MCV ISSUE 936 THE BUSINESS OF VIDEO GAMES JUNE 2018
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MATT BOOTY NEW BOSS OF MICROSOFT STUDIOS ON XBOXâ€™S FIRST-PARTY STRATEGY
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05 The editor
A show for all – big or small
06 Critical path
The key dates this month
14 Matt Booty
Microsoft’s first-party strategy unveiled
20 E3 preview
Top titles, trends and tacos
26 Ins and outs
And all our recruitment advice
38 Jade Raymond
Her path to the Vanguard Award
42 Eidos Montreal
David Anfossi’s five-year plan
46 Triple-A fatigue
Are devs tired of big budget games?
50 Euro vision
Pan-European sales data is coming
Dontnod discusses its vamp-’em-up
58 Red Kite Games
From work-to-hire to Hollowpoint
62 Merge Games
Tackling the challenges of boxed games
66 Cinema advertising
The power of the darkened room
70 Dr Who Infinity
Bringing TV-style production to games
84 State of Decay 2
Undead and loving it
88 When we made...
What Remains of Edith Finch
92 Brand flakes
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Paradox goes back to the drawing board
96 Mechanically sound
Another bug hunt with Alien Isolation
98 The final boss
Team17’s Debbie Bestwick
“It’s a much-needed opportunity to get together and talk about turning those passion projects into something that will also pay the mortgage.”
TheEditor A show for all – big or small E3 is a very big event where very big companies show very big games on very big screens to very big audiences – both in LA and around the world. It’s the quintessential example of an industry flexing its muscles and that’s just great. Our entertainment industry needs such tentpole events, to remind those who aren’t plugged into gaming 24/7 that the industry continues to grow, adapt and offer new things. Oh, and by new things I don’t just mean you should release a battle royale mode for your game. Practically all those very big games need very big teams to create them, though. And with development staff often running into the many hundreds, managing them is quite the task. Just ask this month’s star line-up of development heads. We’re really pleased to have Matt Booty, the new head of first-party development for Microsoft, Jade Raymond, boss of EA’s Motive Studios and David Anfossi, who leads Eidos Montreal, in this issue. They all understand that keeping their huge teams creatively involved is one of the keys to success. Even then, working on these goliath titles isn’t necessarily for everyone, with an increasing number of veterans of the triple-A product cycle peeling off to form their own bespoke studios. So this month we’re also looking at this phenomenon, talking to developers about their experience of triple-A and why they’re now creating their own, smaller studios to take back control of the creative process. And in our highly-distributed global industry, E3 works for these folks too. It’s another much-needed opportunity to get together and talk about turning those passion projects into something that will also pay the mortgage. Many of these attendees may not reach the show floor this year, but if their plans come to fruition they might be out of their hotel suites in a couple of years and taking pride of place on a publisher’s stand. However big your company, I hope you have a really great and productive E3. Seth Barton email@example.com
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June 5th Onrush
Onrush is the outcome of former Evolution Studios staff welcomed by Codemasters after the firm’s closure. This new arcade racing IP published by Deep Silver will initially launch on PS4 and Xbox One, with a PC version due to release at a later date.
Here are the key upcoming events and releases to mark in your calendar...
Vampyr Dontnod’s highly awaited vampire action-RPG is finally coming out in early June, published by Focus Home Interactive. It’s landing on PS4, Xbox One and PC. Read more about it on page 54
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
June 22nd Mario Tennis Aces Once again developed by Camelot Software Planning, Mario Tennis Aces releases on Switch at the end of the month. It introduces a brand new story mode to the classic 23-year-old Nintendo sports franchise for the first time.
MachineGames and Bethesda’s FPS is coming to Switch, having released last October on other platforms. Developer Panic Button is in charge of this port, which supports motion aiming using the Joy-Cons.
The Crew 2 Having been delayed from March to June, The Crew 2 promises “one of the most exhilarating open worlds ever created.” It’s been developed by Ivory Tower, like its predecessor, and is launching on PS4, Xbox One and PC.
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E3 2018 Press Conferences, UK Time Saturday, June 9th EA: 7pm (Hollywood Palladium)
Sunday, June 10th Microsoft: 9pm (Microsoft Theater) Bethesda: 2:30am (LA Live Event Deck)
Monday, June 11th Square Enix: 6pm (pre-recorded video showcase) Ubisoft: 9pm (Orpheum Theatre)
Jurassic World Evolution Frontier’s Jurassic World Evolution takes the theme park management genre to its ultimate location. It’s releasing digitally on all platforms on June 12th, with physical PS4 and Xbox One editions hitting shelves on July 3rd, courtesy of Sold Out. Read more about it on page 76
Sony: 2am (LA Center Studios)
Tuesday, June 12th Nintendo: 5pm (pre-recorded video showcase)
June 12th-14th E3 2018 Los Angeles Convention Center, California E3 takes place from June 12th to June 14th this year and, once again, we should expect exclusive announcements from the biggest names in the video games industry. This year will see a slight change in opening hours, with the show ﬂoor opening an hour earlier in the morning and closing an hour later at the end of the day. You can read everything you need to know about E3 in our guide on page 20, while our schedule of the biggest conferences can be found above
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CONTENT Editor: Seth Barton firstname.lastname@example.org, +44 (0)203 871 7388 Content Editor - Development: Jem Alexander email@example.com, +44 (0)203 871 7379
Content Editor - Business and Esports: Jake Tucker firstname.lastname@example.org, +44 (0)207 354 6009 Senior Staﬀ Writer: Marie Dealessandri email@example.com, +44 (0)203 889 4910 Contributor: Chris Wallace Content Director: James McKeown firstname.lastname@example.org, +44 (0)207 354 6015 Designer: Sam Richwood email@example.com Digital Director: Diane Oliver firstname.lastname@example.org, +44 (0)207 354 6019 Production Executive: James Marinos email@example.com, +44 (0)203 889 4907
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Labo’s build times have been challenging. I’m happy to spend hours tenderly folding and slotting cardboard together. My four-year old is not so patient and so is horribly torn between wanting a piano and not wanting to wait for a piano. It’s a life lesson.
There was not a lot of gaming in my life this month, as I was busy binge watching The Handmaid’s Tale and Wild Wild Country. Though I did build a RC car and a ﬁshing rod, which apparently is what playing video games looks like nowadays. Marie Dealessandri, Senior Staﬀ Writer
With several friends I’ve built and maintained a castle in a procedurally generated valley on an oﬃcial Rust server. At ﬁrst, we were peaceful to other players. Then we discovered rocket launchers. Now it’s our valley and you can’t visit. Video games. Yes, I remember those. After binging three Dark Souls games back to back I guess I needed a little break to unwind. God of War sits in my PS4 still, but I’m worried that every time I play it, it might... You know. End. Which is a terrifying thought.
Jake Tucker, Content Editor Business and Esports
Jem Alexander, Content Editor
Seth Barton, Editor
Paws the game The best furry friends the games industry has to oﬀer. Send in yours to email@example.com
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The Emerson Building, 4th Floor 4-8 Emerson Street. London, SE1 9DU All contents © 2018 Future Publishing Limited or published under licence. All rights reserved. No part of this magazine may be used, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any way without the prior written permission of the publisher. Future Publishing Limited (company number 2008885) is registered in England and Wales. Registered office: Quay House, The Ambury, Bath BA1 1UA. All information contained in this publication is for information only and is, as far as we are aware, correct at the time of going to press. Future cannot accept any responsibility for errors or inaccuracies in such information. You are advised to contact manufacturers and retailers directly with regard to the price of products/services referred to in this publication. Apps and websites mentioned in this publication are not under our control. We are not responsible for their contents or any other changes or updates to them. This magazine is fully independent and not affiliated in any way with the companies mentioned herein. If you submit material to us, you warrant that you own the material and/or have the necessary rights/permissions to supply the material and you automatically grant Future and its licensees a licence to publish your submission in whole or in part in any/all issues and/or editions of publications, in any format published worldwide and on associated websites, social media channels and associated products. Any material you submit is sent at your own risk and, although every care is taken, neither Future nor its employees, agents, subcontractors or licensees shall be liable for loss or damage. We assume all unsolicited material is for publication unless otherwise stated, and reserve the right to edit, amend, adapt all submissions.
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Alﬁe is Ripstone’s furriest employee and comes to work every day. Nearly. He probably has more game credits than you.
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Real life events from the industry The Women in Games Awards 2018 has been a huge success. Hosted at Facebook’s London oﬃces, we had more nominations than ever before, high-quality shortlists and some very deserving winners! Thank you so much to everyone who entered, attended or supported the event – and particularly to Dr Jo Twist OBE, CEO of Ukie, for hosting the festivities.
MEDIA & CATEGORY PARTNER
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THE WOMEN IN GAMES AWARDS 2018 WINNERS INFLUENCER OF THE YEAR (sponsored by Fourth Floor Creative) Hollie Bennett, Playstation Access channel manager, PlayStation UK RISING STAR OF THE YEAR – DEVELOPMENT (sponsored by Splash Damage) Vicky Potts, co-founder, Whitepot Studios JOURNALIST OF THE YEAR Jen Simpkins, deputy editor, Edge RISING STAR OF THE YEAR – BUSINESS Anita Wong, account manager, Indigo Pearl GAMES CAMPAIGNER OF THE YEAR Rosa Carbo-Mascarell, co-founder, Games For The Many ESPORTS WOMAN OF THE YEAR (sponsored by Riot Games) Caroline Oakes, business development, ESL UK CAREER MENTOR OF THE YEAR (sponsored by OPM) Deborah Mensah-Bonsu, community & content manager, Space Ape Games CREATIVE IMPACT Andria Warren, director of art production, Rare BUSINESSWOMAN OF THE YEAR (sponsored by Amiqus) Helen Burnill, commercial director, Mediatonic SUPPORTED BY
OUTSTANDING CONTRIBUTION (sponsored by Facebook) Jessica Curry, studio head and composer, The Chinese Room
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by Jake Tucker
EVO Hype For esports organisations, fighting games are a knockout proposition This month saw the introduction of grassroots tournaments across Europe and North America for Dissidia Final Fantasy NT as part of a partnership between ESL and Square Enix. The fighting game fared poorly at review, hamstrung by bad netcode which made it nearly impossible to enjoy the 3v3 brawler as the developers intended. The attention for a brawler was great to see though, as fighting games rarely get the attention they deserve. Despite the fact you rarely hear about fighting games making the headlines in the business world, they are a solid investment and one of the easiest games to market to a wider audience. “Fighting games have the potential to be the top tier esport, because they’re among the most instantly understandable,” says Andi Hamilton, a freelance journalist specialising in fighters. “You might not see why something was sick, but you can understand the basics quickly and if you see someone has a low health bar and they manage to pull off a win, the fact that was an exciting upset is easily communicated.” It’s fighting games that got me into esports, the infamous Evo Moment 37, when Daigo Umehara and Justin Wong clashed in a Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike semifinal match at EVO 2004, with Umehara parrying every single hit of what should have been a match-winning combo by Wong, to claim a win. There’s context that adds layers of incredulity to fans of fighting games, but to the untrained eye you can clearly see why it’s impressive. If this was football, it’d be the equivalent of scoring from the halfway line. There are moments at fighting game tournaments like this all the time, and it’s part of why esports is so exciting. “Esports money-men are sneaking around looking to make a quick buck,” says Hamilton. “High-end Overwatch League events could work, but I’d hate for them to be the norm, and it’s clear that fighting games have been able to manage without them to date. The beauty of Evo is that it is a massive stage, and that you or me or anyone reading this could enter and win. That’s exciting, and something that right now the fighting game community (FGC) does better than anyone else. The rigid structure of other esports events means that just isn’t possible everywhere else.” While the current obsession is the potential of battle royale titles, throughout it all fighting games have been holding their own, adapting to new releases and growing stronger with each successive year. For businesses looking to take a chance on esports, the FGC seems like the best bet.
Going International Dota 2’s biggest annual event, The International, is returning for its eighth annual instalment, this time taking place at the Rogers Arena in Vancouver. Each year, The International sells its Battle Pass – 25 per cent of which goes towards funding the prize pool for the event. You buy the Battle Pass for cash, and you can level it by completing challenges, or with further microtransactions. The higher the level, the more prizes you get. With it, Valve has gotten its hands on a perpetual money machine. Each year, the total size of the prize pool grows bigger and bigger as people put chunks of their life savings in for the promise of delicious particle effects and this year’s must-have cosmetics. At the time of writing, just 17 and-a-half hours after the Battle Pass went live, website dota2.prizetrac.kr puts the prize pool at a little over $5m (£3,72m) 22.7% ahead of where last year’s International prize pool was at the same time.
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Cities to love Europe’s biggest Dota 2 event, ESL One Hamburg, has announced its return for a second year, taking place between October 23rd-28th in the German city. Last year’s ESL One Hamburg was notable for its sheer size, encompassing a massive Dota 2 event but also a host of other activities, including a very popular cosplay competition. It’s huge, but it’s not just big news for the esports scene. It’s big news for Hamburg too. Esports events taking over midsized cities is becoming the norm, and very few people seem to notice the advantages for the host city. Take IEM Katowice, the mardi gras of esports, with each yearly iteration depositing a significant chunk of the city’s annual tourists into the polish city for two weeks of the year. Local businesses can survive off the back of the influx of tourists, and with Hamburg hosting a Dota 2 tournament for a second year, it seems more and more cities are wising up. If ESL One Birmingham is successful (it hasn’t yet happened at the time of writing), we can assume Birmingham will be the latest city to embrace its esports prospects.
the big events EpicLan June 7th-10th Kettering, England Epic.Lan returns for its 24th iteration, bringing esports action to Kettering in the UK, letting fans bring their own PCs and test their gaming mettle. Attendees will engage in ad-hoc competition and a generous amount of pub-stomping in addition to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Starcraft 2, Dota 2 and a 3v3 Rocket League tournament.
Fortnite Celebrity Pro-Am June 12th Los Angeles, United States Fortnite’s Celebrity Pro-Am will see influencers and celebrities teaming up to fight for supremacy as the centerpiece of Fortnite’s Party Royale E3 event. 50 influencers will join 50 celebrities for an event seemingly custom-made to break Twitch records. While we don’t yet know which celebs will be in attendance, Team MCV is secretly hoping for a return of the infamous Drake and Ninja duo.
BLAST Pro Series June 24th Istanbul, Turkey
ESL One Belo Horizonte June 15th-17th Belo Horizonte, Brazil South America’s first ESL One event is coming to Belo Horizonte, as eight of the world’s best Counter-Strike: Global Offensive teams and thousands of roaring fans will come together in the Mineirinho Arena. Brazil has a huge FPS following, with one of last year’s most impressive lineups, SK Gaming, hailing from the country.
Blast Pro Series is bringing CounterStrike: Global Offensive to Turkey, taking over Istanbul’s Ülker Sports Arena as teams clash for a share of $250,000 and the BLAST Pro Series Trophy. Local team Space Soldiers will be trying to hold their own as they compete against five of the very best teams in the Counter-Strike scene right now.
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The ﬁrst man of ﬁrst party Microsoft has a new head of first-party development, in an exclusive interview Seth Barton talks to Matt Booty before his first E3 in the role
hile he can’t put an exact number on it, Matt Booty, head of Microsoft Studios, now has “into the thousands of developers” working for him. “It might be a little bit cheesy but I do like to frame it more that I work for them,” he says. Which sounds like Booty is providing a service to his studios and providing a service is certainly key to Microsoft’s thinking here. Those studios include 343 Industries, The Coalition, Mojang, Turn 10, Rare, plus oversight of the global publishing team, which manages exclusive franchises like Forza Horizon from Playground Games. However he perceives his role, he’s certainly taken on responsibility for some enviable resources. Until recently, Booty headed up the Minecraft team in Stockholm, so he’s certainly used to managing huge communities on a live title. He cemented his career working his way through the ranks at Midway to become CEO, having started as a designer and programmer on its arcade games. “I have a pretty strong principle that I need to keep my frustrated game designer nose out of their business,” he tells MCV in an exclusive pre-E3 interview. “The last thing the teams need is me telling them to make something red or make something bigger!” And in order to do that
he “dabbles” with development in his spare time instead. Recently he’s made Unity VR demos for his HTC Vive and modelled a tank in 3D Studio Max before 3D printing it at 1:35 scale. What’s clear is that Booty is an executive who really gets how games are made. But what we’re hoping he’s going to clear up is just what is Microsoft’s plan for first-party development in the games-as-a-service era? FIRST SERVE The traditional reason to fund first-party development was to create cutting edge exclusives, which maximised the hardware at their disposal and shifted consoles. These were usually grand single-player campaigns, and looking at PlayStation exclusives such as Uncharted, Horizon Zero Dawn, God of War and Spider-Man, you’d think that nothing had changed in that regard. Microsoft meanwhile hasn’t released such a title since Gears of War 4 in 2016 – and there’s no sign of anything of that ilk coming in the foreseeable future either. Instead, by signing PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and State of Decay 2, while developing the likes of Sea of Thieves and Crackdown 3, it’s firmly shifted towards more open-ended games.
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“There will always be single-player games with maybe 20 to 30 hours of gameplay, we love those kinds of games and there’s a place for those, but it’s also certainly the case with the focus on watching, streaming, broadcast and esports that it’s really important to think about the longevity of a game,” Booty explains. “It’s really difficult for anybody to think about making a large scale triple-A game these days without having in mind a content and service plan that goes one to two years into the future out of the gate,” he adds. Booty’s outlook was reinforced during his time on Minecraft: “It just drove into me more than ever, that every conversation about what our games, our platforms and our services should be doing has to start with the player. And what we see is players engaging more with streaming, with broadcasting, with community, with wanting to play together. “Games really have become much more social, much more mainstream, much more widespread. We know that the games industry is growing, and that’s taking nothing away from what you call the ‘single-player, narrative, cinematic game’ but we see a lot of interest from our players in more community-driven ongoing franchises. I think that is in alignment with a lot of the trends we see in gaming overall.” He later puts forward ID@Xbox as a place to find a broader selection of titles. “We see this really exciting trend with people like Team17 and Annapurna – I guess you could call them smaller publishers – who are able to work with indie developers and deliver things that are above the level of what you might think of as an indie game.” THE ESTABLISHMENT It’s hard to argue with that analysis of the gaming market, though Booty is also keen to talk up Microsoft’s slate of big franchises. “We’re very lucky to have a number of established franchises, when you think about Minecraft, Halo and Forza, each has over a decade or almost a decade of foundation underneath them. We need to use those franchises as a home base from which we can expand. “That strength lets us branch out and take risks with them,” says Booty, possibly dropping a hint of what may be next from the studios, and making it clear that even if the company announces a new Halo, much like the campaign-
less Black Ops 4 it may not exactly resemble its predecessors. But that should be applauded, as turning out games slavishly-based on the templates of the last generation does no one any favours. But don’t expect a battle royale mode from Microsoft this E3, with Booty taking a longer-term view on executing Microsoft’s strategy. “With games being as large as they are, with the move to games as an ongoing service... It is difficult to pivot quickly and try to chase after trends that might happen even on the scale of a year. In business terms a year can be a long time, but development time being three to four years these days, that’s the span we need to think about. “We’ve got to get our strategic long-term bets, our game development cycles and the things our players like to do in sync. And that will set us up for success.” SERVICE STATION On a strategic level then, Microsoft is happy to think long-term in order to get everything lined up right. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not aiming to blaze a trail at the same time. “The main focus for first party is to get there first, work closely with the platform at Xbox, with other teams at Microsoft, and make sure we prove out the viability of something,” Booty says. Whether that something is a device like Xbox One X, a technology such as HDR or a service such as Game Pass. “And if we’re successful we should show that something works well and so be a lighthouse for it, be pathfinders. Then third-parties should quickly come along and say: ‘This is viable, how can we get onboard as well?’.” He uses Sea of Thieves’ simultaneous launch at retail and on Game Pass as an example: “There are concerns in that you’ve got two different channels bringing the game to players, maybe two different kinds of players. Will the sales of one affect the other? “We’ve found it was a benefit across the board, we had great engagement from folks discovering the game in Game Pass but we also had really encouraging sales both at retail and digital. And it was a case that the exposure and the access within Game Pass created more excitement for the game overall which helped the top line units.” From a business point of view that’s great and, boiling it down, using great games to promote a service such as Game Pass or Mixer, is simply a modern take on the traditional console-shifting role of first-party titles of yesteryear.
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“When I think about the specific role of first party, it’s our job to lean in and be first on the ground, first to try things out. Again you’ve got a beacon or lighthouse, where the things we’re bringing online are great for our players and also great for all our partners.” THE GAME LEAVING FROM PLATFORM... And Microsoft’s list of partners is pretty impressive – even including Sony and Nintendo – then there’s the ever-growing crossover between its Xbox and PC output. So when first-party is no longer exclusive to a single console, how do you choose your target platforms? “The way we think about platforms is really to take more of a game-centric, player-centric view, where if we’re going go off and do something for PC or mobile, we start with the individual game,” Booty says. “It really depends on the franchise and the game,” he continues, before explaining that structurally in Microsoft they don’t break down services and platforms “into separate verticals” and that helps make the right decisions for the right reasons. “A certain kind of game that’s best on Windows we’re going to really try to make a great experience there, and a game like Sea of Thieves, where it’s about community and playing together, it makes sense for that game to have equal attention on both PC and console.” The ultimate example is, of course, Minecraft. “We actually ship Minecraft on close to 20 platforms. We have a principle that we want the game to be great and playable for all our players but we’re going to dial that in depending on [the platform]. We just announced that we’ll be bringing the latest version of Minecraft to the Switch, and we’re going to focus on the ability to crossplay with other players on Xbox Live but at the same time we’re also going to make sure it takes advantage of that particular platform.” Talking specifically about the PlayStation versions of the game, he explains: “When we acquired Mojang, Minecraft already existed on multiple platforms, and we would never want to go backwards or take something away from people.
“It’s really difficult for anybody to think about making triple-A games these days without having in mind a content and service plan that goes one to two years into the future.”
“On the other hand Minecraft really has hit a critical mass, we’ve 60m monthly active users, Minecraft: Education Edition is going really well, and we partnered with NetEase to bring the game into China and at this point it’s hitting a scale where its relevance in pop culture really pushes it above simply what platforms it’s on.” Booty won’t be drawn on whether Microsoft Studios will follow the successful strategy of products such as Microsoft Office and release more titles on its biggest rival’s hardware. If it sticks to that decision though, Microsoft may never match the reach of Minecraft again. GOING VERTICAL Never doubt Microsoft though, the company as a whole has boomed under the four-year leadership of Satya Nadella, and gaming is now front and centre in its ambitions. “Creating the role of a first-party leader is a vote of confidence and a signal to the future that our first-party work is aligned with the strategic bets that we’re making. It also echoes a vote of confidence from the company in terms of elevating gaming up to a vertical that sits with some of the other big parts of Microsoft,” Booty says. “I look at my role as providing some overarching direction, making sure the studios get clear direction about where we’re going. I have the opportunity to provide value, coordination and integration across our studios,” he adds. “We’ve got great studio leaders, but when you’re head down working on your own game, it’s not that easy to pop up and see what your peers are doing. So hopefully we can add some more formal connections across the studios. I think it’s a big opportunity to have the studios work together and share some of the things that they’ve learnt.” For many years Xbox was perceived by critics to sit outside the core Microsoft business, and rumours of losses and a possible sell-off dogged the division. Now within a broader gaming group, with Phil Spencer’s promotion to the senior leadership team, and Booty overseeing its internal output, it certainly looks like Microsoft is backing gaming more than ever. Which makes sense, given that the industry’s shift to a live service model more closely aligns gaming with services such as Office and cloud computing in general. “It’s been very exciting in the last year to see our company get behind gaming in such a serious way and really treat it as part of Microsoft overall,” Booty says. “I think Phil has put together a fantastic team that is focused on gaming across all of our platforms and, of course, we have all the resources and technology that is available to us as part of Microsoft.” In short, the strategy is now looking better thought out than in years and the hardware has undoubtedly picked up with Xbox One X. It only remains to see what Spencer and Booty have to announce at E3.
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E3 E3 is changing... Over the last few years E3’s traditionally cacophonous mix of sound and fury, has been further escalated by the introduction of the public to areas previously reserved (supposedly) for press and industry types. Combine this with downtown LA slowly gentrifying and there’s now a diaspora of the games industry spread across this once unloved part of the city. People are taking meetings in the new hotels, restaurants, and in some cases steakhouses of downtown, and in ever greater numbers, in order to show off their games and get their business done in relative quiet.
Last year’s introduction of consumers to E3’s show floor is a mixed blessing. For some, this lets them use one of the most important business events of the year to show off their games to an enthusiastic audience. However, for many, it means you need to navigate yet more bodies to get from one hall to the other. For the newcomer, that means getting the most out of your E3 visit can be harder than ever before, but that’s okay because we’ve talked to veterans of the industry to find out the best tips for having a successful event, including places to hang out, areas to arrange meetings and things to do while you’re in the City of Angels. If you are a veteran, we’ve pulled together a list of some of the best places to eat, drink and meet in Los Angeles, so abandon that West Hollywood Airbnb and see some of the sights scattered around LA. Just because it’s a work event doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun, right?
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Something different! “This E3 should be interesting because the means of delivering news and content to players is shifting as quickly as the distribution of games is changing. It’s a very good thing that players are growing more sceptical of corporate PR machines, because it is becoming much more difficult to hide behind a carefully polished message, which is making games better. As companies grow more openly proud of the games they are creating, players, press, and influencers – these lines growing ever blurrier – are getting almost unprecedented access to the development of them. The modern marketing campaign is becoming more celebratory, which is a lot more fun. There’s a lot more ‘Hey, isn’t this cool!’ and a lot less ‘Hey, do you want to be cool?’. I’m enjoying this slowly fostered empathy between first parties, players, and game creators, and I think this E3 will be emblematic of that. A lot more engagement, and a lot less smoke and mirrors. The whole point of games is to bring people joy, and I think that got lost in the hype over the past ten years or so. It sort of feels like we’re all working together to make it better at the moment, and I think it’s working.” - Michael Douse, director of publishing at Larian Studios
What to expect This year, expect E3 to be a last hurrah for this generation before new hardware starts to edge into view at next year’s event. Microsoft, having one of the most impressive consoles on the market with the Xbox One X, will be looking to plant a flag and make an impact after a disappointing year of exclusives on the Xbox platform with Sea of Thieves being left to fly the triple-A flag practically solo, while Sony is pushing ahead with a series of critically and commercially successful releases. Now’s the time for Microsoft to pull itself together and show what it’s capable of. Last year, the show floor of E3 struggled to handle the teeming masses of the general public, leading to many developers being worried about the safety of staff and kit. So expect security to tighten up in response to those concerns. However, there were some substantial queues at the 2017 event already and tighter security will definitely mean more delays. ‘Wish fulfillment’ is the name of the game this year. Several of the biggest titles expected at the show are continuations of fan favourite franchises or long-awaited reveals for games we already know exist, but are tantalisingly out of reach. CD Projekt’s first full title since The Witcher 3, Cyberpunk 2077, will appear in some capacity, and Bioware will likely shed a little more light on the ambitious Anthem. If sequels are more your bag, widely anticipated sequels will include Beyond Good and Evil 2, Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Kingdom Hearts 3. If you’re the betting type, strongly rumoured titles include a new Splinter Cell, Bethesda announcing a new Switch port and something Fallout flavoured, a better look at Metroid Prime 4 and even a new Halo. It will be interesting to take a litmus test on VR too. Either we’ll see several companies going big on the tech or we’ll see it slipping Udaepe repudipsunt away. As the install base gets bigger, the only rate pra quodi as site limit now is how much risk companies are volo offic tem quiae. willing to take. Expect VR reveals from a few Sum qui tem cum mid-sized publishers, some of which will be experum qui berrovi more involved than you might be expecting.
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Predictions “I think Xbox has to take advantage of E3 this year to show that there is vision for its first-party studios. I expect a new Fable, Gears of War 5, and two totally new games.” - Keza MacDonald, games editor, The Guardian
“I expect a relatively low-key E3, with the most exciting stuff being found in the indie space. I’m hardly sticking my neck out to suggest we’ll see a number of battle royale games from bigger publishers, or battle royale add-ons for existing titles. With Sony focusing on four ‘deep dives’, there will be a lot of attention on Microsoft. It needs a couple of big, good-looking exclusives to properly sell Xbox One X as the most powerful console on the market: so far it really hasn’t made the most of that extra horsepower. I don’t expect too many huge surprises beyond that. Everyone seems to be getting wise to the fact that you can’t keep getting away with teasing games that are years off release. As for Nintendo, it’s already said 2019 releases won’t be featured, but that doesn’t mean we won’t get a glimpse of them, just that they won’t be the main focus.” - Chris Schilling, freelance journalist
“In a year when new hardware is unlikely to be announced, when Sony is keeping expectations low, nobody knows what to expect from Microsoft. Nintendo is still riding its momentum, so the stage is set for mid-level publishers like CD Projekt Red, Focus Home Interactive, 505 Games and Deep Silver to steal at least some of their thunder. All we know for sure, however, is that by the end of E3 2018 everyone will be looking forward to the relative calm of Gamescom’s press hall.” - Ravi Vijh, account director, Bastion
“Nintendo will drop some surprises, Breath of the Wild story DLC, maybe some news on the Switch Pokémon title that got teased last year. Wishful thinking? Perhaps. I’m expecting PlayStation to announce some exciting PSVR titles and I’d very much appreciate a Death Stranding gameplay reveal.” - Paul Colls, creative director, Fierce Kaiju
“I don’t think we’ll see any major hardware reveals this year. With PS4 Pro (and to a lesser extent the Xbox One X) finally feeling like it’s hitting its stride, any news of a replacement now would probably come as a swift kick to the teeth to existing owners. I also don’t think we’re quite at a technological stage to deliver a true generational leap in power, either. Next year, though – that could be an E3 to remember.” - Katharine Castle, hardware editor, Rock Paper Shotgun
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Tips for the show “Now that doors are open to the public, try to book meetings at the JWMarriot next door. It’s where everyone hangs out anyway.” - Kirsty Endfield, founder, Swipe Right PR
“For a show ostensibly about triple-A titans, it’s amazing how many mobile and indie gems you can find in the hotels and bars around E3.” - Alysia Judge, freelance games journalist
“Breakfast tacos. Whether you’re hungover or just hungry, there are a number of high quality, low cost, minimum service establishments around the downtown area!” - Robbie Paterson, account manager, Indigo Pearl (Robbie was our taco expert for our Where to Go section, see right) “Get a phone plan (or add-on) to let you use your data abroad, so you can check your emails and calendar abroad. However, your phone is definitely going to be close to death for the entire event, so bring a battery pack or printed copy of your schedule to avoid getting stuck. Oh, and bring hand sanitiser, you’ll be shaking hands with a lot of people.” Michelle Turner, head of PR & marketing, Ripstone
Where to go El Compadre What do you get the person who has everything? El Compadre offers breakfast tacos, along with a Flaming Margarita or two, and it’s just across the street from the convention centre. Fernando’s Taco Inn On the corner of S Fig & West Olympic Blvd, this is the connoisseur’s choice for a breakfast taco. Open from 8am - 5pm every day of the show, this order-at-the-counter taco outfit is a great reason to duck out of the noise for a lunch break. The Original Pantry Cafe Straight up Figueroa from the convention centre, The Original Pantry Cafe literally never closes, its been open since 1924 and doesn’t even have locks on its doors. Yes it’s popular with tourists, but it’s hearty fare is no tourist trap. Take advantage of it all-hours approach to avoid the queues. Tom’s Urban This huge sports bar has 80 screens, an allAmerican menu and huge beers on tap. It’s pretty much everything you might expect from an American sports bar, and it’s just a short walk up Figueroa. Cow Cafe A new mediterranean inspired cafe, this is a great spot on Pico Blvd to drop in to for a late breakfast or even a chilled lunch. Be warned, wait times around lunch can be long because the place is a little on the small side, but the food is worth the wait. Aladdin’s Coffee Shop Bizarrely, not a coffee shop but a buffet restaurant, this place is a great chance for those who want to eat Mexican food in bulk. It serves American, Mexican & Salvadoran food, and it keeps weird hours, closing at 2pm each day. The food is all delicious though, and every day there’s a different selection to choose from on the buffet table.
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Ins and outs: Industry hires and moves 1
Former head of Xbox’s oﬃcial YouTube channel, Xbox On, MATT CASTLE (1) has joined Rock Paper Shotgun as the ﬁrst member of its new video team. Castle previously worked for the likes of Oﬃcial Xbox Magazine and Oﬃcial Nintendo Magazine. 2K has hired a new community and social manager, MATT GARDNER (2), who joined from Gameloft where he had been global community manager for nearly two years.
Curve Digital has made two new hires in its marketing team. JACK GOSLING (3) joined as social media manager, having previous experiences at Mr Bean, Amazon, MasterChef, Xbox and AKQA, where he was international social lead
for some of Activision’s biggest titles, including Destiny and Call of Duty. Also joining was CÉDRINE DÉCORET (4), as product manager. Previously brand manager at Microïds, she also spent almost a year at Square Enix France where she worked on key titles such Tomb Raider and Final Fantasy XIV: ARR.
LUCY JAMES (5) has been promoted from video producer to senior video producer at CBS Interactive’s Gamespot. Also a freelance writer and presenter, you can ﬁnd her work at VideoGamer or GameReactor. Former event editor at Steel Media and Gamesforum’s event director GEORGE OSBORN (6) has joined in-game advertising agency BidStack as its new head of content.
“I’m honoured to be working with one of the most talented teams in the industry. I am now seriously considering investing in a PC, too.” Ben Maxwell, PCGamesN
GamesRadar’s ZOE DELAHUNTY-LIGHT (7) has been promoted to video script editor and presenter. As a freelancer, you can also ﬁnd her byline in GamesTM, Oﬃcial PlayStation Magazine and Oﬃcial Xbox Magazine. Skillsearch’s head of business development GUY DEROSA (8) has joined Studio Gobo (and newly-created sisterstudio Electric Square) as recruitment manager. He said: “Please get in touch if you’d like to discuss current openings here, there are some insane projects being cooked up behind the scenes and we’re going to need a lot of talented people to help us.”
Performance capture service provider Audiomotion has hired PHILIP MORRIS (9) as sales director. With over ten years of experience in the industry, he’s worked for Nintendo, Intel and Apple. Brian Mitchell, managing director of Audiomotion, commented: “Philip brings a wealth of professional sales experience to our growing studio, combined with a genuine passion for high end technology and video games.” Jagex’s head of community TOM SWEENEY (10) has
departed to become The Social Chain Group’s new director of gaming. He will be responsible for heading the gaming division, which reaches a community of 9.1m players across platforms and includes gaming community GameByte.
PCGamesN has bolstered its team with two new hires and a promotion. Deputy editor BEN MAXWELL (11), who joined in June 2017, has been promoted to editor, having previously spent seven years at Edge. Maxwell commented: “I’m elated to have been given the opportunity to oversee the next phase of PCGamesN’s spectacular growth, and honoured to be working with one of the most talented teams in the industry. I am now seriously considering investing in a PC, too.” Network N’s publishing director Joel Gregory added: “Ben’s work since he’s been here and his vision for the future of PCGamesN made him the outstanding candidate in a very strong ﬁeld. I’ve every conﬁdence that he’ll be able to lead our wonderful
team into this next, hugely exciting era for PCGN. Plus if it all goes wrong people can just blame me for lingering in the background, like an outgoing football manager who still shows up to every game and sits scowling in the stands.” The team also hired two esports writers. JESSICA WELLS (12) has been a senior reporter at Newsquest Media Group for the past two years, with her byline also being featured on Esports Pro, Eurogamer and PC Gamer. JACK RIDSDALE (13) has been hired in the same role, joining from our sister-title ToyNews where he’s been senior staﬀ writer since late 2016.
Creative marketing agency Substance Global has promoted ELISHA BROWN (14) to social media junior account manager. She joined the ﬁrm in 2016, having spent over a year at games industry initiative NextGen Skills Academy. Eurogamer’s video producer CHRIS BRATT (15) has left the ﬁrm to launch a new project on Patreon. His new video game series is called People Make Games, modelled after the Here’s A Thing videos he’s been producing at Eurogamer.
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Top of the class Speaking with educators to find out what’s important for the next generation of game makers
AFTER ten years, Global Game Jam is a well established global event, with the 2018 GGJ having drawn in 42,812 participants across 108 countries. It is, by any metric, kind of a big deal. The team’s new initiative, GGJ Next, is an attempt at introducing jamming to school age children, offering a healthier attitude for kids to embrace some of the many positives of jamming, without the risks associated with trying to develop a game in 48 hours. We speak to Susan Gold, president and co-founder of Global Game Jam about how it’s looking after their teenaged participants and what benefit GGJ can bring to kids. THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT “We think that all children around the world should have the opportunity to learn the digital literacy lessons, including the skills and tools, that game development employs,” Gold says, mentioning that GGJ Next is aimed at kids between the ages of 12 and 17, and will benefit from the real-world lessons in leadership, collaboration and curiosity that game jamming can deliver. “We think that many of the skills needed for the future fall within game design practice, be it critical thinking or complex problem solving or just a chance to express themselves creatively. Jamming allows for kids to learn how to collaborate and use judgement and decisionmaking skills which are all tools that are useful for success in education.” GGJ Next is using the global network of its elder sibling to make connections with educational institutions around the world and, even if they don’t host a jam of their own, Next is producing lessons for teachers to bring games and computing into their classrooms.
“They are micro-lessons. Our hope is that they will give teachers a concept to bring to the students and can offer up opportunities that children in underserved or underrepresented areas might not get otherwise. “I think that if kids can make a game, they can do anything – it gives them confidence,” adds Gold. EASY DOES IT Jam culture is occasionally called out for the toxic work practices that are sometimes idealised at individual sites, with some people working for a straight 48 hours at jams, and encouraging others to do the same. With young children, who are particularly susceptible to peer pressure, making sure their welfare is looked after is essential. GGJ Next asks everyone that wants to host a jam site to head to the webpage GGJNext.org to sign up, where they’re then vetted by the team to make sure that the area will be safe for kids. The length of jams will be flexible, often spread over a number of days, with none of the crunch overnight sessions traditionally associated with the format. However, this means the jams won’t all occur at once. After a survey of 100 countries, Gold discovered there is no one time when all the schools were on break, so jams can take place at any time in July, and be between one and five days long. They’ll still share the same keynote and theme. Gold hopes GGJ Next will mirror the growth of Global Game Jam over the next few years and become an anticipated event in the games calendar in its own right, with more participants and more resources for those taking part.
Susan Gold Global Game Jam Susan Gold is an artist, teacher and activist who believes strongly in the democratisation of knowledge. She advises programs around the globe to help position games as a tool for doing good in the world. She was Professor of the Practice and Associate Director of Games at Northeastern University until last year.
“I think that if kids can make a game, they can do anything – it gives them confidence to try anything.”
If you work at a university and would like to be featured here, get in touch with Jake Tucker at firstname.lastname@example.org June 2018 MCV 936 | 27
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Spruce Campbell, game designer, BAFTA YGD 2017 winner
What is your proudest achievement so far? Launching my first game was amazing – the first thing I’ve ever put out that I feel proud of. I’d put months of effort into it and seeing my friends and family pick up the game and enjoy it was absolutely worth it. What’s been your biggest challenge to date? My biggest challenges are yet to come, but my hardest yet was redesigning my game, Cyber:Jump, for mobile. The original demo was PC only and I put it through such a rethink that not a single line of code is shared with the BAFTA-winning prototype. What do you enjoy most about creating games? I love so many things, but for me in the past year I would have to say meeting people – I’ve been able to meet my idols, people who made games I’ve spent hours lost in, and I’ve been able to meet complete strangers who like my games. It’s life-changing to see that kind of real-world impact.
SPRUCE CAMPBELL won the BAFTA YGD 2017 Game Making Award (in the ten to 14 years old category) at the age of 12. He has spent the last year receiving mentorship and support from BAFTA Games. Most recently, he showed his first published game, Cyber:Jump, at EGX Rezzed. How did you first start developing games? I loved games when I was little, from Wii Sports and Mario Kart to blasting through Portal 2. Sometimes I would play something for a while and find an interesting mechanic or easter egg and after I’d stopped I could never really get it out of my head. I thought about all the ways you could take that mechanic and build something new, and so eventually I set out to make my own game one day. I played around with tools for years, but last year I finally got my technical skills to a level where I could make the games I wanted to.
What’s your big ambition in games? I’m not sure yet. I want to carry on making games and making bigger and better games, building a team, but I’m so early on in what I hope will be my career that I really don’t know. I’ll carry on making things I love, though.
“I taught myself all I needed from YouTube and experimenting around in game engines – these tools are all free and there’s nothing to lose.”
What advice would you give to someone trying to start developing? Just start. I taught myself all I needed from YouTube and experimenting around in game engines – these tools are all free and there’s nothing to lose. Ideas and size don’t matter at this stage, because your second game is ten times better than your first. The projects I’m starting to work on now are all way better than my first game. That’s an inevitability. Don’t let go of your big ideas going in though, because as well as giving you a goal to work towards, you can use your skills to think about them in a whole new light. Cyber:Jump is just boxes and that’s because I’m not very good at art. Finding that out allowed me to play to my strengths.
If there’s a rising star at your company, contact Jake Tucker at email@example.com, and we might feature them here 28 | MCV 936 June 2018
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“When I visited the company prior to joining, it felt like everyone was working as part of a family.” Name: Philip Morris
Studio: Audiomotion Studios Job Title: Sales Director
Education: BA Japanese with Spanish, MA Advanced Japanese
28 DAYS LATER
Taking a new opportunity in the industry can open a door to the job of your dreams. We catch up with a recent career mover at the start of their exciting new role through recruitment specialist Amiqus Congratulations on the amazing new job! What inspired you about Audiomotion to come and join them? Audiomotion has the largest and most versatile performance capture space in Europe (we are Guinness World Record Holders too!) so I saw it as a fantastic challenge to come in and grow the video games side of the business. When I visited the company prior to joining, it felt like everyone was working as part of a family, which was exactly the work culture I wanted to surround myself with. What’s the culture like at Audiomotion and what’s your experience been like ﬁtting in? The culture is very inclusive, hard-working and fun. Everyone has been extremely welcoming and keen to hear a fresh perspective on an already solid reputation! What are you most excited about bringing to the role? I am passionate about expanding our international client base both within Europe and beyond: hopefully my experiences in Asia can help with that.
I’m also hugely excited about working with not-for-proﬁt partners like SpecialEﬀect and our friends in academia: we want to support the wider community. What will working at Audiomotion do for your career? Working with Audiomotion provides me with the challenge to push our high-quality performance capture and production services in new and exciting directions. We’re already working with new platform holders and developers which should soon give gamers an even more immersive and visually-stunning gaming experience. What would you like to say to anyone thinking about or undertaking a job move in games? To me, the games industry is constantly evolving and moves at break-neck speed. If you’re the type of person who enjoys that pace, a move could help both your short-term motivation but also long-term career. I would say talk to those around you about the move you want to make, their perspective is invaluable.
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Cherry picked advice to help you reach the next level in your career
Creative Assembly’s Jodie Azhar, technical art director on the Total War franchise, explains the core skills needed to become a technical artist and the variety of tasks it comprises What is your job role and how would you describe your typical day at work? I’m the technical art director for the Total War series at Creative Assembly. This involves looking after the technical art team who support and enable artists to get their desired visuals for all the Total War games. We work closely with the graphics programming team to ensure visuals render correctly in game, we help create new in-game systems for art and animation and also streamline art pipelines to improve the speed and quality of creating art while reducing potential for bugs. Part of my role as a director is having an overview of what each project wants to do with its art and ensure improvements in the engine and tools my team creates work for as many projects as possible in order to have a big impact for the artists and on the quality of all the games we release. What qualifications and/or experience do you need to land this job? Most technical artists will have a degree in an art or programming related subject. Technical art is becoming an ever more common role, with more studios hiring people to focus on this exciting area between art and technology. However, while entry-level positions for technical artists do exist, they don’t occur as frequently as most other art roles and are often only found in large studios. Technical artists often start in an art production role where they gain hands-on experience with the art creation process and working with other artists. This helps develop their understanding of how artists think and what their processes are in a work environment. In this role at a larger studio, you’ll rarely make any art that goes into the game, but everything you do will influence some part of the final visuals. In smaller studios there may not be a specific technical artist role, so projects will rely on artists having some technical knowledge to get their art working in game, creating positions that are both hands-on in creating art and solving technical problems. Experienced technical artists are very sought after, so if you have an interest in this area and game development experience there are always job opportunities available. If you were interviewing someone for your team, what would you look for? It’s difficult to specify exact requirements for all technical artist vacancies because different game projects pose different challenges. However, there are four skills required for every technical artist. Problem solving is the core of
“You’ll rarely make any art that goes into the game, but everything you do will influence some part of the final visuals.” our role, so candidates need to demonstrate that they can identify problems and describe how they would solve them. Teamwork: we need to be able to work with others in a range of different roles to identify and solve problems. Understand the creation pipeline in at least one area of game art – we need to understand artists, how they think and their processes when creating art in order to make solutions that make sense to artists. Know a programming or scripting language – we use this to build tools to support artists. What opportunities are there for career progression?
Technical art is a really versatile area of game development. You can specialise in a particular area such as animation simulation, mesh manipulation, pipeline development, or texture generation, to name just a few. Or you can gain knowledge in multiple areas of art and work on a variety of problems. Technology is constantly evolving so new challenges will always arise, making the job exciting and engaging. Each company will have different challenges, so it’s possible to find a studio or project that matches your interests and allows you to continually learn and grow. For those who love collaboration, being a technical artist is a role that allows you to create something greater than you could alone by working with others.
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This week’s question: What big trends and developments can we expect to see coming out of E3 this year? Jamie Campbell, Engineering Service Line Director, Keywords Studios
I think collaborations are going to be a big thing. Games are continuing to get bigger and better (some things never change!), and the demand for large game teams to dynamically expand is growing. For the past few years that has been a given during production, but we now appreciate that just because a game ships, the challenge isn’t over – games-as-aservice and live-ops mean demand continues far beyond street date, but core teams need to focus on the next title. Leveraging a quality external partner makes a lot of sense!
Steve Tagger, Business Development Director, nDreams
VR will be all about the growth in interaction, embodiment and storytelling, with so many talented teams pushing the boundaries. The explosion of VR arcades and the thrilling location-based experiences will be unavoidable. Then there’s the huge strides being made in consumer VR from untethered, frictionless headsets to the continuing growth in the home user install base – a consequence of which is games will become longer experiences, with even more interactivity and immersion.
Graeme Ankers, Managing Director, Firesprite
The impacts of Fortnite and PUBG is something we’re going to hear lots about, I would also expect other battle royale games to surface. The wider impact from these developments is where do multiplayer and social innovations go next? The fuse has been lit and it is such an exciting area to work in. I’m sure we will see more on first-party line-ups like Crackdown, The Last of Us Part II and more, along with indie titles like Grip. I’m expecting to see a wave of support for VR including Firesprite’s own PSVR title The Persistence.
“This year’s E3 will see a resurgence in a couple of trends – VR and single player games. The much-heralded death of the singleplayer game will be proven wrong.”
Simon Harris, Executive Producer, Supermassive Games
This year’s E3 will see a resurgence in a couple of trends – VR and single-player games. I expect both the platform holders and more big publishers to announce new VR titles. Also the first standalone VR headsets have launched, which I think are going to get strong support. The much-heralded death of the single-player game will be proven wrong too. We’ll get our first play of Red Dead Redemption II and I anticipate we’ll see plenty more single-player experiences, especially from Nintendo. Finally, we will see battle royale in everything…
Ian Richardson, Business Development Director, Sumo Digital
With the huge successes of games like Fortnite and PUBG, I think we’ll see more games attempt to incorporate similar game modes or strategies to encourage player retention with their franchises. The Nintendo Switch was also a strong performer last year, so definitely keep an eye out for more third-party support in 2018.
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INDUSTRY VOICES MCV gives the industry a platform for its own views in its own words. Do you have a burning hot take for the world of games? Get in touch!
“There is a real lack of understanding between the investment world and the creative one.” Craig Fletcher Wicked Sick
SINCE becoming a full-time business angel at the start of the year, the scale of the funding challenge for smaller games companies has been eye-opening. There is a real lack of understanding between the investment world and the creative one. If we are to give our talent the opportunity to flourish and make sure more of the future Indie hits are from the UK, we need to do more to solve this. Creative start-ups often have little commercial experience, let alone fundraising experience and it can be a bewildering minefield. You don’t know what you don’t know and there is a real risk of being taken advantage of. Getting good advice is key, but this then brings us back to the funding issue. On the other side, in the finance industry, it has surprised me just how little knowledge is out there. Acknowledgement that the games industry is even an industry is often the first challenge and many are genuinely shocked at the size of the market. One thing is clear, there is no shortage of capital in the market and no lack of creative ideas in our industry. The challenge is educating both sides and then connecting money to opportunities. We have had some great recent events that directly connected investors and studios, but we need more of them, as well as events focused on educating each side. Funds are a way to curate opportunities and diversify risk through a portfolio. There are specialist investment funds that focus on gaming, but these tend to have larger deal sizes ($1m+), meaning there is a funding gap
for earlier stage companies. It makes sense, when you realise that the amount of effort you put into a $100k investment does not differ much from a $1m. There is also the theory that investing in bigger deals means companies are further along the path, with a more solid capital base and reduced risk. This does not help the problem of raising a $100k round to bring your ideas to fruition. Most publishers want to see a prototype or demo, but then how do you get the funds to build this? This is traditionally the realm of business angels, but some funds, such as Ascension Ventures, are also now getting involved, using tax-efficient schemes and a portfolio approach to mitigate risk, while also running events to educate investors. Awareness of tax efficient schemes has also been surprisingly sparse, such as the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) and its more lucrative cousin SEIS. These provide attractive tax incentives for people to invest in risky early stage companies. I have only just scratched the surface of the issues here. Suffice to say, we have huge creative talent and potential as an industry and one of the world’s largest financial centres on our doorstep. There is still a lot of work to be done to foster links and better understanding between them. An early esports entrepreneur, Craig Fletcher founded Multiplay, creating the Insomnia Gaming Festival and a global hosting business. Now founder of Wicked Sick, he is a business angel, investor and consultant.
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“Using the fairs to your advantage may be harder than it looks.” Marcin Marzęcki Kool Things
E3 is coming fast and the whole industry is gearing up for the yearly dose of presentations, reveals and glimpses into the future. Everyone in gaming ought to look closely and many publishers and developers are wondering if they should include the fairs in their promotional plans. That’s why we would like to share some words of advice – because using the fairs to your advantage may be harder than it looks. Nowadays, after The Witcher 3, CD Projekt Red booth is besieged by media during fairs. But, as we know first hand as ex-employees, it wasn’t always like that. When the brand was starting out, it had tremendous issues with interesting media in its offer during the large fairs like E3. We’ve travelled to LA in a team of dozens and were working hard to get largely disinterested media to participate in presentations, which were held all day long. It was a struggle. Hard work and dedication can make you a star of the event. But it’s a long and rocky road. Are you ready for your first step yet? Large events, like E3, are a great opportunity to network with industry and media people from all over the world. They can generate hype for you game. But it takes resources. A large PR team or agency, and costs will always be formidable. Without professional and financial backup, it’s worth thinking about other activities, which can be more effective in our opinion. If you decide to take this investment, what’s essential? First of all, ask yourself what reason is there for media to participate in your presentations. The issues with participation are common and they double if the exhibitor is less known
or just starting out. The invited media omit your presentations for all the reasons you can imagine. Never assume that the person who confirmed participation will 100 per cent appear. A good PR team or agency will keep up with calendar and have backups in case someone suddenly decides not to appear. Participation doesn’t generate sure coverage. Follow-ups, keeping the media interested, supplying assets punctually – those things are important during the fairs and immediately after, maybe more than an eye-catching booth and a promising product. Then there are smaller tips on how to benefit from fairs. Technology is there for you – stream everything, provide highlights via your social media channels, it brings effects. If you get attention of a respected influencer, make the most of it. Talk with them, build friendly relations, do everything to keep the contact. Take note of the schedules of the giants. If Nintendo or Sony has a conference, your simultaneously held presentation is a choice for no one. An important reminder: people are busy. Media are probably even busier than you. Respect that and remember: the goal of PR is getting the optimal amount of time from their schedules to get them interested in your game. Marcin Marzęcki is president of PR agency Kool Things. Established in 2010, the agency specialises in holistic promotion of games and related technologies for both market leaders and ambitious debutants. Clients include Activision Blizzard, Razer, Koei Tecmo, InnoGames and many more.
“Follow-ups, keeping the media interested, supplying assets punctually – those things are important during the fairs and immediately after, maybe more than an eye-catching booth and a promising product.”
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Jade Raymond will receive our new Vanguard Award at the Develop Awards this July, alongside her keynote at the Develop:Brighton conference. Jem Alexander chats to her about her plans for EA Motive and why a diverse workforce could lead to a new era of creativity in games
his year the Develop Awards will present its inaugral Vanguard Award. The criteria were for someone who has ‘blazed a trail in games development that will inspire others to follow them’. All of which perfectly describes industry veteran Jade Raymond. Raymond started out making online games during the early days of the internet, she worked at Maxis alongside Will Wright, survived the closure of a $100m start-up and was instrumental in the development of early Assassin’s Creed titles at Ubisoft. Now, she heads up EA’s Motive studio in Montreal, creating a new IP and working on Star Wars games. An impressive career, albeit one with humble beginnings. “I realised I wanted to be in video games when I was about twelve,” Raymond tells us. “As a kid you get asked a lot what you want to be when you grow up and I was trying to think of something that mixed math and art. I was playing a bunch of Tekken one summer and then it dawned on me that someone gets to make these games and that would probably be a good mix of maths and art. After that, I set my mind on it.” From there Raymond focused on programming, studying for a degree in computer science at McGill University. She emerged into a job at Sony Online Entertainment, where she specialised as an online programmer at a time when monitors were still the size of carry-on luggage and modems still needed to sing to each other to connect to the Internet. That online expertise led her to Maxis and then to a start-up company which was attempting to create the Metaverse, similar to Ready Player One’s OASIS. “Neal Stephenson came up with the Metaverse, but before him Vernor Vinge came up with it in a short story called True Names,” Raymond says. “He wrote it in the 80s and that was the first description of the Metaverse, it’s pretty cool. Anyway, I went to a start-up that had a dream of building that. It raised $100m during the first dot-com bubble to do that. So that was super exciting... And then we spent all the money and the start-up went under. That part was less fun.” After this, having to choose between several different opportunities, Raymond packed her bags for Ubisoft. “I interviewed everywhere after my start-up went under and I ended up going to Ubisoft because that was the most exciting opportunity,” she explains. “That was when we had heard that the PS3 and Xbox 360 were going to come out. Several times the power of the previous consoles. I thought ‘Wow, if I get to go here and work on a new IP, that’s the best opportunity’. At the time it was to create a next-gen version of Prince of Persia, and we ended up making a new IP instead, which became Assassin’s Creed. After shipping the first one, I shipped the second one and then they put me in charge of new IP at the studio. So I started up Watch Dogs and The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot. I was overseeing that and the
Assassin’s Creed brand. I was responsible for the pitch process and new IP getting validated within Ubisoft Montreal. That was awesome.” Raymond then took charge of a new Ubisoft studio in Toronto before finally moving on from the publisher after a decade of working there. More recently, she’s headed up EA Motive. “I thought it would be nice to try working somewhere else,” Raymond says. “Learn, expand my horizons and challenge myself. I got this opportunity at EA, building a studio, which is something I love doing. Working on a new IP as well as working on Star Wars, with more than just one studio... It was obviously a great opportunity to stretch myself again.” DIVERSE CREATIVITY At EA Motive, Raymond has been focused on reinvigorating the creativity of the games industry. After all, where else to fight against the inevitable monotony of triple-A (see page 46 for more on that) than within the belly of the beast? “What I really want to build is a different kind of creatively-led studio,” Raymond explains. “One of the things that I feel has happened recently is games have got so big in scope and triple-A development teams have got so big, that some of the creativity of the people making the games has been diminished. Think of how big Assassin’s Creed’s got, with ten different studios working together and thousands of different people. You have to have a lot of process to get all that to come together and keep all of those teams coordinated. “I think when you have that sort of process, ultimately you lose spontaneity in how people contribute their own ideas. That’s why we came up with the name ‘Motive’. It’s really about tapping into people’s passion and motivation, because I do believe that whenever you get something really special in a game, something that’s truly great, it’s because people are passionate enough to add their special touch and really make the game great. It’s not usually the thing they’re doing that’s in the super-prescribed design doc that adds the special touch. It’s usually the things they’re passionate and nuts about, that they poured their own ideas into. “To truly have creativity and original ideas, you also need a diverse group of people coming together with a culture that lets people contribute their ideas. Good ideas come from everywhere. The team should be made up of people with different experiences, different backgrounds, different ages... I really think that’s the opportunity for the games industry now. We’re mass market. We’re everywhere. More and more people are playing games from different parts of the world. I just feel like now that we have this opportunity to create a new IP, it would be a shame to just use the same formulas that we’ve used before. So those
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are the two objectives. How do we create new process or new culture that’s more creative-led, and more aligned with the philosophy that good ideas come from everywhere, and also how do we build teams that are truly diverse?” But it turns out, creating a truly diverse development team isn’t an easy thing. It takes a lot of effort to put people with differing opinions and backgrounds together in a building and expect them to instantly work in harmony. “It’s a lot harder than I expected!” Raymond says with a laugh. “I think there are so many good benefits to having diverse teams and I do truly believe that. But the thing I am realising that’s way harder is that when you get people with different backgrounds who maybe make games in different ways, make games at different publishers. Have different points of view, have a different way that they call things... Two people may be using the same word, but it might mean different things. It’s a lot more work. People have to all come in with an understanding of what they’re going to get out of it in the end. Even the open people who want to be part of a diverse team and see the benefits of it, it does require more effort. For example, maybe I shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that this person doesn’t know what they’re talking about because they’re saying something that doesn’t make sense to me. I need to assume they do know what they’re talking about and take time to question that maybe I don’t have the full picture. Maybe there’s something better about the way they’ve done this. That’s tiring and it’s a different frame of mind – Everyone has to be in that frame of mind. “I’ve gone to really great lengths... Kim Swift has joined us and she has the experience of Portal and Left 4 Dead and working with indies. We have people from Ubisoft who worked in the big productions. We have people from Warner Bros, we have people from outside the games industry. And what I’ve found is it’s a lot harder to get everyone speaking the same language so we can leverage all the goodness of that. That’s the big learning for me is that ultimately you’ll find out that some people just aren’t up for that effort, because making games is hard enough as it is.”
always tried to be a positive force in the industry. I think there are so many great things about the industry. There have been times in my career where it’s been harder to be in the public eye. I had to deal with some things around launch of the first Assassin’s Creed that were not fun, but ultimately I still try to be visible in a way that can inspire young women getting into the games industry. Showing them that the games industry is great and shining a light on all the positive things because I do strongly believe in more diverse teams. Not just women being part of the team, though we do need more women! “I want to show young women that they can have good careers in the games industry and shine a light on how great the industry is. All the people with different backgrounds. Artists and programmers and musicians and writers. All the types of talent that you get to work with. “The other thing that’s important to me is I’ve loved creating original IP because I think it’s an opportunity to create games and brands in the games industry that have meaning. And it’s even more so now. How are we making sure that we are impacting people’s lives and enriching them, rather than just being fun? Fun is great! But how do we have a positive impact? “I really believe that it’s time for us to be taking that seriously as game developers. And I think a new brand is a really good way to do that, because it’s not only in terms of the context you choose and what the brand is about, but what you choose to reinforce in the game mechanics. I’ve always loved science fiction because I feel like it’s a great highlighter of the human condition. It makes people think about where we’re going, why we do things, what are the things that are fundamentally true about humanity. I think we can and should make some points within gaming and they can be made even more meaningfully because game mechanics reinforce them and the story. So I’m really passionate about that. “With Assassin’s Creed, we were trying to enrich people’s lives and have a message. Being able to inspire people to think a little more about history and maybe get excited about that and look into different countries and maybe get some enrichment there. There were some messages also about the original assassins and their different beliefs and ‘nothing is true, everything is permitted’. We touched on different ideologies there. With Watch Dogs we spent some time thinking about that too, but with this new brand I really want to create a positive story about humanity. That’s really important to me.”
“I try to be visible in a way that can inspire young women getting into the industry.”
CREATIVE DIVERSITY Raymond winning the 2018 Develop Awards Vanguard Award essentially means we see her as a major rolemodel for people in the industry. Not just her amazing experience, but what she stands for as she strives for creative diversity and diverse creativity. “It’s a huge honour. I was really touched that Develop reached out to me about this,” Raymond tells us. “I’ve
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Jewel of Montreal
Eidos Montreal has crafted a fantastic legacy for itself during its 11 year history. Jem Alexander speaks to studio head David Anfossi about the companyâ€™s future roadmap, development process and how its partnership with Marvel on the Avengers project fits into all that
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Pictured leeft: Xxx
idos Montreal is no stranger to taking the reins on legendary, beloved franchises. The studio was built with the intention of rebooting the Deus Ex series, which it did with much critical success in 2011 with Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Since then it has also rebooted Thief and continued the Deus Ex legacy with Mankind Divided, as well as helping sister-company Crystal Dynamics with development of the Tomb Raider reboot and sequel. Now Eidos Montreal takes full control of Lara Croft’s latest outing with Shadow of the Tomb Raider, developed entirely in-house at the studio, due out this year. But that’s not all Eidos Montreal has got going on. This is the first time the developer has had multiple projects ongoing simultaneously. Shadow of the Tomb Raider takes up the majority of the studio’s resources, but elsewhere pockets of devs are working on the Avengers project and a third, unannounced title. “We have 50 developers working on Avengers,” Eidos Montreal studio head David Anfossi tells us. “Close to 200 developers are working on Tomb Raider. It’s been three and a half years of work. Currently we total around 505 people. At some point I stopped the growth of the studio to make sure that we sit and look at where we want to be in five and ten years. We now have a very clear plan for the next five years. We’ve a lot of different things at the moment including incubation projects, so now I am comfortable to increase the size of the studio. We should be 530 by the end of this year.” While the Deus Ex and Thief series both had cult appeal, Tomb Raider is a much more mainstream brand and comes with its own pressures. Especially when trying to put your own stamp on it, creatively, without stepping on Crystal Dynamics’ toes.
“Taking responsibility for Tomb Raider is pretty exciting,” Anfossi says. “At the beginning we worked together with Crystal to start everything off. Crystal Dynamics experts worked with us to make sure that we are respectful of the lore of the franchise. We know the pillars and the essence of it. It’s not new to us. But when it comes to the details and telling a story with relationships between the characters, you have to be careful about that. You have to take care. “But I think this partnership at the beginning was very useful to us. After that, in terms of production, writing, programming, everything has been done here in Montreal. And we have Daniel Bisson, the creative director. He was also gameplay director on the two previous games, so this transition has been very easy for us. “I asked just one thing of Phil Rogers, the Square Enix West CEO. I told him that I want an Eidos Montreal signature to the game. The way we develop games, with the learnings from Deus Ex and Thief, we learnt a lot about how to tell a story. The way we build the environments, characters, lighting. The way we ‘show, don’t tell’. “It’s key for us. When you meet a very important story character, all the setting, lighting and everything conveys a message to the gamers. Even for the gameplay we brought some new, very interesting stuff for platforming, crafting, traversal. Even the combat; now you have some choice. There’s no set way to pass through the combat. That’s from Deus Ex.”
KEEPERS OF THE IP With Tomb Raider added to Eidos Montreal’s treasure chest of IPs for which it’s now guardian, the studio has gathered all the remaining old Eidos franchises under one roof. That’s a lot of responsibility, but the
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Pictured above: Eidos Montreal studio head David Anfossi
studio is committed to working with established series and making them their own. In fact, Anfossi has some strong feelings about the notion of creating a new IP from scratch. “We have to be proud of our Eidos franchise IPs,” Anfossi says. “They are very strong and very interesting to work with. And honestly, creating a new IP with the experience we have is crazy. It’s very, very difficult to start and create a new IP. A good one. “You can lose yourself. You can can go everywhere. With Deus Ex, Tomb Raider and Thief, if you want to be respectful you have some guidelines to respect. You can make the series more up-to-date for a new generation of gamer, but you do that with a frame to work within. “A new IP... Boom! You can start and say: ‘We’ll do a multiplayer game, we’ll do a single player game, we’ll do something cartoonish, we’ll something very realistic’, it’s infinite. That’s because you have this white sheet in front of you. That’s the difficulty of this. “Even with a frame to work within, I guarantee you that halfway through the project you have to cut 30 per cent of the game because you want to do more and more and more. For a new IP it’s even worse.” These frameworks all come from the Square Enix stable, something that Eidos Montreal has grown comfortable with over its 11 years in development. Now, with its Avengers project being overseen externally by Marvel, the team is working with a new collaborator, but also an old one. “We technically work with Crystal Dynamics on that, so there’s nothing new about the way we collaborate on development,” Anfossi explains. “Avengers is like Deus Ex, Thief or Tomb Raider, you have a frame. Actually there’s no big difference with that, just that this frame and specific stuff is done by external partners, not from inside. That’s what I would say the big difference is for us. “I initiated this partnership with Marvel, so I can give you some insight into the very high level stuff... We have very strong creative people at Eidos Montreal. So the purpose of this partnership was not to do a business title. It’s not about that at all. I have to stimulate creative people here. So it’s not about getting the rights and doing an Avengers game. It’s about bringing something from our experience, too. It’s a true partnership. There is a frequent exchange, we work together with Marvel and it brings the experience to another level.” ALL THE SINGLE PLAYERS Historically, Eidos Montreal has always been focused on single-player experiences. A conscious decision made by the studio to create the very best games for a specific audience rather than trying to aim for two different targets and, potentially, hit neither. Anfossi isn’t ruling out
multiplayer games in the future, but it’s clear that this sense of focus is something that will remain within the studio. “We had to fight a lot when we started this studio making Human Revolution because our publisher wanted us to develop a multiplayer mode,” Anfossi says. “We are convinced here that single-player and multiplayer are two different audiences. So when we focus on the single-player experience, we want to give 100 per cent to that and be true to that. But it doesn’t mean that I don’t like multiplayer experiences, or co-op. We have this incubation project but we want to be true to that and give the maximum we can for two different audiences. “We set up a lot of incubation projects to test new things, including online, because we want to be curious. We want to learn. Of course we have this essence of narrative, story-driven experiences but we want to touch different things and learn from that. So we stick to the narrative single-player experience, but we try new things on the side. That’s why we’ve grown up a bit. We’ve changed the design of the studio to make sure that everything is functional and we can correctly support this initiative.” This curiosity extends beyond the walls of the studio and Anfossi is keen to learn from the wider games industry and any other industries he can. Just a few days before our interview, Eidos Montreal welcomed members of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds’ dev team. Just to chat. “It’s about learning,” Anfossi explains. “Learning from the competition and from friends. There are trends and that’s the way I perceive the market changing. It’s exactly what I said in 2007 when we were told we needed a multiplayer mode [in Deus Ex]. Since then, in the last ten years, multiplayer experiences are crazy. It’s amazing what we can do with that. And there is an audience, people waiting for that and that’s perfect. “But it’s funny because when we did the reveal events for Shadow of the Tomb Raider, I had some people ask: ‘So single-player experiences are not dead?’. I said: ‘Yeah, it’s always been there!’, but there are trends. So you have something new like Fortnite or all the multiplayer experiences we have available now, but you’ve still had single-player experiences for the last ten years. No change there. I believe that narrative story-driven experiences belong to a certain generation [of player]. “We should challenge ourselves to... not reinvent, but find ways to bring story in different ways. Or find ideas to capture this new generation, also. We are working on that.” UNIQUE DESIGN PROCESS The quest for a perfect narrative single-player experience is what led Eidos Montreal to craft a pretty unique development process. One that allows mistakes
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to happen early, where they can be learnt from, Anfossi explains. “We faced a lot of walls over the last ten years,” he says. “You know it’s when you make mistakes that you learn. The way we develop games here means that we want the full game to be playable as soon as possible. “So we don’t care about the visual quality in the beginning whatsoever. Because it’s a narrative experience, we want to be able to play the game from beginning to the end as soon as possible. So it’s all grey, but you have the right elements. You can measure the pace of the story, the flow. We can test the dialogue and everything very early on. So you can adjust everything at low cost, because the visual quality is not there. “By doing this we can iterate a lot until we are very happy with the quality of the narration, the story, characters, the balancing of everything. And when we are happy with that, we level up the quality. That’s where we push. So that’s something I believe is very unique, based on my experience at Eidos Montreal. Just to give you an idea, Shadow of the Tomb Raider has been fully playable for a year now.” It’s a design philosophy that seems to appeal to the growing number of people working at Eidos Montreal. Despite the region being a hotbed for games development, employee retention is better than ever, with the number of developers at the studio celebrating milestones reaching new heights. “Yesterday I was amazed because we give gifts to employees here for five year and ten year anniversaries now,” Anfossi says. “Usually it’s five or six gifts a month, so I take the gifts and I go to see the ‘Eidosian’ and say:
‘Five years, thank you very much, how do you feel?’. But yesterday we had to book a meeting room, because we had... I don’t know how many gifts it was, but the room was full and we had a line-up of employees waiting for their anniversary gifts. I spent maybe two hours handing them out, so that gives you a good sense of how loyal our ‘Eidosians’ are. “We have to be proud as developers. I want my guys and girls here to speak to their family and say ‘I’m working for Eidos Montreal’ and they know about that company. It’s different to saying that ‘I’m working on Tomb Raider.’ We have to be proud. “The best way to keep people... Of course there are the usual tools, creating a stronger, cooler working environment. That’s exactly what we’re doing with the current revamp, actually. After that, you have the Eidos IPs. So many IPs to work on, unique here in Montréal on top of that. We bring something different and unique with Deus Ex, Thief and Tomb Raider. Now we have Marvel, which is very interesting to work on, too. “And the most interesting thing I hear when I discuss with the developers here is that the way we develop games and the philosophy around the quality we want to deliver is pretty unique. If you look at, here in Montreal especially, the quality of the games we delivered until now, I can guarantee you that we are at the top. I think that we have created this great image of the studio. The IPs, the quality and the way we develop games... It’s not perfect of course, we try to learn again and again and again, challenge ourselves to be better and better and better for all aspects. Development, quality, life at the studio and everything.”
“Shadow of the Tomb Raider has been fully playable for a year now.”
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ARE DEVS SUFFERING FROM...
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There’s a rise in new studios set up by industry veterans and former triple-A developers. Marie Dealessandri investigates why top talent is jumping ship for a life as indies
railmix, Sharkmob, Interior Night, Maze Theory, Ordinal Games, Dream Reality Interactive, SlingShot Cartel, PlayMagic: all these recently-opened studios are the creations of former triple-A veterans – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are more and more examples pointing in the direction of developers being weary of triple-A production every day, even if that’s what they’ve been aiming at for their entire career. Wanting to leave a wellestablished company to create something of your own is not a new desire, but it seems to be increasingly popular in development in the past few months. Star Wars Battlefront II’s actress Janina Gavankar specifically discussed the rise of independent studios created by triple-A veterans in a interview with GamesBeat recently: “If you don’t have something that hits gamers’ hearts, you’re not going to reach them. I have triple-A fatigue, and I have felt like this for a while. Why am I playing games that I could’ve played in 2007 except with better graphics?” So we decided to ask newly-created studios if they too felt this triple-A fatigue, how instrumental it was in their decision to create their own company, their role in the future of an industry that is changing more rapidly than ever and what people are doing wrong when it comes to retaining talent within triple-A studios.
THE GAMES FACTORIES A need to explore more creative processes, and generally to have more creative freedom, is first and foremost what’s driven these industry veterans out of their comfort zone to find a new path, away from the sometimes rigid formats of triple-A development. “After three triple-A games in 11 years (Fahrenheit, Heavy Rain and Beyond Two Souls), I felt the need for a change of pace and scale,” says Interior Night creative director and CEO Caroline Marchal, formerly of Quantic Dream and Sony. “Triple-A development is great but it means long development duration – four years on average at Quantic Dream – and bigger and bigger teams which come with organisational challenges and less flexibility. Running my own studio, I get creative freedom and the benefits of working with a smaller team. People are here for good reasons, not because it’s comfortable or prestigious. But it also comes with new
challenges: now, I control a lot more things, which is super cool, but can also be a bit scary.” Jim Brown, who spent over 15 years at Codemasters, is now studio director at Malta-based PlayMagic. He echoes Marchal’s statement on the challenges of long development cycles: “The video games market and the industry move too fast to spend years on one game. I enjoy making entertainment for a living but too many years on one title is not for me anymore, I’ve done that. I’m happiest working on multiple products that I know can make the kids in my family smile.” The lack of creative freedom at some triple-A studios is also what led Martin Hultberg and Chris Pasley to cofound companies with devs who felt the same way. “It is not unusual for triple-A studios to become these monster production houses, more akin to factories than creative studios,” Hultberg says. He spent 14 years at Ubisoft, 11 of which were at Massive Entertainment. He’s a founding member of new Malmö-based studio Sharkmob, where he’s now IP and communications director. “I wanted to get back to a studio size where everyone had creative input, were hands-on with the game and felt a sense of ownership for what they worked on. When organisations get too big and these things aren’t considered you can lose that and it quickly becomes a more political and rigid environment.” Pasley, who was executive producer on The Walking Dead: Road to Survival at Scopely and also worked for the likes of Cartoon Network and Kongregate, recently founded free-to-play mobile studio Ordinal Games. He also mentions “a strong desire to do things in [his] own way,” adding: “Large established studios with high burn rates make it difficult to go off in directions that are interesting but unproven – any plan you make could end up costing millions, so you tend to design and execute conservatively.” INDIE READY The well-reported success of indie hits from studios such as Campo Santo, Infinite Fall, The Fullbright Company or Giant Sparrow, to name a few, has also shown that it’s now possible to make it as an indie, paving the way for more ambitious independent productions. “There is so much opportunity to innovate as an indie, the landscape of tools, talent and market make it
Pictured above, from top: Interior Night’s Caroline Marchal and Ordinal Games’ Chris Pasley
Pictured left: Illustration by Sam Richwood
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a viable and exciting option,” says Dave Ranyard, who spent 11 years at Sony before launching Dream Reality Interactive in 2016. “The next wave of triple-A will come from indies, possibly backed by major publishers, but finance can come from many sources now: just look at film financing.” Sharkmob’s Hultberg also sees similarities with the film industry: “I think [these new indie studios] combine the best from both worlds – combining elements of triple-A production values and practices with indie creativity and risk-taking. It is a move similar to what the movie industry in Hollywood went through years ago when there was a paradigm shift from the huge studios to the smaller, more flexible, production companies.” The comparison with films doesn’t stop here, with the democratisation of tools also being instrumental in the emergence of these new studios led by industry veterans: they don’t need to work at triple-A studios anymore to have access to the best game engines. “I looked at the film industry pre and post-WW2,” Ranyard continues. “Originally, the big studios made all the film and contracted the talent, but post-war, the tools for film-making were democratised, making it possible for smaller creative companies to develop ideas and then look for funding from the studios. I see a similar pattern in games, with the ubiquity of tools like Unity and Unreal.” Ordinal Games’ Pasley agrees that the market is now mature enough to support the emergence of more indie productions: “I think if there is a shift to indie development it’s because of two possible things: creative people want to stretch out in ways established companies have a hard time justifying and the indie economy can now support it.”
Pictured above, from top: Dream Reality Interactive’s Dave Ranyard, PlayMagic’s Jim Brown, Maze Theory’s Marcus Moresby and Sharkmob’s Martin Hultberg
STORY-POWERED This shift is also a genre one, with the great majority of these new studios having been vocal about wanting to develop narrative-focused titles. “Narrative games are the only fertile ground for new IPs at the moment,” Ranyard says. “I have talked with many publishers and many have done the same research, with the same conclusions… Narrative games are a huge opportunity for new IP to flourish. Indies have the experience and the agility to make great stories – how many great stories have been written by a committee of executives?” Marcus Moresby, VR director at Maze Theory (founded by veterans from Sony and Activision) is in agreement: “Over the past few years I’ve spent a lot of my time playing games from the indie world: Firewatch, What Remains of Edith Finch, Gone Home and Dear Esther to name a few. As a massive fan of
narrative experiences that have a strong emotional hook, I think the shift to indie productions could be rooted in developer fatigue of triple-A polish and constantly redressing the same well-trodden game mechanics. I believe they appeal to a wider audience who are perhaps put off by the heavy action titles or seemingly complicated control schemes.” Interior Night’s Marchal shows nothing but respect for triple-A games, saying she enjoys playing them once in a while “the same way [she] enjoys superhero movies from time to time” and adding she “knows how much sweat and blood goes into to this level of perfection,” mentioning God of War as a prime example of what triple-A has to offer. However, she agrees that the greater ease of access of indie narrative games is what makes them appealing. “Narrative games tend to be more accessible as they focus more on story than skills. They have the potential to appeal to a broad audience as stories are universal,” she says. “It’s a blossoming genre with several successful new IPs every year – something other game genres struggle with – and recent interesting experiences trying to bring together TV/film and games. I think this convergence is fascinating and will lead to the creation of a new medium/format in the next few years.” Narrative games have also not reached their full potential yet, meaning it’s still a relatively unexplored part of the market that is well worth exploring, Pasley continues: “It’s time to double down on narrative because it’s a gaming niche that is currently not as fulfilled as it could be. And now a few companies have shown that these are viable market mechanics – that I am not alone
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Pictured: Games like Campo Santo’s Firewatch (left) and The Fullbright Company’s Gone Home (right) paved the way for more ambitious indie productions
in my desire to play great stories, and that players will support that desire financially. I think indies are drawn to them because these games who have set the stage for others were all well made, but production-wise not that difficult to make on a budget. I think indies see these experiences as ways to deliver quality without needing to deliver expensive graphical fidelity.” NEW VOICES Ultimately, these newly-created studios led by veterans have an important role to play in the industry: they’re shaping its future. A future that could see a wider range of firms sharing the market, with triple-A titles sideby-side with indie narrative darlings. Perhaps these polished, often shorter experiences, are worth bringing the term ‘triple-I’ back for, no matter how silly you think it is. “It’s the promise of getting new voices out there, exploring different topics and new genres,” Interior Night’s Marchal says. “It can only be beneficial to get more diversity in games as this allows us to reach new audiences and satisfy niches which are not considered by triple-A. It’s a very exciting time and I have high hopes in these studios delivering high quality and innovative experiences.” PlayMagic’s Brown concludes: “Companies like ours are the lifeblood of future creativity, and to a quality standard players respect. I don’t work to make games for our company – we make them for the consumers that buy them. Our duty is to create high quality engaging experiences that deliver fun. Triple-A studios copy what works and package it in graphics. We create what works.”
RETAINING TALENT WITH many people leaving triple-A studios to create their own firms, it’s only natural to wonder if big firms are rewarding key creatives enough and if they could do better to retain staff. “This is a tricky question. Some turnover is inevitable in any studio, especially after a project’s completion,” Interior Night’s Caroline Marchal says. “As to retaining staff in triple-A studios, promoting people, trusting them to evolve the franchise and empowering them creatively seem like sensible things to do, but I’m sure they already do this. What I do know is that you rarely make a fortune as a game developer. Heavy Rain was a massive success, but to my knowledge it didn’t translate into massive revenue for Quantic Dream. If developers had a better royalty share, then they could reward and retain their staff more.” Here, Marchal touches upon a very sensitive topic: rewarding the developers for their contribution to the game, in a similar way the film or music industries reward staff with bonuses and royalties. “When it comes to rewarding key creative staff compared to Hollywood, I think that might be difficult, but the idea is interesting,” Ordinal Games’ Chris Pasley says. “Should key creatives get royalties, or other performance bonuses beyond what companies usually give
in the industry now? I think it works in Hollywood because of the concept of key creatives as auteurs. In games, with a few notable exceptions, most are made by large teams who collaborate in a much different way. So if you didn’t have this key creative, would the game have been as successful? In movies, the answer is usually no – without James Cameron, Avatar doesn’t exist. However, I think in games that is rarely seen to be the case.” Sharkmob’s Martin Hultberg also thinks it’s maybe time to change the way we approach recognition in the industry: “I think we have problems in regards to giving credits, royalties and proper recognition. This probably stems from a lack of unionised or industry wide standards, something that is more common in the movie and music industries. In gaming, all the rights stay with the company. “All the recognition goes to spokespeople selected to represent the product. It would be interesting, and highly motivating, if the actual content creators were the ones recognised for their contributions. And don’t even get me started on credit lists. Maybe a more structured industry in this regard would help stabilise compensation and recognition for everyone working in it.”
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Sales data is getting...
EURO VISION Five years in the making, pan-European sales data is finally becoming a reality. Seth Barton reports
t’s somewhat ironic that just as the UK is leaving the European Union, it’s a British man who is going to be uniting the tricky-to-navigate games sales territory like never before. Simon Little, managing director of the Interactive Software Federation of Europe (ISFE) has, after five years of negotiations, succeeded in unifying the territory with a truly pan-European sales report. That service is the Games Sales Data (GSD) charts. And for the very first time, figures from across the region will be available in a single report; that’s both physical and digital sales, all collated in a single database. It will allow the industry to better understand regional differences and to see how their marketing spend has played out across Europe, and all without having to collate numerous national reports into something semi-coherent. It’ll make a lot of people’s working lives a lot easier. WHY IS THIS GOOD? “That was one of the drivers behind this,” Little begins. “The system as it existed was multiple systems, using different data standards for each country. I was working with the [big publishers’] European HQs, and what they wanted was a pan-European view using a standard approach.” Little is keen to note that the current UK Chart-Track data “was extremely highly regarded, that wasn’t the issue.” What was needed is the new system’s Europe-wide capability, which will have uniformity of data such as genres, game names, PEGI ratings and more. And it’s up-and-running now in some countries: “It’s live in France, meaning that we’re publishing the data and charts on a weekly basis, but we’re also in a closed beta, an
industry test, in Spain, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, Nordic countries, Switzerland, Poland and this month hopefully in Portugal.” Later this year, it will expand to Austria, Germany and potentially Russia. In fact it will likely be the UK that will be the last to go live. GSD combined digital and physical charts (or 'network' and 'retail' as Little calls them to avoid confusion with digital codes sold at retail) will take over from the current retail-only system on January 1st, 2019. HELLO OLD PAL Digital shift has made Europe a far more unified sales territory than ever before. “On the network side we cover 42 countries which is basically what we used to call PAL," Little says. "That doesn’t really exist anymore, but it’s pretty much the sales territory of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe.” And speaking of Sony, it’s worth noting at this point that initially the data will only cover the biggest publishers, with a couple of exceptions. This was done to get the largest possible sales volume from the off, as their are practical limitations to the system. Namely, despite having the big platforms onboard, Sony and Microsoft, as well as Steam and other online PC retailers, GSD still gathers its data from the individual publishers. “It’s a bit of a convoluted ruse,” Little explains. “Every week the networks [eg, PSN and Steam] send their sales reports to the publishers and most of them simply forward theirs straight onto our service provider. Some are more sophisticated and integrate them into their own data processing system, and we get an extract of that. We don’t get the data directly from the network.”
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Pictured above: Simon Little, managing director of the Interactive Software Federation of Europe (ISFE)
The reasons for that are varied but the key is that “the networks don’t want the liability of accidentally sending the wrong data or the wrong person’s data. That’s why it goes round this route.” The ISFE retains audit rights to ensure the data is correct, though that’s more for errors than any need to police the validity of the data. “Can you imagine the fuss if a listed company had been misstating sales,” Little comments with a sense of disbelief. “Getting weekly data, there are sometimes slight glitches. So we also get the rolling data from the publisher and that corrects the data in the long term, so maybe it’s a few units out last week but by the time we look at the previous month it’s all fixed and correct.” WHAT ABOUT THE LITTLE GUYS? It’s this method of data collection that is currently limiting the ISFE to just including the biggest publishers for digital data. Though Little obviously isn’t happy with that situation. “I’m keen people don’t come away with the feeling that it’s just a project for the big guys. I’ve had to tackle this from a very practical point of view because of the the intensive way we gather the data. By signing up Activision and EA, I get a lot more data than by talking to 30 of the smaller guys.” With smaller publishers come potential problems, he tells us, especially with a manual, weekly task. Key staff being ill and the company not being able to cover those absences is the main one. “We’re fairly close to our limit in terms of the number of publishers we can onboard for now. There’s a few more we could accept but then the system starts to bog down,” he explains. However, Little is open to the suggestion of potentially adding smaller companies in on a less regular basis, for monthly or quarterly reports for instance. He tells us that his long-term goal is to “be able to ingest the data from everyone” but that would require “an extra level of cooperation from the platforms.” He hopes that the industry will quickly get comfortable with the new system, though, and then they can again discuss getting the data from the platforms directly.
“I’m keen people don’t come away with the feeling that it’s just a project for the big guys.”
Long-term is a recurring theme of the discussion. The project was never going to be a “quick fix” but Little is mindful that “without the considerable commitment of the ISFE board, the platforms and the membership to the long-term vision of the project, it would not have survived the set-backs and delays. It may not seem like it when I am always trying to push my members for ‘more’ but I must keep in mind how much they have already supported and that even small steps are still steps.” WHAT WILL IT COST? The ISFE is a not-for-profit organisation that represents various publishers and trade organisations to the EU and associated bodies. “The aim of the project, because it’s been run by us rather than as a commercial venture, is to create something that adds value for every part of the industry, for [the press and analysts], for the retailers, for the publishers and smaller firms,” states Little. Though that doesn’t mean that the data will be freely available: “The prices are based on our analysis of several other markets but they should all be competitive and ultimately the project will be run on a sort of profit neutral basis. Ideally the costs and the expenses will match.” However, the ISFE will first need to recoup the substantial investment it’s made, thanks to members and investors, in setting up the new service. “Once that’s all repaid, then we can look again at the pricing and try and balance income and expenses. So the expectation is that it will become cheaper,” Little predicts. The biggest publishers and the platform holders will want full access to the online portal with all the data. But that depth of information and the prices that accompany it would make most blanche. “Basically, unless you’re employing a team of full-time analysts you’re probably not going to want that,” he reassures us. “It’s good value but it is still relatively expensive if you’re a small operation. If you’re a publisher and you want to get that kind of access then you come to me, we’ve got a standard price list and we figure that out.” For anyone else interested, Little has granted exclusive rights to the national associations for “the standard weekly, monthly and quarterly sales reports”. So in the UK the new charts will be available via Ukie just like the current Chart-Track figures – so get in contact with Ukie’s commercial manager Sam Collins (firstname.lastname@example.org. uk) with any queries. It’s a big step forward for the industry, providing what should prove to be accurate and easy to comprehend data for the whole of the European games market for the first time. Arguably it’s well overdue, and comes at a point when full-game sales are no longer the be-all and end-all of the games industry. But it’s no less welcome for it.
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LONDON CULLING Marie Dealessandri talks to Dontnod about the much-awaited Vampyr, and how the French studio tried to create a very British story by recreating London and populating it with an impressive number of detailed characters
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he wait is almost over: three years after being announced, Dontnod’s next game is nearly upon us. After a couple of delays, Vampyr will finally hit shelves on June 5th, taking full advantage of retail’s quiet period. It’s been quite a while since gamers have been able to enjoy a good vampire game, probably since zombies became en vogue and took over the gaming landscape. Former CEO at Vampyr’s publisher Focus, Cédric Lagarrigue, said himself that one of the reasons he took on the project was because of his love for 2004’s Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines. “We’ve been looking for years for a studio with a good vampire game project,” he told MCV last November. Narrative director Stéphane Beauverger also joked with us last year about Dontnod wanting to do Vampyr because “vampires are cool and there are too many games about zombies.” But vampires aren’t the only exciting thing about Dontnod’s new game. The studio very much aimed for historical accuracy with this title, apart from the ‘vampires killing people’ bit, of course. Vampyr is set in London in 1918, during the Spanish flu epidemic (main character Jonathan Reid is a doctor turned vampire) and Dontnod put a lot of effort into recreating the city accurately. “We chose London for a couple of reasons,” art director Grégory Szucs explains. “First we wanted to go back to vampires’ gothic roots and London sounded like the perfect place – a city where Dracula went. People associate vampires with the Victorian era and yet it is set
a bit further in time so we have access to a lot of new things from the modern times: development in medicines, electricity... Regarding the flu, it’s actually the first time they were doing quarantines, up to that point they thought only the poor got sick. There are many things that we read that made us converge towards London.” Choosing that exact time and place also meant easier access to historical documents for research. “At the time there were already a lot of historical documents and photographs, so the research was quite easy on that front. One interesting thing was that the census from that time was released into the public domain, so that gave us a very precise idea of the way the jobs and the wealth were divided across the districts. We tried to reproduce the different social layers and all the different problems.” Beauverger immediately gives an example of how they applied this historical knowledge to the game: “Jonathan Reid, who was born in London, who is a true Londoner, enters Whitechapel and says: ‘I’ve never been to that part of town in my entire life’. That’s a way to make the player understand how isolated the different districts were according to your social status.” He continues, talking about the unexpected discoveries the team made while researching that part of British history: “The thing that astonished me the most was that at the time Londoners were just left to die alone. The city didn’t cope with the epidemic at all. Nobody
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Pictured above, from top: Dontnod’s art director Grégory Szucs and narrative director Stéphane Beauverger
really realised what was going on because the war was not over. That’s why it killed so many people. It was surprising but really useful for the storyline of Vampyr because that means we could create very secluded parts of London, with people not knowing what was going on and that’s historically true.” Szucs takes over: “Even the way the architecture of London was set at that time... Before that, there were ‘tenements’, these huge buildings with no real accommodation – all the workers and families lived there. And it began to change at that time, they started to have inside courtyards – you see that in Peaky Blinders a lot. Then you have the poverty, the slums, they filled every nook and premises available, so we built it.” Beauverger adds that Peaky Blinders was used as an inspiration for recreating the East End docks: “We used that show to get an interesting insight of how the gangs were fighting each other at the time and how the civilians were coping with that part of the social aspect of the East End.” However, Peaky Blinders also unexpectedly pops into our conversation when discussing something completely different: “We’ve already seen reactions saying ‘It’s a game that happens in 1918 and Jonathan Reid has such a hipster haircut’… No! That was the way the guys cut their hair at the time, look at Peaky Blinders!,” Beauverger laughs, with Szucs adding that they actually “toned it down,” fearing people’s criticism about Reid’s supposedly hipster haircut. But Peaky Blinders is not the only BBC series to have inspired Vampyr’s art direction and story (and haircuts, apparently), Beauverger continues: “We also worked a lot with Casualty 1900s which is based on the true records of hospitals in London from the first war. That shows how the medical staff was dealing with diseases with brand new things like X-rays, ultraviolet light and so on. So we used that show for the ‘how was it to work or to be a patient in a London hospital’.” TAKE RESPONSIBILITY Having re-created a historically accurate version of London and added a pinch of fantasy to it, Dontnod also had to populate the city with believable characters. That’s Vampyr’s much talked about citizens system, with every NPC in the game having a meaningful backstory that will impact the player’s experience. “There are four districts in the game, each of them has 15 unique citizens that you can deal with. To spare or kill,” Beauverger explains, also reminding us that you can play through the entire game without killing anyone. “That means you have 60 different unique characters with backstories, families, friends, relationships. Each time you decide to kill one of them as a vampire you will impact people who know them.”
Szucs continues: “There’s no filler, no generic NPC. Everyone is a character from this pool so they all matter.” Obviously that meant a lot of work, having to supervise the design of 60 distinct, different characters. “You can’t just change the colour of their eyes or hair; everyone has to be a unique character,” he adds. “They have routines, they interact with others. You can’t create them as side characters who only sit in the background.” The challenge was the same on the writing side, with all these characters in need of a story. “From a narrative point of view, it means that you have to create who they are, what their secrets are, what they look for in the mess that is London at the time, who these people know, who they are connected to,” Beauverger says. “What does it mean if you kill this one first, how will they react, what would be the different layers of dialogue according to what’s happening in this character’s life? That was a huge amount of writing, much more than the storyline itself.” Impressively, the writing team to do all that only included two people, Beauverger further says. “Two French writers created the characters and dialogue and we had two native speakers from England, who rewrote the dialogue to give it ‘flavour’. If you’re not from England you can’t actually get the way they speak.” As a result, Vampyr is only getting voice over in British English, with Dontnod really wanting to remain true to its London setting. “We thought about creating American accents, international accents or just British ones and we went for British. It was much more relevant for the project,” Beauverger says, with Szucs adding that the marketing department did ask about more accents being included. “Downton Abbey was the key element that proved to them that we can create a show or project with British accents that will work worldwide,” says Beauverger. Vampyr’s citizens system is instrumental to the game, which wouldn’t exist without this microcosm – or would have been a very different game to the one Dontnod wanted to create, Beauverger insists. “We wanted to create a game that would put the player in a situation of being a deceiving predator. So to have that working you had to not consider the citizens as experience points or blood bags but people who have relationship, fears, goals, wishes, hopes and make these really impact the player. “That’s why each time you kill a citizen in the game you will get his last thought and it will depend on who this guy knew who had already been killed. We tested a lot and I think it really works, it tells the player ‘You did not just get some experience points, you took a life and you are responsible for that’.”
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Going it alone Red Kiteâ€™s managing director Simon Iwaniszak and creative director Dave Roberts talk to Seth Barton about why the work-for-hire studio is now developing its own IP
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ed Kite Games is perhaps best known as a work-for-hire company. Managing director Simon Iwaniszak, formerly of Rockstar, created the company with the aim of providing support on triple-A products and establishing the firm as a work-for-hire outfit. Its forthcoming title is Hollowpoint, the studio’s first homegrown IP on PC, acquired from Paradox Interactive after the publisher mothballed the project back in 2015. This iteration of Hollowpoint, a 2.5D side-scrolling shooter, is building on the concepts of the game to produce something totally new. To find out more about the studio’s future plans, we spoke to managing director Simon Iwaniszak and creative director Dave Roberts. As far as I understand it, this is your first game that’s purely your own IP. Why now? Simon Iwaniszak: I wouldn’t say there’s a massive change because we have released a couple of original games before
in the mobile space that have been successful for us. We do a lot of development support for bigger studios, big publishers and platform holders, but we still want to make our own games, so it was more a way of allowing us to have a bit of fun with releasing games. With Hollowpoint the shift is that we’re taking it a bit more seriously than we have before. It already looks like a significant investment of time and thought... Iwaniszak: Exactly. Both of those things. But it’s not like we’ve shifted completely with the company, we’re still supporting our partners, we’ve still got a lot of other projects going on at the studio, but Hollowpoint is now becoming more important, moving towards the center stage of what we’re doing. It was always going to happen: we’ve got experienced developers at Red Kite and a lot of the core team are ex-Rockstar, ex-Activision... So we had the talent. It was more a case of making sure that we put the right things
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in place – the team, resources, money and everything that’s required to make a game successful. And the right idea and the ability to deliver it to the level we expect of ourselves. The time is now, really.
Pictured above, from top: Red Kite’s managing director Simon Iwaniszak and creative director David Roberts
What’s the timescale like? Do you feel you have more flexibility with your own game as opposed to the hard deadlines of contract work? Iwaniszak: We’re not in any rush with the game or anything like that, which is a really nice place to be. Most recently one of the biggest games we’ve been helping out on, working on for about two and a half years, is Crackdown 3. That’s coming to an end now, but obviously a project of that scale was quite significant, meaning that our ability to work on Hollowpoint has kind of ebbed and flowed with other commitments. But we’ve invested significant resources in the game to get it where it is today. Hollowpoint is something that’s really important to us, you get a different kind of satisfaction when you go with your own thing, working on your own problems and game. It really just helps to reenergise and reinvigorate. Can you sum up Hollowpoint’s gameplay for us? Iwaniszak: Hollowpoint is an online action co-op shooter, where it’s all about building up the biggest and best team of mercenaries in a world where megacorps rule over all and you’re just in it for the cash and to build up your renown. You take on these intense ten minute missions where you’re going to a facility, taking it out, causing a tonne of damage, and getting out. It’s all about that replayability of going in and having lots of these flashpoints of gameplay where you can be doing lots of varied types of missions from assassinations to sabotage to kidnapping scientists and then from that, building up your arsenal, getting access to the bigger
“We want to build a community and listen to that community to drive the game forward.”
and better guns so you can take on the missions that are more lucrative, but more deadly. We want to build a community and listen to that community to drive the game forward. It’s like having the people who play the game almost crafting the narrative so to speak because the way that they play the game and what they do is what will build out the Hollowpoint universe. Do you have any date in mind for launch? Are you going to do early access? Iwaniszak: The plan at the moment is not to, we just want to make this game and get it out. That’s our strategy at the moment. Obviously things could change, but that’s where we’re at right now. The core mechanics and polish is there. In terms of features, there are a few things that we would like to introduce to that core but really the bulk of the development now is going to be building the world of Hollowpoint, all the different environments and the variations so when it launches players can pick up the game and enjoy a wide array of different missions that will keep them playing for hours on end. Do you see it as something you will continue to support after release? Dave Roberts: We can launch with a massive amount of content when it comes to environments and weapons, however we also have loads of ideas of how we can expand it. Different territories within the world, different environments, different enemies, different missions. We don’t have to launch with the entire world, but because we’ve got the entire world, we can continue to add to it in a very organic way. Iwaniszak: Using procedural generation for the missions allows inherent replayability which is really important to us. Then we’ll be able to expand upon it, augment the game and learn from what the community is saying. ‘What do you think is wrong? We’ll give it you’. In terms of platforms, what’s the plan? Roberts: We’re focused on building a great game on PC. That’s been the priority, it’s about the game. Iwaniszak: The game’s made in Unity, we have a lot of console experience and the game is suited for a multiplatform experience. Because of our background, obviously we have a good relationship with Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo... That conversation is probably a bit too early, so we’re just concentrating on building the game.
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With Switch predicted to hit 30m installed units this year, the eShop isnâ€™t the only place to sell indie titles. Seth Barton talks to Merge Games about the potential and challenges in selling games in boxes
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he Switch is going to continue growing rapidly this year, which means lots of new owners looking for games to play on their new hardware. And while the eShop has been great for developers and publishers alike, boxed titles are also going to do very well as the console becomes increasingly mainstream in its appeal. Luke Keighran, MD and owner of Merge Games, feels the time is right to unleash a strong Switch line-up of boxed indie titles: “We just brought out Wonderboy: The Dragon’s Trap and Darkest Dungeon, then in June it’s Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles and Brawlout – which has been huge on the eShop, so we’re doing a physical edition.” After that will come the promising roguelike-Metroidvania hybrid Dead Cells – which Keighran tells us sold 750,000 units on Steam in Early Access – and action-RPG Moonlighter from 11-bit, with Keighran adding he thinks "these two particular games are going to be huge.” He continues: “We’ve always had great independent hits on our books and we’re trying to push those games into mainstream retail and we’re having a lot of success at the moment.” PACK OF CARDS The main sticking point for indie titles on Switch are the price points, where the cost of game cards levied by Nintendo can make it hard for publishers to turn a profit without charging more than the digital edition of the game. “I don’t think the retailers appreciate it, but the problem is we don’t have much choice, because of the cost of goods with Nintendo,” comments Keighran. One option is to add content or additional materials such as art books to attract consumers: “For Darkest Dungeon we've done an Ancestral
Edition, so it has all the DLC in it for five to ten euros more. Still, I think you’ll find most indie gamers expect to pay more for a game in a box. The question is how much more, and that is a grey area.” That difference depends largely on the price point of the original game. Brawlout sells well at £17.99 on the eShop but the physical version will be £29.99. Getting the timing right is key too, bring a physical version to market too quickly and you risk the game being a flash in the pan, too late and it’s hard to charge a premium for a title that’s been on sale for some time. Keighran feels strongly though that “there’s a lot of people who just don’t shop on eShop still, there’s all that customer base that we’re mining.” He also points out that the default space on the console for games is limited. And while it’s expandable with memory cards, many users prefer simply switching out game cards over managing installs. And then of course there’s the gifting market nearer the end of the year. GOLDEN ERA Whether it’s physical or digital “Switch is a golden market at the moment,” says Keighran. “We’re not sure how long it’s going to last,” he admits, “but we’ve ridden that crest quite well this year – in fact we’ve tripled revenues from last year,” he reveals. To achieve that, Merge Games has numerous strings to its bow. It publishes indie titles across all digital and physical formats, releases physical versions of self-published digital hits and also acts as a distributor, both regionally and overseas for other publishers without that know-how. And there’s a lot of Switch hits that Merge can get involved with, as indie developers are now specifically targeting the eShop with the kind of games that sell well there: “If you speak to developers who’ve
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publishers, have to offer a range of bespoke services to match the client. “Publishing is a service. Of course it’s slightly different when you’re investing massive amounts of money in development. But publishing ultimately is a service and you have to tailor that to what they need. Look at Chucklefish: they’ve been able to produce great games and now they’ll end up being great publishers. We can still support those developers because we can take those products to retail. “We’re a service-based publisher, we’re always trying to delight our customers, because that old adage of being a publisher that just takes everything, those days are well over. The modern publisher doesn’t think like that, you’re an extension of the devs team, you’re an extension of what they want to do. I do still hear stories like ‘I never heard back from my publisher’. It’s just not cool.”
Pictured above: Luke Keighran, MD and owner of Merge Games
experienced the Xbox store and PSN too, then the eShop figures are excellent in comparison. That’s given the indies a notion to fund Switch development and get good returns on that investment this year. Whereas Steam is totally flooded, the return on investment there is just not what it used to be. "We will try to self-publish three to four games a year,” he tells us. “Sometimes we don’t even take our own games to retail because we know they’re not going to work. So we have a very different strategy on retail to what we do when we publish ourselves.” SCOUTS HONOUR With indie titles coming from every corner of the world these days, being able to hunt down and sign the next gem is key. “A lot of people reach out to us, we’re getting more and more known. We were nominated as Indie Publisher of the Year [at the MCV Awards] this year, so that obviously helps. But also we attend all the PAX events – they see the stand, they see the brand, it establishes you more. A lot of the pitches come from the devs, but we’re not Team17 or anything like that.” The key for Keighran is that publishing is now a service-based business and that Merge, and other smaller
TOUGH DECISIONS Publishers seem somewhat back in fashion at present, after the promises of digital distribution and crowdfunding looked to sweep away smaller operators for a while. Now the market is saturated with products and publishers are a big part in assisting with discoverability. “There’s so much market saturation,” says Keighran. “That’s probably why you’re getting a lot of devs coming to publishers saying: ‘We tried to self-publish and it didn’t work’. “There is already a correction happening in the marketplace. You’re saying there’s a trend of people going back to publishers, and the reason is financial because they haven’t quite been able to make enough money, so they’re turning to publishers to help fund or promote their next project. It's swings and roundabouts, but because there’s so much saturation in the market people understand that there’s only so many dollars people can spend on games, and going with a publisher can get your head above the pulpit to magnify your game and stand out. "Even publishers can afford to be a bit more choosey, where somebody would jump at the chance to publish [some games] once, not anymore. If you’re going to spend a couple of hundred thousand on a game and there’s similar games out there, it’s not a great return on investment, so we all need to be a bit more careful about the content that we pick up,” he cautions. If games are becoming services, then it looks like smaller publishers are following suit, adapting to a more developer-centric world, by providing a range of highly-valuable services. Merge Games isn’t alone in this respect, of course, with the UK becoming a hotbed of small, flexible publishing outfits of its ilk. But with plentiful high-quality product to go around this segment of the UK industry only looks set to grow.
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Wednesday 11th July 2018, Hilton Brighton Metropole BOOK YOUR TABLES: WWW.DEVELOPAWARDS.COM.
Rewarding and recognising the achievements of game developers
@MCVonline | #DevelopAwards Develop Awards 2018_Full Page_V2.indd 1
Captive audience Cinema advertising marries huge creative impact with audiences that loves games. Seth Barton talks to DCM about the opportunities for publishers
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inema advertising rivals outdoor as literally the biggest way to show off your brand to consumers. Add in a thundering soundtrack and games can be shown at their very finest. And with 4K in-game graphics now the norm, you don’t necessarily need to rely on expensive CGI or live-action trailers to get your point across. We talk Antonio Garcia, client director from market-leader DCM, which has 82 per cent of the UK market, about the possibilities and how even smaller publishers can get involved. What kind of reach does cinema advertising have? The cinema industry has experienced huge growth over the last 30 years. Annual admissions have grown from 74.8m in 1987 to 171m in 2017. 78 per cent of the UK population are cinemagoers, with an average of 2.7m weekly admissions to cinemas covered by DCM. Cinema is able to engage a different audience to that of other media. The medium delivers efficient targeting and extended campaign cover against traditionally hard to reach audiences such as 16-34s, ABC1s, Londoners, dual-viewing families and men. Additionally, 92 per cent of those who’ve bought games in the last year are cinemagoers. Historically hard to reach and light TV viewing, game purchasers are 58 per cent more likely than the average UK adult to be a heavy cinemagoer.
has also increased thanks to new ways of buying by audience, genre, and even showing time – all of which has helped bring a new sophistication to targeting in cinemas. Should publishers outside the biggest hitters consider using cinema advertising? How scalable is the platform? Since going digital in 2012 DCM has been able to target by film, by showing, by cinema and by time across our whole estate. We can create bespoke opportunities for brands, with the cinema medium easier to plan and buy than ever before. We find that clients with smaller budgets will tactically use cinema for early announcement or smaller launch campaigns, limiting the run of their ads to opening weeks to target early adopters first and fast. In fact, nearly 20 gaming brands advertised on cinema over the last 12 months, using the medium in a variety of ways. 40 per cent were either first-time cinema advertisers or brands that hadn’t used cinema for a long period, buying into the power of the medium due to DCM’s flexible offering. With the big superhero and sci-fi blockbusters, it seems that gaming and film share a core audience? Heavy cinemagoers are twice as likely to be ‘absolute gamers’ (who live and breathe gaming and tend to have high consumption on all game types, across all devices), making the two synonymous. One example is Xbox One X, which targeted the opening week audiences for three blockbusters (Thor: Ragnarok, Justice League and Star Wars: The Last Jedi) as a result of knowing this strong correlation between heavy cinemagoers and the gaming audience. Cinema offers good contextual fit too – EA and PlayStation ran bespoke copy for the new Star Wars Battlefront II game in reels before Star Wars: The Last Jedi – a perfect match. Additionally, Ubisoft has also maximised this strong correlation between gaming and film. For Far Cry 5 they wanted to do something different, they decided to run 4 x 5” blips in the reel followed by a 30” ad so audiences could see the story featured in the ad play out across the reel. Call of Duty has also maximised the close link between gaming and film, running in cinema’s premium Silver Spot (positioned after the DCM closing ident and just before the start of the trailers) during Dunkirk. This campaign is the perfect example of contextually relevant, cultural moments being brought to life through cinema.
“The power of the darkened room, big screen and immersive sound creates the best viewing experience for audiences who have paid to pay attention.”
How does cinema position itself? Over the last three years we have been working to reposition cinema as an intrinsic part of AV schedules. Our audiences are further aligned with TV audiences as part of our wider plan to cement cinema’s place on the AV media plan and make it easier to buy cinema [campaigns]. At DCM, we have a range of buying routes, from an Adult Audience Guarantee Pack (AGP) that targets an affluent, socially active populous, to a Male AGP that allows advertisers to have a presence with a highly engaged male audience by releases. These routes help brands align with key genres, categories and broad cinema audiences throughout the year. Advertisers can plan by day, showing, audience, film or cinema – meaning a brand is always relevant and on target. And how do you track the effectiveness of campaigns? The ultimate measure of success is whether a campaign is able to deliver a return on investment (ROI) and our Building Box Office Brands, Volume II research, which was launched alongside global research company Kantar Millward Brown and marketing knowledge consultancy Benchmarketing, has proven how cinema investment can help advertisers optimise the return their ad campaign delivers. Cinema delivers significant impact per person reached for key equity metrics including salience, love, difference, consideration and recommendation. The medium’s power for short-term activations
A cinema is the ultimate opportunity to let creative assets shine – is that a big attraction for your clients? The cinema medium proposition is stronger than ever. The power of the darkened room, big screen and immersive sound creates the best
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viewing experience for audiences who have paid to pay attention. This unique, uncluttered environment adds a sense of escapism for viewers who are emotionally and physically engaged, literally looking forward at the big screen with no distractions. Amplifying the power of AV content, the emotional impact of cinema delivers brand fame and drives long-term sustainable growth. Additionally, we’re in an enviable position in that we know our film slate far ahead of time. 2018 has already seen an unprecedented run of blockbusters, with many relevant titles for gaming brands still to come, including Ant-Man & the Wasp, The Predator and Venom. 2019 could potentially be one of the biggest ever years for cinema. Detective Pikachu, Angry Birds 2 and Jumanji 2 are perfect targets for the family-friendly gaming audience while, given the crossover in audiences (80% of superhero movie fans are gamers), a whole host of superhero movies, including Dark Phoenix, Captain Marvel, Avengers, Spider-Man, The New Mutants, Wonder Woman 2, Godzilla 3, Shazam, John Wick 3 and Star Wars: Episode IX are just some of the titles that brands will be aligning with next year!
Do clients also promote mobile and other ongoing ‘live’ titles? Cinema plays an instrumental role in executing key gaming campaign launches, capitalising on relevant cultural moments, detailed audience targeting and tactical thinking. We have also seen clients promote mobile and other online titles as the two remain culturally aligned. An example of this is Clash of Clans, who invested over £1m and buying the Gold Spot in Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2015. Its campaign objective was to achieve cut-through during the Christmas period, engaging a very specific audience, with cinema the best environment to amplify its impact. Another example was the largest entertainment product in the world, GTA V, aligning its ongoing and extremely successful online mode in cinemas alongside the biggest cultural blockbuster running at the time: Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Both campaigns were successful at building brand awareness at a typical holiday downtime when consumers are more likely to play games on their mobile or go back to their favourite multiplayer titles.
Pictured above: Antonio Garcia, client director at DCM
INDUSTRY CINEPHILES “At Activision we have found cinema to be a great way to extend our reach through our media campaigns in recent years. With the standout triple-A creative we have every year on Call of Duty, it allows us an opportunity to reach a more captive audience in a format where it can optimally be experienced, on the big screen. We have found it to complement our media campaigns to ensure we are creating the most effective launch moments possible.”
“Cinema remains a crucial media channel for Ubisoft at launch, allowing us to deliver cinematic experiences to target audiences. Thanks to the growth of cinema and our close relationship with DCM, we are able to identify the best audience fits amongst the film release schedule and create targeted campaigns across a number of our key brands. Results continue to impress, across brands such as Watch Dogs 2 and Far Cry 5, both of which exceeded our KPIs.”
Rachael Grant Senior brand manager at Activision
Wayne Greenwell Brand manager at Ubisoft
“Cinema enables us to capture a highly engaged and attentive audience within a fully immersive environment. Based on study results we know cinema drives awareness and intent amongst our target audience. Aligning with key film releases provides an additional touch point to an already engaged audience.” Stewart Collin Xbox account director at Carat
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Gamerunners How did Tiny Rebel Games bring a TV-style production model to Doctor Who Infinity? Seth Barton reports on Ukie’s UK Game of the Show at GDC
ames get made in a lot of different ways, but the vast majority fall into a handful of easily identifiable camps. Triple-A games have huge organised studios toiling on big franchises, indies are often made by small tight-knit teams – friends even – while big mobile publishers prefer numerous internal teams rapidly iterating ideas. All good approaches, but all very familiar. Lee and Susan Cummings have their fair share of experience in games production, having worked on some of the biggest franchises, most notably for 2K and Rockstar. Over the last five years they had big success with Doctor Who: Legacy, a free-to-play mobile title from their studio Tiny Rebel Games, which is based in Newport in South Wales. But with their latest title, the episodic, narrative-driven, puzzle title, Doctor Who Infinity, they’ve taken an intriguing new path in terms of staffing and production – one that borrows from the model that created the TV show itself. RUNNING WITH IT “It makes us sound over important maybe, but it feels like we’re being showrunners on this,” Susan begins, telling us they have “five teams to write five episodes of Doctor Who.” And not just writing them, but directing the lead voice talent too, along with different artists for every episode, giving them each a completely distinct look. Lee and Susan act as producers and game designers, coordinating the various teams and coming up with “tile or gem-based” gameplay to line-up with any story the writers create. An intriguing change from the more usual hand-in-hand method. “Can we take gem gameplay and add any story to it whatsoever?” Lee recalls thinking. “We did an early design for The Legend of Korra, which we were talking to Nickelodeon about. And one of the story beats was a character drowning and we thought how you can simulate that experience in a gem game? So we started doing little experiments like that over a couple of years, and we came to a decision that maybe we could just say: ‘Write any story and put gameplay in there to match’.” Alone it’s a bold idea, but it’s also one that completely changed the development process, allowing the duo to spread their net far wider than usual for creative talent.
THE WELSH CONNECTION The pair had recently decided to move to Wales, Susan tells us “because we have family here, and we’re partners in the brewery here.” That being the award-winning Tiny Rebel Brewery that sits next door to the studio – we hope to visit the studio in person soon. “And we found out that Wales has this media investment budget that they were using to invest in film and television. It [potentially] included games but it hadn’t included a game. It turned out they wanted to but the opportunity hadn’t been right yet,” she explains. “They really wanted us to involve Welsh businesses. Our last game had basically been us and a team in Taiwan, Seed Studio, and we really wanted to keep working with them – but we realised from an asset standpoint there was a lot we could do locally.” However, the Welsh games industry is something of a “nascent space” Susan tells us, so there aren’t the art production houses you might find elsewhere in the UK. But “there were a lot of freelance comic book artists, who were working with DC and Marvel, and the more I looked the more I found,” she continues. “On the writing side there were actually great Doctor Who writers who were living locally.” And that’s how the open-handed approach to game design, combined with local talent and public sector funding, created a rather different production model. NEW MODEL ARMY “We now have 26 people rolled together from all over the world, loads of creative talent from across Doctor Who,” Lee tells us proudly. “It’s a very spread out and distributed development,” adds Susan. “Which you can only do these days, with fast internet, Skype and Discord,” concludes Lee. “What’s interesting about this is we’ve pulled in so many people who’ve never been near a video game development process before,” he tells us. “We have eight artists, none of whom have really worked on a game. And we’re pulling in writers who have barely any experience.” “We’ve made our pipeline so easy to understand, by saying that ‘story is the king of this’. We’ve managed to get a bunch of writers and a bunch of artists all up to speed making great content, which means
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over time we’re pretty confident we can pull in anybody who understands comic book layouts. We can get them into this game. Anyone who’s written a short story can write something for this and we can take that and make an episode from it.” Lee continues: “And the only way to do that is to give huge amounts of trust to the creative people on it. Every artist, we gave them some ideas and they came back with amazing things every single time. We were just so light touch with them and it was really enjoyable.”
Pictured above: producers and game designers Susan Cummings and Lee Cummings
THE LEGACY OF LEGACY After working on the free-to-play Doctor Who: Legacy for five years the pair were keen to move away from the model: “It’s a premium experience, we don’t ever want to do a free-to-play game again, so this is our somewhere in between approach, not fully going into a full-priced product,” Susan explains. To which Lee adds: “One thing we learnt with Legacy is that people like stories in chunks: ‘I want to buy this story, I want to have this content’. One of the reasons that Doctor Who is so successful is that everyone has ‘their Doctor’. So the issue with trying to make a game around one doctor is you’re going to alienate a big part of the audience.” Another strong reason for the episodic approach. “One of the problems with announcing the Dalek story first is loads of people assumed it was a 12th Doctor game,” Lee tells us. “It’s not, it’s just the first story is a
12th Doctor story. Actually it’s a Missy story. Now we’ve announced a classic Doctor Who story, and the third one is another modern Doctor Who story,” he explains. WORKING WITH AUNTY “If you look back at the history of Doctor Who video games nobody has gone back and taken a second swing at it,” Lee says. “We were the first company to go back and do a second project on Doctor Who.” That’s a pretty surprising statement, given how long the character has existed, but Doctor Who games can easily suffer from over ambition, given the resources required to create a full 3D action game that does the TV show justice. “Anything where you’re trying to represent a normal Doctor Who story, which isn’t all about combat, which is about sneaking and thinking and puzzles, all these things are hard to do in a normal third-person engine, and people say they want story, and before you know it it’s a $100m game,” Lee calculates. And that’s not the kind of game they want to be making (echoing the opinions of many once triple-A developers, see page 46), Susan tells us. “Lee and I started our careers working on big things. The problem with big games is everytime you want to make a change it involves so many people to make that change. It’s really lovely to do something the two of us can constantly impact and change. We’re really agile in a way you can’t be on a big project.”
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Racing to the top
London-based mobile studio Hutch Games has been hiring left, right and centre since the beginning of the year. The racing game developer, whose latest hit Top Drives reached 3m downloads in two months, has also been recognised for its top-notch company culture. Marie Dealessandri asks commercial director Peter Hansen-Chambers about how Hutch combines its rapid growth with a healthy work environment You’ve been recognised in various lists of ‘Best places to work in the UK’ recently, including in The Guardian, in which you were the only games studio in the small companies category – what sets you apart from other companies and led to this recognition? We have always set out to establish a ‘great place to work’, and that ethos was fundamental to our approach to building the team. We understand that our team is our biggest asset, and it is the combination of our talent, experience and shared sense of purpose that drives Hutch forward as a business. As a result, we have put a lot of effort into our culture, always striving to be open and honest, engaging with the
whole team on major decisions and being transparent on the performance of our titles and the company at large. There is an emphasis on collaboration and we encourage the sharing of learnings (and mistakes) to help us improve collectively. We trust our team with decisions and encourage them to problem solve. We believe this approach provides greater satisfaction and empowers them in all their work. Our culture seeks to be inclusive and encouraging, while delivering a good work-life balance that is fair and family-friendly. We recognise that our team is paramount to the company’s success and, with that said, by delivering the right environment, we can achieve more as a team.
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You’ve been hiring heavily since the beginning of the year, can you tell me more about this recruitment push? Recently, we have focused our efforts into building an additional (third) game team and have hired 14 new team members since January in roles across the business. We are constantly on the lookout for new talent, whether that be in development or publishing-focused roles and irrespective of experience. We are fortunate to have a number of highly experienced individuals within the team that are great at mentoring more junior members of staff, and helping them to progress in their professional development. We currently have a number of open roles waiting to be filled and as we continue grow, we hope to welcome more new hires to the business. Finding new employees is one thing, but how do you keep them around? We invest a lot of time and energy into recruitment and finding the right talent with the right experience, who will be a good fit into the team and culture. This is not easy but incredibly valuable. We are very proud of our high retention of staff and believe that taking a nurturing and supportive approach is key to keeping people around. We have a number of perks and benefits for all team members that include a work from home policy (normally every Tuesday and Thursday), enhanced maternity/paternity/adoption leave, and a selection of wellness services. We recognise that there are many life changing moments that occur in people’s lives and as a business we strive to support everyone through these events as much as possible. We have also supported staff in moving into new areas and departments when they have sought to take a different path in their career. What practical measures are you taking to promote diversity in your workforce and hire staff from underrepresented background? We have several processes in place to ensure we tackle diversity and recruitment fairly. When recruiting, we ask our partners to remove the name, location and educational information from the CVs of prospective applicants. Doing this allows our team to be entirely unbiased during the first stage of the interview process. No assumptions can be made and the candidate can be interviewed fairly. We actively support Women in Games and are working hard to ensure diversity is engrained in all that we do and we believe great ideas can come from anywhere and from anyone. Our games are played by literally millions of people from all over the world,
having a team with a diverse cultural and ethnic background helps us better understand and serve our dedicated players. As a result, we are able to draw down on different experiences – this helps us to overcome challenges, while improve as a team. Do you have a set of values you share with your employees? How do you promote them in the workplace on a daily basis? Our team all share the same values and take a genuine interest in why things work, or don’t, and how things can be transformed for the better. Transparency and an inclusive culture is at the heart of what we do and guides our day-to-day approach. With this thinking, we empower everyone to try new things, take risks without fear and learn as they go, while also encouraging all to be commercially aware. When new games have been launched or new ideas implemented in existing games, we work with all members of our team and constantly look to share our successes and failures. This ensures all corners of the business learn from each other, and creates a culture of sharing, which drives further progress.
Pictured above: Hutch Games commercial director Peter Hansen-Chambers
What advice would you give to small studios to improve their company culture and the quality of their work environment? Trust your team! It is because we trust our team that we are open and honest and this establishes a company culture that empowers the team to solve problems collectively, take risks, make mistakes, all while developing new skills that add value to our studio. Working in a transparent, but collaborative manner provides greater flexibility and freedom. This is mutually beneficial as a workforce that feels trusted will feel happier and this leads to greater creativity and improved output. Our entire philosophy is based on trusting the team. MMX Hill Dash 2 just released – what are your ambitions for this title and what’s next for Hutch Games? MMX Hill Dash was a successful game for us, attracting an engaged community who continued to play the game for much longer than we ever expect, so with that in mind, it was important that with the next game in the series, we structured it in the right way, offering features that the existing audience would love. Our team experimented with new features, artwork, and introduced ARKit functionality, to enable racers to show off their creations with their friends. We are also continuing to support our Top Drives title and are currently working on several new projects – watch this space for further announcements towards the end of the year.
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STEPPING OUT Sold Out has a new logo, is branching into digital and has signed some big new releases. Seth Barton gets the story behind the changes
ith E3 upon us, Sold Out looks to have another busy show, signing new titles and working with its key partners. Before the show kicked off, we talked to Sarah Hoeksma, Sold Out’s marketing director, about recent changes at the company and its upcoming slate. How’s business going at Sold Out? Life is pretty good at Sold Out right now. We’ve been growing as a business and since we announced our intentions to move into the digital market alongside the physical market, we’ve made some fantastic progress. But the one thing that underpins Sold Out is the partners we work with and the work we do together, and that has gone from strength-to-strength this year. We work hard for our partners and that’s why we’re fortunate to have some long-standing relationships with the likes of the immensely talented Rebellion and Team17. We never take those partnerships for granted and work incredibly hard to represent their IP and make sure we’re delivering everything possible for those partners. And then we have new partnerships which are flourishing, such as with Frontier Games, where we have been asked to look after the physical release of Jurassic World Evolution, which looks set to be a summer smash hit. And also new studios like Toadman Interactive, a talented Swedish studio, who we have forged a strong working relationship with for its debut title Immortal:
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Unchained, and Hyper Luminal Games up in Scotland who has the most insanely fun multiplayer game, Big Crown Showdown. As for the future, things are only getting bigger and moving faster at Sold Out. We had a hugely successful GDC and are working through a number of new game signings, which we’ll be excited to tell MCV about very soon..!
In Jurassic World Evolution, the player is at the heart of the Jurassic franchise and can build their own Jurassic World. Bioengineer dinosaurs that think, feel and react intelligently in an uncertain world where life always ﬁnds a way
You’re going to be part of launching a huge movie franchise with Jurassic World Evolution. How did that come about? At Sold Out we help our partners in whatever way possible, whether that’s digital or physical distribution, QA, marketing, PR, social media: we’re a full service solution for our partners and we see ourselves as curators when we represent a developer and its IP. For Jurassic World Evolution, Frontier asked us to help bring the boxed version of the game to retailers around the world and we were only too happy to help. The opportunity to work on such a fantastic game is why we come to work in the morning, and the team is so excited to help market and sell this game at retail. Frontier has done an amazing job on the title. You only have to look at some of the media coverage to see that this is a great way to bring the franchise to life and build your own Jurassic World. You also have Strange Brigade from Rebellion at E3. How difficult is it to launch a new IP in today’s market? It’s never easy to launch a new IP, unless you have something that feels quite unique, fun and challenging – and that’s exactly what Rebellion has with Strange Brigade. The game has a very distinct flavour to it and that makes our job much easier. The team at Rebellion certainly knows how to create that ‘X’ factor and give a game an instant appeal, and it’s been amazing to see how much fun players have had when going hands-on with the game at shows like E3. But discoverability is the greatest challenge in today’s market, so you need to help a title stand out. That may be the game itself, the marketing, the personal narrative behind it, the content it deals with... All manner of things. Once you achieve that it’s about timing your campaign to maximise volume and appeal at exactly the right time – so that’s what we’re working on with Rebellion right now. The game is at E3 and I’m sure everyone who gets the chance to come and play it will agree that Strange Brigade has something special about it.
Strange Brigade gives players the ability to explore ruins, solve perilous puzzles and uncover tantalising treasure in a thrilling third-person action title
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PQube has signed an exclusive distribution partnership with Milestone, securing rights to the biggest two-wheeled franchises around. Seth Barton talks to PQube’s head of marketing Geraint Evans PQube and Milestone are working together in the UK, what’s the deal? 2018 is shaping up to be a huge year for Milestone with the release of three incredible racing titles, MotoGP 18, MXGP Pro and the recently announced Ride 3. Each one has a different flavour and together they bring real progression to three of the leading motorcycle racing series. What’s new for 2018 for those franchises? MotoGP 18 and MXGP Pro both represent a real leap forward in terms of development. MotoGP 18 has been completely rebuilt from scratch using Unreal Engine, creating the most immersive MotoGP experience ever. Both games have all-new AI, bike physics and collision systems. Meanwhile, drone scanning and 3D face mapping means that the drivers and tracks are replicated in incredible detail. We’re looking at the ultimate test of your riding ability – and great fun to boot. You’ll have to wait a little longer for the full lowdown on Ride 3, but it’s sure to pick up where its predecessor left off and lead the way when it comes to bringing gamers the most comprehensive motorcycling simulation in existence. The vision for Ride has always been to become the Gran Turismo or Forza of bike games – one that is almost encyclopaedic in its scope. Now with the new technology and over 200 bikes, Milestone is sure to deliver on that promise. You’ve worked together before, right? We have a very strong relationship with Milestone, having worked together over many years and helped to establish MotoGP, MXGP and Ride as some of the UK’s strongest racing brands. They’re also franchises that PQube not only has great fondness for, but also a track record of great success with. Milestone is entering an exciting new era and now felt like the right time to bring that partnership back together. What kind of sales potential do these titles have? The potential is bigger than you might imagine. MotoGP is very much the Formula 1 of motorcycle racing. It’s a
huge deal all around the world and over 100,000 people will be at Silverstone for this year’s UK MotoGP. Meanwhile, MXGP has a solid base of dedicated young fans who live and breathe motocross. These games are not just for hardcore bike racing fans though – I challenge anyone to jump into a MXGP race for the first time and not get caught up by the thrill of the race. That’s the great thing about Milestone’s racing games – they’re accessible for a more mainstream gamer, but the depth of in-game options and configurations means that with each new release, motorcycle racing fans get even closer to the real thing. This is especially true with the upcoming releases for 2018 – so we’re excited to help Milestone ensure that the game gets into the hands of gamers and motorcycle racing enthusiasts alike.
Pictured above: PQube’s head of marketing Geraint Evans
Can you tell us anything about marketing activity around these? For both MXGP and MotoGP, high impact TV campaigns will be focused directly on race weekends through both motorsports’ event calendars. This will be supported by the full marketing mix of online, print and social, targeting gamers as well as bike fans. We genuinely feel that these games set the standard for motorbike racing, while the sports themselves already have large, dedicated followings. The challenge for us is to reach every single one of those fans – whether they’re engaging with their favourite sport on social platforms, or standing in a rural, muddy field watching motocross bikes tear up the track. What else is going on at PQube right now? Our portfolio of niche Japanese games is stronger than ever and we’re continuing to see that growing community support our releases – it’s a stable business which continues to be successful for us. Over the last 12 months we’ve seen a significant upsurge in our indie business. We continue to see incredible success in this area and increasingly developers are reaching out to us to help them gain visibility in a market which is becoming more and more crowded.
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digital-only label coming out of what is primarily a PC games publisher might seem somewhat unnecessary in this day and age. But when that publisher is German strategy giant Kalypso Media it’s somewhat easier to understand. For starters, Kalypso concentrates on its big brands, such as Tropico, Dungeons, Patrician and Sudden Strike. Then of course PC games in Germany still sell significant numbers as boxed products. And the company is increasingly moving into the console space as well. Jonathan Hales heads up the Kasedo label from its Leicester office. He’s a veteran of the industry who cemented his career with a seven-year stint at Codemasters, before leading the digital business at Kalypso for a similar period. “We would always want to publish games as boxed and digital, but what about if we found an opportunity for a games that couldn’t justify the value of putting it into a boxed product? It’s not about quality, but if you’re looking at a £20 or £30 title it’s difficult to put it to retail and get a return on that investment,” he explains. “So how do we separate the two? We came up with Kasedo Games, the digital-first division of Kalypso Media. It’s not a separate company, it’s a label within a label. It allows us to try new things, create new opportunities, though still within the genres we feel comfortable with and are recognised for.” The label started with Crown Takers, but has had its biggest success with Somasim’s Project Highrise, which has sold over 210,000 copies to date. “Kalypso would never have looked at that game because it was a 2D sim tower, fantastic game, but we couldn’t justify putting it to retail. Realistically the price point was £20, so we decided this was a Kasedo game.”
Rise of KASEDO
Kasedo Games is looking to make its mark in 2018 with two new titles. Part of Kalypso Media but with its own UK office and dedicated staff, the PC indie label is much more than just a branding exercise, Seth Barton reports
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MAKING TIME The key then was making sure these smaller titles got their chance to shine. Kalypso puts out a wide range of titles already and Hales didn’t want Kasedo-branded games to be “the fourth game in the row” when the press came to an event, and them then saying “I’m sorry I haven’t got time for that too.” And that comes about by having real separation between the two brands: “Because we’re in our own office, there is no crossover, and I mean that in a positive way, as somebody can’t then think, ‘I’ll spend a few hours doing this instead of that’. We have our own PR and marketing, our own product managers and producers, we create our own trailers, write our own press releases, everything.” And as we regularly discuss in MCV, small publishers are certainly in vogue right now and Hales agrees: “The timing has been good. Rob [Zubek] and Matt [Viglione] from SomaSim self-published their first game, it sold OK, it got OK reviews, but they didn’t get the discoverability at all, so we found each other. We’ve worked together and we’ve released Project Highrise, and they gave a speech at GDC last year, saying: ‘Why would you not want a publisher, publishers are great’. “And I’m proud to say we’re now going to work with them again... Proof is in the pudding really. We say to them: ‘You be creative, allow us to do what you need us to do’. Some people need help with QA, localisation, marketing, product management, asset creation... There’s not one shoe that fits all, it’s a matter of finding that perfect partnership.” DIFFERENT STROKES The label is very excited about its current pair of prospects: Adeptus Mechanicus and Rise of Industry. Each of which it came upon in very different circumstances. “Each game comes about in its own unique way. Rise of Industry I simply stumbled across a video and thought: ‘Wow, it looks very raw, but it’s just what we’re looking for,’” Hales recalls. The ‘strategic tycoon’ title has a strikingly simple graphical style but that’s not what Hales saw in it: “I don’t care what it looks like, does it play well? And I could see there was something special about the gameplay. So we reached out and made contact [with Alex Mochi, CEO at Dapper Penguin Studios], and a few months later we decided to work together.” The other upcoming title, unveiled at GDC, is Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus, a turn-based tactical title based in the Games Workshop universe. “Mechanicus was a completely different way of doing it. We were asked to publish a licensed game for a small indie who had already contacted Games Workshop, but we looked at the game and thought that was not quite right for us,” Hales says. “However, we then got in contact with Games Workshop and they said they’d heard about us maybe using the license and would we be interested in having a conversation... They’re based in Nottingham, we’re based in Leicester, so it was an easy fit.” The company had worked with Bulwark before on Crown Takers and so Kasedo took the game to the developer this time. Over time it developed from a 2D title to the impressive 3D game in development
today – one that we saw Firaxis staff taking a good deal of interest in at GDC. “We’ve allowed them the freedom to go and create this, and we’re solid now, but we’ve iterated the core mechanic six or seven times, because we wanted to make a game that played brilliantly,” Hales says. Rise of Industry is in early access, but Mechanicus will not be going out until it’s finished he tells us: “That’s purely because not one shoe fits all, for Rise of Industry, Alex [Mochi] wants feedback, he wants to iterate the game to the best of his ability, and yes we’ve given some feedback, but it’s a complex game and he has grand plans.” LESS IS MORE We ask if Kasedo is planning on scaling up its operation in terms of titles published, but Hales is happy to keep things compact. “Less is more, so we can give each game the focus it deserves,” Hales says. “It’s nice to grow your team, but not for the sake of growing it. That’s not what we’re interested in; we’d rather have a quantity of quality sales, rather than a quantity of titles just for the sake of having titles. “We want to work with people again, and with one of the dev teams we’ve worked with, we’ve already signed their next game with only an idea of the concept, because again it’s a perfect match. We don’t have to look for another title in two and a half years time, because we know that’s coming.” And are their any plans for console titles? “There are plans, but nothing I can announce at the minute, but it’s 100 per cent in the pipeline. We don’t want to restrict ourselves in any way, or our partners. If they can bring it to console and it’s right then we’ll do it. “Realistically the whole evolution, the way Kalypso has grown organically is important, and Kalypso allowing Kasedo to do the same, I think that’s what we want to do, that’s our story really. We are flexible, we are approachable, and we like to think of ourselves as the indie dev team friendly guys – and that’s it.” With the experience of Kalypso and the agility and focus of a small team, Kasedo certainly looks to have something going for it.
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Creating an ATMOS-PHERE Dolby Atmos can add incredible immersion to games, so how can developers move into using next-gen surround sound?
CV recently sat down with Andy Vaughan, senior developer relations manager at Dolby Labs to talk about the latest Dolby technology and how it can be utilised by developers looking to provide the most immersive experience for gamers. For those who aren’t home cinema buffs, can you explain what Dolby Atmos is exactly and how it relates to games? Dolby Atmos is a new surround sound format that brings the element of height to game audio, and allows sound designers to treat specific sound elements as objects. Where we had an array of speakers in stereo, 5.1 or 7.1 configurations to create a surround experience in the horizontal plane before, Dolby Atmos now allows designers to place individual sound effects overhead, and to pan those through the entire room. The effect is stunning and the realism adds to immersion. Is it easy to create a game in Dolby Atmos? It is. Thanks to Windows Sonic (Microsoft’s new spatial audio platform), any Xbox One title (including Xbox One, One S and One X) or any Windows 10 title can use existing middleware to add the extra speaker points and panning in less than a day in most cases. What special equipment does it require? Do consumers have to have speakers on the ceiling? Consumers will need to add extra speakers, and a Dolby Atmoscapable receiver to their existing setup. If you have the ability to
hang speakers overhead, that’s great. Still, not all consumers have the option of doing this, so we’ve worked with speaker manufacturers to create Dolby Atmos speaker sets – those have upward-firing drivers that reflect off your ceiling and create an amazingly precise overhead experience with very little fussing. The only constraint is that they must be added in pairs for the most balanced sound reproduction. And players who prefer using headphones won’t be disappointed. Using the Dolby Access app, which is available from the Microsoft Store, gamers can use their existing headphones to enjoy overhead and underfoot audio, with the same smooth and realistic panning home theatre setups provide. Besides the new speakers and receiver, what is the cost involved? For home theater users, Dolby Atmos playback is free once you have your equipment in place. For headphone users Dolby Access is a $15 purchase, tied to your Microsoft account. You can apply that purchase to ten different devices without paying anything extra. And Dolby makes HDR technology for games as well? Yes we do! Dolby Vision is an HDR technology that allows much brighter video rendering, and allows a much greater range of detail and colour saturation. You can see this in action in the cinema already, and with the right setup, Battlefield 1 plays in Dolby Vision as well. This leads to much greater detail in the highlights and lowlights, and brilliant colour saturation across the board.
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State of Decay 2: ‘We didn’t want microtransactions or loot boxes with Zombucks’ Can State of Decay 2 survive against the battle royale horde? Chris Wallace talks to Undead Labs’ design director Richard Foge about Xbox Game Pass, crossplay and the importance of community
ust a couple of years ago, the notion that a zombie survival game with crafting mechanics could feel like a refreshing change of pace would be laughable. It’s interesting then that State of Decay 2, a sequel to the 2013 original which was released at the height of the zombie survival craze, can somehow feel like a breath of fresh air. It’s a clear sign of how far the industry has moved on from the genre and how that could allow developer Undead Labs the chance to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond this time around. It isn’t alone in attempting to revive the once-popular genre, though. DayZ, the granddaddy of survival games, has emerged from its long slumber this year too. It seems that there’s hope that the zombie survival genre might yet rise from the dead. Throughout the development of the first State of Decay and its sequel, released on May 22nd, Undead Labs has seen a number of trends hit it big in the industry, such as the meteoric rise of the battle royale genre (itself born from zombie survival games such as DayZ). A trend that the studio seems happy to avoid. “I’ve been talking to a lot of journalists, and they’ll ask me about making a battle royale game, because literally everyone else is,” says design director Richard Foge. “It’s like there’s this field of wheat, and somebody built this perfect, glorious combine harvester and it went
over that field, and then somebody asked me ‘Would you also like to build a combine?’. But there’s no wheat left! There’s nothing left for us to harvest. I would much rather focus on what we’re doing, and try to find something unique in this space to inspire people and excite them with something new, as opposed to trying to follow what these folks are doing and seeing what scraps I can get after that.” The developers also steered clear of microtransactions and loot boxes – a potential bullet dodged, considering the recent consumer unrest about the practices. “It didn’t make sense for our game,” says Foge. “There’s a one-time price for it, rather than a relationship with the game where people pay for things and don’t know what they’re going to get. That shouldn’t feel right. We didn’t want microtransactions or where you’re buying loot boxes with Zombucks or anything.” Foge is hesitant to be drawn into direct criticism of games that adopt these business models, however. “It works for some other folks,” he adds. BUILDING HUMANITY The developer’s attitude of walking its own path has informed every stage of developing State of Decay 2. The game is a sequel in a very traditional way, choosing to build upon and refine on elements of the original, rather than re-inventing the wheel.
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Pictured above: Undead Labs’ design director Richard Foge
The game looks and feels like a polished, more advanced version of the first title. Crucially, much of the original’s technical shoddiness appears to be a thing of the past – although halfway through our interview Foge spots a player encountering a network problem that sends their car cartwheeling into space, much to his bemusement. “We’re obviously going to be working on bug fixes and future improvements,” he hastens to add. The team has taken on significant feedback from fans of the original game, particularly in the inclusion of coop multiplayer, a much-requested feature from players. Foge has a philosophical approach to the game’s multiplayer – crucially its lack of any PvP elements. “It’s a game about building humanity back up, as opposed to tearing it down,” he explains. “The goal is to move forward, this horrible thing has happened to humanity and we’re trying to overcome it.” The multiplayer is a cooperative experience in the very literal sense. Unless a team is able to look after one another, things are about to get very, very bad, very, very quickly. “If two people are playing together but not actively cooperating, it can actually be way harder,” says Foge. “Unless you’re actively watching each other’s back, it can be a bit more difficult.”
This certainly rings true of our experiences trying to cooperate across a noisy press event. An attempt to clear out a zombie infested house quickly sees us overwhelmed and alone, leaving us to limp hopelessly back to base, while our unconcerned teammates race away in the other direction in an armoured jeep. It seems we would need a lot of help if we ever want to survive a zombie apocalypse. ALL TOGETHER NOW The game’s focus on a community coming together doesn’t just inform its game mechanics, but also its business decisions. Not only is State of Decay 2 one of the first Microsoft first-party games to be made available through Xbox Game Pass, but it has also joined the increasingly popular trend of allowing cross-platform play, letting both PC and Xbox gamers play together. “As a creator who wants as many people to experience the work that we’ve put together as possible, having a large pool of people is fantastic,” says Foge. “If folks are like ‘I love playing this game, I’d love to play it with other people, I don’t necessarily have friends who are always playing’, having Game Pass and crossplay is a way that people can experience and fall in love with the game.” This theme of community cohesion could be somewhat undercut by the two planned DLC packs, featuring a number of extra items and an additional game mode, a concern about splitting the playerbase which Foge readily admits. “That’s certainly something that I’ve experienced personally in the past with other games,” he says. “As expansions come out the community becomes subdivided into people who have the stuff and people who don’t have the stuff, that’s something that will be part of our ongoing discussions on how we want to deal with these things.” Foge hopes that the game’s focus on working together will set the series apart from the bleakness of The Walking Dead franchise. “There’s a hopelessness in that IP that personally doesn’t resonate with me very well,” says Foge. “It always seems to be driving towards the sad ending and the horrible things happening. I definitely want to flip that. We wanted the overall tone to be hopeful. We’re driving towards something that’s going to put humanity back on top, as opposed to feeling like everything we do is essentially worthless.” With crossplay, Xbox Game Pass and a budget release of £24 for the base game, Undead Labs certainly seems to be hoping to build a large community to keep the game going long after its release, supported by the upcoming DLC packs. Time will tell if State of Decay 2 can survive against the battle royale horde.
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totaldiscrepair.co.uk Call: 01202 489 500
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WhenWeMade... What Remains of Edith Finch Jem Alexander takes a look behind the scenes at the development of What Remains of Edith Finch. Giant Sparrow’s creative director, Ian Dallas, explains the game’s inspirations, the diﬃculties in creating a narrative from a collection of prototypes and how not to throw out the baby with the bathwater
Pictured above: Ian Dallas, Giant Sparrow’s creative director
WHAT REMAINS OF EDITH FINCH started life as a scuba diving simulator. For anyone who has played the game this may sound completely bizarre, but as soon as you consider the game’s themes, it all clicks into place. A feeling of being overwhelmed is what developer Giant Sparrow was striving for during development. Of being immersed in a sublime experience. When observed through that lens, What Remains of Edith Finch hits all the right notes and you can begin to see how Giant Sparrow’s initial concept grew to the BAFTA winning title that’s playable today. Another inspiration that, on the surface, seems to only have a tangential connection to the ﬁnal game is the work of H.P. Lovecraft. Giant grotesque monster gods don’t feature much in Edith Finch, but the unnerving sense of perpetual dread certainly does. Giant Sparrow’s creative director, Ian Dallas, explains to us why looking at ‘genre ﬁction’ helped development of the game so much. “A scuba diving simulator was an idea that I had in graduate school in around 2007,” Dallas says. “I don’t know quite where the ﬁrst glimmer of it came from, but I’d been reading a fair amount of H.P. Lovecraft at the time and was interested in weird ﬁction. Things that felt ominous and overwhelming but not necessarily traditional horror. The interesting thing to me about genre literature from the 30s, that H.P. Lovecraft is a part of, is that it happened before genres got deﬁned. So I was interested
in exploring something in that space. I initially started oﬀ with a scuba diving simulator because when I think about moments that have a sense of the sublime, of a thing that is overwhelming but also quite beautiful, I think back to scuba diving as a kid in Washington state and the way the bottom of the ocean slopes away into this inﬁnite darkness. It makes you feel very small and fragile and out of your element, but also astonished by how beautiful the world is. “So it was a scuba diving thing, but then there was also an element of short stories and what would a game feel like if it was a collection of tales, which is very common in the source material we were looking at. I think the theme of the sublime works best in small doses. It’s very powerful.” These short stories were the main driving point of the game’s development. Having played the game, I had assumed that Edith’s central narrative as the player explores the house was the ﬁrst thing to be created, with each of the smaller mini-games going into her family’s past being built from that central theme. Apparently that’s entirely wrong, as the developer spent a lot of time prototyping mini-games that would eventually become each of Edith’s family members’ stories. A central narrative was then wrapped around these protoyped experiences. “For the very ﬁrst prototype, we began with the scuba diving simulator,” Dallas explains. “We had some limited
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live in, but that over time has taken on a more organic shape and appears to have almost been grown rather than designed.”
success there. It was kind of interesting looking at ﬂotsam swirling around and being able to control your buoyancy felt like that could be an interesting mechanic. But none of that ended up really feeling like the game we wanted to make. I think it was just a little too mechanics-oriented. When you’re swimming underwater it’s very hard to forget that’s what you’re doing and in a video game it feels pretty artiﬁcial. “So the game shifted a bit to experiences that were a little less alien in terms of the way they controlled. The frame story for Edith, coming back to explore the house she grew up in, was something that was primarily born out of necessity. We had a bunch of these stories that we were interested in and we weren’t sure how to tie them together. There was a very legitimate question on the team of whether or not we even needed to tie these stories together. But for us it felt like it would be more powerful if there were some threads that connected these things together. The house felt like a good concrete representation of many of the themes that we were interested in exploring, speciﬁcally the transition from the civilised world to the natural one and the way that humans feel simultaneously connected to the natural world but also kind of apart from it. “And the house, in this kind of gargantuan but also organic way, is a visual representation of that, where it’s a very civilised object. A house that people have built to
THE WRITING PROCESS So how do you build a game and a narrative around a set of wildly diﬀerent prototypes that need to be somehow connected? With diﬃculty, it seems. “One of the things that was inherently tricky was to ﬁnd something that uniﬁes a lot of stories that were created without much thought for what would be the connective tissue. Because the stories themselves individually are so diﬃcult,” Dallas says. “In order to ﬁnd a suitable frame story and a connection between the stories, we needed enough of them to exist. And then by the time the story existed, we needed to make changes to them to make it easier to connect them. It’s a chicken and egg problem. “But I think in our case it worked out relatively well because everything proceeded from a wellspring of exploring the experience of the sublime and the relationships between people and the natural world and the way that stories develop over time in a family. Those are the jumping oﬀ points for all the stories. And so the frame story of Edith exploring the house, and this family, really touched on those themes a lot and helps to reinforce those elements together.” As for the individual stories themselves, the writing process would change from one to the other. Some, like Lewis’ tale in the cannery, were inspired by Victorian prose (The Coronation of Mr. Thomas Shap by Lord Dunsany, in this case), while others started life more thematically. Others still, like Gregory’s story, were more contextual than thematic. “Gregory’s story felt like an interesting mix of playful and a little bit overwhelming,” Dallas explains. “So we knew in that story we wanted to have it be in a bathtub but there’s a lot of limitations, especially if you’re playing an infant, on what kind of interactions you can have in that world. Gregory’s story is a fairly good example of the way the writing process worked, where we initially had no concept of who you were, other than that you were an infant, or what the situation was. But we knew you’d be in a bathtub and we knew that you’d eventually die because that happens in all these stories. “And so we started working on a lot of prototypes for how you might control one of the bath toys. There was probably four diﬀerent designers/programmers who tried to make those controls feel good and appropriate to those constraints. One of which is that for activity that involves jumping and swimming, any movement through 3D space, it can be very diﬃcult when the camera is locked to one place in the world, which is the infant’s
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perspective. So a lot of the initial ideas that we had for the more traditional platforming gameplay were very diﬃcult from that ﬁxed camera perspective. “There was a lot of back and forth until eventually things started to coalesce and feel okay. And then we wrote a draft of the story that was a bit heavy handed and expressly trying to evoke the feelings we wanted players to experience. Over time we realised that none of that was really necessary. That most of the emotional impact comes just from realising that you are an infant in the bathtub who is going to be dead in a few minutes. “So the story in that case became very light. Just something to move the action along and provide a little bit of a sense of framing within the larger narrative in terms of which Finch family members are involved. But the actual story of that is really more about setting up the context than what the traditional script is bringing to it.” KILL YOUR DARLINGS As the player explores the Finch household and learns the family’s life stories, a clear commonality emerges. Edith’s family are all dead. Some as adults and some, like poor Gregory, as very young children. It’s a tricky subject and one that requires the grace and subtlety that video games can’t often aﬀord (or haven’t often). You have to wonder whether Giant Sparrow encountered problems trying to include these themes.
“I would say the most speciﬁc issue we ran into was someone at our publisher telling us to stop,” Dallas says. “They had concerns early on about that. And I think they were warranted. And our approach to that was to try to be as sensitive as we could. “In the case of Gregory’s story in particular, which involves the death of an infant, to bring in playtesters who were parents because we found that parents reacted very diﬀerently than non-parents. And so trying to incorporate more feedback from people with diverse backgrounds was the most concrete step we took. “We didn’t set out to make a collection of short stories about children dying, but it just sort of emerged that those were the characters who felt most appropriate for the prototype we were making, that it seemed to work best.” It was the night of the BAFTA Game Awards, from which Giant Sparrow took home the well-deserved Best Game prize, that Dallas realised that even with sensitivity and feedback, it’s impossible to please everyone. “We haven’t received angry letters from people about it, although something fascinating happened at the BAFTA ceremony itself,” Dallas says. “That night three diﬀerent people came up to me and they all wanted to talk about Gregory’s story. Two of them said that they loved the story and thought that we had really eﬀectively threaded the needle there. “And then the third person said that they felt that it was really emotionally manipulative and terrible. I would like to think that in the wider world we’re doing better than two out of three there, but it was interesting on that particular night to see that you can’t please everyone. It’s surprising how little negative feedback there has been online as well.” And the award itself? How can a scrappy indie game win against behemoths like Zelda and Assassin’s Creed? “I think having a dozen stories with diﬀerent game mechanics... For anyone who makes games this would seem like a preposterous notion,” Dallas says. “There are good reasons why most games do not contain a dozen diﬀerent stories and we just got very lucky. These things came together in the end but I think other game developers and, presumably the people who are voting for BAFTAs, do have an appreciation for the kind of foolhardiness and luck that the game represents.”
“There are good reasons why most games do not contain a dozen diﬀerent stories and we just got very lucky.”
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BrandFlakes by Seth Barton
Boarding party Paradox licenses board games, citing ‘IP growth’ not ‘tons of money’ as the reason PARADOX INTERACTIVE recently completed a very big circle by announcing that some of its biggest franchises will soon be available as board games. The company’s defining PC hit was 2000’s Europa Universalis, which itself was based on a 1993 board game of fearsome reputation – thanks to its grand campaign potentially taking weeks to play – and that franchise, among others, will now be coming out in board game form. The company is very clear though that it isn’t losing its focus: “We’re not making board games ourselves, and we’re not going to make pen-and-paper RPGs either… Our business has always been focused on digital growth, we don’t plan on doing anything except being that kind of company,” says Shams Jorjani, VP business development, speaking at company’s PDXCON event in Stockholm recently. That means the new games will be licensed out instead, with the first release to be Crusader Kings from Free League Publishing. And to back up the experimental nature of the new venture, that game is coming to Kickstarter first in order to gauge interest – a pretty typical move for a board game – before making a big public splash at the Essen games show later this year. We got hands on with Crusader Kings for a brief demo, and it looks highly promising. A lot of the action takes place off the main geographical board, with siring an heir and marrying off useless scions of your house being a major part of the game. Free League’s game designer Tomas Harenstam used to work for Paradox, so he’s certainly familiar with the IP.
The upcoming Cities: Skylines board game looks to have the broadest appeal of the initial four releases, likened to Ticket to Ride in its complexity
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Crusader Kings – note that some parts of the demo we played, such as the miniatures, were still placeholders taken from other titles
Paradox’s Shams Jorjani, VP business development
That game will be followed by titles based on Cities: Skylines, which will have a “Ticket to Ride level of complexity”, a “very hardcore” Hearts of Iron and the new Europa Universalis. So why has Paradox taken so long to make this move into such a closely aligned area, and one that’s been growing rapidly for many years now? “It became abundantly clear that there were many cool opportunities and people were coming to us in droves really asking if they can make board games,” Jorjani tells us. And he’s clear that it’s certainly not driven by potential income, saying it’s “not a way to make tons and tons of money or branch out into new verticals, but a way for us to expand what the IPs are and how people play them. “It’s still freakishly small compared to PC gaming, because the scalability is completely different. But there is a huge resurgence in board games right now, it’s a lower hanging fruit and it’s easier for us to do it today than five years ago, because then we were so focused on making games. We’re bigger now so it’s easier to try different things.” And with so many offers, how is the company deciding which pitches are best for each franchises? “It’s very much on a case by case basis. We ask: ‘Do we trust these folks, do they understand what the game is about?’,” Jorjani says. “We’re not board game licensing experts,” he admits. “So we’re trying a number of different things and see how it pans out,” adding that in terms of complexity and style “it’s going to be mix. We’re not pretending to know what the best thing is, we’re just looking to give additional fun for our fans who love our IPs.” The game with the biggest potential to our eyes looks to be Cities: Skylines. Jorjani says: “It’s the game that sold the most in terms of volume copies, so it has a wider brand recognition far outside the usual hardcore niche we operate in, it’s easier to get interest in that one because of the install base.”
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UnderTheInfluence by Marie Dealessandri
Every month, Under the Influence showcases influencer talent. This month, presenter, event host, content creator and producer Adam Savage tells us a little bit more about his journey into video games and how he managed to carve a niche for himself
Tell us about your role in the video games industry. It started for me way back when I was working with Ginx TV, writing reviews, features and segments for the channel. I still work for Ginx Esports TV now, hosting two of the biggest, highest-rated shows on the network – The First Hour and Top 10 – which are really good fun. I went on to host and present shows on the channel, which was always a dream for me. That evolved into me learning many skills about behind the camera work as well. All these different skills that I’ve learned along the way have been absolutely invaluable when it comes to working with brands, developers and publishers on different content. I’ve hosted tons of esports live events too, working across esports as a stage host and
with influencers as well. It all started back with Endemol’s Legends of Gaming Live, a huge show at Alexandra Palace. I created a show, wrote it, made it come to life, created a story, a narrative, a weekend of live gameplay and action, learning all about different YouTubers, their talents, their personality traits and bringing those into a really funny show for a demographic which spans everyone from the Call of Duty to the Minecraft audience. Ever since then I’ve been able to produce and present live events for some of the biggest YouTubers in the world. I really saw the emergence of the influencer market and I knew I had to be part of it, one way or another, and I’ve really created a unique position for myself that no one else is doing in the UK right now. What’s your biggest success story so far? I’ve had some amazing success in my career thus far, away from working on Legends of Gaming, working on comic cons around the world as well. I’ve hosted and produced for the Middle East Games Con with Zerkaa and Vikkstar123 from the Sidemen as well as Ali-A and Clare Siobhan. I worked with the Lego team in New York recently on Lego Live. Also hosting Ali-A’s book launch last year was a really big moment for me. Seeing someone as prolific as Ali, a huge influencer, ask me to be his host was amazing. To see YouTubers value what I do and what I can bring, whether it’s in the video game industry, a book launch or a live show, is just outstanding. I hosted the DanTDM show at Insomnia over the last two years too, which has also been a fantastic opportunity, to work with
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someone as huge as Dan. That’s been one of the most amazing things about this niche I found myself in – I can work with a lot of influencers, producing these amazing shows, respecting what they do and the games they play and I can help and celebrate that at different events around the world. Is there anything notable you’ve been working on recently? I’ve worked on some really huge things recently such as the Esports Industry Awards last year. I was one of the main hosts of the awards ceremony. That was a real big opportunity and moment for me, to celebrate with some of the biggest players, brands, hardware and software developers in the world. I’m also going to E3, working with one of the world’s biggest publishers on the upcoming launch of a big game. To be part of the team announcing a game to the world is such a massive privilege. Front row seats, if you will, to the celebration of something brand new coming out. To be trusted to do that on the grand stage like E3, the biggest gaming conference in the world, is something that is really special. How do you tailor your role working with each influencer and publisher? I’ve always prided myself on my people skills. I have a very good gauge for what someone’s personality traits are and what I can do to really harness the best out of someone as well. Working as an esports host, for instance, I work with a lot of esports teams, obviously that’s a very different audience, very different personalities compared to working with celebrities at an event for a game launch, for example. You always have to gauge who exactly you’re talking to, what they’re going to give you and what makes for a good edit as well. Having that video production knowledge, knowing what works to offer an audience, what’s engaging and what’s captivating is something that I’ve always prided myself in.
“I work with a lot of influencers, producing these amazing shows, respecting what they do and the games they play and I can help celebrate that.” Pictured below: Adam Savage hosts The First Hour on Ginx Esports TV with comedian and writer Anthony Richardson, where they play and comment on the ﬁrst hour of a game
How closely do you work with gaming brands and publishers? I’m in regular contact with the biggest publishers in the UK as I’m always throwing around ideas with them regarding new video content and live shows. But I’m also in a very unique position with my relationship with YouTubers, Twitch casters, influencers in general. They’ve trusted me over the years to be part of their productions, part of their content and publishers know that and want to bring me on board because they know that the influencers will feel comfortable with me being part of the same project. It’s a really lovely position to be in, working both with publishers and content. What do you hope to achieve in the future? I absolutely love what I do. I’ve really created this position for myself in the industry as an influencer in my own right, but I’m always open to new opportunities. That’s the thing, I love working with new people, branded content, working with publishers directly on new games coming out, some of which I pride myself on, being one of the only people, if not the only person, in the country doing what I’m doing and long may I continue. That’s all I have to say: long may it continue!
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MechanicallySound by Jake Tucker
We talk to Alien Isolation’s creative director Alistair Hope to find out how the titular Alien became the scariest video game character on two legs
2014’S Alien Isolation is a masterpiece, a survival horror game that manages to near perfectly recreate the aesthetic and tone of 1979 horror movie Alien. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to stop and admire the scenery all that often though, on account of the Alien, unleashed upon the play area to keep things interesting, nearly completely free of scripted behaviour meaning that you can never be entirely sure of what it’s going to do next, only that it’s likely going to involve killing you. Known by fans primarily as xenomorphs, they’ve long been popping up in video games, but this was the first time that the perfect organism had felt intelligent. In Isolation, you feel like you are being hunted. According to Alistair Hope, the creative director of Alien Isolation, the team wanted to create the Alien game that no one had ever made before, dropping players into Ridley Scott’s haunted house in space, tasking them not with vanquishing the Alien menace but instead merely trying to survive. TIGER IN THE OFFICE “We wanted to create a game that really gave you a feeling of what it would be like to take on and survive that original Alien,” says Hope. “I think games in
the universe and in that IP had really focused on the Aliens experience, which is about using firepower to deal with the Alien.” The best way to make a single Alien terrifying is to empower it, he continues. “It would need to be something that you respect, and that demands your respect because if you’re not careful it will soon punish you. There are consequences to your actions. “We used to talk about predators in the office, and we were imagining if we were in the studio and someone had unleashed a tiger into the studio, what would we do? We found it was fascinating to talk about how we’d do it: ‘We’ll get behind the desk and try and look for an escape, and try and peek, and try to see where this tiger was’. Then we got serious: ‘Okay well you need to get to the fire escape at the far end of the studio, how are you going to do that?’, which would sometimes involve people talking about picking things up and throwing them to distract it, or crawling from desk to desk.” “No one said: ‘Well I’d just get a big gun and shoot it down!’. Because there is no big gun.” There isn’t a lot in the way of firepower in Alien Isolation either, and the team instead tried to create an
“We used to talk about predators in the office, and we were imagining if we were in the studio and someone had unleashed a tiger, what would we do?”
Pictured right: Illustration by Sam Richwood
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Alien that felt a little like the team’s metaphorical tiger in the office. “I think that’s kind of what Alien [Isolation] is,” says Hope. “You need to survive on your wits and your cunning, and you need to really think about what your next move should be.” Once they had the core ideals nailed down, things started to fall into place. “The Alien was kind of driving its own decisions based on what it knew about the world around it. It was listening for the player, it was looking for the player, and responding accordingly, based on what its sense were receiving, so sometimes it would become curious about a sound or a glimpse. It wasn’t binary, but if it saw you it would instantly attack and kill you.” THE PERFECT ORGANISM The xenomorph has a systematic AI that has free rein to track down and slaughter the player, with a macro/micro AI system that tries to ensure they have a chance. The AI has two separate levels: an AI
‘director’ that knows the location of the player and models the stress level of the player. It then makes a decision on where the xenomorph should go, and passes the information on to the ‘controller’ AI, which moves the Alien around and interacts with the world. No matter what, the xenomorph is never given the player’s exact location – preserving the terror of the Alien hunting for you without any sort of cheating. The director also tells the xenomorph how menacing it should be, establishing a rhythm so that the player isn’t constantly terrified. One more thing: it also has eyes in the back of its head. A short range sensor that will catch out anyone who tries to be smart by walking around behind the Alien. “The one word we used more than any on the project was ‘believable’,” says Hope. “Not necessarily realistic, but it was about believability, because if you believed it then you’d fear it and that would be really powerful.” A horrifyingly memorable moment occurred when the Alien slowly learnt about how you played and countered that. Players that rely too much on the flamethrower, the Alien will learn that it isn’t as scary as initially thought and, rather than fleeing, it will wait until you run out of fuel and come in for the kill. This is spectacularly unpleasant, and if a player had already started to rely on the flamethrower, it’s a rude reminder that the Alien is smarter than you think.
“Every action has to have a risk or a cost associated with it,” says Hope. “We use that logic with the flamethrower. You have this really amazing tool which could become this Game Over button for the Alien where every time you use it, it just goes away. Although it’s quite effective to start with, that effectiveness diminishes over time, and so you’re going to have to really think about when to use it. We never really wanted anyone to feel 100 per cent safe, instead having players scared of what was around the corner.” AN EXPRESS ELEVATOR TO HELL Hope describes the process of weaving this world of horror and consequence together as tough because it had never been available before. However, while the Alien is undoubtedly the star of the game, it’s a case of the whole being much greater than its parts, as Hope explains: “When we first started building the game we had a version where the Alien existed early on. it was running under its sensors, you could try and survive against it, it kind of made sense what it was doing but the whole experience felt really flat, and wasn’t really working. “It was in an early development environment so a lot of grey box assets, it was brightly lit and had no atmosphere, so we stopped development and gave ourselves a couple of days to construct something that felt atmospheric. We put the effects in, some sound, some lighting and put in geometry to look and feel like what we intended the game to look like. “Then we played the same piece of code again. The Alien hadn’t been touched. When we played that section – and I was with one of the other directors – and the person playing managed to get themselves killed, I saw the whole group jump as one, had that kind of reaction, and we hadn’t changed anything other than all the other moving parts. That was a really big lesson for us: all of these pieces of the puzzle have to be in place and work together to deliver on the experience.”
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How has Team17 changed since you branched out into publishing? Publishing is a small part of what we do as a games label. Four years ago, we set out that we wanted to build a new type of publisher unlike what we had experienced as a developer ourselves. This was about games developers working together to help each other. Not just publishing but helping folks build new IP, build new studios, helping enhance the production qualities and much, much more. I’m delighted how far we’ve come in such a short period. We’re gamers as much as developers, creative partners or label owners. We are incredibly passionate teamsters. We have increased to over 130 staff in 2018, growing internal functions across all departments and adding exciting new ones such as our Usability Lab for focus testing. What kind of value does an event like E3 have for the company? North America is a significant market globally, as we all know, and while we do realise that E3 has evolved beyond being a just a trade show (and will continue to evolve, I’m sure), it still holds value for us both in product and corporate communications and for business development purposes. It’s great to represent the creative work of our label partners in front of the US media in one location and build upon our existing relations with them as they are a geographically bit more spread out than here in the UK. Are the big events still relevant as a publisher in a world where people can share their games with Youtube or even Twitter in an instant? Events such as E3 still offer publishers of all sizes and shapes a communications platform in building hype and momentum for any given game and it’s still really about how they are best utilised. We don’t believe it’s an “either/or” scenario and Youtube and Twitter can play a complementary role in these instances as well as being used for specific community or influencer activities elsewhere in the run up to a game’s launch and beyond.
The Final Boss Debbie Bestwick MBE MD and co-founder, Team17
What are Team17’s future plans for the US? Will your American presence expand? We’ve put a lot of time and hard work in building our label presence out in the US in recent years on several fronts, particularly with end customers and the development community at events such as GDC. We’ve had a great response from the PAX and SXSW attendees who not only recognise us for Worms, but for The Escapists, Overcooked and the other great games on our label!
“Becoming a publisher was about games developers working together to help each other. Not just publishing but helping folks build new IP, build new studios and helping enhance the production qualities.”
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