there would be more.” French says that while these initiatives are promising, more needs to be done to move the conversation along, and perhaps focus more on the female talent that has already been established rather than implying a total absence of it. “I’d love to see more focus on positive examples of diversity in games, both in regards to representation and development,” she says. “Criticism is great and definitely has its place, but I look forward to the point when the discussion about diversity in games becomes more of a celebration and less of an argument. I guess we might be a way off from there still, but I plan to do my part by keeping on making cool games.” Pavlova concludes with a message to all women, trans and non-binary people that have ever considered a career in games: “Give us a chance.” “We don’t bite and we don’t all play Grand Theft Auto V,” she says. “Most of the negative feedback about working in video games comes from people who don’t actually work in games and are instead media personalities. I would encourage journalists to show positive stories and real studios instead of Twitter drama. In the end, the one thing we should all have in common is that we all love playing and making games.”

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An industry driven by passion, not pay How big is the gender wage gap? How high is the industry’s staff turnover? Have the indies taken over? We present the findings of the first ever Careers Survey AVERAGE HOURS WORKED 1. AVERAGE HOURS WORKED PERWEEK WEEK 1. AVERAGE HOURS WORKED PER WEEK 1. AVERAGE HOURS WORKED PERPER WEEK


Under 20 (3.5%)


21 to 30 (2.7%)


71 to 80 (0.8%)

Yes (52.8%)

Yes (25.7%)


80+ (1.1%)

James Batchelor Senior Editor

actually work remotely. Of these, 13.9% work for companies based in another country. Interestingly, one in ten people also hold a second, non-games industry job. Most of these (62.5%) are developers, further proving that the ongoing democratisation of engines and other tools mean there is scope for people beyond our industry to explore games as a hobby or a potential career.

Earlier this year, we conducted our first careers survey, calling on the industry to share its thoughts on working conditions, pay, diversity and more - and all with the promise of complete anonymity. The results are now in. Firstly, despite the rise of bedroom coders, the majority of participants still work for established PUTTING IN THE HOURS companies. Only 15.8% claimed to be self-employed. The vast majority of survey participants (over 80%) More than a third (37.8%) are employed by firms work between8.30OVER andTHE 50THE hours per week, which is 7. THE OVER THETHE NEXT YEAR, IS YOUR COMPANY PREVIOUS 7. OVER NEXT YEAR, IS YOUR COMPANY 8. OVER PREVIOUS YEAR, 7. OVER NEXT YEAR, IS YOUR COMPANY 8. OVER THE PREVIOUS YEAR, YEAR, with overHEADCOUNT 200 HEADCOUNT staff. Just under aEXPECTED quarter work not too from the typical eight-hour day, 40-hour EXPECTED TO... DID YOUR COMPANY HEADCOUNT... HEADCOUNT TO... at DID YOUR COMPANY HEADCOUNT... EXPECTED TO... DIDfar YOUR COMPANY HEADCOUNT... companies with 11 to 50 employees, while micro week seen in other professions. However, one in ten studios of two to ten staff were home to just over 15% works more than 50 hours. of respondents. Only 3.8% are “one person teams”. More concerning is that approximately 90% It will come as no surprise, though perhaps of respondents are expected to work beyond their as a disappointment, that these companies are contracted hours, with 16.2% going as far to say predominantly staffed by men. Just under half they’re called upon to do so “Very Often”. Despite (46.6%) of our respondents described the diversity this, only one in four say they are paid overtime. of their team - encompassing gender, ethnicity, Looking closely at the two largest groups, 88.8% sexuality and more - as “Good”, with a further of developers are expected to work overtime but only 22% describing it as “Very Good”. However, this 29% are paid for it. Meanwhile, 92.3% of people still means almost a third (31.4%) of our survey employed by publishers work beyond their contracted group believe staff diversity to be “Not Good”. hours, but only 12.8% are paid overtime. Fortunately, more people expect diversity to The reasons for overtime range from event improve in 2017. 28.6% believe their company will attendance to launch parties. However, in an industry 10. 10. IF REMOTELY, WHERE ARE YOUYOU BASED? 11.can’t HOW LIKELY AR EYOU TOWITHIN STAY WITHIN THE GAMES IF REMOTELY, WHERE ARE BASED? 11. HOW 11. HOW AR STAY EYOU TOofSTAY WITHIN THE GAMES 10. IFtheir REMOTELY, ARE YOU BASED? LIKELY ARLIKELY EYOU TO THE GAMES expand team toWHERE encompass a broader variety that shake horror stories crunch conditions INDUSTRY FORNEXT TEHTEH NEXT FIVEFIVE YEARS INDUSTRY FOR NEXT YEARS INDUSTRY FOR TEH FIVE YEARS of people, while 25.1% do not. - something mentioned by 73% of participants Thanks to this increasingly connected world we when asked what the worst part of working in live in, a little over one in ten respondents (11.5%) games is - these figures make for alarming reading.

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OUR METHODOLOGY conducted this study through an online survey in which participants were anonymous. We received 373 responses from around the world. 21.4% of our respondents were female, which is in keeping with the industry gender split as shown by numerous external studies. While we invited people from all corners of the industry to share their thoughts, it should beYOU noted thatAT259 respondents 9. DO WORK 9.WORK DO YOU AT YOUR 9. DO YOU AT WORK YOUR YOUR (69.4%) identified as developers. The next COMPANY”S OFFICE, OR REMOTELY? COMPANY”S OFFICE, OR REMOTELY? COMPANY”S OFFICE, OR REMOTELY? largest group, publishers, accounted for 10% of all participants, while the rest were spread across media, PR, consultants, retail, education and academia, as well as tools and service providers. The vast majority (over 80%) were aged 40 or less, which reflects the young nature of the business. No-one that took our survey was over 61, with 10% aged between 41 and 50 and only three people older than 51. Just under half of respondents (47.2%) were based in the UK, with the rest hailing from all over the world. The second and third largest territories were North America 12. WHEN ARELIKELY YOU LIKELY 12. WHEN ARE LIKELY 12. WHEN ARE YOU and Western Europe atYOU 22% and 15% TO CHANEG JOBS? TO JOBS? CHANEG JOBS? TO CHANEG respectively. However, there are still notable results from regions such as the Nordic countries (4%) and Asia (3.8%).

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Yes (44.1%)

Very Often (16.2%)

Often (26.1%)

No (23.2%)

Not Often (47.4%)

Never (10.2%)

Very Good (22%) Good (46.6%)










Stay the same? (31.9%)


At this point, it’s worth taking a look at average salaries across the industry. To establish these figures, we discounted anyone earning less than £14,000 (which draws us close to contractor territory, where some people are only paid a few thousand per annum) or more than £100,000 (to avoid executive salaries skewing the results). The mean average earnings for our entire group is £38,797, with the median average a little short of that at £38,000. Thanks to the influx of developers IN THE NEXT YEAR, 13.13. IN THE NEXT YEAR, 13. INthat THE NEXT YEAR, and publishers took part, we’re also able to DO YOU EXPECT YOUR SALARY DOEXPECT YOU EXPECT YOUR SALARY TOTO DO YOU YOUR SALARY TO work out averages for these sectors. Developers are INwith THE NEXT YEAR, 13. 13. IN THE NEXT YEAR, roughly in13. line the figures, INoverall THE NEXT YEAR,with a mean DO YOUDO EXPECT YOUR TOSALARY YOUYOU EXPECT YOUR SALARY TO TO The DO EXPECT YOUR average of £38,181 and aSALARY median of £38,000. average employee on the publishing side, however, is ahead of this curve: the mean for this group was £46,226, with a median of £40,000. Frustratingly, there continues to be a wage gap between the genders, although this is by no means a problem exclusive to the games industry. The mean average salary for women that took part in our survey is £33,274 - almost £7,000

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short of the £40,090 earned by the average male participants (73.3%) have the option of flexible respondent. This gap shrinks slightly to £5,000 working hours. 28% are given more than the when you look at the median, which stands at standard maternity or paternity pay. £30,000 for women and £35,000 for men. 63.2% confirm they are offered other perks in It appears there are fewer women than men in their job, including bonus pay, various forms of higher-earning senior positions. Only 11% of female healthcare, shares and revenue reward schemes, respondents earned over £60,000, while 20% of pensions, meal tickets, gym memberships, on-site male participants were above that paygrade. catering, company smartphones, free video games In better news, it appears much of the industry is and - in one case - biscuits. confident about receiving a pay rise in 2017. 64.3% In an industry as inventive as video games, 14. OVER THE PAST YEAR, YOUR SALARY... 15. DO YOU HAVE A SECOND/NON-GAMES INDUSTRY JOB? 14.their OVER THE PAST YEAR, DIDDID YOUR SALARY... DOHAVE YOU A SECOND/NON-GAMES 14. OVER THE PAST YEAR, DID YOUR SALARY... YOU AHAVE SECOND/NON-GAMES INDUSTRY JOB? believe salary will increase this year, while 15. DO15. companies are increasingly taking stepsINDUSTRY to allow JOB? 56.3% said they received a wage boost in 2016. staff to flex their creative muscles, particularly in the 14. OVER PAST YEAR, DID SALARY... 15. DO 15. YOU HAVE AHAVE SECOND/NON-GAMES JOB? JOB? 14.THE OVER THE PAST YEAR, DIDcut YOUR SALARY... DO YOUYOU A SECOND/NON-GAMES Only 2.1% expect to take aYOUR pay before the year development space. half INDUSTRY of ourINDUSTRY respondents 14. OVER THE PAST YEAR, DID YOUR SALARY... 15. DO HAVE AAlmost SECOND/NON-GAMES INDUSTRY JOB? is out - although one in 20 respondents claimed (44.7%) say they are actively encouraged to work their salary fell during the last twelve months. on personal projects. Thankfully, an even larger proportion (53.8%) report their employers do not BENEFITS STREET claim ownership of said projects, with 19.2% saying When quizzed about additional benefits, most they do and the rest unsure. respondents seem to be well supported. On a more serious note, there have been More than half (52.3%) said they are offered scattered reports of abuse and harassment in the skills and training if they wish to improve workplace in recent years - but fortunately 44.1% themselves, while almost three quarters of our of our respondents confirm their company does

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Likely (27.9%)

OVER PAST YEAR, YOUR SALARY... 14. 14. OVER THETHE PAST YEAR, DIDDID YOUR SALARY... Unlikely (6.4%) Very Unlikely (1.6%)

Don’t Know (6.7%)




Within the next year (40.1%) the next five years (37.2%) HAVE A SECOND/NON-GAMES INDUSTRY JOB? 15. 15. DO DO YOUYOU HAVE AWithin SECOND/NON-GAMES INDUSTRY JOB? Within the next 10 years (14%) Not at all (8.7%)




Rise? (64.3%)

Rise? (56.3%)

Yes (11%)

Stay the Same? (33.5%)

Stay the Same? (37.8%)

No (89%)

Fall? (2.2%)

Fall? (5.9%)

have internal systems and processes in place to deal with this. Although clearly that still needs to be higher. When asked how often these processes have been required in the past three years, 54.9% of respondents didn’t know, while one in four said these systems are never needed. However, just over 5% said internal abuse needed to be dealt with “Often” or “Very often”.

publishing staff, 30.2% of remote workers and eight out of 11 media professionals. The vast majority said a higher salary would be the primary motivation for moving to a new role or company, with other answers including the chance of promotion, the desire to set up their own company, boredom with their current company, and the opportunity to work abroad. In fact, well over

JOB PROSPECTS The games industry seems to be one of high staff turnover, with well over half our respondents (63.3%) working in their current job for between one and five years, and one in four only starting within the last 12 months. No-one claimed to be working the same job for over 20 years, and only 1.3% had worked more than 11. More interesting was that two out of five participants expected to be seeking new employment in 2017, including 35.9% of developers, 51.2% of

“Over 85% of respondents believe it was likely or very likely that they’ll still be working in the games industry in five years”

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half of our respondents (64.4%) said they would be tempted to relocate overseas. It’s a good job so many people hope to look for work because three out of five respondents expect their company to be increasing its headcount in

2017. A little more than this (63.8%) said their teams grew last year as well. Just under a third (31.9%) expect their staff numbers to remain flat this year, while only 7% expect consolidation. More than one in ten (13.9%) reported their company made job cuts in 2016. When looking for new employment, just over half of our survey participants (52.8%) believe that their skills and experience would secure them better pay and working conditions in another industry, with only 13.9% disagreeing (the rest settling for “Maybe”). But clearly this is an industry driven by passion and creativity rather than people chasing bigger paychecks, as only 1.6% of respondents consider it “Very Unlikely” they will be working in video games in five years’ time. More than a quarter (27.9%) believed it “Likely”, while more than half (57.4%) said it was “Very Likely” they’ll be sticking with the video games industry.

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Recruiter insight

With 40% of our survey respondents looking for new employment in 2017, we asked recruitment agencies and their experts what challenges await them in the current jobs market Adam Sibson, Sales and Marketing Consultant, Datascope “I have seen quite a shift in the sectors I work in: marketing and analytics. Gaming is continuing to move towards digital, with more of a focus on digital sales and portals. Digital marketing methods are now as (or more) important in some roles than traditional methods. User acquisition is becoming more standard in-house and even companies outside of the games industry are now seeking experienced mobile acquisition staff. We are seeing an increasing emphasis on analytics in the games industry as well, with more specialisation in qualitative as well as quantitative analytics. The demand for games analysts far outstrips the supply at the moment. Big data engineering roles are also becoming more common as the quantity of data games gather is increasing year-on-year.”

Lucy Phillips, Head of Creative, Datascope “The most prevalent change in the landscape of games design recruitment over the last 12 months is a tendency towards specialisation. Increasingly, I am being asked to find free-to-play systems designers, narrative designers, technical level designers or metagame designers. These specialisations reflect an increasingly complex and mature approach to game design, where teams maximise the expertise of each individual. Within the free-to-play space, monetisation and economy designers are hotly sought after and for those with a penchant for analytics and mathematics, I am able to get multiple offers on the table. Whatever the platform though, I still find that it is those design candidates who can combine technical ability with creative flair whom are the easiest to place.” Ian Goodall, Managing Director, Aardvark Swift “By far the most common jobs being advertised are for coders with C++ experience. They’re constantly in demand and if they have games industry experience, all the better. As for least common, our specialist graduate recruitment team works hundreds of graduate roles each year, but within the last year we’ve only had one graduate game design vacancy. I expect these trends to persist, but I’d also expect to see more roles where VR experience will be required. We’ve seen demand rise over the last year and we’ll definitely see this trend carry on into 2017. I’m also expecting to see an upsurge in jobs for analysts and digital marketing/stat-focused roles. Studios want to understand their traffic/players/spend. They need to monetise games and stand out in a busy market.” Kim Parker Adcock, Managing Director, OPM Jobs “Programmers are still the most prolific and still the hardest to fill - particularly console-experienced AAA candidates. Salaries are still a barrier in this area when bringing in people from outside the industry, and we lose some of the best ones to other industries. The least common are old fashioned national account manager roles – they’ve been superseded by marketing and business development roles. In 2017, we expect the trend to continue with studios struggling to fill programming positions. There is a possibility that VR roles could grow, but we’ll have to see what happens in this area. The least common we expect to see will be sales and operations positions.” Liz Prince, Business Manager, Amiqus “A key expectation for 2017 is the move to 4K gaming, so art jobs that focus on graphical optimisation and rendering techniques are likely to increase. Physically-based rendering has made previously labour-intensive individual parameters such as complex texture detail and light diffusion much faster, so we expect demand for these skills to heighten across art teams. On the gameplay and engine side, the need for programmers with C++, C# and Unity will remain high and we’ve already seen an increase in demand for combined language skills. As a newer technology, VRspecific experience is also very valuable in the market this year. Outside of creative and code, jobs such as customer support, localisation or entry-level testing will continue and are a great way into the industry for games-career hopefuls. Analytics and data is also a continuing focus for many studios.” Eamonn Vann-Harris, Development Director, Avatar Games Recruitment “Within the console space, I expect more emphasis on environment art, and programmer vacancies. We are seeing a steady rise in these areas for console. Within mobile and other areas, we expect to see a rise within eSports, product management/ownership and monetisation-based roles. But programmers still remain a huge focus and that has always been the case. As for least common jobs, we have seen a dip in roles for QA and localisation. This could also be because these roles are filled fast by word of mouth, and the growing number of reputable third-party studios who can offer an excellent service within this area are being used more often by studios.”

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In association with

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Introducing the 100 most influential people working in the British games industry Lists such as these are more than just a means to say well done to the talent that exists within the business. This isn’t just a magazine for people to take home and show their mums. Of course, it is that as well, but it has a deeper purpose. All 100 people on this list are remarkable in their own ways, and their stories are fascinating. I loved discovering that Debbie Bestwick - OBE and CEO of one of the UK’s fastest growing publishers - began her career with a summer job at an indie retailer she ended up running. I couldn’t help but admire the fact Gavin Price, studio head of Playtonic, got his break in games development because he served Rare employees

during his part-time job at GAME and ended up testing some of the most famous games of 1990s. I’m also impressed by the number of industry veterans who began their careers at Future Publishing - and were interviewed for that job down the pub. Some of those on this list are tech wizards and borderline geniuses, but most are those that worked their way in at the bottom and rose to prominence through hard work, persistence and a love of games. Some are towards the end of their careers, while others are in the middle of them, launching initiatives or studios and trying to change the industry all over again. So I challenge you to read through the next 40-odd pages, and not feel inspired to go and do the same.

“All 100 people on this list are remarkable in their own way, and their stores are fascinating. I challenge you to read them and not feel inspired” HOW THE 100 WAS JUDGED We had 398 submissions for the 100, which were obtained via a lobbying process that ran throughout January - with additional recommendations from the trade bodies. The only stipulation was that the people had to work in or with the British games industry nationality does not come into it. Gamer Network employees were not permitted on the list. In fact, although there is a large number of British men that made the 100, we’re pleased to see a variety of names who are neither of those things. After researching the biographies of the

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submissions, we then asked our judging panel to help narrow it down to the final 100 you see here. Nobody could vote for themselves. The judges were: Agostino Simonetta, Barry Meade, Caroline Miller, Chester King, Chris Lee, Debbie Bestwick, Gina Jackson, Henrique Olifiers, Hollie Bennett, Ian Chambers, Ian Livingstone, Jas Purewal, John Clark, Keith Stuart, Kirsty Rigden, Margaret Pearson, Marie-Claire Isaaman, Martyn Gibbs, Miles Jacobson, Noirin Carmody, Oli Welsh, Paul Gardner, Rhianna Pratchett, Roy Stackhouse, Sam Barlow, Shahid Ahmad, Véronique Lallier.

MESSAGE FROM OUR SPONSOR We’re so excited and honoured to have the opportunity to support this inspirational initiative. Our place in the industry is about growth, helping to build teams and presenting opportunities to people that help them to realise their aspirations. The 100 people being recognised here are the epitome of these ambitions. The 100 includes people who have truly achieved success at every level and across all disciplines. As recruiters we’re lucky to work closely with some of the industry’s finest talent as they move through their careers, and we know that they put themselves out there and face the times of uncertainty and doubt – no-one is guaranteed success. I’m sure they would all want to acknowledge that teamwork has been central to their achievements, and by spotlighting their success this honour is shared by the teams of talented people who work alongside them. The cycle of fostering talent, acknowledging and publicly recognising success creates the inspiration, aspiration and momentum to keep the cycle spinning time and time again. At Amiqus we’re working hard to make sure that the next top 100 are just as excited to join in and the industry can keep growing beyond our dreams. Liz Prince, Business Manager, Amiqus

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AAA Champions Siobhan Reddy,

Studio Director, Media Molecule Media Molecule co-founder Siobhan Reddy attributes her journey into the games industry to “a love of telling stories, dressing up, and believing in fairies as a little girl.” Small wonder then that the studio’s biggest games – LittleBigPlanet, Tearaway and the upcoming Dreams – are very much centred around imagination. Reddy takes pride in how unorthodox her team’s games are, observing that recent years have shown just how much the world’s gaming audiences crave something beyond the normal slate of AAA action blockbusters. “When we were making LittleBigPlanet, people used to ask us if we thought players would want to create stuff – and here we are 10 million levels on,” she says. “Since then, the ‘creative gaming’ genre for this generation has blossomed, but imagine if we had been put off back then because it was new.” Keen not to take all the credit for Media Molecule’s success, Reddy highlights her co-directors as inspirational figures: Kareem Ettouney, Alex Evans, Mark Healey and David Smith. “Each of them is entirely different from the other, but we come together somehow,” she says. “Being part of Media Molecule is amazing. Innovation takes real effort, and working together takes generosity. We have a team that has these things in spades and I am proud to be part of it.” Reddy’s tips for any potential games creator looking to make his or her mark on the industry are simple: “Practice. Make work that comes from the heart and do it with intent. Try not to smoke your own dope and ship it.”

Sefton Hill,

Creative Director, Rocksteady Sefton Hill rose to fame on the back of the Batman Arkham games. He is one of the key people responsible for a series that has defied the myth that licensed games don’t work. “We have complete freedom to work with these incredible IPs and deliver a gaming experience that is not confined to a movie storyline,” he says. Hill joins a raft of 100 members who began their career in a low-paid QA role. “I worked hard and got lucky,” he explains. “I switched from QA to a junior designer position, and by chance I got speaking to Nick Clarke, the producer of a new Dreamcast project [Red Dog], and managed to convince him that I knew what I was talking about. He took a chance on me and gave me the lead designer position. We didn’t sell a load of copies but we worked our asses off and I probably learnt more on that project than any other.” The industry has a lot to thank Clarke for. Hill, alongside Jamie Walker, co-founded Rocksteady in 2004, which is now one of the UK’s leading AAA studios. It was acquired by Warner Bros in 2010. “I’m proud of the fact that we’ve managed to build a studio that is home to such an array of amazingly talented people,” concludes Hill. “However, I try not to focus too much on the past because we work in such a competitive industry. When we start a new project we need to prove ourselves all over again.”

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Craig Duncan, Studio Head, Rare

While gaming was “always a huge passion” for Craig Duncan, it wasn’t until 2002 that he realised it might become a career. Starting at automotive and avionic companies, he eventually joined a software engineering firm. “Then I had my lightbulb moment at 25,” he says. “Games are big software projects, too.” Duncan worked at Codemasters, Midway and Sumo before taking charge of Rare in 2011. He says the E3 reveal of Sea of Thieves and Rare Replay remain a career highlight, with the latter helping the studio reconnect with fans from its 1990s heyday. “Ah, but maybe Rare’s heyday is still to come,” he says. “I believe Rare’s continued success has been shaped by doing new things over many years. “I believe developers need to have a read on what players will enjoy in the future – call this the business view. Then you match this with your speciality, unique ideas, execution and passion – that’s the creative view. Get these together with the right team and you might have something.”

In association with

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Tim Heaton,

Studio Director, Creative Assembly Creative Assembly has enjoyed huge growth under the leadership of Tim Heaton. He has led the developer as it expands Total War to new platforms, plus created games based on Alien and Halo. The studio now has 460 staff. “It’s never been a strategy to grow Creative Assembly, we’ve just taken the opportunities that seemed sensible,” Heaton says. “We are a craft-led studio, and we fight against getting too corporate. Being surrounded and challenged by clever, thoughtful, experienced people is fantastic, and CA has always been rich in those.” Heaton’s career began in 1982 when he made a game in his bedroom and published it on cassette for BBC Micro. He then moved to Gremlin, under the tutelage of Ian Stewart and James NorthHearn. “Halcyon days of Britsoft that did, at times, seem a little bit rock and roll.” he says. From there came stints at Atari and EA. In fact, it was EA where he met one of his more inspirational leaders, Tom Frisina. Heaton says he doesn’t have a mission, although his to-do list has “a thousand things on it.”

Chris van der Kuyl, Chairman, 4J Studios

For his entire career, Chris van der Kuyl has been a business leader. He formed his own multimedia company in 1992, four years later he created the games company VIS, and his first two titles were HED and Earthworm Jim 3D. During these early years he found himself inspired by David Jones and DMA Design. “Growing up in Dundee and seeing a bunch of local guys a few years older having so much success gave me the belief that we could do it,” says van der Kuyl.

In 2005 he set-up 4J Studios with Paddy Burns, and has worked on a string of games for multiple publishers. Today it’s best known for developing the Minecraft console editions. He’s since moved from day-to-day management to become chairman at various companies (including 4J and Team17). “I love building businesses almost as much as making games,” he says. “The change in role is a reflection that the next phase of my career, along with Paddy, is looking to invest in other teams as well as our own.”

Sam & Dan Houser, Rockstar Games

In association with

In being responsible for the most popular video games in the world, these developers and directors are actually two of the most influential people in any entertainment medium. Their most recent release, Grand Theft Auto V, is comfortably the most successful AAA title ever made,

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topping the UK charts ten times and continues to sell almost four years since its release. It has been a cultural phenomenon like no other. Beginning their careers at BMG, the Housers signed the first GTA games before forming Rockstar and becoming best known for leading the franchise. The duo tend to avoid the media spotlight and honourably insist on the entire studio getting credit for the work. The company will release a sequel to its other massive IP, Red Dead Redemption, this year.

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“I am painfully aware that a number of women have had very nasty experiences in this industry, which is utterly abhorrent. It’s not like that everywhere. My personal experience has been incredibly inclusive and supportive”

Nina Kristensen, Director, Ninja Theory

Originally part of Just Add Monster, Nina Kristensen went on to co-found Ninja Theory, the Cambridge-based studio behind Heavenly Sword and Enslaved. More recently, she’s supported the team working on new IP Hellblade and set up Senua Studio, a new division that brings realtime virtual characters to life for stage, VR, film, broadcast and, of course, games. She has established Ninja Theory as one of the UK’s most renowned and acclaimed studios, as well as becoming a figurehead for women in the industry. “I am painfully aware that a number of women have had very nasty experiences in this industry, which is utterly abhorrent,” says Kristensen. “It’s not like that everywhere, though. My personal experience has been incredibly inclusive and supportive and I’d recommend the industry to anyone in a heartbeat. “Whilst the teams I’ve worked with have been male-dominated, they have also been very diverse. If you think about all the different disciplines that need to come together to fulfil the creative vision of a video game, together with the fact that developers are passionate people who will often move countries for the right job, it’s easy to see how you can get a wonderful mix.”

Miles Jacobson Studio Director, Sports Interactive

Jonathan Smith,

Head of Production, TT Games The former Codemasters game designer joined the LEGO company in 2001 with a brief to create a new generation of LEGO games. Two years later he co-founded Giant Interactive to publish LEGO Star Wars, which was developed by Traveller’s Tales. Over 100 million LEGO games have been sold since, with Giant and Traveller’s Tales acquired by Warner Bros in 2008. Smith’s career began where many do, down the pub. “I quit university to write about Mega Drive games at Future Publishing,” he says. “[Editor] Neil West interviewed me over a game of pool.” Elsewhere, Smith co-founded and remains a director of The National Videogame Arcade, a five-storey building in Nottingham dedicated to game culture. He also sat for many years on the BAFTA Children’s Committee. “I’m delighted that BAFTA sets games alongside films and TV as a culturally significant medium, and I was pleased to launch the BAFTA Young Game Designer’s Competition while on the Children’s Committee,” Smith says.

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Jacobson had an unconventional start in the games industry. He was working as a manager in the music industry and swapped two tickets to Blur for a chance to test Championship Manager 2. “A few months later, having faxed through lots of feedback, I met the [studio founders] Collyer brothers in a pub, and they asked me if I’d help them with their contract,” Jacobson recalls. “I started helping them on the business side, which they didn’t have much interest in.” Over time, Jacobson moved from advisor to MD and would soon have creative input on the titles. He also oversaw the studio splitting from Eidos and losing the Championship Manager brand. “That was a very difficult decision and process - one that many thought we were crazy for, but it’s worked out pretty well,” he says. Outside of games, Jacobson is active with various charities including War Child, and last year created a game compilation for the charity that was published by Sega.

In association with

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Calling all superheroes Is it time for your next mission?

Recruitment specialists for the Games Industry

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Get social with us Visit tweet us @WeAreAmiqus or call +44 (0) 1925 839700

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“Sure, you have to be agile, always thinking ahead, and constantly trying to improve, but small companies can make a big impact”

Jason and Chris Kingsley, Rebellion Developments

Over the years, the Kingsley brothers have grown their studio to over 200 staff and more than £20m in revenues. Their huge portfolio includes the classic Alien vs. Predator games and the critically acclaimed Sniper Elite series. Rebellion even extends beyond the world of games – as Chris observes, the firm produced a No.1 movie in Dredd 3D and a No.1 game in Sniper Elite V2 within the same year. “I don’t know of any other UK company that’s done that,” he says. Their origins, however, are surprisingly humble. Jason began by making board games, and originally studied Zoology at Oxford University. However, freelance art and game design work – combined with Chris’ self-taught experience of coding for the Atari 800 – saw them leap into video games. “What we’ve done hopefully shows that you can make games that appeal to people throughout the world,” says Chris. “Sure, you have to be agile, always thinking ahead, and constantly trying to improve, but small companies can make a big impact.” Jason adds: “Rebellion is something like 90% exportdriven, so bringing cold hard cash into these islands from places like China, Brazil, the USA and so on is valuable to the UK GDP. Others can do the same.”

Paul Wedgwood, CEO, Splash Damage

Paul Wedgwood has had a varied career. Leaving behind his work as a network engineer for prestigious clients that included 10 Downing Street, he joined the gaming world with a stint at ISP and gaming website BarrysWorld. He even spent time as a presenter for an Australasian video games TV show. His work at BarrysWorld led him to meet the core members of the team that would later form UK studio Splash Damage in 2001. Since then the studio has worked on numerous major titles including Doom and Gears of War. Last year, Wedgwood sold Splash Damage for $150m to chinese food firm Leyou.

Hilmar Pétursson, CEO, CCP Games

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Under Hilmar Pétursson’s management, acclaimed sci-fi MMO Eve Online has enjoyed ten consecutive years of subscriber growth – something almost no other MMO can claim. It’s the culmination of a “lifelong enthusiasm for games” that stretches back to when he was just nine years old. “I saved up money to buy a Sinclair Spectrum and had to use Icelandic to English translation guides to learn how to use it,” he recalls. After studying computer science and joining a VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language) start-up in 1996, he spent four years developing his skills before jumping ship to the studio he now calls home. Last year, CCP moved its entire management team to London. Far from being a jarring transition, Pétursson has embraced life in the UK. “We just moved to London and everyone has really taken to the place,” he says. “It’s been great. Besides being an amazing city in and of itself, London is a great location because it’s central to Europe, so it’s easy to get pretty much anywhere. And it’s home to amazing talent.”

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“My personal goal with Raspberry Pi was to help people lose their techno-fear”

Darren Mills,

Co-founder, Sumo Digital Darren Mills might never have come to the games industry had he followed his original career path. Working initially in TV as a designer and animator for introduction sequences, he later became a cameraman and editor for a variety of programmes. “I worked in a video games shop on Saturdays when I was in college and my first job interview was at a games company. I was offered the job but I took the TV role instead,” Mills explains. “I always had one eye on the games jobs as they appeared and in 1995, when one came up at Gremlin, I had to give it a try.” At Gremlin, he served as lead artist, before moving on to Infogrames and eventually co-founding Sumo Digital in 2003. With hit titles like LittleBigPlanet 3 and the Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing series under his belt, not to mention the new Crackdown and Dead Island 2 on the way, Mills has no regrets about leaving broadcasting behind. “The thing I noticed the most when leaving TV and moving to games was the age difference,” he says. “In TV, it felt like everyone in the industry was in their mid-forties and very much stuck in their ways. “Games has been inspiring, energetic and addictive. Changing industries has never occurred to me since.”

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David Braben,

CEO, Frontier Developments One of the longest-serving figureheads on this list, David Braben’s accomplishments include co-creating the worldwide hit Elite with Ian Bell, co-founding the Raspberry Pi Foundation to help new audiences learn to code, three honourary doctorates, plus fellowships from BAFTA and the Royal Academy of Engineering. To name a few. Braben’s childhood love of science fiction, the impact of Star Wars and his teenage fascination with programming drove him to attempt the creation of new worlds in BASIC. Despite some initial setbacks – “while I had imagined stars whooshing by, it would take several seconds for the dots to even appear” – he pressed on with learning new programming languages. “There was no games industry back then,” he recalls. “At the end of the ‘70s and early ‘80s, it was mostly a loose collection of excited, young, well-meaning amateurs. Computing was my hobby, but even when I started writing Elite with Ian, I still thought of myself as a scientist.” Braben has been a major proponent for improving the UK’s skillbase and encouraging more children and aspiring games makers to learn coding. “The more games that support user content creation, like Minecraft, and allow it to be shared, the better,” he says. “This doesn’t have to be coding. My personal goal with Raspberry Pi was to help people lose their ‘techno-fear’.”

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“It feels like games are becoming a little braver with theme and content, character, diversity and actually having something to say”

Rhianna Pratchett, Writer

Rhianna Pratchett is one of the industry’s best known games writers. Beginning her career in journalism, she built her reputation penning the stories for cult favourites such as Heavenly Sword, Overlord and Mirror’s Edge. Yet it’s the acclaimed Tomb Raider reboot and its 2015 sequel that she’s best known for today. Nevertheless, despite all the accolades, Pratchett has decided to leave the world of Lara Croft behind. “Working on Tomb Raider took a lot out of me,” she explains. “As a freelance writer working on a AAA title – let alone one with the legacy of Tomb Raider – you tend to get a lot of pressure, but not a lot of control. I thought it was time to leave on a high note and engage in other ventures. Ultimately, I feel I have more to give and learn.” Pratchett has been part of a movement that has seen games writing taken more seriously, particularly in the indie space. “It feels like games are becoming a little braver with theme and content, character, diversity and actually having something to say,” she adds.

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Gavin Raeburn,

CEO, Playground Games Gavin Raeburn has been making award-winning games for over 30 years, ranging from Codemasters’ Dirt, Gird and F1 titles to the Forza Horizon series. The latest Horizon is the highest-rated Xbox exclusive of this generation so far, and the culmination of everything Raeburn has worked for since discovering games via his friend’s ZX81 at just 13 years of age. “Understanding you could create your own games, like the ones I saw in the arcades, was beyond magical to me,” he says. “I was then lucky enough to be given a Spectrum 48K for Christmas and then, more importantly, a Commodore 64. This is where I learned to code and sell my first game at the elderly age of 16.” Raeburn is most proud of Playground particularly given the climate in which it was formed. “2010 was a very tough time,” he explains. “So many great studios were closing, especially in the UK, and publisher interest in console development was declining. Forming Playground against that backdrop and achieving all our goals... I’m incredibly proud of that.” He is also keen to sing the praises of a former partner studio. CD Projekt Red was once a “relatively small porting house” that localised some of Raeburn’s racing games into Polish and Russian. “This work was done to fund development of The Witcher,” he says. “For anyone looking to start their own team, I don’t think it gets any more inspirational than the story of CD Projekt Red.”

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Carl Cavers,

CEO, Sumo Digital Carl Cavers has been involved in games development for more than two decades, shunning the world of quality management systems for a role at Gremlin Interactive. Today, he is best known for Sumo Digital, a development house he helped set up 14 years ago, and has been instrumental in securing relationships with Sega, Xbox, PlayStation, and the BBC. “Setting up Sumo and building it into a world-class studio, with a thriving creative environment, is my proudest achievement so far,” he says. “Oh, and being involved with this great industry for 22 years.” He lists his inspirations as fellow Sumo co-founder James North-Hearn, as well as Sid Standard, the leader of a cycling team Cavers belonged to when he was young. “His quote – ‘It’s all rideable’ – has become my mantra for life,” he explains. When asked for the secret of Sumo’s long-running success, the CEO attributes it to “a team with complementary strengths and a shared vision.” He continues: “You need the team, the right motivation, the right culture and to remain humble. You also need to love what you do – development is more than a job, it’s a way of life.” Sumo is now creating its own IP Snake Pass.

Tameem Antoniades, Co-founder, Ninja Theory

Currently working on Hellblade – an action game that also looks at the psychological effects of trauma – Tameem Antoniades is keen to do what he can to expand the remit of the industry. He has led the creation of Ninja Theory’s acclaimed products, including Heavenly Sword, Enslaved and DmC: Devil May Cry, and says that those he’s collaborated with have been hugely inspirational to his career. “People who have directly helped me grow are Andy Serkis in terms of working on set, Alex Garland in terms of writing and direction, and Kim Libreri from Epic in terms of visual effects development,” he says. “These people are giants to me and I hear their guiding, sometimes berating voices in my head on a daily basis.” Like many of his peers, Antoniades taught himself to code by making digital art and music on his Amiga. “If you love technology and art, I can’t think of a better industry to be in,” he says.

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Mobile Specialists Ian Harper,

MD, Future Games of London Ian Harper embarked on his games development career by programming simple titles on the BBC Micro at just nine years old, eventually making a series of 2D shoot-’em-ups during his teenage years. “My dream was to get on the cover disk of Amiga Format like Worms did, which was how that game was originally discovered,” he says. Inspired by John Carmack and Doom, Harper learned graphics programming and obtained a job at Codemasters. Following a string of positions, he co-founded Future Games of London, the studio behind the Hungry Shark series. The first game alone has more than 350m downloads, and the company was acquired by Ubisoft in 2013. “Nobody can make you sell your business – it’s got to be something you want to do,” he says. “If you want to remain at the company after the acquisition, picking the right partner is key. Understand why they are interested in you and make sure that your long-term goals are aligned. “With Ubisoft’s help, we’ve been able to grow our business significantly in China and put our games on many new platforms. Our headcount has doubled in three years, something that we didn’t have the financial ability to do before. Ubisoft has a great track record of creative freedom and supporting its studios after acquisition. Too often developers are closed a few years after being acquired.”

David Currall,

Partnership Manager, Apple David Currall has worked at Apple since 1998, initially in account management, but it’s his role in the last decade that has had the biggest impact upon the mobile games sector. As a partnership manager at the iOS firm, he has been invaluable in helping devs get their mobile games on the App Store and finding an audience - something that’s easier said than done.

John Earner,

CEO, Space Ape Games The rise of games-as-a-service paved the way for new players such as Space Ape co-founder John Earner, who says changes to the market “created an opportunity for people like me with no experience but a lot of passion to enter the video games industry.” He continues: “It took a lot of luck. I applied for a junior marketing role at EA in 2005 and couldn’t get an interview. By 2010, I was running a studio there via Playfish. That’s more a story about a changing landscape than about me. But when things are new, no one has experience in them. Did I mention luck?” Space Ape is one of the UK’s most successful mobile studios thanks to hits such as Samurai Siege and Rival Kingdoms – but surely it can’t compare to Earner’s previous career, chasing smugglers as part of the US Navy? “Games are way better and, on most days, more exciting,” he says. “My years in the navy were the most rewarding of my career but I would never go back. The military has an amazing ability to give you drudgery and stress at the same time. But there were also a few exciting and rewarding moments, and some of the best people you will ever meet. “Oh, and jumpsuits. You just pull them on and you’re done dressing.”

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“My years in the US navy were the most rewarding of my career, but video games are way better and, on most days, more exciting”

21/03/2017 13:19

Riccardo Zacconi, CEO, King

In 1999, Riccardo Zacconi joined Swedish online messaging start-up Spray. It was there where he met his fellow King co-founders Sebastian Knutsson and Thomas Hartwig. In 2003, just two years after the Italian businessmen moved to the UK, the group formed one of the world’s biggest mobile games companies. King is best known for Candy Crush Saga and its sister games, which have been downloaded hundreds of millions of times. King has well over 1,000 employees and last year it was acquired by Activision for $5.9bn. “I’m often amazed by our diverse and vast network of players,” he says. “Our players wouldn’t necessarily define themselves as gamers. The games are easy to learn, can be played over short periods but are still challenging and engaging. Making games this accessible is something the games industry should always continue to improve on.”

Barry Meade,

Commercial Director, Fireproof Studios

Peter Molyneux, Designer, 22Cans

Peter Molyneux is best known for iconic games like Populous, Dungeon Keeper, Theme Park, Black & White and Fable. He describes the origins of his career as “a convoluted mix of luck and passion.” It began when Commodore sent his company (Taurus) free development machines, and he didn’t correct the mistake. His friend Andrew Bailey asked him to convert his title Druid II to the Amiga, teaching Molyneux the essentials of making a game. He initially founded Bullfrog (sold to EA), then Lionhead (sold to Microsoft) and in 2012 he formed his current studio 22Cans - which specialises in mobile titles. “Mobile gave the industry a mass-market audience, and now it’s our job to make amazing entertainment,” Molyneux says. Unable to choose his proudest achievement from his hefty games portfolio, he instead says his career highlight has been “working with so many amazing people and helping some of them to get into the industry.”

Fireproof was formed in 2008 by six friends who had worked on the Burnout series at Criterion Games - including Barry Meade. He began his career making health-based education games in Dublin, before moving to Guildford in 1994 to join Bullfrog as an animator. Meade is most “proud/smug” at what Fireproof has achieved. The firm’s The Room franchise on mobile has sold almost 12m copies, and picked up numerous awards. “A lot has changed since going independent,” says Meade. “Some things are better, some are worse. We’ve come a long way in terms of the infrastructure to support development. There are so many publishing routes. But creatively the industry has lost the will to experiment, at least on mobile. Now it’s all very knowing, too-clever-by-half but distinctly average. “Data has emboldened a lot of dull thinking, so now giving the audience what they already know is seen as pioneering. So if you’re driven by the urge to make something new you’ll have uncomfortable meetings. But regardless of our industry’s faults, audiences continue to want excitement. That’s all a developer needs to know.”

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Torsten Reil,

CEO, NaturalMotion Torsten Reil formed NaturalMotion in 2001 while researching a PhD in complex systems at Oxford. His work helped the team create animation technologies Morpheme and Euphoria, which attracted the attention of Rockstar. The studio used both products in Grand Theft Auto IV, which Reil says was his “biggest inspiration in gaming by far.” Then his team took the tech further: “When we realised the iPhone was becoming fast enough to run our technology, we started making games.” Those games included Clumsy Ninja and mobile smash hit CSR Racing. NaturalMotion’s success led to Zynga spending $527m to acquire the studio. He has since overseen the development of CSR Racing 2 and the ambitious mobile strategy game Dawn of Titans. “I love turning ideas into products that are played by millions,” he says. “I’m proud of every single game we’ve made. And I’m proud that we saw the opportunity in mobile gaming early enough to grow it.”

Christian West,

Director, PlaySport Games

Saad Choudri,

Chief Commercial Officer, Miniclip As a Sonic fan, Saad Choudri told his mum that he would one day work for Sega. And straight out of university (in October 2007) he joined the company. “To get the job I made sure I knew everything about the company and the industry,” he said. “Being in the legal department of Sega, I had a fantastic opportunity to engage with every other department, studio and international office, and I got to see exactly how the business worked – I call it my MBA in gaming.” Choudri is now CCO at the successful mobile developer Miniclip. He has been involved with the firm’s majority sale to Tencent and seen the huge success of 8 Ball Pool and “However, my proudest moment was being honoured by the production team of Sega’s first original digital-only game Renegade Ops,” he says. “They named one of the vehicles Special Assault Artillery Destroyer or S.A.A.D.” Outside of games, Choudri sits on the board of Wikimedia UK.

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Christian West’s career began while playing Half-Life and Counter-Strike online. “I started modding Counter-Strike and found I was a terrible 3D artist,” he says. “I bought a programming book and took a year out after school to learn code.” Starting a games development degree in 2003, West eventually found himself working alongside Sean Murray at Kuju. Murray’s departure to form Hello Games inspired West to pursue his own success and he began saving to make Motorsport Manager, racing’s answer to Football Manager. “I was living off my life savings,” he says. “I had quit my job and had no income whatsoever. By the end of that year most of my clothes had holes in them, I sacrificed sleep, and when the game launched I had £50 left.” The hardship paid off. Motorsport Manager broke even within 24 hours, reaching No.1 on the App Store. This attracted Sega’s attention (the publisher of the very game that inspired West), and the Sonic creator helped release the game on PC. The result was that West could buy “new pants.”

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Indie Leaders Gavin Price,

Studio and Game Director, Playtonic Quite a number of game creators that began their careers working behind the counter at GAME. Gavin Price was one of them, and it was whilst at the retailer that he met staff at the renowned local studio Rare. Upon finding out from one of his customers that the firm was looking for game testers he applied (complete with a handwritten letter), and so began his 17-year career in the business. “My first ever credit on Jet Force Gemini is probably my proudest achievement, just edging out starting up Playtonic,” Price tells us. “It’s tough to explain, but like any first in life it’s a moment in time that can’t ever be repeated and I think that’s what makes it so special. I nearly cried seeing my name scroll up the screen that first time… but didn’t because my name goes straight across a dancing Juno’s crotch, which made me laugh out loud instead.” After working his way up into design roles, and having worked on big brands such as Banjo-Kazooie and Viva Pinata, Price decided to set up on his own. “I had a huge desire to do things better, faster and smarter to create something that I’d love to be entertained by myself,” he said. “Large companies have many benefits but fast, efficient video games development is sometimes slowed down.” In 2015 he formed Playtonic and set about working on the spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie: Yooka-Laylee. The game generated over £2m via Kickstarter, making it one of the crowd-funding platform’s most successful games. Many former Rare colleagues followed Price to the new studio, which now boasts well over 20 staff. “I’m a very lucky leader as I have great people with me who have never burdened me with the pressures of leadership,” he says.

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“The mental and, in some cases, financial pressures of starting out in this games industry will test your will at times”

Tom Beardsmore, CEO, Coatsink Software

“I got into this industry by luck,” begins Beardsmore. “I’ve always loved video games, but lacked the technical ability, or at least I thought I did, to get into the industry. I studied Creative Writing at university and somehow fluked my way into a job at Blizzard [where he worked as GM]. After that, I came back to the UK and co-founded Coatsink with my oldest and dearest friend: Paul Crabb.” Coatsink has developed a strong reputation thanks to the success of several titles, including the platformer Shu, Gang Beasts (which it worked on with Boneloaf) and the Esper series for Gear VR and Oculus Rift. “My proudest moment so far was the first time we appeared at E3,” continues Beardsmore. “Jason Rubin name-dropped Coatsink and spoke about Esper on-stage at the Oculus E3 event in 2015. We were amongst incredible company and it felt utterly surreal. Everyone in the team was glowing afterwards.” Beardsmore says that his team are the true heroes behind this success, and advises those new to games to persevere. “The mental and, in some cases, financial pressures of starting out will test your will.”

21/03/2017 15:55


“This show on Classic FM will be a lovely way to introduce new audiences to the diverse and wonderful music that we have to offer”

Jessica Curry,

Co-founder and Composer, The Chinese Room The Chinese Room’s co-founder Jessica Curry has established herself as an awardwinning video game composer. She is perhaps best known for scoring Dear Esther and Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture, the latter of which led to her career highlight winning a BAFTA. Curry’s compositions have become best-sellers in the classical charts and the quality of her work has gathered the attention of Classic FM, where she will host a show on game music. “Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve been banging about merging the worlds of classical and games music for some time,” she says. “I’m proud of the music that has been written for the genre and this show will be a positive way to engage new audiences, introducing them to the diverse and wonderful breadth of music that we have to offer.” Curry is also a determined campaigner for greater diversity in the industry. However, she warns that newcomers must prepare for what can often be an uninviting industry. “Learn how to protect yourself,” she advises. “It can be a brutal place and, especially if you’re a minority of any kind, you really need to devise strategies and support networks.” She lists 18th Century pioneer Mary Wollstonecraft and singer Joni Mitchell as her inspirations, as well as husband and The Chinese Room studio head Dan Pinchbeck. “There is no one whose words I’d rather write to,” she says. “He is a wonderful husband and father, and a modest chap. He dragged me into the industry kicking and screaming, but I’m glad he did as I’ve had the opportunity to make beautiful games and write some cracking music.”

Dave Ranyard,

CEO, Dream Reality Interactive Dr Dave Ranyard was lecturing at Leeds University (while he was finishing his PhD) when he met a student that was opening a studio for Psygnosis. He joined the team and thus began a long career working for PlayStation, creating products such as The Getaway, SingStar and VR Worlds. Yet last year he finally left Sony to set up his own studio devoted to VR development.

“I felt I needed a new challenge and VR is a disruptive medium,” he says. “I wanted to be a bit more agile than is possible inside a corporation.” He continues: “The step change in immersion with VR is enormous and being part of it, a pioneer if you like, is a dream come true.” Ranyard has served on various boards and says the key to success in games is a strong team.

Mike Bithell,

Independent Developer Taking up coding at a young age, Mike Bithell was destined for games. Although he worked at studios such as Blitz, it was his indie project Thomas Was Alone that made his name. Taking inspiration from filmmakers such as Kevin Smith, Bithell focused on making impressive titles with a tight budget. Now he is an aspirational figure for many a hopeful one-man indie, but when asked for advice on how

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to make it in games, he reminds fellow developers that “they are not on the same journey.” “The business changes weekly, so I try not to give too much advice,” he says. Following huge commercial success came the chance to meet his heroes, such as Hideo Kojima, which Bithell describes as a “massive privilege.” But according to the Volume creator, it’s the audience that drives him. “It sounds corny, but the best part of this job is meeting the people who play our stuff,” he says. “Fan art, cosplay, videos – everything that folks do with the games we make.”

In association with

21/03/2017 13:20


Chris Davis,

Mouldy Toof Studios Four years ago you might have found Chris Davis weatherproofing your roof, but what a difference a game makes. His love of gaming led him to Kickstart his first title, Spud’s Quest, under the studio name of Mouldy Toof. He then took his second game, The Escapists, to Kickstarter, and raised double his initial goal. It attracted the attention of Team17, who helped finish the game and even released it in a box. It’s now sold over 2m copies. “When I began development it seemed a fun but niche experiment, but people loved the idea,” he says. “There were various checkpoints along the way that should have convinced me I was onto a good thing, but I kept playing them down as I didn’t want to let my expectations run away with me.” Last year, Davis sold his studio and The Escapists IP to Team17. “I love designing games, but wasn’t a fan of all the extras that came with running a business,” he says. “An opportunity arose for me to drop all that but still be creatively involved in The Escapists going forward, so I took it.” He’s currently working on a number of projects, including The Escapists 2.

“I love designing games, but wasn’t a fan of all the extras that came with running a business”

William Pugh, Crows Crows Crows

Pugh is best known for comical narrative adventure The Stanley Parable, as well as various others titles created by his studio Crows Crows Crows. A friend to his fellow indies, he led an IndieGoGo campaign to raise money for developers who had their equipment stolen at 2015’s A MAZE event in Germany. As you might expect considering his development output, Pugh’s contribution to this profile has been… unusual. He describes his No.1 achievement as “getting away with the murder of a prominent industry figure” and when asked who has inspired him, he says: “I’ve always felt like a self-rising Lazarus. I am my own inspiration and I will not veer credit to others in my section of this magazine.” Most recently, Pugh has worked with the studio Squanchtendo (cofounded by Adventure Time star Justin Roilland) on VR title Accounting. And how does he suggest future developers get into the business? “Be my bag goblin,” he says. “Travel to an event that I’m going to be at and paint yourself green – then carry my bag around for me. I will shout ‘BAG GOBLIN!’ and you will appear from behind a potted plant or out of a toilet stall. You will then scuttle towards me and say ‘here is your bag, master’ in a goblin voice. If you do this for me, I will provide you with an excellent reference and I will teach you my secret video game recipe.”

Imre Jele,

Co-founder, Bossa Studios Inspired by Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson’s Fighting Fantasy books, Imre Jele began writing choose-your-ownadventure stories as a child, which escalated into board game designs, tabletop RPG development and, eventually, video games. He started at Jagex before moving onto Blitz Games, and then in 2010 he co-founded the award-winning Bossa Studios. The firm is best known for its comical physics-based titles such as Surgeon Simulator and I Am Bread. “When we started, we just wanted to make a statement about why creativity matters,” says Jele. “Six years later and about 50 people larger, we still do our best to go against the tide, creating unique games and in a unique way. “Developers often take themselves and their games way too seriously so we deliberately made many of our games lighthearted – and frankly sometimes wacky. That said, the real goal of Bossa is to create games which entertain people with their surprising mechanics and unique content. That can mean one-handed clumsy surgery or the massively multiplayer, persistently physical universe of Worlds Adrift.”

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Charles Cecil,

Co-founder, Revolution Software “I left school in 1980 and decided to read Mechanical Engineering at university,” begins Broken Sword creator Charles Cecil. “I won a sponsorship with Ford on what was called the Special Engineering Programme. A fellow student, Richard Turner, had disassembled the ROM of the ZX80 and had started selling the listing under the name Artic Computing. One day he showed me some TRS-80 games, including Scott Adams’ adventures - I was blown away. Richard suggested that if I were to write a text adventure then he would code it, and we could publish it under the Artic label and maybe earn some beer money. And so I did.” Cecil co-founded Revolution in 1990 and he’s excited by the the changes in games today. “In the early ‘80s we would meet our community at events called Microfairs,” he says. “It was hugely insightful to hear people’s opinions. The dominance of publishers and retailers for the next 20 years meant that we lost direct contact with our community, but with digital that direct link has been reestablished.” Cecil has achieved a lot in 30 years, from Broken Sword to education initiatives. So what’s next? “It is said that games have not yet had their Citizen Kane moment,” he says. “It would be amazing to create a new genre that utilises the rich veins of narrative creativity that are emerging.”

Fiona Sperry,

Founder, Three Fields Fiona Sperry began in book publishing at McGraw-Hill, before joining Criterion Software in 1997. After initially working with external teams, she ended up leading the development of Dreamcast launch title Trickstyle. “It was the first game I had been involved with from start to finish,” she says. “I led a small team of nine to make a Dreamcast game. It was also the game through which I met Alex Ward, who signed it for Acclaim.” She asked Ward to join her and the two relaunched the studio as Criterion Games. Over the next 13 years they would develop the Burnout series, Black and rejuvenate Need for Speed - winning four BAFTAs. EA acquired the studio in 2004. Then in 2014 she (along with Ward) decided to set-up their own outfit, Three Fields Entertainment. “We have published two games in the last 9 months and we plan to release another in the next 6 months,” says Sperry. “We are able to be fast and nimble and we’re having the time of our lives.”

In association with

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Sam Barlow

Sean Murray,

MD, Hello Games Sean Murray wrote his first game at just six-years old - it was a text adventure that he insists was terrible. He studied Computer Science before joining Criterion, where he worked on Black and the Burnout series, before switching to Kuju to become the firm’s technical director. Yet he’s best known today as the founder of Hello Games (formed in 2008), and creating the award-winning Joe Danger series. His studio was soon thrust into the limelight with the hype and reveal for No Man’s Sky, one of the most successful independently made PS4 games when it arrived in 2016.

In association with

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Credit for photo: Omri Anghel

“I’d had a lifetime love of games and used to kinda make them, like all ‘80s children with a home computer and access to a version of BASIC,” begins Sam Barlow. “I was involved in the interactive fiction scene in the 1990s, but I never saw it as a career. Then after an aborted stint in the US dot com world, I was looking around for a job in the UK and found one as a game artist. From there I quickly moved to design, because I wouldn’t stop talking. Then I moved to lead designer, because I still wouldn’t stop talking. By the time I was writing and designing Silent Hill: Shattered Memories I realised that perhaps this is what I’ve always wanted to do.” Barlow was proud of that Silent Hill game on Wii, but it was the response to the award winning Her Story - a detective story (of sorts) featuring real video clips – that changed his world. “A lot of what I love in storytelling comes about in the performance - performance allows you to compress and to use subtext and to seed emotion in the minds of your audience,” he says. “And I feel that the interactivity of game storytelling is an incredible tool to add richness to the experience, to further work the imagination muscle.” Barlow credits Alfred Hitchcock as the world’s first great game designer, and wants to create experiences with a similar mass impact. “He understood audience participation; he played them, played their psychology - and that was part of his recipe.”

“I am a great example of someone who had no previous knowledge of computer games, but I had a skill and experience that I was able to apply to the business”

Noirin Carmody

Owner and COO, Revolution Noirin Carmody began her career in the video games business back in 1988 at Activision. She had moved to London from Dublin and took a position as a market analyst. “It was a total departure for me. I had never played a computer game and had no knowledge of the industry,” she admits. “I spent the first six months at Activision researching and reporting on the emerging PC market in Europe. This work constituted in large part my crash course in the video games industry.” She continues: “I am a great example of someone who had no previous knowledge of games, but my experience as a researcher meant that I had a skill that I was able to apply to the business. There is a perception that games are created by programmers only. This could not be further from the truth.” Carmody soon co-founded Revolution Software, the studio behind Broken Sword. “Revolution celebrated its 25th anniversary last year and it continues to create and retain ownership of its IP,” she says of her proudest achievements. “The company has employed talented individuals and I am really proud of the many former employees, some of whom have been nominated for BAFTA and Oscars, and now run their own studios.” Outside of Revolution, Carmody has a major position as the chairperson of UKIE and plays an active role at the trade body in growing the UK games business.

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Shahid Ahmad,

Director, Ultimatum Games

It was a leaflet featuring the ZX Spectrum, handed to him by his friend Geoff Foley, that led to Shahid Ahmad’s interest in game creation. “Up until then I thought that computers were pretty boring,” he admits. “I had not made the connection between colour arcade games and computers in my teenage mind until I saw that leaflet. Within months I’d self-published my first game, which sold zero copies. Still, it was a start.” Ahmad describes himself as “a dirt poor 16 year old son of an immigrant on a council estate” when he saw a fellow teenager, Greg Christensen, win a $25,000 prize for making a video game. “I thought that if he can do it, then so can I,” he says. After a career in development, Ahmad moved to management and eventually PlayStation, where he helped lead the company’s indie initiatives. But after a decade at Sony, he decided to return to development. “At first I felt a bit like an impostor,” he says. “Now I realise I was wasting time when I should just have been going for it from the beginning. Development is a hundred times more complex than it was when I was last involved, but the tools are also a hundred times better. I’m enjoying it immensely and trust that my best development work is ahead of me.”

Cliff Harris,

Founder, Positech Harris has been a champion for indie games in recent years. After the success of his Democracy series, he has been publishing other studios’ titles, such as Big Pharma. He started, however, by working in IT and playing Quake in his spare time. “I would wonder how they made this game,” he says. “That eventually led me to mess around learning C, then C++, and starting to make my own indie games – long before that term was really a thing. I went indie, then triple-A, then back to indie – so not the normal route.” As appealing as the indie life might seem, Harris urges future creators to approach the business realistically. “Some people quit their job – or, worse, never take one – and think they can make an entire game with zero experience,” he says. “My first six or seven commercial games sucked – and that’s to be expected. I bet Van Gogh’s first seven paintings sucked, too. There’s an assumption amongst indie developers that their first game will sell enough to make a living. That’s almost always delusional.”

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Meg Jayanth, Writer

The award-winning Meg Jayanth has become a vital and accomplished voice in games writing. She’s best known for her sterling work on hit mobile and PC game 80 Days (developed by Inkle), alongside Failbetter’s acclaimed Sunless Sea. “I wanted to tell stories, and I was drawn to the experimentation and possibility of interactive and digital storytelling,” she says when asked why she entered the industry. “It’s still a space that has barely been mapped out and we don’t even know the rules we’re going to end up breaking. That’s pretty exciting to me.” A major proponent for driving diversity within not just the industry but video games themselves, she delivered an inspirational talk on the subject at GDC 2016. Not only did this become her career highlight, it introduced her to more people from the wider games industry, who said her session helped them discuss these issues in their workplaces. “That was very much the goal,” she says. “I’d like to see a broader range of voices and perspectives in writers as well as in what games talk about. We’re seeing so much more innovation come out of the indie and mobile space, with free or easier-to-use tools allowing individuals or small groups to make games. Hopefully that’ll filter through to the wider industry.”

“I was drawn to the experimentation and possibility of interactive and digital storytelling. It’s still a space that has barely been mapped out and we don’t even know the rules we’re going to end up breaking”

Dan Pinchbeck,

Studio Director, The Chinese Room The Chinese Room is a real UK success story. Beginning on Half Life 2 mods in 2007, the studio found fame first through 2012’s Dear Esther and then 2015’s Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture. Dan Pinchbeck is one of the founders, and despite his obvious influence, is keen not to take all the credit for the team’s BAFTA-winning work. “I’m really lucky to work with a bunch of incredibly talented and lovely people,” he says. “We’ve worked hard to make a studio that’s all about passion and flair and we’ve done that whilst protecting a culture that’s open, honest and ethical. I’m increasingly understanding what an achievement that has been. I share that credit with the whole team and with Jessica Curry. She’s really the brains of the outfit.” He says he’s most inspired by those that have kept studios going for a decade or longer without “losing their souls or quality control.” “That takes a really special type of person,” he says. “And I’m also inspired by good producers. I have undying respect for anyone who can bring a game in on-time and on-budget without killing the team. “Good AAA producers are exceptional human beings and don’t get enough credit for what they achieve. It’s easy to recognise game directors like me because we are really visible. The industry rests on the unsung heroines and heroes.”

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Finn Brice,

Director, Chucklefish Finn Brice formed Chucklefish from nothing. He gathered a team of developers with little to no industry experience, launched a crowdfunding campaign and began work on the sci-fi adventure Starbound. Today, Chucklefish is one of London’s most prominent indie studios, and Starbound a key success story for crowdfunding – a model Brice believes has brought down the barriers for any game maker with a strong vision. “Crowdfunding is a direct line to innovation for many smaller teams with ideas that may be too much of a risk for a publisher or investors to approve,” he says. “It’s also a powerful voice for consumers desperate for something new in an industry largely overrun by stagnant genres and sequels.” The ongoing success of Starbound enabled Chucklefish to offer funding and assistance to fellow indies, helping to bring titles such as Stardew Valley to PC and consoles. And Brice is keen to see more fresh talents find their place in the industry. “Make a game,” he urges. “It doesn’t matter how good it is, how many people see it or what tools you use to create it. Prove you can see it through. Try to master one skill along the way but ensure you have a good understanding of the basics surrounding other disciplines. Keep trying.”

Henrique Olifiers, Co-founder, Bossa Studios

Born in Brazil, Henrique Olifiers was inspired to chase his development dream in the UK due to magazines such as Your Sinclair and Crash, as well as the multitude of great games being developed here in the ‘70s and ‘80s. “I’ve always loved video games, ever since I got my hands on Pong,” he says. “When I finally managed to convince my parents to buy me a ZXSpectrum a few years later, I began coding my own games out of sheer necessity. Living in a remote area of Brazil, coming across new titles was a bit... challenging. “I started making games for myself, and soon I was selling them on cassette tape to friends at school who seemed to like what I was creating.” Over the course of more than 30 years, Olifiers has worked on mobile, MMOs, VR, social games and indie titles. After his time as head of gaming at Brazil’s GloboTV (where he developed one of Latin America’s most popular online trading card games during the early 2000s), he came to the UK to work as head of development at Jagex, before a stint at Playfish and then co-founding Bossa Studios - the team behind Surgeon Simulator, I Am Bread and the upcoming Worlds Adrift.

Terry Cavanagh, Distractionware

Terry Cavanagh was one of the first Brits to throw himself into the current indie scene. After studying maths, he worked briefly as a market risk analyst before making the leap into games. “Like a lot of people in the industry, I’ve basically wanted to make games since I was a kid,” he says. “But career-wise, my first big step from hobby to profession was going indie back in 2007.”

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Cavanagh has numerous indie titles under his belt, but it’s award-winning hits such as Don’t Look Back, Super Hexagon and VVVVVV – the latter still his proudest achievement – that really established him as one of the sector’s most notable creators. “Coming up on 10 years of being indie, I owe a lot to the people who inspired me to make that initial leap back in 2007,” he says. “Derek Yu for running TIGSource, Tim W. for running the Indygamer blogspot, Daisuke Amaya for Cave Story. Between them, they created the space that made what I do possible.”

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21/03/2017 13:20

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Katherine Bidwell, Co-founder, State of Play

One of the most creative UK developers, Katherine Bidwell is perhaps best known for her work on Lumino City: a point-and-click adventure game in which the world is entirely generated through stop-motion animation. The title took three years to create but received widespread acclaim and won the BAFTA for Artistic Achievement, along with two other nominations. “We knew we had created something special, but we were still unsure how everyone else would react to it,” Bidwell recalls. “The validation of a BAFTA was a huge moment for State of Play. At times during development, it felt like we were never going to finish. It stretched the company both financially and creatively with the techniques we were using. I couldn’t be more proud of what we all achieved.” The source of Bidwell’s greatest inspiration was her A-Level art teacher – affectionately nicknamed ‘Womble’ for her tendency to bring in items collected from tips and skips to be used in her students’ artwork. “She taught me that if you applied yourself correctly, you really could do anything you wanted to,” says Bidwell.

“We knew we had created something special with Lumino City, but we were still unsure how everyone else would react to it. The validation of a BAFTA was a huge moment”

Daniel Gray,

Studio Head, Ustwo Games After his dad brought home an Atari ST one Christmas, Daniel Gray knew he wanted to make video games. One “arduous” games design degree, a regularly rejected portfolio and five days work experience at Lionhead later, he found his way in. Gray has worked at Kuju and Hello Games, but he is best known as the studio head of Ustwo – the developer behind Monument Valley and VR title Land’s End. The former earned Gray and his team global recognition. “Final Fantsy VII was one of the main reasons for me choosing this path,” he says. “At the GDC Awards two years ago, [Final Fantasy creator] Hironobu Sakaguchi came up and congratulated us for winning three categories with Monument Valley. It felt like I’d come full circle, and I was frozen in place like some fanboy.” Gray was named a BAFTA Breakthrough Brit and now natures new talent as a BAFTA Games Guru. In fact, winning two BAFTAs for Monument Valley in 2015 is his proudest moment. “To actually win something that your grandmother has heard of makes you feel all warm and fuzzy,” he says.

Garry Newman,

Founder, Facepunch Studios Garry Newman was not a trained computer programmer when he started making Garry’s Mod, the physics-based oddity that established him in the business. The game started out as a sandbox mode for tinkering in Valve’s Source engine and, as of January 2016, it has sold 10 million copies.

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Since then, Facepunch has expanded to 20 employees and it has created open-world survival game Rust, which has shifted 3m units and began generating more revenue than Garry’s Mod after just two months on sale. The firm has since released VR game Chunks.

In association with

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eSports Pioneers Véronique Lallier,

General Manager Europe, Hi-Rez Studios There are few people working in the UK that understand digital and online gaming as well as Véronique Lallier. Following a stint at Rockstar, she moved to NCSoft to lead the marketing of its MMO titles. Having risen through the ranks there, she left to head digital publishing for Warner Bros International. Today she is European boss at Hi-Rez, the company behind eSports hit Smite, and is regularly pushing to improve diversity in competitive gaming. “As a kid, I was only happy playing games,” Lallier says. “Games like Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Cartridge in 1982, Phantasie II in 1986 and The Legend of Zelda shaped me in my early days. It has always been clear to me that I would be part of this industry. “Since I’ve graduated from my business school in 1999, I have worked for some amazing companies and people.” She continues: “Our industry is changing and getting better and smarter everyday. Online games are as amazing as they are agile. We are embracing this at Hi-Rez, our games get updated every two weeks and our sole goal is to create fun games.”

Craig Fletcher,

Founder, Multiplay and SVP eSports, GAME For a corner of the industry that feels so nascent, you might be surprised to hear that Craig Fletcher’s eSports career began 23 years ago when he organised a dial-up league for Doom 2. From there, he discovered small gatherings of players and organised events as a hobby, before having to make the call between launching Multiplay - and doing it professionally – or pursuing a career in medicine. Multiplay’s Insomnia events have grown substantially over 20 years, from small LAN gatherings to expos that now take place at Birmingham NEC. In 2015, that growth caught the eye of GAME, which bought the firm for £20m. “I am concerned about eSports sustainability moving forward, as with all gold rushes there is rampant inflation and rising expectations as to prize money and salaries, but it’s an exciting time to be involved,” Fletcher says. Today, Fletcher leads all of GAME’s eSports initiatives, including bringing competitive gaming into the firm’s High Street stores to help grow the sector in Britain. “I want to bring more people into the ecosystem, flipping the pyramid into a funnel and filling it as fast as possible.”

Sam Mathews, Founder, Fnatic

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Sam Mathews sold his car to set up eSports organisation Fnatic back in 2004 and has since grown it to become one of the sector’s biggest brands, complete with its own merchandise. “Growing up I loved games, but was also extremely passionate about competitive sports. I played semi-pro rugby,” he says. “I started Fnatic as a hobby that merged both those traits. It then transformed into a legitimate business.” The source of Mathews’ inspiration might be a surprise: “I started Fnatic over a decade ago with my mother. She’s inspired me every day in both my professional and personal lives – until we get into an argument. She is still my mother, after all.” Fnatic is one of the best known UK eSports teams. Late last year, it launched the world’s first eSports store in London. But as a representative of the UK, Mathews is keen to see our nation have a bigger impact on professional gaming globally. “I think the trick is moving UK eSports away from a fixation on console,” he says. “Then we might start to get more competitive.”

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Michael O’Dell,

President, Team Dignitas ‘Odee’ got into eSports after a football injury made him pick up the gamepad - 18 years ago. “I read people were earning money in tournaments so I decided that’s what I’d do,” he says. “From 1999 to 2006 I played competitively and for three years tried to manage the team as well as work a full time job.” Team Dignitas is one of the UK’s most successful eSports teams. It endured financial uncertainty for years until the recent pro-gaming boom saw its stock rise. It was acquired by NBA outfit the Philadelphia 76ers last year. O’Dell says: “I’ve won tournaments personally, my players have won a hell of a lot and I’m proud of all we did in Team Dignitas Part 1. But without a doubt partnering with the Philadelphia 76ers is my proudest achievement. My staff are now fully employed, our players have access to many more resources, and we have a much better platform to help them win.” As for the future, O’Dell has a similar ambition to many of those on these pages - he wants to grow the UK eSports scene. “We are so far behind other countries,” he says.

Ed Vaizey,

Chairman, eGames Ed Vaizey is best known to the industry for his six years as UK Minister for Culture. During his tenure, he became a champion for the business, working closely with trade bodies to secure some major wins, including tax breaks for studios. He says the industry is “doing a great job, but needs to keen emphasising success, skills and job opportunities” to guarantee continued support. , Today, Vaizey has become a figure within eSports and is chairman of the International eGames Committee’s advisory board. He has already been a key supporter of the team forming eGames. “We are seeing enormous growth in eSports across the globe, and the committee will play a crucial role in helping the industry shape a positive future,” he says.

Spike Laurie,

Senior Director, ESL Spike Laurie has become a familiar face in the world of eSports. He began at Warner Bros handling retention and engagement, and found he most enjoyed working on competitive titles like Mortal Kombat. So he decided to move to ESL to lead the eSports company’s UK efforts. “I was attracted by the speed and dynamism of eSports,” Laurie says. “There’s still an undiscovered country feel right now. The idiosyncrasies of the space definitely suit my personality.” Laurie has led eSports events across the world, and he is most proud of the Counter-Strike: Go Pro League Finals in Sao Paulo, Brazil. “It was awe inspiring to see people come together, strip away their personal pride and collectively do what was best for the event under extremely challenging circumstances.” ESL’s growth in the UK has now seen Laurie promoted to LA where he’ll handle developer and publisher relations for the events firm.

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Retailers and Publishers John Clark,

SVP of Commercial Publishing, Sega

Debbie Bestwick, CEO, Team17

She is today known as a game development champion, but Debbie Bestwick’s career began in retail. “I’ve been in this industry since I was 17,” she explains. “I had a choice of summer jobs: one in a fruit and veg outlet and the other in a games indie store. Sadly, the fruit and veg sector missed out, because as a video gamer, there was only ever one choice.” Bestwick was soon running the store and sold it to a larger chain. That larger chain merged with its sister company 17-Bit Software and Team17 was born. For years Team17 was known as the developer behind Worms, yet it’s recently returned to publishing. “Team17 came from publishing and we’ve found the transition back really rewarding,” says Bestwick. “We think first as a developer, and we understand what it’s like sitting both sides of the fence in negotiations.” Bestwick credits Valve’s Gabe Newell and football manager Brian Clough as big inspirations, as well as Gremlin Graphics CEO Jenny Richards. “She showed me how you went about just ‘doing the doing’ and she gained so much respect from an industry that was dominated by men. Gender aside, she succeeded on merit alone and that’s been something that has stuck with me.” From winning ‘independent retailer of the year’ at just 18, to the MBE she received in 2016, Bestwick has collected numerous awards. Yet she says her proudest achievement is seeing the work of Team17’s development partners.

John Clark began his career at BMG, and his first game as a sales person was Pandemonium 2, followed swiftly by a certain Grand Theft Auto. He then spent eight years at Eidos before joining Sega in 2007. “This is my 20th year in games, which I’m really proud of,” Clark says. “Being part of the transformation of Sega over the last five years has been incredible. The entire industry has experienced a total change and I feel lucky to have been at the heart of it with Sega.” Clark moved from selling physical boxes to becoming a pioneer in digital, and credits his boss Jurgen Post for enabling him to help change the direction of the organisation. “[Digital] has been liberating and makes you understand the needs of the consumer and the developer much more,” he explains. “It’s totally changed our business.” Outside of Sega and his role on the UKIE Board, Clark is active with charities, including as a GamesAid trustee and a Special Effect VP. “I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy so many great experiences in this industry and it doesn’t take much effort to divert my energies towards charities,” he says.

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“Being part of launching the first PlayStation and Tomb Raider merged a career and passion for video games”

Martyn Gibbs, CEO, GAME

The most powerful man in games retail also has one of the hardest jobs. Martyn Gibbs took over GAME when it emerged from administration in 2012 and helped the business bounce back immediately. Despite losing a large proportion of its store estate, GAME retained its position as the UK’s biggest games retailer and, under Gibbs, the firm has gone public, acquired Multiplay, and launched several sub-brands. It’s part of an effort to transform the business in a digital age, but Gibbs is more than up to the challenge, with a 30-year retail history including stints at WHSmith, HMV and GameStation. “I have always enjoyed games, and when working for WHSmith I had a real passion for how we best presented them in the stores,” he says. “I moved into a sales development role, travelling the country and implementing ‘Multimedia’ departments in 100 stores, which included games. Further down the line I had the opportunity to become a buyer and jumped at the chance. Being part of launching PSone and Tomb Raider merged a career and passion for games.”


George Georgiou,

Territory Marketing Director, Europe, Blizzard George Georgiou is one of the UK’s most experienced marketing directors, with over 20 years in the business. Following roles at Gremlin and Global Interactive Gaming (plus a brief stint for Wembley), he joined Vivendi in 2002 and would eventually lead the UK business as general manager. After the merger with Activision, Georgiou remained with the company on the Blizzard side, initially as director of marketing for the UK. He has overseen the launches of World of Warcraft and all of its expansions, and he played a pivotal role in the launch of Overwatch and all recent Blizzard IP.

Shaun Campbell, UK Country Manager, EA

Shaun Campbell has just enjoyed one of his best years at EA. He has seen the publisher score two massive hits with FIFA 17 and Battlefield 1, become one of the world’s most admired companies (according to Forbes), and also top Metacritic’s rankings for quality. Campbell joined EA Australia as a sales director in 2003. He had previously worked in fast moving consumer goods, and EA was starting to push into mass market retailers. “What attracted me was the pace of the industry; how business models were changing, how advances in technology meant we could do more both within the games and in marketing,” he says. “We’re also in the entertainment business, so it was about having fun.” Then over two years ago he joined EA UK as country manager. “The biggest thing I’ve had to come to terms with is the sheer size of the UK industry – we talk about FIFA in millions of units sold rather than hundreds of thousands,” he says. “The UK is also at the cutting edge of the changes we’re seeing in the industry around how we take our games to market, how we engage with the community and players, and how we work with partners.”

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“Given the development talent we have at Bethesda, the job has been a joy and a source of pride”

Sean Brennan,

European MD, Zenimax Former Virgin exec Sean Brennan has spent nearly 10 years with Bethesda, and during that time he has expanded its European business from just a handful of people to publishing offices in London, Paris, Eindhoven, Frankfurt, Sydney and Hong Kong. In addition, studios have been added in Lyon (Arkane Studios), Uppsala (Machine Games), and Frankfurt (id Software), and he has overseen deals throughout all territories where Bethesda does not have an office. “Given the development talent we have internally the job has been a joy and a source of pride,” he says. “We have grown rapidly for sure, but not at the expense of cutting corners.” Brennan has worked on the launches of Doom, Dishonored, Skyrim and more, and he’s been most inspired by the works of Bethesda Games Studios and its Fallout and Elder Scrolls releases. “From the perspective of creativity and deliverability, my biggest inspiration has been Todd Howard at BGS. And philosophically it’s Aneurin Bevan: ‘We know what happens to people who stay in the middle of the road. They get run down’.”

Stuart Dinsey, Chairman, Curve

Stuart Dinsey joined the games industry in 1986 after deferring a place at Leicester University to see if he could make it in the media. He took a research job at ad agency McCann-Erickson and spent his evenings making his own newspapers and writing gig reviews. “A trainee journalist job popped up at something called Computer Trade Weekly,” he says. “I was interviewed by its 24 year-old editor Greg Ingham and deputy Simon Harvey. I dived into the blossoming British games industry and was editor by 21. I never made it to uni.” Dinsey left CTW in 1998 to form MCV and Intent Media. Over the course of the next 15 years, he launched numerous trade titles (including Develop), bought some others (including Music Week), and built a company with a £10m turnover. In 2012 he sold Intent Media, but remained in the games industry as a UKIE board member and chairman of publisher Curve. “Coming out of Intent Media was emotionally challenging,” Dinsey says. “It had been my life for so long. Software publishing is very different, not least because of its unpredictability, and digital publishing means a daily focus on the retail platforms and discovery. But Curve is a cracking company, and I enjoy working with Jason Perkins, Simon Byron and the rest of the team. Being on the UKIE board also gives me an insight into the wider business, similar to the old days on MCV and Develop.”

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“Each console lifecycle is different and with each Xbox launch we’ve had to overcome challenges, which makes success all the more rewarding”

Harvey Eagle,

UK Marketing Director, Xbox Harvey Eagle was a music industry talent scout before making the switch to video games in 1999. “Much as I loved the music business, my time as an A&R man was coming to an end and the music industry was in crisis,” he says. “I’m a big believer that you should choose your work around something you are passionate about. As a teenager I’d spent many hours on my beloved Atari. I also believed that the games business would be fun and was poised for rapid growth. It didn’t disappoint.” Following a stint at Hasbro, he discovered that Microsoft was making a console. He contacted Xbox’s European boss Sandy Duncan directly in 2000 and has helped launch every Xbox device. “Each console lifecycle is different and with each Xbox launch we’ve had to overcome challenges, which makes success all the more rewarding,” he says. “The Xbox brand is part of my DNA. That first Halo game will always have a special place in my heart.” Eagle has been leading the UK marketing team for the past four years.

Warwick Light,

UK Managing Director, PlayStation Warwick Light is one of those Sony executives that have been with PlayStation since the very beginning. He worked in the New Zealand arm of Sony Pictures when it was sub-distributing Sega games. He loved games and ran that department, so when PlayStation got started he naturally made the transition. Beginning in sales, he would eventually take control of numerous PlayStation offices and territories globally, and in 2015 he moved to lead the UK. “The UK is pacey and exciting,” he says. “It’s a diverse country with very dynamic manufacturer, publisher and retail platforms; you have to be really on your game.” Light has a reputation for his close relationships with third parties, and he says his proudest achievement was working with one unnamed company to restructure its business. “We turned million dollar losses into million dollar profit within a year,” he explains. “We made some really tough decisions but they all paid off as staff became more accountable, motivated and happier than ever before.”

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Giselle Stewart,

Director, UK Corporate Affairs, Ubisoft Giselle Stewart “happily fell into games” after completing an MBA, and her experience managing various teams helped her secure an influential position at Ubisoft. Based in Newcastle at the firm’s Reflections studio, Stewart not only pushes for greater quality in Ubisoft’s games but also strong digital skills on local, regional and national levels. She works tirelessly to establish Ubisoft as the government’s ‘go to’ source for advice on policies that could improve the skillset of the UK talent pool – and her efforts even attracted the attention of Buckingham Palace. “I was honoured to be awarded an OBE for services to the industry for promoting skills, and more than a little humbled at the achievements of others who got awards at the same time,” she says. “The industry must step further into the education space to inspire young people. There are plenty of industry professionals who have stories to tell and advice to give, so making them accessible to teachers and young people would be a great start. Or we should set up code clubs – the more kids that programme at school, the better.”

Jim Ryan,

Head of Global Sales and Marketing, PlayStation Jim Ryan joined the industry “many moons ago”, or 1994 to be precise, and has been a devoted employee of PlayStation. He has steadily risen through the ranks at the console giant, and now leads sales and marketing globally. “It’s a really interesting challenge – trying to strike the right balance between building on PlayStation’s regional strengths right around the world, while at the same time looking to grow the business in a more efficient, coordinated and global manner.” He’s also now a public face for the business as the head of PlayStation Europe, which he says he enjoys, although he misses spending time on the show floor at events like E3. Ryan has been at the company through the rise of PS1 and the dominance of PS2, but it was 2013’s launch of PS4 that ranks as his favourite moment in the business so far. “They’re all good, although 2013 was especially nice as PS4 represented a very welcome return to form for PlayStation, and one that is continuing in leaps and bounds.”

Murray Pannell,

VP of Publishing, 2K Games Murray Pannell is an advertising veteran, who made the switch to games in 1999 and has never looked back. “After five years working in advertising I suddenly realised I knew more about the games industry than I did about anything else,” he says. “So I thought I’d try and turn my hobby into a full-time job. I was lucky that video games were becoming part of mainstream entertainment at exactly that time.” Pannell’s most high profile roles included senior marketing positions at Electronic Arts, Microsoft, Ubisoft and Sony, and he counts his biggest achievements as working on the launches of both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 4. “Despite the fact that Grand Theft Auto and FIFA have always been top of the charts, nothing ever remains the same,” he says. “New games, new formats, new companies, new technologies, new business models, new media, new consumers. There’s always something exciting to learn just around the corner.” Pannell is now VP of publishing for 2K Games in Europe and offers this advice for anyone that wants to get into games publishing: “Remember who your consumers are. They are more than likely not you.”

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Agostino Simonetta,

ID@Xbox Regional Lead, Microsoft Having played games from a young age, you would think a career in the industry would automatically appeal to Agostino Simonetta, but the indie champion tells us he had something different in mind before he was swayed by “positive peer pressure.” “My plan was to become a philosophy teacher,” he says. “Immediately after school, I became friends with Marc D’Souza – now executive producer at Unit 9 in London – and Christian Cantamessa – lead designer of the first Red Dead Redemption. I joined them in a quest to turn our common passion for games into a successful career. Nearly 20 years have now passed and I am glad I decided to change my plans.” After holding producer roles at THQ , Sega and Climax, Simonetta has spent the past 10 years working with the independent development community, first at PlayStation and more recently managing Microsoft’s ID@Xbox programme in Europe. “I am strongly convinced that this is the best time ever to be an independent developer,” he says. “Digital distribution, openness of the platforms and easy to use development tools have removed, or at least dramatically lowered, the barriers to entry.”

Rob Cooper,

MD Northern Europe, Ubisoft “I started in games in 1990 at San Serif in Ipswich,” begins Rob Cooper. “It held the rights to Trivial Pursuit and it is there I met [Nintendo UK boss] Mike Hayes and Margaret Pearson.” That led Cooper to a career first at Bandai and then to Nintendo. He also had stints at Codemasters and THQ before joining Ubisoft’s UK team - where he’s remained for 17 years. “[Ubisoft CEO] Yves Guillemot is such an inspirational man, and has created a company of passion, loyalty and amazing drive. To be part of this has been wonderful,” he says. “Individually my proudest moment is selling the first 5,000 Game Boys in the UK market to Dixons in September 1990, and creating success with great brands, in particular Just Dance and Assassins Creed.” He continues: “It is easy to forget how fortunate we all are to be part of this industry. Sometimes I do think, ‘How did this happen to me?’ My goal is to help young people get experience either at a Ubisoft studio or commercial office.”

Spencer Crossley,

UK Sales and Marketing Director, Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment Spencer Crossley knew little about games when he applied for a marketing role he spotted in his local newspaper. When he arrived at the new job, he was intrigued by these people that turned up to the office at 3:30pm every day. “It transpired that they were key programmers and artists and went on to develop some of the greatest games ever,” he says. “The company was Mindscape International and the owner, the godfather of the industry, Geoff Heath decided he would take a punt on me.” Indeed, his 25-year career has seen him work with some legends. “Geoff, Jim Mackonochie, Chris Deering, David Reeves, Tim Christian and Dominic Wheatley, to name just a few. All larger than life characters, all totally different in their style and personality, but all possessing incredible business acumen.” Today, Crossley works on Warner Bros’ games and has been instrumental in establishing it as a major UK publisher. He loves the games business and encourages others to get involved. “It’s a wonderful, eclectic industry full of the brightest commercial minds and some of the most astonishing creative talent.”

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Colin Macdonald,

Games Commissioner, Channel 4 The man who now leads the games arm of Channel 4 - which has worked on titles based on The Snowman and Made In Chelsea - began his career with a SAM Coupé computer. The machine had no software, so Macdonald programmed a simple disc-based magazine that he sold at shows. This allowed him to meet games programmers, and so he started publishing those. Macdonald’s career highlights range from his time working alongside Lemmings and GTA creator Dave Jones - “his creativity constantly amazed me” - to his team winning an Emmy with Reverse The Odds, a game built to raise awareness for Stand Up To Cancer. “I had no idea a game could even win an Emmy,” he says. “It’s one of my few accomplishments that my relatives can relate to.” Now he wants to bridge the worlds of video games and TV, so that both industries can learn from one another. “At the moment, each side generally looks down on the other with ignorant nonsense like ‘games are just for kids’ or ‘TV is dead’,” he says. “TV companies could learn a lot about understanding user behaviours and adapting to new technologies, while games still have a lot to learn about character, narrative and drama. There are some amazing narrative games coming through, but they’re still too few and far between.”

“The lure of working for Ocean Software was too good an opportunity to turn down. It was the best decision I have ever made”

Michael Pattison,

VP Third Party Publisher and Developer Relations, PlayStation Europe

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“My first foray in the games industry was answering an ad in the Manchester Evening News,” begins PlayStation’s Michael Pattison. “Moments before I was about to accept a job on a Graduate Management training scheme with a blue chip company.” “The lure of working for Ocean Software was too good an opportunity to turn down. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.” Pattison was an influential marketer who spent almost seven years at THQ and then the same length of time at Capcom. In the latter role he led the marketing teams for the US and Europe, and acted as one of the public faces for the company in the West. That was before changing direction in 2013 and joining Sony, with a remit of strengthening ties between PlayStation and third party businesses. “The opportunity to see things from the other side has hopefully led to a wider and better understanding of the business, but also enables me to better support our third parties and their content,” Pattison says. Pattison counts his first boss Simon Alty, his former THQ manager Ian Curran and ex-Capcom Europe boss David Reeves as the people who have most influenced his career.

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Sarah Seaby,

European Marketing & PR Director, Bethesda Daley Thompson’s Decathlon is the game that brought Sarah Seaby into the video games industry. Her constant efforts to defeat her brother at the game - who used to suggest that girls didn’t work in the games industry - helped her develop a love for the medium. And so when she spotted a job ad for Interplay in industry trade title CTW, she applied. During her career, she survived the drinking culture of Virgin Interactive, launched major franchises such as Baldur’s Gate, GTA III, Fallout 4 and Mario & Sonic At The Olympic Games, and even oversaw the first ever Skyrim concert in 2016. She’s also overcome redundancy twice - first at Take-Two and then at Gamecock - to establish herself as a crucial leader within Bethesda. “I’m lucky to have worked on some of the best brands and games and with some of the best people who have become great friends,” she tells us.“I’m really excited about how the industry is moving in new directions, with the recent launch of VR and a new console from Nintendo. It creates both challenges and opportunities, especially coming out of a very interesting and different Q4. There’s the challenge of adapting to changing consumer behaviour and trends, but there’s also the opportunity to personally learn more as the industry evolves.” Seaby is also an active member within the industry community, supporting the wider business and was once the chairperson of UK charity GamesAid.

“I am really excited about how the industry is moving in new directions, with the recent launch of virtual reality and a new console from Nintendo”

Margaret Pearson,

Commercial Director, CentreSoft Margaret Pearson is one of the most influential people working within UK games retail and an industry veteran in every sense of the word. She began her career in this industry 30 years ago working for Nintendo. She then moved to Philips Media, and when that company was bought by LeisureSoft, Pearson found herself in the world of video games distribution. In 1999 she joined CentreSoft and has since helped launch three PlayStation consoles, secured the contracts for some of the biggest names in games, worked on the launches of numerous AAA projects such as FIFA and Call of Duty, and picked up countless awards for her and her team’s work.

Roy Stackhouse,

VP UK and Iberia, Activision After building a strong reputation in sales roles at Gillette, Roy Stackhouse stepped into the video games industry at Activision in 2006. After working his way up through various sales positions to commercial director, he went on to lead the UK business and now looks after Spain and Portugal, too. During those ten years, Stackhouse has helped grow Call of Duty and Guitar Hero, as well as establishing other leading IP such as Destiny and Skylanders. His role involves territory strategy and direction for the markets he manages, and he also has direct input into the wider EU and international strategy. He also represents the games industry as an active member of the UKIE board.

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Industry Advocates, Investors and Supporters Dr Jo Twist OBE, CEO, UKIE

Dr Jo Twist was a tech journalist before working on games projects for both Channel 4 and the BBC. Then in 2012 she became CEO of UKIE (the Association for UK Interactive Entertainment), transforming the trade body, and playing an instrumental role in delivering tax breaks, new education initiatives, and improving the business’ relationship with government. Twist is a London Tech Ambassador, a VP of SpecialEffect and is on various boards and advisory groups - including the BAFTA Games Committee. She’s also been awarded an OBE for her efforts supporting the creative industry. “The best thing about this business is without doubt the wonderful, generous, creative, inspiring people you encounter,” she says. “We are in the business of creating the future and the present and that is so exciting to be around.” Of course, working for an organisation that’s about improving the environment for UK video games companies means that Twist has a long list of objectives left to achieve. “We should benefit from similar cultural funding and support as other screen and arts-based sectors,” she says. “Games have a critical soft power and educational role to play, which should be recognised. We will also focus our efforts on making sure this sector is fed by the most diverse and skilled workforce in the world, from around the globe as well as from across the UK.”

Dr Mick Donegan Founder, SpecialEffect

In 2008, Dr Mick Donegan founded SpecialEffect, which uses specialised technology to enhance access to video games for people with disabilities. “Starting the charity was a massive risk,” he says. “While many charities have a broad appeal to a wide range of potential donors, there are a lot of people who don’t understand how life-transforming it can be for people with disabilities to play games. I therefore started the charity knowing that if the games industry and gamers didn’t get behind it, then it was unlikely that we would survive, let alone thrive. The way that they’ve taken our cause to their hearts has been hugely positive, heart-warming and humbling.” Donegan now hopes to influence developers in making games more accessible. “If I’m able to achieve a stable financial future for the charity, then I’ll also be able to continue to pursue my other burning ambition, which is to utilise our ever-growing expertise to help severely disabled people right across the world through online information and resources, plus collaboration with developers to make their products as accessible to as many disabled people as possible,” he says.

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“I knew that if the games industry and gamers didn’t get behind SpecialEffect, then it was unlikely to survive”

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Chris Lee, Investor

Chris Lee’s impact on the games industry cannot be underestimated. He co-founded Media Molecule, FreeStyleGames, Delinquent and Playhubs. He has also invested and advised the likes of Future Games of London, Hutch, Space Ape, Gumbug, Hello Games and many more. Fascinated with art and engineering, Lee built flight simulators and oil rig training apps whilst at university, before joining technology firm MultiGen - which had created GameGen and was part of the ‘Dream Team’ of tech suppliers for N64. As the man handling sales and support in Europe (on his own), he worked with Rare, DMA Design and Software Creations. “After that, I joined David Lau-Kee at Criterion to help run RenderWare. That meant spending time with Midway, Rockstar, Activision, THQ , Rage, Eidos, Konami and Sega,” he says. “Working with these exceptional teams gave me the itch to build my own studios.” And build them he did. “Taking on the big boys with a new independent team is always fun,” he says. “There’s nothing more life affirming than working with a small group that’s determined to change the world. In console, Media Molecule and Hello Games did this. Hutch, Playdiation, Gumbug, Space Ape and Armada are destined to do the same on mobile.”

Andy Payne,

Founder, AppyNation Andy Payne is known for his work through AppyNation, Mastertronic, UKIE, GamesAid and more. He has been in the industry for over 30 years, with his influence stretching from digital markets to studios and even eSports. Prior to his life in games, Payne worked in book publishing and ended up on an educational software label “because I was ‘the lad who was interested in computers’.” He then joined the games industry fully, working on hit titles such as The Way of the Exploding Fist in 1986. Never afraid to share advice, Payne says there are three key things to remember when seeking a games industry career. “First up, make sure you can show what you can do or what you have done – and at a moment’s notice,” he says. “Second, network like crazy. Get along to as many industry events as you can and make friends. “Finally, be informed. Read the industry news sites and get to understand how the industry works and where you think you can fit in. Be persistent and be available. Opportunities come to those who search for them.”

“I have a deep interest in politics and business and I also enjoy strategy games. TIGA combines all three interests”

Richard Wilson, CEO, TIGA

Dr Richard Wilson seems to have his perfect job. “I have a deep interest in politics and business,” he says. “I also enjoy strategy games. TIGA combines all three interests. I run political campaigns and engage with policy makers. I manage an awardwinning business. And I engage with studios – including developers of strategy games.” Wilson has been with TIGA for nine years. He has represented the development sector within the media, and also has campaigned for more Government support. He’s most proud for his involvement in securing tax breaks for UK studios. “The campaign lasted seven years, during which time we successfully convinced four political parties, three different governments and the EU Commission to agree to the tax breaks,” he says. Having accomplished this, Wilson urges the industry to keep pushing for an enhanced version of the tax relief, a new games investment fund and the creation of a British Games Institute.

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Michael French, Head of Games, Games London

Michael French is a games media and events veteran, whose career has included leading B2B publications MCV and Develop and resurrecting the London Games Festival last year. “I co-wrote a games fanzine with a friend in the early noughties, which got a small audience, some coverage about us in Edge, and then I was spotted by MCV’s editor,” French recalls. Beginning as a staff writer, French would eventually become publisher of Intent Media’s games department, building teams and launching multiple events. So he was a natural fit for tackling the new LGF. “The principles to running an industry publication are the same as this you meet people, you react to their needs, you try and amplify the good stuff and make connections where some were lacking.” As for the future, French says he tries not to plan too far ahead. “I’m rolling with what happens,” he says. “So much changes so quickly in this industry, you¹d be crazy to think otherwise.”

David Gardner,

General Partner, London Venture Partners Recently named VP of BAFTA Games, David Gardner is a video games veteran, having served as CEO of Atari and COO of EA Studios - not bad for someone who started his career in customer service. “I was 17 and [EA founder] Trip Hawkins offered to pay me money to play computer games,” he says. “I’ve never stopped.” His 25-year stint at EA saw Gardner drive the firm’s expansion until it passed $1bn in revenues across 14 countries. He was part of the team that introduced FIFA to the world, and under his remit EA was voted the ninth best place to work in the UK in 2003. Gardner is particularly proud of his most recent work at London Venture Partners, where he has invested in the likes of Supercell, NaturalMotion, and a number of rising UK studios. “The UK had an early start in global gaming with the local ecosystem around the Sinclair Spectrum and Amstrad CPC,” he says. “Everyone in the industry back then was an entrepreneur. That has obviously grown to attract global players that have set up European headquarters here.”

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Lynne Kilpatrick, Assistant Director, DCMS

A member of the Deparment for Culture, Media and Sport, Lynne Kilpatrick is a crucial champion of the games industry in government, and continues to push for support from those in power. Her work was instrumental in getting the UK Government to formulate a plan for games tax relief. She has also been awarded an OBE, receiving the honour for services to the video games industry. “The creative industries are one of the UK’s greatest success stories, and I love how video games are a blend of technology and art, and combine the digital and creative worlds,” she says. “Having worked closely with the sector over many years now, I consider myself very lucky to have had the opportunity to meet so many talented and dynamic individuals and world-leading businesses.”

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“I invest in studios, give them the benefit of my experience, and hopefully make a difference”

Ian Livingstone One of the fathers of the industry, Ian Livingstone’s achievements are numerous. He designed Domark’s first game Eureka, oversaw the emergence of Eidos and Lara Croft and transformed the school curriculum to include computer science. He is a patron for GamesAid, a VP at SpecialEffect and the vice chair of UKIE. He’s won countless awards, too, including a BAFTA, various honorary doctorates, an OBE, a CBE and a lot more. Outside of video games, he co-founded Games Workshop in 1975 and is the co-author of the Fighting Fantasy series (which have sold 18m books). Livingstone is now regularly chairing, investing in and advising UK studios - such as Bossa, The Secret Police, Midoki, Flavourworks, Playdemic and Sumo. “I invest in studios, give them the benefit of my experience, and hopefully make a difference,” he says. “I usually take a non-exec Chairman role, but I also enjoy getting involved in the game designs.” He still plays an active role encouraging the government in supporting games initiatives. “I speak from the heart when making the case to government,” he says. “It’s been a collective effort and it hasn’t been easy. We’ve had some wins with Tax Relief, but more needs to be done. That is one of the reasons why we are calling for a British Games Institute. The industry would benefit from having its own government agency to fund development.” Livingstone is writing a new Fighting Fantasy book and is opening free schools under the Livingstone Academy name. He’d also like to make a video game based on his City of Thieves book, a movie based on his Deathtrap Dungeon book (a script exists) and design more board games. “Geek admission – I have over 1,000 board games in my collection,” he says.

Marie-Claire Isaaman, CEO, Women In Games

While working as an artist, Marie-Claire Isaaman developed an interest in games after watching her son play Nintendo titles. An artist’s residency in Tokyo increased her fascination with the medium, and when she returned to the UK she took over the games art and design degree course at her university. “I was really proud when a team I closely mentored won Dare To Be Digital, then went on to win a BAFTA,” she says of her proudest moment. Isaaman was the first academic to be inducted into the European Women In Games Hall of Fame and later became CEO, helping the organisation to improve diversity in the video games industry. “One area that needs particular support is the educational pipeline that serves the games sector,” says Isaaman. “At school, girls often aren’t sufficiently encouraged to follow careers in games or technology – many aren’t even aware this is a viable career path. At college and university level, many courses are extremely male dominated and the curricula can reflect that. Consequently, girls can find it difficult to express themselves.”

Hasan Bakhshi, Senior Director, Nesta

Originally specialising in economic research, Hasan Bakhshi decided to combine this with his passion for games and films by joining Nesta. He has since become a major proponent of the creative economy through data-driven policy recommendations to government, including his involvement in the Next Gen Skills Review. “Collecting data and undertaking research to influence government policy can be frustrating, as the links between evidence and what governments do are far from obvious,” he says. “So Next Gen, where Ian Livingstone, Alex Hope, Juan Mateos-Garcia and I turned around Department for Education policy on computer science in schools through the force of argument, was a rewarding experience.” Most recently, Bakhshi was instrumental in the creation of the UK Games Map, a website that charts all of the nation’s games firms. “That has revealed that video games buck the trend of most creative industries in having a strong regional presence across the UK, not just in the south of England,” he says.

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Shahneila Saeed,

Programme Director, Digital Schoolhouse Shahneila Saeed hadn’t planned on working in games. She trained to be a computer teacher and entered the profession as soon as she left university. However, her experiments with new techniques that use games to engage with children soon set her on the path to becoming Head of Education at UKIE and director of the trade body’s Digital Schoolhouse programme. “I never imagined leaving teaching, but when an opportunity to lead an initiative like this comes along, you simply don’t say no,” she says. Celebrating its one year anniversary this September, Digital Schoolhouse is a programme that changes the way computing is taught in education, and it encourages schools to use play-based learning to get more from their students. Saeed was instrumental in bringing this concept to life, as well as securing support from PlayStation. “Schools want to, and need to, work with the industry,” she says. “Video games aren’t just a beautiful fusion of STEAM subjects [Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics] – they are the hook that automatically engages students with their learning.”

“Video games are the hook that automatically engages students with their learning”

Cumron Ashtiani, CEO, Atomhawk

As CEO of Atomhawk, Cumron Ashtiani has set the standard for art outsourcing in the games industry, growing the firm from a four-person start-up to a team of 25. Together they have helped define the vision of hit games such as Mortal Kombat X, Dead Island, Kinect Sports and several blockbuster movies. Ashtiani began his career as an artist in 1997. His love of games made a career in the industry inevitable, and the rise of 3D graphics added further motivation. He would go on to hold senior art roles at Gremlin, Kuju and Midway, before setting up Atomhawk in 2009. “I was first blown away by the original Tomb Raider that was one of the first games that felt truly immersive to me,” he says. “It had great art for the era. As games have matured and the art side has become increasingly high fidelity, I looked to film for inspiration and I was thrilled to get to work with Marvel on a number of its movies over the past five years.”

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Jamie Sefton, MD, Game Republic

A career in games was not originally the plan for former PC Zone editor Jamie Sefton. After struggling to make it as an actor, he stepped into the industry on Future’s Arcade magazine in 1999. “During my second week I went on a hilarious press trip to the Munich beer festival and knew I’d found the industry that I wanted to be in for the rest of my life,” he says. Sefton is now MD of Game Republic, a network designed to support games companies in Yorkshire and Northern England. The organisation now boasts more than 60 developer, affiliate and university members In 2011, it lost its public funding, but the industry backed Sefton to run the business privately. “I’m so grateful to Revolution, Sumo, Team17, Insight, Red Kite, Autodesk and all the developers and universities for that,” he says. “It’s vital for our industry – now more than ever – to ensure that video games communities, networks and hubs in areas across the whole of the UK are given support by central and local government to rebalance the economy. I love London, but it’s extremely expensive - digital distribution means you can now make and release games anywhere.”

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Gina Jackson,

Head of Games, Imaginarium Studios Since 1992, Gina Jackson has worked at a number of developers and publishers, including Infogrames, Kuju, Eidos and now with Andy Serkis’ Imaginarium Studios. And yet, the way she tells it, this industry figurehead “fell into games”. “I was at the end of a masters in graphics computer programming,” she says. “I went to an interview not knowing much about the company. They turned out to be a games firm and after six months I was producing my first games on the SNES and Mega Drive.” Moving from development into publishing led her to Kuju, where she signed Battalion Wars with Nintendo. “The Japanese team came over to give us direct feedback from Miyamoto,” Jackson says. “It was a true fangirl moment. I started off developing SNES games, so he and his games were always an inspiration.” Jackson has also spent a year as CEO of Women In Games Jobs, plus two as MD of the Next Gen Skills Academy, all the while pushing to make the industry more diverse.

“When I was growing up I helped my brother make games – only I was always much better at arguing than I was at coding, and so I made a career out of that instead”

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Alex Chapman, Partner, Sheridans

Alex Chapman once dreamed of working in video games development, but he decided he was better suited to the legal side, and is now one of the industry’s leading lawyers. “When I was growing up I helped my brother make games – only I was always much better at arguing than I was at coding, and so I made a career out of that instead. Chapman’s work has included helping some of the UK’s biggest brands and studios. “What pleases me most is when I help the little guys take on - or even become - the big guys. Like helping Mojang with pretty much everything to to do with Minecraft from the start through to the sale and beyond,” he says. “Or helping Sports Interactive become independent from Eidos and creating Football Manager. Or taking Creative Assembly from a porting house to the owners of the Total War franchise, and aiding Hello Games’ tiny team in producing something as huge as No Man’s Sky. These aren’t really my achievements but those of my clients.”

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Media and PR Keza MacDonald, Editor, Kotaku UK

Eurogamer, VG247, IGN, The Guardian and now Kotaku, Keza MacDonald’s journalism has touched many of the biggest games media brands. Yet despite the career in online media, it was print that inspired her to get involved. “I had parents who were suspicious of games, but I read voraciously as a kid, so magazines were my window into this awesome, wide world,” she says. MacDonald says launching Kotaku UK is her proudest achievement, and she’s constantly having to adapt to the market. “First there was the shift from print to online, from paid to ad-supported, and now we’re shifting away from an ad-supported words model and spreading out into all sorts of areas such as video, patronage, subscriptions,” she says. “The games media was so narrow when I started. It encompasses so much more than just writers now.” She continues: “I’d love to find a way to make great games journalism pay better. As ad revenue declines, so does the quality of what we read and watch. I want to fix it.” Her advice for budding writers is to learn journalism skills. “Learn interviewing, information gathering, putting together an argument. We get ten pitches for opinion-based or personal stories for every one explanatory or investigative pitch. It’s supply and demand: make yourself useful, be competent, and the work will come.”

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“We’re a smart, successful and talented lot, it’s easy to forget that, and I feel it’s a responsibility for me to use my smarts and communication skills to help those who haven’t had the same breaks”

Catherine Channon,

Director of International Communications, Warner Bros Catherine Channon is one of the games industry’s most prolific fundraisers, and someone who has swam, sung and run to raise money for GamesAid. “Each of us in the industry is in an incredibly fortunate position,” she says. “As a general rule we’re a smart, successful and talented lot, it’s easy to forget that, and I feel it’s a responsibility for me to use my smarts and communication skills to help those who haven’t necessarily had the same breaks. Some truly difficult and tragic circumstances have befallen some of my PR peers over the years and it’s a stark reminder that we’re all just a moment away from a change in fortune and needing some extra support ourselves.” In terms of career, Channon is one of the industry’s top PR experts, who like many on this list - began in retail. “At 18 I took a Saturday job in my local independent in Bath and could never have foreseen where it would lead,” She says. “The shop opened numerous doors and gave me a sales driven focus that remains at the heart of what I do now. While working in the store I was approached by Sky TV to be a videator on Sky’s GamesWorld. I also befriended just about everyone at Future Publishing, which would later lead to a career in journalism and onto PR.”

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Caroline Miller, Owner, Indigo Pearl

Caroline Miller is one of the most highly regarded PRs in the industry, although she describes her journey as one of “luck not design.” After travelling, she came to London looking for work in the middle of a recession. Fortunately, then friend-of-a-friend Rosemarie Dalton mentioned there was a PA job available at Virgin Games, which Miller secured. Today, Miller is the owner of 20 year-old PR agency Indigo Pearl, and has supported pretty much every major games business either directly as a partner or indirectly over a pint. “The thing I’m most proud of is running Indigo Pearl whilst being a mum,” she says. “It’s only as your kids get a bit older and things get easier that you look back and think how the hell did I do that?” She has also worked actively with GamesAid, which is how she met the inspirational charity workers Lyn Prodger (Action for Kids) and Mick Donegan (SpecialEffect). “My god, these people are the best of us,” she says. “I’d really recommend spending time with them to leave you feeling good about the human race.”

Mark Turpin, CEO, Yogscast

Mark Turpin started off podcasting about Blizzard and formed a friendship with Blizzard PR manager Jonnie Bryant and Activision’s Keith Cox. The pair invited him to events and he often helped out, attracting the attention of Indigo Pearl. He joined the PR agency to handle the launch of Trion World’s Rift. “I then met Simon and Lewis of The Yogscast, who I invited to press events,” he says. “At the time few PRs were recognising YouTube influencers. We became better friends and saw an opportunity to make an impact by growing out a new breed of entertainers. This saw me leaving Indigo and becoming Yogscast’s business development manager, and then CEO.” With Turpin’s support, Yogscast has become the first UK channel to hit one billion views. It now operates a YouTube network, produces first-party channels for publishers and every Christmas it runs a huge charity campaign. “I’d say the $6m raised for charity is the proudest achievement that I’ve been a part of,” he says. “We spend our busiest month and work double hours to raise money for fantastic causes.”

Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg, YouTuber

Some find his humour controversial but Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg, or PewDiePie, is one of the most influential people in games today. Born in Sweden and now living in Brighton, Kjellberg has an astonishing 53.8m subscribers. He describes himself as an entertainer first rather than a games media personality. His coverage has even made an impact upon the charts. In 2014, the popularity of his Skate 3 videos saw customers swarm to UK retailer GAME to buy it, forcing the firm to re-stock the title.

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Keith Stuart,

Games Editor, The Guardian

Photo Credit: Ashley Bird

In recent months, veteran games journalist Keith Stuart has found himself in the limelight for his debut novel A Boy Made of Blocks - which tells the story of a father and his autistic son connecting over Minecraft. “It was exhausting and stressful, but it’s been an amazing experience,” Stuart says. “Getting emails from people telling me that it meant a lot to them is incredible. It’s also given me a whole new appreciation for people who create things and then put those things out in the world for others to experience and review.” Stuart has spent more than two decades in games journalism, beginning on Edge, which he says was the only magazine pretentious enough to let him discuss how the theories of writing, theatre and cinema could be applied to video games. He’s most proud of his current job as one of the few games editors at a major mainstream publication: The Guardian. And despite his success as an author, he still has big journalistic ambitions. “I want to interrogate the industry and its assumptions more,” he says. “I want to employ writers from a more diverse pool. I’d like middle-aged white guys like me to be in a minority for once.”

James Binns, CEO, Network N

“I wanted to work in games media since I was 10,” begins James Binns. “I first met the Future crew at a party in Oxford. They said I looked like one of them. My first job was on Total - a SNES mag back in 1993.” Binns spent 18 years at Future, working on major brands such as CVG, PC Gamer and Edge, before taking the brave decision to go it alone. “The choice to start Network N was not brave,” he disagrees. “I stayed in games media and Bath. I had a strong co-founder in Tim Edwards, who had a decade on PC Gamer. The big unknown was trying to build a company culture and new products. That was insanely hard. I learned that you can trust your friends and that nobody can do everything and do it well.” Network N and its 25-strong team remain Binns’ proudest achievement, but he’s not done. “We’ll develop our existing staff and double the team size. That’ll get PCGamesN to 10m uniques and our ad network to a billion impressions a month. We can do all that and still stay independent.”

Christopher Mead,

EMEA Director of Partnerships, Twitch

In association with

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Christopher Mead began his career as a pro-gamer on Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare between 2006 and 2010. That led to him joining Twitch in Europe, and he’s since become an internet celebrity as the face of the MingLee emote – which is used more than 70 times per minute on the Twitch platform. “I’ve been lucky enough to have been blessed with a plethora of role models at Twitch, including Stuart Saw, John Howell and Kevin Lin,” says Mead. “I also played competitively under Michael O’Dell at Team Dignitas and his persistence, desire and pragmatism has been an inspiration to myself.” Mead’s success also extends to his livestreams, and he’s happy to help those longing to carve out their own niche online. “Don’t forget that you’re likely building a community of viewers – and be sure to keep to a schedule,” he says. “Make use of all the platform tools at your disposal.”

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20/03/2017 15:19 Magazine Issue 1  

The 100 most influential games people in Britain + interviews with Xbox, Ubisoft & more Magazine Issue 1  

The 100 most influential games people in Britain + interviews with Xbox, Ubisoft & more