MCV April 2018

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05 The Editor

We are a people business

06 Critical Path

The key dates this month

10 IRL

The MCV Awards, in pictures

12 Rising Star

Megan Rice talks production

16 Ganked

Birmingham callng

20 The UK Skills Gap

What are the industry’s must-have skills?

What is company culture in games?


26 Company Culture 31 Ins and Outs

And our regular recruitment section

38 NIS America


NIS is betting big on the Switch

40 Big Interview

How Sega is delivering for its studios

44 God of War


Sony talks about marketing a reboot

48 Splash Damage

We visit the developers in Bromley

52 GameMaker Studio

On GMS2’s success and its future

56 Creative England

How Creative England can help devs

58 Italian Games Awards

We chat to the winners of the event

60 Ustwo Games

Dan Gray on new IPs and publishing

74 When We Made...



Polyarc’s PSVR debut Moss

80 Mechanically Sound

GoldenEye’s multiplayer

82 The Final Boss

Amiqus business manager Liz Prince

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“MCV’s collective body was struck down by a pernicious and persistent virus.”

TheEditor We’re a people business It’s been a tough month at MCV – I actually woke up in the middle of last night worrying about finishing up this issue – and I’ve been hitting regular immovable deadlines, be they daily, weekly or monthly, for most of my adult life. The reason was that MCV’s collective body was struck down by a pernicious and persistent virus – which seemed to propagate itself off the back of the MCV Awards (though we partly blame all the Jägerbombs) and continued to plague us right through GDC. This is a people business and we’re all only human – except possibly for MCV’s tirelessly efficient Marie, who might just be something better – for the rest of us mere mortals it’s worth remembering how unpredictably fragile we can be when scheduling our team’s workloads for the next project. In this month’s MCV we explore the human aspect of the games industry, we talk to numerous new starters about their roles, look into the growing UK’s skills gap in development, and investigate the nebulous concept of company culture and values. Speaking of company values, it looks like Facebook has taken its ‘Be Open’ ideal a little far. The wider fallout of the Cambridge Analytica scandal looks to be far reaching and, with the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR for short) taking effect on May 25th, now is very much the time to take a long hard look at what personal data you have and what you do with it – both in terms of the spirit and the letter of the law. Let’s be careful out there people. And speaking of data, around the time you read this the deadline will be passing for Gender Pay Gap data. Hardly any UK company has come out of this well to date, and though there aren’t a huge number of games companies with over 250 employees in the UK, it’s likely the data will provide another wake up call, this time for the industry as a whole. Which brings me nicely onto next month’s big event, our Women in Games Awards on Friday, May 11th. Nominations are now closed but get in touch if your business wants to get involved in supporting greater diversity in our industry. Seth Barton

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April 5th-15th

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

April 27th

London Games Festival 2018 After a very successful 2017 edition gathering over 50,000 people across 40 different events in 20 venues, the London Games Festival is coming back bigger than ever in 2018. This year’s edition will take place from April 5th to April 15th and organiser Games London will bring back its Games Finance Market for the third time, from April 10th to April 12th. The cosplay parade and the Now Play This festival will also be coming back, alongside a new event called HUB. This two-day B2B event will house the festival’s summits, a demo zone for prototypes and startups, a pop-up coworking space and the Ensemble exhibition, showcasing the work of eight BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic) games industry creatives.

April 20th

April 17th

God of War Sony Santa Monica Studio’s highly awaited God of War is hitting shelves this April, distributed by CentreSoft. This new entry in the beloved franchise is taking a new direction, this time being based on Norse mythology.

Turn to page 44 to learn more

Nintendo Labo Nintendo’s DIY experience Labo releases at the end of the month, with three kits available at launch.The Variety Kit includes six Toy-Cons, while a Robot Kit will allow players to build a cool robot suit and control it on-screen by moving in real life. A Customisation Set will also be available.

Yakuza 6: The Song of Life Having released in Japan in late 2016, PS4 exclusive Yakuza 6: The Song of Life launches worldwide this April, courtesy of distributor Koch Media in the UK. It will get a collector’s edition, the After Hours Premium Edition.

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April 12th BAFTA The annual British Academy Games Awards will take place on April 12th at Troxy in London, with a brand new category this year: the Game Beyond Entertainment award. This new accolade “recognises games that deliver a transformational experience beyond pure entertainment,” the announcement said. Dara O’Briain (pictured) will return as host for the eighth time. The ceremony will be live streamed for the first time on more than a dozen platforms, in partnership with IGN.

April 13th-15th

April 13th

EGX Rezzed Indie-focused showcase EGX Rezzed is coming back to the Tobacco Dock as part of the London Games Festival for another year of keynotes, opportunities to get hands-on with the latest games and more. On the Friday, the Developer Sessions will welcome Double Fine’s Tim Schafer, who will talk about his 30-year-long career. As always, hundreds of games will be playable across the three days, and career fairs will be organised, including the returning Ukie careers bar.

Darkest Dungeon: Ancestral Edition Red Hook Studios partnered with Merge Games to bring Darkest Dungeon to retail for PS4 and Switch. Distributed by Advantage, this Ancestral Edition includes both the base game and all expansions.

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We’re Playing... Facebook/MCVUK

CONTENT Editor: Seth Barton, +44 (0)203 871 7388 Content editor - development: Jem Alexander, +44 (0)203 871 7379 Content editor - business and esports: Jake Tucker, +44 (0)207 354 6009 Senior Staff Writer: Marie Dealessandri, +44 (0)203 889 4910 Content Director: James McKeown, +44 (0)207 354 6015 Designer: Sam Richwood Digital Director: Diane Oliver, +44 (0)207 354 6019 Production Executive: James Marinos, +44 (0)203 889 4907

ADVERTISING SALES Sales Manager: Sophia Jaques +44 207 354 6025

SUBSCRIBER CUSTOMER SERVICE To subscribe, change your address, or check on your current account status, go to or email

After a lifetime of throwing cars sideways around tracks from Daytona to Laguna Seca, Nürburgring to Rainbow Road, this month I finally got a real driving licence and discovered that the school run on a rainy Wednesday is more challenging than them all.

I’m currently making a career as a Gold Hoarder in Sea of Thieves, though I have to be a solo pirate cause Jem is too busy obsessing over Dark Souls to be my pirate friend and hunt treasure chests with me. Also I started Skyrim again because I’m an idiot. Marie Dealessandri, Senior Staff Writer

This month I’ve been blocking out Jem’s Dark Souls ravings by getting stuck into EA’s Burnout Paradise remaster. Sure, purists might tell you it’s not the best Burnout, but they can eat exhaust as I drive away listening to N.E.R.D’s Rockstar. Dark Souls III, Dark Souls III, Dark Souls III, Dark Souls III, Dark Souls III, Dark Souls III, Dark Souls III, Dark Souls III, Dark Souls III, Dark Souls III, Dark Souls III, Dark Souls III, Dark Souls III, Dark Souls III, Dark Souls III, Dark Souls III, Dark Souls III, Dark Souls III...

Jake Tucker, Content editor business and esports

Jem Alexander, Content editor

Seth Barton, Editor

ARCHIVES Digital editions of the magazine are available to view on Recent back issues of the printed edition may be available please contact lwilkie@ for more information.

REPRINTS / PERMISSIONS All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or any information storage or retrieval system without the express prior written consent of the publisher.

Paws the game The best furry friends the games industry has to offer. Send in yours to

Managing Director: Mark Burton Financial Controller: Ranjit Dhadwal Events and Marketing Director: Caroline Hicks Head of Operations: Stuart Moody HR Director: Lianne Davey Audience Development: Lucy Wilkie Printed by Pensord Press Ltd, NP12 2YA ISSN number: 1469-4832 © Copyright 2018

NewBay is a member of the Periodical Publishers Association NewBay Media, The Emerson Building, 4th Floor, 4-8 Emerson Street, London SE1 9DU

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Pet name: Brambles Owner’s name: Bethany Aston Owner’s job: PR and events manager at Team17

Pet name: Ronnie and Toto Owner’s name: David ‘Bone’ Gill Owner’s job: Lead UI engineer at Foundry 42

Pet name: Peach, Panda and Pipsqueak Owner’s name: Darryl Still Owner’s job: CEO at Kiss Ltd

Despite appearances, Brambles isn’t actually a lion, but a lab/ retriever cross. Also does a mean Commander Shepard cosplay.

These rescue cats love to pester anyone using a laptop. Working from home? Not with Ronnie and Toto around you aren’t...

This trio of pomeranian pups are so fluffy they can’t even fit in the same photo together. Bonus p-p-points for alliterative names.

29/03/2018 16:24


The organisers at Develop:Brighton 2018 have released an initial list of speakers for the conference this year – don’t forget MCV readers get ten per cent off Super Early Bird tickets until April 25th



THE initial round of speakers for Develop:Brighton 2018 has now been revealed and it’s looking like another great line-up of sessions for 2018. The full list is available on the event’s website, where you’ll find a wide range of speakers, including representatives from Frontier Developments, Creative Assembly, Sony London Studio and Chucklefish Games. This year, the full conference will take place over three days, from July 10th to 12th. Super Early Bird tickets are now available and MCV readers can get an extra ten per cent off the price by using the code IUFIIW at checkout. With so many strong sessions across the event’s different tracks, it’s already going to be difficult to decide what takes priority. You can find some highlights from the itinerary below, which might help you make up your mind. Keep an eye out for more session announcements in the run up to the show in July. Enhancing Your Game’s AI using Unity Machine Learning Agents (1) ALESSIA NIGRETTI,


UNITY TECHNOLOGIES This session focuses on the implementation of Unity Machine Learning Agents API – no prior knowledge is required. Developing New Storytelling Formats (2) BRADLEY CROOKS, BBC STUDIOS

Crooks will be talking about how new technology channels, and particularly

VR, are opening up opportunities for content makers to develop new formats for storytelling. In Plain English: How to Create and Scale Your Mobile Free-to-Play Game (3) DAVID AMOR, MAG INTERACTIVE

This session focuses on Amor’s journey moving from console studios to mobile F2P games, including best practice for current and future games.


Cryptocurrency in Gaming: Today and Tomorrow (4) ALEX AMSEL, FIG

This session focuses on the growth of cryptocurrency, blockchain technology and how developers can use this new phenomenon for their next game project.


World of Tanks: Mixed Reality for R&D, Marketing and PR (5) MATT DALY, WARGAMING

Find out how Wargaming (World of Tanks) uses mixed reality for research, development, marketing and PR.


Rami & Mike One on One

(6) RAMI ISMAIL, VLAMBEER AND (7) MIKE BITHELL, BITHELL GAMES This intimate fireside chat will let Ismail and Bithell discuss their experiences over the last few years, tell you what pitfalls to avoid and discuss what they think about the future. It should be a great session, from two successful indie developers.


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Real life events from the industry We’d like to thank everyone who attended the MCV Awards 2018 last month and contributed to making it such a success. Congratulations to all the winners for an amazing year in the UK games industry, we’ll see you all next year!

“We’ve been truly honoured to have so many fantastic games launched on Nintendo’s Switch basically every five to six weeks – because of that we haven’t left the office. So it’s really nice to come to the MCV Awards and actually meet up with our peers and celebrate the fantastic industry that we work in.” Chandra Nair, Nintendo Europe

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 Gamer Network MARKETING TEAM OF THE YEAR (sponsored by OPM)
PlayStation UK CREATIVE AGENCY OF THE YEAR Attention Seekers SALES TEAM OF THE YEAR Ubisoft UK NEW GAMES IP OF THE YEAR (sponsored by Green Man Gaming)
 Horizon Zero Dawn by Guerrilla Games GAMING CAMPAIGN OF THE YEAR (under £500k budget)
 Xbox UK for PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds GAMING CAMPAIGN OF THE YEAR (over £500k budget)
 Nintendo UK for Nintendo Switch PR AGENCY OF THE YEAR Indigo Pearl IN-HOUSE PR TEAM OF THE YEAR Ubisoft UK

“It’s always good fun to catch up with those that you only see once a year; some have got beards now! Everyone’s looking very good, so we will never lose that as an industry. But it’s been a really good night. We’ve won best indie publisher at Curve so we will remember this night for a long time to come.” Simon Byron, Curve Digital




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Rising Star Megan Rice, Project Manager, OMUK

I’ve struggled a lot with people judging me based on my age or gender rather than my experience. Starting so early has given me tons of experience in different areas but it can be overlooked because of your age or gender and that is wildly frustrating. While things are getting better, we still have a long way to go. Learning the value you bring to something is important and it will give you the power to push back. What do you enjoy most about your job? The variety. I get to meet so many amazing people in my job: actors, directors and game developers alike and we create all sorts of interesting content. I love being able to enable and collaborate with creative people. My job is a constant adventure exploring stories and characters which is one of the things I truly love about games.

IN her four years in the industry Megan Rice has worked across the industry in a variety of roles, including as business development executive at Ukie, while also developing an addiction to Gwent. How did you break into games? I studied Game Art at DeMontfort University but it turns out I didn’t have what it takes to be an artist; I’m far too impatient. However, I attended a lot of industry events and spoke to a lot of lovely people who gave me my first chance. I got my first job as a studio assistant at Bossa Studios in my third year and worked my way up from there. I’m a super keen learner so I picked up every odd job I could and learnt all about the industry from the inside. Trying out different jobs helped me forge a path forward. What is your proudest achievement so far? Running and growing the Ukie students programme. When I realised being an artist was

“Being a young woman in the industry can be seriously tough at times.” not going to be my path I really struggled finding my way, so being able to help others and give them some hints, tips and guidance is a really rewarding experience. Running the conferences was particularly fun. The weeks running up to events could be pretty stressful but watching it all come together and seeing what the students took away from it was the best feeling. What’s been your biggest challenge to date? Honestly, stereotypes. Being a young woman in the industry can be seriously tough at times.

What’s your big ambition in games? I’d really like to have a big impact on work practices in the industry. We’re all pretty guilty of overworking ourselves and burnout, which is seriously bad for our health. I really believe in looking after one another and the people you work with. We are all super passionate about what we do but we need to appreciate that people need a break to take care of themselves and find a healthy balance. Going forward I’d like to think all the projects I look after will promote a healthy working attitude. Happy creatives make better work so if I could have a wider impact on that, that would be awesome. What advice would you give to someone trying to get into project management? Work hard, be nice and get out there. There’s so much opportunity in the games industry right now you just have to recognise it and be open to it. I was dead set on a particular title or job when I was first starting out, but I have been super lucky to try different jobs and responsibilities. If I hadn’t given those roles a chance I’d never be where I am now, so take a chance and try different things, you might just find your dream job. Oh and learn Microsoft Excel, it will be your best friend.

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Clicking into place Seth Barton talks to new deputy CEO Greg Whalley about his move to Click Entertainment and its plans for the future

Pictured from top: Click Entertainment’s Greg Whalley and Kevin Young


lick Entertainment is well known to UK retailers as a major distributor of consoles, video games and accessories – and an MCV Awards finalist. Its UK base is in Croydon but that’s just part of a wider network of warehouses around the world. The company recently made two senior additions to its team. Greg Whalley, its new deputy CEO, previously headed up commercial development at Koch Media, while Kevin Young, now purchasing manager, comes over from Creative Distribution. The company is still looking for a national account manager as well. With all this change afoot, we thought it was great time to talk to Whalley about the opportunities and pressures of running a modern distributor. Most people will know you from your time at Koch Media, can you outline what your role was there? I was part of Koch Media for 13 years and saw the company evolve and grow over that time. Working with a great team and external partners from retail to publishers, I learnt a great deal in my time there, with most of my years spent in the company’s sales team. For the latter part of my time at Koch, I moved over to the commercial team to manage the relationships with our publishing partners. I had many enjoyable years and worked on some great titles, but the time came for me to explore other opportunities in the industry. You left Koch to join Click Entertainment, why was that and how would you describe your new role? I joined Click Entertainment in mid-February taking on

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the role of deputy CEO. For me this was a step up in leadership and presented new challenges. Building on what is already a strong commercial organisation to ensure further growth will be rewarding. Just over a year ago, Click Entertainment took on a new majority stakeholder, Danish wholesaler Dangaard, who are in turn part of the sizable family owned Fleggaard group. The annual group turnover of €865m is impressive along with sustaining a healthy margin. Click Entertainment sees huge benefits from being part of this group, financially and from the support it gives the organisation. The growth has been exceptional within Click Entertainment and we are forecasting this to continue over the coming years as we grow our ranges within gaming and diversify into other product areas. My role is to lead the talented team on a daily basis to make sure we execute the planned growth, ensuring we have the right strategies in place to adapt to an ever-evolving and challenging marketplace. What challenges do you think the physical sales channel is facing at present? It was good seeing growth in UK boxed software sales for 2017. Switch games performed very well along with the key triple-A titles. However, while there was growth, there are of course challenges ahead for the physical software market as digital continues to grow and space on the High Street for boxed video games continues to shrink. There are pros and cons to both physical and digital purchasing, with many gamers doing a mix of both. Some of the main reasons the consumer will continue to buy physical given the choice are numerous: trade-in value, slow download speeds in many territories, better offers for new releases in a highly competitive retail landscape, some preferring not to share their details and, finally, the power of gifting. Gamers playing individual games for longer due to constant DLC additions also represents a challenge for the physical market as purchases become less frequent than in the past. We all know digital is growing, especially in the mobile and tablet gaming sector, but consoles continue to be successful and we would hope that physical console software sales continue to have a place on the market for a long time to come. How have you found the company culture? I have found the culture at Click Entertainment a great fit for my personality and style. The whole team from commercial, finance, HR, customer services to the warehouse are full of enthusiasm and professionalism on a daily basis. Click is proud of the strong relationships forged with global partners and delivering an exceptional level of service. While our culture is informal, it is professional and great to work with a highly motivated team.

“We will continue to grow, and with that growth will come new processes and development of our systems.” What are you going to bring to Click and how do you plan on expanding and improving the business? I bring with me years of experience in the industry and look forward to being able to adapt this experience to the team at Click Entertainment. We will continue to grow, and with that growth will come new processes and development of our systems. We will evolve in line with the industry and have the flexibility and support from our parent group to achieve this across the globe. Building on the strong company culture will be key to our success as we attract new talent to be part of the Click Entertainment family. Do you think the skillset for your sector has changed much in recent years? The market is evolving and changing every year, but a lot of things remain steady like consoles and accessories, which continue to sell well and are a key strength for Click. Physical software is very much still around and will be for some years to come, although the retail landscape has changed and a lot of what used to be bricks-and-mortar retailers are now online with their own retail sites or selling through various online market places. Offering a product range to suit their needs is a big focus for us this year, being able to supply a large back catalogue of products to help make us a one-stop destination for all our customers. Are you looking for further hires at present? We are always on the lookout for talented individuals who can fit into the company, for example having Kevin Young join us as the purchasing manager in January was a big plus for the company. With Kevin joining the team we will be able to utilise his skills in sourcing stocks from the market and so be able to offer customers that range, and also the price they need. His work for Entertainment UK as a buyer, his time at Square Enix as sales manager, and of course the time spent at Creative Distribution ensures he has the experience and knowledge we need to help continue the excellent offerings. Currently we are on the hunt for a national account manager to focus on our UK business among other roles.

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by Jake Tucker


Birmingham Calling With Birmingham’s ESL One, ESL UK is hoping to put British esports back in the spotlight THAT ESL UK is hosting Dota 2’s first ever UK major, an ESL One event in Birmingham, is a clear statement of intent, and it’s necessary, considering the British esports scene. So strong during the PC golden age for Call of Duty 2 and Modern Warfare, it’s a shadow of its former self. Speaking to MCV, ESL UK’s managing director James Dean said: “I think we showed a lot of promise in the early 2000s, but the UK has been lagging behind a little bit. I think communities are being disenfranchised, there’s been a lack of consistency and I think there’s always been this perception of a fragmented playerbase between PC and console as well.” ESL UK’s mission is two-fold. It wants to put the UK back on the global esports map, planning to follow up ESL One Birmingham with another next year. It also wants to create a decentralised scene for a country where most of the worthwhile events for any industry seem to take place exclusively in London. Birmingham, as the UK’s second largest city, is a fitting home for an ESL One event, as well as being a fair bit cheaper for the incoming Dota 2 fanbase than the capital. Esports has done this all around the world: Dreamhack takes place in the peaceful Swedish city of Jönköping and ESL’s huge IEM Katowice event takes place in the Polish city of Katowice. Both events are huge, generating massive income for any businesses in the surrounding area. If the UK can offer up similarly attractive cities for global esports, we could be seeing serious esports investment in the country. Birmingham has the infrastructure to deal with huge crowds and has transport links to cities across Europe and Asia. Perhaps Birmingham could become England’s first ever esports city and I’d personally be glad I don’t have to get on a plane quite so much to see quality esports action. At this early stage, ESL UK’s faith in Birmingham seems well-placed. The event was sold out within six hours, and ESL named it the fastest selling Dota 2 Major ever. For its sins, ESL UK now has the unenviable task of trying to get chairs moved around to fit even more fans into the arena. But the reward for its efforts could be huge: the world is watching, and if Birmingham shows itself to be a quality venue for esports, there are many more companies that will surely take a chance on it.

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Blizzard pushes back on Pepe memes PEPE the Frog, a cartoon frog co-opted by several video game communities, has fallen out of favour recently, mostly because it’s also been adopted by white nationalists. Speaking to Dot Esports, a spokesperson for the Overwatch League said: “The Overwatch League discourages the use of symbols and imagery which are associated with or used by hate groups, including Pepe the Frog.” This came to public attention after several players, including Jay ‘Sinatraa’ Won, posted and then deleted Pepe meme tweets. While none of the uses were particularly offensive in themselves, the fact that the image is associated with racism has likely caused Blizzard to try and distance itself. Considering the Overwatch League has been rocked by several misbehaving players, it’s a smart move that Blizzard is trying to keep the Overwatch League free of any associations with the alt-right.

the big events eMLS Cup April 5th-8th Boston, US It’s digital soccer time, with a new FIFA 18 league taking place in association with EA Sports at PAX East in Boston. FIFA’s competitive scene is booming right now, and hopefully some of the big names from around the world will be in attendance. FIFA is big business in the UK, forming part of Gfinity’s new structure for the Elite Series, but hasn’t yet had the same success in the US.

April 21st-22nd Sheffield, UK The EGL Gears Open will see 32 of the top Gears of War teams come together to duke it out for a share of $20,000 and 68,000 Gears Pro Points. It’s a double elimination tournament, and Gears is refreshingly unique to nearly every other esport shooter out there.

Hotline Ping THIS month Drake spent a few hours playing Fortnite live on Twitch with popular streamer Tyler ‘Ninja’ Blevins, with the pair’s collaboration drawing in 600,000 viewers. It’s the highest concurrent viewers ever recorded on Twitch, and a fair few more than the previous record of 390,000. Whether or not it was all a press stunt, there’s no denying it’s been massive for business. It earnt Blevins thousands of pounds thanks to the spike of subscriptions and it opened the path for celebrities teaming up with some of Twitch’s biggest stars. Epic Games followed the stream with the announcement of a Fortnite Celebrity Pro-Am that will see celebs and pro players teaming up to battle at E3. This could be a success for the title, as sports storytelling hinges on strong personal stories: Drake and Ninja work because a lot of people have at least a vague idea of who Drake is. The mix of curiosity at whether a celebrity can frag, paired with the popular internet phenomena of celebrities doing regular people things, is a winner.

EGL Gears Open Sheffield

IEM Sydney May 4th-6th Sydney, Australia

Dreamhack Masters Marseille April 21st-22nd Marseille, France

ESL and Intel team up again to bring their Intel Extreme Masters event to Australia. CS:GO returns to Sydney’s Olympic Park, and it should be a great tournament, coming just a few weeks after Dreamhack’s Marseille Masters. With luck, we’ll see Fnatic and FaZe clash down under, following up their memorable battle from IEM Katowice.

It’s a big weekend for esports – 16 CS:GO teams will be fighting it out for the title of Marseille 2018 champions, which comes with the lions share of a £250,000 prize pool. Winners will join the exclusive club of former champions: Ninjas in Pyjamas, Virtus.Pro and G2 Esports. Will FaZe continue their recent streak of form?

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20 years

in business









PQube squared PQube is in the middle of a recruitment spree. After all, growing 30 per cent year-on-year means there’s a lot of extra work that needs doing. MCV talks to Andy Pearson, PQube’s head of marketing, on where its recruitment efforts are focused, where it’s staffing up and what’s next What roles is PQube looking to fill right now? Firstly, it’s important we keep good people and we recognise the great talent we already have in the team. Inevitably, as the business grows, we need to bring in additional people. That also means we get fresh ideas in the business. Our main focus for new roles so far has been in the areas of marketing and development – and for those roles we are looking for people who are passionate about games and want to be part of a dynamic team. What approach are you taking to recruitment? What skills do you need? Generally, people in the industry know about us and so we’ve managed to bring in new talent largely through word of mouth. We are shortly starting the search for a sales manager to lead the sales drive across major national and international accounts and I suspect it may be a challenge to find the right candidate. We are looking for someone who is results-focused and targetdriven and has ideally worked with key High Street or online partners. While they will need to maintain and grow the revenue from existing accounts, the focus will be to grow new accounts and expand PQube’s revenue potential. For the project manager roles, strong organisational skills, creativity and flexibility in their day-to-day role is key. We have a relatively flat structure and most employees have a high level of autonomy. Who is your ideal candidate? For marketing and development roles, passion for games is absolutely essential for us. We do a lot of events too, so people who want to be part of that team and enjoy mixing with our fans are important. The whole team generally pulls together for these things so enjoying being part of that team is important too. For the new sales role, strength of existing relationships with retailers, both in the UK and Europe, and an understanding of international distribution will be important.

“Our main focus for new roles so far has been in the areas of marketing and development.” What is PQube’s plans for recruitment in the next year? We are continuing to grow around 30 per cent year-on-year and our product line-up is getting stronger. As a result, we will continue to look for exceptional marketing, PR, development and production staff. We are also seeing growth in the traditional software and hardware businesses hence the need to bring onboard a new sales manager to strengthen the team in the next few months. What’s the next big step for the company? We have created three key business units to ensure focus on the vital areas we see developing. Firstly, our traditional publishing and distribution business remains strong – we are broadening the range of products we are selling and these need great marketing. PR and sales deliver success for our partners so we continue to invest in these areas. Secondly, the emergence of the digital and ‘indie’ business means we have moved to create a separate team to give those partners real focus and not just let them feel sucked into a bigger business. Thirdly, having acquired brands such as Atari and Blaze, we are now developing, producing, marketing and selling our own hardware products.

PQube is looking for talented, passionate people who want to be part of a winning team. If you’re interested, head to April 2018 MCV 934 | 19

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Is there a growing UK skills gap? Jake Tucker asks recruiters, both in-house and agency side, about the hardest to find skills in the UK games industry 20 | MCV 934 April 2018

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s the video game industry continues to go from strength to strength in the UK, recruiters are working overtime to try and fill the need. In an industry that’s changing rapidly with the growth of esports, and instability caused by the country’s potential implosion post Brexit, we reached out to recruiters around the country to see what skills they’re struggling to find. Overall, everyone we’ve spoken to has the same primary concern: there just aren’t enough candidates with experience in senior and lead roles. “In terms of skill gaps for us, we’re seeing an issue as we’re starting to move into areas where we need seniors and leads,” says Alex Wright-Manning, senior recruitment manager at Bromley-based developer Splash Damage. “There seems to be a five to seven year gap of qualification and experience. We can go out, we can hire juniors, we can hire mid-level folk. But, in terms of the seniors and leads, there’s a lot fewer around and that’s probably our biggest challenge at the moment.” His thoughts are echoed across the industry with game recruitment outfit Amiqus’ business manager Liz Prince adding that finding seniors with established leadership experience is a particular challenge. Wright-Manning suggests this could be because of a change to the way universities educate. “I think this gap came about because of the shift from traditional computer science into games-focused educational programmes,” he says. “Some of them are great, but some of them are cash grabs, because every student has a monetary value attached to them now.”

Students, Wright-Manning says, are getting better at discerning the right course for their future career, so it’s a problem that does seem to be improving, but it will take time for this change to move through the industry. In terms of hard skills, many are struggling to find experienced coders. Simon Hope, director at games recruiter Aardvark Swift, says that the most challenging area for its business is programmers, especially those with skills in AI coding and graphics engines: “It is a serious issue,” Hope says. “Experienced programmers are highly sought after by lots of industries, not just video games, and it can get competitive.” Nathan Adcock, the PR and marketing manager for recruiter OPM Response, adds that there’s also been a particular shortage of backend engineers with Amazon Web Services experience, largely due to the increased need for networking engineers and server operations in games. Tamsin O’Luanaigh, nDreams’ talent director, says that despite receiving a lot of prospective CVs and specific applications for jobs posted online, sourcing technical disciplines like VFX and graphics programming are still a struggle: “This has been an issue for some time,” she admits. “But through a combined approach to recruitment, we often pull a talented rabbit out of a hat.” C++, UE4, physics, audio, UI and UX are all mentioned too. The highly technical skills seem to be in near-constant demand and when these in-demand skills are required at a senior level, it can become a real headache. Peter Lovell, Jagex’s director of talent acquisition, says that it’s no longer a cold war for skills, but a very hot war with companies with the same needs and a similar size

Pictured above: Liz Prince, business manager at Amiqus

Pictured above: Nathan Adcock, PR and marketing manager at OPM Response

“There seems to be a five to seven year gap of qualification and experience. We can hire juniors, we can hire mid-level folk. But, in terms of the seniors and leads, there’s a lot fewer around.” April 2018 MCV 934 | 21

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Pictured above: Peter Lovell, director of talent acquisition at Jagex

Pictured above: Alex Wright-Manning, senior recruitment manager at Splash Damage

getting into bidding wars for must-have talent. “This isn’t a sustainable model, but it’s where we’re at right now,” Lovell admits. The rise of interest in esports has created a whole new sector for recruiters in the industry to move into, one that prioritises soft skills entirely. “This is a very customer-facing industry with a lot of work done front-and-centre for an audience,” says Prince. “So, having those strong PR and communication skills is vital for people to be successful in a number of key esports roles. These are skills more akin to the TV and radio industries which are now seeing increasing demand within the video games and esports industry.” Hiring for these skills could soon become tougher too. There’s a lot of uncertainty right now because of the looming shadow of Brexit. “It is fair to say that Brexit is already having an impact,” says Hope. “We are seeing a significant, and growing, percentage of EU candidates turning down roles based in the UK. As a result of Brexit, the UK is no longer seen as progressive or welcoming. There has been a real stigma attached to it for some candidates. With the uncertainty around the status of staff from outside the UK, we are even seeing staff looking at leaving UK studios to return to Europe or roles in other international gaming hubs.
Groups like Ukie have already pointed out to government that navigating immigration for high-value staff can be complicated, time consuming and expensive. With Brexit they have no guarantee it will be any better in the next couple of years.” He continues: “How bad could it be for UK based studios? Let’s put this in context.

We know there is already a technical skills shortage in the world and that we are in serious competition with other tech industries for skills.” Hope paints a grim picture, mentioning that almost every studio in the UK has a good chunk of overseas staff, often brought in to help shrink skill gaps or fill roles that can’t be found domestically. This won’t change, as studios will always need talent that can’t be found locally. “With big names like Riot, Activision, Bethesda, Google and Facebook already based in Ireland it isn’t a huge leap in imagination to see studios relocating to Ireland to retain easy access to a Eurozone talent pool,” Hope says. “With advances in cloud computing, and remote working

“As a result of Brexit, the UK is no longer seen as progressive or welcoming. There has been a real stigma attached to it...”

making it easier for companies to move for the best deals, it could be very easy for the UK to be left behind.” Prince adds: “There is a definite feeling of ‘wait and see’ when it comes to making a move over. Especially if they have family to consider.” Lovell says it could make acquiring the “real polymathic kind of talent, who can make or break a project with their brain” more difficult, as many of these people are brought in from abroad. And while often this is outside of even Europe, adding extra complications like visas and immigration is a potential problem. Wright-Manning presents an unusual silver lining to Brexit that has made recruitment for midsized studios even more difficult: “With a weak pound, it’s now great to develop here,” he says. “So all the big multinationals are pouring money into all of their main studios, like Ubisoft and EA. They’re really ramping up their operations here,

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Pictured left: Even for some technical roles, a modicum of presenting skills are becoming increasingly desirable, as studios look to better relate with their community

Pictured above: Simon Hope, director at Aardvark Swift

which is stretching the talent pool as far as it can go.” Adcock is less gloomy about the UK’s prospects, saying that OPM has only spoken to “a small number” of recruitment targets who wouldn’t consider the UK because of Brexit. However, he says that when the UK leaves the EU he expects more people to be put off by the idea of coming here. “Most European citizens value being able to easily work in another country without many blockades or time-limited visas,” Adcock mentions. “At some point we’re all going to have to become experts in the new visa process, whatever that process may be.” Regardless of how Brexit goes, so far it’s had the effect of making a small talent pool feel even smaller to the folk in the recruitment trenches, and over the next 12 months, we could see certain outfits have to push themselves even harder to try and get the staff they need.

“With big names like Riot, Activision, Bethesda, Google and Facebook already based in Ireland, it isn’t a huge leap in imagination to see studios relocating to Ireland to retain easy access to a Eurozone talent pool.”

Pictured above: Tamsin O’Luanaigh, talent director at nDreams

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Starting out in the big time Brian Evans moved straight from Abertay University to a production role at Ubisoft Reflections, Seth Barton finds out what he learnt in the process IF you’re preparing to start your career in games, then Ubisoft is probably something of a dream move for most graduates. And that dream came true for Brian Evans, a project assistant at Ubisoft Reflections, who was recruited as part of the 2017 graduate campaign. MCV asks him how it came about and how he finds his new role. Tell us about your route into games and what your role involves... I studied Games Design and Production Management at Abertay University. During my final year, a team from Reflections gave a presentation where the staff talked about their work on The Division. I

took this opportunity to ask about production roles at the studio and exactly what was expected specifically from a producer at Reflections, as roles can vary studio to studio. There was an available position for project assistant, which I felt was a great opportunity for me based on my experience. So I sent off my CV and cover letter and waited to hear back from the recruiters, which I did! I was invited to an on-site interview with the production team, which was a great experience and we got to ask a lot of questions. After a couple of months, during which all the graduate candidates were being considered, I was offered the job, which lined up really well with finishing my degree so I was able to start almost straight away after graduating. Now my current role has been made permanent and involves handling the production of a current title we are working on. I plan tasks and manage the production of level designers, level artists and tech artists. I also oversee some of smaller teams. What is your proudest achievement so far? Working as part of a larger development team to successfully pass all of our project milestones. What do you enjoy most about your job? My role allows me to work with a lot of different people on a daily basis. The variety means that I’m always learning and there’s never a dull moment. Despite being a fairly new project assistant I am listened to and I’ve developed a great relationship with the leads that I work with. There really is great camaraderie within the team, which positively impacts every element of our day to day work. What is your big ambition in games? I want to leave a legacy of being part of teams that delivered great games and provided fantastic experiences for the players that play them.

I’ve been a gamer all my life and along the way, games have taught me a lot about myself and even paved the path for my career. I want to make sure that others can share in my passion regardless of why they play games or what they get out of playing them. I also want to continue contributing to my studio in every way I can and in my role help the teams I work with to achieve great things. What opportunities have you had for learning and development? I’ve learnt a massive amount since joining the team, the biggest adjustment has been adapting to the responsibility and challenge of being a producer for so many teams. Each one has its challenges so developing my problem-solving skills has meant I can bring answers to the table in these situations and it really helps demonstrate the positive impact I can have within the team. You might think you know about a subject because you learnt it at university, but you quickly realise there’s so much more to learn and actually what you have learnt may not always be correct when applied to real-world situations. Luckily there’s a lot of support and opportunities within the studio both via training to further your knowledge and skills and support from your peers. What advice would you give to someone trying to get into the games industry? I’d suggest reaching out to people in those companies that you want to work for. It could be a junior artist or the HR manager. Showing the initiative of reaching out in a professional manner is well respected in my book. It promotes your personality and proactivity from the get go. Get involved with as many game jams as you can. It might at first not seem that important but being able to talk about your experience of working with others shows how much of a team player you are and it also bolsters your portfolio. It will really help if you strive for the very best grades possible for your university degree, as this is another way you can stand out to studio recruiters when applying for graduate roles. Demonstrate your passion for gaming and the role, and that you apply this passion to everything you do. Authentically back this up with evidence that you’ve worked hard to get yourself ‘industry ready’ & you to could find yourself in your dream job!

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Pictured left: Jagex’s offices in Cambridge

Culture of personality What is ‘company culture’ within the games industry? Why do you want one, how do you get one and, perhaps most importantly, how do you make sure it’s the right fit for everyone involved? Jem Alexander investigates


he idea of companies having a unique culture isn’t a new one. Gather any group of humans together for eight hours a day and you’re automatically going to see cliques emerge, memes propagate and a variety of social dynamics form. What is new is the idea that a company’s culture within the games industry can be predestined through social engineering or by tightening requirements for new recruits. The idea being that a harmonious team is a productive team, especially when everyone is working for the same goal. Perhaps it sounds strange to suggest that employees at a company wouldn’t necessarily be working towards a shared goal. In theory every member of a team is there to fulfill a need of the corporation, but in reality humanity rarely works that way. And individuals, complete with egos and desires and anxieties, will instinctively kick back against the idea of simply being a cog in a machine. There’s a lovely irony in the fact that a better way to get people to work together harmoniously is to highlight how different and unique they are. So how does a company – whether that’s a publishing house, development studio or anything in between – create a culture that works for its needs? For starters, what is a good company culture? “Company culture is a set of basic behaviours and attitudes that every employee should embrace and use as a foundation for interaction with others,” says Martin Hultberg, communications director at Sharkmob, a new studio in Malmö, Sweden. “It’s a social baseline of sorts.” By that definition, a studio’s culture is a set of societal rules. So why would that differ between studios, when our western world already has a clear guideline for society, thrust on us from the moment we’re born? It’s because any company within the games industry is an entity unto itself, and these “basic behaviours” that Hultberg describes are more akin to an individual’s moral compass, their hopes, dreams and fears, than to societal norms. So when everyone in the company shares these, it will have a greater chance of being successful. David Lomax, president of HR and operations at Jagex, puts it best by saying that “it’s about the character and personality of an

organisation. Collectively, who are you, what makes you tick and how do you behave and react as a studio? Culture can be good, bad or – if disparate – you might not have a clear culture at all.” Lomax goes on to explain that such a thing is never set in stone. If it’s toxic, it’s fixable. If it’s good, it needs to be maintained. “Jagex has a company culture, but it’s evolving,” he says. “Since the appointment of Phil Mansell as CEO in 2017, we have been proactively making steps to facilitate the forging of a more powerful company culture within Jagex, one that gives us a competitive advantage. At the heart of this evolution is our new company vision, mission and values. Key to a great culture is a collective understanding of the vision, our purpose and how each individual can play their part. That change is starting to take effect, it’s tangible – we want to deliver on our vision to be the home of living games and we recognise culture as a key ingredient.” A strong set of shared values is something we’ll touch on a little later, but it’s not the only option when you’re looking to promote corporate cohesion. Tamsin O’Luanaigh, nDreams’ talent director, puts importance on keeping employees happy both inside and outside of work in order to maintain their productivity in the office. “We place a huge amount of time ensuring the team works as a whole, that they have a platform to voice opinions and are actively listened to and, importantly, that they can enjoy themselves when they are here,” O’Luanaigh says. “We understand what it’s like to be under so much pressure to deliver at all costs and when you have a family, or other things outside of work, that can be hard to reconcile – so we try in our many little ways to help. “The culture comes from the founders of the studio and the senior team. Patrick [O’Luanaigh, CEO of nDreams] and I had an idea about how we wanted the company to run and how we want to treat people. We are lucky in that we have a leadership team who shares that vision. You can’t just ‘create’ a culture – it evolves organically over time – but you do have to work hard to retain it, and you have to make sure that when faced with certain challenges

“You can’t just ‘create’ a culture – it evolves organically over time.”

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Pictured above: Riot Games’ campus in Los Angeles

you don’t forget what drove you to those decisions in the first place.” Jagex’s Lomax agrees: “It could be argued that it’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation. Of course, every individual contributes to a company’s culture, but it’s somewhat inevitable that they absorb elements too. That is what’s exciting about working in a growing company though. That’s where the evolution of culture really takes shape and it’s the company’s leadership that can help guide and steer those changes to help capture the best of us. “The benefits are pretty fundamental, if I’m honest. A good company culture will not only help maintain or improve staff morale, it will help reduce staff turnover – something that every company should be looking to minimise when there’s such a limited talent pool. Having a good company culture can be inspirational for staff, and helps imbue a sense of pride in the games they develop, in the studio they work for, and ultimately in their work life. It also helps attract great talent; we are growing rapidly as a studio and it’s important that every candidate who walks through our door gets a real sense of who we are. “In fact, I would go as far to say that building a good company culture is as valuable a strategic focus as the games we develop, it’s all connected to our success.” MANIFESTO DESTINY Two of the biggest and most successful games studios in the world, Blizzard and Riot Games, both have a very specific set of company values. They also have huge campus style office complexes, tremendous perks for employees and, ultimately, enjoy fantastic success. These studios, and there are doubtless others like them,

“Building a good company culture is as valuable a strategic focus as the games we develop.”

follow the Silicon Valley formula of employee attraction and retention. Facebook and Google both have strong, public manifestos outlining each company’s goals and beliefs. They also have huge perks for employees – lure them in with promises of free gourmet food, nap times, slides between floors and keep them there with high salaries. Except even highly skilled personnel need to run the gauntlet of the ‘culture panel’, to make sure that their “basic behaviours and attitudes” align with the company’s. Facebook, Blizzard, Google and Riot Games all make sure to screen applicants during the interview process to check this. The idea is that if everyone who enters the company is on the same page from day one, this can only benefit the company as a whole. All of these corporations wear these manifestos on their sleeves, with them easily found on their websites. Blizzard and Riot Games share some similarities. Blizzard’s ‘Gameplay First’ value ties thematically to Riot’s ‘Players First’ promise, as does Blizzard’s ‘Embrace Your Inner Geek’ and Riot’s ‘Take Play Seriously’’. The full list of each contains inspiring (or perhaps nauseating to some) values such as ‘Stay Hungry, Stay Humble’, ‘Every Voice Matters’ and ‘Challenge Convention’. If these appeal to you, perhaps your next gig could be at one of these gaming monoliths. But this won’t work for every company. In fact, some find the idea of dictating specific values to their employees against the idea of a corporate culture entirely. “The culture can be encouraged by the company but in the end it is carried and shaped by the people working there,” says Sharkmob’s Hultberg. “So the company must keep an eye on the actual culture and relate to it – never letting it become an ungrounded, intellectual exercise.” NDreams’ O’Luanaigh firmly believes the people within a company should shape its culture as an ongoing process. “It’s constantly evolving as the company grows,” she says. “We set the tone when we started the company, yes, but the staff now plays a huge part in helping steer the ship in the direction they want it to go in too. Why would you

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Pictured left: Blizzard Entertainment’s headquarters in Irvine, California

want to direct people to behave in a certain way? I can’t imagine you would get very positive results from a team that way.” But just like at Blizzard and Riot, recruitment is the cornerstone, according to Jagex’s Lomax. Getting the right people in the door in the first place makes everything easier. “The growth of a company’s culture can be steered, harvested even,” he says. “But it takes time and you need to provide the right infrastructure and build the right team. Recruitment is key, you need to not only find the people with the right skillset, but also people who can contribute positively to your culture to support its ongoing evolution.” A good sign that employees are interacting harmoniously is when they spend time together outside of work hours, without being paid for it. “Socialising outside of work hours is important and we certainly see a lot of that at Jagex,” Lomax says. “We use the workplace social media platform for a range of things, and one of them is to allow staff to create their own out-of-hours social groups. As a result, we now have a growing number of clubs at the company, whether that’s the mountaineering club or tabletop gaming group – there’s even rumblings about a comic book club starting in the future! “None of these have been artificially created by executives, they’ve all started organically and helped foster our company culture. Of course, it’s not always necessary, but there’s no way a company can enforce their staff to socialise after hours – nobody likes ‘forced fun’! That said, we provide facilities and platforms to help that develop organically: we have our own onsite pub for example and more tabletop games than I can count. “Out-of-hours socialising is a core part of company culture, and I think having that is perhaps indicative that a company is at the very least forming a good culture.”

For others, socialising is less of a core ideal and more of a nice-to-have. Hultberg believes there are more important signs of a healthy work culture. “If people become friends to the point of socialising outside of work then that is awesome,” he says. “It is however not required, not by a long shot. The key is to have fun at work, feel comfortable and empowered. “Game development is a creative craft and an artform. Pride is a natural outcome of a job well done, especially considering the passion and hard work that goes into it. That doesn’t mean you can’t maintain a sober approach to it though. A good company culture allows for criticism and opposing views too.” Pride is a common theme among the developers we spoke to. Pride in one’s work, and the outcome of that work, is a noble goal that benefits both the individuals and the teams. “We want people to feel proud to work at nDreams, because we take pride in all of the staff who work here and the games that we make,” says O’Luanaigh. “We don’t see that as creating a cult, it’s just more about being passionate about what you do, allowing the team to feel a sense of ownership of where they work and, hopefully, working with a great bunch of people who share a common goal.” Once again, Lomax agrees: “Having pride in where you work helps to create a sense of belonging and that can have a powerful effect on your engagement – another way of looking at it is culture as the shop window of your people. “A team with pride, a sense of belonging and high levels of engagement will have a more positive and impactful culture than those that don’t have those traits. As for feeling privileged, I think that we’re all fortunate to be able to work in such a growing industry as games.”

Pictured below, from top: nDreams’ Tamsin O’Luanaigh, Sharkmob’s Martin Hultberg, and Jagex’s David Lomax

“Out-of-hours socialising is a core part of company culture.”

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Ins and outs: Industry hires and moves



Football Manager studio Sports Interactive has named MATT CARROLL (1) as its first COO. Carroll is known primarily for a 17-year stint at Disney in a variety of senior management roles. Reality Gaming Group, the London-based developer behind upcoming AR game Reality Clash has hired ANTHONY BRAY (2) as operations manager. Bray has over 20 years of experience in the games industry, starting at Sony in 1995 as project manager on titles for the PSOne.

of He initially joined the team as staff writer in 2015. Steel Media also hired two new staff writers: IAIN HARRIS (4) has joined PocketGamer. biz, having worked as a freelancer for PCGamesN and VG247, and LOUISE SAUL (5) will work across all the company’s B2B websites, focusing on As a freelancer, she’s written for Vice, Nintendo Life and MyM Magazine.



announced for 2018, it’s sure to be a brilliant year for the franchise.” Gearbox Software’s president RANDY PITCHFORD (7) has joined crowdfunding platform Fig’s advisory board, which already includes the likes of Obsidian’s CEO Feargus Urquhart, Double Fine’s president Tim Schafer and inXile Entertainment’s CEO Brian Fargo. Pitchford commented: “My expectation is that Gearbox Software and Gearbox Publishing can help inspire more developers to discover the Fig platform while also encouraging our audience of millions of gamers to become microinvestors or otherwise support their efforts.”





Steel Media has promoted former deputy editor RIC COWLEY (3) to editor

Former marketing director at Curve Digital ALEX MOYET (6) has joined Activision as senior marketing manager. She commented: “I am absolutely thrilled to be joining Activision’s international marketing team to work on Destiny. With more expansions and features already

“My expectation is to inspire more developers to discover the Fig platform while also encouraging our audience of millions of gamers to support their efforts.” Randy Pitchford, Gearbox Software

NEIL DRUCKMANN (8) has been named vice president at Naughty Dog. He joined the Uncharted developer in 2004 as gameplay programmer, and worked his way up the ranks to designer, then lead game designer and creative director. Naughty Dog president Evan Wells said: “Druckmann has been a vital part of the management team for some time now and we’re proud to formally acknowledge his involvement. In addition to his new position, Neil will continue as the creative director on The Last of Us Part II.”




London-based mobile studio Hutch Games has made three new hires. EVYATAR AMITAY (9) joins from Improbable as gameplay programmer on an unannounced project. Having worked in the South Korean games industry for six years, ESTHER HONG (10) joins as UI designer. Last but not least, CHIAO-HSIEN LIN (11) has been hired as customer and community specialist. She joins from Space Ape Games where she had been localisation, customer and community specialist for almost a year.





VG247 has a new deputy editor as KIRK MCKEAND (12) has joined the publication. He previously was at PCGamesN, which he left in February this year to go freelance. VG247 editor-in-chief Matt Martin commented: “As I sit here

inhaling the souls of broken game critics, I could not be happier that Kirk has joined Team VG247. Many wanted him, and I feel privileged he chose us to advance his career.” QA and localisation specialist Testronic has opened a new office in Bangkok and has appointed LILY GAVINALLEN (13) as the head of business development. Gavin-Allen has extensive experience in the area, particularly in biz dev and localisation. She said: “With the Asia market expanding into the western market, and vice versa, Testronic is perfectly positioned to provide a bridge between the two.” The BBC’s diversity lead JOYCE ADELUWOYEADAMS (14) has joined King’s London office as global director of diversity and inclusion. Before joining the BBC, she spent six years as head of diversity at PACT, the UK trade association representing indie feature film, television, digital, children’s and animation media companies.

Rice Digital’s editor OSCAR TAYLOR-KENT (15) will become games editor at Future’s Official PlayStation Magazine from April 9th. He commented: “As a lifelong magazine reader, I can’t wait to pivot to print and get stuck in alongside the already great Future and OPM team!”

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ME ANYTHING This month’s question: How important are recruiters when hiring for a studio? Oli Christie, CEO, Neon Play

Lee Hutchinson, CEO, Double Eleven

“At Double Eleven we use a mix of in-house recruitment and recruiters, however we don’t have someone internally dedicated to sourcing candidates so this work usually lands on our management team. More often than not, we’re too busy to take on the work and using a recruitment agency is invaluable to us as we get the staff that we need without a hit to our productivity.”

Stig Strand, Head of Recruitment Teams, Amiqus

“There are some great games recruiters both in-house and external and finding the right one can save you time and money. I’m a big believer in building trusted relationships, ensuring that both parties are fully engaged from the start. With the right process in place, it makes sure you will be confident that you have an ally who fully understands the culture and values that make your opportunity the best one, to enable them to present your opportunity in the best light.”

“I’m a great believer in using the best people when you don’t have the skills or time, so a good recruiter is essential for hiring. Then they can help sell the dream to the right candidates.”

“I’m a great believer in using the best people when you don’t have the skills or time, so a good recruiter is essential for hiring. Some recruiters are too sales-y and don’t truly understand the studio or the role, but a recruiter who you can have a strong relationship with, plus a bit of banter, is key. They need to have visited the studio and seen and played your games, so they really know what you’re about. Then they can help sell the dream to the right candidates.”

Dave Ranyard, CEO & Founder, Dream Reality Interactive

“Two of the most important parts of any studio are talent and culture. Get these right and the rest (hopefully) follows. A good recruiter will not only understand the skill domain, from character artist to network programmer to creative vision holder, they will also understand the studio culture and ensure they pick the right candidates to fit and help the studio to grow.”

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

James Hyde, build engineer at Creative Assembly, looks back at his path and explains why experience in a studio isn’t vital to land your dream job What is your job role and how would you describe it? I am a build engineer at Creative Assembly (CA), currently working across several projects, including Halo Wars 2, Total War and our brand new IP. Build engineering is one of those niche roles in games development – put simply, a build engineer is responsible for every build the studio produces, which is essentially a working version of the game at any point in time, from the first prototype to the final game. The developers submit their work to source control, in chunks of code and data, and the continuous integration system picks these up and creates a new build out of them. The build team manages both systems and investigates any breakages to keep the development team working as efficiently as possible. We also create tools to facilitate interaction with these systems, such as the sassy chatbot – Serina – that I am currently working on: she provides ETAs and progress updates on these builds, when asked nicely. And then there’s the release management component: we are responsible for delivering the game to publishers, and for submissions to digital stores. Recently, we worked with 343 Industries – eight hours behind in Washington – and were practically on-call 24/7, ready to fix and resend a build at a moment’s notice. As stressful as that can be, there is something quite fulfilling about being so integral to the release process of a triple-A title. How would someone come to be in your position? I found out a week before my interview with CA that a sequel to my favourite game had been announced, and that happened to be Halo

Wars 2 – the then-unannounced game I applied to work on and was hired for. I think having a passion for the project or the IP helps but it certainly isn’t a requirement. Getting your foot in the door is about being in the right place at the right time and always being ready to take the leap. An opportunity will eventually arise; you just need to be persistent and prepared to seize it when it comes your way. Build engineers at CA have typically come from QA, however, it’s by no means a hard and fast rule. It can often seem impossible to break into the industry, especially if – like me – you apply to every studio around and receive not so much as a response. However, experience in a studio isn’t necessary. It is completely possible to produce a decent portfolio of work in or outside of education.

“An opportunity will eventually arise; you just need to be persistent and prepared to seize it when it comes your way.” What qualifications and/or experience do you need? The best qualification for a technical role in games is typically a traditional BSc, such as maths or computer science. More important is having experience of systemic problem solving, such as programming or scripting – whether for games or not. This can be from collaborative or personal projects. My own path was anything but typical. I dropped out of no fewer than six degrees and six occupations – including four years pursuing a management career in warehouse retail – while I tried to figure out what I wanted to do. A BSc in Game Assets Development taught at Northbrook College Sussex is what I finally achieved. If you were interviewing someone for your team, what would you look for? While hiring managers can often be biased based on their own experiences – like whether someone has a degree or not – our hiring process tends to be more open-minded and we look at the whole picture. It’s actually pretty difficult to find someone with the appropriate technical skills for build engineering so instead we focus on core skills, such as problem-solving, analytical thinking and logical reasoning – any type of programming or scripting experience really. Above all, we’re looking for the desire to learn, the capacity to advance and the will to succeed.

Want to talk about your career and inspire people to follow the same path? Contact Marie Dealessandri at April 2018 MCV 934 | 33

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“I didn’t have any relevant games education but had been creating Left 4 Dead and Portal levels in my spare time and this landed me a job in level design.” Name: Chris Skinner Studio: Milky Tea

Job Title: Programmer


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 What inspired you about Milky Tea to come and join them? I was previously a level designer and had wanted to transition into programming as I had been enjoying it in my spare time while prototyping small games. I decided to make the decision to leave my level design job and spent the next 18 months learning programming and other aspects of game development by working on a game by myself. After releasing my game, Expanse, on Steam I decided I wanted to make games with a team again, and having already worked for a bigger studio I wanted to join a smaller one. Milky Tea was a great fit, with its close knit team making games with cool art styles, crazy characters and great gameplay. What’s the culture like at Milky Tea and what’s your experience been like fitting in? Everyone at Milky Tea is relaxed and moving towards the same goal so it’s easy to have fun while we work and I think that fun definitely comes through in the character designs and the gameplay in Hyperbrawl Tournament. With it also being a small team you definitely feel like your contributions to the game are a lot greater which makes the title feel like your own, so you’re more invested in it and want it to succeed. What are you most excited about bringing to the role? Milky Tea has a great history in animation and design but is relatively

new to making games, so having just made a game as a solo developer and having been involved in all aspects of game creation while doing it, I’m hoping I can bring my perspective of each of the game creation disciplines to the team. What will working at Milky Tea do for your career? At Milky Tea you are working in a small team so you are more exposed to the other disciplines that go into making a game so you are learning a lot about them and have a much deeper understanding of how they function and the work that goes into them. That helps you make better decisions down the line on in-game elements and how these might affect a specific discipline. What would you like to say to anyone thinking about or undertaking a job move in games? Create cool and interesting game content to show off your skills. I was training to be an electrician and didn’t have any relevant games education but had been creating Left 4 Dead and Portal levels in my spare time and this ended up landing me a job in level design. Obviously, having relevant games industry degrees is great but I also think having actual content you can show off to better demonstrate your skills, an actual portfolio, when going for a job is massively beneficial.

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Top of the class Speaking with educators to find out what’s important for the next generation of game makers In the 12 years that Nia Wearn has been teaching students about games, she’s seen university level game design courses grow, refine and diversify. We talk to her about games education and how her courses use real life examples. INTO THE REAL “One of the most important things we can do as educators is give students space to explore and understand games and gameplay in lots of different formats, for lots of different genres,” says Wearn. The two courses that she runs, the BA (Hons) Game Studies and BSc (Hons) Computer Gameplay Design and Production at Staffordshire University are intertwined. The BA course focuses more on the academic aspects of games, while the BSc has a core of understanding games and using industry standard engines to make their ideas come to life. At their heart, both courses revolve around unpicking games, something that Wearn says is centred on looking at gameplay outside of the digital sphere of gaming. “What both of these courses do well is bring in analogue, non-traditional and nondigital games into the classroom – and as assignments,” says Wearn. “First year students plan gameplay experiences or work together to design

escape rooms – which means they actually have to think about the physical player and the different kind of interactive experiences that would appeal to different groups. When they study narrative they organise, play and analyse tabletop RPG sessions away from their screens.” In the second year, students work on solo analogue projects, usually board or card games, that span an entire semester, often with a constraint. This year, the games are based on something scientific. “This need to design to a constraint means students are playtesting, finding faults in their design, fixing and adapting ideas, giving and receiving critical feedback. At the end of it, at an expo they host themselves, they stand behind a game they’ve designed from scratch, carried through playtests, full of pieces they sourced, or printed, or crafted and illustrated themselves or by collaborating with others. There’s pride on their faces when the rest of the university descend to play their games.” This all goes on alongside the more ‘traditional’ aspects you might expect in these courses: game analysis, group work, rapid in-engine prototyping and portfolio building. Everything in the course, whether it’s building a game, making a faux funding bid or even creating a Wikipedia page, has real world connotations attached.

“Game Studies allows us to look at the medium from a different standpoint. Not only developing the production aspects, but the deeper understanding of what games can teach us. It looks at the fundamental human capacity to play, allowing us to use that knowledge to build and shape the future of games.” Kynan Watcham, BA Game Studies – First Year

Nia Wearn BSc (Hons) Computer Gameplay Design & Production and BA (Hons) Games Studies Nia Wearn is a senior lecturer in Games Design at Staffordshire University. She is passionate about the field of teaching games design, especially in relation to creativity and fun. She is especially keen on the use of board and card games in game design curriculum and encouraging experimental gameplay among her students.

“Our students come with so much technical knowledge but they don’t always know how to foster the new ideas they have.” “The Gameplay and Production Course has given me the opportunity to cover a wide range of topics. It’s not just a course for those who are interested in games, but also helps students look at more than just what you can see on the surface of a game.” Rob Newman, BSc Computer Gameplay Design and Production – Third Year

If you work at a university and would like to be featured here, get in touch with Jake Tucker at April 2018 MCV 934 | 35

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Switching gear JRPG publisher NIS America is shifting focus for its upcoming releases, as gamers are eager to play more games on the ultra-portable Switch. MCV talks to CEO Takuro Yamashita and producer Alan Costa THE world of JRPGs is changing. Players are flocking to the Switch thanks to its portability, and they want to take their epic 100-hour experiences with them. We talk to CEO of NIS America, Takuro Yamashita, and producer Alan Costa, about the company’s Switch strategy. Where do you feel NIS America sits in the global games market?

Takuro Yamashita: Our positioning is that we try to be the biggest fish in the small pond. We are not a key publishing company like Bandai Namco or Square Enix, we are second tier and we are focusing on releasing JRPGs in the western market and I think we are getting a better position in such a niche world. That’s NIS’ vision. There’s a lot of room for second tier companies to survive and we are now covering the console market. We’re on PS4, Switch and we are now releasing games for PC via Steam. We have a good translation team in-house and a supporting team in-house. So we can cover our different areas. Due to the small market of Japan and the smaller market of the Switch in Japan, Japanese companies normally don’t want to port their game or IP onto Switch. But we are very proactively working on that idea. We are porting lots more games, in-house titles and licensed games from third parties and other companies to Switch versions. That’s our new strategy. That’s what we are doing for the next two or three years. You are working much closer with Nintendo recently. How did that come about and what benefits have you seen as a company? Yamashita: I’ll give you a scoop! Originally we signed with SNK on SNK Heroines just on the PS4 format. Then last year an opportunity happened at Gamescom, two third parties happened to meet all together outside Nintendo’s meeting room. The first meeting was between NIS America and Nintendo of Europe (NOE) and the next meeting was between SNK and NOE. Of course, these two were separate meetings. Then after their meeting influential people from SNK came to our booth and said: “Hey, Mr. Yamashita, is it possible to cancel our contact on PS4? Nintendo wants to work on this title on an exclusive basis!”

So these third parties come together and the team at NIS and SNK decided to go with Nintendo for the western market. Physical copywise, it’s going to be a Switch exclusive. PS4-wise it’s going to be just digital. That’s the deal. We will not release a packaged version for PS4 format. Then Nintendo will act as a distributor for this game. Then they promised to buy a lot of units. I can’t reveal the number of units they’ve guaranteed, that’s secret talk. What is your strategy for Europe moving forwards?

Yamashita: For the JRPG market, the biggest country is France, so most of our key titles, such as Ys VIII and the Disgaea series, we localise the game in French to get in a much better position in Europe, because the French market is the biggest for JRPG titles. We’re starting to do more on Nintendo Switch. SNK Heroines is not the only one. We’ve teamed up with Nintendo Europe for our other Switch titles. They support us in a good way. Compared to that, Sony is not friendly with small publishers like us. They just care about big Japanese companies. Also, if we simultaneously release a Switch version and a PS4 version of the same title, currently the sales trend is two to one. That means the Switch version sells twice as much as the PS4 version. Physically and digitally. A lot of PS4 titles are coming up, so the market is very competitive. Compared to that, the Switch market still has lots of room for publishers to make money. How have your Switch releases been doing so far? Yamashita: For Disgaea 5, Switch sold very well. It sold just under 200k units just in the west. Maybe 40 per cent of these people already have the PS4 version. Why do they buy the same game again? Because it’s the function of a handheld that the Switch has. And Sony decided to withdraw from the PS Vita market. The memory size limitation of the Vita is just one gigabyte, right? But Disgaea is 8 GB. So Disgaea fans want to play on a handheld, but there is no handheld Disgaea 5 on a Sony format. So this is a perfect platform. We can play at home and we can play outside using the handheld function of the Switch. That is why the Nintendo Switch platform is growing naturally.

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Are there any new challenges in bringing these JRPGs to the world? Alan Costa: The easy answer would be “cultural differences.” I’m putting scare quotes around that for everybody. What they usually means is that sometimes content which is deemed harmless in Japan or cute or fanservice gets taken a very different way in the west. Generally involving female characters and their perceived age. That honestly doesn’t really figure in to our decision to localise the game or not, but it’s something that we have to be aware of when we are looking at games and something that we have to treat carefully. And honestly speaking, this is an issue that we encounter both in North America and in Europe. And then depending on the country, actually, it can be as small as “huh, she looks kind of young” to “sorry, but we’re not going to rate your game because she looks so young.” So that’s probably one of the biggest challenges that we have with a lot of JRPGs. Another large challenge is any RPG is usually very text heavy. Generally speaking we like to have a translator, a native speaker, and then an editor, who is a native speaker of English to handle the games. Back in the past, a JRPG could be 600k Japanese characters and that was kind of middle of the road to large, and now we’re seeing games upwards of a million, two million Japanese characters. So the investment of time and personnel on that front can be really daunting.

Costa: When Ys VIII originally launched last September we received quite a bit of negative feedback. In our line of work, negative feedback is nothing new. Fans have very strong opinions about the work that goes into localisation. However, when we ourselves took a look at the finished product we had to agree it wasn’t up to our standards. So internally we looked at the whole process of it and what we were doing and we made the decision to relocalise the game completely from scratch including redoing the voices. We just released that patch last month and so far fans have really been appreciative of the work that went into it. Rather than just stop there though, since we took a look at our whole process overall, that gave us an opportunity to figure out where we were within that and to reevaluate our entire localisation team. So going forward I’m pretty confident to say that not only will something like that never happen again but we’re going to be able to maintain a high level of quality if not a higher level of quality than what we’ve been doing before. It was a lot of sleepless nights, but the end result I think is going to be a lot stronger and a lot better work that comes out of us.

Pictured above: NIS America producer Alan Costa

Pictured below: CEO of NIS America, Takuro Yamashita

How long would one of the previous big RPGs take to localise and translate and how much are we looking at for 2 million characters?

Yamashita: Not an RPG, but talking about adventure graphic novel game Danganronpa V3, – it has 2.4m Japanese characters and it’s a kind of a Guinness Record of huge text. How many people had to work on that? Six people over the course of five months. We finally completed this translation and we covered both English and French. Normally it’s just one translator and one editor, but if we put just two people on it, it takes a year to 18 months. So that’s why we formed a six person team, at maximum eight people. There was a translator who oversaw everything for consistency and it was a super painstaking job. Talking about the French translation, there is graphic text in Danganronpa. Graphic text is something we can’t use in a conventional form, as a standard font, artists have to draw it. That is a characteristic part of Danganronpa. One artist is able to write only ten characters a day. That’s the hardest part. How much text is made of graphics? Maybe ten per cent, or even more. That means not only translators, but graphic artists are involved. The translation and localisation is a super painstaking job. Sometimes a nightmare. That’s the challenge.

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Sega is working closer than ever with its studios. Seth Barton talks to MCV’s Person of the Year about community, acquisitions, incubation, leadership and the potential of Steam in China


e strongly suspected that Sega Europe had a fantastic 2017 but it’s good to hear it directly from John Clark, EVP of publishing for Sega Europe: “Last year was our most successful year, our most profitable year, for many, many years,” says the recent recipient of our MCV Person of the Year award. The games behind that bumper 12 months are highly varied. Total War: Warhammer II and Football Manager 2018 provided very different kinds of fantasy. Sonic Mania capitalised on retro enthusiasm with a sell-out special edition, while Bayonetta and

Vanquish came to PC via Steam. Then there was Motorsport Manager, Yakuza 0 and Endless Space II among others. With a mix of wholly-owned and partnered titles, western and Japanese IPs, spread across physical and digital releases on practically every platform, Sega Europe took full advantage of every opportunity available to it. With such an eclectic line-up, plus its storied past, Sega Europe is hard to neatly sum up.

SERVICE GAMES “If you’re trying to define what we stand for, it’ll keep you going for a while I’d think!” agrees Clark when we discuss this at GDC. “And until you work it out, we’ll be having these conversations for years,” he adds smiling. Sega Europe does have a clear but broad mission statement, though, which he tells us is to “deliver entertaining experiences to the world, one community at a time.” With Clark keen for the developers working with Sega – never for Sega – to be building those communities with the publisher. Actually, Clark is keen to impress the cooperative nature of Sega’s partnerships with its studios across a whole range of business activities, breaking down the traditional publisherdeveloper divide. AN OPEN RELATIONSHIP That even goes as far as discussing sales strategy in an open manner: “As a studio you’ve thrown your life into this, and you’re not prepared to be told you can’t have that discussion,” Clark says. “That conversation never used to happen between publishers and developers, now for Sega that’s part of how we work, it’s key to the relationship.” Clark is emphatic that the publisher can’t just fund games and take its cut, instead always asking: “Where do we add value to the studio?”

“We all spend a lot more time working directly with the studios, it’s a far more integrated way of working, it’s just completely transformed the way we talk to each other and the way we talk to the studios.” Whether it’s “sales people or marketing people... it’s not good enough to occupy the job. It never has been, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes I think publishing people relied on an exclusivity of relationships.” In short, the publisher could distribute your game and you couldn’t, so tough. “For years no one would challenge you, no one from a developer would come to you and say: ‘why aren’t we No.1?’ Or: ‘I couldn’t find any games on shelves’.” Or almost no one, at least, as Clark tells of a Saturday morning many years ago when a certain football-management developer phoned up to tell him there wasn’t enough stock in the right places at retail. Thankfully, Clark was already aware of the problem, having dragged his family down to the High Street that morning to check for himself. And the new openness works across all the studios in the firm. “We want the studios to talk to each other, and we want to be evaluated in how strong we are,” he continues. “By talking, you drive innovation, you get ideas away from game development – about social media, community, franchise development, about how to offer content, release strategies, pricing strategies. We want the studios to have an opinion.” And that’s a group of studios that continues to grow, with Sega making a number of recent acquisitions and partnerships and very much on the lookout for more. THE RULES OF ACQUISITION “Whether that’s M&A [mergers and acquisition] or incubation or investment, that’s an area we’re operating in and we’re interested in,” Clark tells us. “We have an internal team called Searchlight, whose remit is to look for new western content and new western partners.” Searchlight successfully targeted Relic at the THQ auction back in 2013, and worked on PC conversions of Japanese IPs, such as Bayonetta and Vanquish. It was the same team which spoke to Amplitude, leading to its acquisition by Sega in 2016. “When we acquired Amplitude, we put down a plan of all the different areas of integration you need to understand the requirements of the studio. What are its priorities? What are its needs? We ask ourselves where we are adding value, and if we get this wrong where could we destroy value.

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“If we acquire a new studio what are we bringing to the party? It’s not because we are now the owners of the studio, that’s not a good enough reason. The reason is because we’re good at this.”

Pictured above: A small selection of Sega Europe’s eclectic range of published titles over the last year

“If we acquire a new studio what are we bringing to the party? It’s not because we are now the owners of the studio, that’s not a good enough reason. The reason is because we’re good at this, and we’re the best people the studio can partner with to deliver this. It’s not because we’re fortunate enough to have relationships with channels, it’s because we’ve worked bloody hard to drive incredible relationships that deliver fantastic value for our studios.” And that was particularly key with Amplitude. While Relic, Sports Interactive and Creative Assembly had never self-published their games, “Amplitude had built a company from developing and self-publishing,” Clark tells us. “So how are we going to represent ourselves, with strength and credibility, in areas where these guys have spent six or seven years building up a business, working with Steam themselves, working with social and community channels, marketing channels and PR?” It certainly wasn’t going to work simply saying: “Hi, I’m the sales guy – you did sales, now I do sales,” he says. Instead they worked in partnership, says Clark: “You do sales, I do sales, please tell me how you’ve driven success for this startup developer and how you’ve been able to deliver these games to the level that’s made Sega really want to acquire you.”

At present Sega has such partnerships with three UK-based studios. Again affirming Sega Europe’s strong UK roots, Clark explains. “[There’s] Playsport Games, a small studio with some very talented young people who have worked for Supermassive and Hello Games, among others. We’ve launched a game called Motorsport Manager with them, so you can see how that fits in the model. “We’re also working with another talented group of guys based near Guildford, called Two Point Studios, founding members and original developers from Bullfrog. We’re really excited about that. “Then we’ve recently announced we’re working with another studio, a startup called Interior Night – headed up by Caroline Marchal, who’s ex-Sony but also exQuantic Dream.” And which was also featured in MCV last month.

ALIEN INCUBATION And Sega is rapidly expanding its third-party publishing deals, or incubations as it describes them. “Why we think about incubation rather than thirdparty publishing is that we enter these relationships to work with a passionate and driven developer with a vision, and that vision is connected to developing a franchise and a bigger future for the studio, focused on how they want to drive community. Community is really, really important to us,” Clark says. “We don’t want anyone who’s going to develop a game, say ‘here’s the game’ and then move onto the next game. We want a studio that’s going to develop the game, the vision, the franchise, build the community and be front-and-centre of that community. We can do that job, but it’s you that’s making the game, so have that relationship with your consumers.”

strong resonance. They’ve got great awareness,” adds Clark enthusiastically. With the company seeing growth off the back of Steam’s own initiatives in the region. “When Steam opened up Chinese localised pages, payment providers and currency, we saw an immediate increase in our sales in China. When we then started to support that with simplified Chinese localisation, again we saw growth – exponential growth. We’re still learning how to take that forward, but Steam is an offshore provider into China, which gives us some limitations about how we think about the Chinese audience.” The most important of these being a lack of any marketing avenues for such offshore services, he adds: “No one’s advertising Steam in China, no one is advertising Football Manager in China.” And Sega Europe’s regional experience is growing: “Over the last three years, from having no knowledge

STEAMED DUMPLINGS While the focus of its development remains in the west, Sega Europe’s Steam expertise is opening things up for it in developing markets – most notably in China – with Clark informing us that “China’s gone from being a Top 20 territory to being a Top 5 territory on Steam. The size of the market and the growth of the market means it’s a really strong focus for us. “With Total War and Football Manager, we’ve seen

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of the business in China we now have a good level of knowledge… and increased our ability to work a lot closer with our Japanese peers and partners, driving stronger relationships there as well.” The next step would have to involve a big Chinese partner, such as Tencent? “Yes, in a perfect world, or Netease,” Clark replies, before continuing: “These are huge organisations and they’ve built their footprint in China, so they run lots of these channels already. They have payment providers, their own social channels, they have a huge footprint. Working with these entities means accessing the routes to the consumer is something that is exciting.” And of course it comes back to fulfilling the needs of communities: “Talking about community again, we see a Chinese community that’s very strong, very opinionated, loves our titles, just like any community. We need to get everything right for them.” LEADERSHIP It’s remarkable that all this activity and that bumper year occurred during what looked like a period of some disruption for the senior management. Longserving Sega Europe chief Jurgen Post left his role in June of last year, and his replacement Chris Bergstresser only stayed for four months before moving on. “At the moment we have a really strong leadership team, that’s the good thing, and our team is quite unique,

in that we have four studio heads, we have corporate development, and my role in publishing,” Clark says. “Miyazaki-san is the CEO of Sega West and he’s spending more time with us at the moment, which is great. We’re getting more exposure to the Japanese business which is really, really good. He’s getting more exposure to us. And we’re learning a lot about the way we all do business.” Clark won’t be drawn on whether a new boss is incoming: “We’re looking for what is the right level of leadership to take the organisation forward. And that does involve talking to people about the leadership role within Sega Europe.” With the company going full steam ahead at present, it’s not a decision that needs to be rushed into. We finish by simply asking if 2018 will be even more profitable for Sega Europe? “Yes,” Clark simply replies.

Pictured above: Endless Space II developed by Amplitude and released last May

“When Steam opened up Chinese localised pages, payment providers and currency, we saw an immediate increase in our sales in China.”

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More God of

With God of War hitting shelves this month, Marie Dealessandri talks to Sony’s

product manager Jon Edwards about marketing an established franchise as a reboot and how the publisher hopes to expand the fanbase with this new title – the most mature in the series to date

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s I was sitting down to write about Sony Santa Monica’s upcoming God of War, previews for the title were just starting to appear, and the same theme was mentioned in every preview: maturity. It’s been five years since the last main entry in the God of War franchise, PS3 release God of War: Ascension in 2013, and it feels like the series needed this break. “From both a story and gameplay perspective, God of War has grown up,” The Verge’s Chaim Gartenberg wrote. Time’s Lisa Eadicicco added: “The Kratos we meet in the new God of War game has undergone a transformation,” while Eurogamer’s Martin Robinson said that the “more mature take on the formula, chilled slightly by the new Norse backdrop” is a “much deeper – and subsequently satisfying – one.” Meanwhile, Polygon’s Samit Sarkar wrote: “The game manages to feel like a bold new direction for God of War while retaining the essence of the series. Like Kratos himself, Sony Santa Monica is turning over a new leaf.” Essentially, Videogamer’s Alice Bell put it in a nutshell: “God of War is both unfamiliar and familiar at the same time.” That means Sony has achieved its goal of marketing an established franchise as a reboot, with the potential to attract both fans of the series and newcomers when it releases on April 20th. And Sony agrees with that sentiment. “God of War definitely has a strong heritage, including an established and iconic protagonist in Kratos, but the new title very much has its own look and feel which allows it to stand as an entity in its own right,” God of War product manager Jon Edwards tells MCV. “The move to a Norse world outside of the previous Greek mythology, combined with the transformation of Kratos and the introduction of his son, does a lot of the heavy lifting,” he adds. The will to make sure the title has its own identity and feels like the reboot

Sony wanted (and that the franchise needed) explains why the studio decided against giving the game a subtitle or number, Edwards continues. “God of War really can be viewed as a standalone game and the name is reflective of that,” he says. “While we expect fans of the series to relish meeting the new, evolved Kratos, they don’t need to have played the previous games to enjoy the latest God of War.” As a result, Sony hopes to widen the audience for one of its best-selling franchises. The God of War series had shifted over 21m copies worldwide as of June 2012, while 2010’s God of War III sold around 5m copies as of January 2017. So there’s a large fanbase for the title – one Sony hopes to expand to fans of the genre as a whole. “Action adventure players are our key focus,” Edwards explains. “Fans of this genre look for games that not only deliver great gameplay but which have a strong emotive narrative, within a new world they can explore. God of War delivers this and more.” He continues: “The evolution of Kratos’ character has allowed us to take God of War to a broader action adventure audience. Our hope is that fans of The Last of Us and Uncharted will enjoy the latest chapter in Kratos’ journey as much as we have.” However, Edwards is keen to repeat that fans of the franchise will not be forgotten in this new direction for the God of War franchise. “It’s worth pointing out that God of War still features the intense combat for which the franchise is known,” he says. “But it’s been more than a decade since we were first introduced to Kratos and so it’s only natural that we’d see the character, and the franchise, mature. “In Kratos’ case, we see that he’s become a father and this is something that will resonate with a number of our players. Games are also increasingly emotive and immersive with the likes of Horizon Zero Dawn and The Last of Us setting the standard for action adventure games, and so this God of War really does have something for all players, old and new.”

“The evolution of Kratos’ character has allowed us to take God of War to a broader action adventure audience.”

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Pictured above: Jon Edwards, God of War product manager at Sony

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE ASGARD It won’t escape anyone’s notice that Sony is investing big in its God of War marketing campaign, though when we ask for more details Edwards’ only answer is: “God of War is one of our big titles for 2018 and the marketing investment is indicative of that.” He continues: “We want to make sure that we convey the stature and magnitude of God of War; this is an epic action adventure game which will be brought to life via big AV placements across TV and cinema.” But even before the TV and cinema ads, God of War started appearing in every Londoner’s daily life as giant posters were everywhere on the tube since even before the release date was announced in January. The out-of-home advertising campaign has been going on for a while then, with God of War being used alongside Horizon Zero Dawn as the literal poster child for the ‘Only on Playstation’ campaign.

“There are lots of reasons to love your PS4 but our great exclusive titles are one of the biggest.”

“There are lots of reasons to love your PS4 but our great exclusive titles are one of the biggest,” Edwards says. “The ‘Only on PlayStation’ campaign serves as a reminder of this and, as such, we’ve drawn on the likes of Horizon Zero Dawn, GT Sport, God of War, Uncharted 4, Shadow of the Colossus and Detroit: Become Human over the course of the activity. We have something for all the players and this campaign allows us to remind people of this.” And the marketing campaign will only get more intense as we get closer to the game’s release date, Edwards continues. “The ATL spend will place God of War in front of a huge audience. TV, cinema and VOD will deliver the trailer to a substantial mainstream audience across sport and film audiences – Tomb Raider, Pacific Rim 2, Ready Player One,” he details. “There will also be out-of-home placements on over 2,500 buses around the UK and hundreds of 48 sheet [billboards]. Alongside this, there will be a large digital and social plan providing new content and high impact advertising across a wide range of gaming sites, mainstream media outlets and more, providing an always-on approach to God of War.” Edwards adds that Sony will “continue to support [God of War] across the year,” as it’s a “key title” for the publisher. He concludes: “Our pre-orders are in line with our expectations at this point and we anticipate a significant increase once the reviews go live.”

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Making a Splash Bromley-based developer Splash Damage has become the first video game developer of its kind to appear on the Sunday Times list of the best companies to work at in the UK. Jake Tucker reports 48 | MCV 934 April 2018

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2,600KG of coffee, 66,000 tea bags, 21,000 bananas, 21,000 apples and 1,000kg of grapes. Splash Damage’s army of 357 definitely marches on its stomach. This is a non-exhaustive list of what the Bromley-based game studio consumed over the last 12 months, even if co-founder and CMO Richard Jolly admits with a smile that he’s personally added substantially to that list since the last time the company tallied it up. But it isn’t just its gigantic catering bill that has seen Splash Damage become the first video game developer of its kind to appear on the Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For list in 2018, slotting in at No.47. Appearance on this list is dependant on the testimonials of employees working at the company. It comes at the end of a redemption arc for a company which, Jolly says, experienced an exodus of talent after a project wrapped up, causing the management to question not just how it made games, but how it could create an environment where employees could thrive. The company has, after all, come a long way since the three co-founders came together as friends in 2001. Keeping morale high in the early days involved going to the pub together after work, something Jolly says is a little tougher now there’s nearly 400 employees. Splash Damage’s local pub, I’m reliably informed, still does fairly well out of its proximity to the developers though. So, Splash Damage’s management set about creating a workplace that was as warm and inclusive as when it was a few friends developing

mods. This started with an employee survey, asking what those within the company felt the company’s core values were. With some refinement, these became a series of values to which the company holds itself. Splash Damage wasn’t just looking for rockstar talent anymore, it was looking for people that could fit in with the company’s values (see boxout below), to come together as a team, rather than individual egos. Commiting to these core values was “transformational,” with Jolly saying the only regret was that the changes weren’t made sooner. He’s also surprisingly honest about the company’s former failings: “I remember some of my early days, I was standing behind people giving feedback, saying ‘that’s shit change it’. And then wondering at the end of the project why they all hated me,” he says. Jolly mentions that the team that originally came together didn’t really have any idea how to be managers. And not just the original co-founders, but also a lot of their early employees, promoted from junior roles within the company. “There’s a certain amount of self awareness that came from these failures that we had as a team with regards to management,” Jolly admits. After changing its values, the company set about changing its yearly appraisal system, which most of the studio agreed was fairly useless, replacing it with a series of one-to-one chats with direct management over a six month period. Each month covers a different topic, whether it’s how managers can work better with subordinates or what an employee’s long-term career goals are. At the end of the six month arc, employees are subject to anonymous peer reviews which both celebrate their successes but also provide a space for employees to realise weaknesses early and take corrective measures. Then Splash Damage looked at putting a management training program in place. “When you promote someone into a management role often no one gets any training at all, and we never did,” Jolly says. “We wanted to try and help ease that journey for either people who want to become managers or people who recently became managers.” The program tries to teach people how to give criticism, how to communicate a message and the other soft skills that are so valuable but so often overlooked in game development. The team also goes through personality profiling, to help people understand how to work together better.

SPLASH DAMAGE interviewed many of its staff to put together an internal list of values that it uses to inform everything it does. It has compared these to game design pillars, which are used to decide the direction of a project whenever an important judgement call has to be made. These values are the ‘pillars’ for Splash Damage’s corporate culture. When a decision has to be made about the company’s culture, they’re made using these as a guide: -We’re intensely loyal -We’re friendly and trusting -We’re self-reliant -We put the team first -We express a can-do attitude -We pursue mastery

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Autonomy at Splash Damage is high, with Jolly mentioning that his ultimate goal is to make himself redundant in the process, with staff empowered by management to make decisions but also guided well enough to ensure that they’re the correct choices. For Alex Wright-Manning, Splash Damage’s senior recruitment manager, recruiting for the firm is actually easier than a lot of other studios. Wright-Manning discusses a value proposition and says that many employees want to work somewhere where they feel they’ll be looked after and can feel like part of a team. Something that the company’s values make easier. For him, the Sunday Times 100 Best award feels like a sign that the mainstream media is recognising the value of games, and is acknowledging that the medium has grown up, something he says is “about time.” “We want to be an employer of choice,” Wright-Manning adds, “so things like the award, they only serve as markers for us to say: ‘look, we are an awesome company, come and work for us’.” It certainly does seem like a family. Everyone I talk to throughout the day seems happy to be there, and a poster in the bathroom advertises both a Super Smash Bros tournament taking place in the office after hours, and also a karaoke night that I was later invited to and warned away from within the same sentence.

Outside of a workplace family, Wright-Manning notes that several people are starting actual families, too. He says it’s a positive: “If people feel safe and secure enough to start a family when they’re working for you, you know you’re doing something right.” After its buyout last year by Leyou Technologies Holdings, Splash Damage is rapidly staffing up, with the company doubling in size over the past twelve months. As we talk, the building next to its office is being kitted out to act as a second office while it looks for bigger and better digs. “Ordinarily that would be challenging, both from a logistical standpoint and also from a culture standpoint. You know, you bring people in and you die with your culture. There is that danger,” Wright-Manning says about the difficulties of recruiting at this scale. “But because the values here are so set in stone, we actually hire against those. Everyone who walks through the door, we look at their technical ability and their experience but we also talk to them and evaluate them against our core values. So we could have the best programmer in the world, who’s an absolute rockstar, they could be incredibly technical, world-class talent. But, if they don’t meet our value requirements, then we don’t hire them. And that’s why, I think, we’ve continued to grow and to develop as a company, because we’re hiring people who are all moving in the same direction.”

Pictured above, from top: co-founder and CMO Richard Jolly and senior recruitment manager Alex Wright-Manning

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A year in the


GameMaker Studio 2 has had a great first year. Jem Alexander speaks to YoYo Games’ general manager, James Cox, about its success, its plans to bring forth a new generation of game developers, and where it goes from here


t’s been a year since the launch of GameMaker Studio 2 and over that time the developers at YoYo Games haven’t slowed down for a second. The engine has seen great success and has been updated continuously since GDC 2017, snowballing its popularity among established game developers, hobbyists and students. Years of development work for YoYo Games is paying off and the company has big plans as it continues down the path now clearly laid out before it.

“There’s three years worth of development that led up to the release of GameMaker Studio 2, so that underpins it all,” says James Cox, general manager of YoYo Games. “The product then stepped forward. It was a proper new product, a proper new release. That’s the basis for everything. “We released last March, just after GDC, and we had a very good launch. The software was popular, the uptake was very good. We saw new people coming across from GameMaker Studio 1, which was great. Then we had our first major update in July time, and that was when

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GameMaker Studio 2 came to Mac as well. We now have a steady stream of Mac users as well as Windows users.” YoYo Games also brought in special pricing for educational use, re-released Studio 1 as part of a Humble Bundle and partnered with Amazon on a Kindle Fire export option alongside bolstering its mobile features. After that, the studio partnered with Microsoft to allow the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) version of GameMaker Studio 2 to work with the Xbox Live Creator’s Programme. “That’s very cool, because it opens the door to any developer to come onto a console,” Cox says. “UWP is a big thing in the applications world but maybe less big in the games world. I still think there are a lot of developers who don’t realise this. You can build a UWP game and launch on Xbox. You do not need to be an fully registered Xbox developer, anyone can register for the Xbox Live Creators program and you can start bringing your game across to Xbox. That’s a really cool thing for a lot of aspiring independent developers or students.” Beyond that, the studio released a Creator Edition for developers on a budget and has just announced fully localised versions of the engine in German, Spanish and French. It’s been a busy year for the company. “We’re adding three languages,” Cox says. “It’s something we’ve wanted to do for quite a while. We’ve found that with the new deep learning in Google Translate, we can basically automatically translate the manual. We need to have some exception rules and we’ve had to do some work on it, as you might imagine, but we’ve got half a million words on the manual and it changes every single release. Pieces are added, pieces are taken away, pieces are changed. So we needed a machine translation solution to that and the technology is good enough now. “We’re not saying it’s necessarily going to be perfect first time round. We’re getting the integrated development environment translated by hand, so everyone will be happy with that. We’re going to put the manuals out on Github, so that if people find places where they think ‘actually that’s not quite right, it’s not quite good enough’ then they can make the appropriate changes and we can review. At YoYo Games, we’re very happy to try things out and we think this will work really well.” ACCESS GRANTED Part of the reasoning behind localising GameMaker Studio 2 is to make it more accessible to young people who speak German, Spanish and French. Children whose grasp of English is still developing, but who are of an age where they might want to start thinking about making games. This rings true with what Cox describes as the ‘heart and soul’ of the company. “We’ve been talking a lot about what’s the heart and soul of GameMaker and the company and how can we express that,” Cox explains. “We think the best way to express it is: we are trying to make or develop game makers. We are trying to help people become game developers. And so we absolutely still take into account and have a lot of focus on the hobbyists and

students and people new to game development. And we don’t see that going away.” By focusing on accessibility, YoYo hopes to remove the barriers between aspiring game developers and their first games. Sometimes these creators will cut their teeth on GameMaker Studio and move on to more advanced, 3D engines like Unreal and Unity, but according to the firm that’s no issue at all. “For some people that is a natural journey and for us that’s fine,” Cox says. “It’s not a problem. We’re quite happy to be part of some people’s journey or to be the whole of some people’s journey. And we find that people sometimes try the other engines first and then they look at GameMaker to have something that is more accessible, and we’re happy to pass on some of those people back to the other engines at the appropriate time. “Also there are people who discover they love playing games and want to get into game jams and they can come to us because we can help them make games very quickly. There’s a very fast iteration pipeline with GameMaker and sometimes the focus on 2D is a good thing. Particularly with personal projects. “We don’t mind being part of that journey for some people because every year there’s another generation. We can be part of their journey as well. And then others, they’ll stay with GameMaker and they’ll build their studios around it and that’s great to see as well.” The number of studios building popular games in GameMaker feels like it’s growing exponentially. With titles like Hyper Light Drifter, Undertale,

Spelunky and Hotline Miami, the engine is developing a strong legacy. It’s no question that it is now a legitimate development platform for studios

Pictured: YoYo Games general manager James Cox

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of all sizes. Especially now YoYo Games has announced Switch support, which will be released soon after its current closed alpha phase. “We are seeing plenty of games that are both commercially and critically successful and also we’re seeing an increase in anticipation for games that are made with GameMaker,” Cox says. “Sometimes people don’t realise that those games are made with GameMaker as well. The ambition of the games has been increasing. The type and variety of the games has been increasing. “Maybe two or three years ago GameMaker may have been more associated with pixel artwork and those types of games on Steam. But now people are making high-res games, people are making pixel art, people are making mobile games, people are on Steam, people are on console and of course there is a huge amount of interest in Switch as well. There is a lot more variety of ambition and game genres and art styles and types.” So what next? After such a busy year, is it time for a rest? No, of course not. Don’t be silly. “We have another laundry list of features,” Cox says. “Most of it is unfortunately not public yet but we’ve got a few points on our public roadmap on our website. We’ve got a whole bunch of features we’re working on, some of them are more short term, some of them are more long term. We’re looking at this whole GameMaker journey as well; how can we help people start and how can we help them reach the high skill ceiling, to make that really beautiful looking game? “So we’ve got some more work we’re doing with our tutorials. A few that are more instant – short snappy tutorials that take a look at different simple game genres. Often people will come into the engine and say ‘I want to make a platform game’ or ‘I want to make a little space shooter’. So we’re looking at some very fast and quick tutorials to help people reach that initial ambition.

“We are seeing plenty of games that are both commercially and critically successful. Sometimes people don’t realise that those games are made with GameMaker.” “Then on top of that we’re looking at the visual editor aspect. We have a lot of visual editors in GameMaker. There’s drag and drop, there’s the level editor, there’s the image editor. We’re looking to see what other visual editors we can build in to get people going faster, that are more easy to understand.” And, while 2D is very much the company’s focus for now, Cox isn’t ruling out adding full 3D features at some point in the nebulous future. “We’re concentrating on 2D at the moment,” he says. “We do discuss 3D, as you might imagine, so you can never count it out, but right now we are focused as a 2D game engine. It works very well for our audience and there’s a lot of interest to make 2D games. Some people have made 3D games in GameMaker, it is possible to do, but it’s not the focus of our toolchain at the moment. So come back to us in the future with that one because hey, you never know.”

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“There’s real growth potential in more narrative forms of gaming” Marie Dealessandri heads to Manchester to talk to Creative England CEO Caroline Norbury about the organisation’s initiatives to help grow emerging games businesses, what challenges lie on the way and why narrative matters more and more in games

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ince Creative England arose from the ashes of the UK Film Council in 2011, its role has expanded way beyond that of its predecessor, supporting all the creative industries via funding, mentoring and by facilitating partnerships. Between its launch in November 2016 and July last year, Creative England’s GamesLab initiative in Leeds saw £157,000 invested across 13 new games, with the initiative running until 2019 to support studios in the region. Before this, the South West and the West Midlands also benefitted from the GamesLab programme, with hopefully more to come. “What GamesLab is trying to do is help businesses to grow and develop their capacity,” Creative England CEO Caroline Norbury tells MCV. “There are lots of aspects to video games businesses – there’s making the game and then there’s running a business to make sure that you can make the next game. And what GamesLab tries to do is a little bit of both really – a little bit of investing in a particular game and then to help you, either as a startup or as a small company, to build the capacity, the skills, make the contacts, look for how you’re going to get the investment to actually go on and do the next thing.” Creative England is also behind the Be More Creative series of events, promoting local creative clusters across games, film, tech, TV and music. It’s at the Be More Manchester event, focused on the future of storytelling, that we meet. She explains the thinking behind this series of events, which kicked off in Leeds in July 2017 and made a stop at Stoke-onTrent mid-March: “What we’re trying to do is to shine a light on some of the really creative people in the creative businesses that are based all around the country,” Norbury says. “We’re going into different cities and showcasing those businesses in those cities. We chose Manchester because it’s a great creative centre with some brilliant games businesses here. What we want people to understand is that there are real opportunities to work in the creative industries here, there’s a really great vibe and a great ecosystem to support businesses that want to grow here.” STAY TRUE TO YOUR ART Finding a great ecosystem to support your aspiring studio is only the first step, as the path leading to success in the games industry is anything but an easy one. When asked about the challenges on the way, Norbury fires back: “So many!”

However, if Creative England is the right platform to support aspiring developers, the resources remain unfortunately limited, she continues: “We’re a small company with very limited investments, so we try to help businesses that have great ideas to prove their concepts, if you like. That’s one of the ways that we think we can help.” Fortunately, Creative England is more than a onetrick pony and can support studios in various ways: “The other [way we can help] is we use our investment funds to then invest in those IPs where we think there is some traction or we think that the team have got a real market advantage,” Norbury says. “We obviously expect our money back so we can put it into the next interesting idea. So we make creative decisions, but they have to be directed by financial decisions… You know: is this game going to make its money back? Are we going to be able to recoup and invest in the next thing? I think the challenge for games companies is two-fold. One is recruiting people with the right skills; that’s an enduring problem. Then the other big challenge is visibility. It’s a very noisy market place. There are a lot of people in there. “As Ged [Doherty, former CEO of Sony Music UK, founder of Raindog Films and one of the speakers at Be More Manchester] said, you can get to the top of the App Store in many countries but that doesn’t give you any comfort as to whether or not you will be able to make another game. So having the right people in the first place and then being visible are the two really big challenges for games.” To overcome those challenges, Norbury has advice to all the young studios out there: “Align yourself to the right sort of publishers or the different distributors who are out there and look at where your market opportunity is, the thing that distinguishes you.” She continues, still referring to Doherty’s introductory talk at the event: “As Ged was saying: keep true to your art and keep true to the thing that is right for you. I’d also say that there’s a real growth potential in more narrative forms of gaming. Games have that appeal of being an interactive experience. I think for all of us as consumers, increasingly, we want to have more control and we want to interact much more with these different mediums. So combining gameplay with amazing narrative, art design and sound composition… “You’re seeing more and more of that in gaming. I think there’s a big market for the games industry to engage more people by perhaps working as much on the script as they are on the gameplay.”

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Italian Video Game Awards On March 14th, the Italian games industry congregated in Milan for a celebration of video games across the world, but also to reflect on all of the region’s fantastic contributions to the medium. Jem Alexander reports


n partnership with the Italian Video Game Awards, MCV was offered the opportunity to hand out two very special prizes to the best of the best in Italy. We’re very grateful to AESVI, the organisers of the awards, for allowing us to contribute to the show. The Italian game industry’s increased globalisation is something that we’ve been watching eagerly as it continues to grow. We caught up with the winners of MCV’s very special awards, given out at the Teatro Vetra, to discuss the Italian games industry and its place on the global stage.

learn from each other, but also a great opportunity to spread the right understanding of what is being done in the industry to the mass market.

MCV Special Recognition Award: Most Successful Italian Company Digital Bros

What are your feelings on where the Italian games industry is today? What are its strengths? We need to decide what will be our role in the future. Our passion, our skills and the way we work are appreciated worldwide, but I reckon there is still room to do better. The game industry in Italy has high potential and has some strengths among the players, studios and developers that still need to be exploited. Over the years, we have found great values, skills, creativity and talent. We want to spread the Italian values and culture and give to our national industry its identity worldwide.

How important is it to get together every year to celebrate the best of the Italian games industry? Rami Galante, co-founder: As an industry, we need to be aware of our strengths and celebrate our achievements. I really hope that the Italian Video Game Awards will always be a moment to gather together and

How do you think the Italian games industry will change in the coming years? I believe that it has been leveraging for several years on pioneers, independent studios and the passion of individuals. Today, the Italian game industry is growing, becoming more structured and organised

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to respond to the market necessities in terms of timing, deliverability and business strategy and this trend will continue in the next years. It has high potential and we strongly believe in it. For this reason, we invest in Italian studios, we publish Italian games, and we also built a Game Academy to create professionals for this growing market. How does it feel to have contributed to the growth of the Italian games industry and its increasing globalisation? We and all our teams are very proud to have contributed to the growth of the Italian games industry for the last three decades. We have been working hard, feeling Italian in our hearts but conscious of how important the international soul is to be a key player in the globalisation of this business. We are confident that our efforts gave our partners significant international opportunities and the possibility to grow their business global.

MCV Special Recognition Award: Most Successful Individual in Italian Games Ubisoft Milan’s creative director Davide Soliani Congratulations! How does it feel to win the award? Embarrassed, I am not sure I deserve it. I am not the only one who worked on Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle but everyone is identifying me as the only key actor for the realisation of this game, but I am not. It was hard work for many people. Moreover, I am not sure I can really represent the Italian industry as an individual, but for sure I’m honoured by this award. Please, let me thank you all on behalf of the entire team in Milan and Paris. How important is it to get together every year to celebrate the best of the Italian games industry? Union is strength, right? It is about involving and not dividing. It is also a great occasion to be under the spotlight for many talented people. As Ubisoft, we can create our own visibility, but for small studios, it is harder. In addition, celebrating excellence is a positive loop.

What are your feelings on where the Italian games industry is today? What are its strengths? As an industry, we are still a small country but we are definitely growing. Luckily, besides old veterans like me, there is a new wave of young developers full of energy and ideas, who really want to change the video game scene in Italy. They are our growing strength. How do you think the Italian games industry will change in the coming years? Slowly. I am not so naive to believe that everything will be perfect and awesome in a very short time. Video games are becoming part of our culture, investors are starting to be interested and the community of developers is growing, but it will take a few years before we will be able to be considered as a solid entity around the world. How does it feel to have contributed to the growth of the Italian games industry and its increasing globalisation? I am very happy about Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle but we have been able to contribute to the growth of the Italian game industry only partially. Even if Ubisoft Milan plans to grow even more, the real growth of the Italian industry will happen only when video games will achieve a bigger role in our culture and economical system. The more studios opening in Italy, big or small, the better. Do you think that the globalisation of the Italian games industry is important? Terry Pratchett was saying: “It is important that we know where we come from, because if you do not know where you come from, then you don’t know where you are, and if you don’t know where you are, you don’t know where you are going.” But he was also saying that “you need a whole lot to make a world.” So, yes, I think it is important, as long as globalisation means being able to bring something cool and new out there, for people to experience and see, and not to format ourselves in a common template. However, the most important thing is that I need to do a Discworld game before dying, in case you didn’t guess!

Your Italian Game Awards winners in full: Game of the Year The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Radio 105 Esports Game of the Year Rainbow Six: Siege

Best Character Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice – Senua

Best Indie Game What Remains of Edith Finch

Best Selling Game FIFA 18

Best Art Direction Cuphead

Best Audio Nier Automata

Best Mobile Game Monument Valley 2

Best Italian Game Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

Best Game Design Super Mario Odyssey

Best Family Game Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

Best Evolving Game GTA Online

Best Italian Debut Game Downward

Best Narrative Prey

Innovation Award PlayerUnknown’s Battleground

Game Beyond Entertainment Last Day of June

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How Ustwo wants to prove there’s more to mobile gaming than ‘tapping candy and opening loot boxes’ On the back of Monument Valley 2’s triumph, Marie Dealessandri catches up with head of studio Dan Gray, who talks about new franchises, the business models of mobile, the limitations of VR, and moving into publishing like-minded developers


s I sit down with Ustwo’s Dan Gray on the comfy sofas at Manchester’s Old Granada Studios, he immediately jokes about having been “a bit in hiding” since the launch of Monument Valley 2 and not having done a lot of interviews in a while. And it’s true that Ustwo’s head of studio let the game speak for itself since its fantastic launch in June 2017. The team announced and launched Monument Valley 2 on the same day, to tally with Apple’s new App Store reveal at WWDC, making it a “fully-featured poster child for the new App Store,” Gray says. “It’s hard to know what you can learn from a set up like that. It’s like a unicorn of a launch, I guess,” he continues. “But financially it’s done really well. One thing that’s really interesting is we currently make more money in China than the rest of the world combined, daily, for Monument Valley 1 and 2. Which is crazy, who would have thought!” 2014’s Monument Valley was already incredibly successful, and received DLC as a result. For this follow-up though, Gray says the team is “not sure yet” about DLC plans. “We’re always working on stuff. And actually it’s the reason why we originally made Monument Valley 2. We were going to leave it as one entry and then we hired some new people and, of course, they joined you because they love Monument Valley and then their excitement led us to make more content. Not many people know this but Monument Valley 2 started as a selection of short stories and we ended up choosing one to make the game about. So we still have other stories to tell within that universe. At the moment we’re just enjoying having the majority of the team working on prototyping brand new ideas. We’re working on two things that are not Monument Valley related.”

When asked if he can tell us more about these two new IPs, Gray’s answer feels final: “No,” he fires back, laughing. “But okay, let’s just talk in generalities about what we’re trying to do with those two games,” he adds, smiling. “I’ve always said we try and take all these awesome things about video games, that core video game players love, and try and bring them to a wide audience. So with Monument Valley we allowed millions of people to care about a character for the first time. Whether you like it or not, your average person on the street is not going to spend a hundred hours on The Witcher 3. We gave them a snippet of a story for the first time, to a group of people who thought mobile games were about tapping candy and opening loot boxes. So whatever we do next is going to be about interactive storytelling. “That’s going to be key and in a way that makes sense for games. I love playing Uncharted, I love Metal Gear, but I don’t want games to try and be movies.” THE TWO ROOMS ANALOGY Despite having already developed a VR game, 2015’s Land’s End, and despite interactive storytelling increasingly finding its place in VR (see our Moss feature on page 74), Ustwo is not yet ready to return to this territory. “These two things we’re working on now are not VR,” Gray says. “I really love VR and Land’s End was a massive success for us. We made a profit on a VR game, which is crazy. But I would say things haven’t progressed in that space as quickly as I would want them to.” The technology still has too many limitations, Gray believes, mentioning London’s location-based VR experience The Void as a counterexample.

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Pictured above: Dan Gray, head of studio at Ustwo

“The reason why [The Void] works is because there’s a physical representation of the game world for you to interact with. There are walls. When I was at Oculus Connect this year I played a VR experience and you’re in a canoe and the character across from you puts a hand in the water as the canoes go in and you can see a splash in the water. And I want to put my hand down but I can’t do it! [laughs] It doesn’t work! So there are still various things that snap you out of that experience. I think it’s going to be years before we get to that point because there’s still so much of a disconnect between the virtual and the physical. That’s why when we made Land’s End, you control everything with your head. It’s a one-to-one track. The angle at which you look at things and the speed at which you look at things are exactly the same as you would do with your eyes in real life. We don’t pretend that you’re holding a sword that has weight or that you can walk around when you can’t. But maybe we will do [more VR] in the future.” Another thing that Ustwo doesn’t exclude doing in the future is free-to-play, though Gray is reticent about it. “A lot of people today have talked about the idea of not being driven by money, being driven by creativity,” he says, hinting at the speakers of Creative England’s Be More Manchester event at which we’re meeting. “And if you fulfill that creativity then the commercial aspect will follow. It feels like the new business plans, the new business models that we have in place are having a negative impact on creativity. So we look at things like free-to-play mobile games or we look at things like loot crates in big triple-A games; we’re having to jeopardise what we truly want our projects to be creatively for business reasons. “We’ve considered doing free-to-play before. Before I joined Ustwo, they released a game called Whale Trail, which was a free game. I’ve always said that it’s not off the table for us but we would only do it if it made sense for the creative vision of the project. Monument Valley would never exist as a free game. Can you imagine something that’s like just over an hour long, would you really pay for chapters? It doesn’t make any sense. “The analogy I always use is I imagine there are two rooms. One of the rooms that we work in, which is the premium mobile game space, we ask for a ticket. We let you in the room. Our room is designed in such a way that we just want you to have fun. It needs to be beautiful. It needs to be engaging. We want you to

leave this room and remember something. Now there’s another room – you don’t have to pay to get in the room. But once we get you in the room my main objective is to keep you in the room. You want to provide people with enjoyment still, but you want to keep them in the room. That’s the analogy of premium and free-to-play. So maybe we will do [free-to-play] in the future but I think it’s probably unlikely that we will.” GETTING IT RIGHT If free-to-play is not in Gray’s mind then there’s another project for Ustwo that is much closer to his heart: publishing like-minded developers. “There are certain things I know we do well: speaking to platform holders and press and getting people excited. And there are hugely talented people who want to concentrate on the production of their game who maybe don’t want to think about that aspect of things,” he says. “Being a design and UI/UX studio originally, we understand how your average player is going to interact with this thing that you’ve made. There are lots of skills that we can provide. I had it down as a goal for this year to experiment with that. I’ve gone back on it a bit recently – at least in the short term, because the number one priority is to prove that we can do something that’s not Monument Valley. For as much as I believe we could do loads of awesome things, supporting a lot of other smaller teams, I want to make sure we get this right first.” Ustwo has already started helping fellow developers, Team Alto. “Harry [Nesbitt, lead artist and programmer] works from our studio but he’s not affiliated with us. We just let him work from our studio because it’s cool. But throwing around those ideas and bouncing stuff, that’s massive. So imagine you want to network different people who are working together, sharing resources and making this work... By 2019 I definitely want to be doing this.” Closing the interview, Gray mentions how attached he is to greater Manchester, where he’s from and one of the reasons why he wanted to take part in this event. “Everything is so London-centric,” he says. “But the games industry in general is so much easier to access now. Think about all the free engines like Unity, for example. You can get in and publish something to Google Play. So it’s really important to come to do stuff like this, to increase the profile of investing in creative industries outside of London, especially games.” He continues, smiling from ear to ear: “And I obviously want to come because I have a connection here and I’ll come and open a new game studio here one day.”

“The No.1 priority is to prove that we can do something that’s not Monument Valley.”

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Esports Heaven Competitive gaming continues to grow but how can it benefit your company? Seth Barton talks to Heaven Media about the opportunities and pitfalls


here are a lot of companies looking at esports these days and wondering if their brand could benefit from getting involved. We talked to Mark Reed (pictured right), founder at Heaven Media and former director of marketing for AMD in EMEA, about what to consider before jumping onboard the competitive gaming bandwagon. Heaven Media is a specialist media agency working in esports and enthusiast gaming. The company can work as an advertising, PR or creative agency – as well as organising events and tournaments, providing logistics, influencer management and much more. Heaven Media covers a wide array of agency roles – how important is it to coordinate all these? We are fortunate that most of our clients allow us to coordinate multiple elements of their campaigns, which in turn allows us to truly amplify the results. Relying on a single marketing element in isolation is to tell a story in a vacuum. To get the results our clients deserve, you need to create the story and often let it live elsewhere to maximise the impact. Doing a live event and driving strong engagement face-to-face is all well and good, however you limit yourself to telling the story only to the guests in attendance. If you can capture that content and build momentum before, during and after the event on social, you can greatly amplify the result with relative ease. Engaging content such as interviews with partners, influencers and consumers, can be used for many online destinations including your own website. Using influencers can have a profound impact for our clients, but why stop with using that content just for their audience? If they tell the story of your brand in an

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imaginative way, take that content to social, to your website, to other communities and deliver it, albeit in a different format. We’re strong believers in multi-disciplined marketing, and it shines a light on the importance of coordination, which is so intrinsically linked to everything we do. Our team coordinates social activity through creative and content, PR through influencers and the press to get the results our clients deserve, and which resonates authentically with gamers. Influencers are here to stay, but is this channel still maturing and how? The sheer proliferation of influencers is proving a major challenge and therefore so is finding the value sweet spot. On the one hand it is far too easy to go to the influencer with the biggest reach, but today for many brands they simply will not get the value they seek. On the other hand, it’s easy to get lost in a sea of mediocrity. Many of our clients are understandably eager to engage with the influencer community but it’s important to be smart in how we approach this resource. For example, if your business priority is PC gaming (as many of our clients’ are), you may think influencers focusing on PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds or Fortnite would give excellent value, and you’d be right. However, if you’re not careful in choosing the right influencers you may be left with someone that has an overwhelming PlayStation or Xbox community and therefore not helping you hit your goals. As the space gets very crowded, brands find it hard to make the right choice. At Heaven Media we focus on influencers so heavily that, for us, it is easier to find the right individual to fit with the client’s quarter or annual objectives. And what will be the next big way to reach consumers? The crazy thing about our market is the unrelenting way it never stops changing. We’re focused on integrating consumers into our clients’ brand experience at the most personal level. Media fragmentation is nothing new, but we’ll continue to help our clients’ brands to prioritise personalisation and curation at every touchpoint. For me, it’s about creating content and opportunities that really bring value to the gaming audience. Expect to see a big push around cause-based partnerships and loyalty programs this year and next too. What are the most common errors in esports marketing? Everything! Seriously. Though I have spent ten years now talking about esports until I was blue in the face trying to get brands to understand the opportunity. Today it is often holding them back. So many brands have been getting a great return for years, albeit probably not realising the true value delivered until now. The principles are still true that esports, like traditional sports, helps create brand loyalty and credibility in a space. The challenge today is that the cost and risk associated with that is beyond those that benefit most from it. Endemic sponsors cannot get the value easily

and the non-endemic soft drink brands and car companies have pushed the price of entry up considerably. My first piece of advice to all customers is: do not sponsor a team or tournament in esports, unless you are willing to do the daily grind of activating that sponsorship into your social, your retail marketing, your events and building it into the fabric of your marketing. Heaven Media has a whole team dedicated to supporting our clients on the daily activations that makes esports work, to ensure they get solid results and value for money. How big is the appetite for esports tournaments in the UK and who should be getting involved? We’re only just at the tip of understanding what esports can truly grow into in the UK. We are certainly behind most European countries, especially Germany, Sweden, Poland and others. It has been suggested that British people do not like to travel, or venues are too expensive to put on large live events, but I think it will change over the next three years. Having the likes of ESL and FaceIT bringing large events to the UK is a great start but we’re also starting to see casual esports raise its game, with GAME getting involved with its Beyond brand, for example. The appetite is huge and we’re forecasting strong growth for many years to come. There’s room for all to be involved from casual to professional and the opportunities for sponsorship, publishers, hardware manufactures, broadcasters and developers is obvious. Again, the key is to find the most effective way to get involved. What makes the perfect client from your point of view? Heaven Media are all passionate gamers, so we like to work with clients who share our excitement and enthusiasm for their brands and the industry as a whole. Generally speaking, if you love what you do and believe in your story, the quality and creativity of your work is so much stronger. Enthusiasm is infectious and we like to work with exciting clients who wish to see their brands excel. Most of our clients are large corporate entities and we see and feel their pain with the challenges that can bring, but there is no greater feeling for my team than building a business case in the face of senior scrutiny and showing epic results. We like making heroes of our clients, plus, we also like it when our clients join in on the Heaven Media lunchtime Fortnite and Overwatch gaming sessions!

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NEW OR IMPROVED The most fascinating facets of the latest games, focusing on how developers continue to innovate and push the boundaries of the medium DARK SOULS REMASTERED You’ll soon have another opportunity to play Dark Souls. Maybe you missed it the first time, or maybe you ducked out after your 50th attempt against the Gaping Dragon. Either way, Jem Alexander reckons the re-release will be worth your time REMASTERING a game is a great excuse to re-release it. Perhaps that’s a cynical way of looking at it, but ‘excuse’ in this case in not necessarily used in the pejorative. It opens the door for new players to experience games – those who might have been too wee to enjoy it at release – and, yes, it cuts down on development efforts compared to entirely new games. Not that there isn’t effort that goes into prettifying old games. Entire studios now dedicate their full staff to making sure older titles take full advantage of today’s high-tech platforms.

Dark Souls Remastered is coming at a great time, still in the afterglow of the success of last year’s Dark Souls III, the recent availability of Bloodborne on PlayStation Plus and From Software’s pre-Christmas tease of Shadows Die Twice. Whatever that turns out to be. The people who missed the Souls bandwagon the first time around are numerous, but the fact people in the industry won’t shut up about it (my colleagues frequently yell at me for talking about the, in their words, “damned thing”) is sure to pique the curiosity of many who can now jump in at the first game of the much-lauded series. And that’s the true value of Dark Souls Remastered, perhaps even over and above its graphical improvements and smoother experience. 2011 was, ye gods, seven years ago now and today’s teens and young adults were tiny people

back then, not yet mighty enough to wield a Black Knight Halberd. But now they have tremendous choice in where and how they might want to play the first (and best, let’s be honest) game in the franchise. The various platforms of release offer different levels of graphical upgrade, from native 4K support and 2K textures on PC all the way down to 720p (1080p in TV mode) on Switch. Despite me not yet getting any time with the Switch version and despite it being the “worst” technically, I still suspect this will be the winner of the bunch come May 25th. The portability, coupled with the promise of a fixed 30fps (yes, even in Blighttown, though that remains to be seen) could make jumping in for one more attempt against Ornstein and Smough a lunchtime, bus or even toilet activity. That is potentially the biggest improvement in this release. Improvements on other platforms, including high-resolution textures and 60fps, certainly aren’t nothing, however. It’s never been considered a particularly beautiful game, with its grime and rusted metal aesthetic, along with its salami-skinned ‘hollow’ characters, but the remaster certainly looks better. I could feel the improvements on the PS4 Pro version that I played, even if the base game has barely been touched. For Dark Souls purists and newcomers to the series, however, that’s absolutely the way it should be.

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VERMINTIDE 2 Jake Tucker looks at how Vermintide 2 apes MMO raids to keep its audience invested

LAST month has seen the launch of Warhammer: Vermintide 2, the follow-up to the obscenely named Warhammer: The End Times - Vermintide and, at first glance, developer Fatshark hasn’t reinvented the wheel. There are, after all, still four characters. It’s still a game of whirling axes, brutal melees and unending last stands as these characters complete their missions. However, past the entrails — they’re a natural part of slaughtering mansized rats, don’t be shy — you can see that Fatshark has taken inspiration from MMO raids to mine tension for the game, and it could be a big part of keeping

Vermintide 2’s audience engaged. Vermintide 2 doesn’t give away much for free. The game feels impossibly hard for the first few attempts, and requires a lot of learnt behaviour for players looking to seize victory. The game only hands out loot when a character levels up or when a mission is completed, meaning that progression can be slow if players aren’t playing well. This is a step away from the loot hoovering of many action-RPG’s, but by making any loot feel like a success, it’s recapturing the

feeling of raiding in elderly MMOs which is that anything you get at all, no matter what, should feel like an event. It’s the antithesis of action RPGs like Diablo or Borderlands, in addition to a larger trend of vomiting items over players. However, taking away the expectation of players to receive new items for any achievement has the effect of making players focus on the gameplay, allowing a new axe or shiny Dwarven shotgun to feel like its own event. It’s something that has to be earnt. This is a design philosophy that is shot through the entire game. Most of the chests in Vermintide 2 are empty, solely so that when you open a chest and there’s something in it, players will get a kick out of it. Bosses feel like godlike killing machines, so that when players do finally fell a bile troll after a 25-minute fight, the elation is a real thing. In a weekend of playing the game, I encountered a Chaos Spawn several times, but still don’t have any idea how I’m supposed to survive one’s assault. During that weekend with friends however, I heard people whoop in elation after fights were survived, or sigh with genuine relief when a health draught was dug up in a back room. Fatshark making Vermintide 2’s more sparing with handing out goodies has made even the most mundane parts feel rewarding. For a game largely centered on running the same missions again and again, Vermintide 2 faced a difficult task to convince its audience that it’s worth the investment. By tying it to the difficulty curve of MMO raids, they’ve created a challenging environment that should keep those who buy into this particular brand of Warhammer-themed slaughter invested in the long term.

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SEA OF THIEVES Microsoft’s pirate sandbox – with lots of lovely sand – has thrown the UI overboard and frees its players to enjoy the world, says Seth Barton

SO you think you’ve heard all the saltiest yarns from the Sea of Thieves? Well here’s one you might not have heard yet. Back in the early days of the game’s development, when the designers were still working out how the various missions would function, they playtested the games using maps and riddles on pieces of paper, studio head Craig Duncan told us. That’s actual pieces of paper mind you, not the lovingly-rendered virtual pieces of parchment you get in the game today. The core game was upand-running, so you could sail around the world and walk about the early islands, but the gameplay was still a work in progress. So the designers wrote instructions for each other on sheets of office paper and referred to those in order to find the treasure buried within the world. The designers, Joe Neate and Gregg Mayles, found it was fun to use these maps to direct them to the right spot in the game, then solve the riddle, using their compass to orientate themslves. In short, Rare knew it was onto something even while parts of the game still resembled a pen-and-paper RPG. Now, in the age of digital distribution, it’s not going to be practical to send a sheaf of papers out to each and every player. So the maps had to be moved into the game itself, but they retained that physicality and simplicity. They are

objects in the world which the player owns and can look at, rather than digital keys which unlock a location and place a waypoint on your user interface. And it’s that sidelining of UI that makes Sea of Thieves such a bold and brilliant piece of design. Many games are overreliant on complex UIs to provide the information players need. Onscreen waypoint markers for your next objective being the most invasive and persistent culprits of such a design philosophy. And while they have their place, they can make playing games feel robotic, distancing you from the world as you carve the shortest possible route to the next objective. Sea of Thieves replaces such shortcuts with a world packed full of feedback, the filling of your sails being a particularly satisfying example. More cleverly still, it creates cooperative work out of the absence of UI. You can’t steer the ship and navigate at the same time, there’s no radar to tell you where enemy ships are, and in battle you need someone to keep an eye on whether you’re sinking. The game isn’t going to warn you, or at least not until you start listing. Sea of Thieves replaces the innumerable UI crutches of most games with in-world tells and the assistance of fellow players, and it’s so much better for it.

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Every month in Fresh Meat we check in with a new and upcoming developer. This month we chat to Solar Sail Games’ Neil Millstone about working with old friends, the east London startup vibe and how the studio got funding AT around 18 months old, Solar Sail Games may not be as new as other studios we’ve covered in this section in the past, but over that time the developer has been quietly working on its upcoming narrative survival game, Smoke and Sacrifice, which launches soon. With only four employees, the studio is very lean, but the two founders are veterans of the UK industry, having worked together at Kuju Entertainment almost a decade ago. “Tancred [Dyke-Wells, co-founder and art director at Solar Sail Games] called me up about two years ago,” says Neil Millstone, co-founder and technical director at the studio. “He’d recently left Headstrong Games where he had been creative director for many years. We hadn’t worked together in nearly ten years, and I was surprised that he even remembered who I was! I was working out a contract at the time, and jumped at the chance to start something new and exciting.” It’s a common tale at this point: veteran developers stepping away from management to get closer to the nitty gritty of game dev. “It was an easy decision for us to form an indie development company, something we had both wanted to do for a long time,” Millstone continues. “We had a burning need to make the games which appeal to us as players, and also as game designers. “Tancred and I worked together previously on Art Academy, a Nintendo DS title from 2009. It was a very small team, a little like the indie developers of today. That game was incredibly

successful and we learnt loads about Nintendo’s design philosophy working with them.” Together, Millstone and Dyke-Wells are creating a top-down survival game with a narrative focus, but before they could get started they needed a little help. “The first person we recruited was Justin Cheadle, who also worked on Art Academy and

Pictured: Solar Sail Games’ co-founder and technical director, Neil Millstone, with art from the studio’s debut title, Smoke and Sacrifice, coming to PS4, Xbox One, Switch and PC

whose writing and game design skills we would need to create the narrative that would drive Smoke and Sacrifice,” Millstone says. “We hired Dan Saxon later in the project, a very talented designer who worked on the combat and level design, who was the only person on the team we hadn’t worked with before.” The team has an office space in east London, which prevents them from losing their minds by working from home every day, as Millstone explains: “While we both have spaces to work in at home, spending time at our respective homes working alone in our pants is not always good for our mental health! We found an office in a converted factory in Bethnal Green, which was home to a diverse collection of startups and was the perfect fit for us. “The UK is a great place to form a new indie. There are great indie communities in many cities and the culture is very open and friendly. The recent explosion in the number of indie games being made is very exciting, and it’s humbling to see how much talent is out there today. “The UK has a long history of game development, and punches way above its weight. Looking back, the current indie wave

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feels like a continuation of the bedroom coders who developed a huge number of games for 80s home computers like the Spectrum. I feel that the quirk and charm from those early days of game development still influences many of today’s indies.” Having said that, Millstone recommends that any new studios should have a solid demo to pitch around in order to gain funding. With the explosion of indie developers in the UK, competition for investment is fierce. “Finding funding for indie games is difficult, but there are many possible routes, including the UK Games Fund and various investors with SEIS schemes. I feel that if you have the right game, the investment is out there. We were not only looking for funding but also assistance with the marketing and PR for our game, which we knew we would need help with. Finding the right partner was really important to us. “Having a good demo really helped when pitching. When we first got together, the two of us built a demo of the game in about 6 weeks. We took care that the demo demonstrated that the mechanics we intended to explore in the game would be fun. Not only does a good demo communicate what the game is about, and persuade publishers that the game is worth making, it is also evidence that the team can work effectively together and produce a quality result, reducing one element of risk. “After pitching the demo to many investors, we ended up partnering with the lovely people at Curve Digital, a traditional publisher who saw the potential in Smoke and Sacrifice and generously

decided to fund us.”

“Not only does a good demo communicate what the game is about, and persuade publishers that the game is worth making, it is also evidence that the team can work effectively together.”

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


PRE ORDER TOP 5 TW TITLE 01 02 03 04 05

God of War (PS4) Red Dead Redemption 2 (PS4) Days Gone (PS4) The Last of Us: Part II (PS4) Detroit: Become Human (PS4)

Publisher Sony Rockstar Sony Sony Sony

GAME profits fall despite market growth GAME reported that revenue from the second half of last year was up by 3.9 per cent. However, gross profit was down by 3.1 per cent over the same six months. With the company citing low margin hardware and a lower mix of high margin sales. The most significant loss of those high-margin sales was a drop in pre-owned software sales by 8.6 per cent. Pre-owned has long been a big earner for GAME, with far higher margins than brand new titles. CEO Martyn Gibbs explained to MCV that this was a knock-on effect from the poor showing of many big titles from the key period at the end of 2016. Although the continuing shift to digital and games-as-a-service must also be reducing the number of titles returning to stores. All that meant despite revenue rising from 498.1m to 517.4m (year-on-year for the the 26 weeks ending 27th of January), profit before tax for core retail activities actually fell by 65.1 per cent, from £22.1m to £9.7m. That was partly balanced by the company’s Events, Esports and Digital categories, which went from a £5.6m loss last period to a £2.6m profit. That growth in revenue reflects well on GAME’s longer-term strategy of moving “from lower margin retail sales to high margin gaming experiences.” Plans contained in the report say the company will be expanding to approximately 100 Belong arenas over the next three years. And that the company has entered into new borrowing arrangements with partner Sports Direct to fund all the planned new openings. GAME ON Gibbs stated: “During the period important strategic progress was achieved, helping us to better position the group for our development in the rapidly growing esports market with our unique and high-margin concept traded under the Belong banner. This is further facilitated by entering into a new and exciting collaboration with Sports Direct that will allow us to accelerate our expansion and help develop a larger scale experience-based gaming business than previously planned and steadily reposition our retail offering. “The traditional retail landscape is under increasing pressure and we have developed a strong growth strategy to utilise the valuable components of our core business in building our new experience-based gaming offer. “We also delivered a strong sales performance in the first half of the financial year, driven by our ability to capitalise on strong customer demand for consoles (particularly Nintendo Switch), a stronger line up of new software releases and the further development of the group’s gaming experiences and events offering. “Furthermore, during the period UK Retail delivered cost savings of £5 million as we continued to reshape and rightsize the business. We continue to negotiate property savings and, where appropriate, close stores, rationalise retail working hours and deliver further operational and procurement benefits as well as focus on our core retail opportunities including a large array of new software releases particularly during the final quarter of the 2018 calendar year.”

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01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10

FIFA 18 - 2,696,721 units PUBLISHER: EA

Units 2,442,416 1,080,022 679,965 673,551 658,814 651,354 574,889 484,933 456,374

Title Call of Duty: WWII Grand Theft Auto V Assassin’s Creed Origins Destiny 2 Star Wars Battlefront II Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands Gran Turismo: Sport Horizon Zero Dawn

Publisher Activision Blizzard Rockstar/Take-Two Ubisoft Activision Blizzard EA Activision Blizzard Ubisoft Sony Sony

Source: UKIE/GfK (physical), ISFE GSD (digital)

ERA’s combined 2017 chart points the way ERA’S summary of the biggest-selling entertainment formats in the UK in 2017 gives us a lot to think about. We’ve slimmed down the list (see above) to just the games, but the full list also contains music albums and DVD, Blu-ray and streaming sales of movies. It’s worth celebrating that the only thing selling more units than FIFA 18 in the UK last year was Ed Sheeran’s album Divide. With Beauty and the Beast being the top movie, ranking fourth, after Call of Duty: WWII. It’s rare we get to see and publish full unit sales data such as this, and even for those who have access to the Chart-track data it’s intriguing to see the combined digital and physical sales data. In that respect this is a window to the future, with such charts becoming a regular feature from the beginning of 2019 thanks to the new ISFE GSD chart. We’ll be talking to its chief architect, Simon Little, about the ins-and-outs of the new data. One thing that was clear from the 2017 chart is that digital sales in the UK may have been over-estimated. Comparing the figures here to the GfK standalone data it appears that the percentage of digital to physical sales of top titles is around 20 per cent on average, around half the figure that some have been working off.


Rare strikes gold Sea of Thieves - Microsoft Judging the exact success of Sea of Thieves was always going to be tricky, as it led the charge onto Xbox Game Pass for all future Microsoft first-party exclusives. Thankfully Microsoft wasn’t shy in coming forward and trumpeting its success – or should that be HurdyGurdying its success? Microsoft claims the game is “the fastest-selling first-party new IP of this generation.” It clocked up more than a million players on launch day, and that figure has already grown to more than two million players as we go to press. In addition the publisher shared that the piratical adventure was the “best-selling Microsoft Studios first-party title on Windows 10.”


Smashing 03

Super Smash Bros - Nintendo There’s a games industry adage that says: you only launch once. Super Smash Bros’ last outing – on the 3DS and Wii U – technically launched twice, although neither was particularly impressive, despite the game’s critical success. Still, the Switch has been a shot in the arm for Nintendo, and there’s no doubt that this new release, likely to be full new entry in the series instead of a Mario Kart 8-esque re-release, should outsell its predecessor. Factor in the esports scene, and here’s hoping just the one launch is enough to make it a Smash hit.

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WhenWeMade... Moss Jem Alexander takes a look behind the scenes at the development of PSVR game Moss. Polyarc’s art director and co-founder, Chris Alderson, explains the process of creating a new kind of game, using VR to create a connection with the player, and the importance of protagonist Quill

Pictured above: Polyarc’s art director and co-founder, Chris Alderson

IN many ways Moss is a fairly traditional, even old-school, game: a third-person action adventure with a cute mascot character, set in a fantastic world. With that said, the fact that this is a virtual reality game (exclusive to PlayStation VR) means that there was nothing traditional about the development process. With Moss, the developers at Polyarc were entering uncharted waters. As the studio’s first project, with many of the founding members of the studio having left established positions at triple-A studios, the devs knew they needed a strong core idea on which to base the game. They had plans for the ratio of puzzles to combat within the action adventure world that they were building. But beyond that, some experimentation was required. The team started with a prototype and then launched into a fulllength exploration of the idea, eschewing a small vertical slice build in favour of building the game twice from scratch, learning on the fly. “Taking a small 15 minute prototype and turning that into a game that’s a few hours long has its individual challenges,” says Polyarc’s art director and co-founder, Chris Alderson. “We spent six months of trying to make a version of the game that was like a full game, with everybody putting in what they thought was important. We did a playthrough one day and we played the game pretty much all day, taking a few breaks here and there. We had made a full version.

“It wasn’t great but we knew there was something there. We all met up and started saying ‘okay, what’s working, what’s not working?’. We would star the things that were duplicates and those things became the core principles of our Moss game design, which gave us the information we needed to make our E3 demo. And I think that process worked out really well.” Despite spending so much time on a full-length prototype, very little of this first attempt actually made it into the final version. “There were probably 12 rooms out of 70 that we kept and built and evolved from,” Alderson says. “But we basically made the game and then we learnt from it, failed a little bit and found out what we succeeded in and started again.” The risk of democratised game design, with everyone in the team putting ideas into a pot, is a strong chance of feature creep and overscoping. Particularly for a new studio. With so much triple-A experience on the team, however, Polyarc was able to sidestep this issue with ease. “I think something that can happen that bites teams in the foot is trying to be over ambitious and we definitely had to scale it back sometimes,” Alderson says. “But other times we put a lot into the game and said ‘Okay this is more important than another feature, so we’re going to have to cut this thing there’. We did have these intense conversations, but we pretty much met our deadline.

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“It wasn’t easy and I feel like in any creative project you’re always going to be putting your heart and soul into it until the very end. I would say it was definitely an intense process, but we did a really good job of scoping and making sure we were putting everything into the game but that people who were in the studio were still able to enjoy their lives outside of the workplace.” THE QUILL IS MIGHTIER An aspect of the game that rose to prominence during discussions of Moss’ core design was main character Quill herself. The advantage of using VR is the sense of immersion and its ability to build a bond between the player and the protagonist on a level flatscreen sometimes can’t. But it was Polyarc’s E3 build and watching the public react to Quill that really cemented the team’s decision to focus on the character. “We knew Quill was going to be a really important aspect of our game,” Alderson says. “Something that’s new and unique. A character that you really feel like you can care for. But the reaction from E3 was overwhelmingly positive and that sort of changed our focus to concentrate more on Quill. What VR affords us is the ability to connect with a character and we thought it would be so fun to meet this character and go along this emotional journey with her. “If we’re fortunate enough to make another one we have a lot more things that we want to do to embellish that experience of being a friend. What happens when you and loved ones are separated and what happens when you’re reunited and all that is stuff that we really want to explore further.” But creating such a connection between the player and the protagonist isn’t easy, and comes with many pitfalls. “I think VR characters in general are a challenge,” Alderson explains. “If you don’t have a believable character it could feel lifeless and actually give you the opposite effect of what you’re trying to achieve. “Like a character that looks at you in the eyes: you can easily make a character that’s supposed to be cute and adorable really frightening, if it doesn’t feel like it has a soul behind those eyes. Making Quill feel like a living, breathing character – especially with our small team and our scope – was a challenge, but an exciting one for sure. “Building Quill isn’t just up to the character artist. It’s a lot of back and forth and teamwork and it definitely helps to have a world-class animator who’s helping Quill move around. In our first prototype, Quill had three animations and already you could see that she was special. She had a run, she had a swipe and I think she had a death animation and we made the entire game like that, but we also had look targets on her face so that she could

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actually look at you. And even with that little bit of work, with the help of the animation and really smart designers and engineers, with everybody working together, you could tell from the very beginning that she was a character that people would really gravitate toward.” Quill really becomes a fully fleshed out character with the help of the game’s strong world-building. As an interloper in Quill’s world, the player experiences it not through her eyes, but as an observer watching as she lives her life in her familiar setting. It’s a strangely intimate feeling, and one which gives way to joint apprehension as both the player and Quill enter new, unfamiliar areas. “When you go through Mousetown and you see Quill run through there and you see that she has a hometown, the feeling of her leaving it, of that town maybe being in danger, gives you more of a bond,” Alderson says. “If that part was left out, you wouldn’t feel like there was much to fight for. Everything that we’ve done, the mood settings, taking Quill from one area to the next and letting you rest and take in this environment… It’s all supposed to exaggerate and accentuate that mood that you’re feeling. It all ties back into how you are connecting with Quill and her world.” SAME QUESTION EIGHT WAYS Collaboration was key during the development of Moss, not just within the team itself, but with the help of external playtesters. People were often brought in to feedback on

the game and asked questions about their experience – even if most of these questions were actually very similar. “External playtests were mostly about ‘Okay, how do people feel when they play? Do they like it or not like it?’,” Alderson explains. “At the end of playtest we would ask the same question eight different ways. The question is really ‘What didn’t you like?’, but we would ask it differently: ‘What pulled you out of the experience? What took you out of the headset? If there’s one thing you could change what would it be? If you had two weeks to finish the game, what would be the thing that you’d fix?’ “Those help bring a playtester into their comfort zone, because no one wants to play something that people put a lot of care and love into and then turn around and say ‘This is what I didn’t like about it’. So it takes a little while to get the playtester comfortable, and we found that finding different ways to ask the same question means you eventually get the really good stuff after the fourth or fifth time you ask it. “I don’t think anyone in our studio has ever made a game like this, so I think it’s important that you trust the process. You trust playtesting and you make sure that you allow yourself some time and freedom to try something and then keep going. Try something new and branch out, but also use your experience from games that you’ve made before and you’ll be fine. As long as you’re having fun too! We enjoyed playing Moss throughout the entire process and I think that really helps.”

“If we’re fortunate enough to make another one we have a lot more things that we want to do to embellish that experience of being a friend. What happens when you and loved ones are separated and what happens when you’re reunited – that we really want to explore further.”

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Register your interest at An

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30/01/2018 14:53

BrandFlakes Flakes by Seth Barton

Battle of Britain

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Off the back of their Overwatch League Stage 1 win, the London Spitfire are flying high, so what potential is there for merchandise? THE Overwatch League feels different to other esports leagues, and there’s a very good reason for that. It didn’t evolve out of grassroots competitive play, but instead was created from the top down by Blizzard and its franchise partners. While the NFL and NBA evolved into their current forms, the OWL (yes, it even has a neat three-letter acronym) has lifted those organisations’ highly tuned commercial models and created a league very much in their image – with all the potential that entails. It started with a set number of franchise slots up for grabs, which were bought by existing esports organisations and non-endemic groups such as traditional sporting teams wanting to reach a younger demographic. Those organisations, Cloud9 Esports in the case of the London team, then had to invent a team identity from scratch – no small challenge. “We wanted to come up with a name that resonated with our London fanbase,” says Dan Fiden, president of Cloud9 Esports. “The name Spitfire is a homage to the historic British World War II fighter plane, the Supermarine Spitfire, and was chosen by our fans, along with our internal staff, as the best name for our Overwatch League team.” “The colours for the team also have significant meaning behind them,” he continues. “The light blue matches that of Cloud9, while the orange is a tribute to British Overwatch hero and Royal Air Force pilot, Lena ‘Tracer’ Oxton.” And with Tracer being the cover star of a game full of potential cover stars, that makes a lot of sense.

The Spitfire’s jersey, light blue so it “matches that of Cloud9” and orange as “a tribute to British Overwatch hero and Royal Air Force pilot, Lena ‘Tracer’ Oxton”

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With every team having a strong identity, with its own colour schemes and distinctive logos, the merchandising for the Overwatch League is a marketing dream come true. Just see what happens when football teams try to change their badge or colours for something more saleable to appreciate the opportunity here. One problem at present is that the merchandise is only available via Blizzard’s US store – something of a sticking point for UK-based fans. An issue that is somewhat compounded by an entirely South Korean roster – the homeland of many of the best players of the game – and all games in the league being played in LA for the inaugural season. However, in order to engender a more local feel to the organisation and to encourage growth in the region’s playerbase, the organisation is fielding a largely European team, including UK players, in the second-tier Overwatch Contenders League, under the name British Hurricane. “The name Hurricane is also a homage to a famous World War II aircraft,” says Fiden. “The Hawker Hurricane flew alongside the Supermarine Spitfire in the Battle of Britain so it made perfect sense to name our contenders team after the iconic aircraft.” The team has also spoken out about it being a long-term plan and to expect much more from them, in terms of UK engagement and appearances, in the future. With a growing fanbase, helped no doubt by the team’s success in the league, there’s a lot of potential both in the UK and overseas to grow the brand and associated consumer products. After all, it’s only the first season of what is shaping up to be the most exciting, and potentially most accessible, esports league to date. Dan Fiden, president of Cloud9 Esports

One of the eight products in Blizzard’s US store’s Spitfire range – with a lot of potential to grow the brand as the team’s fanbase increases

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MechanicallySound by Jake Tucker

N64 hit Goldeneye’s director Martin Hollis talks about how the game’s now legendary multiplayer grew from a single paragraph of a 10-page design document

“NO Oddjobs, yeah?” This was the rallying cry in living rooms and university accommodation up and down the country after Rare’s 1997 hit Goldeneye released on Nintendo’s N64 console. But just how did the diminutive, much despised, bowler-hatted henchman make the final game? To explain that we have to wind back a bit. Martin Hollis, the game’s director, starts by telling us about how multiplayer grew from its original seed: a bare paragraph in the design document that suggested two consoles could be connected together to allow two players to duel. “I was thinking that [multiplayer] would take a lot of horsepower.” Hollis says. “It seemed it wouldn’t be practical to fit two players on just one console.” At this early stage, Rare’s development team didn’t even know what the N64 was going to be like: the controller, the more unusual features, concrete details on how powerful it was, and even the name of the console were still unknown when development started. “It was a shot in the dark, with multiplayer just an idea on a bit of paper at the beginning of the project.”

The game, which famously had Shigeru Miyamoto fax the Rare team to suggest the game ended with the player shaking hands with every enemy they had ‘killed’, owes the existence of its multiplayer to something more family friendly: Mario Kart 64. “Pretty late in the day, we had been playing a bit of Mario Kart in the team. We played a lot of the N64 releases back then for research. Mario Kart provided totally incontrovertible proof that it was possible to make multiplayer, and have it be fun… Mario Kart 64 was a blast!” So, the team started thinking about how to add multiplayer in the game, which Hollis admits was partially to help Nintendo out, but also because they wanted it for their own enjoyment. The console had four ports on the front, and a plan was starting to come together. “We were punishingly late by that point, over schedule,” says Hollis. “But I went to a programmer, Steve Ellis, and I told him to go and add multiplayer to the game: four players over split screen.” Within a couple of weeks, Ellis had a working prototype. He was the last programmer to join the team,

someone Hollis describes as a “very talented” coder. Rare and Nintendo were left out of the loop as, with the game behind schedule, it was hard to say if the management would be okay with it. Though Hollis admits a lot of other aspects of the game flew under the radar, with Nintendo and Rare both supportive and trusting of the team behind Goldeneye. In short, until around March or April of 1997, there wasn’t multiplayer in the game. That it made it to launch in late August seems to have been largely due to the efforts of Ellis, Goldeneye’s art team and programmer Mark Edmond. He did the character animation and had to go over the system again to make it work for the four-player splitscreen. “It was a big challenge,” Hollis says. “In the four-player game, you can see up to twelve characters on the screen, because in each of the four windows, you could see three other characters. So it’s very taxing on the machine to do all that. It’s not something we really envisaged, or budgeted for, from the beginning. “A lot of the project was: ‘it would be great to have this. Oh, it doesn’t work. It’s running a bit slow, maybe hammer it down?’,” says Hollis with

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“When I played as Oddjob, it seemed pretty acceptable. My recollection, honestly, was that I’d just get shot in the head loads because I was running around at that height.” Pictured above: Illustration by Sam Richwood

a chuckle. “So we’d squeeze it down, make it go just a bit faster, cut off a few of the edges.” Many of the problems with Goldeneye’s multiplayer implementation ended up being technical – the game didn’t have a crouch animation at this point, because you could never see yourself, so it wasn’t important. Adding extra players meant that you could see other players crouch – this created a need for an animation. “We just sort of did a...” Hollis pauses for a second. “...I’m just gonna say a half-arse job. There wasn’t the time. This meant people used to skate

around on their knee when they were crouching in multiplayer. Mostly, people don’t crouch, so it’s fine.” Another big issue was some of the heavier explosive weapons. In the singleplayer game, players would be cautious when they got a grenade launcher for example. In multiplayer, people would immediately dump the entire magazine, which created a lot more explosions, and a lot more for the team to do. While Hollis said he was keen not to include too many Bond-like things to the game, at the risk of making it a mess of different elements, he does wish that the team had had the chance

to add the tanks from the game’s campaign to multiplayer. However, Hollis’ biggest regret from development isn’t even something the team did, but a legal issue. “About halfway through development, we had four Bonds in the game. We had Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan. You could play as all those different Bonds in single player, but also in the multiplayer mode. “So you could have four friends [playing as] the four different Bonds, which was awesome. Because, everyone has an opinion about who the best Bond is. And it’s a very matey moment. So that’s great, but then Nintendo let us know we couldn’t have the four Bonds in, for legal reasons. “We were very disappointed and chose to see them off with one last game, with the four of us on the team, who were very key in the multiplayer. We chose one Bond each, and we said goodbye to them with a match of first to a hundred kills.” Speaking of characters, we finally come round to the Oddjob question. How did the much-maligned character make it into the game? “It was all done in a bit of a rush. We were sat down in a room and trying to think: what characters can we get in? Let’s have a tall one and a short one.” says Hollis. “This was implemented, and when I played as Oddjob, it seemed pretty acceptable. My recollection, honestly, was that if I was Oddjob I’d just get shot in the head loads because I was running around at that height.” Hollis says that on reflection it’s disrespectful to players to provide something that creates a social problem for them: “How do you deal with that person who chooses Oddjob?” Hollis admits that there was someone in the Rare office on a team assembled after Goldeneye’s release that played

Oddjob religiously. Hollis wouldn’t name them, but they knew the rules. They know what they did wrong.

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What are some of the challenges in recruitment in 2018? There are wide-reaching economic and legislative challenges impacting the UK’s ability to attract talent and influencing how people work – Brexit of course is high on the agenda, as well as off-payroll working rules and gig-economy workers’ rights to name a few. In general, the recruitment industry has a great voice with government and we work hard to maintain the most flexible workforce model we can for the UK so that employers can make the best choices for their businesses. In terms of recruitment for the games industry, I’d say the number one challenge is access to talent when the pool of people is in such high demand. The skills we use to make great games are now being used widely outside of the industry in other areas such as automotive, pharma and architectural design. We need to extend the pool and make sure the industry is visible to as many people as possible. The time is right to start thinking bigger about where and how we attract our talent, including the type of employment models we offer. What is Amiqus doing to ensure a diverse range of candidates? There’s definitely a lack of diversity in games, especially when it comes to dev teams. We’ve recently launched an initiative, Putting the G Into Gaming, to focus on attracting more women to the industry who have chosen a different career path, but whose skills are spot on for what we need. We feel strongly that there’s a lack of awareness of games as a career and the creativity it offers in contrast to other roles outside of games. Right now, we’re reaching out to an audience of 21,000 tech-focused women in the UK with targeted content. Our aim is to be able to intro them directly to studios to see what the games industry is all about. How has the recruitment business changed in the last decade? Recruitment is evolving at a really rapid pace. People’s values and expectations of their life goals determine the type of career they pursue, the type of employment they want and, importantly, the type of employer they look for. Standing out, telling your brand story and delivering a personalised experience through all the hiring stages have become paramount to attracting star candidates. There has always been an element of marketing involved in recruitment but now in such a competitive market we, as recruiters, not only manage processes, we’re also subject matter specialists, content creators and social experts, sharing knowledge with our candidates. We have to stay current and keep diversifying our skills to stay relevant and valuable.

The Final Boss Liz Prince - Amiqus

“We’ve recently launched an initiative, Putting the G Into Gaming, to focus on attracting more women to the industry.”

How important are personal relationships in recruitment? Relationships are key to recruitment because we’re dealing with lifechanging decisions for candidates on one hand and helping a client to grow their team on another. We’re in a really privileged position and we take that seriously. In order to attract quality candidates, we have to know how to effectively market vacancies, how to engage and establish a more personal connection. Getting to know and trust one another is the key to engagement and when both parties believe in one another this invariably leads to success, in our experience. If you could give any business one tip for recruitment, what would it be? Can I have two? The first would be that the best person for the job isn’t always the person you know. Spread your net widely to make sure that you experience a real choice of candidates. Getting the right person can be a game changer for your business so it’s worth that extra investment in time up front. The other is about engaging with your recruitment partner. If you want the best from the service a recruiter can offer, then invite them to know as much about your business and team as possible. They’re your PR, your voice and the amplification for your opportunity. Bring them as close as possible and see the benefits of their commitment to you, taking their advice on best practice processes to ensure you get the right people when you need them for your team.

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