MCV ISSUE 942
CELEBRATING EXCELLENCE IN THE GAMES INDUSTRY
THE BUSINESS OF VIDEO GAMES
THURSDAY 7th 7 MARCH 2019 | THE BREWERY LONDON
Entry deadline extended to 21st December 2018
CELEBRATING EXCELLENCE IN THE GAMES INDUSTRY
THURSDAY 7th 7 MARCH 2019 | THE BREWERY LONDON
The MCV Awards are returning in 2019 and it’s going to be our biggest and loudest celebration of the industry to date. MCV recently turned 20 years old and we want to mark that achievement, and the achievements of 20 years of the UK games industry as a whole, with a very special MCV@20 bash. That means special awards, a special pre-show event, and a party to remember for the next 20 years. We’re back at The Brewery of course, with an event that will follow last year’s much-acclaimed formula. That means fewer award categories and less sitting down at tables – and more time to drink and chat to your mates, colleagues and peers. And once again, we’ll be making it feel like a proper games industry event, not yet another corporate shindig. We can’t wait to see you all there.
Seth Barton Editor, MCV
Sponsor the MCV Awards 2019 For information about sponsorship opportunities at the MCV Awards 2019 please contact Sophia Freeman
firstname.lastname@example.org +44 (0)7960 455 225
THE GRAND TOUR GAME Exclusive: How gamers can ‘play the show’ in Amazon Game Studios’ first console title
PLAYSTATION “Buzzwords are one thing, what our players are demanding is another”
■ UK LEGAL GUIDE TO CONFIDENTIALITY
■ THE BIG DEBATE ON UNIONISATION
■ HOW XBOX GOT ACCESSIBLE
■ WHEN WE MADE... MOONLIGHTER
05 The editor Fuck the Oscars?
06 Critical path The key dates this month
16 PlayStation Proud of the journey
22 Ins and outs
And all our recruitment advice
28 Industry voices Our platform for the industry
30 The ÂŁ1m question Confidentiality in UK law
34 State of the union Is it time for devs to unionise?
38 Outstanding Xbox A look into the Xbox Adaptive Controller
42 Wargaming UK A perfect match with Edge Case
44 The Grand Tour Game Gamingâ€™s grand TV adventure
48 Rolling on...
Ten years of Roll7
54 Fourth Floor Doing influencer marketing right
58 Pixel Toys Bringing Warhammer to life
62 When we made... Moonlighter
66 AI and games Future (im)perfect
68 Income stream Our market analysis
70 The final boss Tim Heaton
04 | December 2018 MCV 942
“Watch an awards show, like the look of a winner and be playing it just a few seconds later.”
TheEditor Fuck the Oscars? With the Golden Joysticks presented recently (see page 10) and the Game Awards coming up – where infamously last year one guest lambasted the movie industry’s big night – the games industry is right in the middle of awards season. Both awards events coincide roughly with the biggest months for games retail, which seems sensible – let’s celebrate the best games while they’re still hot on the shelves, be those shelves physical or digital. Awards achieve many different things. They do a fantastic job of celebrating our industry’s output; they engage existing fans, who vote for their favourite titles; and they act as a focus for positive attention for the whole industry. We’re comboing them with the industry’s natural high point, amplifying our message to all consumers, not just dedicated gamers. It’s a great move. But despite all that the awards lack the broad appeal of the Oscars. Partly because on a very basic level films remain more accessible than console and PC games. Such games still suffer badly from the old bugbear of friction, the need to buy dedicated hardware. But not for much longer. Streamed games could change all that. Watch an awards show, like the look of a winner and be playing it just a few seconds later: that’s an incredible possibility, one to relish for an industry that for so long has been held back by the need for dedicated hardware. But there is one sticking point. Games aren’t Netflix. You can’t play much with a typical TV remote, and while the friction of the game controller still exists, the industry will continue to be tethered to hardware that puts up a barrier between us and the true mass market. So we’ll need a simple, standardised game controller. Something fairly cheap to make, that platforms can give away with a subscription or TV manufacturers will happily throw in the box. Few are going to try console gaming on a whim if they have to stump up £40 for a controller first. It may seem like a huge drop from the price of a console but it’s still £40 more than it costs most people to access mobile games or TV streaming services. Solve that problem, though, and we can truly go mass market like never before. And with that I’ll wish you a very happy Christmas from everyone on MCV, thanks for all your support over 2018, and we’ll see you soon for a very exciting New Year. PS. Please get your MCV Awards entries in ASAP. Seth Barton email@example.com
December 2018 MCV 942 | 05
CriticalPath Here are the key upcoming events and releases to mark in your calendar...
PlayStation Classic Following on Nintendo’s footsteps, Sony launches the PlayStation Classic this December. Announced at the Tokyo Game Show, it comes with 20 preloaded games including Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy VII and Tekken 3, with some region-exclusives such as Rayman, GTA and Rainbow Six. It will set consumers back £89.99.
Kingdom Hearts III Announced back in 2013, Square Enix’s Kingdom Hearts III will finally be releasing at the end of January on PS4 and Xbox One. A few Disney/ Pixar franchises debut in this new instalment, such as Tangled, Frozen, Monsters Inc and Toy Story. Fans, who’ve been waiting 12 years for this entry, will also be able to buy various collector’s editions.
Resident Evil 2 A fully fledged remake of the 1998 classic, Resident Evil 2 was unveiled at E3 2018 after an announcement back in 2015 and will launch in January on PS4, Xbox One and PC. Capcom’s improvements include a new over-the-shoulder camera, binaural audio and new controls in order to modernise the gameplay.
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Just Cause 4
Three years after Just Cause 3, Avalanche Studios’ franchise is coming back, once again published by Square Enix. Players can expect another fair share of insanity and explosions, plus tornado riding, tank driving and balloon inflating – sometimes all of them at once. Just Cause 4 comes to PS4 and Xbox Plus, plus digitally on PC.
Nomada Studio and Devolver Digital’s highly awaited platformer is coming out on Switch and PC mid-December, digitally only. Gris isn’t meant to be a particularly difficult challenge but rather an emotional experience, already praised for its watercolour art style, dreamy atmosphere and amazing soundtrack.
Super Smash Bros Ultimate After years of anticipation, Super Smash Bros Ultimate is finally landing on Switch. Featuring every single character from previous entries in the franchise, it’s set to be a Christmas hit, especially with the GameCubestyle controller that Nintendo is releasing alongside the title.
December 2018 MCV 942 | 07
Editor: Seth Barton firstname.lastname@example.org, +44 (0)203 871 7388 Senior Staff Writer: Marie Dealessandri email@example.com, +44 (0)203 889 4910 Content Director: James McKeown firstname.lastname@example.org, +44 (0)207 354 6015 Designer: Sam Richwood email@example.com Brand Director, Games: Tony Mott firstname.lastname@example.org B2B Production Manager: Matthew Eglinton email@example.com
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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
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I’m paralysed with indecision at present. Red Dead Redemption 2 and Call of Duty: Black Ops both demand regular attention. Though the kids just want to watch me playing Donut County, whooping as huge objects are swallowed up and dancing to the phat beats of the scoring screen.
I’m still slashing through Spartans and Athenians alike in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, though after 65 hours I’m starting to feel a bit of Ancient Greece fatigue. But as long as Kassandra remains entertaining, I’ll keep playing, so that could take a while. I’ve also 100 per cented the first Spyro and started Let’s Go Eevee – busy month! Marie Dealessandri, Senior Staff Writer
Although I’ve always found myself a little out of my depth with Battlefield games, I’ve been having so much fun with Battlefield V. While, admittedly, it feels a little janky and unfinished, my squaddies and I have been having a rip-roaringly good time. Can’t wait for Tides of War to unlock! Vikki Blake, News Writer
Seth Barton, Editor
Paws the game The best furry friends the industry has to offer. Send in yours to firstname.lastname@example.org
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The Emerson Building, 4th Floor 4-8 Emerson Street. London, SE1 9DU All contents © 2018 Future Publishing Limited or published under licence. All rights reserved. No part of this magazine may be used, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any way without the prior written permission of the publisher. Future Publishing Limited (company number 2008885) is registered in England and Wales. Registered office: Quay House, The Ambury, Bath BA1 1UA. All information contained in this publication is for information only and is, as far as we are aware, correct at the time of going to press. Future cannot accept any responsibility for errors or inaccuracies in such information. You are advised to contact manufacturers and retailers directly with regard to the price of products/services referred to in this publication. Apps and websites mentioned in this publication are not under our control. We are not responsible for their contents or any other changes or updates to them. This magazine is fully independent and not affiliated in any way with the companies mentioned herein. If you submit material to us, you warrant that you own the material and/or have the necessary rights/permissions to supply the material and you automatically grant Future and its licensees a licence to publish your submission in whole or in part in any/all issues and/or editions of publications, in any format published worldwide and on associated websites, social media channels and associated products. Any material you submit is sent at your own risk and, although every care is taken, neither Future nor its employees, agents, subcontractors or licensees shall be liable for loss or damage. We assume all unsolicited material is for publication unless otherwise stated, and reserve the right to edit, amend, adapt all submissions.
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Pet name: Wesker Owner’s name: Vikki Blake Owner’s job: Freelance writer Wesker specialises in ignoring societal rules of personal space and drapes himself over anyone stupid enough to sit down within a 15-mile radius of him. Does an uncanny Chewbacca impression.
Pet name: Smudge Owner’s name: Sam Watts Owner’s job: Director of immersive technology, Make Real
Pet name: Rogue Owner’s name: Martin Caine Owner’s job: Senior programmer, TickTock Games
Smudge’s knowledge of bait makes him an expert companion for catching legendary fish in RDR2. Here, he’s trying out latest technology Google Catboard VR.
Rogue lives with four other cats and seven humans. He was named after 2000AD’s genetically engineered blue skinned super soldier.
Real life events from the industry GOLDEN JOYSTICK AWARDS 2018 The industry enjoyed a fantastic day out at the 36th Golden Joystick Awards last month. God of War secured five awards including PlayStation Game of the Year, Best Storytelling, Best Visual Design and Best Audio, with SIE Santa Monica Studio also winning Studio of the Year. Subnautica won PC Game of the Year, with developer Unknown Worlds also winning the Breakthrough Award. Red Dead Redemption 2 picked up the Critics’ Choice Award, and the Xbox Adaptive Controller secured the Outstanding Contribution Award (read more on this on page 38). From Software CEO and director, Hidetaka Miyazaki, accepted the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Pictured left: FromSoftware’s Hidetaka Miyazaki (centre) receives the Lifetime Achievement Award from Steve Jackson (left) and Ian Livingstone (right)
Pictured right: This year’s after party was the best yet with plentiful drinks and food plus arcade games
10 | MCV 942 December 2018
Pictured below: Sony won four awards for God of War plus this fifth for the gameâ€™s developer Sony Santa Monica
Pictured above: Sean Denny of Epic Games dressed for the occasion and picked up two awards for Fortnite, including Ultimate Game of the Year
December 2018 MCV 942 | 11
REBELLION EXPANDS ON TWO FRONTS Rebellion officially opened its new studio in Warwick last month. In January, Rebellion acquired Warwick development studio Radiant Worlds, headed by industry veterans Andrew and Philip Oliver. Now reformed as Rebellion Warwick, the studio has moved from rented facilities at Tachbrook Park to the new premises owned by Rebellion in Warwick Technology Park. The new site is double the size of the previous studio with over 16,000 sq ft over two floors, with room to significantly expand from the current 70 staff. Rebellion has also bought a £78m, 220,000 sq ft facility to convert into a film studio near to its Oxford headquarters. With multiple sound stages (the largest reaching 25,000 sq ft in size), the new facilities can accommodate productions from TV drama to large scale Hollywood productions. The new space will house Rebellion’s forthcoming productions of the TV sci-fi drama Judge Dredd: Mega-City One and the feature film Rogue Trooper, set to be directed by Duncan Jones, who also directed Moon and Source Code.
Pictured above, left to right: Jason Kingsley OBE, (Rebellion), Matt Western (MP for Warwick), Chris Kingsley (Rebellion) and Jeremy Wright MP (Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)
Pictured below and left: The site of Rebellion’s huge new £78m film studio (below) and how it will look when completed (left)
12 | MCV 942 December 2018
Pictured above: Rick Gibson, CEO of the BGI and the National Videogame Museum, speaks at the opening event
NATIONAL VIDEOGAME MUSEUM LAUNCHES
Pictured above: The National Videogame Museum’s spacious new venue is located in the centre of Sheffield
The UK’s only permanent games museum opened in Sheffield on November 24th. The National Videogame Museum hosts scores of playable consoles and arcade machines, innovative exhibitions of studios, their games and how they are made, as well as cultural festivals, clubs for kids and parents, and a host of events. The NVM will feature unique exhibitions reaching back to the industry’s birth and forward to games still in development. “We’ve always tried to do more than just put out games for people to play,” said Iain Simons, culture director of the BGI, which runs the NVM. “In our dynamic new space, we’re bringing video game creators into the museum to meet their players, showing visitors what games mean and responding to our community’s requests and ideas for new exhibits.”
December 2018 MCV 942 | 13
Pictured above: Representatives from seven studios resident in The Pixel Mill (Blackstaff Games, Brain and Nerd, Capstone Games, Cupboard Games, Northern Softworks, Rocket Flair Studios and Whitepot Studios) pictured with Richard Williams and Donal Phillips from Northern Ireland Screen, and Dr Jo Twist OBE, CEO of Ukie
THE PIXEL MILL OPENS IN BELFAST A new co-working space, The Pixel Mill, is offering free working spaces to local start-up developers in and around Belfast. The initiative – based in Ormeau Baths Innovation Centre, Belfast – is funded by Northern Ireland Screen and designed to “hot house local game development teams.” The co-working space has access to 100mb per second broadband, breakout and creative spaces for informal working and meeting, a boardroom and event space.
Pictured above, left to right: Nigel McAlpine (Digital Catapult NI), Dr Jo Twist OBE (Ukie), Richard Williams (Northern Ireland Screen), Adam Wallace (Digital Catapult NI) and Donal Phillips (Northern Ireland Screen)
Pictured right, from left to right: Donal Phillips (Northern Ireland Screen), Steve Pette (Ormeau Baths), Andy Vaughan (Dolby) and Richard Williams (Northern Ireland Screen) in The Pixel Mill’s user testing lounge, powered by Dolby 14 | MCV 942 December 2018
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PlayStation: ‘Proud of the journey’ MCV942.interview.indd 1
PlayStation UK boss Warwick Light talks to Seth Barton about the platform’s incredible 2018 and what lies beyond
layStation sits on top of the gaming world right now. The PS4 has been an incredible success, with Sony recently announcing that it’s shipped over 86m consoles in the five years since launch. Given that the device launched amid some predicting the death of the console due to the rise of mobile gaming, that’s a huge vindication of Sony’s confidence in, and execution of, its strategy. “We listen to the needs and wants of our players and try to fulfil them,” Warwick Light, PlayStation VP for Northern Europe and Australasia, states simply. “We’re running a business, and like any business we have to operate within commercial restraints. But we’ll always try to do our best for our players.” And when it has made a misstep, such as with the Fortnite crossplay situation, it has come around to side with its audience in the end. And gamers are certainly rewarding the brand for its player-centric outlook, as it celebrates a record-breaking year in the UK – the brand’s biggest to date. ADDING IT UP “There’s much to be pleased about,” Light says, “PlayStation continues to be Britain’s best-selling console. This year’s exclusive games Spider-Man, God of War and Detroit have really delighted our players. And our streaming service PlayStation Now, which now also allows you to download games, has really started to take off,” he tells us, without offering any hard numbers. PlayStation Now has somewhat sat in the shadow of Xbox Game Pass in terms of industry buzz, but that’s likely down to the way the service has evolved over a number of years, from its origins as a way to stream PS3 games to your TV or PC. But with PS4 downloads added in September of this year, it’s now in direct competition with Microsoft’s service. Of course it’s PlayStation Plus that’s still the mainstay of the platform’s subscriber services, arguably being a more illuminating indicator of the platform’s health than hardware sales.
“They’re both important,” Light replies. “PlayStation Plus is easily the largest online community of console gamers in the world and its sales are an indicator of our players’ high engagement within the community. Meanwhile our continued strong performance in hardware sales is an indicator of our players’ love for the PlayStation brand. “With 80 million monthly active users globally, we’re really happy with the health of Plus,” he continues. But is he concerned that by giving away so many games with the service it could cannibalises sales of bigger digital titles? “We are focused on offering a great value subscription service to our players and the monthly games are a part of that. If we continue to get the service offering right then the business side will take care of itself.” It’s easy for Sony to be calm about the balance between its subscription and digital games of course, as the platform had done some seriously big numbers, with the company shifting 778m units of software to date this generation (digital and physical, globally). That said, physical retail looks to be having another tricky year at best, as digital shift continues to progress at speed. SHIFTING UP “Some players prefer to buy digitally, some prefer physical, and many buy both formats. We’ll continue to listen carefully to what our players tell us they want, and respond accordingly,” Light says. He still sees a big role for retail, if it’s executed correctly: “We love the theatre that retail are able to provide gaming; as long as they continue to evolve this to provide tangible benefits to players and gifters in-store then I’m sure there’ll be a big role for them.” That said, the shift to digital sales undoubtedly favours the platform, and a lack of High Street presence could impact hardware sales in the long run, reducing public awareness of the available platforms. Of course there are plenty of other ways to reach consumers these days, though the
December 2018 MCV 942 | 17
Pictured above: Spider-Man, God of War, Detroit and Astro Bot were at the core of PlayStation’s success in 2018
costs of social media advertising, or any effective online advertising for that matter, are rising. “Fortunately we’re able to effectively reach players through our own channels,” he reminds us, adding: “Social is a constantly evolving beast that we will continue to invest in. We’re currently the third most relevant brand in the UK.” That’s from the Prophet Brand Relevance Index 2018, which places PlayStation ahead of Google and Netflix, as well as all its console rivals. “Social is one of the tools we will continue to use to maintain or exceed that,” Light continues. More traditionally, outdoor media is still an effective way to reach new or lapsed gamers, or introduce a big new brand. A great example was Sony’s brilliant UKspecific Horizon Zero Dawn campaign last year, which reimagined UK cities in Aloy’s world – we tell Light it’s our favourite of the generation to date. “Thanks, we had fun with that one! Dog of War [Sony’s pooch-centric God of War spoof] is a more recent example of us injecting some UK humour into a campaign. We do these things to entertain our UK players; as long as they appreciate them, we’ll carry on pushing ourselves to create them.” It’s certainly good to hear enthusiasm for UK-specific creative in an industry that increasingly relies on
pretty straightforward campaigns made for a global audience. PLAYSTATION ROYALE While PlayStation has had a great 12 months, that success has been both shared with, and bolstered by, Fortnite. Which is undoubtedly the game of the year in terms of revenue and its broad social impact. “While 2018 was indisputably a big year for Fortnite, it was also a year which saw us really act like a publisher and focus on our exclusive titles whether it was God of War, Spider-Man, Detroit or VR titles such as Astro Bot,” Light says. Discussing the battle royale title and Sony’s own output in the same sentence makes clear the gulf in strategy between them. Sony’s studios have continued to concentrate on single-player, narrative-driven titles, at odds with the industry buzz around games-as-a-service and long-term engagement. “Buzzwords are one thing, what our players are demanding is another,” he begins. “There’s still a huge audience for games that offer the best in single player narrative with stunning gameplay, as witnessed by the enormous popularity of both Spider-Man and God of War in this year’s charts. I was just at the Golden Joysticks – God of War won five!” he exclaims.
18 | MCV 942 December 2018
It certainly seems to be a winning combination, and not just of publicly-voted plaudits, with Sony providing incredible solo titles to complement the warring masses of service-based and competitive games – a side of the mix that Light stresses is still crucial to the platform: “We also remained focused on adding value to our thirdparty partners and worked closely with the likes of EA, Activision and Rockstar.” While God of War’s Golden Joystick haul was impressive, it was Fortnite which predictably won the Ultimate Game of Year. Something few would have predicted even 12 months earlier. “That’s the joy of working in such a creative and ever-evolving industry,” Light enthuses. “What Fortnite has reminded everyone is that gaming has the ability to impact popular culture in a similar way to music, film or TV, and that the next ‘big thing’ can come from games. Interacting will always be more engaging than passively watching; there’s now several generations of players who appreciate that.” The game’s impact was so great it affected even the strategy of its key console partner in some ways. “We’re always listening to our community and what they’re excited about. With this in mind, we partnered with Epic on a console bundle released during the summer months and featured Fortnite at our larger events… And crossplay you know about!” Fornite’s impact is undeniable, but Light is not convinced that the game necessarily signposts a bigger future for free-to-play titles on console: “I’m not sure anyone knows the answer to that… Ultimately the players will decide.” NO SHOW One decision that players haven’t got a say in is the company’s choice to skip E3 this year, with no press conference and no stand on the show floor – for the first time in 24 years. Industry sources have told us that Sony US hasn’t ruled out holding business meetings at the show though. However, that still leaves the high-point of the industry calendar without a public presence from its current biggest brand. “We’re always looking for new ways to innovate and to delight our players and this decision really was just a reflection of this,” Light comments on the decision. “While we don’t have anything we can tell you just yet, we’re looking forward to sharing our plans with you at a later date.” That suggests, as do other comments from the company, that the industry can expect something in terms of an event or announcement in 2019. Which in turn leads obviously to speculation over next-generation hardware. Sony CEO Kenichiro Yoshida recently confirmed to the Financial Times that a successor to the PS4 is
definitely happening: “At this point, what I can say is it’s necessary to have next-generation hardware.” Another console is hardly a surprise given the runaway success of the current hardware, and with PlayStation breaking the habit of a lifetime in skipping E3, it seems likely now that an initial announcement will come next year. LIKE A PRO It’s been five years since the PS4 launch, though the release of the PS4 Pro two years ago has undoubtedly helped to extend the lifespan of the current generation, with Light commenting that hardware generations are “evolving.” He explains: “The mid-lifecycle upgrade of PS4 to PS4 Pro is a good example of necessary evolution. In enabling the community to upgrade mid-lifecycle it has allowed our most engaged players an even more immersive experience that compliments the latest advancements in TV technology,” namely the explosion in 4K sets over the last few years. “We’ve found that around one in five PS4s sold has been a PS4 Pro since it launched and around 40 per cent of these have been from existing players upgrading so it’s definitely having a positive impact on the industry as well as on our players.” Console gamers buying new devices mid-generation is obviously good news for retailers. And hopefully it keeps them more engaged across the whole hardware cycle of the generation. And of course, PS4 Pro isn’t Sony’s only hardware launch since the PS4; there’s PSVR too. The perception of VR as a whole has undoubtedly suffered from the huge hype that built around the format before it even
“Buzzwords are one thing, what our players are demanding is another. There’s still a huge audience for games that offer the best in single player narrative.” December 2018 MCV 942 | 19
Pictured above: While the PS4 Pro has undoubtedly lengthened the generation’s lifecycle, we’ll doubtless be seeing new PlayStation hardware in the near future
reached consumers. Sales of 3m headsets (as of August) aren’t to be scoffed at but they are steady rather than accelerating. All that being said, we shouldn’t knock Sony’s continued efforts in the fledgling sector. “The last two years has allowed VR to establish itself, both in terms of the potential of the technology and building a community around it,” Light says. “Our VR solution has a very affordable price point and is ready to plug and play with any model of PS4. We’ve also built a really strong catalogue of titles – there are now over 200 games and experiences – with more on the way. “With the likes of Astro Bot, Tetris Effect, Farpoint, Resident Evil 7, Batman Arkham VR and Moss, we’re ensuring there are games that will appeal to everyone’s tastes. One of the features players are really engaging with is cinematic mode, where you can play any game or film on a virtual huge cinema screen through the headset! We’re excited to see where VR will take us next.”
Coming back to the future growth of PlayStation, Light comments: “We’ll be continuing to do what we’ve done during PS4’s lifecycle to date… And that’s focusing on making PlayStation the best place to play.” It’s a familiar line but with the next-gen transition upon us, it’s one that Sony should hold dear and not be distracted by the hubris of the PlayStation 3 or Xbox One’s broader home entertainment aspirations. “We’re really proud of the journey that we’ve been on with PS4 so far. The console really has been ‘for our players’ and we’ve been delighted with its performance,” Light concludes. And that journey looks to have a good number of years left in it, despite any possible next-gen announcement. With new hardware almost certain to be fully backcompatible with the current generation, the PS4 would then receive continued support, both in terms of indie titles and big franchises, for many years to come.
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Ins and outs: Industry hires and moves 1
Esports team Dignitas has made two senior appointments. Former CSGO pro player HEATHER GAROZZO (1) is the team’s new VP of marketing, having previously been its director of fan engagement for a year and a half. She also worked as in-game director for ESL and Eleague. Meanwhile, esports consultant MAURICE EISENMANN (2) has been appointed VP of business development.
Another month, another serie of hires at Hutch. Industry veteran GUY PEARCE (3) has been hired as director of brand and marketing, having previously worked at Ubisoft,
Codemasters, PlayStation and most recently Jagex, where he helped establish the studio’s new identity as the ‘home of living games’. Also joining Hutch is BEN HALLETT (4), who comes in as server engineer from Firefly Studios. Lastly, AIDAN PENZO (5) joins from Sega as QA embedded tester.
now account manager over at Indigo Pearl. She commented: “I am thrilled to join Indigo Pearl at such an exciting time! I look forward to working alongside the amazing team that has delivered so many great campaigns.” Exertis has appointed CHRIS BALE (8) to the newly created position of head of transformation. Reporting to MD Gerry O’Keeffe, he will be responsible for leading operational and financial best practice across Exertis in Europe.
Sumo Digital has appointed ED DALY (6) as the new studio director of The Chinese Room. Daly, who has 20 years of experience in running studios, is returning to games after working with interactive technology in theme parks. He hopes to “build a team to develop the innovative, original IP The Chinese Room is known for.” Former senior account executive at Stature PR IGA KOWACKA (7) is
“I look forward to working alongside the amazing team that has delivered so many great campaigns.” Iga Kowacka, Indigo Pearl
PCGamesN has two new video presenters: Xbox On alumnus BEN PETER GRIFFIN (9) and CAROLINE OAKES (10), formerly at ESL as business development manager and our 2018 eSports Woman of the Year.
Former editor of both Ask About Games and Develop WILL FREEMAN (11) is The Gaming Economy’s
new editor. He sees this new role as “a chance not only to spotlight trends and opportunities in monetisation, ad tech, user acquisition, and more, but also a means to explore the relationship those methods share with games making.” Freeman will also continue his freelance work. Capcom USA has appointed ROB DYER (12) as its new COO. With more than 25 years of experience in the industry, Dyer has held various leadership roles at Sony, Zynga, Eidos and Crave Entertainment, while his most recent position was as co-founder and CEO of licensed merchandising outlet Fan Kicks. After almost three years in marketing at Rising Star Games, LEE SKITTRELL (13) has joined Koei Tecmo Europe as marketing manager. He previously worked in PR for the likes of Nintendo, 505 Games, THQ and Bastion. Sony UK’s head of communications JO BARTLETT (14) has left PlayStation after two and a half years. She’s actually left the games industry altogether, to start a new role in the music industry.
ROSE-MARY CADDICK (15) is the latest addition
to the PlayStation Access YouTube channel, officially as production assistant at flagship company We Are Reach. She’s better known under the name of Professor Juice – a YouTube channel she created in 2014. Following the departure of Will Freeman, Ask About Games has appointed freelance journalist ANDY ROBERTSON (16) as its new editor as it renewed a deal with Ukie and the Video Standards Council (VSC). Ukie’s CEO, Dr Jo Twist OBE, said: “The VSC Rating Board and Andy are the perfect expert partners for helping families, carers and educators understand the tools and ways families can really make the most of games as a healthy, fulfilling part of what they do together.”
Following its acquisition by monetisation firm Admix, VRFocus has made a few changes. Former CEO KEVIN JOYCE (17) remains at the firm in the role of AR/VR consultant, OSCAR CLARK (18) has joined as lead evangelist and PETER GRAHAM (19) has been hired as senior staff writer.
Got an appointment you’d like to share with us? Email Marie Dealessandri at firstname.lastname@example.org 22 | MCV 942 December 2018
Every month, we pick the brain of an up-and-coming talent
Rising Star Laura de Castro, junior programmer, Hutch Games
care of the games it creates, but also of its employees, makes me feel really proud. What’s was your biggest challenge to date? I think the hardest point on my journey was to realise that Spain wasn’t good for me and that I needed to leave. As I said, there’s not a strong industry there yet, so there are not many opportunities. I knew getting a job here in London wasn’t going to be easy, the industry here is quite competitive, but I decided to give it a go – and here I am now! What do you enjoy most about your job? Working with my team. I learn a lot from them, and not only about programming but also about design, art, UX... I don’t think I could do that alone. I also love to see how the games that we develop constantly evolve. Day by day you may not see lots of change, but if you look back, even just only one month ago, you can see the huge improvements made and that makes you feel really proud.
How did you break into games? When I was younger I was amazed by all kinds of media, so I wanted to do everything! I wanted to write books, draw comics, make movies and, of course, I also wanted to make video games. I finally decided to go for video games, but this was more difficult than I thought. There weren’t many options in Spain to study video games at the time, so I decided to study Computer Science and work hard to learn how to make games in my spare time. After finishing my Computer Science BA, I was still hungry to learn more, so I decided to do an MA in Video Games Programming. Spain’s games industry is still growing, so sometimes it takes years to get your first games job there – so I was very lucky to get a job in a small studio a few days after I finished my MA.
“The hardest point was to realise that Spain wasn’t good for me and that I needed to leave.” What is your proudest achievement so far? It made me really proud when Hutch received this year’s Great Places to Work Award. I was able to attend the ceremony, and it was very emotional for all of us there! For me, it’s really important to be proud of the games we develop, but also of how we do it. Knowing that I got a job in a company that not only takes
What’s your big ambition in games? This is a tough one, as I feel I’m still starting in this industry, but I really would like to have my own studio in the future, probably in Spain. I think Hutch continues to be a really good place for me, as it teaches me how you can do your best work and have a healthy work environment at the same time. For me, this experience has been quite different to the ones I had in Spain, so one day I’d like to take all I learnt, and all I still have to learn, and create a great place to work there. What advice would you give to someone trying to get into games development? I know sometimes this industry is a little bit discouraging. It’s really competitive and it can be difficult to break into it, so just keep calm, keep working and eventually you’ll get there. In the process, try to not compare yourself to others. Nowadays with social media it is so easy to meet other developers and see all the amazing things they’re doing while you are just trying to start something, but everyone has its own pace, and it’s really important to understand that.
If there’s a rising star at your company, contact Marie Dealessandri at email@example.com December 2018 MCV 942 | 23
Cherry picked advice to help you reach the next level in your career
Stephen Davidson, Football Manager researcher at Sports Interactive, tells us about data-fying the real world and why working on Football Manager is like building a cathedral How would you describe your typical day at work? The research part of my job involves working on the database of information we use to simulate the world in which the Football Manager games take place. The database is a huge vault covering everything from personal attributes, preferences, histories and contract information for over 800,000 people involved in football around the world, plus tax rules for the vast majority of nations on Earth, weather trends, football clubs themselves, kits, stadiums, currencies and exchange rate information, national teams and transfer behaviours, cities, referees, competitive derbies and a whole host of other data. An important part of working with such a big team globally is communicating effectively and knowing where to send issues to get the answers we need. After an initial state-of-play period I might work on editing new strings for the game, creating design docs for new features or tools, logging, fixing or testing bugs or features, communicating with our researchers all over the world or focusing on specific projects with various departments in the studio. One day I might be emailing the Gibraltarian FA about transfer rules and the next working with 3D artists to accurately model weather, dressing rooms or different building materials used in stadiums. My job is largely about trying to data-fy the real world in ways that will be useful to the developers so I also keep an eye on realworld news and events across football and beyond. If Real Madrid sack their manager and coaching staff we need to make sure that’s updated ASAP just as we need to model ever-shifting international relations, countries changing flags, names or employment rules and the whole world of football and related business life going on around us 24/7. When you see breaking news on your mobile or TV chances are we’re already considering if this impacts the simulated world of Football Manager and updating things accordingly. Brexit has been a challenging and ever-changing example of real world events seriously impacting our games, we’re still trying to get our heads around it! What qualifications and/or experience do you need for this job? There’s definitely not one obvious way into the work we do. A keen interest in football and the Football Manager games is pretty important but we boast graduates from a wide variety of disciplines and institutions. An analytical mindset, attention to detail and demonstrated
evidence of thinking about football in terms of objective and subjective data are just as important. I’d compare working on the Football Manager games to building a cathedral. The whole structure is far too vast for any one person to have total ownership so it’s useful to be able to focus on your specific area while keeping general track of what’s going on around you. If you were interviewing someone for your team, what would you look for? Passion for our games is always a good place to start. We’re also always interested in thoughtful, intelligent people who are interested in working hard to create the very best games they can. Beyond that we’re really open to all walks of life, backgrounds and approaches. Candidates I’ve been particularly impressed by have really applied their minds to tasks, presented interesting solutions to problems, can communicate clearly and are able to demonstrate personal work on projects they’re interested in. Though we’re a successful studio we’re still quite DIY compared to much of the industry and I think that attitude of “how can I make this work right now?” is something that unites our team. We’re likely to look positively on people who’ve made their own games, tools or projects however big or small. After all, making video games is all about creating something out of thin air.
Want to talk about your career and inspire people to follow the same path? Contact Marie Dealessandri at firstname.lastname@example.org 24 | MCV 942 December 2018
“They were the only studio I interviewed with who understood what it means to be in a managerial role compared to a regular technical role.” Name: Patrick Balthazar Studio: Pixel Toys Job Title: Technical Director Education: Games Academy
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 Pixel Toys to come and join them? For one I really enjoyed that Pixel Toys took the time to actually come up with a written test for a technical director – they were the only studio I interviewed with in my life who understood the difference of what it means to be in a managerial role compared to a regular technical role. That said, this was just the cherry on top of the cake. Their willingness to support me, right through the interviews, up until when I actually moved, has been unheard of. People at Pixel Toys care and that’s just the most important thing I can imagine. What’s the culture like at Pixel Toys and what’s your experience been like fitting in? It’s always hard to describe culture in words and also it means different things to different people – for me I just like the honesty and openness of everything around here. The friendliness of all the employees, the readiness to help and the support for the team, the project and everything around is just staggering. There is something for everyone, there are nights out together, parties, Halloween, and many other events to distract from work and bring people together on a deeper level. And there is cake. I mean, a lot of cake.
What are you most excited about bringing to the role? I feel I can support Pixel Toys in many ways – the studio has recently grown and having worked in larger teams, I can bring that experience here and help support them on the way to become a developer that works even better than they already do. There is a big challenge involved in taking on the role of technical director with multiple projects in live service and in development. That never gets boring. What will working at Pixel Toys do for your career? Frankly I haven’t thought of that in detail, I believe that Pixel Toys could be the goal or destination I was looking for. Considering that the studio is currently hiring heavily, particularly in the technical areas, I feel that solving those challenges is always helping for the future. What would you say to anyone thinking move into games? To be a game developer was always my dream, since the day I started programming in Basic, up until now. I cannot imagine being anywhere else and be happy with the work that I do. If anyone is considering to test the waters in game development, I can strongly recommend to apply for a job and try it, there is nothing to lose, and a lot to gain, especially here at Pixel Toys.
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ME ANYTHING This month’s question:
What was the one event/product/announcement in 2018 that you think will have an impact on the industry for years to come?
Andy Payne, Founder, AppyNation
For over 40 years, the UK has been a leader in the global video games industry. And yet we have never had a permanent place in which to celebrate the creative achievements and cultural impact of video games. So it is fantastic that the National Videogame Museum in Sheffield has opened, giving us that permanent home. 2019 will see a packed programme of activity celebrating our video games culture as well as making incredible archive material available to the public for the first time.
Oli Welsh, Editor, Eurogamer
The announcement and first details of Google and Xbox’s game streaming platforms were definitely the most consequential events for the future of the industry. Although I don’t think streaming will completely stamp out local gaming, I do believe it will fundamentally change how people play games, how they pay for them and how they view gaming platforms. There are still many challenges to overcome but it’s increasingly apparent that only big tech giants have the infrastructure to make it happen, so it should mark a big power shift within the industry too.
Stefano Petrullo, Founder, Renaissance PR
2018 can be seen as one of those transition years that happen every five year cycle in our industry. Personally, I welcome the new strategy of Microsoft. Acquiring new studios, building on Game Pass, rumours of new hardware within the Xbox family are exciting. Pairing this with crossplay and incredible IPs like Forza Horizon and I believe we will have a really amazing future for all console players and gamers in general.
“Although I don’t think streaming will completely stamp out local gaming, I do believe it will fundamentally change how people play games.”
Julian Jones, CEO & Founder, Sunrise Games
Being mobile games focused, 2018 for me has been about the sector still witnessing incredible evolution and change, with Fortnite’s highly successful entry (invasion) from console, the Voodoo and Gram Games transactions validating ad-funded games, and some of the big mobile developers finding it tough going.
James Kaye, Director, Big Games Machine
VR has been teetering on the edge of becoming the ‘next big thing’ for the games industry for a while now and this year has been a pivotal one for VR in several ways. In June, Microsoft announced that it was abandoning any plans to support VR and mixed-VR headsets on the Xbox platform. On the other hand, Oculus announced the $399 standalone Oculus Quest, thereby removing the high barrier to entry that has been required to run a full VR rig on a PC. As for Magic Leap... We’ll wait and see on that one.
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INDUSTRY VOICES MCV gives the industry a platform for its own views in its own words. Do you have a burning hot take for the world of games? Get in touch!
The more hard drive share a publisher captures, the less of it there is for competitors Karol Severin, Midia Research
GAMES grow larger in terms of file sizes every year, while new consoles with larger storage capacities are released far less frequently. This means that towards the end of a console’s lifecycle there is a bottleneck situation, whereby players are no longer able to accommodate all the major games they’d like to play. The end result? A few top publishers capture an increasing share of console gamers’ hard drives. This creates a significant barrier to entry for competing publishers and results in a competitive advantage for the few at the top to leverage. Put simply, the more hard drive share a publisher captures, the less of it there is for competitors. As a personal example, between GTA V and RDR2, Rockstar now takes up more than 42 per cent of the hard drive space on my PS4 Slim. EA, with FIFA 19 and Battlefield 4, takes up another 27 per cent. Therefore, almost 70 per cent of my hard drive is captured by two publishers. I want to keep a bunch of smaller games, which takes me down to about 50GB of space, able to accommodate perhaps one new major title. So, I’m now forced to say goodbye to fulfilling my Bethesda desires (Elder Scrolls) and give up Activision (Call of Duty) and Ubisoft (Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed) entirely. PlayStation’s typical Slim version has just 408GB of storage once the operating system has taken its part. It’s true that external hard drives can be bought and if you delete a game you can always reinstall it later. However, both of these create a significant amount of consumer friction – one of the scariest phrases in the attention economy.
Traditionally, the market was all about sales. Publishers didn’t have to care about engagement too much once the game was bought and revenue booked. Today however, the gaming economy is moving fast towards engagement-related revenue. Thus, the length of time a game survives on a hard drive (and the time it prevents other publishers’ games to be installed) is becoming a key component of a publishers’ revenue outlook. Actively measuring and competing for hard drive share should prove significantly rewarding. There was an immense number of bonuses to gain for GTA V if you pre-ordered RDR2. Not only did I find out lots about it and got convinced to download it while playing GTA V, but all the attractive GTA bonuses cemented the idea that: ‘No way am I deleting GTA V when RDR2 comes out’. There are a number of ways to compete for hard drive share. One is the above-mentioned marketing synergy between one publisher’s titles. Another less honourable way would be to artificially inflate the file sizes. If a game is getting lots of traction, making the update files as large as possible could force more competitors off consumers’ hard drives. Publishers with the most popular games franchises and largest marketing budgets stand at a significant advantage here. The more synergies they create, the harder it will get for second-tier games to persuade consumers to give up hard drive space in their favour.
Karol Severin is Midia’s lead analyst for research on games and the mobile content economy.
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Protecting players in video games
Dr Richard Wilson OBE, TIGA
WE must ensure that players, vulnerable people and children are not exposed to harm, online or offline. We all have a role to play – whether we are parents, teachers, businesses or organisations. This undoubtedly includes the video games industry. There are lots of ways that we can tackle safeguarding issues as an industry and we should take responsibility to look at solutions irrespective of what others are doing. Issues around safeguarding players – particularly children – in video games and the online world have become a regular fixture in the news over recent years. This is understandable given 77 per cent of 12-15 year olds play games, while 91 per cent go online for nearly 21 hours a week on average. It is the industry’s success and popularity that makes its collective decisions so important. Games businesses will want to protect their players for both commercial and moral reasons. TIGA research shows that studios including Jagex and Lockwood Publishing are taking concrete steps to safeguard players. TIGA has published a new report, Safeguarding Players: Responsibility and Best Practice to promote and to share best practice amongst games businesses. Our report points developers towards TIGA’s six point checklist: pre-empt the way content can be abused, make the standard of acceptable behaviour explicit, make reporting technologies and systems of protection clear, provide the player community with the tools they need, understand the parasitic website challenge, and consider the distinct impact of VR. To take one example, we encourage developers to ensure that community management protocols are robust enough
to deal with all forms of problem behaviour. This includes looking at how our content may be abused, creating easy methods of user reporting and setting clear to follow community standards. We have made great strides from the early days of online gaming. There is also an opportunity in using new technology for safeguarding. Artificial intelligence offers a unique way to police online communities. No studio can be expected to have vast numbers of staff to monitor online worlds. Instead, AI technology offers opportunities to improve online safeguarding and as an industry we should discuss the options this technology presents. Spirit AI has an interesting offering in this regard. The checklist also reminds us that the new and unique issues of virtual reality gaming is an area that we need to pay special attention to. Social VR and other connected experiences are increasingly presented as the future of the medium, meaning game studios need to apply the same, rigorous community management processes applied to any contemporary online world. Developers should also look past traditional safeguarding methods. Patrick O’Luanaigh of nDreams, for instance, has suggested that VR games could include a ‘safe button’ and personal space bubbles around players using social VR. The UK games industry already has some excellent examples of best practice. By continuing to lead the way, we have the opportunity to make the online world as safe as possible.
Richard Wilson is CEO of TIGA, the trade association representing the UK games industry.
“We encourage developers to ensure that community management protocols are robust enough to deal with all forms of problem behaviour. AI technology offers opportunities to improve online safeguarding.”
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The £1m question: How does confidentiality work in UK law? Whatever your business, the law protects your secrets but only if you make use of it. Seth Barton talks to solicitors from Sheridans and Harbottle & Lewis about how confidentiality is a key tool for everyone in the games industry
ed Dead Redemption 2 is the source of many incredible stories and not all of them are set in the wild west. The game attracted incredible media attention, with every site vying for the immense web traffic circulating the game. While that was lucrative for some, it proved very costly for one website. Trusted Reviews ended up paying out £1m to charity in compensation for leaking Take-Two’s confidential information about the game. It seemed timely then to look at where the letter of the law lies in respect to the relationship between those who hold confidential information and those they share it with, how you can keep such information secure and what can and can’t be published without risk of legal sanction. Thankfully, it’s far from the wild west out there, so know the rules and you’ll be just fine. All the advice here applies to developers, publishers, PRs and journalists – and it applies equally to games, hardware, tools and services (we’ll just say ‘projects’ from here on in). Confidential information is constantly being shared between these groups and not simply in the PR to press relationship. So whatever your business, it’s worth taking this advice into account. SUPPLY AND CONFIDENCE The games industry transmits a huge amount of information every day. With the vast majority which comes into the public domain being specifically designed for that purpose. Such press materials might leak early, but the big stories usually come from information that was never intended for public consumption.
It’s fairly rare for design documents or internal memos around a project to leak – though Rockstar and Take-Two are far from alone in this regard, as Ubisoft’s Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle leak in May 2017 clearly demonstrates. Leaks may end up with journalists, but they rarely start with them. The press is far from the only external group who will be involved with the project. Publishers, investors, platform holders, manufacturers, retailers, merchandisers, creative or marketing agencies and many, many more will see information that is not yet, or not ever, intended for public release. With all these potential avenues for leaks, we ask Alex Tutty, who heads the computer games department at law firm Sheridans, what the law can do to protect your project’s secrets. “What the Take-Two vs Trusted Reviews matter illustrates is the importance of the law of confidentiality,” he says. In layman’s terms, something is confidential when its been told to you in confidence, when it’s made clear that this isn’t intended for public disclosure, the information is not in the public domain already, and it would be potentially damaging if revealed publicly. Mark Phillips, partner at Harbottle & Lewis, suggests protecting your confidential information with a three-step hierarchy: “Bare minimum is you tell people it’s confidential, next step up is that you watermark everything and slap confidential on it, third level – and the best level – is get them to sign an NDA.” SIGN AND RETURN The NDA is the most conspicuous weapon in the legal armoury of confidentiality. Many journalists have signed more of these than
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Pictured above from top: Sheridans’ Alex Tutty and Harbottle & Lewis’ Mark Phillips
they’ve had free mini burgers – quite a feat – and often without ever reading them beyond noting the embargo date itself. Read or not, the NDA is well worth the effort, Tutty tells us. “The best way to protect confidential information is expressly, with an agreement such as an NDA. They create a direct contract between the discloser and the recipient which allows the disclosing party to take legal action not just under the law of confidentiality but also for breach of contract. They also help demonstrate that the information is confidential. We would also recommend marking correspondence that is confidential as such.” In fact many of us already do, thanks to those lengthy email signatures appended to your every missive. “[NDAs] can be agreed electronically and by correspondence or conduct,” Tutty continues. “It is always best to have a signed document – using DocuSign or on paper if you are old fashioned – but a response to the receipt of an NDA confirming the terms are agreed would be sufficient in most cases to demonstrate that a party agreed to those terms.” So while signing on the dotted line is great, the modern method of simply replying to an email, with an agreement of the terms, works too. NDA’s aren’t just for journalists, though. Many others can also be made to sign an NDA in order to ensure that your project’s secrets are protected. However, not everyone will be willing to do so, Phillips tells us. “If you go and pitch ideas to venture capitalists (VCs) often they won’t sign an NDA. They get punted ideas all the time, and will say: ‘If we don’t like your idea but we go with someone else with a similar idea, then we don’t want you arguing that we’ve taken the idea’. So a lot VCs are wary of signing NDAs and, if they do, it’ll be their own NDA with a big carve out to deal with the point just mentioned.” PRIVILEGED POSITION With some unwilling to sign, and many more potentially receiving confidential information without your express permission, it’s good to know that even without an NDA your project’s secrets are still protected by law, Tutty explains. “While NDAs are a contract between two parties that the receiving party will not disclose the confidential information, the law of confidentiality can, in certain situations, imply a duty of confidentiality to a third party even where there is no contract,” he says. Because of this, “marking materials as confidential is always advisable,” he adds, “as this could mean if a third party receives this information, they cannot use it without the developer’s consent.”
So even if you never signed an NDA, you can’t simply print confidential information without the owner’s consent. Which is what happened between Take-Two and Trusted Reviews. So is anything with ‘confidential’ stamped on it simply a no-go zone? “To state the obvious, if something isn’t confidential you can’t make it so simply by stating it,” Phillips replies. “If it’s already in the public domain then you can’t just put a sticker on it saying ‘confidential’.” Tutty adds to this, saying: “You cannot seek to gag one party from using information which is publicly available from other sources.” While we were talking about confidentiality, the phrase ‘off the record’ came up a few times. Both Tutty and Phillips said the phrase had no legal meaning and that telling someone something is ‘confidential’ was a much better idea if you really didn’t want it leaked. Of course the phrase is pretty ambiguous anyway, as it often infers that the speaker is happy for the information to get out, but just doesn’t want it attributed to them. Our advice: say what you mean. ‘Confidential’ or ‘not attributed’ are far clearer terms. INTERESTING TIMES So if everything is confidential, then what about freedom of speech you might be thinking? Well that’s the “hot issue,” Phillips explains to us. The conflict between freedom of speech and confidentiality (or the right to privacy as it’s often called when talking about individuals) is very much ongoing. “[Confidentiality] is sometimes seen as the big powerful person trying to gag someone, but actually it’s there for everybody. Frankly it’s an absolute given, certainly within the commercial world,” Phillips explains. Effectively the same legal principle that keeps your project’s details from leaking also keeps all our private lives off the front page of the papers. One defence for leaking confidential information is that it’s in the ‘public interest’ to do so, but it’s not always clear what exactly that commonly-used phrase covers. “The threshold to meet public interest is applicable to the wider general public, not just the gaming public,” Tutty points out. Which means the details of the next Halo game, or even Microsoft’s next games console, are unlikely to be covered by such a defence. “What’s in the public interest isn’t necessarily what a journalist thinks is in the public interest,” says Phillips. “It isn’t what a journalist thinks the public might be interested in either. Think Watergate,” he adds, providing a proper example of a public interest defence. Tutty explains: “Examples of instances where confidentiality has been outweighed [by public interest] are cover-ups of criminal behaviour, financial
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irregularities, dangers to public health and deliberately misleading the public.” And while many of those have occurred in the industry, such exceptions are unlikely to cover most leaks around projects and products – unless those next-gen consoles have something truly malevolent at their cores. And further to that, do not think that just because information has been leaked elsewhere, that it can then be reproduced without repercussions. A journalist may believe that largely ignored post on Resetera amounts to the information being ‘public’ but if a website with a large following then publishes that information, it may well be the site, not the original post, that’s in breach of confidentiality. COURTING DISASTER Despite the law being pretty squarely on the side of confidentiality, we see very few court cases regarding such leaks though. “I would suspect that no publisher wants to annoy the press if it can be helped...” Tutty posits when asked about the rarity of court cases in the industry. And it’s not just your most powerful critics you might anger. Pursuing legal action against a website with a big, passionate audience could also create a consumer backlash as well. Sometimes the old adage of ‘all publicity is good publicity’ can apply. After all it’s arguable that Mario + Rabbids actually benefited from its leak in the long run, with initial fan umbrage at the concept being sweetly reversed when Ubisoft showed the game in its full glory at E3 2017. Tutty continues: “Often [the publisher] might not actually suffer any loss, making any legal action a pyrrhic victory.” After all, you don’t want the expense of taking someone to court if there are no damages to collect. “The basic premise is that the disclosing party [the publisher in our examples] should not be left out of pocket by the leaker. Typically the disclosing party would only take action if they had actually suffered loss as no one really likes legal fees for the sake of legal fees,” Tutty says, adding: “Except maybe lawyers.” Phillips continues: “Once leaked, you would then prove loss, and it’s not hard to prove loss in that situation.” Rather than demonstrating that the leak affected your final sales figures, which would be tricky, you could show that it had disrupted your expensive marketing plan or prevented you giving an exclusive on that information to another outlet, which may then have reciprocated with a certain level of coverage for the game. “99 per cent of matters don’t go anywhere near court, for obvious reasons, but you always talk about the court because that’s the ultimate arbiter,” says Phillips.
And those ‘obvious reasons’ are money, with court costs for such cases being potentially huge. A settlement made before court would save a lot of money, Phillips explains, and would be based around what would likely happen should you go to court anyway: “A good lawyer will always try and encourage people to sort it before it goes to court, because it saves a fortune.” That means there are cases that are settled well out of the public eye. WATCH LIST Most of us simply never want to end up in court – we barely have time to do our jobs, let alone get caught up in a legal case. Even if you win, a case can suck the energy out of a company for months, even years. Better to keep your secrets secret, Phillips tells us: “Train your workforce, put in place practical measures to reduce leaks, or if it’s really sensitive then put in place procedures to try and identify who is responsible,” such as unique identifiers on confidential materials. And, for journalists, if that incredible scoop should land in your lap then it’s worth considering the advice of many libel lawyers who give media training: be conscious of your subject’s tendency to take legal action. Elton John for instance is famously libellous, having taken numerous publications to court over the years, and the press is now rightly cautious with stories concerning him as a result. We’ll leave you to make up your own list of gaming’s most litigious companies, but three come to mind straight away, and that’s a list we’ll now be adding Take Two and Rockstar to as well.
“Confidentiality is sometimes seen as the big powerful person trying to gag someone, but actually it’s there for everybody.”
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As the debate on crunch rises again, Marie Dealessandri looks into how trade unions are increasingly under discussion as a solution for game developers – for better or worse
nionisation has never been as passionate a debate for the industry as crunch, nor as perennial. And that’s despite it having long been suggested that unions could actually be the solution for the bugbear of working conditions. Rockstar’s recent ‘100-hour weeks’ controversy has put both issues squarely back in the ring. Which is why we decided to reach out to developers, trade bodies and unions themselves to understand (the lack of) unionisation in games development to date. Some of our emails remained unanswered, some were met with a polite decline. If anything, the lack of response shows suggests trade unions remain a sensitive topic and that potentially the games industry lacks information or interest – maybe both – on the subject. Regardless of your broader opinions on unionisation, it is healthy as an industry to remain open to this debate. Here we’ll look into how it would work, why it could be good, why games development has been fairly indifferent to unions to date and what options are currently available; but also the downsides of such a move. It’s impossible for this feature to be exhaustive on the matter though, or to
reflect the opinion of the entire industry, so if you have something to say about it, to further the debate, we’d love to hear from you. A PLUNGE INTO THE UNKNOWN “Talk of creating unions have been ongoing for the best part of 20 years,” Amiqus’ Liz Prince tells MCV, before making a crucial point: “Are working conditions in some companies any worse nowadays, or are we seeing an amplification of grievances due to social media?” Regardless of the answer to that question, these issues need to be addressed and the unionisation approach appeals to some. To say that games development is not unionised isn’t entirely true; to say that game developers are not widely unionised is a fairer statement. There are small scale options that exist already, such as the newly founded Game Workers Unite UK, which for instance marched with the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) on October 30th to call out precarious work conditions. That said, there are currently no large trade unions representing game developers’ day-to-day interests, such as negotiating on pay.
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“Trade unions have not emerged to date for several reasons,” Dr Richard Wilson OBE, CEO of trade body TIGA, says. “Firstly, unions today are concentrated in the public sector. Union representation is much lighter in the private sector. Traditional trade unions do not appear to have given much focus to the creative sector. Secondly, the overwhelming majority of games studios in the UK are small: approximately two-thirds of studios in the UK employ four or fewer people. In these circumstances there is typically little need for unions because the business will often be run cooperatively.” If the creative industries have traditionally not been the focus of trade unions, there is one whose specialty is actually not far from it: the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union. “BECTU is the union for the media and entertainment industry,” organising official Naomi Taylor explains. “We cover all the people behind the scenes in the sector, from the BBC camera crew to the stage hands in the West End. We already have members who are software developers in other areas, and gaming, whether freelance or permanently employed, would find a natural fit
with BECTU, [which] has some members from the games industry currently.” However, the union hasn’t seen a lot of interest from the games industry to date. “BECTU has explored unionising the games industry in the past, but the will from the industry at the time didn’t seem to be there,” Taylor continues. “From an outside perspective, it seems that the industry is getting a little older and realising that they don’t want to work the long hours they did when they first started. People want a better work-life balance.” Teazelcat’s founder Jodie Azhar reckons that some developers would not even know where to start as far as unions are concerned. “Unionisation would be a new concept to many developers and it’s likely the benefits of paying to join would be unknown to them,” she says. “While even those who don’t feel the worst of overtime and bad workplace conditions could benefit from unionisation, many people would lack the impetus to join without first seeing a union’s efficacy.” She adds that there’s also a much more practical barrier to unionisation: “The biggest hurdle in unionising is having people
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organise it. Running a union is a full time job and those passionate about starting a union want to remain game developers, so you have a catch 22 of changing job to protect the job you love.” Taylor explains those hurdles: “Starting your own union is a big endeavour. You would need to collect membership fees, submit accounts to the Certification Officer, as well as meet various criteria to be able to apply to become a union. You would also need to train people to be able to represent your members in disciplinary meetings and grievances, as well as to negotiate deals on behalf of the membership as a whole. You would need insurance to protect those you train and you need to pay lawyers to help with employment issues. In short, it seems like a lot of work when you could have your own identity within BECTU.”
Pictured above, from top: Ukie’s Jo Twist, Teazelcat’s Jodie Azhar, Amiqus’ Liz Prince, BECTU’s Naomi Taylor, TIGA’s Richard Wilson
DEALING WITH CRUNCH Whatever form it could take – and already takes – it’s impossible to deny that a games dev union would have advantages for developers. “If we’re thinking about games industry individuals, rather than companies or studios, there are definitely some who feel that forming a union would tackle some of the issues that are currently being raised regarding crunch, unpaid overtime and the workplace environment in general,” Prince says. “I understand why some feel that unionisation is the answer because some of the working practices being highlighted at the moment are far from ideal and are being reported on extensively.” Working hours would indeed be at the core of the benefits of unionisation, Azhar explains. “The standout benefit of having an organisation fight on behalf of game developers is working hours and unpaid overtime. Almost 59 per cent of game developers report working over 40 hours a week and 12 per cent over 50. While most studios don’t enforce it, many people in creative industries feel obliged to work extra hours adding extra polish to their work. Words like ‘passion’ mask the pressure and downplay the crippling side effects of unmanaged overtime.” She refers here to the fact ‘passion’ is regularly mentioned by studios as a justification for working long hours, when obviously no passion should cost you your health. “Many young people put in extra effort to prove themselves or retain their job after entering this competitive industry, and rely on colleagues to show them the standards for working. Unfortunately if those are already used to overtime these practices get propagated via workplace culture,” Azhar continues. “Having a union negotiate paid overtime would make employers take deliberate decisions on whether and when employees do
overtime, removing the emotional obligation of doing more work to improve their part of the game.” Unions could also help various issues regarding salaries, as once again working on your passion project can sometimes be used as an excuse to be underpaid. “Standardising and broadcasting salaries would benefit many employees. Most of the time salary is driven by demand, so joining a company at a critical time can drive your salary up, making it continually unfair to existing staff in the same role,” Azhar says. “Employees often feel the need to switch companies to get a higher salary as it’s more difficult to negotiate internal pay rises, or can find themselves with below average salaries because of the alleged ‘privilege’ of working on a well-known title. Negotiating is a separate skill unrelated to job capability that employees often require to get paid what they’re worth so a union negotiating on their behalf would create a far more level playing field.” TIGA’s Wilson adds that the benefits of a union would largely depend on its “nature and behaviour.” He explains: “If the union was focused on encouraging training in the workplace and working constructively with the owners and managers of the games studio then it could be beneficial.” Employers can also profit from unionisation, Taylor further says. “Employers benefit from having a more structured and organised way of communicating and consulting with their employees,” she says. “They really find out what their workers think, and in terms of making sure they are complying with UK legislation, such as health and safety regulations and the Working Time Directive, having union involvement can often help them to avoid a breach and the costs that come with that.” US AND THEM Talking about the downsides of unionisation, one answer kept coming back: the divisive aspect of trade unions, which we very much felt already at MCV as we tried to reach out to people to brainstorm on the topic. “Unions potentially create tension between employer and employees through a more ‘us and them’ relationship,” Azhar says. “Game development can create strong bonds between employees, including management, especially in small and mid-sized companies, and staff may not want to add an extra barrier or be seen as a trouble maker.” She rightly points out that those “issues are not specific to a game development union” though and “can be dispelled with research into successful existing unions.” Richard Wilson adds: “If the union adopted an antagonistic attitude to the business then it could be divisive and damaging. Some developers might be concerned that a union in the video games sector could
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operate antagonistically or negatively, with damaging consequences for the studios concerned.” A point of view Prince seems to agree with, saying that “union rules could have a hugely negative effect on small studios.” She also points out that the international aspect of our industry will make any larger-scale unionisation a difficult enterprise. “A big problem that pro-unionists will face is that video games is a global industry,” she says. “Publishers and studios in one part of the world often work with other studios around the world. And different countries have different employment laws – so there is no one-size-fitsall approach.” We tell Taylor about how unionisation seems to bring up a lot of entrenched views – largely on broad political lines – and ask her if the reality is less divisive than some might think. “I would say so,” she answers, before adding a very important point, going against the usual clichés as far as the UK is concerned: “BECTU is not affiliated to the Labour Party, as we are a sector of a larger union, Prospect, who cover some civil service areas. “We’re also very conscious of the wide range of views our members have. You don’t have to vote Labour to see the value of a union in your workplace and to participate in a union-led campaign.” EYES HALF SHUT? When asked about the benefits and downsides of game developers unionising, Ukie’s CEO Dr Jo Twist OBE answers that the trade body “fully supports and endorses the best workplace practices that ensure working conditions are fair.” She then adds: “Unions for different skill sets and roles already exist in the UK across different sectors and strong UK employment laws already offer protection and support for employees and employers. “We are also in regular dialogue with various organisations and parties on this issue. We continue to see many companies in the UK industry evolve so that they retain and recruit the best people they need to succeed, and many businesses now offer increased flexibility to deliver what they need to.” While Ukie and TIGA certainly engage with the fight for better conditions, unionisation would likely bring it to the next level. Whether or not massive unionisation is needed or will happen remains to be seen though. “At Amiqus, we’re keeping a close eye on the discussions,” says Prince. “I think one online forum post recently summed up our current view perfectly. To paraphrase, one thing we must consider is that, with Brexit approaching, we should be wary of anything that will make the UK a less attractive place to make games,” she says. “At the same time, union or no union,
“One thing we must consider is that, with Brexit approaching, we should be wary of anything that will make the UK a less attractive place to make games.” we should all consider and continue to debate what the issues are – whether unfriendly working environments, crunch or more. Ultimately, we need to keep the conversation going and ensure that a career in games remains attractive.” BECTU is obviously keen to keep that conversation going and is calling for game developers to reach out: “The best way to kick off the process is for people to join or get in touch. We want to hear from the games industry,” Taylor says. “We know that there are problems around long hours, and we need to be building a campaign around that. You can take a look at #EyesHalfShut to see a similar kind of campaign BECTU ran in the London film industry. The ultimate aim would be to get employers signing up to agreements that set out what kind of hours people are expected to work in the games industry. To achieve this, we need a strong, active membership to push for these kinds of campaign aims.” And Azhar reckons that, considering the situation, we’ll see more and more developers being tempted by unionisation. “As we see more open discussion about unionisation and the effects of bad workplaces it becomes more likely people with motivation to formally protect the rights of game developers will come together, whether it’s those with the passion to make a difference, or people who have burnt out and want to prevent the same happening to others,” she says. “The support of those in more comfortable positions will greatly increase the momentum of a game developer union. Those who need a union the most often have the least capacity for contributing to one.”
Pictured above, from top: BECTU and Game Workers Unite offer differing approaches to game dev unionisation
Do you have an opinion about unionisation that you feel was not reflected in this feature? Get in touch, we’d love to hear from you and broaden the discussion, regardless of where you stand in the debate. Send an email to email@example.com.
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The Xbox Adaptive Controllerâ€™s win at the Golden Joysticks gave Marie Dealessandri an opportunity to talk to program manager Evelyn Thomas about the deviceâ€™s core principles, its impact on Xbox and what the industry can do to improve accessibility
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he Golden Joysticks introduced a new ‘Outstanding Contribution’ award this year, to celebrate “the game, people or technology that has changed our industry for the better in 2018.” To say that the Xbox Adaptive Controller was deserving of this accolade would be quite an understatement. Having launched in September exclusively on the Xbox store, it’s a single step forward for accessibility and inclusion of disabled gamers like we’ve never seen before, and we can only hope the initiative proliferates and inspires other companies to put accessibility at the core of their vision. Microsoft’s program manager Evelyn Thomas, who heads up accessibility strategy and development for Xbox, travelled from the US to be at the Golden Joysticks and collect the award. Her passion for her work and what the Xbox team managed to achieve with the Adaptive Controller is undeniable from the start of our meeting in the comfy bar of her hotel, when we ask her to tell the story of how it all started. “There’s a gentleman by the name of Matt Hite [service engineer at Microsoft] and he had a lot of friends who were in the military. He was hearing stories about how they weren’t able to do things in their life that they used to do, due to injuries, and one of them was gaming,” she starts explaining. “He came across Warfighter Engaged, who builds custom gaming rigs for returning vets. He worked with them and realised that while they were doing just amazing work, there
were some gaps in some of the things that they were building that he felt he could probably help with. [The controllers] were fragile because they were hand-built, they were expensive, they were really hard to maintain and when they broke you’d have to have an electrical engineering degree to fix them,” she laughs. All of this meant the custom devices were not easy for someone to effortlessly pick up and learn, she continues: “So a lot of handholding by the charity which means they didn’t have a lot of scale or reach. And even for the people that knew about the charity they had a backlog of like 400 people that they couldn’t serve.” Around the same time, Microsoft was holding its annual Ability Summit, a two-days event focusing on accessibility and inclusion, internally and externally. “[Matt Hite], on the back of a napkin, started jotting down an idea, chatted with a bunch of folks and they said: ‘That’s a great idea, let’s do a hackathon on it’. Satya [Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO] likes to refer to those as the one week out of the year that inspires the other 51. So it became a hackathon project and we built a product, tried it out, tested it with customers. We really believe in that philosophy of ‘Nothing about us without us’. So from day one we made sure that we included our gamers in the development process so that they
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extensible for them so that they could have it set up the way that works for them,” Thomas says. “The other one was caregivers, and caregivers aren’t necessarily all that technical in most cases. So it had to be drop-dead simple, easy to find, easy to set up, easy to use. “And then on the other end of that spectrum are the charities and nonprofits, which use a lot of these devices. They can build these bespoke devices so it needed to be extensible, it needed to be flexible, it needed to support an ecosystem that already existed so you don’t have to reinvent that wheel. And all of that was validated by our direct connection with the charities and with the individual gamers with disabilities. We just went to them and said: ‘This is what we’re thinking – is this the right thing?’ And with a few minor tweaks that’s how we landed where we are.”
Pictured above: Microsoft’s Evelyn Thomas, collecting the Xbox Adaptive Controller’s Golden Joystick Award for Outstanding Contibution
could help point to us where to start, what we should be building for them. We then iterated on it from that feedback and ultimately it became what it is.” Listening to Thomas tell the story, it feels like this was a very short process. But it was actually quite the opposite. The very first contact with Warfighter Engaged was in 2014 and from there the team also had to convince the top management at Microsoft that the project was worth their time – and money. “Just like with everything you have to be able to pitch and we approached this product a little bit like a startup. It was a really scrappy group of people that were really passionate and just wanted to make it happen,” Thomas smiles. “They weren’t necessarily tasked with doing it as their everyday job but they just carved out time in their day to get the work done. But once we had the concept and once we could basically talk to our leadership and demonstrate what it was we were building and who the market was, it was a very easy sell.” From there, the growing team worked around three main principles, linked to the three different types of customers they wanted to serve: “The first one was the gamers of course. So it needed to be functional and
THEY’RE TELLING US Implementing all the features needed and finding the right design for the Xbox Adaptive Controller was no easy task and the team ended up in a bad position a few times, Thomas recalls. “We’ve been building controllers and Xboxes for a very long time. We know the forces that are required for the buttons. So we created the Xbox Adaptive Controller, had it manufactured, brought our first testing units into our lab and the machine started pounding away on the buttons and they immediately broke,” she laughs. “It was a light bulb moment for us and it was one of those things where we went from this know-it-all culture to this learn-it-all culture. And we just refactored how we thought about every decision we ever made building the product.” Modularity in particular was at the core of the design process, to make sure it could adapt to the player’s exact circumstances. For this reason, the back of the controller has 19 3.5mm ports and two USB 2.0 ports, so players can purchase the accessories that fit their needs. “We’re not telling them how to play the game, they’re telling us. We want to give flexibility to the players. Xbox should be a place where everyone can have fun. With an emphasis on everyone,” Thomas says. The design of the product also look incredibly polished and slick. And there’s a good reason for that, she continues. “We wanted it to feel like it belongs to the Xbox family of products so disabled people don’t feel like their friends get to play with the cool controllers and they don’t.” Even the packaging was made with accessibility in mind: “Chris Kujawski, our lead designer on the project, had two fundamental principles: it should be easy to open up with one hand and you shouldn’t have to use your teeth. That was pretty much it,” she says. “And that
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has influenced the rest of our product lines in terms of how we’re thinking about the packaging for the other hardware that we offer. It’s even changed how we think about who we market to and how we market to our customers.” The impact of the Xbox Adaptive Controller on the rest of the firm’s business goes beyond packaging and marketing though, Thomas adds. “It’s dramatically influenced everything, from how we greenlight projects to how we get our products through. It used to be: ‘Is there direct revenue, does that immediately result in bottom line dollars? Then we’ll greenlight it, otherwise move on’. And this has really changed leadership’s opinion about what are the right things to invest in. At the end of the day it’s the customer, right? It’s investing in something for the customer. “We’ve been working on assistant technologies and accessibility features on Xbox since as far back as 2014. And it’s going to live on in perpetuity and everything that we do in this product influences the next body of work.” Thomas wouldn’t share any details about what’s coming in terms of accessibility and inclusion at Xbox but promises there’s some “pretty great stuff coming down the road.” For the Xbox Adaptive Controller itself, the future looks bright and Thomas confirms a statement Xbox chief Phil Spencer made around the reveal of the device: the firm is very much open to the idea of sharing what it learnt with Sony and Nintendo. “We believe that we can compete on a lot of things; accessibility should not be one of them. Everybody should be able to have the joy of play. And Phil is right: we are 100 per cent committed to making this available to other platforms. If they’re open to it and they’re interested, we’re ready to have those conversations. We have had conversations within those organisations about our controller.”
benefit them as much as truly embedding them in your decisions. So the strongest feedback I have for anybody is: think about your customer first, think about what they need and then build that in and you’re just going to win,” she laughs, before continuing. “The other thing is that there are tons of gamers out there who want to give feedback. They want to be able to play and so they’re just champing at the bit to give feedback to developers. We get emails every single day: ‘Hey, are you testing this? I’d love to give you my feedback because I have muscular dystrophy’ or ‘I lost an arm’. So listen to your customers.” Xbox has partnered with charities from day one: Warfighter Engaged, as we already mentioned, but also AbleGamers and our UK-based SpecialEffect. The team also worked in partnership with Craig Hospital, a hospital in Colorado that focuses on people with spinal cord or traumatic brain injuries. “We’ve been in partnership with them to begin with and we’re expanding those partnerships out within the United States and external to the United States as well,” Thomas says. So if you’re reading this and you work for or know a charity, a hospital, an organisation that would benefit from having access to the Xbox Adaptive Controller, now is the time to get in touch with Microsoft. “We’re always interested in new partnerships that can actually help the gamer. And we know that the hospital space and the education space are spaces where this product would really benefit a lot of kids – and a lot of adults as well,” Thomas concludes.
Pictured below: The Xbox Adaptive Controller can be expanded upon immensely to create bespoke setups for individual users
CHAMPING AT THE BIT There’s a long way to go before gaming gets fully accessible, even at its simplest level – just look at the recent controversy surrounding Activision not including subtitles in its Spyro Reignited Trilogy. But Thomas reckons the industry can start with two simple things to improve inclusion and accessibility. “What ends with a product should start with people,” she starts explaining. “And studios, game developers, hardware developers, anybody who builds anything should really think about how they are in partnership from day one with the people who want to use their product. You can build in isolation, but you’re going to end up with something that really isn’t going to
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A match made in Guildford Wargaming’s Sean Decker looks to have hit the jackpot: the studio head of the newly-formed Wargaming UK has just received a huge ‘speed boost’ with the acquisition of Edge Case Games. Seth Barton reports
uilding a new studio from scratch can take a long time. Even once you’ve got everyone onboard, they need to gel into a proper team before they’ll create something great. That was the task facing CCP and EA veteran Sean Decker in September as he set out to build Wargaming’s first UK development studio in Guildford, from scratch. Skipping ahead to today, Decker’s task suddenly looks a lot less arduous, as Wargaming has just acquired Edge Case Games, creators of space combat title Fractured Space. And it looks to be a match made in heaven for the fledgling studio. So much so, it’s hard to believe that it wasn’t all part of plan from the start. “There was nothing per se, like this was a master plan,” Decker tells MCV. “There was always the plan to build Wargaming UK and literally piggybacked on that there was a conversation with Edge Case and they were like: ‘Hey why don’t we do something together?’ For years, well before I came to Wargaming, James [Brooksby, CEO] and Chris [Mehers, COO], the founders at Edge Case, have had conversations with Victor [Kislyi, Wargaming CEO] at various conferences.” Accepting that, it’s an incredible bit of good fortune, a huge step forward for the studio: “This just happened to fit perfectly, we still need a lot of good people, but this definitely speed boosts us.” Fitting perfectly looks to be something of an understatement when you dig into it. Edge Case is already based in Guildford for starters, with Decker talking to us from its current offices, where he’s set up camp until new premises are pinned down for everyone.
And that really is everyone: “The whole team is coming onboard, it’s been fantastic that way. It’s great that we’ve got a spot for everybody,” Decker enthuses. “The size of team that Wargaming UK wants to build is bigger than Edge Case’s group coming over.” Which also means there’s the opportunity for some to step up and take on more responsibility in the new larger structure. With the team also comes already-built relationships and shared experience. “It’s the culture, and all those things that are hard to build,” Decker says. “It takes time getting the right chemistry and so forth. And so we were very lucky in this respect.” And then there’s the team’s specific experience in building Fractured Space. The space combat game, with five-vs-five multiplayer battles, commanding massive capital ships, is very close to the kind of games that Wargaming has traditionally created. “If you look across western developers as a whole, there aren’t a lot who have built their own vehicle-based, free-to-play, games-asa-service, MMO combat game and run it for a number of years. All those things built into that, all the experiences, the cuts and bruises you get along the way... That fit really quite well.” The right team, with the right experience, in the right locale, surely it can’t get better? “They’ve done all this on Unreal and Unreal is our chosen tech stack, so again we’re super fortunate to have this all come together at the same time.” Not all of Decker’s recruitment problems are over, of course. Edge Case will form the core of the new studio but there are still plenty of seats to fill: “We’re still recruiting some key roles... But there’s some roles they were filling with contractors and we’d like to bring those in-house,” he explains. And then of course there’s the usual recruitment pain points for any studio: “The hardest thing throughout the industry is tech people because you’re always having competition with other sectors: AI companies, Facebook or Google, the city, banks… We’re looking for a couple of creative roles as well, those are the core ones we’re trying to fill right now.” GETTING IT RIGHT The future is looking rosy then, but it’s too soon to reveal anything about the project itself, or a rough date when that might happen. “We [initially] created several concepts and there is one that has been picked up,” Decker says. “We realised early on that the scope of this IP would need a dedicated studio to work on it. “Obviously we want to go as quickly as possible, but we want to get it right and be sure that what we’re on track to build is the right thing. We’ll be doing a lot of player testing, a lot of UX testing. Once we feel comfortable, we’ll bring it out and take it for a run. “For the last decade, I have been passionate about games-as-a-service. This started with my time at EA, through CCP, and now at Wargaming. CCP’s players are fantastic and as a huge fan of World of Tanks myself, I immediately saw that same passion in Wargaming’s players.” We can’t help but wonder if the words ‘World of…’ might appear in the title, but Decker wont’ bite: “Currently, no title has been chosen.
But the game will be a free-to-play MMO on multiple platforms,” he replies. “However, we are looking to delve much deeper into co-op and PvE gameplay, in addition to PvP,” he adds. “The guys here are fantastic, they are just so good and experienced, but open to trying new things and really hungry to do some fantastic stuff. I know that sounds like puff-piece, but I’m loving it here,” he concludes. It’s still hard to believe that the kings of online strategy-action gaming didn’t have this all planned out well in advance, but then adapting your strategy as you go is always a key part of success.
Pictured above: Space combat title Fractured Space, developed by Edge Case Games before its acquisition by Wargaming
“The hardest thing throughout the industry is hiring tech people because you’re always having competition with other sectors.” December 2018 MCV 942 | 43
GAMING’S GRAND TV ADVENTURE The Grand Tour Game will release episodically alongside its TV sibling. Seth Barton talks to Amazon Games Studios’ Craig Sullivan about the production challenges of letting you ‘play the show’ each week as you watch it 44 | MCV 942 December 2018
mazon Game Studios is gearing up to release its first title on consoles: The Grand Tour Game. It’s an intriguing project, as Amazon brings together the crown jewel of its Prime Video streaming service with its still-fledgling game development arm. But even that’s not the most intriguing part here. “I think I’m justified in saying that we’re the first video game team in history to make a game that launches day-and-date with a weekly live airing TV show,” says Craig Sullivan, who previously worked on both the Burnout and Need for Speed franchises and is now creative director at Amazon Game Studios. “I started off underplaying how significant it is, because we kind of take it for granted now. I’ve been working on the game since April last year when I joined Amazon. And then I realised as we were talking about it more and more: ‘Has anybody done this before?’ And we realised the answer to that was no.” What that means in practice is that the team will be delivering episodic gameplay alongside the weekly release schedule of the next series of Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May’s escapades. The Grand Tour Game will be sold as a digital season pass, for Xbox One and PS4, with two episodes of initial content based on the opening episodes of seasons one and two of the show available at launch. The remaining content will roll out day-and-date with season three, which was recently unveiled with a first-look trailer.
The game itself is an impressive blend of footage from the show, which introduces each section of gameplay, and driving action. There’s no single fancy effect, it’s just all done right, cutting from the live action footage to the driving game seamlessly. “We really wanted to embrace the idea of ‘play the show’,” Sullivan says. “So we looked at it and said: ‘Right, what do video games do, what TV shows do and where where can we start to blur the lines?’ So as you will have seen there’s no traditional static screens in the game. When you start playing an episode we really embraced the idea of perpetual motion.” And that bears out in play, with the live footage and the gameplay flowing along without a stutter or hitch – it feels as natural and effortless as watching the show does. “So you were just playing The Holy Trinity [season 1, episode 1],” Sullivan tells us. “The TV episode is 65 minutes long to watch – we obviously cut out the footage where they are driving and you drive instead. So to play it from start to finish is about 60 minutes – we’ve aimed for it to be about the same. It’s a decent chunk of time.” We found the balance of watching and playing to be just right, but if you’re more interested in playing the game than watching the TV segments then there’s a very neat skipping ahead function, accompanied by Clarkson shouting a belligerent: “Get on with it!” Sullivan found that they had to warn players that the transition to gameplay was coming.
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“We actually have to say ‘get ready’ because it used to shock some people, we’d have the seamless transition of the car driving through and sometimes you don’t notice it’s the game,” he explains. FESTIVAL OF SPEED It’s immediately apparent when playing that TV moves at a lightning pace compared to most video games. In just the first 20 minutes of the first episode the variety is startling. “You drive five or six different cars, in five or six different locations, very very quickly in our game,” Sullivan says. “We don’t have to force players to grind out the best cars in the game – within a few minutes in our game you’re driving the McLaren P1 – some games you end up there after 30 hours of play.” And there’s no requirement for the game to setup a reason for all this driving, such as Forza Horizon’s festival schtick or Gran Turismo’s endless fictional championships. “A lot of other games, they work hard to try and spin these stories and make it non-tenuous. We have the perfect reason to do these things because the TV show does them,” he adds. IN THE CAN Following the beats of one of the most expensive TV productions today is a huge, and hugely intriguing, challenge. The game’s design has a big appetite for content, all of which must be created within the production schedule of the TV show.
“There shouldn’t be a high barrier to entry in this game at all. There’s a lot of depth to our handling but it also surfaces a lot of fun to the player very early on.”
“One of the reasons I joined the team is because it’s challenging. I like doing pretty hard things. Video games usually take a very long time to make. So you have to have as much information as early as possible in order to do justice to the episodes. “We have someone who works for the Amazon Game Studios team embedded with the Chump Production Company,” which makes the show, Sullivan explains. With the new season still largely under wraps as we go to press, we can’t discuss specifics. But the development team got raw footage straight from overseas shoots, so it could start creating assets for the game, sometimes before footage was even shot. “We would not have been able to do this if we solely reacted to finished product. So we knew about the ideas the guys had in advance. Following the process has been amazing, because you get to see the inside of how they work. “The development team is working to the dates, as much as we know them, for the show. We will use the time we have to make the best software we can,” Sullivan says confidently. And that’s despite the team having more hoops to jump through in order to bring the episodes to the public. “We have lead times in terms of submitting to Sony and Microsoft, so it’s not the same thing as when you have a TV episode in the can and you can just turn it on. We have to finish a bit earlier and go through certification and make them available on the stores.” As if that wasn’t enough to be taking on, The Grand Tour Game “will be the first game Amazon Game Studios releases on console using Lumberyard,” adds Sullivan. GLOBAL TOUR With so much on their plate, there’s understandably a sizeable team on the project, though it is actually divided around the globe. “We have a core team in Seattle and then there’s a second smaller US team as well, Heavy Iron [Studios], based in Manhattan Beach in LA. In the UK we have two teams: Electric Square down in Brighton and Stellar Entertainment in Guildford. Plus we’re also working with some guys, Studio 397, over in the Netherlands. “The budget is up there with a lot of the games I’ve worked on in the past,” Sullivan says. “But we’re focused in a very different way. Most people when they look at doing a driving game say: ‘Right, we’re going to do a big open world experience, we’re going to have all these systems’.” The Grand Tour Game is somewhat different. With a far tighter focus than many driving titles, which have huge rosters of cars and sprawling structures designed to
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provide countless hours of driving pleasure to dedicated driving fanatics. Though that’s not to say The Grand Tour Game is lightweight in terms of its systems. “We had to do a lot very quickly and we wanted to do the best possible job – just making a fun driving model takes a long time,” Sullivan tells us. “So we were lucky to work with Studio 397, who were the guys who made rFactor and they accelerated a lot of our development – we use rFactor physics in our game.” This makes perfect sense as rFactor’s physics allow the team to simulate any kind of four-wheeled vehicle. GRAND TURISMO And The Grand Tour has a remarkable variety of vehicles. “[On the show], they don’t just do cars that are multimillion dollar supercars that are out next year. They go back and do historical stuff as well, they drive cars that they bought for £500,” Sullivan enthuses. So that means the team is modelling old bangers with the wing mirrors hanging off one day, classic cars the next, and rounding things off with something that’s not even been unveiled yet. “If they drive it in the show, we try and drive it in the games. We have a very interesting and eclectic set of cars to drive…” Sullivan pauses and then corrects himself: “...Vehicles to drive in the game.” Which promises some intriguing variety, as you’d expect if you’d ever watched the show. Even with the show moving at pace, the number of vehicles in the game is likely shy of what some of the genre-leading titles offer up these days. “We don’t need to be in a numbers war, I don’t need to say we’ve got a thousand cars, because we’ve got the amount of cars that we need to make a season but we have a very wide variety and we also give them to you in a very satisfying way. Like I said, you can drive one of the fastest cars in the world five minutes into our game.” The key here being that each car you drive in the game has context, it has presence, provided by the presenters, which means even those who aren’t die-hard petrolheads can appreciate each and every offering, and what other driving game can claim that: “If you watch the TV show and you think: ‘That’s a really cool car’, you know that you can then go and play the episode and drive it.” And you don’t have to drive alone either. In another well-considered nod to blending the game and TV experiences, The Grand Tour Game has included splitscreen play, so those who like to watch the show together can also then race together. The mode is separated out from the ‘play the show’ mode but “every new episode brings new tracks, new locations and new cars… It really changes over the course of the season,” Sullivan explains. “I know online games are very big at the moment, but we wanted to tackle split screen first because there’s a lot
of funny shared moments in the show, when the guys are hanging out together and there’s a lot of laughing at each other and joking around and interaction. So we thought split screen would be perfect for that.” Sullivan explains that you can race wildly different cars against each other, across hugely differing courses, from the iconic to the downright bizarre: “I think some of the combinations of things that we do are pretty unique and just make people laugh. That’s what it’s about.” TV DINNERS The annals of gaming are littered with hubristic attempts to blend the form with TV or movies, brave transmedia experiments that failed to live up to the hype, such as Quantum Break. The Grand Tour Game’s strength lies in it being unashamedly light entertainment, just like the show itself. It’s easy to pick up, easy to play, and easy to love – presuming that you’ve ever enjoyed the show or its predecessor. Incredibly, it might even be a better way to enjoy the show than simply watching it. “I’ve seen the same episode many times and I still laugh at some of the things they say and do, it’s fun and it’s irreverent and it should be accessible. There shouldn’t be a high barrier to entry or skill in this game at all. That doesn’t mean that it’s an overly arcadey throw-away experience. I think there’s a lot of depth to our handling but it also surfaces a lot of fun to the player very early on. “There is a lot of things that we do in our game that’s not driving too. Over the course of a season of the show you think about the crazy stuff the guys get up to. We’ve embraced that as well. I think there’ll be some really big surprises for people, it’s definitely not just a racing game. I would say it’s not even just a driving game.” And the presenters themselves, beyond obviously providing all the ideas and subject matter for each episode, are getting involved: “They give us feedback on it,” Sullivan tells us. “And they recorded lines specifically for the game. Jeremy has played a lot of Gran Turismo, Richard has played Mario Kart, James has actually played quite a lot of our game as well.” And while details are thin on the ground, Sullivan is expecting there to be plenty of cross-promotion between the game and the show. If the two chime as well as what we’ve seen, then it looks to be a very promising pairing indeed.
Pictured above: Amazon Games Studios’ Craig Sullivan
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Ten years of Roll7 From socially aware games, to titles that track brain activity, right up to Laser League – oh, and selling 4m copies of OlliOlli along the way – here’s the story of a decade of Roll7 in their own words, as told to Seth Barton by director Simon Bennett
Happy birthday! It’s been ten years but many’s experience of the company will only date back to OlliOlli in 2013 – tell us about how you began? Really, to trace Roll7’s history you need to go back to the heady days of the mid 2000s when Tom Hegarty, my lifelong friend and partner in musical crime, and I were running a community education company called RollingSound. We were teaching inner city youth digital arts – music production, photography, film and web design – when we were asked by Southwark Council if we could teach video game design. Our naïve but entrepreneurial response was ‘of course’ and we set about finding someone to teach video games before video game education was a thing. Through the forums of FPS Creator we found John Ribbins, someone who seemed to fit the profile of our company at that point: young, restless, endlessly creative and hungry. John went on to become the course leader for our most successful and oversubscribed course, training up five other tutors to deliver accredited video games design courses to over 5,000 young people over six years. It was this course that differentiated us from other providers, and helped the company expand to 100 staff working all over London and South-East England. In 2007, we were approached by young people from our music course who wanted to run a project related to knife crime and thought that a video game would be the most interesting approach – we ended up working with over 30 young people over three months to create a game called Soul Control. BBC News covered the project and suddenly we found ourselves making another game – in just over six weeks! – for Channel 4 called Dead Ends. We even turned John Snow and his lovely tie into a 3D
character to introduce the game! At this point Tom and I sat down together and said: ‘Look, there might be something in these seriouscum-socially responsible games. Let’s do something here!’ We made a substantial investment into incubating Roll7 as a start-up in the sector, with a view to becoming self-sufficient over the next few years. So Roll7 was born and you progressed onto making games that tracked brain activity, right? From 2008 to 2013, the studio partnered with third sector organisations and charities to develop games, digital products and marketing campaigns. Focus Pocus was our biggest game, which was a brain computer interface-based cognitive behavioural therapy product for children with ADHD. Ultimately, it was a massive undertaking in a six-month period with a tiny and unexperienced team – but we delivered a product that would have cost over $1m on the open market, for about $100k. In total we launched six commercial games for the Neurosky headset and this allowed us to gain insight into the process of making and releasing products from scratch. We were also building up a bank of prototypes and IP over these years which were to become the basis of OlliOlli, Not A Hero and Laser League. It was a bit like video game university for us, but with the added pressure of having to run a studio, manage clients and run a whole other business… Just how big did OlliOlli become? It’s on every platform ever! How did that change the company? OlliOlli was massive for us. We put everything into that game, the team worked to a level that I would never expect or demand
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Featuring: Asmodee UK, Big Potato, Funrise Coiledspring Games, TOMY, H Grossman Ltd and many moreâ€¦
again from a group of humans. The OlliOlli series has shifted over four million units worldwide, and we have partnered with a number of great publishers to get the game onto over 14 platforms. Before we started production, we had made the end of days decision to say goodbye to all our clients in the gun-for-hire space, to go for broke and focus solely on OlliOlli. The nerves before launch were unbearable, I can remember just how much hinged on the game not being a flop... Then the reviews came in and Shahid [Kamal Ahmad, then director of strategic content, Sony’s internal indie publishing team] at PlayStation invited us for lunch. The game was the fastest selling indie PS Vita title from strategic content at the time and was considered a breakout hit. The gamble had paid off, and we subsequently moved into parallel development with OlliOlli2 and Not A Hero – those were exciting times! Do you think in today’s market that games such as OlliOlli and Not A Hero would succeed to the same degree? I think there will always be a place in the games market for interesting, different video games. There is certainly more of a challenge in getting visibility now, especially for a new studio on their first title. It’s easy to look at the current indie game space and think that there is no space for anything more, but every year we’re constantly surprised by a new and interesting breakout hit. There’s a lot more stuff coming out every month, but there’s still plenty of space for great indie games to shine. For us it’s about coming up with a new or interesting mechanic, or a twist on something familiar, but for other studios it’s been about telling an amazing story or dealing with previously-untouched subject matters. It’s all about finding your niche. Do you think the company has a persona and, if so, what is it and how did it come about? To a certain extent we are a little bit of an anomaly – we have made games across the spectrum over ten years. I think we would hope to be known best for super-tight innovative toys. Finding something really addictive and enjoyable to play with and building on it. Breaking down the pillars of a Roll7 game would be: super-refined game mechanics, simple systems with a huge scope for mastery, combo and score-based gameplay, amazing curated soundtracks, and unique and varied art styles. I think to a certain extent our outward facing personality changes based on how involved we are with the marketing of the game. When we were making Not
A Hero, we went pretty method and got really into the bizarre world of BunnyLord. During Laser League – a more serious endeavour – we were much less involved in the outward marketing of the game and we more focused on letting the game speak for itself. I think that now, ten years in, we would like to be known as a pedigree UK studio that has stood the test of time and continues to create new and fun ways for people to play. Laser League, in retrospect, what worked, what didn’t, and why do you think it struggled to find an audience despite being critically well-received? Laser League has been a massive success from our studio perspective, the game has reviewed incredibly well – 9/10 from Edge, Essential award from Eurogamer, plus two Golden Joystick nominations. What worked? Our step up to full 3D in Unreal Engine and synchronous multiplayer. That was real progress for the studio and something we will take with us moving forward into new projects. The core game loop from our perspective really worked well, we essentially invented a new sport from scratch! Getting that balance during development was a lot of work, but it paid off. With the PC launch we came out at a bad time for multiplayer games, competing with peak PUBG and Fortnite. If you don’t get that initial critical mass of players in your multiplayer game it can be hard to recover. Nobody wants to play a bunch of bots, even if our AI is great. We have a wonderful community of people who have stuck with it since day one and a great number of people are discovering the game through PS+ and Xbox Game Pass. It’s a slower build than we would have hoped for, but it’s our first foray into the multiplayer space and we’ll take many of the lessons we’ve learned from this into the ‘next thing’. Ultimately, from our side we shot for a double-A level super-ambitious synchronous online multiplayer game, and over-achieved on what we ever thought was possible – Laser League remains a great example of a game with all the potential to still make an impact. Who knows, maybe it will be our Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars! [the predecessor to Rocket League]
Pictur top to Tilly, Dorth Sam L
Pictured above from top: Roll7’s Sam Brayley, Simon Bennett, Tom Hegarty and John Ribbins
You were based in Deptford, but now all work remotely, why the change? We made the decision back in 2014 to make Not A Hero as a remote project. Basically, it came down to cutting travel down for staff, giving people more autonomy with their roles, attracting talent from beyond SE8 and SouthEast London generally, and ultimately saving a shedload of loot on studio overheads.
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After the success of Not A Hero, we decided that we would fully embrace the ‘distributed team model’. For Laser League we scaled from ten to over 35 people, in five months, and managed to attract some of the leading lights from triple-A studios who were looking for a change. After the project we ran a survey. Two thirds of people said that work/life balance working remotely was better than being in a studio. I guess our major concern was always whether we could maintain our quality, but the reviews have allayed any fears there. We became one of the biggest fully distributed studios in Europe and this
“There’s a lot more stuff coming out every month, but there’s still plenty of space for great indie games to shine.”
Pictured above: Roll7 released six games for the Neurosky headset between 2008 and 2013
unique structure will allow us to expand exponentially in the future. Our next five-year plan sees this model expand into larger teams and parallel development. How many of you are there now? How do you work in terms of full-time vs contract workers and how do you scale the team based on the needs of the project? Currently we are around ten. We have a core of full-time staff and an infrastructure of long-time and trusted freelancers. We are in prototyping and pre-production mode on three projects and have contracted the studio down accordingly. For the last five years this approach has allowed us to manage cashflow carefully and protect the studio from the well-documented pitfalls of maintaining a large team when there’s no project. Moving forward, we might scale up the core full time team but only if we can maintain a clear pipeline of original IP development. You’ve generally used a publisher rather than going it alone, why is that? Our five-year business plan from 2013 to 2018 was to develop four new IPs but minimise our risk and downside from self-funding. This was achieved by working with a number of publishers and funders across our IP portfolio. To a certain extent, it was about being realistic about our knowledge of the industry in 2013. We were a new entry to the whole scene. Five years later we are in a unique position where we have managed to build substantial reserves and ongoing revenues from a multitude of partners, while testing the water with a number of publishers and seeing both how people work, and what works for us moving forward. We are not ruling out self-publishing in the future – we did originally put OlliOlli out ourselves – but the kind of projects we are looking at currently would most likely need a partner somewhere along the line. How are going about creating your next game? Do you subscribe to the idea of iterating lots of ideas to see what works or do you fall in love with one early and get stuck in? We have a big backlog of prototypes from 2013 to 2018 – there are two or three that are really interesting at the moment – and we are working them up into clearer ideas. This is the best part of the job, it’s when almost anything is possible, and we intend to spend a bit more time doing it this time around – the studio is in a solid financial position moving forward, so we are in no rush to begin something unless it really grabs us. We will jump into full-scale development when we have both the right idea and the right partner in place.
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Going up! On its first birthday, the impressive growth of influencer-marketing agency Fourth Floor shows that it’s getting the right balance between brand and creator. Seth Barton reports
nfluencer marketing has exploded in the last few years. That’s obviously a great thing for content creators, but navigating that tricky path between the content your audience loves and the message that brands want to communicate isn’t always straightforward. And that’s where you need a creative agency that understands both sides of the equation. Fourth Floor Creative looks to have that balance just right. The agency has delivered over 140 campaigns to date and, though it was spun out of YouTube heavyweights The Yogscast, the majority of those have used talent outside of its in-house channels. All that has allowed it to expand from just two people to a staff count of 18 in just 12 months, as it marked its first birthday last month. A key to that success is the agency’s solid grounding in the games industry – and an awareness of the responsibility that it has to creator-led campaigns. FIGHTING FOR THE FORM The games industry needs great content around its titles – content that engages passionate audiences. To date
though, as in many sectors, the advertising models of the digital era have struggled to support the huge expansion in content that digital formats have brought. Managing director of Fourth Floor Rich Keith sees influencer marketing as the spiritual successor to traditional display advertising, whether that be the TV spot, the magazine page or the banner ad. But he also sees key differences, allowing it to succeed where its predecessors have stumbled. “With the Yogscast audience, over 60 per cent of people are using ad blockers. If your audience doesn’t want it, you shouldn’t carry on trying to find different ways to make them see it anyway,” Keith opines. “Branded content should add to the experience,” he states firmly. “You know, it’s supporting the channel... Creating content that wouldn’t be there otherwise. And if you get that right, with the partnership’s supporting the channel and new kinds of content, then there’s value for an audience there. So it’s accepted.” However, that acceptance depends on maintaining a balance between creators and brands, keeping the quality up – something that not every creative agency is doing.
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“I think there’s a lot of people trying to drive the prices down, who are trying to do influencer marketing like its performance marketing and it’s not,” says Keith. “It’s much more aligned to brand marketing. “What is incumbent on all of us is not to try and drive it into being performance marketing, because that will lead to bad content, that will lead to people turning off branded content in the same way they turned off display advertising and other performance channels.” A CHANNEL FOR THE CHANNELS The reason for Fourth Floor’s strong line on finding this balance for influencer marketing comes out of its partnership with Yogscast. Keith explains how the company came about: he had been at Yogscast since 2013, largely as chief revenue officer, but it became clear the influencer marketing wasn’t evolving in the way he expected. “The multi-channel networks were all breaking up, losing their importance, and we originally thought what would grow in their place would be creator-led companies like our own, but instead it was smaller commercial networks and standalone agencies who were
brokering commercial deals between influencers and brands,” he tells us. “Working with those agencies [as Yogscast] we found that they didn’t understand the creative point of view, they didn’t understand how that content gets made, why it gets made. And from my point of view, having worked in the industry for a long time, I didn’t feel they understood the games market at all either… They were just there to get a buck. “So we saw a real opportunity to do it right. We wanted to work with a specific kind of agency. At the end of the day it was: ‘Why don’t we set up our own agency and do it the right way?’ So one of the aims of Fourth Floor was to do that, to have an agency that understood the creative point of view and also understood the broader market.” That all continues to define what drives and differentiates the agency today, but its very quickly grown outside of its parent too. “We spun it out of Yogscast, but it’s a standalone business. It’s not part of Yogscast,” Keith reminds us. “Yogscast was a big, well-known brand and so it has a specific perception for people. We wanted something that was separate to that, so creators who weren’t in Yogscast were comfortable working with us and clients that we wanted to work with didn’t think they were just getting Yogscast. They understood they were going to get other people as well.” How that works is pretty simple, he explains: “Yogscast talent are exclusive to us. But we’re not exclusive to Yogscast.” So you have to come through Fourth Floor for Yogscast, with around 50 channels, but obviously that pales in comparison with the wealth of talent in the market as a whole. “For lots of things, Yogscast are really appropriate – a great audience. But there are lots of games and areas where Yogscast channels aren’t the right thing to use. “It’s all about matching the right creators for that campaign to their needs. So what we don’t want to be is tied into some specific channels that we have to push at every campaign that comes up. Instead, we start with the campaign and then we match the right channels for that campaign. “Whether with Yogscast channels or anyone’s channels we’re always careful to make sure that the blend between what’s branded content and what’s their normal organic content never tips over.” And while Fourth Floor is branching out into other areas too, the core of its work remains games. “There is an increasing amount of lifestyle brands trying to reach a gaming audience, though the majority of our work has been for people launching, or doing player acquisition, for games.”
Pictured above from top: Dean Smith and Rich Keith
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“Branded content should add to the experience. It’s supporting the channel.”
Of course, all that talk of understanding the market, and respecting creators, has to eventually boil down to some engaging creative campaigns. Recent campaigns include one for Square Enix and Shadow of the Tomb Raider. “That was about creating standout content for them,” Keith explains. “We’ve got five different influencers to do ‘Lara Challenges’. They vlog them on their own channels, and then Square Enix has that content to use across its own social channels. Jumping off a cliff, learning to do stealth, climbing mountains... Ant Middleton [from SAS: Who Dares Wins] was showing the influencers how to build up those skills.” It’s easy to see how this isn’t the usual day-to-day content for influencers, that the campaign is bringing a richness and variety to their output. Fourth Floor is also working with brands from further afield, and with a broader selection of creators, Keith tells us: “We’ve helped Netease launch a number of mobile games this year, including Identity V by partnering them with the right creators to match the audience they’re targeting, including 8-bit Ryan, Dawko, John Wolfe, LaurenzSide and more. “We worked with Frontier on Jurassic World Evolution, where we brought Game Grumps, a big American YouTube channel and Yogscast together in a dinosaurthemed version of the Great British Bake Off… We’ve got the tent, we’ve got the camera shots, we’ve got everything. “And what we created was just fantastic entertainment that Frontier had their brand across and if you look at the views on those videos they’re some of the biggest videos that those channels had all year. “That’s the high end, working with the creators on how we can turn this into fantastic standout content and reach a wider audience who wouldn’t necessarily click on a gameplay video and watch it. An audience who then gets interested in the brand and they can follow up with either clickthrough to buy or watch more content.” Of course, while Keith may not want the wearying demands of performance-led marketing on creator-led content, campaigns still have to be effective. “One of the things we’re most proud of is the amount of people who’ve done repeat campaigns with us, who have come back and done more,” he says. “So most people that we’ve worked with will come back to us again and again. So that’s a mark of what we’re trying to achieve here. It’s a growing market. There’s lots of people in it. We’ve got an approach that works really well for creators. We now know it works really well for brands and that we’re helping create good content.” BUILDING UP Fourth Floor has big plans for the future as well and it’s not all YouTube, Twitch and video content.
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Pictured clockwise from top left: Fourth Floor’s creative campaigns for Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Shenmue and Jurassic World Evolution
“We set out with a mission to help creators do the thing they love, to help them be able to make great content. And so a big part of that is always going to be about helping them make enough money to carry on making content,” Keith says. “But it’s not just about the branded content side of it, it’s also about other the services we can bring to creators to help them on their journey of being creators.” Fourth Floor is also expanding into merchandise, for brands and for content creators: “We know all the practical elements of how to manufacture, store and sell it. We’ve done it for four years for Yogscast. We understand the market, we understand what sells to gamers and what they’ll buy in a way that lots of people don’t understand.” And the company is producing white-label content for other brands using its in-house production experience and talent, including video for Nintendo’s Labo range. Moving beyond YouTube and Twitch is also key, Keith continues: “They are the big platforms, but we do a bunch of campaigns across Instagram as well, so we see that as a powerful platform – one that video is becoming more and more a part of.” And then there’s a move to spread its wings beyond the UK: “There’s obviously other languages as well – we have an office in France and we’re looking at how we can move into Germany. That’s a big goal for us in 2019, to have representation in Germany. In January we’re also opening up in North America, we’ll have an office in Toronto.
And the company continues to grow at its base in Bristol too: “Yes, across all our roles. Right now we are actively hiring for a data assistant, an analyst. But we have a rolling recruitment of campaign executives and that’s about finding the right people.” Dean Smith is one of those people, an experienced media sales manager in UK games, who came onboard as sales director in August, having previously held the same role at Network N. “Influencer marketing is fast becoming the lead component on marketing plans as brands look to connect with audiences in more creative ways,” Smith says. “Communities are more aware of influencer brand integrations than ever before so picking a partner that is value-based with strong experience is crucial and that is where we excel. “It’s a really great time to be working alongside the incredibly talented team here at Fourth Floor. With huge growth in campaign size, more dynamic partnerships and an ever-expanding team, it’s exciting to see where we’ll be another 12 months from now.”
“What is incumbent on all of us is not to try and drive it into being performance marketing, because that will lead to bad content.” December 2018 MCV 942 | 57
Bringing Warh a Marketing director David Solari and CEO Andrew Wafer tell MCV about Pixel Toysâ€™ work on the Warhammer license, adapting to the mobile ecosystem when you come from console development and the challenges of bringing miniatures to life
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h ammer to life P
ixel Toys is a member of a pretty special club alongside the likes of Creative Assembly, Fatshark and Cyanide Studio: the Games Workshop video game developers club. While Creative Assembly for instance focuses on triple-A PC titles, Pixel Toys has made its name with mobile games based on the various Warhammer licences, starting with 2015’s Warhammer 40,000: Freeblade. “The company is about six years old,” marketing director David Solari tells MCV. “We started with Andy [Andrew Wafer, CEO] and Alex [Zoro, COO], who both came from a console background. Andy was at Codemasters with me and Alex was at FreeStyle. We wanted to bring console production values and fidelity to mobile. So that was the real drive. We started off with a mobile touch screener called Gunfinger. That evolved into a VR game called Drop Dead, which has done very well. “And then we made Warhammer 40,000: Freeblade, which is a third-person rail shooter, graphically really strong. Apple featured it on stage [during the iPhone 6S launch] which was huge for us. Apple supported the game a lot which was a big step. “Next step on, the company is more than 70 people – we’ve grown pretty rapidly over the last couple of years. And we’ve partnered with Games Workshop again with Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Realm War.” While some studios would dream to work with Games Workshop on the Warhammer licence, things were more pragmatic at Pixel Toys and the push came from the fanbase first and foremost. “We got a lot of people saying they love the IP and they can be quite persuasive,” Wafer says. “I’ve grown into liking it. I wasn’t a hardcore fan but some people in the management team are like obsessed by it. I’ve definitely developed an appreciation of it. I think the great thing for us is a really dedicated fanbase. It’s a quite big audience. I think that Warhammer, interestingly, has been growing a lot over the last few years. Warhammer Age of Sigmar specifically is something different in the fantasy space and it adds a huge amount of content for us as game developers.” Having learnt to love the IP, Pixel Toys then wanted to make sure it would do it justice. “We’re a relatively big developer, we’ve worked on the licence in the past, we take it very seriously, we want to produce something that everyone at the licensor is happy with but also,
importantly, the fanbase,” Wafer continues. “We need to make sure everything is as the fans would have liked because if they don’t think it’s right then they will let us know. We’re very particular about the content that we produce and that makes the approval process a lot smoother. “We made [Realm War] for the mid-core mobile strategy gamer, but I think Warhammer players like it because they’re strategy gamers at heart.” ANYTIME, ANYWHERE With Pixel Toys’ mission being to bring console quality to mobile, and with the team having that experience of console development, they had to adapt to a new way of envisioning a game as the two experiences differ drastically. “[Realm War] is our third mobile game now. Like everybody, we thought that we knew what we were doing the first time around but I think in hindsight we had a lot to learn about,” Wafer says. “There’s a lot of information out there from people who have been doing it for a while so we’ve been paying attention to that. Obviously things like the play sessions, the core loops, the cycles, are shorter... You have to make an experience that someone can have in five minutes or less. And have that experience multiple times a day, wherever they are, whether it’s a business show floor or in the queue for coffee. That’s basically the main difference as opposed to ‘I’m going to go home tonight and at 7 o’clock after dinner I’m going to play on my console for 2h’.” However, Pixel Toys wanted to be sure that its game stood out and Wafer insists once again about how high production values are at the core of everything they do. “Some people do casual games, we invest into bigger products that take longer to make, bigger teams, which means more expense. Arguably both strategies have risk but we’re making rich 3D games, that’s what we do, that’s what we know how to do.” He continues: “For me personally, making a great game that people play is really rewarding, especially when there are hundreds of thousands games around the world. That’s one of the reasons we started the company because you can’t get that playerbase on consoles. “We know how to make console-style games but I think you can embrace a mobile business model while still producing great-looking rich experiences.”
“We wanted to bring console production values and fidelity to mobile.”
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Realm War, which released in September, is full 3D and Pixel Toys really wanted to push the boundaries of mobile development. “The goal was to push the [graphics] as far as we could go and we got to work with the new [Apple] hardware as well, a little bit earlier, in order to do that,” Wafer explains. “But I think with this game as well we definitely try to push the technology, incorporating a lot of software and hardware technologies. For example, there’s a whole bunch of ARKit 2 features, which released for the new iOS 12 version. “Freeblade was a single player experience whereas this has been designed to be a realtime PvP experience from the ground up so we had to develop gameplay and technology around that initially before we could even build the game on top.”
Pictured above, from top: CEO Andrew Wafer and marketing director David Solari from Pixel Toys
THE BIGGER THEY COME Regardless of the project, working on any Warhammer licence brings some similar challenges, such as having to recreate actual physical miniatures on screen. “With Freeblade, it hadn’t been a game before. So those things had never been animated before,” Wafer recalls. “So it was actually very interesting to work with Games Workshop, with the creators of the Imperial Knights [of which a Freeblade is a type of] to talk about their thoughts about how they would move, collaborating on the weight behind it, rather than our animators just inventing it. In that game, because the Imperial Knight units’ huge scale, a lot of time you’re
fighting very big creatures and monsters and those creatures haven’t featured heavily in video games before. So it was quite interesting to bring those to life.” Freeblade was the basis for parts of Pixel Toys’ approach to Realm War, including it’s free-to-play model, as the team realised premium would not be manageable even with the huge Warhammer fanbase. “In fact, all the mobile games we’ve released are freeto-play,” Wafer says. “Freeblade we initially [thought] of as a premium game back in 2014. But after 18 months of development, it became clear to us that if we were going to make it work commercially, we were going to have to make it free-to-play. “So we actually converted the game in the last few months to free-to-play. Which was definitely the right decision. We took the licence on the basis that there’s an audience there, and if you make something that’s good then people will be happy to spend money on it. “But I think it became clear in 2014/2015 that that business model is not viable. Even for a huge franchise like Warhammer – there is a market there but if we wanted to get millions of people playing the game…” he smiles. Luckily for Pixel Toys, free-to-play was definitely the right approach as Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Realm War has met both commercial and critical success since its release. We can only hope that the studio will continue its partnership with Games Workshop, as the mobile market is definitely in need of more of these high production values titles.
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WhenWeMade... Moonlighter Marie Dealessandri takes a look behind the scenes at the development of Moonlighter. Digital Sun’s founder Javier Giménez details the challenges of having a main character who is both a shopkeeper and an adventurer, talks on the importance of prototyping and why aspiring devs shouldn’t forget that creating games is also a business
Pictured above: Javier Giménez, CEO of Digital Sun
THE story of Moonlighter is one that many developers should take note of. If only because Spanish developer Digital Sun did all the right things to ensure its game would make it to market, despite only being a young studio-for-hire when it all began. From implementing players feedback, to reaching out to a publisher to help with the marketing aspects, to how pre-production matters and why you shouldn’t announce your game too early, founder and CEO Javier Giménez gives valuable insights into the dos and don’ts of indie development. “Moonlighter was our first original game,” Giménez tells MCV. “The company started as a service company. We are not your typical indie studio, we are a little larger. We are 30 people right now and for a little more than five years we have been developing mobile games, advert games, sample PC games for other people. I think we have done about 60 projects, many of them very small so, yes, Moonlighter is our first original game but we already had the experience and the team that came from being an outsourcing company.” While the studio is bigger than what we usually expect from an indie developer, the team working on Moonlighter comprised only six people on average. And there’s a good reason for that: it started as a side-project when the team was not working on other people’s products.
“We knew we wanted to build our own games, it’s what we dreamt of. So we used to do prototypes when we had time between projects,” Giménez starts explaining. “We did several but Moonlighter was the first idea that we really believed had something special, we felt that it could be a good game and that we could be good at developing it. So we started dedicating more time into it and, as it evolved, it became more interesting. “Eventually we did a Kickstarter, which was quite successful. We raised $134,000 and we were asking for $40,000 so that was much better than we expected. It gave us a lot of confidence, so we reinforced the team and decided to look for a publisher. We talked to several and found 11-bits Studios. So it was a story of starting a side project and slowly taking it more and more seriously... It was like a like a snowball effect!” It’s interesting that, having successfully Kickstarted the project, Digital Sun decided to go for a publisher when a lot of indie developers take the self-publishing route. But it was very much an informed decision. “In our case, 11-bit didn’t fund Moonlighter, we funded the game ourselves. But we thought that we needed a publisher for their expertise, to start relations, PR, marketing, bringing the game to events... We needed to partner up with a publisher for that and it was a good decision. We’re super happy that we did it,” Giménez says.
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He argues that indies or aspiring developers should pay more attention to the business side of things when looking to put their passion project on the market. “Many young studios lack the business skills. It’s very good if you are creating video games out of passion and not doing this for the money. We are not in it for the money. We love creating video games. But you need to pay attention to it. Any studio is a business in the end and you need to pay people, you need to make sure that your game is going to generate enough so you can continue to do more games. And I think that many teams, they may have excellent programmers, designers and artists but many lack someone who deals with the business side of things and that’s important.” TWO-FACE Moonlighter, which first released on PS4, Xbox One and PC in May before its Switch launch last month, gave an interesting twist to your typical roguelike: the player still fights through procedurally-generated dungeons, but during the day they’re just a regular shopkeeper. Or rather main character Will is, as he tries to both fulfil his family’s wish of seeing him running their shop in Rynoka and his own dream of becoming a hero. Giménez mentions Rogue Legacy and The Binding of Isaac as core influences for the roguelike elements of the gameplay and Harvest Moon as an inspiration for the management part of it. In terms of art, Giménez mentions The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap and Hyper Light Drifter, for its “very modern pixel art.” That’s a wide array of inspirations, and there were challenges in balancing the different aspects of the game, Giménez says. “Moonlighter has two distinctive cores. The dungeon and combat part, and the shopkeeping and trading part. So we wanted to make those two cores blend together and synergise with each other,” he starts explaining. “It was quite hard to balance the game because we wanted gold to be the core of it. You cannot progress in the game if you are not a good shopkeeper, if you don’t have gold. So there is no experience system or anything like that. It generates some trouble when you want to balance the game because you use gold for everything: so if you give the player too much gold the game is going be too easy and if you give the player too little gold then the game is going to feel very grindy and you need to do the same things over and over.” However, Digital Sun managed to find a sweet spot that both the team and players seem to be happy with. “I think it’s one of the things that turned out pretty well because we were always trying to make the player think about the shop when they were in the dungeons and
vice versa. When you are in the shop we wanted the players to be thinking: ‘How do I make gold so I can get equipment to be better at the dungeons?’. So that way the game felt like a whole with two sides where each side had the other one in mind. “When you’re in the dungeon you are like: ‘Okay, is this item something I want to sell or I want to use to craft?’. So you’re not thinking about killing enemies, you’re thinking about the loot and how you’re going to use it back in the town. So we had this idea of these two cores of the game really blending together and I believe that’s one of the things that did work out pretty well.” It definitely worked out pretty well based on the game’s success – a success in which the Kickstarter backers were instrumental on many levels. “We gave our backers early access to a very early build of the game and we received a lot of feedback from them,” Giménez says, before elaborating on the impact of these comments. “Most of them were super useful and I would say we changed a lot of details of the system and added things they expected more of.” The team continued to listen to its players well after launch too, Giménez continues. “We have been quite busy after the release. There are actually more people working on Moonlighter now than ever. We have released updates and we still have probably two more to come. We have added new mechanics, we have balanced the stock, we have added more secondary elements even to the story – things like familiars, new game plus, more weapons. We’re going to add mini bosses... A lot of things that we wanted to have in the game but didn’t have the time to do. Since the game was successful, we can now invest in improving the game and expand it.” Giménez tells us that Digital Sun will continue to support the title for “half a year or more” though it’s not a set date: “Overall it will be like ten or twelve months of development after release,” he says. “We are already working on other projects in parallel. Moonlighter was developed by about six, seven people but we are about 30 so we can work on another project in parallel. We want to be a multi-game studio.” We naturally ask him if we can know more about the studio’s upcoming projects. “Not really,” he laughs. “Because the thing is if you say that you’re working on something and you cancel it, you’re going to frustrate a lot of people. So we’d rather not announce anything until we are really really sure that the game is going to be available,” he adds, incidentally giving good advice to indie studios who’ve already launched one successful title to market and who’d be keen to announce their next project as soon as possible.
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Pictured above: Moonlighter’s two cores, of exploring and running a shop, mean you’re always thinking about the impact on the other aspect while playing
“We prefer to be cautious about it but I can just say that our intention is to work on several projects at the same time. All of them as good as we can produce, mid-size games, nothing too large,” he adds. TAKE YOUR TIME With Moonlighter having done very well commercially and critically, Giménez is now looking back at its development for lessons to apply to these next projects. “I think we would do more pre-production,” he explains. “It’s that phase of the project where you set the foundations of the game, you prototype the ideas that you’re designing to see if they work well, and we didn’t have a lot of that because the project started very small. It started growing but as it advanced we never stopped and said: ‘Look we really need to prototype these systems and make sure they work together’. It was a little like improvising; we made things as we go. And I think that some of the downsides to Moonlighter were the results of that. “So if I were to do it again I would start by prototyping everything and making sure we have all the concepts, mechanics and design elements in place and then start the production of the game. I think that would probably result in a better Moonlighter.” When asked for other pieces of advice he could give to aspiring developers, Giménez says it’s a tough question and pauses for a second before saying:
“Creating video games, creating good video games, is very hard. I think no one should underestimate it. It’s true that access to game development has been much easier recently because of all these new engines and that’s great. There’s a lot of creativity going on but it’s a super hard thing. So anyone who aspires to be a developer of good video games... You need to take your job very seriously, work very hard and probably have experience.” Though it’s true that making a video game has never been easier, that abundance of indie titles is also what makes it so difficult to breakthrough. Aspiring devs should take their time, Giménez reckons, before going head down into their passion project straight away. “I see that, at least in Spain, there are many indie teams who are starting to work on their own games straight out of college. And sometimes that does not work very well because they are maybe too young and they don’t pay attention to the business side of things. They simply don’t have the experience. They tend to fall in love with the first idea that they have and work on that for three or four years – when they maybe don’t have the experience or the skills yet. “So I would advise them to not underestimate how hard creating good video games is. Try to really build your skills before you work on your own stuff, work for other people or create a lot of small games, participate in a lot of jams and don’t be too ambitious.”
“Many young studios lack the business skills. It’s very good if you are creating video games out of passion and not doing this for the money. We are not in it for the money. But you need to pay attention to it.”
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AI and games Future (im)perfect by Dr Tommy Thompson
As AI becomes increasingly important in games, its future lies in AR and procedural generation of in-game narrative, though the increasing scale and complexity of games is a challenge it’ll have to tackle
Pictured top: Augmented reality platforms such as Magic Leap present exciting opportunities for AI tools to build interactive gameplay experiences
THE past six months of this segment have been something of a crash course on the state of artificial intelligence in the games industry. The future isn’t an easy thing to predict, but I’m going to try anyway! What are the new technologies that may become more pervasive in gaming – from development tools to end-user experiences – and the challenges these will bring along the way? One potentially huge avenue for AI applications is through augmented reality (AR) games. The likes of Magic Leap are actively working on AI systems for characters with real-time environmental awareness and natural language processing. Resulting in game experiences that are customised to fit your world and react to your input – which are two huge tasks in and of themselves. This natural language processing is also paramount for procedural generation of in-game narrative – a technology Bossa Studios among others is exploring. Rather than the traditional route of narrative construction, whereby designers and writers formulate a handful of possible story paths for a given quest or plotline, the expectation is to build the space of narrative possibilities. Players may all start and end their story in the same place, but the journey itself becomes increasingly more varied. This adds to the existing challenges and risks faced for generative tools that games such as No Man’s Sky have already faced: selling a core gameplay experience where – even after extensive testing – you may not have exhaustively discovered all outcomes.
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But besides all the cool use-cases, the undeniable challenge moving forward is the scale and complexity of the games now being produced, many of which are multi-year multi-studio efforts. Building these experiences is becoming increasingly more complex especially for non-player character or experience-management AI. This is a critical avenue for tools in publicly available engines to better support developers. Unreal Engine 4 is the best for classical AI techniques such as behaviour trees and navigation systems. Sadly, Unity’s exciting adoption of machine learning doesn’t address the critical problem that their AI tool offering is very poor – where I often need to reinvent wheels for clients before the real work can begin. I’m excited that machine learning tools are being integrated into a commercial engine but right now it’s more a toy aimed at research teams rather than a pragmatic solution for developers. But one area that developers can look to use these AI tools is to better foster automated testing and development. Sadly, crunch culture and poor working practices have dominated headlines in 2018. But among all this is the success story of Sea of Thieves, where developers Rare adopted the UE4 AI tools alongside traditional software testing to build a robust code management system. The Sea of Thieves codebase has numerous tests whereby AI-simulated players are used to better streamline QA and minimise the number of critical bugs leaking into the code base. In short, AI is not only here to stay, but will become an increasingly prominent factor in game design and development. Over time this will become the norm, but how long that takes is hard to tell. The past 15 years have seen rapid adoption of some technologies, yet reluctance in others. But the one thing that has changed is the range of possibility: games are better framed to exploit AI now more than ever. It’s time for us to think about how we can work smarter, not harder, in the coming years.
“AI-simulated players are used to better streamline QA and minimise the number of critical bugs leaking into the code base.”
Pictured below: Procedural generation will continue to be a big feature in games ranging from Dead Cells to No Man’s Sky, but managing those experiences – and player expectations – is an issue still to be addressed
Pictured above: There is still plenty of potential for AI to better improve how we make our games, with Rare sailing ahead with their automated testing framework in Sea of Thieves
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IncomeStream The numbers, stats and market stories that matter and why they do
Has the industry ﬁnally conquered Black Friday? With many big hitters sensibly shifting their releases forward to avoid Red Dead Redemption 2 this year, the industry largely steered well clear of the sale event. Intentional or not, it seemed to do the trick, with plenty of titles benefiting from boosted sales but without the outcries of previous years when titles were heavily discounted soon after release. GOING IN HARD Black Friday boosted sales of almost every title in the Top 40 that week. FIFA 19 was propelled back to No.1 with a 177 per cent boost in sales week-on-week and Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 also gained five spots to No.2, with sales going up an impressive 360 per cent. Forza Horizon 4 also had a great week, with sales rising 535 per cent week-on-week and charting at No.5, while Spider-Man saw the biggest increase of that week: a whopping 634 per cent rise. Sony’s hit gained seven spots and re-entered the Top Ten at No.6. Red Dead Redemption 2 also benefited from Black Friday, to a lesser extent. It wasn’t discounted but was bundled with PS4, which resulted in a 36 per cent increase in sales. While discounts helped drive many sales, another big common factor here is hardware bundles. And that’s exactly where the industry as a whole should benefit from Black Friday, in hardware rather than software. It’s a perfect time to put yet more consoles into consumer hands as we’ll reach the sales pinnacle of this console generation over the next 12 months. Overall, the UK retail market was slightly down compared to last year’s Black Friday period: software sales were down 7.4 per cent year-on-year in units and 3.5 per cent in value. SLOG OF WAR With Black Friday madness upon retailers, Battlefield V’s launch almost went almost unnoticed. Sales for this new entry were down 63.4 per cent compared to Week One sales for 2016’s Battlefield 1. That game launched in October, so didn’t have to compete with Black Friday. But our gut tells us that it’s EA’s increasing focus on digital subscriptions that’s equally culpable.
PRE ORDER TOP 5 TW
01 02 03 04 05
PlayStation Classic Super Smash Bros. Ultimate + Steelbook (Switch) Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Limited Edition (Switch) Just Cause 4 (PS4) Just Cause 4 (Xbox One)
Publisher Sony Nintendo Nintendo Square Enix Square Enix
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UK CHARTS OCTOBER (UNITS)
RED DEAD REDEMPTION 2 PUBLISHER: ROCKSTAR (TAKE-TWO)
TM LM Title 02 NEW Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 03 01 FIFA 19 04 NEW Assassin’s Creed Odyssey 05 NEW Forza Horizon 4 06 02 Marvel’s Spider-Man 07 NEW Super Mario Party 08 NEW WWE 2K19 09 03 Shadow of the Tomb Raider 10 04 Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy
Publisher Activision Blizzard EA Ubisoft Microsoft Sony Nintendo Take-Two Square Enix Activision Blizzard
Source: GfK, Period: September 30th to October 27th
Red Dead record Rockstar’s cowboy epic has had truly epic reach. Parent company Take-Two revealed that the game sold a massive 17m copies worldwide in just under two weeks. The firm said that the title had “exceeded its sales expectations” and that it had sold more units in its first eight days than the original game had sold in its first eight years. With the online component set to launch as we go to press, the game looks set to grow and grow.
Mega Evolve! Pokémon Let’s Go - Nintendo Bright and colourful games, with a retro twist, roared into the charts this month in the form of both Spyro Reignited Trilogy and Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee. While Spyro technically took the top spot in its launch week, the combined sales of the two Pokémon SKUs meant they were the bigger release. Nintendo soon announced 3m copies had been sold worldwide in one week. And that’s despite it appearing to have some understandable stock issues on versions with the bundled Poké Ball controllers. As the first Pokémon game on Switch it’s very hard to compare launch sales with any other title. They were 60 per cent down on Sun and Moon, but then the 3DS had a huge comparative install base at that point.
200m New Year’s Nite The numbers attached to Fortnite just keep on getting more ridiculous as it spreads around the world. As we reported recently, US spend may be plateauing, but following its recent South Korean launch, the game now has 200m registered players and hit an alltime high of 8.3m concurrents. To celebrate the end of what can only be called ‘the year of Fortnite’, top streamer Ninja will host a 12hour livestream from New York’s Time Square to usher in what is likely to be another bumper year.
Into the wasteland Fallout 76 - Bethesda Fallout 76 looks to have had a rough launch. It only debuted at No.3 in the weekly charts on release with sales down a massive 82 per cent compared to its predecessor, Fallout 4, back in 2015. Bethesda’s online-only title isn’t a straight sequel of course and may well have tended heavily to digital sales. As with The Elder Scrolls Online, the real test will be in the long term, but for retailers looking for a repeat of the colossal last entry in the franchise, it’s a big loss. The reception with fans didn’t go much better, with numerous bugs leading to the community team making an apology and promising better communication in the future.
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The Final Boss Every month an industry leader wraps up MCV with their unique insight
You’ll have been at Creative Assembly for ten years next month, congratulations! What’s your fondest memory to date? Can I pick three? The release of Alien: Isolation is possibly my single happiest Creative Assembly (CA) memory over the past ten years. It was a passion project with a purpose, and at the time it felt as though everything was against us. To see it well received and still now referred to as a great game makes the difficult times worthwhile. The five-year journey of making that game covered every element of fear, suspense and success against overwhelming odds that the game itself contains. Secondly, I would pick the making of Total War: Warhammer. The team, the content and our relationship with Games Workshop were a culmination of all that is good in Total War’s evolution. Seeing the grand beasts of Warhammer stomp over the Total War battleground, where only humans had been before, was really exciting. And thirdly, it was during a recent visit to Shenzen in China. Looking out from the 30th floor of a hotel over one of the most vibrant places in the world and realising that CA has opened so many doors to new experiences for me personally. Can the industry possibly change as much over the next ten years as it has over the last ten? I hope it does. The fun in making games for me is both the difficult balance of design vs engineering, and the ever changing technical and business challenges. However, I would like to see games, and the teams that make them, a little better understood in the mainstream. We’re getting there, and successes like Fortnite help with that. I heard someone refer to gamers in a generic way as ‘Fortnite people’ the other day. But I do wish we were seen as more culturally relevant, in the same way as film, TV and books. With the greatest respect to your current role, what is your dream job? I come from a programming background, and I miss the focus and logic of that. In my first job I confidently stated I had great C++ experience, and then desperately had to learn it in the week before I started. In my first week I had to write a graphics driver. My new boss confidently said: ‘Well, just try, you can’t do any damage’. I blew two CRTs up that first week, smoke came out of the back of them. I think that’s when people started considering my management abilities ahead of my programming ones! CA’s core output is pretty time-consuming stuff, do you find time to play your own games, let alone anyone else’s? Of course, I play our own games and I try to play all the big releases as well. Spider-Man and RDR2 have been providing a lot of fun recently. But nowadays my nephews come around and ask: ‘Do you want a go Uncle Tim?’ and I have to decline rather than show them how rubbish I am. Being in the industry doesn’t actually make you better at these games!
Tim Heaton Studio director at Creative Assembly and EVP of Sega Studios “I blew two CRTs up that first week, smoke came out of the back of them.”
Traditionally, development studios work in something of a bubble – are there benefits to that or is it always something to fight against? Development studios are often quite autonomous and because of that they develop very particular personalities and quirks. Even the four studios across Sega West – CA, Sports Interactive, Relic and Amplitude – have strong and very different personalities. At CA we’re very craft-led and focused on attention to detail. I think these values have come from both the people we recruit and because of the games we make. These personalities allow certain kinds of creativity to flower and that’s something we try to encourage every day. Equally there is so much to learn and to share that we do try and raise our heads and look out a bit. GDC is a great way of seeing areas of the industry and triggering debate. More and more, we are sharing ideas across not only the internal Sega studios but with a widening set of other independent studios.
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