MCV ISSUE 933 MCV ISSUE 933
THE BUSINESS OF VIDEO GAMES THE BUSINESS OF VIDEO GAMES
MARCH 2018 MARCH 2018
01/03/2018 11:36 14:11
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STANDING FOR ITS PRINCIPLES
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06 The Editor
Guided by principles
08 Critical Path
The key dates this month
12 Big Interview
Unity talks about its new principles
18 Rising Star
Caroline Oakes talks esports
22 Under the Influence
YouTube hit Arekkz Gaming
28 Rainbow Six Siege
How Year Three will be its best yet
And all our recruitment advice
32 Ins and Outs
40 Shoot and Loot
Monetising popular shooters
44 Sea of Thieves
The boon of crossplay and accessibility
50 Immortal: Unchained
Toadman Interactive’s incoming Soulslike
58 Assassin’s Creed
Discovery Mode teaches players history
62 Focus Home Interactive
CEO Cédric Lagarrigue has grand plans
How game design can tell love stories
72 Fresh Meat
A look at new UK studio Interior Night
84 New or Improved
Upcoming games that break the mould
90 When We Made...
The Sexy Brutale
94 Brand Flakes
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The Lord of the Rings Living Card Game
96 Mechanically Sound
Sniper Elite’s x-ray killcam
98 The Final Boss
Bithell Games’ Mike Bithell
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“As individuals, we set a baseline for ourselves and then try to react consistently to what life throws at us.”
Predicting tomorrow with principles Video games have always been intrinsically linked to the future. The form has developed hand-in-hand with technology at an incredible pace, to an extreme that arguably no other medium – not even the printed word, photography or film – has done before it. It’s no surprise then that games are so often allied to science fiction and its predictions of possible futures. Writing this, I too am at the mercy of many possible futures. Sat in our London offices in the grip of the most bone-chilling weather the UK has seen in many years, it’s incredibly hard to picture myself, proudly holding this same magazine in what I hope will be a clement San Francisco some three weeks from now. So writing something topical between now and then seems somewhat doomed to failure. After all, the last time I made a prediction about the future in this column, I woke up a few day later to discover I’d been very wrong about the next US president. But despite this futility, we all have to make predictions about the future all the time. Choosing which genre to explore for that next game, which developer to invest in and when to cut our losses, or which hardware platform or next-gen technology to pursue, always at the exclusion of many others. One way in which we all negotiate an uncertain future is to create, consciously or not, a set of principles that guide our actions. Be we progressive or conservative, as individuals we set a baseline for ourselves and then try to react consistently to whatever life throws at us. It works well for companies too, see our big interview with Unity founder Joachim Ante on page 12 for instance, for its new principles. While individual principles are usually private, and so subject to constant tweaks and changes, company ones must stand proud. But in doing so they inform everyone of the mission, and help them make the myriad tiny day-to-day decisions needed to keep things moving forward. But beware your personal – or corporate – principles don’t end up binding you. As Michael Faraday, the father of electromagnetism and someone who always looked to the future, once said: “It is right that we should stand by and act on our principles, but not right to hold them in obstinate blindness, or retain them when proved to be erroneous.” I hope you enjoy GDC and this special issue of MCV, too. Seth Barton firstname.lastname@example.org
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CriticalPath Here are the key upcoming events and releases to mark in your calendar...
Moscone Convention Center, San Francisco
Kirby Star Allies Kirby’s first incursion on Nintendo Switch is coming out this month. Star Allies is heavily focused on multiplayer, to demonstrate what sets the device apart from home consoles: portability and party games to enjoy with friends. It’s developed by Super Smash Bros and Kirby studio HAL Laboratory.
The world’s largest dev event is back for five days of conferences and three days of expo. This year’s tracks will include design, programming, business & marketing and many more. There’s also hours of summits from AI to narrative, as well as tutorials on esports, visual effects and even board game design. From March 21st to 23rd over 550 companies will be on the show floor, showcasing every aspect of game development. Running alongside GDC is the Independent Games Festival, from March 21st, with the IGF Awards taking place on the first day. This will be followed by the 18th Annual Game Developers Choice Awards.
March 30th Insomnia62 NEC, Birmingham
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire Obsidian’s follow-up to its 2015 RPG hit is due in early April, having been successfully funded on Fig in less than 23 hours in January 2017. Published by Versus Evil, the physical edition of Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire is being distributed by THQ Nordic.
Insomnia62 will take place from March 30th to April 2nd, across the Easter Bank Holiday. It will feature the usual Expo, Retail, Minecraft, Tabletop, Indie and Retro zones, among others, as well as a fair number of YouTubers available to interact with fans in the meet and greet zone. On the main stage, parody game Nerds & Noobs will return every day at 4pm, followed by a pub quiz on the Friday. As far as cosplay is concerned, the main stage will host the Insomnia Cosplay Masquerade on the Saturday at 2.30pm, open to the best cosplayers if the country, while the Sunday’s Cosplay Community Masquerade will be open to everyone.
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March 23rd Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom This PS4 exclusive will finally be launching at the end of the month, having been delayed twice. Level-5 didn’t work with Studio Ghibli for this follow-up to the 2013 classic. Bandai Namco has re-enlisted as publisher, with Advantage distributing the title.
Sea of Thieves Rare’s highly awaited multiplayer pirate title is finally hitting shelves this March. Published by Microsoft and distributed by Exertis, it has already met incredible success, with 314,021 people playing the beta. It hit the No.1 spot on Twitch, with over 30,000 content creators streaming for a whopping 14m hours.
Far Cry 5 Set in the US for the first time in the franchise’s history, Far Cry 5 is promising “chaos, unpredictability and ferociousness” as players will try to take down fanatical cult Project at Eden’s Gate.
A Way Out EA Originals’ first title A Way Out is releasing at the end of March. It’s Swedish studio Hazelight’s debut title and it got everyone super hyped at E3 last year, due to its unique approach to co-op. The title is landing on PS4, Xbox One and PC, courtesy of distributor CentreSoft.
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We’re Playing... The Overwatch League reminded me just how bad I am at the game, but I had another bash anyway, I still suck. But as we go to press I’ve just got my hands on Into the Breach by Subset Games. It ticks all my turn-based, mechaloving boxes. Perfect.
Because it’s still 2002 in my head, I played the hell out of Wind Waker in the last month. Now I’m trying to ignore the guilt of not playing the bazillion recent triple-A titles sleeping in my PS4 library, while frantically waiting for Sea of Thieves to release. Marie Dealessandri, Senior Staff Writer
I went to Canada to play Rainbow Six Siege, but actually Rainbow Six Siege played me. My multiplayer shooter love has me under its spell again, and I’ve got a couple of sweet kill montages to show you, if you’re into that. I completed Dark Souls and obviously the only option was to immediately jump into the sequel. Over twenty hours into Dark Souls 2 and the bug has no sign of abating. There are other games out there, I’m told, But I am blind to them. There is nothing but Dark Souls.
Jake Tucker, Content editor business and esports
Jem Alexander, Content editor
Seth Barton, Editor
Paws the game The best furry friends the games industry has to offer. Send in yours to firstname.lastname@example.org
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Pet name: Walter Whyte Owner’s name: Stuart Whyte Owner’s job: Director of VR dev at Sony London Studios
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Pictured from left to right: Simon Mogensen, Fabrizio Perria, Gabriele Farina, Michal Brzozowski, Joachim Ante, Tim Johansson, Daniel Brauer, Adrian Turcanu, Eneko Osia, and Henrik Poulsen. Members of the Entity Component System team, who have worked on franchises including Hitman, The Division, Battlefield, Assassinâ€™s Creed, DayZ, Football Manager, Sea of Thieves and many more.
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‘UNITY IS YOUR ENGINE TEAM’ Seth Barton visits Unity’s Copenhagen team for an exclusive interview with founder and CTO Joachim Ante and his team, who reveals the company’s GDC plans and the principles that will drive the company and its huge community to the next level
nity. You hear the word so often these days you rarely think of its original meaning. But it’s an apt choice for the company that set out to democratise game development and succeeded. And a sense of unity is very much still part of the firm’s outlook, as we discovered when speaking to staff at the company’s Copenhagen office. Unity is all about working together, not just internally, but in collaboration with developers. It’s a company that prides itself on transparency and principles. Quite literally in fact, as founder and CTO Joachim Ante reveals to MCV how a set of new principles underpins the greatest changes to the engine since its inception. “We’re making sure that whatever we build is based on those principles and we hold ourselves accountable to those. We’re rebuilding the very foundation of Unity, it’s not just a new release. Hopefully we’re going to transform what people are capable of making with Unity in a really big way.” The principles are ambitious and form the basis for changes across the board. Starting with performance, but also encompassing every facet of how the company
works with developers, how fast it responds to them, how it releases cutting-edge updates to them and even breaks down the barriers between game code and engine code. The potential is huge, and while it’s far from its only motivation, it’s very clear that Unity is targeting that triple-A space. PERFORMANCE BY DEFAULT Unity has long provided experienced developers with an easy-to-use environment and created new developers by lowering the technical hurdles to entry. However, experience tells us that what you gain in accessibility you must pay in performance. At GDC 2018, Unity will dispel that notion by publicly releasing a preview of its new core engine technology: “We are going to release the Entity Component System, the C# Jobs System and the Burst compiler at GDC,” Ante reveals. All of which is the first step in its key new principle: ‘Performance by Default’. Ante defines the level of performance in relation to Mike Acton, previously the engine director at Insomniac
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Pictured above: Martin Gram
Games, but now working for Unity out of its new Burbank office. “So you give a guy like Mike Acton a PS4, ask him to write the most optimised code for it. He will create the perfect [data] layout for that specific platform. He will write the most optimised code for it, he will use SIMD instructions, maybe write in C, maybe write in assembler where necessary, but he will really use the hardware to the maximum. This is what we define as performance.” And that is essentially what the company is giving every Unity user with the new engine, and to clarify that, here’s Mike Acton himself: “By changing how our customers approach solving problems, and giving them the data-oriented tools they need to do it, we want to allow them to achieve performance that’s a good first approximation of what they could only previously get with dedicated performance experts on staff.” Ante continues: “Most people don’t write code like that and they don’t do that because it’s hard, so we need to make performance easier.” To achieve that the team is moving to a new C# Job System that was originally demoed back at Unite Austin in 2017. Unity gives us a second run through and it’s still deeply impressive. It’s an RTS demo, created by mobile developer Nordeus, with R&D product manager Martin Gram at
the controls. A huge hellish landscape, split by a bridged chasm, is teeming with red and blue soldiers, over 50,000 according to a counter. The units are all pathfinding, choosing targets, firing vast barrages of arrows, and generally eviscerating each other en masse. The demo is utilising an impressive 95 per cent of the multi-core CPU and the team is confident of hitting 100 per cent soon. “With this demo there is absolutely no game code running on the main thread. Zero,” says Ante. “We needed to do that, to show that if you really wanted to do this perfectly, you can.” EASE OF ACCESS But just how easy will this be for the average Unity user? Not that such a thing exists for a tool with millions of devoted users that range from experienced teams right down to kids creating games alone in their bedrooms. “We want to change the default, so that when you’re writing code you not only get modular code, and it’s not only simple, but it also performs,” Ante says. “It’s a big change from an object-oriented way of doing things to a data-oriented way, and the reason we’re doing this is because it provides such significant value that if we don’t do it then our users will be missing out on the opportunity to make the best games they can possibly make.” Ulas Karademir, R&D global director, sums it up: “We don’t want to stand in the way of their dreams.”
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“People get better at using Unity and they should never get to a point where they feel that Unity is not their tool,” agrees Gram, adding it’s “a democratisation of what the triple-A space is.” Ante continues: “Our job is to make it so that the normal way of you working is automatically going to be fast.” And Unity will achieve that by encouraging everyone to use small modular components. “Do that and you won’t have to know about data-oriented design, or the best layout for a certain platform, these things will happen for you,” Ante says. “They have to follow this default way of writing code, which means they have to deal in simpler data types. But everything is expressible this way and the thing is, when you code this way you actually start making more modular code.” Which means it’s easier to reuse the code and easier for others to understand and work on it: “When you build the engine you can effect the readability of the code of most games, this is a huge responsibility for us to get right. “If you want the best performance you have to do a little more work,” he admits, but with all those advantages it seems well worth the time invested. So what kind of games will benefit the most from the new approach? “Anything simulation heavy will get so much better,” Ante answers. Cities Skyline for instance already runs on Unity, but the multi-threaded code there was created by an experienced team. The new technology will open up this kind of game to a far wider pool of developers, and without the usual worries. RACING SAFE All the performance and none of the worries? It sounds too good to be true. “People make mistakes with multi-threaded code, it’s so easy to make those mistakes, to introduce race conditions. That means we need to solve race conditions, if we don’t it’s simply not going to work,” Ante says. “A lot of people in the game industry have made a lot of multi-threaded games by now. There are a certain set of rules, we know how to write that code. But not everyone knows how to write it and that’s the problem. The very experienced people know there is a good way and there’s a way that always blows your foot off. And we’re just encoding those in a way that helps everyone do it in a way that works.” The new C# Job System makes it very clear what an instruction is reading from or writing to. “At the end of the day, we can guarantee there are no race conditions in the code,” Ante says. Which is done through a combination of code analysis and runtime checks. “There is no game engine that has ever done
that,” he adds. “So even someone who has never written multi-threaded before, you can trust that guy to write multi-threaded code.” And if he makes a mistake he gets an error message when he runs it, “and these messages are written with the principle of what would I tell a junior programmer if he made this mistake?” And then the new Burst compiler takes the C# jobs and produces highly optimised code that takes advantage of the particular capabilities of the platform you’re compiling for. So you get a lot of the benefits of handtuned assembler code, across multiple platforms, without all the hard work. That hugely closes the performance gap between say a small team working on multi-platform titles and the big console exclusives. “We think this is good for our community,” Ante says. “We really believe that. But at the end of the day we are not the ones to decide that, the community decides that. But you can’t just tell them it’s better… you can only give them a way of proving to themselves that this is a good thing.” Unity’s goal is “a positive experience in just 30 minutes.” So in that time a user should be able to update just one part of their game to the new system and see for themselves the advantages. THE ONE TRUE WAY To help achieve all this, and more, Unity has another core principle: “We want to have a single way of writing code,” states Ante. It sounds a little prescriptive at first but Ante explains the team really wants to flatten the landscape between game code and engine code. “We can never write code that works for everything. There are always game developers who want to do something special. So what if we make the engine in such a way that it’s so much more open, so you can take say the animation system and modify it to your needs, or you just write your animation engine in the normal way you write game code.” “Anything from the smallest mobile game to a highprofile console game should be written the same way.
Pictured above, from top: Mike Acton and Ulas Karademir
“We’re rebuilding the very foundation of Unity, it’s not just a new release. Hopefully we’re going to transform what people are capable of making with Unity in a really big way.” March 2018 MCV 933 | 15
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Pictured above: Concept art for Nordeus’ upcoming title
Let’s find one way of writing this code… the same underlying structure of components.” Ante goes on to say the same applies to asset pipeline code and runtime code, removing the need to consider these separately. And he wants to make all Unity’s code deterministic – so it generates the same outputs given the same inputs. Which makes it far easier to create replays in-game and to debug code: “We think it creates a lot of value for developers… and makes their lives easier.” Speaking of making developers’ lives easier, Unity is also committing to an iteration time of 500ms, to reduce frustration. A change in the script to seeing the response in the game should take less than half-a-second. That’s coming down from a worst-case scenario of ten minutes at present. “There’s a lot of work to make this happen,” Ante admits but “we want the people using Unity to be happy while they work. When we make it happen it’s going to be transformative.” PACKAGED TO GO Next, Ante starts to talk about how these principles of performant modular code and a more open engine architecture will create opportunities to push the envelope across every facet of the engine. “Most of our customers just want a stable product, that’s important and it’s useful for them that we ship three times a year at [a regular] cadence,” Ante admits. “But there are always some who want something special, some customers want to be on the bleeding edge. However, they usually don’t want to be on the bleeding edge for everything, that usually doesn’t work.” Instead they want to push in just certain areas, such as world size, AI, player count, and so on.
And that’s why Unity is introducing packages, so that developers can benefit from a stable platform but use the latest, beta versions of other parts of Unity where desired. Even the core engine is now such a package, along with various graphics pipelines, post-processing, animation, camera control and more. “We’re moving everything into a small modular packages that you can update separately from each other,” Ante explains. These are always being developed, which also has the added bonus of the team being able to get feedback from developers on these individuals modules while they’re still in beta, so to speak. And all of that will benefit the vast majority of users too by helping to refine new features well before the majority see them rolled into a stable release. UNITY IN THE HOUSE Bleeding edge features developed in tandem with developers working on live projects – it sounds like the kind of service a big publisher in-house team would get from its engine team. Say DICE working with Frostbyte. And that’s exactly what Unity wants to provide. “Unity is your engine team,” Ante tells us. It’s the next new principle from the company. Working far more closely with those who want to push the boundaries with its new beta packages. “For example, we have this Slack channel where we actually have 15 customers on our company Slack. They give us feedback every day and we’re super, super transparent with them.” But, having millions of customers, how do you choose? “You pick some that are really trying to push things. And you work with those really closely.
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“When you have an engine team you would, of course, collaborate very closely with that team. With this new foundation that we’re building, we can work with users on it as we do it,” Ante says. In practice, Unity is looking to get feedback from developers on code changes within five minutes via Slack, hugely speeding up the iteration and feedback loop between itself and its most technically ambitious customers. “We believe iteration speed beats iteration quality,” adds Karademir, explaining that you get the best answers by keeping the cycle short and repeating it, not by pondering for the right answer to come fully formed. And this process of working with developers is already underway, for example in how Unity worked with Nordeus to create the RTS demo we saw earlier. “They were really interested, asking ‘how can we use Unity to make the best possible games’ and so we said ‘why don’t you work with us on a tech demo’. They had some assets, and in just five weeks they put together this tech demo. It was super useful for us and great for them,” Ante enthuses. “Many of the learnings from this demo spurred on the principles that Joachim has been talking about today,” adds Gram, demonstrating that even the principles themselves have been iterated and developed in collaboration with the community. ALL TOGETHER NOW Joachim Ante has done the bulk of the talking over our three-hour meeting, but members of team dropped in for lunch and a chat and there’s a very relaxed feel to it all, a lack of obvious hierarchy. Based in the centre of Copenhagen, it reflects the egalitarian, progressive
outlook of the city. And Ante is keen to impress upon us that the ideas come from the team, not just from him. ‘Performance by default’ for example was initially coined by Acton’s Insomniac, and now Unity, colleague, Andreas Fredriksson. They make up just part of an incredibly talented team, with a cumulative CV that covers a broad swathe of the biggest triple-A franchises. Is Unity directly gunning to dominate the top-tier of games development? Well not that it will say explicitly. However it’s dead set on making sure its platform isn’t standing in the way of any studio who wants to make triple-A titles on it. “As we do things, the principles become clearer and clearer, but add all these things together, and you achieve. And holy shit that’s going to be different,” Ante says. “For my life to feel meaningful I need to know why I’m showing up for work, because I don’t have to show up for work,” he smiles and shrugs. “I could just say ‘fuck this’. These principles are why I show up, this is worth spending my life on. This is why I work more than nineto-five on it, this is why I pour my whole heart into it. It’s a long-term thing, rebuilding the foundation means everything built on it will have to rebuilt…” They have the core then but there’s still a lot of subsystems to work upon. “We have a great foundation, and we want to give that out to people already… and then ourselves and our customers can start using it in parallel.” Unity has “a multi-year cycle” ahead building on this new foundation. But it’s confident that the principles behind it will last well beyond that. “We’re at the beginning, but it’s a very powerful beginning,” Ante finishes. And based on the initial evidence and the passion of the team, it’s very hard not to be inspired.
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Esports is still new in a lot of people’s eyes, and when you approach big brands, then you need to have a great plan to get them to sign up. Ultimately, everything that we do in this ecosystem affects the whole of esports. If you bring the brands in, it affects the community and how the community will respond. I think you want everyone to live together in the harmonious way, and that is quite tricky. It’s all about trusting myself and the knowledge I’ve gained working at esports and trusting that I know what will work.
Caroline Oakes, business development associate at ESL
CAROLINE OAKES is an Overwatch fanatic, working as a business development associate at ESL UK. She’s also starting to front ESL events. How did you break into games? I did a very unrelated university degree in war, conflict and modernity at the University of Brighton. When I was studying this I decided I really wanted to work with what I love, and what I love is video games. So, I decided to do a Masters in international business and marketing and basically tailor-made my whole degree. Every single assignment, I would make it about games, my whole thesis was about gaming. So this came in handy when I applied for ESL. What’s your proudest achievement so far? It’d definitely have to be Battle of the Brands, a show that we did in January. This was a charity show match for SpecialEffect. I was a driving force behind getting it organised from the very
“Everything that we do in this ecosystem affects the whole of esports.” beginning. I was the stage host for it as well, so not only was I involved from the very beginning, I then got to take this project and basically deliver it on stage. We raised over £16,000 for charity, which was pretty amazing. What’s been your biggest challenge to date? I think my biggest challenge would be to know myself, and to know not just what I’m doing in esports, but to trust myself when I’m approaching brands and telling them how to engage with the community in a way that’s going to resonate.
What do you enjoy most about your job? Definitely the shows that we put on. Often I’m involved from the initial planning phases, and then seeing all of that work and effort translate through to the stage, it’s absolutely phenomenal. Sometimes people say: “Well, esports isn’t really sports.” When you take someone to these shows and you put them in... there’s a massive eureka, and you feel the whole audience showing them what it’s like in an absolutely intense show. That’s why we do what we do. You just feel the emotion when you’re there, and I think that makes it all worthwhile. What’s your big ambition? At the moment it’s just literally about developing myself and figuring out what I’m super good at. So, I just started hosting and I love that. It’s so much fun. I hope to become the host of my first big show and look at the audience and be like: “Yes, this is why we do what we do, this is esports.” What advice would you give to someone trying to get into esports? If you’re really passionate about it, get the experience where you can. There’s so many different roles in esports that you don’t know about. There’s marketing, production, video work, so many different aspects. Get skills in any of those things, get the experience so then when you apply you have that base set, and understand the games and community. That’ll make you a strong choice for any job in the area. On the other hand, it’s about knowing people. Help out at events, meet people, try to think about how you can make yourself stand out.
If there’s a rising star at your company, contact Jake Tucker at email@example.com, and we might feature them here 18 | MCV 933 March 2018
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FRIDAY 11TH MAY 2018 FACEBOOK UK, 1 RATHBONE SQUARE, LONDON 2018 CATEGORIES INCLUDE: ◆ Rising Star of the Year- Development Award
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Real life events from the industry GameBlast Games - February 23rd Jagex hosted GameBlast Games – a 24-hour-long live streamed marathon of entertainment that was streamed on Twitch with 350,000 unique viewers. The marathon was a mix of gaming, gruelling – and disgusting – challenges and utter chaos. Joining in the fun were fellow games studios Frontier Developments, Codemasters and Slingshot Cartel, as well as well as peripherals producer, Razer. The RuneScape community dug deep by purchasing in-game items and giving donations, to raise a whopping £100,000 for Special Effect.
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PC Gamer Weekender - February 17th & 18th The gaming show returned to Londonâ€™s Olympia with access to new pre-release PC games, two stages of developer presentations, tournaments, workshops, careers advice and an eSports Bootcamp with Omen by HP. Titles playable for the first time in the UK included Extinction, Biomutant and Phoenix Point.
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Under the Inﬂuence Every month, Under the Inﬂuence showcases inﬂuencer talent. This month, Marie Dealessandri talks to Arekkz Gaming, created in 2013 by Microsoft alumni Alex ‘Arekkz’ Noon and Matthew ‘TwoSixNine’ Weathers. With its daily ﬂow of content, Arekkz Gaming has gathered an active community of over 700,000 subscribers and amassed over 180 million views since its inception
How did you get into content creation? Alex ‘Arekkz’ Noon: Well, ﬁrst things ﬁrst, I run the channel with my friend Matthew, aka TwoSixNine. In fact, starting the channel was his idea. We went to university together, we went to work at Microsoft together and, while working at Microsoft he had the idea to start this channel. Initially, it was more of a hobby, we didn’t really know what we wanted to do, so just uploaded gameplay from games that we were playing and enjoying at the time and gradually we started to introduce voiceover and a slightly more editorial aspect to our content. We focused primarily on information because this is the sort of stuﬀ that we were passionate about. So, you know, news on upcoming games or guides, tips, walkthroughs, how to do things... Anything like that, that would help people playing games is essentially what we were going after. The ﬁrst couple of years for me were more about me ﬁnding my feet, because I’d never done something like that before so I didn’t necessarily have the conﬁdence to speak on camera. So I would deﬁnitely say the ﬁrst couple of years, I wasn’t fully set on my love for content creation. But then, during my time at Microsoft I left working as a tester and then moved over to the associate producer role on Upload, which was the video platform for Xbox One, while I was there. I had to do yet more content creation, I did video production, presenting, social media and account management. But I think the video aspect of that deﬁnitely helped solidify my love for content creation. I worked with the video team there to help build my
conﬁdence when I was on camera and then gradually it started to become a passion for me. I would go to work and produce videos, I would come home and produce videos. It was basically the only thing that I did all the time so that’s deﬁnitely how I got into it. And then, you know, fast forward even further, I left Microsoft and now YouTube is what we both do full time. What are you looking forward to in the next 12 months in games? This is a funny question because this year and last year the games I was most looking forward to came out right at the beginning of the year. I’m a huge Nintendo and Zelda fan, so last year Breath of the Wild and Nintendo Switch came out at the beginning of the year, so I was already happy from the oﬀ. And that also applies to this year because Monster Hunter is my other favourite franchise and that just came out, so I’ve already had my game. So I’d say the things I’m most looking forward to are probably the things that we don’t even know are coming yet. The unknown projects. I’m looking forward to seeing what else Nintendo has for Switch – I’m really hoping for that Smash Bros port as well as new games. I want them to start digging into some of their existing IPs. On top of that, I’m also looking forward to ﬁnding out more about Anthem. Of course there’s the obvious ones as well like God of War, Read Dead Redemption 2 but I’d say for me it’s deﬁnitely the unknown. I’m deﬁnitely really keen to see how Nintendo maintains that momentum with the Switch.
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Is the channel part of a wider network? Yes, we are part of Gamer Network, a UK based network comprised of both YouTube channels and games media sites. It’s been nice to work really closely with those guys, grow the channel and as part of that also work very closely with the guys over VG247. It’s great to be part of a UK based network so we can still grow things together. What kind of sponsored content have you worked on? With regards to sponsored content we work on, I’d say it’s always something we take very seriously, but we’re also very particular about it. We will only ever work on sponsored content if it’s something we genuinely believe in. So, talking about products for example, we are sponsored by HyperX and we do that because they make genuinely good products. If someone says to me ‘What’s a good headset?’ I’ll point them directly to HyperX and I do that because they’re quality products that I am perfectly happy to work with. The same thing applies for games. If someone comes to me with the oﬀer of doing a sponsored video for a game, I would do it if it’s game that I would normally play or if it’s within the spectrum of things I would play. But on the contrary, if someone came to me and said ‘Hey will you do a sponsored video for this football game?’, chances are I’d probably say no because it’s not something I have any knowledge of. It’s not something I feel passionate about or that I feel I could then honestly go to my audience and say ‘Check this game out’. Do you work with publishers and developers on upcoming games? Yes, at least to some extent. If a game I’m really keen on covering is about to launch, I’ll be in touch with the publishers to try and get an early review copy because that’s a massive help when it comes to content creation. If you can get videos out early then people come to you for information, which is great.
But on top of that, from a production point of view if I have a game early it means I can spend time making the videos to get them ready. Whereas if I have to wait until a game launches, there’s this mad rush. It’s really important to have that relationship with publishers and I think that’s something I was able to solidify thanks to my time working at Microsoft. When I did account management, I learnt very quickly how to work with publishers and developers, and I think that’s really beneﬁtted me. What are the plans for the channel in the future? We deﬁnitely want to expand, to try to bring more voices in. So I mentioned at the beginning that I run the channel with TwoSixNine. Matthew does a lot of stuﬀ behind the scenes: SEO, content planning, analytics, as well as livestreaming, whereas I do a lot of the video production. But as we cover more games my time gets spread thinly. So we cover a lot of what we call lifestyle games or games as a service, those games that basically never end. You just keep coming back to them and the problem with that is that every time we add a new game like that to the channel, I have even less time to try and become an expert in that game. To try and provide detailed information requires a lot of time and investment and that is where we start to fall short. We’re already working with another friend of ours, Welcome To Paradise. He is also a streamer and he’s done some videos on the channel already. That’s our ﬁrst step towards the future plans of the channel. Basically try and introduce more voices so we can provide that broader coverage across many more games without necessarily having to sacriﬁce quality. So moving forwards, think about Arekkz Gaming more as a group which will then gradually bring more people in and is hopefully going to last. Arekkz Gaming is managed by Henry Clay at Hype Management. For business enquiries, you can email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Arekkz Gaming’s proudest moments “Destiny was the point in the channel’s history that springboarded us into doing daily content. Before that it was a little bit sporadic but then, given the recurring nature of a game like Destiny, this game-as-a-service, that springboarded into doing daily content. So that was a really big growth for the channel and something we were quite proud of back then.”
“We’ve also been able to somehow replicate The Division’s success with Monster Hunter: World recently. Monster Hunter are games I’ve been playing for about eight years now, since the Freedom Unite version on PSP. I worked really hard on some tutorials. They take a long time to make, and they are probably the videos that I am most proud of.”
“The Division was a big game for us because we covered it a couple of years before it even came out. We were covering news and then it launched and a lot of people came to the channel because we were one of the main people in the community. We worked very closely with the publishers and devs and in terms of channel growth it was really good.”
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By Jake Tucker
Over the rainbow The 2018 Six Invitational felt like a big budget remake of last year’s event: there was a $500,000 prize pool, twice as many seats in the new arena, and twice as many teams competing over the event’s six days. There’s a sense that Rainbow Six Siege has matured in the last year. You can see that in the game, but it’s never been more obvious. Last year’s world champions, Continuum, were wearing Evil Genius jerseys this year, and the competition was more recognisable too, with teams like Liquid, FaZe Clan and Rogue fighting it out to be crowned as winners. The production values were significantly improved, and Ubisoft’s plans for Rainbow Six Siege are only just getting started. Ubisoft’s two year Siege esports roadmap brings five levels of competition, from local grassroots events all the way up to twice-yearly majors produced in partnership with ESL that bring the cream of worldwide Siege talent together. This jump to a longer esports cycle is designed to give players and organisations greater stability, which creates a more reliable platform for investing into the esport. Ubisoft has a strong idea of what’s going on with the game until 2020, which means organisations can find out the plan and make informed financial decisions. RECRUITING SERGEANT Feeding into the top-tier majors is the Rainbow Six Pro League, which will be moving from a three month rotation to a six month rotation, meaning a longer season with a chance for everyone involved to play each other. Below this is a series of tournaments taking place at Dreamhack events, an extension of the partnership between Ubisoft and ESL, which owns Dreamhack. LAN events are a huge part of Siege’s esports strategy moving forwards. Both as a game and an esport Siege is still growing, with over 27m uniques and a hope that the free weekend accompanying the Six Invitational will have pushed that number over 30m. At this stage, the game’s esports popularity and its success with players appear to be closely connected, with the dripfeed of new content and the constant changing meta winning the game fans and making it highly watchable. If you’re looking to invest in esports, Rainbow Six Siege seems to be the place to do it. If you’re looking for a successful model for launching an esports game, it might seem a little slow, but there’s no denying that, at the 2018 Six Invitational at least, the hard work paid off and created enviable success for the publisher.
KNG for a day January saw Vito ‘KNG’ Giuseppe pick up his second consecutive dismissal from a team for unprofessional behaviour, this time given the push from 100 Thieves for making a homophobic comment about Duncan ‘Thorin’ Shields. Six days later, 100 Thieves dropped its entire roster, meaning the team was hired and fired without a single game. The message is clear: as endemic organisations deepen their involvement in the scene, esports is having to clean up its act and legitimise. Giuseppe’s history of Twitter comments, including a death threat to Pujan ‘FNS’ Mehta that Giuseppe claimed was a joke, are an example of the sort of things that no longer fly in esports. As the money pours in, professional players are being held to account, and many are finding that their unprofessional behaviour, previously given a pass, is having a negative effect on their careers.
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Hackers hit PUBG’s esports chances PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds has hit an impressive 30m sales, but alongside this is a second, less impressive statistic: in January alone, 1m PUBG accounts were banned from the game for using cheat programs, 99 per cent of these from China, where the game is most popular. PUBG Corp has made several attempts to curb the rampant cheating problem, but it seems no matter how many cheaters are banned, several more will pop up to take their place. This is encouraging normal players, who just want to earn a legitimate dinner, to move away from the game, which is seeing a steady decline in player numbers since January. As the community moves away from the game, the hunger for PUBG esports seems to be lessening, too.
the big events The Bucharest Major March 4th-11th Bucharest, Romania
This Dota major will see 16 teams clash at the Polyvalent Hall in Bucharest for a chunk of the $1m prize pool, and their fair share of 1,500 Dota Pro Circuit (DPC) points. It’s early in the season for the newly formed DPC, and the action here should be fierce.
King of the North March 17th-18th Manchester, UK The University of Manchester’s Esports Society has teamed up with the University of Salford to put together a UK student esports tournament at UoS’ MediaCity UK building. It’s open to all UK university students and will see play across League of Legends, Overwatch and CS:GO.
Insomnia62 March 30th - April 2nd Birmingham, UK
Esports answer to ‘NOW that’s what I call music’ returns for the 62nd time, filling Birmingham’s NEC Arena with YouTubers and games. In addition, there’s a sizeable section of the weekend devoted to esports competition, with several grassroots tournaments throughout the weekend.
ESI Super Forum March 22nd London, UK
Run by trade website Esports Insider, the ESI Super Forum runs alongside the Betting on Football Conference at Stamford Bridge. Ruud Gullit is a keynote speaker, alongside top bods from Riot, ESL and others.
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CLUTCH Rainbow Six Siege launched with little fanfare in 2015. On the eve of the game’s third year of post-release content, it’s stronger than ever. Jake Tucker looks at the reasons behind its success
ainbow Six Siege’s game director Alexandre Remy smiles as he steps out in front of the crowd at the Six Invitational in Montreal. It’s not hard to draw a parallel between the size of this event – the annual world championship for Siege, a celebration of the game, that brings press, influencers and fans together for one big meetup – and the title’s own success. Rainbow Six Siege is becoming one of the biggest shooters in the world. It feels like redemption, as it launched not with the (flash)bang you might associate with a squad of aggressive counter-terrorists but with a whimper. Launching on December 1st 2016, it had no marketing in Europe due to a recent terrorist attack. It charted at No.6 in the UK, losing sales after being caught in the deluge of Black Friday deals. Critical response for the game saw it getting mostly sevens and eights, but there wasn’t a lot of hype. General consensus was that the game was decent, but it didn’t set the world alight. Remy nods and shakes hands with a few people he recognises, and he’s clearly ecstatic to be there. After all, it’s not just that there’s several times more people in the room than last year’s press conference, or that the arena hosting the Invitational is bigger and has a poutine truck outside (from which this writer ate poutine four times during a five day trip). It’s not even that he’s there to announce the third year of post-game content. It’s the data. More people are playing Rainbow Six Siege than ever before. There are over 27m people with
Siege across PS4, Xbox One and PC, while Ubisoft claims over 2m people are logging in every single day. This success is likely to continue, and this year looks set to be the biggest yet for the multiplayer shooter, but that’s no surprise. Siege is a games-as-a-service success story, with Ubisoft Montreal determined not only to support players who eagerly buy each new pack, but also its non-paying customers, with most things in the game available for free or purchasable with in-game currency. Although the game is paid for, and still retailing for £15 in most places, Ubisoft Montreal seems to have taken cues from free-to-play development: provide plenty of reason for those who don’t want to pay more to keep playing, and they’ll be on your servers waiting to get shot by players who are happy to spend serious cash. Siege caters for players who want to spend money, too. The yearly Season Pass offers early access to new operators and exclusive visual add-ons, but there is also a store full of cosmetic items that can be purchased with real money or in-game cash, and ‘elite skins’, special redesigns of operators, that can only be bought for cash. It’s an extensive system, but doesn’t feel predatory. This year will see a third successive Season Pass, but all players will also get a cooperative campaign, Outbreak, featuring Rainbow’s special forces operators taking out extraterrestrial zombies, and a handful of new operators. This year will also see several new maps and buffs that will be small reworks and should improve the flow of a map. In addition, the very first Siege map to be designed,
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Hereford, is getting a full rework. The concept is fine, but the team think they can make it better. Ubisoft Montreal’s post-launch development on Rainbow Six Siege is often reflective. The studio looks closely at what’s gone before, and isn’t shy of going back in and reworking things that don’t work. In Year Two, the studio delayed a content update to focus on Operation Health, which saw the team put the brakes on and work to fix some of the issues that had arisen during the game’s first year. It was a statement of intent: Siege was here to stay, and for that to happen, it needed to be built to last. In many ways, Siege’s development has more in common with an MMORPG than an FPS when it comes to the way the game is developed. Regular content updates keep players invested, while a constant thrum of new content in the form of challenges, cosmetic items, fixes and balance shifts keeping the game fresh and interesting. While many big titles shy away from huge changes, preferring instead to fix them with the next sequel, Siege has gotten involved quickly, tackling issues head on. Balance issues with nitro cells saw them replaced with a new item, impact grenades. This allows players to keep using explosives to open up potential flanking routes
without them turning into the godless killing machines from the nitro cells meta. Siege as a game now isn’t the Siege that launched. There are new operators, sure, but the actual core experience of playing the game is now different. Siege is the promise of games-as-a-service writ large. It presents a world without yearly sequels, wholly unnecessary microtransactions (although there are some microtransactions, it never felt like players are being gouged) and a community that’s growing with each successful update. The third year looks set to continue the trend. The new operators bring new and powerful global abilities that will shake up the game’s competitive meta, while the new cooperative mode seeks to bring some lore to Rainbow Six Siege, adding personality to characters even while they shoot the dissonant zombies that seem to have snuck in. With Ubisoft Montreal now unveiling a two-year esports plan to take us through to 2020, a fourth year of content is practically assured, too. No game can truly live forever, but Siege seems like it has plenty left in it, and with each update it’s becoming a stranger and more interesting game.
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Mission accomplished Ubisoft’s game director Alexandre Remy looks back on two years of Rainbow Six Siege, and what we can expect in Year Three
How do you feel Year Two has gone for Rainbow Six Siege? Over the course of Year Two we’ve seen the player base growing at a tremendous rate. Every season it is not only new content coming in but also new players coming in. We are coming up to over 27m players and about ten million players logging in every month. We’re seeing this growth in every region, on every platform, and it’s super rewarding as a feeling to see the game be loved this passionately – and also hated passionately, but it’s super cool. It was a lot about investing in the core fundamentals of the technology, so I’d say we did almost open heart surgery on the game. This season, you will notice the content is cleaner, the release is better, so hopefully the quality of playing the game is improving every time. Sustainability was the objective for Year Two. What is the aim for Year Three? Thanks to Operation Health [a Year Two initiative that saw new content delayed so Ubisoft Montreal could address several issues with the game], we are approaching the game with a sense of serenity because those fundamentals are now set and we’re looking to growing the game to maturity. Maturity in terms of what’s in the game, with our new additions, the map buff and rework and how we make our new and existing content as good as it can be, but also in terms of business as we ask how we sustain our game in the years to come. Is there a challenge to reworking some of the older content in the game? The first map rework is going to be Hereford Base, it is actually the oldest map that we built in the game and it
was the first prototype of a map that was made by the team when developing and conceiving Siege. So this is a map that we all love for all of these reasons, but at the same time it was the blueprint for everything else so it has all of the weaknesses of us being beginners. We started to learn what Rainbow Six Siege was on that map so, obviously, looking back at it after all this time made us think about how we can make it more relevant. We’ll be looking to take that approach eventually with all our our launch maps, and it’s something you’ve seen us do already with operators and items. Are you and Ubisoft Montreal becoming increasingly comfortable with making more experimental content? Yes, I think clearly we have started the year under the sign of disruption, Outbreak is a mode that takes the most iconic Rainbow Six Siege elements and turns them upside down. We had so much fun doing it, but clearly disrupting and bringing in new elements is going to be our bread and butter moving forward. What is the one ethos that you have tried to hold on to while working on Siege? One absolute belief I’ve had when it comes to developing the game and making it grow is the notion of building trust, and that comes with the passage of time. It takes time to build trust and it is the most essential aspect when you are working with anyone, whether that’s coworkers, or the game’s audience. The one thing that’s absolutely key for me is trust, and so I also want everyone to know we’re planning to be here for a long, long, time.
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Ins and outs: Industry hires and moves 1
Former community and communications oﬃcer at Ukie SOPHIE DENSHAM (1) has joined Edelman as senior account executive for Xbox EMEA. PlayStation UK has a new marketing director, as MARK BOWLES (2) re-joined the ﬁrm where he spent seven years before moving to the BBC in 2013. He’s replacing Rich Keen, who left the ﬁrm in October last year. Former PlayStation UK’s marketeer ROSEMARY BUAHIN (3) has moved to Curve Digital as marketing director. MD Jason Perkins said: “Rose is a heavyweight hire and a sign of our continued aspirations to evolve into a global player.” Rockstar’s engine programmer TIMEA
TABORI (4) has been appointed lead ambassador and national coordinator for Women in Games (WIGJ) in Scotland, kicking oﬀ the organisation’s regional policy to represent women in their regions.
Fnatic has announced the appointment of NICK FRY (5) as its head of commercial strategy. He said: “As it stands, Fnatic is widely recognised among the biggest brand holders in sports, music and entertainment, and my role is to not only strengthen that position but also build on it.” Gamer Network’s TOM ORRY (6) has been promoted to managing editor of USgamer.net. He said: “Over the past 12 months, USgamer has
“I am incredibly excited to be following my own dream. I see an opportunity to help developers and publishers build or engage existing communities” Dan Sheridan, Sherimedia
seen tremendous growth, with page views up 150 per cent year-on-year. I’ll be working with editor in chief Kat Bailey to identify traﬃc opportunities and continue to improve all areas of editorial on the site.” ESL UK has announced that esports journalist, commentator and TV host HEATHER ‘NAYSAYERZ’ DOWER (7) will be joining the team as the company’s marketing and communications manager. ALEX PETERS (8), formerly of Activision, DICE and EA, has joined Sega Europe as VP of production and development services.
Jagex strengthened its marketing team with three senior hires. Former head of global publishing at NaturalMotion BEN CLARKE (9) has joined as senior marketing director, STEVEN TARRY (10), former senior UA manager at Zynga, joined to head the user acquisition team and Multiplay’s creative, and content manager STEVE ‘SHED’ WILSON (11) is Jagex’s new head of video and live production.
Journalist RYAN BROWN (12) has joined Rubber Road as PR and comms manager for Numskull Designs and Yellow Bulldog. He said: “My main roles include running our social media accounts and building relationships with press, inﬂuencers, and our brand license holders. Now I get to surround myself with merchandise and video game toys and call it work!” Brown will still be freelancing for The Mirror website and paper, among others. Former recruitment operations manager at Amiqus MEG DAINTITH (13) has joined Codemasters as recruitment manager. Gamestop has appointed MIKE MAULER (14) as its new CEO. He’s been at the ﬁrm for 16 years, most recently as EVP and president of international.
VideoGamer’s deputy editor DAVID SCAMMELL (15) is now working with Toadman Interactive as the new community manager for Immortal: Unchained. He said: “2018 looks set to be a big year for the studio, and I’m thrilled to have
the opportunity to share a part of it with them.” He will also continue to work with industry veteran Chris Glover on consultancy and PR projects.
Square Enix’s Just Cause community manager NEIL GORTON (16) has moved to Bethesda as UK community manager. Comms manager at nDreams DAN SHERIDAN (17) has created his own ﬁrm, Sherimedia. He said: “I am incredibly excited to be following my own dream. I’ll be providing community management, social media, and inﬂuencer marketing expertise. “I see an opportunity to help developers and publishers build or engage existing communities.”
PCGamesN’s KIRK MCKEAND (18) has left the publication to go freelance. He said: “I’m very excited to work with the talented folks at Eurogamer on a freelance retainer, as well as writing for some of my other old outlets, including The Telegraph, GamesMaster, Trusted Reviews, OPM, OXM, and others.”
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Cherry picked advice to help you reach the next level in your career
Product manager at Warner Bros Otisha Sealy discusses why hard work and a will to learn can be more valuable than qualifications
What is your job role and how would you describe your typical day at work? I’m a product manager for Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment UK. I hate to snapshot it as there is no real typical day, it’s the nature of the industry but primarily the culture of WBIE and the teams around me, it doesn’t ever feel ‘samey’. Warner Bros is such a huge entertainment company there are always new opportunities and tasks to explore, especially collaboratively throughout the business. If I must summarise, I am primarily responsible for bringing video games to the UK market and the marketing campaigns around that. Day to day, it can range from setting up a SKU code to developing a strategy or working with the theatrical and franchise teams on cross-divisional activity. I love it. What qualifications and/or experience do you need to land this job? The first thing I noticed joining WBIE was that everyone is either expertly skilled or working hard to be, so I think drive and determination is the most important. You must be prepared to work hard, learn and enjoy doing so! Within my own team, our qualifications and background experience are actually really diverse; some of us have formal qualifications and straight marketing management experience and some of us don’t. There is no particular marketing path I would categorically say would land my role. I think character counts for a lot, you just need to really want whatever your goal is and naturally your decisions should lead you to the right experiences that will make you personally right for the role. Someone could have the exact same experiences or qualifications as me but it doesn’t automatically mean they should be in the role; individual traits always bring something different. If you were interviewing someone for your team, what would you look for? I guess my answer follows on from my response to the previous question. I would look at how their background can add to the diversity of the team, to complement any differences and add another unique dimension to new and existing ideas and approaches. I’m someone with a marketing qualification, but that still wouldn’t be the first thing I look for or consider the most valuable. A hard worker who values continuous learning as an ethos would stand out to me.
“Someone could have the exact same experiences or qualifications as me but it doesn’t automatically mean they should be in the role; individual traits always bring something different.” What opportunities are there for career progression? Warner Bros services the full scope of consumer entertainment, so there’s the potential to progress in games and, over time, also across other divisions throughout the business. Within my team there is a fantastic approach to development and progression. I have regular constructive chats with my manager about my goals, so career progression is a very open subject and I have access to my choice of training and transitions within the team. Warner Bros has worked hard to put the right processes in place. A majority of people I’ve come across seem to have been at Warner Bros nearing or upwards of a decade. However, there is always a healthy influx of new employees and we annually hire interns and apprentices, so there is also something for those looking for something shorter term, too.
Want to talk about your career and inspire people to follow the same path? Contact Marie Dealessandri at email@example.com March 2018 MCV 933 | 33
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“If you have a passion for games, don’t assume you need to be an artist or programmer.” Name: Philipp Welsch Studio: d3t Ltd
Job Title: Junior Core Tech Programmer
Education: BSc Multi Media Technology,
28 DAYS LATER
Taking a new opportunity in the industry can open a door to the job of your dreams. We catch up with a recent career mover at the start of their exciting new role through recruitment specialist Amiqus What inspired you about d3t to come and join them? After finishing my BSc, I planned on continuing with an MSc in Computer Science. As part of my studies I had spent six months working as an intern game programmer at an Austrian company called Polycular and had also spent most of my last university semester working on Major League Gladiators. From those experiences I learnt that I enjoyed working on projects for longer periods of time, with a dedicated team. So, I decided I would rather gain more experience in the industry, which led to my job search and my new position at d3t. What is the culture like at d3t and what’s your experience been like fitting in? D3t has a very relaxed and fun atmosphere while being highly productive. I like that d3t focuses on technical excellence. It means a lot of developers feel comfortable entrusting you with the cores of their games. What are you most excited about bringing to the role? Being able to work on interesting projects in a role that allows me to work on the side of games I prefer. I enjoy the technical parts of game development most and was afraid I might have to work my way up to the core tech side. Instead, d3t was looking for a person interested in the core side of games, which meant we were a perfect fit.
What will working at d3t do for your career? D3t has a reputation for excellence, so there’s a kudos attached to working here. It’s also a Keywords Studio and being part of a global network brings great opportunities. It will also allow me to further my knowledge in areas I already have experience in, while picking up new skills. I’m especially excited about being able to work with consoles, which I’ve not done before. What would you like to say to anyone thinking about or undertaking a job move in games? Making a game is such a massive undertaking, it takes a team with a varied skillset to be able to get to launch and beyond. If you have a passion for games, don’t assume you need to be an artist or programmer. Of course, if that’s your area of expertise, go for it. But, without office managers, IT experts, project managers and many others, most games would never get done. The game development community is one of the most welcoming and inclusive I have been a part of, so my advice is: just go for it. We’ve all been at the point where we had no idea what we are doing, feeling overwhelmed and out of our element. Most of us still are from time to time. So, if you need help or advice, just ask. I am 100 per cent sure people in games would love to help you. It’s certainly been my experience at d3t.
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Top of the class Speaking with educators to find out what’s important for the next generation of game makers THE BA (Hons) Computer Games Design at the University of South Wales has an impressive list of graduates. Alumni from the course is like reading a who’s who of previous MCV 30 Under 30 winners. Well known indie developers like Mike Bithell and Dan Da Rocha sit alongside studio heavyweights like Catherine Woolley and Luke Williams. So, what does course leader Adam Martin think is essential for games education? We sit him down to find out. MAKING GAMES IS A TEAM EFFORT “From the very first day when the course starts we get students into small teams, of around six to eight,” says Martin. From there, much of the course is collaborative, something Martin says is essential, as game design is all about working together, sharing best practices and developing the core soft skills. “It’s not about lone visionary designer or the lone artist creating their great thing for themselves,“ says Martin. “It’s much more about working on behalf of the game that you’re trying to produce, and trying to get the best outcome for that.” The teams work collaboratively on a project together for the first six months of the course. “The most valuable thing about teamwork is for students to learn how to negotiate and get on with each other,” says Martin. “It’s kind of about evaluating those ideas, playtesting them, iterating on them, and actually letting the game itself find its feet. If people don’t like it, or the designs don’t work,
it’s not you personally, it’s just the way that that design has come to fruition. I think that’s probably the most important thing.” TEACHING DESIGN, NOT TECHNOLOGY Martin says the course has an underlying principle: it doesn’t teach the students how to use tech, but how to design and how to go through a design process. “You start off with the seed of an idea, and that could come from anywhere. However, that idea gets started, it’s then a question of iterating on it,” says Martin. He points out that it’s not a case of immediately starting development and writing a list of milestones. “It’s not about thoroughly attacking it and then diving necessarily straight into engine and modelling and things. You’ve got to have a good idea, cause if you’re designing a game and the idea is kind of rubbish to start off with, at the end of that process, it’s still going to be a rubbish idea.” Martin mentions that for a lot of students wanting to be indie developers or to work at small studios, they often don’t have the luxury of investing time and resources into an idea that doesn’t work, so searching for a strong idea using a robust design process is essential. “It’s like a reverse onion skin,” laughs Martin, talking about how students are taught game design on the course: “Start with something that’s a core idea and then iterate it, building on the layers that form around it as mechanics and gameplay, and all the extra bits and pieces that make a game work.”
Adam Martin BA (Hons) Computer Games Design Adam Martin is the course leader for BA (Hons) Computer Games Design at the University of South Wales. He is passionate about fostering a climate of collaboration and inquiry within the subjects he teaches, providing a creative space for personal and professional development.
“Start with something that’s a core idea and then iterate it.”
“I came onto the course looking for an environment in which I could explore different areas in the industry with time to develop, and it has done just that. Given full access to the resources I need and with a team of both supportive students and staff who aren’t afraid to challenge you, it’s been a great experience.”
“Coming from a purely academic background, I was concerned I would fall behind my peers. But the course offers enough freedom and support to allow me to explore the aspects of game design that appeal to me most.”
Chloe White, 1st year student
Oliver Jackson, 2nd year student
If you work at a university and would like to be featured here, get in touch with Jake Tucker at firstname.lastname@example.org March 2018 MCV 933 | 37 31
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This month’s question: How valuable is GDC as an annual tentpole event in the modern gaming calendar? Mike Cox, Studio Head, Blazing Griffin
“As an indie developer, GDC is all about networking and raising awareness of both studio and products. For me it remains the most important industry event of the year and although it is sometimes hard to quantify the exact effect on business that attendance brings, it certainly makes things easier once you’ve met people face to face. It’s a unique opportunity to meet peers from around the world and hopefully build lasting relationships.”
Jonathan Holmes, Founder & Managing Director, Milky Tea
“It feels like the whole industry is at GDC so it’s incredibly important for us to be there. This year, we will be taking Hyperbrawl Tournament, our sports brawler which we are incredibly proud of. GDC gives us the chance to get the game in front of old friends, but also new partners with new opportunities. Plus, you also get the chance to gauge the mood and direction of the industry as a whole.”
Patrick O’Luanaigh, CEO, nDreams
“GDC remains one of the most important events of the year, and has two very separate purposes. Firstly, it’s a great place for key development staff to check the pulse of the industry, attend great talks, learn new approaches and make sure we remain on the cutting edge. Secondly, it’s a fantastic opportunity for business development. It’s possible to spend a few days in the venues around the show and have meetings with key partners, often without needing to go into the show itself. It’s the only show which properly combines these two elements.”
“GDC is quite simply the best place for developers, publishers, platforms and investors to meet and discuss projects.”
Dr Dayna Galloway, Head of Division of Games and Arts, Abertay University
“We have been sending staff to GDC for over ten years and it continues to be immensely valuable to us as an institution. GDC is an unmissable opportunity to meet people from across the games sector to share ideas and insights. The vast selection of talks and demonstrations are always inspirational, and there’s no other place where cuttingedge developments and technologies sit alongside alternative controller arcades, business networking, and the hugely important education and advocacy tracks.”
Sam Collins, Head of Commercial & Membership, Ukie
“As a B2B event, GDC stands out. It is quite simply the best place for developers, publishers, platforms and investors to meet and discuss projects. It represents an amazing commercial opportunity. That’s why Ukie is there with a large UK stand right at the heart of the expo space. It enables developers to showcase their latest work and acts as a magnet for publishers and investors. Publishers and service companies also use the Ukie stand for their all-important meetings. Over £50m of business has been completed on the Ukie stand at GDC over the past two years.”
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shoot and loot The annual shooter is on the way out, replaced by live games like Overwatch and Rainbow Six Siege. Faced with the development costs of keeping a game running forever, how do popular multiplayer shooters monetise? Jake Tucker investigates
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early iterations of your favourite franchise, unless it’s a licensed sports game, are dead. Games-as-a-service has emerged as the premier model, as studios are facing spiralling development costs, customers want to spend more time and money with a single product and the audience is less receptive to picking up every entry in a franchise each year. Shooters having a long tail is nothing new: look closely enough and you can still find servers for Team Fortress Classic (released in 1999), Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory (2003) or even the multiplayer aspect of immersive sim Deus Ex (2000). However, now that modding is a dirty word and all of the servers, networking, patching and development are centralised with a developer or a dev-nominated live team, keeping a game running can cost serious cash. So, how do developers manage it without armies of fans buying a shiny boxed copy of their game every October? The answer is loot boxes and microtransactions, pushing players towards paying money in games they’re spending time with. While in a lot of cases this is merely a way to get cosmetics, they’re still an unpopular choice, with a February report from data outfit Qutee suggesting that only one per cent of gamers are in favour of microtransactions, while 22 per cent disagree with the model. However, in a world where players are investing more in a single game, there’s no denying that it works, if you can do it right. “I think the challenge with this [live games] model is trying to put a community in place that wants to get involved with your content, not always paying but keen to be involved with it,” says Joe Brammer, the studio lead for Battalion 1944 developer Bulkhead Interactive. “The thing for us from the start with Battalion has always been a focus on concurrent players, not on financial success.” Live games have caused the industry at large to start paying attention to the dark arts of user acquisition and the free-to-play concepts of whales, even though most studios are trying to take a much more ethical approach: offering content for those who pay, while those who would prefer not to pay are still taking part in the game. It’s this desire to get out to as wide an audience as possible that saw Bulkhead sell Battalion 1944 for £11.39, compared to the £14.99 its original game, single-player puzzler The Turing Test, sold for. It might not seem like a big difference, but Brammer says when it comes to convincing players to pull the trigger, a few quid makes all the difference, although unfortunately that can also hit the studio’s finances, too. “It’s such a low buy from where The Turing Test sat,” he says. “But that difference is massive when you sell this
many units, so you can say ‘oh man, we’re down a few hundred thousand pounds here’, but we don’t really look at it like that when we collect ourselves again. It’s just a worry as you watch the numbers tick up.” Brammer says the low buy-in, combined with its loot box system where players can buy War Chests, allows players to set their own value for the title. “Players set the value for the game themselves,” Brammer suggests. “It’s £10 for the game, and if people don’t want skins, that’s absolutely fine, at least they’re in there playing the game. Then I’m happy, because just by playing the game players are making somebody else’s experience better.” Rainbow Six Siege has taken a similar approach to its microtransactions. The game’s cosmetic shop and operators are open to purchases using both currency earnt in-game by playing, but also using a premium currency that can be bought for money. Most things are purchasable only using in-game credits, with the only real gameplay benefit to be had for real cash is that you look fly as hell in one of the game’s elite skins, special outfits that customise every aspect of an operator. The game currently has a loot box system that spits out rewards only with the in-game earned currency or as a prize for winning matches, but the company has also recently attracted controversy after introducing its first ever paid loot box, the Outbreak collection. “The way we look at microtransactions is super simple,” says Alexandre Remy, Rainbow Six Siege’s game director. “The one single rule that we need is that gameplay content should never be behind a paywall. Gameplay cannot be segregated, it is the one thing that everyone should have access to and we are keeping it that way 100 per cent.” The Outbreak collection runs alongside a co-operative event of the same name. Remy describes the collection as something that’s available for players who want to access those items, but they’re not the main part of the Outbreak event. “For the event, we have always talked about the collection being the gift shop after the rollercoaster, so [the items] are purely cosmetic, and only available for the duration of the event,” he says. “I am feeling very empathetic, but at the same time I feel if we don’t break the golden rule of gameplay then I feel confident. I do not feel we are cheating anyone.” However it’s not hard to find largely negative reactions to such microtransactions on gaming forums, but results suggest that they work. For example, Activision Blizzard revealed that it had revenues of a massive $2bn from non-mobile, in-app purchases during 2017. Some microtransactions feel very anti-consumer, and Star Wars Battlefront II’s loot box progression system for
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Pictured above: Publishers are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their presentation of loot crates, but leading the pack is Call of Duty: WWII’s public openings in its social space
multiplayer, or Metal Gear Survive’s additional save slots requiring real-world purchases definitely felt like they didn’t have consumers’ best interests at heart. However, take a few steps away from these, and many developers seem to suggest that microtransactions are actually more about doing right by players, instead of punishing them. “Very early on we realised that we didn’t have to sell 20m units like Call of Duty to make a profit,” says Brammer. “We just had to sell a set figure, and we could let players coming in later buy into the game. The only focus for us was to make a really, really fun game and do what the community wants us to do.” He laughs: “Within reason, obviously. We want to to listen to our community and be super open, honest and accessible, then we know
“The one single rule is that gameplay content should never be behind a paywall. Gameplay cannot be segregated.”
that players will like what we’re doing and, if they want to, continue to spend money on our game.” Brammer points out that the money that goes into the game keeps team members working on the title, and that effectively players spending money on the game helps ensure extra content, whether that’s maps, cosmetics or even new modes. “The current secret of live games is that you need your players, your concurrent numbers,” says Brammer. “It doesn’t really matter about just selling to them all the time. I think if they’re happy with what they have then they’ll happily give you money because they like the game and they want to see more of it.” Halfway around the world, with the financial might of Ubisoft Montreal behind his game, Remy agrees. “Most live games don’t start free, so we have some revenue from that,” he says. “But the core thing is to ensure we don’t breach the golden rule of letting money interfere with the core gameplay loop, and we treat our audience and our potential audience with respect and intelligence.”
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GAME DEVELOPERS CONFERENCE MOSCONE CONVENTION CENTER SAN FRANCISCO MARCH 21 - 23, 2018 SOUTH HALL - PAV. 1301
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PASS THE GROG Rare has blasted a cannon ball through any barriers to entry for Sea of Thieves. Seth Barton talks to studio head Craig Duncan about the gameâ€™s single crossplay community and being first on Xbox Game Pass
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t’s a pirate’s life for Rare as it prepares to launch the good ship Sea of Thieves. Being a pirate really boils down to just one thing: freedom. And Rare, with Microsoft, is embracing that ideal at every turn of the ship’s wheel. For starters, while it’s not quite free, it is the first big exclusive coming to Xbox Game Pass since Microsoft announced all such titles would be joining the service day-and-date with launch. So console gamers don’t even have to buy the game outright in order to set sail with their friends. Rare’s studio head Craig Duncan is upbeat about both Game Pass and the opportunity it provides the game as part of Microsoft’s increasingly aggressive services-based strategy. “It’s awesome consumer value. If someone had told 16-year-old me, who used to save up to buy SNES cartridges, that you could pay £10 a month and get access to hundreds of games, and new games as well, that would have blown my mind,” he tells us. And we imagine it would have terrified games publishers back in the nineties too – as it still is now to some extent. “Part of our job as a firstparty studio is to drive people to services and platforms with our content, that’s what our job is as Rare and as a first-party studio,” Duncan says pragmatically. And he’s keen on the opportunity to put the game in front of many more potential players: “Whenever people have played Sea of Thieves, at E3 or Gamescom or during the closed beta, the sentiment has been great. The times we tend to get negative sentiment is when people haven’t actually played it.” Something we can certainly testify to: we were uncertain about it until we played it, but it then hugely overdelivered on its pitch in the first few hours of play. “I feel confident that people playing Sea of Thieves will enjoy it. And what I like about Game Pass is that there are more people who are going to come into Game Pass over time, and it makes it less of a Day One, sell as many copies as you can, launch.” As a live game, Rare is obviously keen for it to have a long and bountiful life, and a steady stream of new players will serve the game well. “I’d love to have a conversation with you in five years time and still be able to say ‘hey there’s hundreds of
thousands of people still playing Sea of Thieves,” Duncan continues. “And with Game Pass I think it’s going to continue to grow. There’s going to be people who buy a console a year from now, maybe at Christmas, and then get Game Pass and for them Sea of Thieves will be brand new. “We try and think about Sea of Thieves over multiple years and I think when you think about it that way, having Game Pass players is a great thing for the game.” And that stream of incoming players will have someone to play with too, as Sea of Thieves has no hard gating between new and experienced players. In fact, it positively encourages salty old sea dogs to take young pups under their tutelage and lead them on testing voyages. So players won’t be discouraged by their friends being so far ahead, as with the likes of Destiny.
“If someone had told 16-year-old me, who used to save up to buy SNES cartridges, that you could pay £10 a month and get access to hundreds of games, and new games as well, that would have blown my mind.”
SKULL AND CROSSPLAY Sea of Thieves is all about playing with friends and making new friends. It’s these social bonds that are key to engaging players in such a game in the longerterm. And Sea of Thieves is doing all it can to get friends playing together, as one of only a few live games to support crossplay – in this case between Xbox and PC players. “We didn’t want a PC community and an Xbox community, we wanted a Sea of Thieves
community,” says Duncan. And it’s succeeded handsomely. In our time playing we completely forgot players were on different hardware until we asked for help with a feature and someone helpfully aid “press the E key.” We were holding an Xbox controller. Of course, this technical marvel wasn’t as easy to create as it is to use. “It doesn’t happen on its own, we set out from the very start to achieve this,” Duncan says. Amazingly, “it’s actually Rare’s first PC game, ports aside,” he also reminds us. “We set out to make a game that stands up to the scrutiny of PC gamers but also delivers on the magic of crossplay. “We wanted Xbox Live to be behind everything, it’s the same friends list, invite system, matchmaking, in-game chat. It allows us to make exactly the same game for everyone, take away all the barriers and make it seamless.” “I can go and play with my friends, wherever they are, whether it’s on a PC or on a console, that’s cool.
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Pictured above: Rare’s studio head Craig Duncan
Fundamentally we believe in the magic of multiplayer, a lot of the game design mechanics are designed to be co-op. Everything is designed for a positive social experience.” Further work has been done to open the game up to as many players as possible, even on low-powered hardware. “Our team has done an amazing job at pushing the minimum specification down,” Duncan tells us, with a 540p 30fps option for laptops with integrated graphics. “It doesn’t look quite as good but we’d rather have more people playing the game, because if that means I can play with my son or a friend, and they have a low-end machine, then that’s awesome. “I think the game design helps. Our game isn’t a pixel perfect test of sniping accuracy, it’s a co-operative
“I’d love it if Sea of Thieves is someone’s first multiplayer experience. I think we’ve tried to remove barriers to multiplayer and that’s something I feel good about.”
adventure game with a bunch of pirates with oldfashioned weapons.” No great advantages then for the high-end PC gamers. And all this clever technology is also letting people play the game in a remarkably retro manner, Duncan adds: “People are playing in-room co-op with one person on the console and one on a PC. Like you used to do with split-screen games, in the same room, talking to each other.” LAUNCHING THE SHIP With Sea of Thieves’ big launch fast approaching on March 20th, Duncan is impressively upbeat: “I love this time in the project. And I mean that with all sincerity. It’s awesome. Now we’ve got the press coming in, we did the betas, people streaming, making a million decisions a day on the game and features. It’s good.” And he has good cause for optimism, as Twitch figures from the beta were very promising. It looks like Rare and Microsoft might have something truly special on their hands. Everything has lined up just right to create a game that’s genuinely different, and in many varied respects one of the most accessible online multiplayer adventures to date. “I’d’ love it if it’s someone’s first multiplayer experience. I think we’ve tried to remove barriers to multiplayer and that’s something I feel good about.”
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Call our specialist sales teams Basingstoke 01256 707070 Burnley 01282 776776 store.exertis.co.uk
COME JOIN OUR TEAM! Frontier is the independent publisher and developer behind Elite Dangerous, Planet Coaster and Jurassic World™ Evolution. We employ amazing people to work on triple-A games that have defined genres, received critical acclaim and sold millions of copies around the world. A career at Frontier is rewarding in every sense. We recognise the amazing work done by people on our team and offer a range of benefits for everyone to share in the studio’s success. Frontier is growing, and we’re looking for people who share our passion for making games that will put both Frontier and gaming itself at the forefront of the global entertainment industry. We currently have vacancies at our Cambridge, UK studio:
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Find out more and apply online: Find us on Twitter: frontier.co.uk/careers @FrontierDev @EliteDangerous For general enquiries, mail: @PlanetCoaster email@example.com @JW_Evolution
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Are double-A games really dead? Jem Alexander speaks to Toadman Interactive CEO Robin Flodin about the studio’s first title, Immortal: Unchained, and how a small team of war-torn developers can enter the competitive Soulslike market with confidence
f you take a shot at the king, you best not miss. Toadman Interactive is a recently established Swedish company made up of Dark Souls fans who want to cement their place in the annals of Soulslike history with their upcoming title Immortal: Unchained. The studio plans to do this with the help of a lean, experienced team of around twenty passionate developers who love the genre. “Being a small studio is fun,” says CEO Robin Flodin. “I really enjoy it. We have quite an experienced team for the games industry. They’ve been in the industry for at least seven years. Some up to 15 or 16 years.” Staying relatively small means that more members of the team are able to get their hands dirty. Long-standing industry veterans are able to muck in rather than directing from on high. “We get a lot of people coming from the bigger studios wanting to work with us because they get to be involved again in game development,” says Flodin. “Not just tell other people what to do, but actually be part of the process. It’s much more fun and it’s much more engaging and you actually get more done in a small team than you do in bigger teams.” It’s with this philosophy in mind that the developer goes about creating its unabashedly double-A title Immortal: Unchained. This is despite doom-mongers decrying the death of games that dare to tread the no man’s land between triple-A and indie. Flodin rolls his eyes at the very notion. “I think it’s ridiculous,” he says. “But I am kind of happy about the fact that people think that, so we get to be alone in this space. This keeps happening with the game industry. And then someone releases a game that’s great in that genre and it sells a lot and then people say ‘oh, double-A is back again!’ “It’s kind of like when the PC was ‘dead’. And then Valve made Steam and then it wasn’t dead anymore. In the end I think for gamers all that’s important is: ‘Do I get to play a great game? Do I want to buy it?’. Of course there are things that happen in the market, but I think it’s silly that as soon as something doesn’t work for maybe a year or so or someone keeps fucking up around something they just decide that it’s over. “In the end you have to look at: are great games coming out that were marketed well that didn’t sell, or
are the games not good enough? Or did they not reach their audience in the right way? That’s how I perceive it.” Bold words from someone looking to enter one of the most hardcore genres, with its passionate fans that expect high quality. When you’ve been brought up on Dark Souls it’s easy to be disappointed. So how is Toadman going to ensure the level of quality that their audience anticipates? “I think it’s all about execution,” Flodin says. “When we launch this year we’ll have been in development for three years and a lot of that time will have been spent on the basic mechanics of the game. The controls, the feeling of movement, how enemies interact. That is one of the hardest things. I would say that didn’t fall into place until six months ago. I’ve worked on a lot of productions and that’s usually the case. “You have to be able to keep investing. Our investor has been very understanding, and I’ve had to explain to him over and over again how we work and we want to work. A lot of reasons I think that games end up the way they do is because they don’t have the time to actually get to that feeling that you need to have when you play a good game. You know, when you start up a game and it just feels right. I think that has been one of the bigger problems with the less successful [Soulslike] titles. Maybe they’re great ideas but they’re not executed to the level you need for these types of games.”
Pictured above: Toadman Interactive CEO Robin Flodin
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LIVING IT LARGE The original live game genre is making a comeback and Jagex feels its 17 years of experience puts it in the driving seat when it comes to the next generation of ‘living games’. Seth Barton reports
unescape, the classic fantasy MMO, has been out of the limelight for some time now. Its impact is undeniably huge though, even today. It was the trailblazer for what we now call live games and helped propagate RPG mechanics into practically every single other core game type. Now, the once PC-centric genre is making a comeback on mobile platforms. With huge eastern RPGs totting up massive profits in China and nearby regions, while also making early incursions into western markets. However, Jagex is all set to fight for its home territory and beyond by bringing its long-running Runescape titles to mobile later this year, amid a flurry of other new business activities.
JOURNEY TO THE EAST Jagex kept its head down for many years, but last year it shot back into industry consciousness on the back of a $300m acquisition by Chinese investor Fukong Interactive. With that, it’s put the last few years behind it and is looking firmly at the future and the next generation of live games, which again draws eyes to the east. “Fantasy Westward Journey in China and Lineage M in South Korea were PC games that were nicely ported and they allow the mobile generation to come in and start playing them. The games are legitimised by their history and heritage,” Jagex CEO Phil Mansell tells us. “Where they’re lacking is that western heritage IP, which has that brand resonance with the audience,” VP of product management Neil McClarty adds. “There’s not many people in the west that can tackle that and have that benefit that we would have with Runescape. Whether it’s us or World of Warcraft, there’s only a few who would have that heritage that would grab the attention of people.” And that’s something that Jagex can certainly claim with a huge lapsed player base to market to. Many of those lapsed players look ready to return to the game, too.
McClarty continues: “Runescape has over 260m lifetime players and a lot of them have aged out of being core PC gamers, and we’ve done a lot of market research on this, they would really love to come back to that game that was their formative online game experience in their late teens. They now want that on their mobile phones and to get back in touch with that community.” BETA ACCESS The company’s early beta tests have been encouraging, McClarty tells us: “We’ve started to do some very small closed betas with a couple of thousand people playing for a week or so, and you can see on our social media people playing Runescape on their phone while sitting at the bar, on the bus, at the back of a lecture hall.” “We’ve seen people organise their own meetups already,” Mansell adds, and he goes on tell us that’s a great sign of an engaged community in their experience. “For me that’s a yardstick, if you can get your community to interact in real life you’ve moved it from being a hobby to being a lifestyle.” And the game will be the first western MMO to be playable fully interoperably between PC and mobile, with players being able to pick up the game on their phone exactly where they left on their PC. “Because the game is interoperable we’ve seen very strong retention metrics, levels you don’t get from a new game. Some of the players are existing players who are expanding their engagement rather than going from zero to whatever. They’re already in there,” Mansell tells us. He feels the game is already in good shape for the shorter bursts of play that mobile engenders: “We’re not looking to fundamentally restructure the game… you can [already] go in and play for a few minutes. We have designed content in the PC game that has loops of sub-five minutes, sub-two minutes, so that’s already there. “In the middle of this year we’ll be doing more open tests, soft launches. We want to see that behaviour, see if it changes, see if we
“If you can get your community to interact in real life you’ve moved it from being a hobby to being a lifestyle.”
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need to do anything to assist players if they’re playing shorter sessions. We’re looking to explore those things as we start doing full open tests later in the year. “
Pictured above, from top: Jagex’s VP of product management Neil McClarty, and CEO Phil Mansell
FARMING IT OUT Jagex has just finished its first full year under Mansell as CEO. “Last year we worked with the whole company to do a bit of soul searching, to find out what we wanted, what we felt we were good at, and running big online communities and worlds is part of that,” he tells us. The company is now very clear on what it feels it should do next, both in terms of its next-gen of games and in wider business opportunities. With the mobile release of Runescape being just one part of a trident of new initiatives. For starters, Jagex wants to take its expertise and start farming it out to others. “Leveraging what we’ve got and what we know, we can scale to help other people, we can be an enabler, an investor, a partner to help other people get there as well,” says Mansell. “We recognised that we have this big infrastructure for running online games, we’ve got the physical infrastructure around the world to host games globally, we’ve learnt to cope with hackers and DDOS attacks. We have a very resilient network. “We also have community and marketing and people who understand grassroots publishing, who we can utilise not just for our own games but to help other devs that love live games, who know how to make the experience but don’t know how to reach an audience and run a global service,” he adds. “We’re quite early days on that, we’ve been bringing in some heavyweight talent over the last six months to build that up, and we’re starting to have early conversations with potential partners, but that’s a very exciting place for us as well. We want to bring our publishing expertise to more than just our own internal products.” LIVING PILLARS Jagex has been thinking hard, trying to “codify what we think is the next level of operating live games,” Mansell tells us. “We came to look at where we want to go in the future, what we want our identity and specialism to be and how we can be part of that wavefront moving forward.” And it came up with a definition for the next generation of live games, what Mansell calls ‘living games’: “We want to make a statement that things are going to continue to advance and we want to leapfrog forward and be at that point before most others and be among the best at doing that.” Jagex has boiled down its living game to five key pillars, which Mansell outlines: “It has to be evergreen. Your objective is to design a game that can run
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1/15/2018 3:53:53 PM
Discover ancient Egypt The Assassin’s Creed Discovery Tour draws a blurry line between historical textbook and director’s commentary. Jem Alexander reports
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t would be easy to assume that Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Discovery Tour, a virtual museum set within the world of Assassin’s Creed Origins, would be a simple thing to put together. Wait for the finished game, scrape out the combat, nestle in a few blurbs of text about the life and times of ancient Egypt and voila. That may be true for a basic, proof of concept version of the experience, but Ubisoft Montreal’s plans were much grander and have resulted in something far more impressive and valuable. The Discovery Tour is a passion project for the studio, created alongside Assassin’s Creed Origins during its three to four year development process. The idea was to enhance the series’ latent historical insight and to guide players through Egypt, pointing out and explaining interesting sights that they might have missed while running around stabbing people. “It was a long dream for me,” says Ubisoft Montreal franchise historian, Maxime Durand. “Likewise Jean [Guesdon, Ubisoft Montreal creative director] and a lot of people within the company, as well as people from outside the company. But really it was Jean who convinced a producer who convinced our CEO, Yves Guillemot, to take the money from the game to do this.” The plan was to take Origins’ huge map of Egypt and remove all the barriers, making the whole world explorable from the start. That includes cutting all combat and other forms of conflict. Though this was not as easy as they first anticipated. “We developed both games simultaneously, the Discovery Tour and Assassin’s Creed Origins,” Durand explains. “The value with that is that we could prepare to make switches to remove the awareness of the player within the environment, because even though this environment revolves around itself and not only around the player, there’s still a lot of interaction feedback that is centred on the player. The way that you can see the world is also not the same. Assassin’s Creed Origins is based on challenges. Whereas with the Discovery Tour we wanted to go deeper into that learning system, here you take your time to actually see everything that you’ve played before in the main game, and now you understand what it is that you’ve seen. “While you were chasing Roman soldiers, for instance, you didn’t necessarily realise that there were mosaics on the ground. So that’s why it gives us an opportunity to enhance the experience for players.” These teachable moments come in the form of 75 guided tours, much like you’d find in a museum or art gallery. These tend to last between five and 20 minutes each, depending on depth and complexity. Each node on the guided tour will explain a little bit more about what you’re seeing (aided by several new camera systems
within the game, made specially for the Discovery Tour), all of which is fully voiced. While the focus here is definitely on historical fact, Ubisoft Montreal has taken the opportunity to explain anachronisms and choices made during development. So not only can players come away with a working knowledge of ancient Egypt, but they might learn a thing or two about game design, too. “When we make Assassin’s Creed games we know that we make design choices that are discrepancies that are based on technical constraints, or even just because we want to change some aspects because of artistic expression. We felt like there’s value in explaining that in the Discovery Tour. So even when we’re talking about the culture and geography of ancient Egypt we also talk about the development process. “For instance, you can do a tour of the Sphinx and in some of these nodes you learn that we tried different versions of the body of the Sphinx,” Durand says. “At first we tried more artistic versions of the Sphinx and we weren’t very pleased with the outcome. It felt too cartoonish. By the end, after trying six or seven different versions, we ended up with the most historically accurate version, because we used photogrammetry. We realised that there will never be a perfect Sphinx because our perception of the Sphinx as 21st century people is that it’s monochrome. We always see it without the nose, without the cone around the head. So that perception
Pictured: “On average there’s always one instance of scientific discussion per tour,” Ubisoft Montreal franchise historian Maxime Durand explains, the Sphinx being one of them
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will never be broken unless we go with the real version, the real historical version in that case.” The team worked closely with teachers and historians and, as a result, there are numerous opportunities to ‘criticise history’. Talking points to get students discussing the factual accuracy of our current understanding of history. “Things like the Great Pyramid of Khufu for instance,” Durand says. “We made it on a one-to-one scale. We made the outer casing as faithfully as possible from records of historians and references from antiquity and what science tells us. At the same time we shortened some distances in the rooms, but otherwise pretty much everything that’s inside is accurate with what we know. Then we realised
“When we make Assassin’s Creed games we know that we make design choices that are based on technical constraints or artistic expression. We felt like there’s value in explaining that in the Discovery Tour.”
‘oh, it’s missing something’. And that’s why we added some extra rooms based on scientific theories. It’s a whole tour about explaining why we made these extra rooms, what those theories are and whether they are grounded scientifically or not. A lot of teachers were asking for that and we felt that it was right to do this, too. “On average there’s always one instance of scientific discussion per tour. Some tours don’t have them and some have more than one. We tried to get a balance between giving enough science and leaving enough space for them to criticise the historical evidence. And then there are the behind the scenes parts, which are identified clearly as ‘this is game development’.” There’s no end goal in mind for the Discovery Tour, though throughout our conversation with Durand it became clear that, with a good enough reception, this could be just the beginning. “For us, achieving it is already amazing,” he says. “Just the fact that we can release it, that is an achievement. And we’re very eager to receive feedback from the fans who are going to play it and from teachers who would like to use it in the classroom with students. From anyone. We are eager to see what are the best practices and what we can improve if we were to make any changes. Hopefully they’ll like it.”
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How Focus built its ambitious 2018 line-up Focus made it quite clear these past few years that it was stepping up its game with titles more diverse and ambitious than ever. Marie Dealessandri catches up with CEO CĂŠdric Lagarrigue to discuss the publisherâ€™s evolution and how it both wants to nurture new talent and work with the biggest indie developers worldwide
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ooking back a decade, it’s fair to say that no one really expected Focus Home Interactive to become a trendy publisher. The French firm started its journey as a PC specialist, with franchises such as Cycling Manager, Pro Rugby Manager or Trackmania, and then earned its stripes Farming Simulator. Going from strength to strength, the publisher was then able to invest and support more ambitious games, outside of its initial comfort zone. And attending Focus’ annual What’s Next event in Paris made that pretty clear, with a wealth of games on show from renowned international studios, from Dontnod to Saber Interactive to Deck13. “2017 has been a beautiful year for Focus. We just announced a turnover of nearly €80m,” Focus CEO Cédric Lagarrigue tells MCV. “So it’s been increasing despite the delay of two important games for us, Vampyr and Call of Cthulhu, which are highly awaited games. But we managed to get a surprise hit at the end of the year with Spintires: Mudrunner, which sold nearly half a million units and continues to sell extremely well. We hope to hit the 1m milestone in the coming months. If you add the success of titles like The Surge – and Farming Simulator, of course – that all contributed to a beautiful year for Focus.” The publisher has no fewer than 11 games lined up to release this year and what’s immediately visible is the ambition and scale of those games. However, when mentioning Focus’ impressive rise, Lagarrigue just grins. “We exist,” he says. “We somehow managed to get on the radar of a
lot of people. The mainstream has started to find out about the ‘Focus philosophy’ – our desire to create games we love, simply put. And it’s something that’s been a little lost in the current market, as there are now so many blockbusters with important economic stakes. “We managed to establish ourselves in the physical market these past years. Last year the share of physical sales was superior to digital sales.” Focus’ evolution comes down to a smart choice of games, and 2018 takes shape as a turning point for the publisher. “Focus really tries to fill up the gap between indie games and blockbusters,” Lagarrigue explains. “We have an original offering, really different from what’s on the market right now. I got into the habit of saying that we’re a bit similar to Netflix Originals: strong universes created by talented teams with mid-range budgets but big enough to be able to deliver a more than satisfactory experience. So we fill up that space with success and we’re very happy today to be working with some of the best independent studios.” Focus’ collaboration with Dontnod on Vampyr is on everyone’s lips during What’s Next, as the release date was announced in the middle of our chat with Lagarrigue. The publisher’s most anticipated title of the year will release on June 5th, having been initially scheduled for November 2017. “We’re really trying to take the time to make sure the game is balanced, because it’s a complex title, in a big open world, with a lot of storyline ramifications,” says Lagarrigue. “We don’t want to disappoint.”
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Pictured above: Focus CEO Cédric Lagarrigue
Last time we spoke to Lagarrigue, after Gamescom last year, he told MCV “Vampyr will be considered a success when around 1m copies are sold.” This time around he’s a bit more careful, saying that “Focus is always cautious when it comes to announcing figures,” especially with a new IP with “no precedent.” However, he adds: “I think it’s fair to say that as long as we have a good game, we’ll be able to sell over a million, because expectations are high and the game made its mark on the radar of many gamers worldwide.” There’s another similarity that is noticeable among the games at What’s Next: they share a similar atmosphere, with a lot of moody, narrative-driven RPG titles. “Narrative driven, yes, but not only,” Lagarrigue says instantly when asked about how he would define a typical Focus game. “There’s a little bit of everything but, yes, the story is something that is important for us. I think that sometimes video games can lose themselves a bit in big open worlds, and lose rhythm. So we also love the stories told by these studios renowned for the quality of their storylines, their writing, their narratives. But in addition to this, we also make games that are massively played online. It’s a mix of everything. You can’t say there’s a ‘Focus style’.
AS the gold rush to the Nintendo Switch continues, Focus has remained quite set back as far as the hybrid console is concerned, with only a handful of titles announced. But that doesn’t mean the publisher doesn’t have interest in the Switch, Focus’ CEO Cédric Lagarrigue tells us. If anything, Focus is just waiting for the right time to jump on the bandwagon. “It’s a console that we’ll keep supporting for certain games,” he says.
“It’s the case for Farming Simulator, Spintires: Mudrunner and Masters of Anima (pictured), even if the install base is not important enough yet to really hope for big scores that only Nintendo can achieve at this point. But it’s a very interesting console. It’s different. We’ve started to realise that it’s played as a handheld a lot, it’s replaced handheld consoles more than home consoles. So there’s a real interest for us to keep offering experiences on this console.”
There is a type of game you’ll find in Focus’ catalogue, things like Vampyr, Call of Cthulhu, and then you have games like Mudrunner and Farming Simulator. We’re interested in taking universal themes that are extremely popular and finding teams that will be able to invent and imagine mechanics that work well around these themes.” Despite the publisher having an increasingly diverse portfolio, Farming Simulator had the most extravagant booth at What’s Next. “It’s a flagship title for Focus,” he says. “It’s been a success that’s taken a lot of space in Focus’ turnover, but we’ve been constantly reinventing ourselves. Farming Simulator remains an important franchise for Focus, we’re ambitious to sell more copies each year, for instance with Farming Simulator ‘19, which, I think, will both reach an even larger audience and please the fans as there are big surprises that we’re going to announce at E3. So Farming Simulator remains as important as ever, it’s the rest of our catalogue that has gone from strength to strength. The success of titles like Farming Simulator, Mudrunner and Blood Bowl helped us build a portfolio of games we love. And we love a Farming Simulator as much as we love a Vampyr. It’s very exciting to release games like that.” That also includes giving a chance to new studios, like Big Bad Wolf, which is giving the episodic format a spin with The Council (you can read more about it on page 86). “We have a role in the French video games ecosystem, which is to work with young talents, young teams, and ensure the success of their debut titles. It’s something we’ve done with a lot of studios in France,” Lagarrigue explains. “[Big Bad Wolf] came to us with an interesting offer, with RPG mechanics, skills that have a deep impact on the story and the action. We thought it was original and well crafted and we decided to give them a chance and give them access to the international market. It’s a first collaboration.” But not content with publishing young studios in its home country, Focus also has its heart set on strengthening its international presence. 87 per cent of Focus’ turnover is made outside of France, but the publisher still mainly works with local developers. “70 per cent of our studios are French, but we also work with the likes of English, American, Canadian, German and Swiss studios,” Lagarrigue says. “We don’t limit ourselves, but of course, as we outsource development it’s also good to work with French studios that we can meet with on a regular basis. We communicate a lot with them, and proximity allows us to visit them, making them friends.” He continues: “Of course, the size we aim for is not the size we’re at right now. So we’re going to continue to grow through the success of the titles we support. The aim is to keep growing with an offering that is different from those of our competitors. A catalogue of strong, anticipated, original games, created by the best teams in the global dev scene.”
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Florence: How game design can tell love stories Mountains’ mobile gem Florence took the games industry by surprise in February with its original approach to storytelling. Founder and creative director Ken Wong tells Marie Dealessandri about the story behind Florence’s story
eaving the comfort of a well established, successful developer to create a new studio is not an easy decision, nor task. But that’s exactly what Ken Wong did in 2016, leaving London-based studio Ustwo as the firm announced that Monument Valley had made $14.4m in revenue in two years. As the lead designer, Wong was instrumental in Monument Valley’s world coming to life but, having triumphed with the title, he was ready for a new adventure. “After the success of Monument Valley, I did one more project with Ustwo, Land’s End. I felt like I achieved what I had set out to do and I thought starting my own studio would be the next set of challenges,” Wong tells MCV. “I’d been observing the Melbourne game scene and how much talent there was there and I felt like it would be a good opportunity to come back to Australia and use the sort of clout that I achieved to be able to pass on some of the knowledge that I’ve picked up along the way and help foster the next generation of game developers.” And that’s how Mountains started in April 2016. Then came the game, Wong explains: “When I set up the studio I really didn’t have an idea about what kind of game we were going to make together. My priority was on the team, and I thought: ‘Together we’re going to figure out what this game is’. As we started prototyping we talked about how important it was to find something meaningful. Because that was the reaction that Monument Valley got: it meant a lot to people. We were having all these conversations about our relationships, our significant others and who we were dating and I realised that this was this very common human experience, but it was sort of a blind spot for games. Movies and books and songs are always celebrating
this but games haven’t explored this as much, so I thought it would be a really good challenge to try and use game design to explore this theme.” What falling in love feels like: that is the incredible feeling Florence manages to convey. Mountains’ debut title launched on iOS on Valentine’s Day and benefitted from an incredible buzz as it offers an original approach to storytelling, mobile games and game design. To start with, Florence is wordless. The story of how Florence and Krish meet and fall in love is entirely told through Wong’s art and Kevin Penkin’s music, as well as gameplay actions that make the title more of an interactive story than anything else. “I don’t think it was as much of a decision as that’s just the way that I like to make art,” Wong explains. “When you’re communicating with visuals, music and gameplay scenarios then the player can interpret these events as they wish. They can take away a deeper meaning rather than one that we tell them directly. And I think that almost makes the work more relatable because people can read into things and put themselves into the story. And I think that’s definitely the case with Florence. For example when Florence and Krish have an argument we don’t specify what the argument is about because that’s not important. What’s important is that they have an argument and hopefully people will be able to see that and be like ‘oh I know, I’ve had this kind of dickering with my partner’.” The soundtrack also has a crucial role in Florence – almost feeling like the narrator of the story. To find the right artist, Mountains worked with a company called The Otherworld Agency, which connects game developers with audio designers and composers. That’s how Wong met Penkin.
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Pictured above: Mountains’ founder Ken Wong
“Kevin understood what we were going for and we talked about how in the absence of words the music filled in for the voices of the characters,” Wong says. “When the characters are sad, when they’re arguing, when they’re laughing, the soundtrack is doing the same thing.” Complementing Florence’s unique mechanics and music is Won’gs art. It is diametrically opposed to Monument Valley and, even for an artist as experienced as Wong, finding the right art direction for this title was not easy. “I think it’s important to find the right style for the story and at the start of the project I was focusing too much on trying to find these stylistic flourishes that I thought would be important and I got a bit too caught up in there,” he explains. “And as we were trying to shape the story and the characters, I relaxed. I stopped thinking so much about it and just let the images flow out of my hands. What we ended up with is actually more like how I draw naturally, which is rare. Usually I’m consciously doing a stylistic thing and the art in Florence is me with almost no style.” Interestingly, putting so much of himself in Florence was also a challenge for Wong, as he wanted to make sure the title was a team effort: “As an artist, it’s my natural state to be expressing my own personality so for me the challenge was to leave things open for the rest of the team to be able to have input and to challenge me and to help make the story better than what I could do by myself.”
THE FUTURE OF STORYTELLING IN an unexpected turn of events, I happened to meet Ustwo’s head of studio Dan Gray the day before interviewing Ken Wong about Florence. Gray was part of a panel on the future of storytelling during Creative England’s Be More Manchester event and mentioned Florence during his talk, as an example of what the future of storytelling could look like. During our interview, he said Florence is “a perfect example of how you convey story and emotion through mechanics.” He added: “The metaphors and the parallels for how you do those things, you can only do in creative entertainment. As an industry, we’re only just starting to learn that, moreso than the other media we’re on the cusp of discovering what storytelling and interactive entertainment truly is.” Telling Wong about this conversation, he laughs: “I mean, that’s a huge compliment!” Discussing the future of storytelling and how mobile
is a great platform to shape it, he continues: “I would say something slightly different and say that because games have occupied consoles and PC for a lot longer, there are more opportunities with mobile because it’s less explored. There are still interesting experiences that you can create. Mobile is still evolving very fast, with AR and geolocation, as we saw Pokémon Go exploit. So I think there are tremendous opportunities. “Our publisher Annapurna brought the world What Remains of Edith Finch last year and I think that it’s really interesting that Finch and Florence have a lot of similarities in the way that we’re trying to tell a story using gameplay. There is not one future for games – I like to embrace that games are so diverse and there are multiple futures and people will find new ways to tell stories on traditional platforms. Then as we look to VR and mobile, there are new storytelling opportunities.”
Launching a mobile game these days offers a great deal of challenges, discoverability being one of the biggest. Wong was already a figure in the games industry so that fortunately “wasn’t a big part of [his] worries,” he says. “I think for a premium mobile game you need two things. One is featuring by Apple and the other is word of mouth.” To tackle the first one, Mountains could count on its publisher, Annapurna Interactive. “When I left Ustwo, word got out and different people reached out to me and asked if I needed help with my next venture. Annapurna quickly rose to the top of my list because it really felt like their goals aligned with ours,” Wong explains. “They had a tremendous reputation with filmmaking and some of the members of the games team were previously at Sony Santa Monica and have a great history of supporting... I wouldn’t even say indie games, but games that are attempting to be art and are trying to position themselves as beautiful and meaningful.” Mountains and Annapurna worked hand in hand to bring Florence to the App store, and find the right price tag for the title – something that can be tricky for mobile games. “We looked at the landscape and we considered people’s buying habits,” Wong says. “$2.99 US felt like the right balance between what we thought the game was worth and what we thought people would be willing to pay.” For Wong, free-to-play was never on the table. “From the get go, I knew that I wanted to make a premium game and I think it’s very hard to change pricing model during a project because you have to design towards it. You have to know how you’re incentivising the player to have certain behaviour. So if we know that the player has already paid money for the game then we can just focus on giving them quality content whereas, with a free-to-play game, you are welcoming anyone and everyone who has dallied with the game for free and then you have to provide a good experience while at the same time hopefully incentivising them to pay a bit more.” Premium was definitely the way to go for Florence, based on the success it has met since launch. “I feel like you’re never quite sure what to expect,” Wong smiles. “We had tested the game a lot before launch and we had a great response but you never know when it hits the wide audience. You know, everybody from total nongamers to hardcore gamers to people who just read about it on a website. It’s hard to gauge what their response is going to be but we’ve been delighted that it has been so positive. “I think people recognise that we were trying to do something different and that we were quite successful in making a different kind of game and experience.” And the adventure is certainly not over for Florence, as it is due to launch on Android later this year.
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2/13/2018 10:15:06 AM
TOTAL SUCCESS Taking a much beloved franchise like Warhammer is always going to be tricky, even for an established RTS master. Seth Barton heads to Horsham to chat with Creative Assembly about the ongoing success of Total War: Warhammer
t’s hard to think of a better pairing than Games Workshop and Creative Assembly. The former has dominated the world of miniature wargaming for decades, while the latter has created one of the best-loved series of strategic warfare games for 18 years now. We catch up with Al Bickham, development communications manager for the Total War team, who tells us about how miniatures don’t just become 3D models, how the codebase got a little off-kilter between the first and second game, and how the company’s PCs have really taken to playing themselves at the game. You have lots of artists and so does Workshop – is the style guide the same or are you simply reproducing their work? To some extent yes, because our guide for the models are the miniatures themselves. When we first embarked on Warhammer, Games Workshop sent us two of everything in the current Warhammer catalogue! We had the equivalent of a Games Workshop store in the office. An artist, a 3D modeller, can jump into Max and completely replicate a model. And it looks absolutely stunning and beautiful but when you try and make it move… all the miniature does is stand like that with his spear, but imagine him turning his head... everything clips through everything, so we have jiggle things around and redesign things. You’re saying some things are less spiky – that’s heresy! Yes, but some things are more spiky. A lot of those miniatures look so dynamic in model form because they’re in a dramatic pose, launching forward to attack or defending themselves. To bring that to life, you have to figure out how that figure is going to move.
Take the Wyvern, which is essentially a dragon with wings for arms. So how does it locomote across the ground? The best match we could find in nature was a bat’s elbow-like walking. So they look really bat-like in the game when they move because we had to find some sort of analogue. But not all creatures have an analogue? True, take the Hell Pit Abomination, a Skaven creation. Its just made of meat and wheels and spikes, and pumping machinery. Our animators said that people turn that bit and that goes up and down, and it’s great, it looks authentic. We had so much feedback from Games Workshop throughout the process, we sent them assets, animated models to review, and we get these replies that ‘people are losing their shit here’ because they’ve seen this stuff come to life in this way. And that’s when the studio knows we’re doing the right thing. You had some teething issues when you launched Mortal Empires... Yes, Mortal Empires is essentially Warhammer One (WH1) and Warhammer Two (WH2) smashed together and we had some problems merging the dev branches. To explain: WH1 launches and WH2 starts pre-production, so you branch the code and create a new development branch for WH2. Meanwhile, WH1 is here getting new DLC and it gets new branches for the new DLC, and that then merges into the main WH1 branch. It goes on sale, gets piped to Steam, and carries on developing. Gets another branch for another DLC, and so on. Meanwhile, WH2 is moving off on its own little development tangent over here, and getting all its new stuff added to it.
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Now, in the run up to WH2 we decided to do our pre-order a bit differently because we didn’t want players to feel anything had been cut out of the new game [as a pre-order bonus]. So we decided to do some new DLC for WH1 as a pre-order bonus instead, so if you pre-order WH2 you get something to play now in WH1, some two to three months before WH2 launches. You’ve probably got players who started playing WH1, but then stopped playing it, and so you can make sure they’re engaged again before WH2? Exactly, there’s a whole host of good reasons to do it that way, and largely it was a success. And the WH1 branch just kept on developing. Meanwhile WH2 was getting quite a lot of infrastructure changes and UI quality of life changes. The team pulled loads of cool stuff out of the bag with WH2 that wasn’t initially going to be in the specification for the game, making it better and better.
Then we have a clever autotest system, much like Folding at Home. Warhammer at home? In the office actually. We have an internal system so that when you’re out-of-office you can give your PC over to the autotest system. It runs games and campaigns at super-speed, gives us masses of data for unit balancing and faction balancing. And it picks up multiple crashes and will track where those are coming from. So what we’ve got is a suite of tools that let us take the temperature on that issue in a number of different ways. If we feel that a vocal part of the community is complaining, we can explain how it actually works, because of these systems. If it’s something we haven’t noticed then we run our own test and find some sort of change or tweak and it goes into the next update.
But then the games are diverging further and further... Yes, our codebases were diverging quite a lot, and one thing we didn’t really think about was the shapes of the databases and where data goes in that massive database of content. It created a massive wave of bugs and builds failed to compile because we realised there had been so many technical infrastructure changes between the two games. These things just won’t simply merge. It’s then a slow process of picking individual files from those 800,000 compressed files so they can be hand-merged or re-implemented, rather like creating new content, like making a new DLC patch from scratch. So that’s a lesson learnt? We’d do it a lot differently next time, be more selective about how we branch and then make storage depots for certain branches so that you know that one’s never going to change. So if this one is going to get code changes then these need to be reported so it doesn’t interfere with the merge. You have a passionate community, players often ask for nerfs and changes, do you use analytics to help you decide on these? We have a great community team that provide reports and feedback. We can hook our system into pretty much any part of the game, see which features gamers are engaging with more, which features we’ve designed that people aren’t bothering with – maybe they aren’t fun enough. We also have reports from our internal QA team and Sega QA.
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FreshMeat BY JEM ALEXANDER
Every month in Fresh Meat we check in with a new and upcoming developer. This month we chat to Interior Night about the need to surround yourself with excited, talented people and the future of storytelling in games
IT feels as though there has been a recent increase in new studios being formed in the UK. One recent new addition is Interior Night, set up by ex-Quantic Dream lead designer Caroline Marchal. Since the company was founded in late 2017, it has already seen an influx of new senior hires and announced a publishing partnership with Sega. Nothing about Interior Night’s first game has been revealed, other than the fact it’s a “brand new, narrative-driven IP.” With its strong staff of veteran developers and a publishing deal under its belt, it’s an encouraging start. “If you had told me two years ago that I would be starting a game studio, I wouldn’t have believed you,” Interior Night’s founder Caroline Marchal says. “It comes down to turning 40 and knowing that this is the right time to take the risk and make something on my own. It’s that kind of ‘now or never’ feeling. With a game concept we thought promising, I decided to take the leap. Fortunately, it’s paying off. I feel extremely lucky to have gone this far already.” By surrounding herself with experienced developers with whom she’s worked over the years, Marchal has been able to put together a trusted team focused on pushing forward narrative in games. “I have worked over the years with talented people who were excited by what we were trying to achieve and accepted to join us, mainly Sony and Quantic Dream veterans,” she says. “Interior Night’s core team is thus formed of experienced people who
know each other and have worked together before to some degree, which is a massive asset when starting from scratch. “The UK scene is a very welcoming community, bustling with events. Initiative and novelty are truly valued. Since we officially announced the studio’s creation, plenty of industry members have reached out to offer help or simply connect, which is very nice.” The studio is staffing up and has seen some tremendous applicants, pointing to a very healthy UK skills market. Marchal is especially keen on the level of diversity, though it could be yet improved. “The UK market is full of talented people in every field,” she explains. “It’s very competitive – so much so that’s it’s a bit tricky to hire and retain talent. It’s also truly international, which is a very good thing, as diversity enriches a game. “One of the difficulties though is to find women – programmers and designers especially. I’m proud we have some very talented women at Interior Night and we’d love to hire more! Ladies, if you’re reading this, please apply. “We are looking for programmers at the moment (Unity programmer and pipeline engineer) and we’ll be ramping up our art team very soon with character artists and animators. Check out our website for regular updates.” Interior Night’s clear focus on crafting narrative game experiences helps bring the right people into the studio, and a “culture of
Picture above: Caroline Marchal, former lead designer at Quantic Dream, who founded Interior Night in late 2017
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“I’m proud we have some very talented women at Interior Night and we’d love to hire more! Ladies, if you’re reading this, please apply.” trust” is what Marchal and her team plan to use to keep them there. Happy developers make better games. “It’s true that culture is very organic and doesn’t exist without the people,” Marchal says. “That’s why we’ve put a lot of care in finding the right people for the core team, experienced and driven individuals, with a deep love and understanding of the narrative genre. We want to keep the studio lean so that the initial culture doesn’t dilute over time.” She continues: “We want to nurture a culture of trust, respect and passion. We think that work life balance is essential to create great games. Most of the team members have families (including myself) and we want to respect that as we think people give their best when they are happy. It’s something we’ve made clear from the beginning and that we’re applying on a daily basis. For example, we’re starting to put in place working from home a day a week.” A lean studio full of talented, experienced developers with a proven track record of working well together in the past is a recipe for success, which will come in handy for a team that is looking to forge new paths in the narrative games genre. Interior Night has big plans. “As a narrative game studio, we’re hoping to innovate in the genre by bringing more people to play games and share stories,” Marchal explains. “Interactive narrative is blossoming. In the next five to ten years we think a whole new medium will emerge from the convergence of TV and games. And let’s not even mention what could happen with VR, AR or Alexa. It’s an exciting time for interactive storytellers and we want to be part of it.”
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We have ignition PlayIgnite is looking to change the way studios think about user acquisition. Jake Tucker speaks to PlayIgnite’s managing director, Matt Frenchman
att Frenchman is the first to admit that gaming is a passion of his that fell by the wayside, many years ago. Frenchman’s talent is for data and numbers, something that’s seen him working at finance companies like JP Morgan and Credit Suisse. It’s this expertise, Frenchman’s lapsed love of gaming and a desire to find a truly niche business that led him to PlayIgnite, a company with a £100m fund that’s hoping to help studios think bigger with their games by giving them help with their user acquisiton (UA) and marketing. “As I left banking and met probably 200 to 300 different companies, this was the most niche business that I could find,” Frenchman says with a laugh. “There isn’t really much like this at all. Adding to that, I really like games. And I sort of lost my love for games when I was in finance and now I’m back in this world I love.” PlayIgnite, while under the PlayStack umbrella, is its own business and its main product is Ignition Capital, a heavily data-driven marketing loan that can give studios the cash to invest heavily in UA and marketing as they’re looking to launch their games for the first time or perhaps take it out of soft launch, armed with some impressive metrics. “This is quite risky capital,” Frenchman admits. “We’re looking to make sure we’re lending to the studios that have the right metrics. This means we’re looking for a game that has a good return on investment, so if they spend $100 buying users, after 60 days can they turn that $100 into $120. We have the data to model that, and we monetise by charging a monthly fee on top of the loan.”
This monthly fee varies depending on the amount loaned, or the metrics shown, but primarily PlayIgnite seems to be focused on keeping itself sustainable. The fund can lend to any free-to-play game at any stage, although its focus is primarily on mobile
“We’re looking to make sure we’re lending to the studios that have the right metrics.” games. And the fund is only the headline part of its work. While it can’t speak about any specific games, this is a model that appears to be working out for the young company. So much so that it’s heading to GDC to try and meet new developers it can help.
For Frenchman, the team is looking to meet people with free-to-play mobile and PC titles who need money to spend on user acquisition and scale their games. The ideal point for developers is when they’ve already soft launched their games in a region and are seeing numbers that look positive and are thinking about their next steps. “That’s the sweet spot where we can really help a developer to reach their potential,” says Frenchman, He posits that most companies just aren’t thinking big enough when it comes to revenues: “It’s hard enough to make a game that stands out, so I think when developers start to think about how much it would cost to spend on acquisition, people are put off. “Most studios think the only way to raise money is to give away equity in their company, part of their business. PlayIgnite represents a totally new concept to a lot of people, and we’re really keen to get out there and educate people.” The long term goal is that PlayIgnite can step in and simplify studio’s user acquisition process entirely. PlayIgnite is already capable of helping people working with it via advisors and technical help from within the PlayStack umbrella. But in the future it’s hoping to grow this side of the business, in addition to making a dashboard available that the team currently uses internally to measure the returns on a game. This is expected to appear in around six months time, and the company hopes it can give PlayIgnite customers an edge, live data that can empower them make smarter decisions. After all, Frenchman has always loved data.
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Sumo Digital has been a work-for-hire studio since its inception, so why did it decide to create its own IP and publish it itself? And despite considerable success, why does it have no plans to do so again? Seth Barton asks business development director Ian Richardson
Pictured above: Sumo Digital’s business development director Ian Richardson
umo digital has worked on a range of massive IPs for many of the biggest names in publishing. In recent years its clients include Microsoft, Sony, Square Enix and Disney, working on brands such as LittleBigPlanet, Forza and Crackdown. But it’s never taken the leap into creating its own IP or self-publishing. Late last year though it did just that, developing puzzle platformer Snake Pass for pretty much every platform going, including the just-launched Nintendo Switch. We talk to business development director Ian Richardson about how the game came about. Sumo isn’t known for home-grown IP, so how did Snake Pass materialise? Snake Pass was the winner of our first ever internal game
jam which took place in October 2015. Our game jams are a great way for our staff to unleash their creativity and provide the opportunity to form teams outside of their current projects. With Snake Pass, even early on, we knew we had something special – this was confirmed when we took it to our first public show, EGX Rezzed, in April 2016. The reaction was fantastic and we went into full production shortly after that. Why did Sumo Digital decide to publish the game itself? We were in a fortunate position that several publishers wanted to sign Snake Pass, but we felt that self-publishing was a great opportunity to update our knowledge and experience, which added value to our business when working with our partners.
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What did you learn from the experience? The importance of creating key artwork and assets earlier than we previously thought, the differing publisher submission processes, and a better understanding of metadata that is supplied to the various digital stores. What was your experience of the various console stores? Dealing with all the digital stores was a brilliant experience and the respective platform teams were very supportive of Sumo and Snake Pass. Everything is about discoverability on the stores and that was the biggest challenge for us. It sold well, but it seems to have done particularly on the Switch eShop? The original creator of Snake Pass, Seb Liese, is a huge fan of the old Rare N64 games and that shows in our game’s art style and gameplay. I believe that was one of the contributing factors in making it so successful on Switch. And because we have deep cross-platform experience we published the game three weeks after the launch of Nintendo’s new console, so we were one of over 20 games available. Also, Nintendo was very supportive in helping us promote Snake Pass by amplifying our message through their social channels, as well as on the eShop. The timing
was perfect for us and we were No.1 in 16 countries and No.2 in the U.S on the first ever Nintendo eShop charts. What was the big lesson, and would you self-publish again? Although we thoroughly enjoyed the experience and may do it again, our core business is to continue to work with our partners and develop triple-A titles based on established IPs. We learnt a lot, for instance that publishing can be fun, challenging and bloody hard-work and you need a dedicated team to be successful as there is so much to do to launch a game.
“Everything is about discoverability on the stores and that was the biggest challenge for us.”
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DEVELOP: BRIGHTON 2018 This year’s expanded Develop:Brighton focuses on diversity and representation, with speaker submissions closing on March 14th
Pictured above, from top: Andy Lane, managing director at Tandem Events, and Leanne Bayley, CEO at We Heart Dragons
veryone’s favourite Brighton-based game development conference will go through significant changes this year. Develop:Brighton, which features our very own Develop Awards, will expand its full conference from two days to three. The event will now take place between Tuesday 10th and Thursday 12th July. In previous years the Tuesday of the event was dedicated to ‘Evolve’, a look forward at the future of gaming innovations such as VR and AR. This has now been folded into the conference proper and given its own track, along with a new Discoverability track that aims to help developers get their games noticed. “By incorporating Evolve into the main conference, this allows us to offer more content and choice across all three days, so it is easier for all those in the development community to focus on the topics that really matter to them,” says Andy Lane, managing director at Tandem Events. “Each year, we always strive to deliver a programme that is relevant and insightful to today’s development community. With more developers self-publishing, discoverability is an issue many come across. Our new Discoverability track is aimed at helping those who have great ideas get noticed and nurture their community. For those thinking about submitting a session, be clear on who your talk is aimed at and outline the take-away an attendee would get from listening to you.” A focus for this year’s Develop:Brighton is on inclusivity and diversity. This is true not just for the event’s speaker sessions, but for the conference in general. Leanne Bayley, co-founder of We Heart Dragons, a new member of the event’s advisory board, has written a great article on the Develop:Brighton blog
discussing the need for representation at the event and calling on minorities to submit sessions. “You may not feel your experience or you presenting what you do is that big a deal, but it is to someone,” says Bayley in her blog post. “Even if it’s only one person you encourage to get into games dev, stay in games dev or change the sex of their games protagonist, it matters. Representation is getting better, it’s changed a lot in the time that I’ve been a developer, but we still have a way to go and we’ll only get there if we represent. So tell your story, sign up as a speaker at this years Develop:Brighton conference and I look forward to meeting you there.” Speaker submissions are now open, so if you have something interesting to say to your game dev peers, then now is the perfect time to get in touch with Tandem via the website (developconference.com) and make it happen. The conference organisers have included a handy list of talk ideas, which come under several themes based on hot development topics of the moment. The website goes into more granular details on each of these, giving solid guidance on the sort of speaker sessions that are likely to be accepted. Submissions close on March 14th. ■ Discoverability & Customer Acquisition ■ Funding ■ Running a Successful Business ■ Games as a Service ■ Self-publishing ■ Design ■ Coding ■ Diversity ■ Evolving Technology & Business ■ Developing for VR/AR/MR
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INDUSTRY VOICES The Making Games In The UK report, commissioned by TIGA, tackles UK development’s growth conundrum
UK games development is growing. In the last 20 months the UK developer headcount surged 11.6 per cent (or seven per cent year-on-year) to reach an all-time high of 13,277, and with it came record development spend, as well as GDP and tax contributions. This is certainly excellent news but it belies some underlying structural and contextual issues which are concerning. That from Games Investor Consulting’s most recent Making Games In The UK report
Is UK games development lagging behind the wave of games growth? Nick Gibson, Games Investor Consulting
for TIGA. When we first started assessing the UK development industry just over a decade ago, our research determined that the UK was the third biggest producer of games in the world (behind USA and Japan), as measured by how much UK-made games grossed worldwide versus other countries. This was the product of UK developers’ long-standing excellence in console and handheld games development in particular. Just ten years on and it is likely that the UK has fallen to sixth or even seventh in this global league table behind USA, Japan, China, Korea, Canada and, possibly, Finland. The UK industry is undoubtedly riding a longterm wave of global industry growth, which is pulling all games developing centres along with it. It would appear, though, that the UK is behind rather than riding atop this wave. The primary reason is the explosive growth of Asian markets, in which locally-made content has tended to dominate. Also key is the fact that console (on which 47 per cent
of UK development staff still work) has been supplanted by mobile and PC as the dominant platforms globally. Although more UK development studios are focused on mobile than any other platform, there are very few large scale mobile studios in the UK and even fewer with genuine global appeal and scale. This also holds true for the free-to-play model (which UK studios were late to adopt), which now unquestionably dominates global games revenues. Another long-standing issue is the UK’s poor access to finance. Although there have been some high-profile fund raises in the last year (Improbable, most notably), these are the exceptions to the rule: the vast majority of UK developers find raising finance challenging if not impossible. Just two per cent of studios from a TIGA survey last year had successfully accessed institutional finance. In fact, shockingly, nine out of every ten studios that even tried to raise money this way failed to do so. In many respects these two issues are inextricably linked. Sadly, the UK is relatively low down the list of territories that international finance providers look to for investment opportunities, but the comparative paucity of funding means that UK companies typically lack the resources needed to keep up with the global market’s progression. This has contributed to our having few of the sort of international games powerhouses found in volume in most of the top territories and, in turn, this has diminished both our appeal to
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investors and our ability to produce the sorts of experienced, high potential startups that venture capital firms seek. In spite of these significant funding and structural obstacles, the UK industry continues to grow and, in many senses, it is remarkable that the UK development industry keeps recording such consistent growth and achieving record-setting employment levels. It makes you wonder what level of growth might have been achieved with better access to finance and an industry structure better suited to the global market’s recent evolution. There are also encouraging signs for accelerated future growth. New startups are still arriving at a faster rate than companies are closing. Video Games Tax Relief continues to be a hugely important growth driver (UK development headcount declined on average
three per cent per annum in the three years prior to VGTR’s announcement but has grown on average seven per cent per annum since). Sumo Digital’s successful IPO and a £70m fund raise in December suggests that games are back in favour with listed company investors at least. However, there was one recent funding deal that, in my mind, represents a real milestone achievement. King spin-out Trailmix’s seed round of $4.2m (£3.03m) took place despite the fact that the company was only incorporated in late October and so would have been achieved, I’m guessing, almost entirely on the back of the skills, experience and reputation of its founders (plus the quality of its new game concepts). Trailmix isn’t guaranteed success but at least it now has the resources to give it a proper go. This sort of funding story is told more often in USA, Nordics and Asia where experience working on blockbuster free-to-play mobile and PC hits is more commonplace. That this is now happening in the UK is enormously encouraging but it remains extremely rare. If the UK is to climb back up the global games revenue league table, we’ll need more investment stories like Trailmix.
UK development staff
BIO Nick Gibson is co-founder of Games Investor Consulting, a business intelligence consultancy specialising in the global games industry. He has worked with hundreds of finance, media, government and games clients.
Total UK development staff based on data from TIGA’s Making Games In The UK report
“Another long-standing issue is the UK’s poor access to finance. Although there have been some high-profile fund raises in the last year, these are the exceptions to the rule: the vast majority of UK developers find raising finance challenging if not impossible.”
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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 INTO THE BREACH Jake Tucker works out why Subset Games’ new mech strategy game is at its best when it puts you in an unwinnable situation and asks you to cancel the apocalypse
THE Kobayashi Maru is a training exercise from the Star Trek universe that presents cadets with a no-win situation to test their character and resources. Into The Breach, Subset Games’ follow up to Kickstarter success story FTL, gets to the dramatic core of this concept – forcing people to make choices without any good options – and transplants it into its latest game. I went into the game expecting gratuitous mech punching and a dollop of tense strategy, and both of those things are core components, but the reason Into the Breach captured my attention is that for nine-out-of-ten choices in the game, there simply isn’t an optimum choice. As a design philosophy, it seems to have informed several other parts of the game: the mechs you actually have control of as a player are, to a degree, expandable. Your pilots, safely embedded inside the mechs, are squishy XP generators that get better with each kill and die for real when your mechs get destroyed. However, this doesn’t end the game, as you can always recruit new pilots for the next encounter. More valuable are the buildings, civilian apartment blocks, power stations
“Much like sending Spock through a wormhole to give Picard a hand.”
and batteries that generate the power that keeps your mechs fighting against the insectoid Vek. Run out of power on the grid and the mechs power down and the Vek’s conquer the world. Game over. The Vek know this, too, and will often ignore you to try and beat down apartment blocks. The game knows this also, and creates tension points by giving you objectives to protect a dam, or a train, or even your mechs. This means that every turn on the game’s small 8x8 tile map generates interesting choices: is it worth moving a mech into the path of an enemy attack to protect a building, causing him to take a point of damage? Sure. Is it worth sacrificing that mech entirely to protect the building? How about if that building is an objective and will reward you with resources? How about if that building is all that stands between you and a potential game over? Similarly, when it all goes wrong and the Vek win, which is inevitable in the first few runs, you have to make one final – ultimate – choice. You can send one pilot back through time into a new timeline to try and help the next generation be more successful. Much like sending Spock through a wormhole to give Picard a helping hand. Losing is common with Into The Breach, but the way the game is structured you won’t need to see a game over screen to feel like you’ve failed.
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STAR WARS: SECRETS OF THE EMPIRE The Void offers bespoke virtual reality experiences for an emerging locationbased market. If Secrets of the Empire is anything to go by, the VR arcade future looks bright, says Jem Alexander I am a strong believer that virtual reality’s success will come from locationbased multiplayer experiences. VR arcades are popping up in cities around the world, though many of these offer ‘standard’ virtual reality games intended for single-player play, or connected online multiplayer that doesn’t require players to be in the same room. The Void, however, offers bespoke VR experiences for up to four players at a time, to explore a shared world using impressive technology developed by OptiTrack. Recently, The Void has established temporary pop-up ‘rides’ in Westfield shopping centres in London, giving many their first taste of the future of location-based entertainment. The company offers games based on huge popular franchises, with its more permanent fixtures in Dubai, New York and Toronto offering Ghostbusters Dimension, while Londoners can enjoy Star
Wars: Secrets of the Empire, set during the events of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. I stepped into the shiny white boots of a Stormtrooper to see whether VR games of this ilk really have legs. In short, if this is just the inception of the technology, we have an exciting, immersive future to look forward to. The only downside was the length of the game. It lasts around 15 to 20 minutes which, for a £35 investment, might
give some people pause. Having said that, The Void’s setup means this is a completely unique experience that is better compared to a theme park ride than a 20-hour boxed title. My hopes are that as development and technology costs come down, these games can gain in length. I could easily have spent an hour in that world, exploring the planet Mustafar with friends. It’s this social multiplayer aspect that really elevates The Void above home VR, with an intense sense of presence and freedom. This is thanks to an ‘untethered’ feeling that comes from the player wearing a powerful computer as a backpack. The OptiTrack cameras even allow for full hand tracking, right down to individual fingers. Yes, you can flip your Stormtrooper pals the bird. That was the first thing we tried. Clearly this game was developed with American audiences in mind, however, as we spent a lot of the time apologising for getting in each others’ way. When’s the last time you saw Stormtroopers stuck in an “oh sorry, after you”, “no no, after you” loop? It was a very strange feeling to see the other players around me, especially since the software scales the character models to the player’s actual height. This helps with identifying exactly who’s doing what. As mentioned earlier, The Void’s London attractions are temporary pop-ups and it’s incredible how a series of small rooms, nestled in a shopping centre forecourt, can be transformed into epic vistas. The experience takes advantage of as many senses as possible; touch the walls, they’re really there. That railing preventing you from falling into the lava pit is there too. Pick up the gun. Oh yes, pick up the gun. It really exists, and you’d better be prepared to use it. I don’t want to ruin any of Secrets of the Empire’s surprises, as it’s well worth a visit if you’re able. Hopefully, if these temporary pop-ups are a success (Westfield Shepard’s Bush was a sell out), The Void will invest in a more permanent venue. And developers will be needed to craft more of these amazing experiences. Ideally with some running a little longer than these first tastes allow.
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THE COUNCIL Big Bad Wolf and Focus Home Interactive are giving the episodic narrative adventure genre a twist with The Council. Marie Dealessandri looks to get herself elected
AT Focus Interactive’s What’s Next event held in January, Big Bad Wolf ’s The Council felt like a breath of fresh air. In the midst of the publisher’s ambitious RPGs, which all have lofty promises that could be difficult to live up to, The Council’s concept was clearly defined and the hands-on delivered exactly what the presentation promised. This narrative adventure, whose first episode releases this March, lets players embody Louis de Richet, member of a secret society whose partner in crime is none other than his mother. Unfortunately, the hard-as-nails lady has gone missing and the player’s journey starts as De Richet goes searching for her in a mysterious manor on the private island of a certain Lord Mortimer. Set in the 18th century, The Council offers a diverse and engaging cast of NPCs, ranging from George Washington to Napoleon Bonaparte. What sets the title apart from most narrative-driven episodic adventures is its RPG mechanics. The main character can choose between three classes: diplomat, occultist or detective, which will impact the way he unravels the mysteries surrounding the manor. There’s also an impressive set of skills to choose from, which will define the way the lead character interacts with his companions. From sweet-talking to brutal confrontation, from analysing scientific proof to following intuitions: The Council offers many ways to get to the truth. Or rather the truths, as the title offers multiple endings. Every decision has a deep impact on the story and it actually feels like it when you
play the game, without giving away what other path you could have taken, which makes for a very enticing game with great replay potential. Think The Sexy Brutale (for the manor and the masks the staff wears) meets Agatha Christie (Big Bad Wolf actually named And Then There Were None as an influence) meets Telltale Games (which, again, Big Bad Wolf said was an obvious influence). When talking to Sylvain Sechi, game director at the studio, he also mentions books like Dan Simmons’ Carrion Comfort, movies such as The Devil’s Advocate and old-school RPG games like Planescape: Torment as influences. Even classic family board game Cluedo. “We’ve been used to making role-playing games before and our main strength was story and consequences and that’s what we decided to focus on. The big thing we decided to drop was combat because it’s very costly in production,” Sechi explains. “But we didn’t want to drop the gameplay mechanics so we actually found a way to create social dynamics, which we call confrontation, which are basically dialogue combats. So you don’t hit people, you confront them with words.”
The Council is not perfect, with some art choices leaving me slightly sceptical. Some characters have cartoonesque facial features, almost caricatures, but they cohabit with highly detailed faces, like the one of character Emily Hillsborrow, whose resemblance with Penny Dreadful’s Eva Green is so uncanny it left me wondering if it was an intentional homage or a rookie’s mistake. A French publication also pointed out some historical inaccuracies – a painting in the manor that didn’t exist yet in the 18th century, for instance. But the story, and its numerous ways to engage with it, coupled with its claustrophobic atmosphere and its RPG mechanics make me quite forgiving towards this debut title. Of course The Council is not going to sell millions of copies, but the team took a risk with a game that gives the genre a much needed twist. The episodic format, provided all the episodes deliver on quality, is also perfect to maintain the momentum and word of mouth for the title, which is all we can hope for the young team at Big Bad Wolf.
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IncomeStream The numbers, stats and market stories that matter and why they do
UK PHYSICAL RETAIL FEBRUARY (UNITS)
01 TM LM 02 03 03 RE 04 NEW 05 04 06 01 07 NEW 08 07 09 10 10 05
FIFA 18 PUBLISHER: EA
Title Monster Hunter World UFC 3 Shadow of the Colossus Grand Theft Auto V Call of Duty: WWII Kingdom Come: Deliverance Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Super Mario Odyssey Assassin’s Creed Origins
Publisher Capcom EA Sony Rockstar Activision Deep Silver Nintendo Nintendo Ubisoft
Source: Ukie/GfK, Period: January 28th to February 24th 2018
UK games market was worth £5.11bn in 2017 Cause for celebration. Last week Ukie revealed that the UK games market in 2017 was worth a whopping £5.11bn, that’s up 12.4 per cent year-on-year with gains almost across the board (see opposite). The launch of the Switch was the main cause for hardware figures booming by a huge 29.9 per cent, with GfK’s Dorian Bloch commenting: “These UK figures reveal a solid performance for the physical software market, boosted by a return to growth in the overall console hardware market for the first time since 2014. With Sony’s PS4 showing four consecutive years of over 1m units sold per year, a strong performance from Microsoft’s sub £200 Xbox One S and premium core gamer Xbox One X, plus the introduction of Nintendo’s Switch enjoying the best start for a Nintendo home console since the mighty Wii back in 2006, it is clear that the console gaming market is now enjoying a renaissance.” HARDENING SOFTWARE SALES While the Switch was also in part to thank for a boom in software sales, a far perkier slate of big releases was also a major factor. The results was boxed software sales was up by 3.1 per cent year-on-year, although it’s still well down on 2014 and 2015 figures and we’d expect that trend to continue. Pre-owned fell by a whopping 15.1 per cent, most likely as consumers keep hold of ‘live’ titles they want to play in the long term. Digital and online sales had yet another year of growth, this time leaping up by 13.4 per cent to £1.6bn as both full games and microtransactions wooed consumers into spending more without leaving their homes. “Console games and premium PC titles earned 42 per cent of digital games revenue in the UK last year compared to 14 per cent worldwide and 34 per cent for Europe overall,” said Carter Rogers from SuperData Research. Playing on the go was popular too, though, up 7.8 per cent as the nation’s love of mobile games grows to over £1bn a year. PC gaming hardware had huge growth of 51 per cent. And while we don’t doubt that PUBG sold a lot of the hardware with its demanding technical specification and that esports drove up both hardware and peripheral sales, we shouldn’t discount the rampant cryptocurrency market buying up practically every top-end graphics card for many, many months last year. Great news for the manufacturers of such cards, but not necessarily a boon for the industry as a whole. VR hardware grew by 23.5 per cent and pushed through the £100m barrier. Though with that kind of increase it’s not going anywhere fast, the evolving segment needs to see growth in multiples. Stronger software will be needed in 2018 to really step things up, though thankfully that does look to be coming.
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The American Dream Far Cry 5 - Ubisoft - March 27th
The latest version of Far Cry looks to be the most contentious yet as it tackles US domestic extremeism, in a Midwest backwater, with lots and lots of guns. The last title was the “fastest selling Week One title in the franchise to date” and totted up a massive seven million copies sold, according to Ubisoft back in early 2015. That was on a November release date of course, with the series having relocated to March for this launch, though that’s now handily clear of both Call of Duty and Red Dead Redemption 2, and a month ahead of God of War, we expect it to smash franchise records once again.
PRE ORDER TOP 5 TW TITLE 01 02 03 04 05
God of War (PS4) Red Dead Redemption 2 (PS4) Ni No Kuni II Collector Kings Edition (PS4) Days Gone (PS4) Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom
Publisher Sony Rockstar Bandai Namco Sony Bandai Namco
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WhenWeMade... The Sexy Brutale Jem Alexander takes a look behind the scenes at the development of The Sexy Brutale. Design director Charles Griffiths explains the genesis of the game’s interlocking puzzle box design, and how making just one small change to its delicate clockwork can break everything around it
Pictured above: The Sexy Brutale’s design director and Cavalier Games’ co-founder Charles Griffiths
THE SEXY BRUTALE is a difficult game to describe. Its Groundhog Day style core mechanic asks players to repeat a day in a mansion populated with colourful characters going about their perfectly choreographed schedules. It just so happens that these schedules involve being murdered, with players tasked with preventing bloodshed by learning the movements of each of the manor’s inhabitants. Charles Griffiths, co-founder and design director at Cavalier Games, started the studio with his brother James Griffiths and Lionhead colleague Tom Lansdale. “Tom and I were at Lionhead and James was at Mediatonic in London,” says Charles Griffiths. “We played around with ideas in the background but to actually do something, at some point you’ve going to commit and execute it properly. So in 2013 Tom and I left Lionhead and started prototyping what became The Sexy Brutale.”
The idea behind the game initially was to create a simulator for scheduled characters, in a similar vein to The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. It was intended to be a larger world than The Sexy Brutale’s mansion, but as the team explored this routine simulation idea it discovered more enjoyment in this smaller, Groundhog Day scenario. “It was always about little people on schedules and the idea of giving them character, with inspiration from a bunch of Japanese games like Gregory Horror Show, Moon RPG Remix and Majora’s Mask, things that had
characters on a timeline,” Griffiths explains. “But it was only in the beginning of 2014 when we decided to tilt it heavily in the opposite direction of rather than being something that had random elements, we were going to make a game that had the fewest random elements ever. A complete orchestration. This total choreography of every single moment. Because it felt like if we’re going to do a Groundhog Day, that was actually the purest, most extreme form you could make. “It had always been hovering in the back of our minds, but it always felt like ‘we can’t do that. We can’t go full Groundhog Day’. Because then every piece of music would have to be timed to the second with the actions taking place and every single character’s movement would have to be completely choreographed. That would be tricky to tell the story, that would be tricky to do puzzles, it would tricky to do everything. But it was the cleanest and most exciting form of the idea.” The team refused to let the challenges ahead of them put them off what it envisioned to be the most exciting form of its routine simulation idea. It meant that the developers had to get the majority of the gameplay completed in greybox so that before they added music and art, as much of the choreography was complete as early as possible. “I think after having worked in triple-A, there is a horrible sense of being on a treadmill and you’re running and you’re only just ahead of the art, animation and voice over
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pipelines,” Griffiths says. “That is just a horrible, horrible place to be, because it’s not a place where good decisions get made. Because you’re only two steps away from someone saying, ‘oh, Ben Kingsley is in next week and we need to record all his dialogue’ in Fable and you just don’t
know enough about how that character is talking yet. “We were so determined to not end up in that position that we took advantage of the time we had working in greybox. We built out almost all the game in a very rough form. It was ugly and it didn’t have music and it didn’t have all the great sound effects, and so on. But what it did have, and what changed very little from when we were actually taking it to publishers to when it was finished were the actual movements of characters around the house. If we hadn’t had that, so much other stuff would be impossible. “The music is a great example of that. There is no way in hell we could have had music scored perfectly to the second with the action that was happening unless we had that locked down. Which means having a quite a lot of other things locked. So in the end it wasn’t that hard for the musicians themselves, because we provided them with videos. For them it’s a bit more like scoring a movie.” Working this way comes with its own set of challenges, however, with even small changes to the game having a knock-on effect on the entire experience. “One of the most nerve wracking changes was having to add in around two hours to a character’s schedule upstairs,” Griffiths says. “It’s a person whose body then falls down in a certain place, which is then reacted to by people in a completely different puzzle, and so on. That was bad because that was like open heart surgery on the game. The knock-ons are enormous, but you’re trying to find the safest way to insert two hours and push everything back and then get the music changed to reflect that as well. Making a change late on this kind of game is extremely difficult.” Another difficulty that comes with building the entire game in greybox is not taking the weight of the final assets into account. Cavalier Games worked with Spanish developer Tequila Works in a co-development capacity, with the latter producing the game’s wonderful art. “We got too comfortable on a technical side with having lightweight assets,” Griffiths explains. “If we went back, what we would do is shove in more random heavyweight art assets and music earlier on. That would better stresstest things earlier, because the problem that we found was then once we were putting in final assets, we hadn’t anticipated how much that could add to loading times. So that’s a downside of doing things in greybox.” NON-LINEAR STORIES With The Sexy Brutale, Cavalier Games was treading new ground in non-linear storytelling. The team took inspiration
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from immersive theatre, the sort created by Punchdrunk, where the story is happening around the player, who is infiltrating it and affecting it from within. “Obviously Punchdrunk has dealt with these problems before and people have written narratives that go on all around you,” says Griffiths. “So it’s not a completely unknown problem. But what we were doing in terms of threading gameplay and puzzles through it, that’s quite different. What is interesting about the narrative is the fact that it’s telling two stories at the same time. You’ve got the events of the day itself and all the character’s movements across the house. That’s one big story. “But then you have a completely different story, the one that’s being told to the player because of the order in which they experience the elements that make up the other big single narrative. A kind of Pulp Fiction, Memento style thing. You can lay out Pulp Fiction in one straight line and there’s your story, but what makes it so good is that it’s also a completely different tale because of the order that the director takes you through the scenes. It reveals itself in a new order and a unique way. That was what we were trying to nail. “I think that the biggest thing for [narrative director] James was giving it meaning and closure and an
explanation. It’s not that games that have an ending or theme left to your interpretation are always bad... I think it’s a question of faith. Do the people making this game really have a meaning to this? Are they very selectively leaving parts out in order to allow you to interpret in a way that’s actually going to make this better, or is this just a cheat? Have they just taken the easy way out? “With something like The Witness by Jonathan Blow, I think everyone is aware that he’s got enough credibility and enough skill that when he leaves you something to interpret it’s going to be actually worth interpreting. He has thought of it and considered this. There are other games where I think that’s very much not true. It doesn’t feel like they have an answer and it doesn’t feel like they ever had an answer and it feels like an easy way out to just hand wave and leave it open to interpretation. “We were very, very keen to not do that, because we don’t feel that is good storytelling and James doesn’t feel like it’s satisfying storytelling. So that was a big driver. What sort of story can be told in this kind of framework that we’ve given the game? And then how can that story, despite being this kind of weird circular thing, how can it satisfy in the same way as any good linear traditional story should?”
“Rather than being something that had random elements, we were going to make a game that had the fewest random elements ever. A complete orchestration. This total choreography of every single moment.”
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Wednesday 11th July 2018, Hilton Brighton Metropole ENTER TODAY: WWW.DEVELOPAWARDS.COM.
Rewarding and recognising the achievements of game developers
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BrandFlakes by Seth Barton
Card converters With digital card games becoming increasingly popular, we talk to Asmodee Digital about bringing Fantasy Flight’s The Lord of the Rings Living Card Game to Steam Early Access ASMODEE is arguably the world’s most important board game publisher. It merged with Fantasy Flight Games (Star Wars, Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings titles) and Days of Wonder (responsible for Ticket to Ride and Small World) in recent years to create a gaming goliath. That gives its Asmodee Digital publishing arm an envious range of titles to choose from. The original Lord of the Rings: The Card Game has set expansion packs of cards, rather than random packs as in a collectible card game such as Magic: The Gathering or Hearthstone. It’s also a co-operative game rather than a competitive one, which again makes it very different. We talk to CMO Philippe Dao about the game and the process that fledgling developer Fantasy Flight Interactive went through to translate it for digital devices. Why did you choose this game to convert? Lord of the Rings is a timeless piece of fiction about very human, very flawed characters banding together to take on insurmountable odds. It’s a story that seems to only become more and more resonant as time goes by. As for our game, there’s something about the idea of characters coming together to take down an evil bigger than themselves that
Philippe Dao is CMO at Asmodee Digital
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speaks to the adventure card game model in an interesting way. They’re about players working together to take down insurmountable odds. The LOTR narrative arc thematically lines up with the gameplay.
With something of an outcry over randomised loot boxes and card packs, is now a perfect time for a digital living card game (LCG)? We shied away from random card packs because it didn’t make as much sense for our particular game structure. Because this game is focused on narrative campaigns rather than competitive play, we thought players would be more interested in pursuing strategies rather than building around the powerful cards they opened. Furthermore, we want players to find reasons to approach each quest multiple times with new strategies and decks. A less random system for accessing the card pool allows players to build more unique decks.
The Lord of the Rings Living Card Game focuses on co-operative gameplay more than competitive
Asmodee has seen a resurgence in interest in The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game since the Early Access launch of its digital counterpart
As a co-operative title it’s very diﬀerent from many fantasy card games – could that attract a diﬀerent audience? While we are making a card game, we’re not making a collectible card game (CCG) – we’re trying to do something a little different, focused less on competitive gameplay and more on co-operative. Players are an intersectional and diverse bunch, and we want to appeal to all of them – from the hardcore Tolkien superfan to the CCG expert to the casual player. We think there’s something for everyone to enjoy in The Lord of the Rings Living Card Game. We think this game has a low skill floor but a high skill ceiling. It’s fairly easy to pick up and play for the first time, but it still rewards creative and highly skilled play. More generally, what are the sticking points when converting board or card games to digital? It is a constant challenge! When adapting a board game to digital, you have multiple issues to overcome: not only the usual ones like the full adaptation of game design, the redesign of the user interface, the development of a multiplayer mode which is perfectly balanced, rethinking the game economy for some games – but also specific ones like providing high quality tutorials, creating a solo campaign mode to retain players, modifying a couple of rules of the physical game and so on. In terms of sales, do the most successful physical games make the most successful digital ones? We see an obvious correlation between the success of a tabletop game and its digital adaptation for most of our games. Moreover we have seen many times a virtuous circle between physical and digital: after the launch of a digital adaptation, we always see a resurgence in interest in the tabletop game. And this applies for The Lord of the Rings Living Card Game too. Longtime players have started migrating over to digital platforms to prepare for the game’s release. We’re already seeing this convergence and crossover between the tabletop and digital games and their respective communities.
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MechanicallySound by Jake Tucker
Rebellion’s head of creative Tim Jones explains how the team came up with one of Sniper Elite’s most memorable elements, the x-ray killcam, and how it’s evolved with the franchise
SNIPER ELITE’S killcam was a lucky accident. The 2005 third-person shooter casts the player as Karl Fairburne, OSS sniper and secret agent, picking through Berlin in the final days of WWII and picking off both Nazi soldiers and Soviet invaders. It’s hard going, and needed something to provide players with a brief respite. To feel like a badass, if only for a moment. The answer? Slow motion shots of your enemies’ grisly ends. But Sniper Elite’s killcam, despite becoming the title’s trademark, was a late addition. “The first Sniper Elite wasn’t originally developed with a killcam in mind,” says Tim Jones, Rebellion’s head of creative. “It’s probably one of the first things that people think about with the Sniper Elite series, but actually it came in to the first game late, a gory cherry on the top of our game.” Jones says that several people at Rebellion would probably, after a couple of pints, claim to be the mind behind Sniper Elite’s slow motion kill shots. After all, it’s a great idea. However, it was actually a team effort, a suggestion that, once developed and put into the game, just worked.
The original Sniper Elite is a hardcore game, and the momentary pauses, offering a brief celebratory moment after you put a round in someone, were perfect for breaking up the tension and giving the player a slightly bigger payoff for the time they spent accounting for wind and distance. Jones is keen to stress that the franchise’s killcam is “somewhat separate” from the core game, an additional bundle of systems designed to enhance players experience, instead of acting as a ‘crutch’ for the core game: “It’s important to us that the game stands on its own two feet with its own shooting mechanics, the AI, the level design, all the rest of it.” In the first game, the camera simply followed the bullet to the target. When the franchise returned in 2012, the sniping model in the game got a substantial upgrade, and so did the killcam, adding a skeleton and basic organs that could be torn up by bullets and shrapnel. “We had conversations like: ‘Okay, how can we step this up? What was cool about the killcam before, and how much further can we go with it?’ That was the point at which
we decided not to flinch from that,” says Jones. “Let’s really focus on what a bullet does to a target when you’re sniping. And that’s when we introduced the x-ray killcam to track it through the body and see how it breaks bones, punch holes through skulls, and all the rest of it.” X-RAY SPECS It became a gory spectacle, and with each iteration it’s grown in fidelity, taking players from putting a round in someone’s arm to going as far as hitting their hand, or truncating a finger. In the latest game in the series, Sniper Elite 4, the simulation that runs whenever you shoot someone is more detailed than ever before: it adds layers of muscle and more details with the way bones shatter and break. More assets and more details also meant more complications though, and with every killcam essentially being its own small in-engine cinematic, there are plenty of new challenges. Jones says most of these fall into two parts: “With Sniper Elite 4, we have all manner of different rules, setups, possibilities of shots and
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things that can happen that the engine has to pick from on the fly in any given situation to make sure it’s both valid and looks cool. It has to feel right within the rhythm of the game, like cameras not staring at a wall with the bullets on the other side of it for example.” MULTIKILL Now, the game adds a lot of variability to the killcam on the fly: sometimes the game won’t show the path of the bullet to keep it punchy or it will give you a rest if you’ve just seen several in quick succession. Smarter, a hidden scoring system determines how good a shot is to decide how extravagant a killcam to serve to you, Jones explains: “It depends on questions like: was your target moving when you shot it? How difficult was the shot? How far away was it? Which part of the body did you hit them on? How long is it since you last had a killcam? What settings has the user put into their options with regards to seeing killcams?” The end result is layers upon layers of systems laid on top of Sniper Elite’s
“It’s probably one of the first things that people think about with the Sniper Elite series, but actually it came in to the first game late, a gory cherry on the top of our game.”
Pictured above: Illustration by Sam Richwood
core game working hard to make players feel like a badass any time they pull the trigger. While the killcams were added to the game long before the advent of services like YouTube and Twitch, later iterations of the franchise have provided perfect fodder for them. Jones acknowledges the dissonance between the realistic sniping game and montages of people shooting Hitler in the testicle (Sniper Elite depicts the dictator with just the one) or ridiculous multikills with a single bullet spiralling through several enemies. “While it is unflinching from the realities of what it means to shoot someone, we can’t deny its entertainment value either,” Jones says. “Ultimately what we’re doing is entertaining. I think there’s a fine line between horror, shock and humour. But it’s up to the audience to decide why it’s funny. I wouldn’t deny that it is. Sometimes it’s just shocking.”
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When did you realise Thomas Was Alone had done well enough that you were going to be able to leave Bossa? I’d set myself the target of a year’s salary. I promised myself that if Thomas was Alone hit that level I’d quit. I spent the whole of the Christmas break watching that number nudge up on Steam. I was sat on a bus home on New Year’s Eve when it ticked over, and I realised I could go do my own thing. The next day, a TotalBiscuit video of the game went up and by the end of that week I had two years in the bank. It was life changing. I took my boss into a meeting room on my first day back, and gave my notice. He said he was surprised I’d taken that long to go for it. How do you decide on which game you want to work on next? Ideas tend to bounce around my head. Nowadays, those ideas also come from the team, and folks pitch in often. We tend to take ideas and prove them with prototypes, make sure they translate to play in the way we’d like. In the case of Subsurface Circular, because we only spent a few months on it, we basically polished the prototype and released it. With longer projects, we throw out the prototype and start from scratch once we know what we’re making. What was the thinking behind Bithell Shorts, and what has the reaction been like? We had about six months of dead time, thanks to publisher shenanigans. I liked the idea of using that time on R&D, playing with non-linear storytelling, and possibly releasing the result if it wasn’t terrible. As it turned out, Subsurface Circular was good, but brief... and that scared me. Players can get really frustrated by games that ‘underdeliver’ on runtime. We also had a really polished looking game, and I worried that folks might think it was bigger than it was, and get hyped. The solution, as it usually is for us, was to be straightforward. By calling the game a ‘Bithell Short’, by mentioning the briefness of the game in every interview, and on the store page, we framed people’s expectations. I think it worked well, prevented disappointment and let the game be taken on its own terms.
The Final Boss Mike Bithell - Bithell Games
“I’d set myself the target of a year’s salary. I promised myself that if Thomas was Alone hit that level, I’d quit. I spent the whole of the Christmas break watching that number nudge up on Steam.”
What advice would you give those developing their own games in 2018? I’d suggest that the short approach might work well for more people. If we assume (based on the evidence) that the games industry is very hit driven, then there’s an argument that achieving a higher frequency of games increases the chances of something clicking with the audience. Putting all your eggs in one basket can absolutely go wrong, and if you’re self funding, that’s dangerous. There’s going to be a megahit with a big indie game at least once a year, but I think a more careful, smaller level of success, might be a good approach for other devs, too. You attend a lot of shows around the world, do you think these in-person events are key for those in the games industry? I don’t think these events are key, per se, but they can be useful. I certainly didn’t go to them until I could afford them, or was flown over by the organisers. The key is to go to an event with an objective, and be honest in thinking about how successful you were to decide whether you want to return. I go to business events to talk to publishers and platform holders and catch up with friends and colleagues on the triple-A side of the industry. I go to dev events to learn about production. I go to indie and educational events to hopefully teach and provide help to newer devs. I absolutely appraise each event after I’ve been there to decide if I’ll return. But no, if you’re broke and starting out, I don’t think there’s any event worth spending your last £1k to get to.
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