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Welcome to Ubisoft’s

COMMUNITY CENTRE


SEPTEMBER

05 The editor

The next big thing?

06 Critical path

The key dates this month

14 Ubisoft

Alain Corre on early engagement

20 Ins and outs

And all our recruitment advice

26 Industry voices

Our platform for the industry

14

28 Aaron Greenberg

Xbox on Game Pass and new studios

32 An unlikely pairing

Sumo and The Chinese Room

36 Skybound Games

28

Retail’s not dead

40 Konami

A future across mobile and console

42 Metro Exodus

32

We talk to Deep Silver and 4A Games

46 FIFA 19

How EA made it accessible to everyone

50 Beyond Blue

Celebrating the world through gaming

54 Audiomotion

Mocap for everyone

58 When we made

Harold Halibut

62 AI and games

Research on AI through games

64 Income stream

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46

Market analysis

66 Final boss

Media Molecule’s Siobhan Reddy


“The ‘next big thing’ after Fortnite? Whatever Epic decides to release on its launcher next.”

TheEditor Time for a Fortnite’s holiday? So we’re hitting peak Fortnite, at least according to analyst SuperData (see page 64). The industry has always benefited from such mega hits, all the way back to Pac-Man, keeping gaming as a leisure activity in the forefront of consumer’s minds – after all playing games remains something that many fall in and out of, unlike say watching TV. While some direct competitors will have felt the pinch from Fortnite’s dominance, that’s not the norm, or at least not according to Xbox’s Aaron Greenberg (see page 28) – who sees the game’s impact as holistically positive for the platform’s partners. And that positivity is only just beginning, as a huge number of console and PC gamers gradually start looking for something else to spend their hours and money on. Which of course brings about the age-old question, what’s the next big thing? Well Cyberpunk 2077 rightly has the attention of the specialist press, though its still far too early to say that the game, which to date looks to have no multiplayer component, might dominate the modern gaming landscape. More immediately there’s obviously Red Dead Redemption 2 and Fallout 76, both of which look to marry a huge Day One payday for their publishers with ongoing monetisation. Though neither looks likely to hit GTA levels of success, let alone grow the industry in the way Fortnite has. Looking to mobile, the safe money is on Niantic’s Harry Potter game. It has huge potential to bring in both fans of Pokémon Go and anyone who’s ever taken a liking to Harry Potter (which totals to just about everybody). The combined mainstream appeal could even see Warner Bros rushing to create new Harry Potter games for PC and console in the upcoming years. The final answer to the ‘next big thing’ after Fortnite is simple: it’s whatever Epic decides to release and promote on its launcher next. The power of ‘the launcher’ was proved again recently in the phenomenal sales of Blizzard’s World of Warcraft expansion Battle of Azeroth (again, page 64), where the ongoing brand allowed the company to re-engage huge numbers of lapsed Warcraft players. The tough decision for Epic is whether to push on with Fortnite, re-inventing the action, pushing the game into new territories, or both. Or to create a complementary follow-up as soon as possible, in order to start diversifying that titanic audience passing through its launcher day after day. The safe money is on the former, but as Blizzard has proved, real longevity comes from having numerous ongoing brands. Seth Barton seth.barton@futurenet.com

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September 4th Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age

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

September 29th

The latest entry to the hugely popular JRPG series from Square Enix finally arrives in the West, having being released in Japan in July 2017. The game is landing on PS4 and PC, with a Switch version planned for some point in the future.

September 27th

FIFA 19

Spider-Man Insomniac Games’ latest title is swinging exclusively onto PS4 early this month. Having stolen the show with its reveal trailer at E3 2017, expectations are high for Sony’s title, which focuses on an older and more mature Peter Parker than the one we’ve seen in Tom Holland’s portrayal in recent films.

September 20th-23rd EGX 2018

England’s world cup dreams may have been crushed this summer, but EA’s FIFA 19 arrives at the end of the month to ease the pain. The latest iteration introduces the UEFA Champions League, Europa League and Super Cup competitions to the game, after their licenses expired with Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer. Read more on page 46

National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham

Life is Strange 2 The first episode of the second season of Dontnod’s narrative series arrives on PS4, Xbox One and PC, published by Square Enix. Life is Strange 2 focuses on Sean and Daniel Diaz, two brothers on the run after a tragic incident. Playing as older brother Sean, gamers will have the responsibility of taking care of Daniel, with decisions impacting their lives. And of course there’s some supernatural powers involved.

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September 7th

EGX returns to Birmingham at the end of the month. This year’s show will introduce a brand new feature called the EGX Fringe Theatre, which will consist in a panel of talks delivered by the EGX community, whether they’re working in the industry or not. EGX 2018 will also host the European Final of the Capcom Pro Tour, Capcom’s flagship Street Fighter tournament. The GamesIndustry.biz Career Fair will be coming back, aiming at giving advice to anyone wishing to join the industry, while all the usual events will also be returning, including the Develop Sessions, the Rezzed Sessions, and much more.


September 8th - February 4th Videogames: Design/Play/ Disrupt Victoria and Albert Museum, London The new exhibition from the V&A will celebrate and explore groundbreaking design in video games since the mid-2000s. The exhibition will feature original prototypes, early character designs, notebooks and much more from titles that pushed the boundaries of game design. It will also delve into how video games explore “complex and sensitive subject matters such as representation, race, sexuality and geo-politics.� Hugely popular titles such as The Last of Us, Journey, Splatoon, League of Legends and Kentucky Route Zero feature among others.

September 14th

Shadow of the Tomb Raider Lara Croft returns to PS4, Xbox One and PC this month, developed by Eidos Montreal in conjunction with Crystal Dynamics, and published by Square Enix. The twelfth game in the Tomb Raider series will see Lara on an expedition to Latin America, looking for a Mayan relic.

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We’re Playing... CONTENT Editor: Seth Barton seth.barton@futurenet.com, +44 (0)203 871 7388

I’ve started playing a bunch of games, including Okami HD and Dead Cells (and its incredible soundtrack). But that’s just a facade, let’s be honest, all I’m doing is trying to reach the holy grail of 112% completion in Hollow Knight. At the time of writing, I had reached 106%. Trial of the Fool, I’m coming for you.

Senior Staff Writer: Marie Dealessandri marie.dealessandri@futurenet.com, +44 (0)203 889 4910 Content Director: James McKeown james.mckeown@futurenet.com, +44 (0)207 354 6015 Designer: Sam Richwood sam.richwood@futurenet.com Digital Director: Diane Oliver dianne.oliver@futurenet.com, +44 (0)207 354 6019 Production Executive: James Marinos james.marions@futurenet.com, +44 (0)203 889 4907

ADVERTISING SALES Sales Manager: Sophia Jaques sophia.jaques@futurenet.com, +44 207 354 6025

MANAGEMENT Managing Director/Senior Vice President Christine Shaw Chief Revenue Officer Diane Giannini Chief Content Officer Joe Territo Chief Marketing Officer Wendy Lissau Head of Production US & UK Mark Constance

This month I’ve alternated between God of War – it’s awe inspiring, both as a game and in respect to the craft that went into it – and playing Minecraft with my daughter. We’ve made home in a cave and we’re sharing the simple joys of crafting an iron pickaxe.

Marie Dealessandri, Senior Staff Writer

Naturally I’ve been playing Dune II on the Mega Drive recently, because that’s just the kind of obvious contrarian rubbish I’d pull off in a world where PES 2019 and the latest Destiny 2 expansion have just been released. ARRAKIS WILL BE MINE. Ian Dransfield, News Writer

Seth Barton, Editor SUBSCRIBER CUSTOMER SERVICE To subscribe, change your address, or check on your current account status, go to www.mcvuk.com or subs@mcvuk.com ARCHIVES Digital editions of the magazine are available to view on ISSUU.com Recent back issues of the printed edition may be available please contact lucy.wilkie@futurenet.com for more information. INTERNATIONAL MCV and its content are available for licensing and syndication re-use. Contact the International department to discuss partnership opportunities and permissions International Licensing Director Matt Ellis, matt.ellis@futurenet.com

Paws the game The best furry friends the industry has to offer. Send in yours to marie.dealessandri@futurenet.com

MCV has an exclusive media partnership with Famitsu – Japan’s leading video games analyst and news source

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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Future plc is a public company quoted on the London Stock Exchange (symbol: FUTR) www.futureplc.com

Chief executive Zillah Byng-Thorne Non-executive chairman Peter Allen Chief financial officer Penny Ladkin-Brand Tel +44 (0)1225 442 244

Pet name: Stampy and Eddie Owner’s name: Mark Painting Owner’s job: Mobile marketing manager, Warner Bros

Pet name: Panchito Owner’s name: Paul Watson Owner’s job: Social media manager, Eurogamer and EGX

Pet name: Ciri Owner’s name: Megan Rice Owner’s job: Project manager, OMUK

Stampy (left) was named after the Youtuber by Mark’s six-year old son, while Eddie reflects Mark’s love of Pearl Jam.

There aren’t enough matching man and dog jackets in the world. Though we doubt they’ll be need them in the heat at EGX!

Recently adopted Ciri is a great-looking dog – it’s the furry ears that really do it for us. Her favourite food is chicken nuggets.


IRL

Real life events from the industry GAMESCOM 2018 Gamescom was another huge success this year, with 370,000 attendees from 114 countries making their way to the show. Among them, 31,200 trade attendees were hard at work and hopefully can now enjoy some well deserved holidays. Ukie did an amazing job at showcasing all the talent the UK industry has to offer on its Fun Fair stand and we can’t thank them enough for the constant supply of coffee, tea, ice cream, hot dogs and support – and even that weird blue drink, the actual content of which we’d rather not know. Congratulations also to Billy Goat Entertainment for winning Ukie’s Best of Show with Supermarket Shriek – we had a front-row seat to witness people having a laugh trying it out, and it’s a well deserved success. We’ll see you all next year!

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IRL - more pics from Gamescom

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Ubisoft’s com Marie Dealessandri sits down with EMEA executive director Alain Corre to discuss Ubisoft’s new strategy to involve its communities early on in the development process, from Assassin’s Creed to Beyond Good & Evil 2, supported by the ongoing success of Rainbow Six Siege

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munity service M

eeting with Alain Corre at Gamescom, it’s clear from the start that the watchword is going to be ‘community’. The Ubisoft area is buzzing with activity on this first day of Gamescom, with the meeting rooms all booked for interviews and business appointments, which leaves us unsure about where to actually do our interview. We end up in a meeting room where a trophy is sitting on the table, as if left here by mistake: Anno 1800’s Best PC Game of Gamescom award. “Gamescom is always the start of a busy season for us. It’s a great show because it’s the biggest consumer show worldwide and it’s an opportunity to put our games in the hands of the fans. What we want is our fans to be able to test, and for us to get their feedback, so that we can learn what they think, what they wish, so that we can improve

our games in the future. That’s the beauty of Gamescom. The vibe is always very good. And we’re so happy because as you can see we have won an award for Anno 1800, so it’s a good start,” Corre, Ubisoft’s EMEA executive director, says with a smile. Anno 1800 was announced at Gamescom 2017 and Ubisoft has been rather quiet about it since then. And that’s because Anno is one of the first Ubisoft titles to benefit from the firm’s new strategy of having the community involved from as early on as possible. “The game is coming on nicely and we are releasing it early next year, in February. What we did, and that’s what we’re trying to do for most of our games now, is to get feedback from the fans while we are developing the games,” Corre explains. “On Anno we have the Anno Union Program where we’ve got more than 10,000 responses from

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Pictured above: Ubisoft’s EMEA executive director Alain Corre

the fans, which helped us a lot in improving the game, adapting it to what the fans wanted, nailing it, polishing it. So I think it’s a good way for us to exchange ideas with our fans moving forward.” Other Ubisoft titles now benefit from that approach, he continues: “It’s not only on Anno we are doing this, we’re doing it on Beyond Good and Evil 2 (BG&E2) – we have the Space Monkey Program and it’s exactly the same principle: we are giving the possibility to our fans to give their feedback, we have testing sessions where they can play some elements, there are some exclusive pieces of information that we share with them so that we can improve the games on and on. We’re very happy to see that our Space Monkey Program continues to grow, gathering hundreds of thousands of passionate fans worldwide, who share feedback, inspirations and participate directly in the development process. “And we do the same on The Division 2, we do the same on Trials. It’s really trying to be as close as possible to our fans.” This strategy is not dissimilar to the way some studios utilise Early Access: putting the game out there as soon as possible to get feedback to improve the title before its full launch. But Corre begs to differ. “When we ask our fans to give their feedback it comes very early in the process of creation because we need some

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time to implement their feedback. Sometimes they are asking for modifications or improvements that we think are worth doing, so it takes time. So we can do that with a certain number of fans that can be integrated in the process. So it’s a bit different from Early Access which is just a few months before the release of the game.” Pointing out some developers actually put their game in Early Access for years before releasing, Corre nods but adds with a cryptic smile: “We start earlier than that.” Corre mentioning BG&E2 even briefly is enough for us to start pestering him, hoping to get a clue of a hint about its release window. “You know, some of the best dishes have to be cooked for a long time,” Corre answers cheerfully. “BG&E2 will be a space opera... and it will be a very big, important moment for the industry. That’s what we believe. Michel Ancel is working hard to develop it, to polish it. The game will come out when it’s perfect, but when it comes out, it will be huge.” COMMUNITY-POWERED Relying on community feedback to improve Ubisoft’s games could also apply to a certain extent to other core franchises, such as Assassin’s Creed. “We exchange ideas with the communities on all our games. Basically what we want is to adapt our games


“What’s very important is that the content we create is not changing the core gameplay and doesn’t disturb the balance of the game.” more to their taste or to what they wish,” Corre starts explaining. “And on Assassin’s Creed this year we have brought some extra gameplay elements to differentiate it and to enrich the experience compared to the previous entries. By listening to the community, we have implemented more RPG elements. We are also offering the choice between two main characters: you can have one heroine or one hero. The battles are bigger, the AI system has been changed as well. And that’s also thanks to the exchange we can have with the community.” With Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, releasing in early October, Ubisoft is very much taking the game-as-aservice approach, promising regular content drops. “We have long term plans with Assassin’s Creed Odyssey,” says Corre. “The plan is to regularly [update] with events, with content... so that the game is enriched in permanence and our fans are happy to have new things to discover, new challenges. “We know that our fans are consuming our games very quickly, what we want is for them to stay in our universes. Because they have invested a lot of time, they want to stay, they want to have more fun, to discover more things, so our teams are committing to create more content for them going forward.” Next comes the tricky question of monetisation, with the promise of regular content often coming with a price tag. Corre eludes the question with a smile, focusing on a core message: there will be no unfair advantage given to players who pay for the extra content. “What’s very important is that the content we create is not changing the core gameplay and doesn’t disturb the balance of the game,” Corre says. “We want our fans to be treated fairly and to have fun. So the idea when we create content is to bring something fresh so that fans can play or buy whatever, if they wish to, but they’re not obliged to. So if they are keen to go for more, they can do it, if they’re not then it’s not an issue, they can still enjoy their experience.” With Origins having released in 2017 after a one year franchise hiatus, and Odyssey releasing this year, we naturally ask Corre if Assassin’s Creed is becoming an annual franchise again. “No, that’s not what we have said,” he instantly replies, without giving more information. Since then though, Ubisoft’s CEO Yves Guillemot has confirmed that there will be no “full-fledged Assassin’s next year.”

And it doesn’t seem like a spin-off will be coming either, with Guillemot adding the teams will be focusing on providing content for Odyssey “for a couple of years.” That’s an approach that is confirmed by Corre, too: “What we did last year with Origins is to put Assassin’s Creed back on the map as a big action-adventure franchise and the success of Origins still exists today. The community is huge and growing, and people are playing Origins more and more. We think that Odyssey, that started development very early, is something completely fresh on the Assassin’s Creed experience so we are bringing something extra and we know by the analyses and studies we do with our fans that they will be super happy with Odyssey moving forward. And as I told you, we have long term plans with Odyssey to enrich the experience and the game moving forward.” As a result, Corre expects Odyssey to be a big hit in terms of sales, he continues: “We have very big expectations and we have seen the results on Origins last year and, as I was telling you, it’s still a big success today. So we hope that [Odyssey] will feature very high in the Top Ten at Christmas.” UBISOFT’S DNA If Ubisoft seems to be keen to involve its communities more and more, strengthening its live games strategy, that doesn’t mean every single game in its portfolio will be treated the same way, Corre says. “We have different types of games and that’s the beauty of Ubisoft’s portfolio. We are lucky to have a diversity of games. Games for young kids like Starlink, games for families like Just Dance, games

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for more hardcore players like Rainbow Six Siege, and each game has its specificities, its DNA and its public. And so we are adapting the creations we are doing to the public. Some games will be more treated like games-as-a-service, some will be managed differently. It really depends on the content we have. [We look at] the category of game that our studios are proposing and then we analyse what is the best option for the fans, how they will be happiest and then we architecture the game the way we feel that fans will enjoy it the most.” He continues, taking upcoming pirate title Skull & Bones as an example: “It’s a multiplayer online game. You will have the possibility to discover all the seas, we showed it at E3 last June, and what we want with this game is to become the ultimate pirate game. We know that piracy is a fantasy that gamers love. We’ve always had piracy games coming and pleasing a lot of people and we think that, with Skull & Bones, we have this ultimate pirate game. So we are polishing it so that it’s ready for next year.” If Ubisoft’s strategy differs from title to title, as it should, there’s one element that remains constant: making sure the community is satisfied: “I think the best definition of a game’s success is when our fans are happy,” Corre emphasises. “[Our] games are all different. They’re all dedicated to different categories of fans and what we want is really to understand all our communities. So there’s not a general rule. I think it’s the way we can listen to what they wish, to the way they want to play, and to adapt to that, that helps us to grow our communities. “And they are growing constantly whether it’s the Assassin’s Creed one, whether it’s the Rainbow Six one, whether it’s The Division one, or the For Honor one... We are super happy to see that we have more and more fans staying in our games long term and being happy to experience these worlds. And so what we want is to go on listening to them even more. That’s why for the next games we are integrating the feedback into the development process because we believe that it is by being as good as possible to the fans and that we will be able to grow the franchises in the future.”

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And Ubisoft’s new direction is everything but a shot in the dark. Rainbow Six Siege’s success is here to prove that working handin-hand with a community on a long-term road map can be extremely rewarding. “We are very happy about the progression of Rainbow Six. This is a franchise which has never stopped growing,” Corre says. “We constantly work hard on Rainbow Six, creating new content and new events all the time. We are super happy and proud to see that the number of fans grows. They stay longer and they exchange a lot with us in what we should do, what we should improve, which we thank them very much for. And really it gives us, and the development team in Montreal, some extra motivation to do even more.” Rainbow Six Siege was not an instant success though; it took years for Ubisoft to reach that point, with the title having wobbly launch sales but selling extremely well in the longterm. And Corre is obviously extremely proud of what the teams have achieved, almost setting Rainbow Six as a example of excellence for the other titles to reach. “Our creative director had a very very strong view in what he wanted [Rainbow Six Siege] to be, in a category that was really still open. He always kept that in his mind and they worked really hard since its introduction, close to three years ago now, to improve, always improve, create more content, listen to the community, take risks, dare to change what the game was – so that it could reach his vision. And it’s very pleasing to see that the hard work that we put into the game after three years is paying off and that we can map out what could be the game in the next five years, thanks to the support of the community. “So that’s really showing that our franchises can work long term if we nail them properly, if we improve them properly, if we never stop bringing extra content and improving the game. That’s a good message for us and for all our studios going forward.”

“I think the best definition of a game’s success is when our fans are happy.”


Brought to you by

Ins and outs: Industry hires and moves 1

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Hutch Games continued its hiring spree in August, with four new hires. RAV SINGH (1) has joined as art director, having previously worked at Sony on The Getaway franchise and at GSN Games. CHI PHUONG (2) has been hired as senior engineer, joining Hutch from Hugo Games where he worked on Kings of Soccer. MARK BRIDLE (3), formerly of Jagex, Headstrong Games and Marmalade Games has joined as senior designer. Finally, MARTIN PANE (4) has been appointed client engineer, joining from ALPixel Games in Madrid.

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A group of ten veteran industry professionals have formed The Multiplayer

Guys, a Nottingham-based outsourcing studio focused on multiplayer tech. Led by RIK ALEXANDER (5) as CEO and STEVE BENNETT (6) as director, The Multiplayer Guys skills centre around server/ client architecture, P2P, a/synchronous and live operations on console, PC and mobile.

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Bethesda’s European office has seen a couple of changes, with outgoing european marketing and PR director Sarah Seaby replaced by ex-Rovio CMO SEAN RATCLIFFE (7). He brings 25 years’ experience with him to his new role, with a broad range of marketing experience at the likes of EA Sports, Disney Interactive Studios, Sega and Konami. Joining Ratcliffe at Bethesda EU is veteran PR STEVE MERRETT (8), who comes in as UK PR manager for the firm. Merrett spent over ten years running Voltage PR, handling campaigns for the likes of the PES and Metal Gear Solid series.

“The team is amazing and I have a heap of ideas about directions to take the channel in. So stay tuned.” Vic Hood, TechRadar

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Sega of America and Atlus USA have announced a new COO and president, IAN CURRAN (9). Curran, reporting to Sega West CEO Tatsuyuki Miyazaki, will preside over Sega’s operations in the US, while also working with employees in the UK and EMEA regions. Additionally he will sit on the Atlus USA board of directors. Amazon Game Studios has a new vice president – former president of 2K Games, CHRISTOPH HARTMANN (10). His new role sees him heading up Amazon’s internal game dev teams across three cities, with a focus on New World and Crucible – two titles in development at the retail giant’s games division. Bandai Namco UK has hired SAM SMITH (11) as community manager. He previously worked at Gfinity as social media manager, at Miniclip as community manager and at Imagine Publishing as staff writer. Robot Cache has announced the appointment of industry veteran LAURA NAVIAUX STURR (12) as its new CMO. She spent

over 11 years in senior marketing roles at Sony Online Entertainment, which was then sold and renamed as Daybreak in 2015, where she then spent over three years as chief publishing officer.

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Jagex has appointed NICK BELIAEFF (13), formerly of Trion Worlds and Sony Online Entertainment, as senior vice president of game development and gaming technology leader, and ROB CORDERO (14), previously of ZeniMax Online Studios and NCSoft, as vice president of technology. Reporting to CEO Phil Mansell, they join to support Jagex as it extends RuneScape to mobile and expands its publishing interests.

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Gaming-focused broadcasting platform Caffeine has hired two key executives: JEN FOLSE (15) from Apple TV and MICHELLE WAGNER (16) from Evernote. Folse joins as VP of product, where she will be responsible for leading the product experience, roadmap and product design team, while Wagner was hired to head up human resources, IT and facilities management.

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Catalis, the parent company for Curve Digital, Testronic and Kuju, appointed ANDREW LAWTON (17) as corporate finance and strategy director. Lawton spent 19 years at Sony PlayStation Europe and more recently served as group finance director at Keywords Studios. Former game director at Evolution Studios, Sony and Codemasters, and veteran of the racing game scene, PAUL RUSTCHYNSKY (18), has joined Slightly Mad Studio as game director on an unannounced project. Games Media Brit List’s Emerging Talent 2018 VIC HOOD (19) has joined TechRadar. She said: “I’m over the moon to be TechRadar’s new gaming writer. The team is amazing and I have a heap of ideas about directions to take the channel in. So stay tuned.” DAN SETO (20) is Warner Bros’ new international social media communications manager. He previously worked at Square Enix for four years, as well as at Premier PR.

Got an appointment you’d like to share with us? Email Marie Dealessandri at marie.dealessandri@futurenet.com 20 | MCV 939 September 2018


Rising Star Emma Kent, reporter intern, Eurogamer

ArenaNet’s actions emboldened some to demand women game devs be sacked for expressing opinions online. I felt it important to cover the story, but I also knew this would expose me to online backlash. Luckily the Eurogamer team is extremely supportive – they encourage me to tackle challenging issues, and stand by my work. I got negative remarks from some commenters, but I’d done my research and carefully constructed my arguments, so I was on pretty solid ground. What do you enjoy most about your job? I’ve been surprised by the sheer variety of topics in news writing. Every day, the gaming world surprises me in some way – it’s never dull. Above all else, I love being creative with my writing and playing around with my news delivery style. It’s easy to simply write out a press release, but I enjoy making my work pop with humour and personality. In my mind, if I’m having fun, the reader’s having fun too. I can normally tell I’ve succeeded if I hear my editors, Tom [Phillips, Eurogamer’s news editor] and Wes [Yin-Poole, deputy editor], giggle as they’re proofing my work.

How did you break into games? I took a module in game studies on my year abroad in Sydney and finally realised I wanted a career writing about video games (but then, who doesn’t). When I returned to Birmingham, I threw myself into writing for my student paper Redbrick and became an editor for the gaming section. I often went to conventions to cover games, and one of these was EGX Rezzed – where Eurogamer was holding a session on games journalism. I asked a tough question, recorded their answers, and converted them into an article. The next thing I knew, I was the Eurogamer reporter-intern for 2018. What is your proudest achievement so far? Getting the internship was a huge deal in itself. As far as I know, Eurogamer provides the only games journalism internship in the UK, so the application process was incredibly competitive. The experience has been invaluable. So far, my

“I felt it important to cover the story, but I also knew this would expose me to backlash.” favourite piece for Eurogamer has been my God of War feature. I discovered fans were engaged in a huge rune translation project to discover the game’s hidden secrets. Interestingly, the piece encouraged the community to redouble its efforts to find the game’s rumoured ‘final secret’ – which they did, in the end. It was wonderful to see my article have a noticeable impact. What’s been your biggest challenge to date? Probably my ArenaNet feature, which covered the impact of the Guild Wars firings. Unfortunately

What’s your big ambition in games? This is a tough one, as so far I’ve been focused on starting out and getting my head around the industry. One day I’d love to write a major investigative piece, but it will likely be some time before I build up enough contacts to do this sort of work. Like most games journalists, a particular dream is to cover E3 – if only to watch the event at a normal hour of the day. There’s only so much excitement I can take at 3am. What advice would you give to someone trying to get into games journalism? For aspiring news writers, it can be difficult to find stories ahead of big media outlets. To prevent yourself from slipping into “churnalism,” look for original stories on social media, or report on a current news story with your own unique angle. The important thing is to make it your own. I’d also recommend putting yourself out there, both at events and on social media. Meeting the Eurogamer team at Rezzed made a massive difference to the success of my application – it allowed them to put a face to a name. Plus, socialising is fun, so what harm can it do?

If there’s a rising star at your company, contact Marie Dealessandri at marie.dealessandri@futurenet.com September 2018 MCV 939 | 21


LevellingUP

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

Chucklefish’s Katy Ellis explains how working in marketing at an indie firm encompasses far more than it does most places and how she’s able to make an impact on the games she works on

What is your job role and how would you describe your typical day at work? I work at games developer and publisher Chucklefish as the marketing strategist, which is a bit of an umbrella term to summarise all things marketing, community, PR, events and publishing! I’ve been here just over five months, and in this time we’ve had two game announcements and two major releases, as well as planning plenty of exciting behind-thescenes stuff too. We’re a pretty small company, around 18 strong including developers, with three core members of the marketing team. Because of this, we all work really collaboratively across everything we do, and dip our toes into a lot of different areas of games development and publishing. I find that being a marketing person at an indie company is super exciting, as it allows you to really see a game’s development progress from a ground-level up, and feel like you’re making an active difference in how the game is shaping up and being communicated with the players. My average day can vary from working on long-term marketing plans with developers, chatting with the community, writing key messaging, blogs and press releases, creating store pages, designing our expo booths, making trailers, or even running impromptu livestreams. Everyday is so different and that’s what really drew me to the job in the first place! What qualifications and/or experience do you need to land this job? I’ve always found that a university degree isn’t necessary to get into games marketing. A get-up-and-go attitude is crucial though. If you want to get into PR start a blog and get writing, if you love the sound of community management create or moderate a Discord, YouTube or Twitch channel and maybe if you’re mad like me and planning is your favourite thing create a fake campaign for a game you love as a fun marketing exercise! Depending on the size of company you’re going for, you may need to wear multiple hats, so I’ve found having a basic knowledge of PhotoShop to whip up some social assets and PremierePro to cut together a game trailer or promo video is especially handy. If you were interviewing someone for your team, what would you look for? For me it’s all about a candidate’s passion and drive. If you’re already passionate and love the games you’re promoting, it doesn’t really feel

“Being a marketing person at an indie company allows you to really see a game’s development progress from a ground-level up, and feel like you’re making an active difference.” like work at all. That doesn’t mean it’s not hard work at times though, which is why a positive attitude and willingness to get stuck in is super important too! In terms of experience, I find that showing examples of how you’ve been refining your skills, such as forum moderation to show community management prowess or a podcast to rehearse your public speaking, is so much more positive and relevant than having to have a degree in traditional marketing. What opportunities are there for career progression? There are so many routes within the games marketing sector. Progression at triple-A publishers and developers usually sees you narrow down your focus to product, PR, marketing, community or events divisions, and then work up through ranks, perhaps from a local to international level. There’s also so many awesome indie labels out there, like Chucklefish, looking for passionate individuals to support their great development work and find really expand their skill-set by dabbling in every step of the games development and release cycle. Get out there and find your marketing niche!

Want to talk about your career and inspire people to follow the same path? Contact Marie Dealessandri at marie.dealessandri@futurenet.com 22 | MCV 939 September 2018


“There’s none of that boys’ club mentality that put me off looking at some other studios.” Name: Emma Dickson Studio: Sumo Digital (Newcastle) Job Title: UI Programmer Education: MSc Creative Software Systems

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 Sumo to come and join them? Initially I was interested in the role when I saw that Sumo was looking for a UI specialist, which was an area that I’d previously done some work in as a generalist programmer and really enjoyed, to the point where I was quite interested in making it my main focus. I was invited to visit for an interview and was really impressed by the amount of experience the folks here have and felt like it was somewhere I could learn a lot and improve my own skills working with them. What’s the culture like at Sumo and what’s your experience been like fitting in? Everyone has been very welcoming here; it’s a casual, friendly environment while at the same time we’re all working hard on making great games. There’s none of that boys’ club mentality that put me off looking at some other studios. Even as a relatively junior member of the team, I get to give feedback and feel like my ideas are listened to, while I also receive lots of useful comments to improve my own work. What are you most excited about bringing to the role? I’m really excited to be somewhere with so much opportunity to learn

new skills, so I’d say it’s my enthusiasm to learn more and make great games. What will working at Sumo do for your career? Being here gives me a great opportunity to work on a variety of different IPs and collaborate with some great people, which will be great experience. And with regular feedback and performance reviews I feel like it’s somewhere that I can develop my career for years to come. What would you like to say to anyone thinking about or undertaking a job move in this industry?  My two top tips – do your research and don’t be afraid of getting rejected. Find out who’s hiring and for what, talk to people who have worked there and get a feel for what different studios are like. Then get some applications out to anywhere you feel would be a fit and don’t be afraid to apply even if you don’t meet all the job requirements at face value. You will get rejections, but that’s all part of the process. Get feedback whenever you can – one place turned me down after a couple of interviews because they felt like my skills would be better suited for a UI specialist role than the generalist role they had available. That made me think about applying for specialist jobs and I’m really glad I did!

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ME ANYTHING This month’s question: Is the industry still too reliant on huge releases in Q4? Kim Bayley, CEO, ERA

Retail is a 365 day a year business. Unbalanced release schedules leave money from gamers on the table as retailers are short of product for much of the year and face an impossible glut in the run-up to Christmas. It’s short-sighted, self-defeating and ultimately loses sales. On an individual release level, it makes sense to go to market when stores are busiest. Retailers need to demonstrate why a balanced schedule benefits everyone, and suppliers need to understand that three months of sales may not be enough to support a year-round physical retail business.

Matt Finn, Account Director, Exertis

The danger of the industry having so many releases in Q4 means that there are always going to be titles which aren’t as successful as they may have been due to limited funds from consumers. By using so-called quieter periods, you can gain significant share of awareness and sales – just look at Horizon Zero Dawn or Far Cry 5. Certainly with the releases scheduled for Q1 2019, it would suggest that, while Q4 remains key for many, games can generate strong sales outside of Q4 too and publishers are starting to embrace this.

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Nick Parker, Founder & Partner, Parker Consulting

The industry has been too reliant on releasing in Q4. If the game is of good enough quality, then it will sell just as well at alternative times of the year; take GTA for example. If the game is weak, then a Q4 release will be drowned out by better titles from publishers with deeper marketing pockets. Marketing media is more expensive in Q4 so why risk your budget? The biggest weeks for console hardware acquisition are the last six of the year so maximise the addressable market for buying games after that period. For digital indie titles, it’s best to avoid the big guns soaking up gamers cash in Q4.

“If the game is of good enough quality, then it will sell just as well at alternative times of the year. Marketing media is more expensive in Q4 so why risk your budget?”

Neil Campbell, Co-Founder, Viewpoint Games

Even though Q4 is known for the release of the annual, big budget sequels from the triple-A studios, there are still smaller games – as well as those that rely on regular content updates such as Fortnite – that are able to release throughout the year and still make a huge impact. Consumers are buying from digital stores all year round and with seasonal promotions such as the PlayStation Summer Sale along with the growing popularity of buying digitally, there is even more opportunity to release games outside of the Q4 window.

Lisa Carter, Director, Mimram Media

The flurry of major releases in Q4 has been an issue for the games industry for as long as I can remember. It’s the same in all entertainment sectors. The switch to digital has alleviated the pressure on physical retailers and on developers/publishers fighting for shelf space. But whether they’re buying physical or digital products, consumers only have so much to spend at any given time. We have seen time and again that a strong game released at any time of the year can do well. The games industry has the option to do that – be thankful you don’t work in toys…


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!

Unearthing stranger sounds Nick D. Brewer Rebellion

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SOMETHING that really makes Strange Brigade stand out among today’s shooters is its pre-war setting and stylised homage to matinee films of the 1930s and 40s... But when it came to sound design, that didn’t mean we could just do as they did back then. Our audio department would no more crunch-up the sound assets to make them purposely low in quality than the art team would want to make every second of the game grainy and blackand-white! We had to capture the charm of those old films and serials while keeping the same quality bar the audience expects from contemporary games and cinema. Luckily, with Strange Brigade (especially compared to the more historical feel of our Sniper Elite games), realism is most definitely not on the agenda – and a slightly more cartoony and colourful approach to the audio actually lent itself nicely to recreating the flamboyant vibe of those old movies.  We gathered up as many recordings as we could of elemental sounds (fire, thunder, various forms of water, dirt and sand), as well as the clunks, grinds and creaks of all sorts of wood and metal mechanisms. These, and many more, would form the palette from which many of the game’s sounds would then be made, including the interactive objects (such as the puzzles and traps) and the magical special-moves performed by the game’s heroic adventurers. Another place where the vibrancy of this type of sound design could really make its mark was in the voice performances throughout. In an almost mirror-opposite to Sniper Elite’s

dark and brooding lead, Karl Fairburne, the members of the Strange Brigade – as well as the game’s unreliable narrator – are effervescent, lively, richly colourful and incredibly chatty. They are also unashamedly caricatured, albeit with a somewhat warped, parodied lens! All these things required us to find largerthan-life character actors who could bring vivid and energetic performances to these roles and make them come to life … without going too far the other way! The end result hopefully being that players would make their choice from the character-roster based heavily on the voice performance, as well as the regular factors of skills, funky outfits and super-powers. Of course, the game’s narrator is arguably even more prominent than the members of the brigade themselves. By the time all his game chatter had been written, he was clocking in at some two-thousand-odd lines, almost five times the amount of any playable character. And each and every line had to be performed with the same colourfulness and charismatic charm. As you can imagine, that’s quite an exhausting task for one actor to take on, but I think we found the single most ideal chap for the job, Glen McCready, a performance praised by critics and fans alike.

Nick D. Brewer is head of audio at Rebellion in Oxford. He’s headed up the audio design on both the Sniper Elite franchise and Zombie Army Trilogy, and so probably has a better aural appreciation of the headshot than almost any else in existence.


Why we need a balanced discussion about gaming Phy YouTube influencer

THE gaming world has continuously been in the headlines of late. Whether it’s the World Health Organization’s report on gaming addiction or scare-stories around vastly popular games like Fortnite, the narrative being pushed is all too familiar to gamers: gaming is a dangerous, anti-social, isolating world, and one that harbours the serious risk of addiction. I know that addiction is a serious issue for those it affects. Awareness around gaming addiction needs to be raised, but it is not the only story about gaming. What about the advantages and benefits gaming can bring? This narrative is being ignored – gamers’ own perspectives have been largely absent from the public debate. Alongside a number of fellow gaming influencers, I teamed up with Qutee recently to curate an intelligent and open discussion with gamers examining the positive side of gaming, to try and give gamers a voice and cast off some of the awful stereotypes to which our community is subjected. Let’s take the idea that gaming is antisocial. Well, our Qutee discussion showed that, for many of us, gaming widens our group of friends and allows us to socialise more. Over twothirds of gamers reported making up to five friends through the gaming world. Next, let’s consider the accusation that gaming can be isolating and detrimental to mental health. Again, our discussion found the opposite – 44 per cent of gamers feel gaming improves their mental wellbeing. Just like big sports event like the World Cup, or going to the

theatre, gaming brings people together, creates a shared sense of purpose, and provides a temporary suspension from the mundane. Not only is it a way to relax and escape the day-today challenges we all suffer, but many gamers have reported that the isolation and mental health problems they endure are born very much of the real-world. It is gaming where they are accepted; gaming provides the respite. For many of us, gaming stretches even further, influencing our daily lives for the better. In the Qutee discussion, more than one-third of gamers said that gaming has inspired future career choices and hobbies outside of IT or software development, igniting interests into history, art and science. The positive role that gaming plays in inspiring gamers to think about their future choices is not to be sneered at. At times it feels like our world is misunderstood and much maligned by those who just don’t get gaming. We are not isolated individuals, but a community with a shared passion. Whether it’s allowing us to socialise more, inspiring a new interest, or fundamentally improving our emotional wellbeing, there is a positive story to be told around gaming, and it’s time that it was heard.

Phy began his YouTube channel is 2013 and creates videos with League of Legends guides, commentaries, tips and tricks for his 600,000 subscribers. He is a leading gaming influencer for Qutee, where he has supported the curation of reports and discussions into the gaming industry.

“Just like big sports event like the World Cup, or going to the theatre, gaming brings people together, creates a shared sense of purpose, and provides a temporary suspension from the mundane.”

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Aaron Greenberg: ‘We’re finding the world’s greatest teams and allowing them to operate independently’ Xbox’s GM of marketing Aaron Greenberg talks to Seth Barton about a huge Q4, how Fortnite has grown gaming, why Game Pass benefits its partners and its outlook for all those newly acquired studios

X

box is the platform holder most committed to Gamescom, with a big presence in terms of both the consumer and business halls. All of which will help with its bid for a “record holiday” season in 2018, GM of games marketing at Microsoft Aaron Greenberg tells MCV when we catch up with him at the show. “We prioritise Gamescom as a big beat for us,” says Greenberg. “It’s really great as it serves that midpoint between post-E3 and holiday.” That was clear, as Xbox hosted its first livestream of announcements from the show, including live game updates, plus newww peripherals and console bundles. And this Christmas, with Xbox One X having been in full production all year, he confirms that stock will not be an issue: “We’re not going to be constrained. It’s the world’s most powerful console, and for anybody who wants to buy it, we will have one available.” Two consoles means lots more bundles, Greenberg tells us: “We’re announcing eight new console bundles… It’s a

big selling season, so we’re doing both new Xbox One S and Xbox One X bundles. Plus we have a limited edition, Gold Rush Special Edition Battlefield V Bundle, the first one we’ve ever done with an Xbox One X.” Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Forza Horizon 4 will both come in One X and One S bundles, while Fallout 76 has a One X bundle, and to complement the limited edition, there’s a stand alone Battlefield V bundle with a One S. Greenberg is ebullient about the sector in general. “Everyone is doing well right now, gaming is growing its category, more people are engaged with it.” Part of that growth he attributes to the “massive phenomenon” which is Fortnite. But what’s most impressed Greenberg is how the game’s success hasn’t come at a great cost to others. “We were watching for the impact: is this going to impact our other third-party partners? And we largely haven’t seen that, for the large part Fortnite seems to have been additive, it has definitely grown gaming. It’s a game that has brought a lot more people into gaming, and then

September 2018 MCV 939 | 29


the people that came in went and spent more time playing games. “The hardcore gamers who were playing all their favourite games didn’t stop playing to go and play Fortnite, but it did take people who were casual or very light gamers and they’re now spending more time playing. It just brought a lot of new people, which is great, it diversifies the population. Many of them were not ‘core gamers’ they were just people who were looking to spend time, and money, on entertainment – it could have just as easily been TV or music. Instead it was Fortnite which became ‘that thing’ for them, and that’s what’s most interesting about this phenomenon,” he explains. And it’s a phenomenon with some phenomenal returns: “It’s been great for Epic and it’s great for the platform. We had a record Q4, really strong growth year-on-year, we ended our fiscal year with the biggest year we ever had, over $10bn (£7.8bn) in revenue.” And Microsoft’s own efforts at service games haven’t seemed to have suffered from the battle royale’s popularity: “We launched Sea of Thieves, which was our biggest live game launch yet. That now has over five million players. State of Decay 2 launched with over three million players. Both those titles exceeded sales targets, engagement targets, and did really well in Game Pass.” Despite that, it would still be reasonable to think the huge freeto-play success of Fortnite might have turned Microsoft’s head somewhat, but Greenberg is cautious: “The ability to get scale and to remove as many barriers as possible is definitely attractive,

Pictured right: Microsoft’s Gold Rush Special Edition Battlefield V Bundle, one of the eight bundles announced at Gamescom

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but you have to be careful about just focusing on a business model, as that alone doesn’t generate success. If you take a paid game and make it free-to-play that doesn’t mean it will be more successful, in many cases it could ruin a game. You see how many people are trying to do battle royale right now.” PASS IT ALONG Of course Microsoft is looking to remove barriers in its own way, with Xbox Game Pass, which has been popular in the territory, Greenberg tells us: “In Europe the uptake of Game Pass has been particularly strong, people have responded really positively to the value. It just depends on the market, some markets are more ‘I want to own these games as part of a collection’ and others are like ‘I want access to a huge library’.” That take-up means Game Pass can offer a new opportunity for publishers looking to get their franchises in front of new players. “There are strategic benefits for partners,” Greenberg says. “Think about Bethesda putting Fallout 4 into Game Pass, they’re able to take that huge base of people who are Game Pass subscribers and introduce them to that, in advance of Fallout 76. It drives great engagement for them so it’s an opportunity to create new fans and drive that engagement further.” And all that adds up to a rosy future for both Microsoft and the industry, which benefits from having numerous successful platforms to sell on. “It’s just been a great time for the games


industry, we’re seeing it for our third-party partners and we’ve experienced it as well, with our games and our financial results.” THE E3 STUDIOS If Game Pass is to be a success then, like Netflix, it will increasingly need must-have content. Which brings us back to that huge multi-studio announcement from E3 and some insight into how that came together. “It was special to be able to do that,” Greenberg tells us proudly, having worked with all the studios in the lead-up to the big day. “We knew we were growing our first-party investment, but to be able to time it right, there’s a lot of contracts and process you have to work through.” Even more impressive was that the deals hadn’t leaked, making it a massive surprise: “That’s the fun part, people want to be surprised, and it was great when Phil [Spencer] went up there and announced first one, then two, three, four… five! I can’t think of an E3 were anyone’s announced even one acquisition.” Annoucing business acquisitions shows how consumers care more and more about the industry and the teams that make their games. Greenberg thinks there’s been a huge rise in the “detail and enthusiasm” that fans share with each other for their favourite games: “When we said Ninja Theory, everyone knew their pedigree, the same with Playground. And that makes it more appropriate for a show like that.” We ask if the raft of simultaneous acquisitions amounted to a grand change in strategy, even an admittance that the breadth of the line-up wasn’t all it should have been in recent years. “We were really deliberate in that we wanted to grow our investment in our first-party studios,” he replies cautiously. “And we were really thoughtful about how we wanted to do that, part of it is to go find some of the world’s greatest creative teams, which are independent, and which make a fit for us. “If you think about the teams we acquired, these folks are best in class, they make really high-quality games, but the games they make are very different to our existing franchises. Of course Playground is making Horizon, but they’re also going to have a second team making something entirely different. We have a centre of excellence in the UK, we have Rare, we now have Ninja Theory and Playground, and those teams can work together to share tech and infrastructure, that has a lot of benefits.” Plus, it puts a huge amount of Microsoft’s first-party output into a relatively small area in the middle of the country – factor in Sumo Digital’s work on Crackdown to the north and it’s an

incredible concentration of creative investment. That’s not just a coincidence either. Britain’s got talent for sure, but a historically weak pound versus the dollar, plus tax incentives, are also big factors in expanding in the UK. “At a high level the government has been very supportive of the games industry and made it advantageous for companies to do games development in the UK, and we’ve definitely taken advantage of that,” Greenberg agrees. He’s keen to impress upon us that all the new studios will remain creatively independent: “This was first and foremost about finding the world’s greatest teams, who can bring new types of content to our first-party studios, and allow them to continue to operate independently,” he tells us, before adding: “If you think about a game like Hellblade, how many big companies would have greenlit a game like that? But it’s brilliant and it addresses a lot of important issues. Those are the types of teams that really inspire us and it’s a privilege to be able to work with them. For them to become part of our team provides financial security, access to resources and tech capabilities, and still the creative independence to go and do what they want to do. These teams they would have never wanted to partner and work with us if that wasn’t part of the conditions. I think we have a good track record of doing that: look at Mojang, which has stayed independent and stayed focused. “It’s an exciting time, we’ve essentially doubled our creative studios overnight, and it just shows that commitment to invest more.”

“We have a centre of excellence in the UK: Rare, Ninja Theory, Playground... Those teams can work together to share tech and infrastructure, that has a lot of benefits.” September 2018 MCV 939 | 31


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How Sumo Digital will help The Chinese Room

‘take the jump up to the next level’

Work-for-hire giant Sumo has acquired indie darling The Chinese Room, Seth Barton talks to them both about what appears an unlikely pairing

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or 15 years Sumo Digital has worked on some of the biggest mainstream console franchises around, in the very top tier of work-for-hire studios, but it’s never been known for creating and managing its own IP. So it came as something of a surprise last month to find that the company has acquired indie-darling developer The Chinese Room. The Brighton-based studio came to prominence with Dear Esther and solidified its reputation with the critically-acclaimed Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. Dan Pinchbeck, co-founder of The Chinese Room alongside Jessica Curry, remains as creative director. “The Chinese Room has built a fantastic reputation in creating innovative, original IP which will complement our core business, adding another string to our bow,” Paul Porter, managing director of Sumo Digital tells MCV. “That, combined with our existing infrastructure and experience of building studios means we’re in a strong position to support Dan’s vision.” Porter is keen to point out the focus of Sumo’s business remains the same: “It’s more of an expansion and extension of what we do. Third-party development will remain our primary

focus but now is the right time, and The Chinese Room is the right team for us to grow our presence in the south of England.” From a UK perspective, the new studio radically shifts the company’s centre of gravity south, adding Brighton to its current roster of northerly locations in Sheffield, Nottingham and Newcastle. Carl Cavers, CEO of Sumo Group comments that “being in Brighton and the south of England allows us to tap into a new pool of talent in an area with a growing tech hub, offering opportunities to people who have put down roots in this part of the country.” And this isn’t a one-off either, adding that “making good quality acquisitions” is a key part of the company’s ongoing strategy. We ask Pinchbeck why the time was right, but he tells us that wasn’t the main factor: “It was probably less about the right time than the right partner. Sumo is a perfect fit for us, for what I want to do next, and to join such a great company was the perfect opportunity. We’ve been talking to Sumo since the end of last year – we knew it was time for a real change to the studio, a chance to evolve and push forwards in terms of what we wanted to achieve.“

Pictured: Dan Pinchbeck (left), Carl Cavers (top, far left), Paul Porter (top left)

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Of course there were other options to grow the company, Pinchbeck says: “To be honest we’d talked about potential investment, different ways of going forwards, but nothing had really landed or felt right.” In the end, Sumo’s leadership team was a big part of why Pinchbeck chose to work with the company. “When we first met Carl and Paul from Sumo, it just felt like this was the one, this was the right direction,” he tells us. “It’s their reputation – both as game makers, but also as a studio. I know people that have worked for them, or with them, and they are really highly thought of. That makes a big difference, because you want to be working alongside people you trust and respect. Meeting the team, going out to E3 with them a couple of months ago, it just cemented that. It’s a great company with a really great attitude to development. And it was clear right away that we shared a vision of what we could achieve with The Chinese Room working together.” Pinchbeck tells us more about that vision, saying he had “definitely been looking to grow the studio, take on more ambitious projects, take the jump up to the next level.” Though he adds: “You have to be smart about that, respect the challenges and the experience needed to take on bigger games. That’s a huge part of what this gives us, it brings us into a family with a huge amount of experience and means we can make that move in a way that’s properly structured and supported. “There’s no question for me that we couldn’t have done it on our own,” he states emphatically. “But now we’re in a place where growing and evolving the studio is not only possible, but opens up really exciting new opportunities. I’ve got big ambitions for the studio and it’s something we share.” And Pinchbeck reveals that bigger, better things are now in the pipeline: “We’re carrying forwards concepts we already had in development, as well as working on some new, larger scale, more ambitious games.” We ask Porter about the publishing strategy for upcoming The Chinese Room titles, but there’s no announcement yet on whether the company will make a strategic shift to self-publishing its

games. “We can’t wait to start talking about the projects coming out of The Chinese Room when the time is right,” he replies. To date, Sumo has only self-published once, testing the waters successfully with Snake Pass, though in a post-mortem earlier this year the company told MCV that it was “bloody hard work” and it had no immediate plans to publish more games. Of course that’s likely to have changed now, but will the traditionally PS4-bound The Chinese Room be branching out to other platforms? “Platform decisions will be decided on a title by title basis,” says Porter. “Some may lend themselves, or even be developed, specifically for a platform. Our relationships and experience across all platforms is a big part of what we can bring to The Chinese Room.” As to the back catalogue that will remain untouched, Pinchbeck says: “Our current titles will remain available of course. We’re so proud of the games we’ve made up to this point, they’re an important part of the studio’s history and reputation. So existing fans will of course still be able to play those games they love. But we’re also going to be getting to work on some new, amazing games.” The studio will also provide input on games across the group. “One of the things I love about Sumo is the relationship between all of the studios, and working with them is something I’m really excited about,” he tells us. And Cavers agrees, saying: “We believe Dan’s renowned creative abilities will add real value to Sumo Group.” Pinchbeck concludes: “Those conversations are really important and I hope I’ll be able to offer something to other projects. Having said that, we’re joining a family where amazing things are already happening, so it’s more about the opportunity to work alongside developers I have a huge amount of time and respect for. On a personal level, that’s incredibly exciting.” With Sumo’s development expertise and resources, and The Chinese Rooms creative capabilities, it certainly looks like a great deal, as long as both sides can successfully leverage the talents of the other.

“We’re carrying forwards concepts we already had in development, as well as working on some new, larger scale, more ambitious games.” 42 | MCV 939 34 938 September August 20182018


RETAIL’S NOT Skybound Games entered indie publishing only six months ago, with the advantage of being backed by a massive entertainment company. Armed with that expertise, it aims to set a new high in terms of quality for indie publishing – starting with physical releases. Marie Dealessandri reports

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“We have two and a half million opted in subscribers for Skybound Insiders, a sizeable global community that we can tap into.”

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kybound Games is unique in the indie publishing landscape. Having launched in April as the publishing division of Skybound Entertainment, the company founded by The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman in 2010, it has access to resources that your typical indie publisher couldn’t even dream of. Skybound Entertainment’s structure is an interesting one. The firm deals with its licenses (including The Walking Dead) across a wide variety of media: comics, TV, films, to name only a few. But it also licences them into video games via Skybound Interactive, which brought The Walking Dead to mobile and consoles (and soon VR with The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners), among others. And now Skybound Games, led by 505 Games’ founder Ian Howe, has been created to complement the Interactive division, with the aim to partner with developers to create new IP and further expand Skybound properties. “We’re in a fortunate position that we’ve got some great IP,” Mark Stanger, general manager for EMEA at Skybound Games, tells MCV. “When the opportunity is right we can be the vehicle that takes our IP to market. So whether that’s The Walking Dead or Outcast or Oblivion, or anything from our historical stable of IP. “We’ve still got the Interactive team so we’re still actively looking at third-party opportunities to take that IP to market. As a group we’re in a great position, we have options. With the right opportunity, we can self-publish, but if the right thing is to build on something we’ve already done with Telltale Games or 505 Games, then we can do that too. And it’s nice that it’s powered by some genuinely compelling global IP. “From a games publishing perspective we can rely on products and services that the group has. We have a relationship with Universal for movie treatments, we have a relationship with Amazon for TV, with Simon & Schuster for books…” Skybound can also rely on the massive community that it’s built over the years around the parent company’s IPs, called ‘Skybound Insiders’. “We have two and a half million opted in subscribers for Skybound Insiders so we have a sizeable global community that we can tap into,” Stanger says. “So those are things that other games publishers don’t necessarily have at their disposal

immediately. But as a group we do, and where it’s right for the product we can bring those departments in to support us.” WHAT’S IN THE BOX? Having this background and resources available doesn’t mean that Skybound Games could just rest on its laurels since its inception six months ago though. “It’s going well but there was a lot of work to do because we had the first two releases as a new publishing company in early September – Slime Rancher and The Long Dark,” Stanger says. “We started really gearing up in April/May time. There was a huge amount of work to do to get plans in place before the summer vacation period started. Although the publishing entity is new, the people involved had been around the industry for quite some time so it’s quite an experienced team and we’re able to move quickly and make some good plans for our releases. So I think we’re in pretty good shape.” Monomi Park’s Slime Rancher and Hinterland Studio’s The Long Dark both launched at retail on September 7th, having successfully released on Steam in summer 2017. “The reviews, the user feedback from Steam was exceptional for both titles, which was actually one of the initial triggers that made us think they could be interesting retail propositions. But the market is different to what it was five, seven, ten years ago so we’ve been sensible,” says Stanger. “We’ve been, if anything, erring on the side of caution the way that we’ve approached retail. We want to give everybody a positive experience, for everybody to sell the stock that we put into market, that they feel comfortable with the way that we approached it so when we come through with the next title they are happy to work with us again. What we’re seeing is that, although in the UK and Germany digital is a big component within the market for sure, there is still a very worthwhile retail piece to be exploited. “In some of the other markets, we’re discovering, digital hasn’t made the kind of inroads from a consumer perspective that it has in the UK, Germany, US. So the retail market is still there, it’s still viable. But again we’ve been sensible in the way we’ve approached it.” To make sure its retail strategy is viable, Skybound Games has partnered with specialists in key territories – MBG in Germany,

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Pictured above: Boxed releases of Adult Swim Games’ and White Rabbit’s Death’s Gambit and Team Cherry’s Hollow Knight

Pictured below: Mark Stanger, general manager for EMEA at Skybound Games

CentreSoft in the UK, Just for Games in France – to undertake the physical distribution in those markets. And when it comes to retail, it’s very much a matter of finding a unique selling point, Stanger believes. Simply putting a game in a box won’t do the trick anymore. “The retail landscape has changed massively. Digital has become so strong and so dominant. But we feel that for the right titles presented in the right way there is an opportunity at retail,” he says. “And let’s face it, retail still exists, people do still go into shops and buy games and we feel that if we can offer something really compelling in the box then there’s a market for that. “With the experience of the team, it also means that we’re comfortable with that environment. Although it has changed, we still feel that we understand it, we have a view on how we can make that work for us. So that’s why we thought it was right to exploit this for these first two titles. And we knew that they both had sizeable communities that were actively talking about the game. So again if we had something interesting in the retail box then that could be quite compelling.” He adds that both Slime Rancher and The Long Dark “have physical added value and digital added value that have not been seen previously” included in their physical editions. Slime Rancher comes with a ‘Slimepedia’ as well as new slimes, while The Long Dark comes with a survival guide and the soundtrack. Skybound Games also just announced it will be handling the physical versions of Team Cherry’s indie hit Hollow Knight, as well as Adult Swim Games’ and White Rabbit’s Death’s Gambit and Reverge Labs’ Skullgirls. These should come in Q1 next year Stanger tells us. And it’s fair to expect them to come with similar added value. FINDING THE SWEET SPOT Skybound Games is not only dedicated to carving its niche at retail, but also to expanding on the games’ universes if the opportunity is right, Stanger adds.

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“The physical box distribution is something we feel that we understand and feel comfortable with. And then there’s all the other stuff. Where it’s right and where there’s the ambition, we can talk about film, we can talk about TV, we can talk about comics, we can talk about book publishing. We have got two and a half million Skybound Insiders that would love to talk about certain types of game that we know will resonate with that audience. We’ve got a merchandise team. We’ve got a live event team. We have a digital content creation team that sits within Skybound Group – two or three ex-guys from Machinima. So whether it’s a 30-minute documentary or whether it’s a trailer, we can do that in-house with some real experts on creating that kind of digital content. “The word ‘hollistic’ is overused in some instances but there are a lot of avenues we can open to content creators, to help take their product to market and support it once it’s there. And I’m not sure that every indie publisher has that range of support services. So that’s the differentiation.” Skybound Games previously announced a target of eight to ten releases a year, which Stanger confirms: “That would be the sweet spot for us in terms of genuinely having a range we can talk about, but making sure that we can get the right focus and attention to each title and it gets the right treatment. At the end of the day that’s the single most important thing: to do what’s right for the game and the team that created it.” For Skybound Games’ portfolio, Stanger also hopes to find a sweet spot between growing existing IP and signing new third-party developers. “It’s going to be a balance and I think that’s going to be the really exciting piece, when we get a portfolio that contains some of our own IP but also bring to market games that have already been released digitally with ourselves and the studio being able to do something compelling for the physical version, as is the case with Slime Rancher and The Long Dark. And then there’s the more traditional publisher role where we work with the developer at an earlier stage and we invest in the development of the product and look to secure the digital and the physical rights. There’s a very interesting story around complementary release across both the digital and physical landscape.” Concluding our chat, Stanger doesn’t shy away from Skybound Games’ ambitions. “I think the ambition is really, on a global scale, to become a leading player in indie publishing and help define the highest quality of indie publishing by utilising expertise that the group developed over recent years. “But the challenge is to do that while remaining creative-centric, do what’s right for the game at every instance. But if we can execute on that, I think we have a really compelling proposition.”


Masami Saso: ‘We still strongly believe in the appeal of console games’ Seth Barton speaks to Konami’s president Masami Saso about the company’s plans for a future across both mobile and console

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onami’s digital entertainment division has been adapting its strategy to make the most of the mobile market since its 2015 announcement of its ‘mobile first’ strategy. Though as president Masami Saso reminds us: “‘Mobile first’ back in 2015 didn’t mean ‘mobile only’. We still strongly believe in the appeal of console games and the quality of the games that we can and do create.” And Saso believes there was proof of that on Konami’s Gamescom stand this year, which included new playable demos of PES 2019 (pictured above right, middle), Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner - Mars and Hyper Sports R – games which “all have dedicated fanbases and that we’re excited to show more of to both press and gamers alike.” In addition Yu-Gi-Oh! had its own booth with new products, covering the card game (pictured above right, bottom) and the Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Links mobile game.

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The latter has seen “huge success” Saso tells us, “and the market is only getting bigger and better.” Though he adds: “There are still hurdles to overcome including getting the balance right with in-app purchases and ‘gacha’ elements, this is something that we’re always listening to our community about.” With Fortnite now dominant across both mobile and console charts, the barrier between the two seems to be fast breaking down, and Saso is keen to talk about Konami’s own cross-platform successes: “We want to create products for our customers that can be played and accessed anywhere, anytime,” he states, adding: “A number of our brands including PES and Yu-Gi-Oh! have already translated over to mobile very well. We are always discussing and exploring options for our mobile and console businesses.”


And those options include an impressive wealth of home-grown IPs he tells us: “We’re very proud of the breadth of IPs and franchises that have been built and nurtured at Konami.” For instance at Gamescom this year attendees were able to play Hyper Sports R (pictured top right) for the first time, an IP that span off the original Track & Field. While Track & Field is a classic IP familiar to western audiences, like many Japanese games companies, Konami must strike a balance between titles for its home audience and those intended for broader global consumption. “Having success on both a domestic and global level is important to us,” Saso says. “We have a variety of products that are released only domestically, such as Jikkyo Pawafuru Puro Yakyu. On the global IP level though, we have many successful brands that resonate with a much wider audience, brands such as Castlevania, Metal Gear and Pro Evolution Soccer. “In fact, if you look at what we’re doing with PES for example, you’ll see that we’re firing on all platform cylinders launching and

supporting product releases on mobile, console and PC, signing partnerships with top-flight football clubs, securing exclusive league licenses and investing hugely in our global esports competition, PES League.” It certainly sounds like the strategy of a thoroughly-modern global publisher, though some will still hark back to the days of Kojima and the highlights of the Metal Gear series, the future of which Saso won’t be drawn on. Talking about last year’s strong financial figures, he continues: “We attribute our success to the [variety] and broad appeal of the multiple entertainment products that drove growth last year. All signs are pointing to another successful year for Konami as we continue to develop games that our audiences will enjoy.” Beyond that, he tells us the company is focused on its announced line-up and that “what the company has in store beyond that, [he] cannot share at this time.” He adds: “However what I can tell you is that the future is looking bright for Konami and fans will have even more to be excited about in the coming months – watch this space.”

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Metro Exodus:

‘It’s huge in scope and scale… but it’s not an open world game’ Metro Exodus is shaping up brilliantly – Seth Barton talks to Deep Silver and 4A Games about how the franchise is changing and the studio’s split-location team 42 | MCV 939 September 2018


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etro Exodus was among the most exciting games at this year’s Gamescom, especially as the title was playable for the first time. We had a go ourselves and at first things feel pretty familiar, the weapon designs are essentially the same, and we sneak around, taking out enemies silently and hoovering up their supplies and ammo. But as we explore we realise that this world is far bigger than anything the game has provided us with before. Freed from the tunnels of Moscow, the game has blossomed into a series of large sandbox areas. And taking your time to explore those areas, rather than dashing around to conserve precious air, looks to be the new normal. “People ask if Metro is a open-world game, it’s not,” Huw Beynon (pictured above left), head of global brand management for publisher Deep Silver tells us emphatically. “But you do have these huge levels that are miniature open worlds and take several hours to compete… then you get back on the train and roll on to the next environment.” Beynon tells us that the team has “spent a huge amount of time in pre-production getting the formula right, so it still feels very much like a Metro game, but adding more freedom and player choice.” However, he is keen to highlight that these aren’t typical openworld mechanics. “We don’t borrow from contemporary open-world conventions. There’s already a lot of very similar open-world games out there, but

I think what we’ve shown here, and at E3, is that this is a beast unlike anything else, there’s a lot of STALKER influence in there. It’s a hybrid. “Just like every Metro game there’s no HUD, we keep the UI to a minimum, we don’t give you fetch quests and objective markers, all the information is still communicated through physical in-game items. There’s no map screen with thousands of different tabs for main quest, side quests and the number of wolf belts you’ve collected,” he reassures us. The game is bigger “by an order of magnitude,” he continues. “In terms of game length it’s looking like both the previous games combined, in terms of dialogue more than double the dialogue of both the previous games and all DLC combined.” And we instantly appreciate the extra work. It may be bigger, but the world still cleverly blends scripted and dynamic events to great effect. Coming off a zipline we’re shown a scene where a huge beast chases a pack of wolf-like creatures through a wood. Walking through that wood, we can hear the wolves circling around us, with one flashing out of the trees to attack, and later we see them chasing a pack of antelopes across our path, before we eventually chose to climb up to walkways in the trees to avoid their attentions. As well as being more expansive, the game is also more varied, set across all four seasons, each with their own unique feel, both graphically and in gameplay terms. The E3 demo, set in spring, was a far more action-packed outing than the autumn section we’re playing.

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The E3 and Gamescom trailers are in fact so different in tone they could almost be for entirely different games, so we ask Beynon if that’s a tricky hurdle in terms of presenting the game to a wider audience? “Trying to find that one thing that will communicate what this game’s about can be somewhat misleading,” he answers. “At E3 we showed a much more action-oriented trailer, but we wanted to show the other side to the game here. We really vary the flow and the pacing throughout the game, so it can go from rollercoaster action set piece, to slowburn survival horror, to pure horror, to stealth. It’s pretty huge in scope and scale, and it’s a challenge trying to communicate all those things.” HARVEST SEASON 4A Games executive producer Jon Bloch (pictured page 43) confirms that all those changes make for a lot more work: “From a production standpoint the scope of this game is much larger than anything we’ve done before. The ambition of the features and technical challenges required to implement them is greater than anything we’ve done before.” Despite the triple-A polish and scope, all of this is the work of a relatively small team of 150 people, a number which includes administrative staff and internal QA too. The team is then split almost evenly between offices in the Ukraine and Malta. Though, as Bloch explains, they “have representation of every single department in both locations,” rather than allocating specific skillsets to just a single location. Working between the locations is largely smooth he adds: “We have a teleconference system that’s open all the time between the two offices, so it’s pretty much like having a window, and standup meetings are conducting that way. It’s almost like we’re on different floors in the same building – we can’t go to their desks, but communication is really easy between the two.” The move to Malta has allowed for “a more diverse talent pool," Bloch says. "We have a lot more ideas coming in, different from what we’ve done in the past. And that helps creativity.” And that’s a benefit that comes in part from having an office in the EU: “It gets us access to EU talent from all those different countries without having to worry about work permits and all that. It gives a huge labour force to tap into. There’s been a lots of benefits, and some

"Trying to find that one thing that will communicate what this game’s about can be somewhat misleading." 44 | MCV 939 September 2018

challenges,” Bloch admits. “But even if we expanded in the same place there would be challenges from that, as processes have to change when you get bigger.” The upsides are bigger than the drawbacks then, making it an idea that some UK developers might want to borrow in the near future; after all, if talent can't easily come to the UK for work, then why not set up an EU outpost? TUNING THE ENGINE The team is still using its own 4A engine, which originates from the first Metro title back in 2010. “There’s benefits and challenges,” Bloch says. “Because it’s our tech we get to do what we want with it, and if someone wants something we can build it." Of course the downside being that the vast majority of the engine isn’t simply provided for you. One benefit was clear at Gamescom this year, with the studio immediately announcing support for Nvidia’s new RTX ray-tracing technology. “Because it’s our tech we know how to integrate that directly into our source code and renderer,” Bloch explains, adding that pushing the game technically was part of their strategy. “Being able to utilise RTX to benefit the realism and immersion that we want, feeling like you’re stepping into a real world, we wouldn’t have been able to do that with someone else’s engine.” The team has long been known for its cutting-edge PC graphics. And while the game is multi-platform, Bloch is particularly impressed with the power of the Xbox One X: “What we’re trying to do on that platform is true 4K HDR, we’re not doing a fake 4K that’s up-rezzed, there’s true 4K HDR on Xbox and it looks great, really comparable to high-end PCs.” Whether on console or PC, the game is set to make a big impact when it launches on February 22nd, with the franchise finally taking a big step into the limelight, after long years of toil in the dark.


HOW EA MADE

FIFA 19 ACCESSIBLE TO EVERYONE Marie Dealessandri talks to EA producer and creative director Matt Prior about how the team worked to make FIFA 19 much more accessible to every type of players and why The Journey is coming to an end this year

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very year brings a wealth of new features to EA’s FIFA franchise. This year though, it looks like the development teams at EA Vancouver and EA Bucharest have gone the extra mile to make it both very accessible to newcomers and more complex for veteran players. “That’s one of the interesting things about FIFA – it has such a broad spectrum in the way people engage with it,” producer and executive director Matt Prior tells MCV. “There’s no optimum way people engage, it’s very different from casual players all the way up to esports competitive games where it’s essentially a job at this point. So when we’re looking at the features we need to make sure we cater as much as we can to everyone. You can’t just focus on

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the core or just on the casuals. Our philosophy always is: how can we do the maximum amount of features that have the maximum impact across our millions and millions of users?” And one feature that is sure to please everyone is the addition of the UEFA Champions League as EA has nabbed the rights from Konami’s PES, which has had them for the past ten years. Getting the rights for the biggest European club championship is obviously a big deal for EA and the team made sure they make it the star of FIFA 19. “It was one of our most requested community features so we’re delighted to be able to deliver that to our community,” Prior says. “When we brought the Champions League back


it was important that we did so across the entire game because FIFA is quite unique in that there’s a lot of different users. You have Career Mode users, you have Kick-Off users, you have Journey users, you have people who play all three, and obviously Ultimate Team is another big one. So it was important to deliver a Champions League experience across the game. So obviously there’s a standalone mode, if you want to play just the Champions League. It is integrated into Career Mode so Career Mode is now the most authentic it’s ever been. Obviously with Champions League comes the Supercup and the Europa Cup, which shouldn’t be forgotten. And then we’ve got The Journey. It’s the last year of Alex Hunter’s story and the Champions League forms the main narrative arc about his quest for the ultimate victory in club football. So it’s a huge part of that.” EA’s decision to put an end to its story mode, The Journey, is a surprising one, as it’s proven incredibly popular, adding depth and narrative to the franchise. But it was actually always meant to be like this, Prior explains. “We always envisioned it as three year journey,” he says. “Three years made sense as we utilised each year to showcase a different level of football. So Year One was his breakout, Year Two was about finding his feet on the world stage and then the third one we always hoped would be competing for the ultimate prize in club football: the Champions League. Now at the time we didn’t know we would get the Champion’s League so thankfully the world aligned and everything fell into place. So in terms of why we saw it as a trilogy, it just kind of made sense because once he’s won…” Prior pauses and smiles, immediately correcting himself: “If he wins – it’s entirely up to the user – if he wins the Champions League, where do we take him from there? I think there will be people who will be like: ‘Oh, don’t end it’ but I think it’s good to keep people wanting more before they get tired of the character.” This last chapter in Alex Hunter’s story will not be available on Switch, like last year, EA Sports’ supervising producer for Switch Andrei Lăzărescu tells us: “[The story mode is not on

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Switch] because FIFA is powered by Frostbite and the whole Switch game is built on a custom engine. Because we wanted it to cater to the platform and not be downsized or downgraded, that wasn’t possible. It’s in the back of our head, but not this year.” With The Journey ending this year, it would not be surprising then to have a new story mode built from the ground up for all platforms, including Switch, next year. Pictured: EA’s Andrei Lazarescu (above) and Matt Prior (top right)

THE SOCIAL NETWORK But one of the most interesting things coming to FIFA this year is a wide range of features aiming at improving its accessibility and making it a much more appealing proposition for new players. “We’ve added one button control,” Prior starts explaining. “So FIFA is obviously a very complex game, that’s part of its appeal. There’s a lot of functionality. For someone who’s maybe not into gaming as much it can be a bit of an overwhelming experience. But now with one button control the AI will decide what’s the optimum thing to do in that situation, whether it’s pass or shoot. So that really opens it up. And I’ve been playing with my seven year-old son and he’s loving it. That’s an element that really opened the doors of FIFA in terms of making it accessible to everyone.” But that’s not all, with Kick-Off in particular getting a wealth of new features. “It’s a big year for Kick-Off, we’ve injected a little bit of fun into it – there’s now what we call house rules. So you can play games where there’s no rules. So no fouls, no offsides, essentially the referee is not there.” You can also add rules such as only headers and volleys count for goals, or only goals scored from long range, say from outside the box, will count. “The one that’s been going down a storm is survival mode,” Prior continues. “So basically if you score a goal one of your players is randomly ejected.

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“We’ve also added an advantage setting. So one of the historical problems with FIFA is if you had a friend who was way better than you, you couldn’t really have an engaging game. Now with the advantage settings we’ve got the ability to add a score up to 20. So I could give you a 20 goal lead. “You can also set the AI of your teammates. So I could set you to world class and myself to beginner. So on beginner they won’t make as intelligent decisions. “Now, with these levers we can create a level playing field for users of any type. It just really opens it up to people who may have never played FIFA.” Kick-Off games can now also be played as themed games in FIFA 19 – for instance as the Champions League final. “One of the reasons for that is previously Kick-Off games were just a team against a team, there was no presentation around it,” Prior says. “We put a lot of effort into creating this wonderful atmosphere when you get to a cup final. So now we offer the opportunity to play a Kick-Off game as a specific final. So you get all the trappings, all the emotional atmosphere.” On top of those casual gamer-friendly changes, FIFA 19 will come with a wealth of other improvements aimed at veteran players, ranging from modes being added or being changed to visuals being improved, gameplay mechanics being overhauled, new content being added, with the ultimate goal being to “give users more control on the pitch.” But talking to Prior, it’s clear that it’s truly FIFA’s improved accessibility that makes it special this year: “One thing we know is FIFA is a very social game and this is part of the reasons we did quite a lot on Kick-Off. It’s played in dorm rooms with eight mates around the house and previously you probably would have someone who couldn’t compete. It was really in essence to open it up to users of all abilities.”


Beyond Blue:

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‘The world is a magnificent place and we want to celebrate that through games’ E-Line Media talks to Seth Barton about its upcoming collaboration with the BBC to create a game that’s both inspired and informed by documentary series Blue Planet II

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here’s always talk about how video games could help change the world for the better, but E-Line Media is doing more than most to try and make that a reality. The indie developer is working in collaboration with the BBC on Beyond Blue – a game that accompanies last year’s smash hit series Blue Planet II. “As a company we think the real world is a magnificent place and we want to celebrate that world through games,” says Michael Angst, CEO and co-founder of the studio. It’s simply the best sentiment we’ve heard in quite a while. And with its first game, Never Alone, which explored native Alaskan culture, the studio has already delivered. It was Never Alone that opened the door to this new project: “In the case of Beyond Blue we actually got a call from the BBC, who said that they really loved how we integrated real-world documentary videos into a fictional game like Never Alone.” That call became a deal, and provided the studio with four years of production experience from the show, relationships with the consulting scientists and access to the footage that will not be shown on the TV. If that all sounds a little too much like ‘edutainment’, the end result, which we saw a demo of at Gamescom certainly sits on the right side of the line. For starters it’s set in the near future, which gives everything a slicker look and there’s no worries about running out of air for instance.

Angst tells us that they asked the scientists: “If you had a NASAlevel budget to explore the ocean, in say ten years time, where would spend your time, what do you think you would discover and why would it be important, why would it move us?” In response to their answers the game tries to “balance a narrativedriven experience, with some high-stakes drama and morally complex decisions, with the joy of exploration and the thrill of discovery. You can choose to be very narrative-driven, or spend more time exploring the environment and find out more about the creatures,” Angst explains. “There is a drama, some humour and it’s voice-acted. When you’re in the water there’s talking to the crew but we keep your story choices to a minimum so you can focus on the environment,” he expands on the structure. The core of the game is exploring the environments and completing missions as diver Mirai, all in third-person. As well as Mirai, players have a fleet of drones, which have additional benefits for both the player and the game design, Angst says: “They’re out there patrolling, they find things for you to focus on, feeding back to you encounters, places you can explore. Plus you can also take direct control of the drones – effectively allowing you a way to teleport to different places.” This opens up numerous narrative possibilities, with connected events occurring across the seascape simultaneously.

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Pictured above: Beyond Blue tries to balance a narrative experience with morally complex decisions and the thrill of exploration and discovery

Pictured below: Michael Angst, CEO and co-founder at E-Line Media

There’s also a sub, which Mirai lives on. Here she can talk to her crewmates, as well as people in her personal life beyond the ocean. “You have time to think about the game, reflect on what you’ve found,” adds Angst. BUOYED UP We see a section where Mirai goes to check on a buoy that’s malfunctioned, preventing your drones from exploring that area. Having fixed it, we’re off to find a curiously stationary whale tracking device. Exploring a cave we disturb a camouflaged octopus in the process, which covers us in ink and Angst warns us this might draw predators. There’s no chance of death here, but the player can be forced back to the sub by aggressive behaviour. What we see looks fantastic and feels very much like a game, but with a core believability. Expanding on the studio’s cooperation with the Blue Planet team and the BBC, Angst tells us: “Our experts are two-fold, the BBC really helped us pinpoint some interesting topics. They have amazing footage of what it feels like underwater. And a lot of inspiration for the mechanics came from conversations with the team, in terms of how they explore and get this footage. “Then the [consultant] scientists help us keep all the behaviour naturalistic and, where humanity is on the edge of understanding, they guide us. What we understand is that after millions of years of adaptation, sea creatures communicate in ways we don’t see, they

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see differently, they hear differently, they can sense chemicals in the water.” And the game uses various devices to help bring these aspects to life visually, such as a UV camera mode. If players want to find out more, the environment and creatures will proffer up lots of real-world stats and facts. But it’s not all perfectly realistic, Angst admits: “We’ll stretch things a bit, for example there are more caves in our game than you might find in the sea. We’ll make sure it’s fun and that you’ll stay engaged.” The actual running length is yet to be decided. “As much as we can make on the budget we have!” Angst smiles – and for the record we’ve rarely met anyone less appropriately named. He tells us the final game will be at least three to four hours long, though that will depend on how much the player wants to explore. “We’re looking to make a game that recognises there are threats to our oceans, but also celebrates that the ocean is still very much alive and thriving in many areas. There may be sorrow in our game but there’s also going to be joy and hope.” That’s another great sentiment and one which sits perfectly in line with the kind of feelings the TV show evokes. With the title looking to hit all the right notes from its parent brand, walking the same difficult tightrope between informing and entertaining, it’s an intriguing and exciting project. Beyond Blue will be out on PC, PS4 and Xbox One in spring 2019.


Poetry in motion

Motion capture remains a key development tool, so much so that some are bringing the tech in-house. Seth Barton talks to veteran studio Audiomotion about why experience counts, access for indies, remote shoots and trying to direct a cat

doesn’t look like the kind of thing which your average indie developer could raise the money to utilise. However, Mitchell is keen to discuss how smaller outfits can still make good use of professional mocap at reasonable budgets.

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otion capture, or simply mocap, remains a challenging, multi-skilled discipline. A unique blend of high-end technology, software expertise, real-world construction, plus human performance ranging from a mere raised eyebrow to a double backflip off a tower. And that’s a blend that Audiomotion MD Brian Mitchell (pictured above) still relishes, he tells MCV: “The thing I love most is being in the studio and being involved.” With a huge studio space, numerous skilled staff and no fewer than 160 cameras, Audiomotion’s operation

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PUTTING A PRICE ON IT “I think there’s a general perception that mocap is expensive,” Mitchell admits, though he’s cautious not to name figures for a day in the studio, and for good reason. “Everyone wants to know your figures without giving you any information. I can’t really give you a price without knowing what you’re trying to do, there’s a lot of variables.” When you have a business that one day is capturing a single performer’s facial movements, and the next has a full F1 pit crew doing tire changes on a real F1 car, you can see the truth of that statement. Of course most smaller projects will be nearer the former than the latter, but even then expectations need to be carefully managed on how much can be achieved in a day. For first-time users a test shoot is often the best option. “We’ll do a half day shoot, capture some moves relevant to project, put them together as a little package – we take them through the whole process, prove the pipeline, they get deliverables and get to see how it all works before they invest in going all out,” Mitchell explains. Audiomotion charges for such test shoots, otherwise they’d “get a lot of people who kick tires.” But once “they’ve demonstrated that they’re serious” the company will discount the cost of that initial shoot off that of further work. “You can always tailor a budget to suit people,” he states.


Another way to keep costs down is to be flexible. Audiomotion works with names as big as Disney and Guerrilla, but there’s always odd spaces between the big projects to fit in smaller shoots. “As with production in any form, dates slip and very often we’ll have dates pencilled, regular clients put a date in as a marker, but that’s likely to get bumped a couple of times,” Mitchell says. “But you know it’s out there. And when they’re ready they’ll give you an update.” But that also means the studio can be available at fairly short notice for those with the flexibility to take advantage: “If they can be flexible on when the studio and the talent is available then we can make it work. You don’t want to scare off the little guys.” And as Mitchell explains to us, Audiomotion’s own reputation benefits from being involved with exciting projects, be they big or small: “[Indie] projects have just as much potential as the big stuff.” MOCAT In its 21 years in operation, Audiomotion has taken on some pretty epic projects. And things are still growing

and evolving. Mitchell returns to that F1 pit crew they had in recently for Codemasters. Audiomotion suited up the entire crew, who came in complete with all the kit for their high-speed mechanical work. And while that’s a big and complex capture job, there are some upsides to recreating real-world events. “They’re experts at what they do, so of course they didn’t have to rehearse,” Mitchell recalls. They know how to work on the car and they execute it perfectly. Years before Mitchell tells us that the same shoot was done “with just one person, doing the role of every single person in the crew.” Sometimes you have to get out of the studio to get the best results, he adds: “We’ve done big football shoots, a dozen guys playing out various moves on a 3G training ground at Crystal Palace.” And with all those players, there’s lots of occlusion, where players block the cameras’ view, “so that’s a very high camera count,” Mitchell explains. Back in the studio, “we’ve done quite a lot of horses, rearing up, galloping, we’ve done chariots even. And various dogs, we’ve even done a cat.”

Pictured above: Audiomotion’s main studio near Oxford

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your shot list and all the descriptions get filled in as you go. That’s useful for anybody.” Even if there is development staff on the set, then the ability to quickly share what’s being captured with others back at the office is incredibly useful – particularly on larger projects with many stakeholders in the production pipeline. And you don’t need to be halfway around the world to benefit. “We’ve had guys in Glasgow who don’t want to travel down and just need a small amount of data, so they can do it remotely, using a webcam and this application,” Mitchell continues. “We’re shooting it, they can watch it via webcam, give some feedback. It’s a little bit of a slower process, but they get what they need.” And all without spending a whole day travelling. Pictured above: Audiomotion has done mocap shoots with “quite a lot of horses” but also, various dogs and even a cat

Dogs we can see, but finding a well-trained cat can’t be easy? “I don’t think there’s such a thing as a welltrained cat,” Mitchell replies with a wry smile. It might be nigh-on impossible to direct a cat, but most performers work best with someone taking charge of their performance: a director. “Some developers have a lead animator who is basically put in a position of directing actors,” Mitchell tells us. “But the biggest challenge is that actors have a certain language, to communicate the emotional state of the character for instance.” If the developer doesn’t have that skill set then Audiomotion will bring in an assistant director to help the team. Plus the assistant director can also help the shoot move along smoothly, giving the animator time to concentrate on what they need. Another option is to get talent who really knows the process. “We can bring in a lead actor with more ability to self-direct and experience with bigger projects,” Mitchell says. Either way, it’s this kind of experience that can really help in the direction of a mocap shoot. REMOTE WORKING All that said, these days it’s not even strictly necessary to be present in order to direct some mocap shoots. “When we did Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV, we had a director in Japan reviewing data as we captured it,” Mitchell explains. That’s thanks to the company’s web app, which lets anyone – whether they’re in the studio or in Japan – look at the takes being shot and select the best ones. “A lot of people just work with an Excel spreadsheet of shots, but this application gives you three live action videos time-synced with the data, and you get realtime pre-vis,” Mitchell says. “What you can do is scrub through this, mark in-and-out points, give it a name, and put it in a shopping cart effectively. “If you capture a couple of hundred takes, you can mark that as a preferred take as you capture, we load in

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HOME MOVIES Of course, why use a mocap studio at all if you can do it in your own office? “There’s lots more people buying their own kit, especially the bigger names,” Mitchell admits. “And that’s great for prototyping, trying things out, capturing generic stuff – because you don’t want to go to a studio to shoot that, that makes sense,” he admits. However there’s a lot of things that most developers will struggle to create in their own space: “We did one shoot where we had a mansion house with two flights of stairs and a landing, with actors on every layer, and that’s quite a structure to put on inside a mocap volume,” he recalls. And then there’s the sheer experience that an established mocap studio brings: “Because we’ve been doing it for so long, and people know we’ve been doing it for so long, we’re in a position where we can advise people and they listen. That’s probably one of our strongest features, the experience and knowledge we can bring to the process,” Mitchell says. “As with any service, you’ve got to adapt with the market, the environment and technology.” Pre-visualisation, especially via Unity and Unreal, has become pretty standard in the industry for instance, giving animators a far better idea of what the finished product will look like while working in the studio. “The software has moved on, to enable us all to let lots of different pieces of kit talk to each other, to present something much more complete,” he says. And it’s something complete that a mocap studio can offer. While the technology is more widely available and easier to use, the construction of sets, outdoor shoots, finding the right talent, and directing it properly, are all elements which can be hard for a typical animation lead to master. “The interesting bit for me is solving problems, people coming up with a conundrum, and us coming up with a creative solution,” Mitchell concludes.


WhenWeMade... Harold Halibut Marie Dealessandri takes a look behind the scenes at the development of Harold Halibut. Slow Bros’ co-founder Onat Hekimoglu explains the eight-year development process of the upcoming stop motion game, why building everything was initially meant to make things easier, and details its inspirations, from conceptual architecture to Pixar films

Pictured above: Onat Hekimoglu, co-founder, games designer and writer at Slow Bros

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USUALLY, this section is dedicated to games that have already been released. But meeting Slow Bros’ game designer and writer Onat Hekimoglu at Gamescom and listening to him explain the fascinating development process of stop motion title Harold Halibut, the temptation to write about it was too strong. The game is not out until next year but is shaping up to be one of the most unique indie titles we’ve seen in a while, both from a gameplay and technical point of view. In Harold Halibut, everything you see on screen exists in real life, with the Cologne-based studio hand-crafting every character, every object, every set, before digitally scanning them. That includes over 50 unique characters (and the clothes they’re wearing!) and more than 80 sets. Creating a video game is already not an easy task, but having to build everything physically before being able to work on it digitally surely doesn’t make it easier. But astonishingly, stop motion was chosen by the team because it was the easiest way for them to bring their project to life, as they had previous experience with it. “When we started working on this we were three friends and we had no artist among us, so none of us could draw. So we decided that the easiest way would be to build stuff,” Hekimoglu laughs.

He initially started the project with Fabian Preuschoff and Daniel Beckmann, with Ole Tillmann joining almost immediately after. “Our art director [Ole Tillmann], who started modeling the puppets and sets, came onboard quickly, after we realised it was impossible without a proper artist,” Hekimoglu explains. “We started eight years ago with the first idea. For about two years it was a side thing, we had fun but we had other jobs or were studying. I wrote my master’s thesis about the game and that was the beginning really, we started working on it full time. And now there are six full-time people and three freelancers working on it.” Harold Halibut’s story arc starts in the 70s: it’s the middle of the Cold War and people think the world is coming to its end. A gigantic spaceship is built, structured as a huge city, to fly to a distant planet which seemingly will be a good replacement for earth. The whole trip takes about 200 years and the spaceship’s inhabitants lose contact with earth. Once they arrive, they crash on the planet and realise that it’s actually entirely made of water. “They are basically stuck on a giant water bubble in space,” Hekimoglu says. “Another 50 years pass until the situation stabilises – they are kind of an underwater city, still aiming to leave this planet


“When we started we had no artist among us, so none of us could draw. So we decided that the easiest way would be to build stuff.”

but it’s proven difficult. And this is basically where the game starts. You play as Harold, a janitor [who helps] one of the lead scientists onboard the ship.” Having played Harold Halibut at Gamescom, it instantly feels unique – a maverick of ideas and imagination. “Our inspirations come from everywhere because we’re an interdisciplinary team. We have a fashion designer, a carpenter, an illustrator, a biologist even and I have a film background,” Hekimoglu says. “So our inspirations come from very different fields. Architecturally, we have a lot coming from a conceptual architecture group of the 60s called Archigram. It’s a group of people who actually never really built anything but they had all these crazy concepts.” A quick Google image search of the word ‘Archigram’ will show you exactly how Slow Bros was inspired by the architectural group’s designs: Harold Halibut’s spaceship, in which we manage to get lost in just 20 minutes of gameplay, very much has this feel of being a megastructure you’ll never be able to explore in its entirety, a futuristic (but yet very much anchored in the 70s) breathing city. But Slow Bros’ inspirations also came from pop culture, Hekimoglu continues. “Stop motion films in particular, but also films in general, were a big inspiration. In terms of humour, the targeted audience has definitely been influenced by Pixar. Everyone can play this game and have fun with it but it’s also about deeper topics that adults will understand more than children for example.” In terms of humour, a quick encounter with Harold’s boss, Professor Jeanne Mareaux, gives a glimpse of what to expect, as she has to explain to Harold what a butterfly is, for instance. “They were all born inside the spaceship but the professor has at least seen a little bit of space before the crash, but Harold obviously didn’t see that. It’s the fifth generation in space,” Hekimoglu explains, before continuing talking about the studio’s inspirations. “Fashion was another influence. Our fashion designer looked at different uniforms from different countries from the past and so on, to create like…” he stops and shows me one of the actual puppet used in the game, displayed on the demo table. It’s dressed from head-to-toe with a tiny uniform. “We chose denim as our signature uniform fabric for the spaceship,” he smiles. “So it’s really a lot of different fields and a lot of different inspirations flowing into the game.” It’s difficult to not be impressed by the attention to detail in Harold Halibut, from the fact characters actually have a signature fabric for their uniforms, to the overall universe in which they evolve, where you can interact with pretty much everything.

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Pictured above: Harold Halibut’s undersea world is packed with day-to-day details of his life

“I really wanted to think a lot about all the things we will never need but want to have in there,” Hekimoglu says. “Usually [in games] if you can interact with something or if you can go somewhere, there is something you’re meant to do there. There are no unnecessary things in games usually because it takes too much time to do everything, right? But we have a lot of unnecessary things because it should feel like a living place.” IT TAKES A WHILE... Having worked on Harold Halibut for eight years, the title has obviously evolved a lot since its inception, though the core concept remained the same, Hekimoglu says. “The underwater thing was there from the beginning although at that time we hadn’t thought about things like: is it an underwater station or a spaceship or is it something else? The main character was created one or two months after this. He was named Richard but it was the same character. The game changed a lot gameplay-wise but the main idea, having all those unnecessary things I was talking about, having that kind of humour that we are trying to achieve, but also the drama... We wanted a nice mix of all those components. So actually a lot of the rough things were set even eight years ago. “But what really changed for example was the vision. When we started it was a very classic sprite-based approach. So we had photographed backgrounds for all our sets and [everything else] was sprite-based. And then we had stop motion animation. But it felt too static, too much stuck in the 90s, so we experimented a lot for almost two years trying different techniques until we were happy with the results of 3D scanning everything and working on it digitally.” These two years of experimenting came with challenges, Hekimoglu continues: “We were talking with our art director and I was telling him about moving to 3D

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and he said ‘I can’t imagine what it will look like in 3D’.” He admits that it did seem a little mad to be building everything for real if you’re just going to convert it all to 3D models once you’re done. “So one challenge was to convince him that it can look as good as the original thing. Our 3D artist and I spent a lot of time doing the first prototype and [seeing the result] she was like ‘It’s impossible, is it really 3D or are you joking?’,” he laughs. “But there was nothing that was really hard to overcome. In the beginning we would say ‘Oh no, things like that don’t work’ or generally we said no to some things simply because we knew that it was not possible. But [the switch to 3D] proved that just about everything can work, and up to this point we’ve been really lucky to find a way out of every challenge we had. “Most of these challenges made the game better. Gameplay-wise, it started as a very classic point-andclick adventure because we love them. But eventually we thought we wanted to work on something more modern and more narrative-focused.” Hekimoglu mentions that the team very much wanted to give players a sense of exploring, of getting lost in the game’s world, which is why they changed the focus. “There are point-and-click adventures where you have to fulfil certain tasks and then it goes on to the next level, so to speak. And while we’re telling a linear story, because we think there is one perfect ending for a story, we wanted to give the player the freedom to really explore this whole world... Characters, side stories that you can tackle, so you get a feeling of the circumstances.” Concluding our chat, we ask Hekimoglu if he has any advice for developers who would be tempted by the Herculean task of building a stop motion game. He pauses for a while before answering. “To aspiring developers in general I would say: don’t let the challenges hinder you. You can really overcome everything. This was proved to myself too. We never had a situation where we talked about something and it didn’t work. You only have to find a way it does. “For stop motion in particular, you really have to love it because it takes a while,” he laughs, before adding: “We’ve been working on it for eight years but we never regretted it, it’s a lot of fun. It’s amazing.”

“We experimented for almost two years until we were happy with the 3D scanning.”


AIandGames Games for Better AI by Dr Tommy Thompson

From Alan Turing to today’s academia, research on AI through games has come a long way. Games do help evolving the AI sector, but whether or not this research makes it back to the games industry remains to be seen

Pictured above: Starcraft remains a favourite with academics for game-based AI competitions

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IN the early 2000s, the games industry was just getting to grips with how to make games better with new AI methods. Meanwhile, university research labs were embracing the idea that games can make for better artificial intelligence. While today the likes of the OpenAI Five are asserting their AI’s dominance over the complex battleground of Dota 2, the idea that time and resources should be dedicated to training an AI that plays games was treated with disdain at the turn of the century. Games of all formats are an ideal space for testing intelligent and quick decision making – and are often cheaper to use than complex real-world simulations or robots. The likes of Alan Turing proposed chess in the late 1940s as an interesting problem for AI to try and solve – despite the technology not even existing at the time! It wasn’t until Gary Kasparov’s defeat at the hands of IBM’s Deep Blue that the world paid any real attention to this pursuit. Momentum was building in the late 90s, with the likes of Pac-Man being posited as an ideal testbed for exploring both reactive and long-term decision-making systems. Now ‘AI for games’ as a research field not only holds numerous academic conferences around the world but is largely embraced by research communities at large. Universities and corporate labs share their recent findings, not just as AI improves their high scores, but also to help pioneer new machine learning techniques. While the media is


focusing on the big strides being made in Dota 2 and StarCraft II, AI systems have spent a lot of time in the last 15 years playing everything from classic arcade games to the most recent releases. The University of Essex hosted numerous Ms. Pac-Man AI tournaments. Edith Cowan University in Western Australia ran an Unreal Tournament 2004 competition with sponsorship from 2K Games to find AI players that could pass the Turing Test by fooling judges into thinking they were fighting humans rather than machines. The IT University of Copenhagen ran numerous Super Mario Bros competitions: ranging from AI that can play Mario (it’s apparently not that hard) to procedural generation systems that make their own levels based on recorded metrics from human play. Plus there are two ongoing competitions based on the original StarCraft that are open to academics, students and hobbyists around the world. Outside of this, it’s not uncommon nowadays to see AI researchers looking at other big franchises such as Magic: The Gathering, Spelunky, Doom and Angry Birds. The UK continues to be a driving force in this sector, with the University of York, the University of Essex, Queen Mary University of London, Goldsmith’s University and the University of Falmouth leading the charge with the Intelligent Games and Gaming Intelligence (IGGI) consortium that works with games studios and other creative industries to find relevant applications of new technologies. But how much of this work in academia – which typically places a much greater emphasis on expensive and complicated machine learning systems – ever makes it into the games industry? As mentioned in my last article looking at early 2000s game AI, there is a need for understandable, flexible and debug-able AI systems that work well with designers needs. Next time I’m going to look at what are the big trends making their way from research labs to triple-A titles and how they’re powering some of gamers favourite titles of the last couple years.

The ICE Pambush 3 bot from Japan was champion of the UK-organised Ms. Pac-Man AI competition in 2009

“Games of all formats are an ideal space for testing intelligent and quick decision making – and are often cheaper to use than complex realworld simulations or robots.”

The 2009 Mario AI competition saw indie developer Robin Baumgarten use relatively simple AI techniques to surpasses most human players with ease

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IncomeStream The numbers, stats and market stories that matter and why they do

Chinese market hit by regulatory freeze The booming market for games in China has seen its first hiccup in many years, as the country’s regulators implemented a freeze on new titles and updates. The impact was most apparent when Tencent saw profits fall in its Q2 results, for the first time in over a decade, with a key cause being the ongoing bureaucratic shake-up in the country, described by the company as a “sector wide freeze for new game approvals” which is preventing the company from launching new content and from monetising existing titles such as PUBG. “From a revenue growth perspective, gaming is a key area of weakness, our biggest game is not monetisable,” Tencent president Martin Lau commented. “The only problem that we have is that one of our biggest games, PUBG Mobile, is not monetising. This is something which is a little bit out of our control but over time we’ll solve it.” Reuters reported that the company saw around $15bn (£11.8bn) wiped off its market value only the day before the results appeared. This was a direct results of Chinese regulators preventing it from selling Monster Hunter: World in the region, a game for which it had 1m pre-orders. The South China Morning Post reported that no new games licences had been issued since late March. With so many US and European game studios talking up China as their biggest growing sales region, these developments will be most concerning.

SuperData: Fortnite peaks and No Man’s Sky is back SuperData’s global roundup of top-grossing digital games seems to suggest that Fortnite is losing momentum with revenue only two per cent up from last month. The game looks to be reaching its, incredibly impressive, peak. Meanwhile, No Man’s Sky had its best month since launch, with SuperData estimating it generated over $24m (£18.7m) across all platforms in July, thanks to long-awaited DLC and the Xbox One release, creating a ten-fold increase in player numbers.

PRE-ORDER TOP 5 TW TITLE 01 02 03 04 05

SPONSORED BY

PUBLISHER

Marvel’s Spider-Man (PS4) Sony Red Dead Redemption 2 inc War Horse/Survival Kit DLC (PS4) Sony Days Gone (PS4) Sony The Last of Us: Part II (PS4) Sony Red Dead Redemption 2 inc War Horse/Survival Kit DLC (XO) Rockstar

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01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10

TOP GROSSING TITLES

PUBLISHER

Fortnite Epic Games FIFA 18 EA Grand Theft Auto V Rockstar Call of Duty: WWII Activision Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege Ubisoft No Man’s Sky Hello Games The Crew 2 Ubisoft Far Cry 5 Ubisoft Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands Ubisoft NBA 2K18 2K

Source: SuperData, Period: July 2018


UK PHYSICAL RETAIL AUGUST (UNITS)

01

CRASH BANDICOOT N.SANE TRILOGY PUBLISHER: ACTIVISION

TM LM Title 02 NEW F1 2018 03 03 Lego The Incredibles 04 RE Grand Theft Auto V 05 07 Mario Kart 8 Deluxe 06 RE Call of Duty: WWII 07 05 God of War 08 04 The Crew 2 09 RE Super Mario Odyssey 10 NEW Shenmue I & II

Publisher Codemasters Warner Bros Rockstar Nintendo Activision Sony Ubisoft Nintendo Sega

Source: Ukie/GfK, Period: July 29th to August 25th

PSVR hits 3m units PlayStation announced last month that its VR headset had now sold 3m units. The milestone figure shows that the company has sold around 1m PSVR units in the last eight months, having taken around ten months to sell the previous 1m, with the first million being sold in just over 5 months after launch. PSVR sales timeline October 2016 – launch Feb 2017 – 915,000 December 2017 – 2m August 2018 – 3m The headset continues to sell steadily then, but sales are not accelerating in the way you might expect from a console as prices fall and software support ramps up. But then a VR

headset isn’t a console. In fact, it’s hard to find a good comparison to judge the device’s success, with both Oculus and HTC guarding their own sales numbers. Of course, it’s software that sells hardware, and Sony’s Jim Ryan speaking at Paris Games Week last year was adamant that software support would be ramped up and that “the future of PlayStation VR is extremely bright.” The number and quality of titles has certainly improved in our eyes, plus many of the titles highlighted back then are yet to launch. In terms of software sales to date, Sony revealed that it had shifted 21.9m million PSVR games and experiences. On the upside that’s an attach rate of over seven pieces of content per headset sold, but then these often aren’t full-priced games. Sony also released the most played titles on the hardware in the US, based on hours played (see below).

Top 10 most-played PSVR titles 1. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR 2. PlayStation VR Worlds 3. Rec Room 4. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard 5. The Playroom VR

6. Job Simulator 7. Until Dawn: Rush of Blood 8. Batman: Arkham VR 9. Farpoint 10. Superhot VR

Source: PlayStation, Period: Up until to August 2018

WoWing us again World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth – Blizzard Remember World of Warcraft? Well you should, as it’s never gone away – in fact, it appears to be bigger than ever, as latest expansion Battle for Azeroth is the fastest-selling add-on in the game’s 14-year history. In its first day on sale it shifted some 3.4m units worldwide. A record for the franchise, and close to the fastest-selling PC game of all time, nipping at the heels of Diablo III’s 3.5 million sales in 24 hours. Mike Morhaime, CEO and co-founder of Blizzard, said: “Battle for Azeroth is a definitive chapter in the Horde and Alliance conflict at the heart of Warcraft, and it’s been thrilling to see players representing their factions in record numbers and embarking on their war campaigns – not to mention joining in ourselves.”

We’re all Scum now Scum – Devolver Scum is looking to be the next big thing in open-world survival games; think DayZ but with escaped prisoners. The Devolver Digital-published title performed better at launch than any other game in the company’s history, shifting some 250,000 copies in its first 24 hours on sale. Scum – as the name suggests – paints a dark picture of humanity, with players taking control of prisoners made to fight to the death for the entertainment of a viewing public. It soon veered too close to reality, though, when neo-nazi tattoos were discovered in the game, before being quickly removed by developer Gamepires.

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Media Molecule is known for creating games that are also creative tools, was that always the intention? Yes, right from the first meeting [co-founders] Alex Evans, Mark Healey, Dave Smith and Chris Lee would have had with [former president of Sony Worldwide Studios] Phil Harrison, it was about the idea of making something for PlayStation that would allow people to be creative together and jam together. It was the very, very, very first discussion we had with Sony and I’m glad we’ve been able to bring that to everything we’ve done. For us, our current project, Dreams, is really the penultimate realisation of that early vision. Does that make the studio culture different? What do you look for in new hires? One of the things that everyone here has in common is they are all makers of some kind. We’ve never had a strict rule that people have had to ship two games or three games, but what we have always looked for is people who have finished something, so they can show that they have done a thing from the conception of the idea all the way through to the end. That’s why we look for show reels on every one of our roles. I think what truly binds us together as a team is that love of making and creating, and it can be cooking or gardening as well as making games, or paintings or music. That’s the binding factor at Media Molecule. Do you actively think about broadening the audience for games? We do actively think about that. Part of it is that we’re all very different here and represent different cultures, genders and identities. It would be hard to put us under one label, so we don’t put the games audience under one label either. First and foremost we want to make things that people here would want to play. As you approach release do you ever dream about Dreams? I dream about Dreams all of the time!

The Final Boss

You’ll be delivering the 2018 BAFTA Games Lecture soon, what can we expect from this talk? It’s a huge honour to have been asked and I’m looking forward to sharing my love of making games with the BAFTA community. I’ve had a long and varied career in the industry, from racing titles to creative gaming and I’ve taken away something special from each of those experiences that still inform what I do today. It’s exciting to share that with the wider game audience.

Siobhan Reddy Co-founder and studio director, Media Molecule

“We do actively think about broadening the audience for games. Part of it is that we’re all very different here and represent different cultures, genders and identities. It would be hard to put us under one label, so we don’t put the games audience under one label either.” 66 | MCV 939 September 2018


9000

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