Wednesday, 17 July 2013

GUEST BLOG: My best meeting at the Develop Conference

After returning from the Develop Conference in Brighton this week, Mike Bithell - Develop Award-winning developer of Thomas was Alone - wrote this magical blog for Develop Online about his chance meeting with an ageing coder.   

The conference, well, it kinda rocked for me this year. The volunteer stewards kept recognising me. I got to hang out with a ton of awesome journos, devs and the charming as hell Pewdie. I won a hefty award. I ate donuts on a beach. It was a good three days. But one meeting stands out.

On the Wednesday morning, I wandered into the restaurant at the conference's venue bleary eyed. It was later than I'd like, and I knew I'd missed the Cerny keynote. I was gutted. I'm a bit of a Sony fan. I queued, surrounded by holidayers and pensioners, looking around for anyone I knew to chat with over buffet scrambled eggs and single serving jam sachets. Nobody. I was, alone.

Except I wasn't. In front of me in the queue stood a short, elderly lady, politely waiting her turn to be seated. We bonded, mocking the complexity of the breakfast buffet's seating arrangements, and the manager's insistence on precision. I think the manager may have overheard my giggling, as she came over and suggested that as we were 'getting along so well, maybe we'd like to sit together to take up less room'.

And so we did. I saw a couple of chuckling industry folks as we sat down for our breakfast date (and a fair few more nodding approval at me for keeping the lady company) but we got on well.

I went through the predictable small talk list when confronted by a woman of extended years. "Do you holiday in Brighton often?", "What do your children do?", "Have you met any interesting people on the coach trip?". We had a laugh, and I grew less and less concerned about missing the keynote.

And then she asked it, the question I fear from anyone over 50, the question that instantly turns me from 'charming young man' to 'peddler of filth and innocence corruption'.

"What do you do?"

I explained that I made games, not the ones with guns, but more artsy pretentious fare. She talked about her grandchildren's love of iPad games, but how she never could work them out, despite really enjoying animation growing up (she equated games to animation, which I liked). We chatted a bit about that, but then, conversation dried up. Searching, I tried a question that I was surprised hadn't occurred to me earlier..

"What did you do before retirement? Before having a family I mean?"

"I programmed architectural simulations"

I was astonished. Turns out the woman I'd pigeonholed as an 'old lady' was creating programs to balance bridges and ensure scaffolding held up in the early 70s. She was a physics programmer. At this point, I may have freaked her out a little with my enthusiasm. We chatted more about the systems she created before marriage and children whisked her off to the gender expectations of her day. She confided the many times she'd snuck out of the office to watch Popeye cartoons in the cinema. She was a fan of two things in her early 20s, programming and animation.

I leaned in, and in a staggered whisper I murmured, "If you'd been born 50 years later, you'd be an indie game developer like me".

She chuckled at this and nodded, we then had a 10 minute conversation about how character move speeds in games are calculated. She promised to pay a bit more attention next time she watched her grandchildren playing games.

Best meeting ever. And a story to tell the next idiot who tells me women 'don't get' games programming.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

GUEST BLOG: Vive la punk!

As much as I don’t like to admit it, I’m an old bastard, having been in the industry in various forms for 20 plus years and working with the team at Sports Interactive for 19 years.
Miles Jacobson

In that time, I’ve seen a lot of changes. 20 years ago, hardly anyone was using email for a start, let alone high speed interweb that many people take as a human right nowadays. We’ve gone from bedroom coding, to being told that the only way to survive was to be a huge multi-project, multi-studio indie, from indie being the only way, to publisher owned being the only way, no studio IP ownership to Angry Birds toothpaste, from console being the only way to go, to mobile being the only way, and pretty much everyone up until a couple of years ago claiming that the PC was dead (for the record, we’ve done pretty well on PC constantly through this period).

It’s all been pretty exciting. We’re very lucky to be part of a constantly changing industry – the only stable thing being the entertainment we provide to people who play our games. But right now, for me, it is the most exciting the industry has ever been.

Effectively, we’re going through punk.

Barriers to entry have, by and large, been removed.  You can now make a game using one of the many platform tools available for next to nothing, and publish it yourself for Windows, Linux, Mac or Android with no barriers at all. Getting onto some of the digital retail platforms is harder, but in Steam Greenlight’s case, democratic. There are a few hurdles to cross on some of the others, but none of them unsurpassable. Unless you want to be on Xbox, but I expect that’ll change.

People making games in their spare time, and having hits. People able to make games around themes that they want to work on, rather than what the market tells you will sell. I’m very lucky in that, at SI, we’ve always made the games that we want to make with little interference, but I’m well aware that most in the last 20 years haven’t had that luxury.

Of course, this new punk isn’t utopia. There are still huge problems with discoverability no matter what platform you are on. I can name a lot of games that I thought would be a lot more successful than they have been, and others that have simply not been picked up on at all. When you have tens of thousands of games coming out a month, not all can be successful. But at least people are trying.

I see in the press a lot of the woes the industry has been through and still faces. But I don’t see enough celebration of the success stories, such as the dozens of teams that have gone from being made redundant to releasing their own creativity, the tools that give the power to the devs, the new IP so desperately needed to push the industry forward (hey – sports games are immune to criticism there, OK!)

What’s been really great for me to see has been the camaraderie amongst the new breed, particularly in the UK. I’m lucky to have met many of the devs and teams, both socially and via my work at UKIE, and it’s brilliant to see people helping each other out with discoverability which is the key to success – let’s not go the way of punk and let jealousy get in the way of getting creative work recognised. Or spit on each other. That would be bad.

Some old school publishers are learning, too. Those who aren’t fixated on next gen consoles and hundred million dollar budgets have either worked on their future business models already, or, well, just like so many record labels in the punk era, they won’t survive. They can certainly help with marketing, PR and finances for those projects that need it and, in many cases, will get extra sales on titles – but the best have learnt that they are not the talent who makes the games.

You, the developers reading this, are the talent. Make great games. The rest will follow. Vive la punk.

This blog was written by Miles Jacobson, managing director of Sports Interactive and Develop Conference advisory board member. Contact him on Twitter @milessi

Friday, 28 June 2013


“Have you seen this game, Hunters?”, he said.

“Umm, yes, in fact my company created it.” I replied in mild shock.

“Cool.” he stated. His very words mirroring his disposition.

“Thanks... Why are you heading out to LA?” I asked, still recovering from having met an actual player of our game.

“Oh, I’m the Head of Licensing at Games Workshop.” he replied

“......”, speechless.

That’s how we met the Games Workshop head of licensing. Sat beside one another on a random plane trip to Los Angeles. Back then Laurent (co-founder and business director at Rodeo) and I didn't even fathom it would be the first steps down the path to us releasing an iOS version of their much loved Warhammer Quest. We were just enjoying meeting one of our childhood heroes! Time passes, and since then we've spoken to dozens of people about the inception of the project. The response is universally always the same....

"Wow! Talk about lucky!!"

I guess on the face of it, yes, it sounds more like a lottery winner story than Branson self-made-man style tale. However, as is often true of these anecdotes in our industry, meeting that particular man on that particular plane was inevitable because of how we’d positioned ourselves previously. Let me explain why...

Focus, know exactly who you are and what you do.
“We make the best turn-based strategy games on iOS”. That’s our company M.O. We have three games with a metacritic above 80 in our stable so far, and a hardcore group of fans who follow us for because they “get” what we’re trying to attain. We know who we are, and we know who we aren't  Dual stick shooters, gesture based sports titles, even flower growing sims are all experiences we've played and enjoyed. However, as a developer, our passion lies within the turn based arena. It’s something we've created a foundation for, and continue to build upon. It’s where we excel, what we love, and ultimately the fuel that runs our strange developmental machine. That single statement clearly explains to any outside force (whether fan, publisher, license holder, potential hire, etc), what our company is.

We know what we do. Come join us if you share our passion.

Have a solid history of games displaying the field you specialise in.
As I mentioned. At time of writing, we have three 80 and above metacritic titles. When we had the Games Workshop plane encounter we only had a lonesome release, Hunters: Episode One. However, Hunters 2 was in showable development, and was essentially a bigger and better version of the first title. Weekend philosophers say a picture is worth a thousand words... an entire game must be worth a billion. When a prospective partner can see and play your work, you’re no longer theorizing and explaining. THEY are experiencing. From that experience it’s much easier to envision how an existing license could work within your gameplay. I doubt many companies would entrust their hard-crafted licenses to a developer with no prior record.

Be visible.
This may sounds like a ridiculously obvious point. It’s funny though to see how many developers and people in general overlook it. Say, for example, you’re looking for a girlfriend / boyfriend. Would you sit at home, waiting for that perfect partner to chance a knock on your front door declaring their love. Ok, fine, if George Clooney is reading this, then feel free to ignore that last statement. However, the point still remains that no-one knows you. We knew that in our first year we’d really struggle to get our name out there. So, we attended conferences, shows, drinks nights, quizzes, all sorts, just to meet people. Ok, let’s face it, these functions are generally a lot of fun as well so I’d be hard pressed to say it was all work. Facebook, twitter, blogs and websites all count towards the goal in their way. As the world of dating will tell you though, nothing is as good as a face to face!

It won’t happen overnight. We still have a long way to go before Rodeo Games becomes even a vaguely recognisable industry name, but we’d have even further to go without all the founding effort.

Know what things you love.
...and by that, I don’t mean love EVERYTHING. Just some things. Be passionate about them. In no particular order a few of my object loves are: Dinosaurs, Games Workshop, Sharks, Forests, Computer Games, Cats, Movies (Can’t believe Universal gave Jurassic Park to another developer. Grrrr). Anyway, why does this matter I hear you ask? Let’s take the plane encounter with GW as an example. We didn't talk about how we could make them millions. Or how we could take their next digital business to the next level. Our conversation consisted of which BloodBowl teams we fielded. Why Fantasy Chaos Armies were so ridiculously overpowered about fifteen years ago, and why Space Wolves will always be cooler than Ultramarines (I feel I should point out the views of Rodeo Games do not reflect those of Games Workshop!). The love of subject matter shone through and in some way affected the final outcome. I'm pretty sure that if the seat next to me was occupied by a representative from Hasbro, we wouldn't be making a Transformers game right now.

Be prepared.
Ending on a point that seems so spectacularly simple, yet so many overlook... Know your business.

Don’t be the guy we've all seen on Dragons Den who doesn't know his numbers. It’s embarrassing and creates a terrible impression. If you've made the rather large steps of first creating a company and then putting yourself out there, take five minutes to know the ropes. Learn the difference between gross and net profits (Branson claimed to not know....I think he may be fibbing). Know how many units you sold in week one. Understand how advertising in games works, even if you don’t currently use it. Let knowledge be the armour that shields you from the lances of questioning and pressure. Did you ever not study for an exam? Actually I did once...and turned up drunk...though that’s probably a story for another time.

Know yourself, your business and your loves. Then get out there! You never know who you might meet.

Ben Murch will be talking at the Develop Conference on Wednesday 10 July 

Tuesday, 18 June 2013


"In all the time I spent with him, I never once heard him refer to his ability to see the future. He couldn’t see it – that’s why he had to grope for it. He would be seized by some overwhelming enthusiasm . . . and he would be off and running down some long, dark tunnel leading God knew where. . . ."
– Michael Lewis, The New New Thing

Virtual reality helmet designed by Toshiba 

What's that? You foresaw the modern era of games?

No you didn't. Maybe you saw multiplayer gaming over modems moving to the Internet, and games being slowly but surely downloaded on Steam.

Oh, and you played Snake on a Nokia.

These breadcrumbs pointed the way to today about as clearly as whether you can tell me if we will be will be ruled by our robot overlords come 2045.

It's only in retrospect the future is clear. Getting there is anything but.

The history of games comprises middling periods of dull conformity punctuated by short revolutions. Trying to predict gaming's future is a loser's game, because it's irresistible to look at the current winners and extrapolate, yet it's the revolutions that reshape the industry.

I should know! I worked at Edge back when screenshots posted in a jiffy bag from Japan constituted breaking news. I spent years writing future-gazing columns for the trade press, in which I pontificated about the end of retail. And I co-founded Pocket Gamer in late 2005, just ahead of the mobile games revolution.

I even helped put together the first 'evolve' for Develop in Brighton, after a year of raving about how the Internet was changing everything.

Hark at me, the visionary!


I was ten years too early in writing off the High Street. Worse, like everyone I foresaw people downloading FIFA 2015 for their PS4, not Clash of Clans on iPad. Indeed iPads hadn’t been invented and most mobile pundits thought the likes of Vodafone would wield all the power.

I was humbled recently when I revisited a feature I wrote for Develop around the time we launched evolve at Brighton. Entitled Games 3.0, it came out a few months before a certain exec's GDC talk of the same name that really caused waves. Brilliant – except I focused on user-generated content and YouTube, barely mentioning Facebook and free games.

In economics they call it 'hindsight bias' – the belief we saw whatever has come, coming. Nearly always we don't, but we edit our past to believe so.

In truth, even those of us who predicted digital distribution didn't foresee a new industry springing up alongside it, nor did we anticipate handicaps such as content discovery.

Digital distribution was meant make everything available anywhere. In reality it's created an unpredictable hit-driven business that makes 1980's Top of the Pops look like a sober scientific analysis of popular music, with the sums done by Stephen Hawking.

When I edited the then-newly launched Develop magazine a decade ago, the talk was all about how we would manage teams of 500 people, and whether we could shoehorn emotion into photorealistic $500 million blockbusters.

Yet it's teams of 5-10 people who've reinvented gaming and most of the emotion we've seen has come from the staff departing triple-A studios as they've folded across the globe.

Don't try to predict the future of video games. But if you must bet on it, bet on change.

In the meantime, monitor every new development in technology, software, and monetization as if your career depended on it.

It does! But don’t ask me exactly when, or how.

This blog was written by Owain Bennallack, the chair of the Develop in Brighton Advisory Board 

GUEST BLOG: Next Gen Audio - The Power of Ideas

I’ve interviewed a few famous composers in my time. They’re an interesting bunch – some perfectly relaxed, some slightly frazzled, some completely hyper, but they all have something fascinating to say.

John Broomhall

A particularly memorable moment occurred in conversation with an iconic movie maestro in front of a live audience. Having discussed some of his key works, his history and how he goes about the job, we strayed into his working relationship with orchestrators. This is sometimes a touchy subject, but no problem here. He was delightfully candid and complimentary about the contribution of the team around him. Figuring the audience of two hundred or so aspiring composers waiting on his every word might be interested in his choice of software and sample libraries, I then posed the question: “So, tell us about your studio – what technology do you use?” The terse, and somewhat unexpected, response: “Technology? F*ck the technology! What I do is all about the power of ideas!”

There are certainly many celebrated instances of sound design for moving pictures that have everything to do with ideas and little to do with technology. In fact, many were created using equipment we would now consider laughably rudimentary. The creative approach is, however, extremely sophisticated. I first experienced something of this early in my career sitting in a wildlife dubbing session watching a now famed sequence of whales beaching themselves in some exotic locale. It didn’t occur to me that the accompanying sound was complete artifice until the well-known wildlife dubbing mixer pointed out the tiger, tank and aircraft sounds that had been manipulated and combined to sell the drama of that extraordinary moment when a gigantic mammal hurls itself out of the sea.

The actual location sound recorded by some poor bod with a microphone in situ was truly pathetic. The cleverly ‘designed’ sound was awesome. The fact it wasn’t real didn’t matter one bit. It conveyed the immensity of the spectacle. This was the power of an artist’s ideas in play: story-telling through the choice and mix of sounds.

Such creativity is, of course, just as relevant to games. We may be inextricably linked to technology, but the power of our creative ideas is a real differentiator. However, it may require us to stray from some obvious paths that both technology tools and videogame culture and heritage tend to point us towards. For instance, a literal approach to sound choices and mix is not necessarily entertaining, informative or compelling for games either.  It’s a useful starting point but overriding it and embellishing it for dramatic effect to engage the power of ideas in storytelling and narrative support through audio is a rich seam, ripe for plundering. 

Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are almost upon us. Their technical power for audio is clearly obviously important. Equally important is the creative ‘ideas power’ we bring to the table to go beyond the obvious and break new ground, bringing engaging, dramatic and impactful audio to the console games of tomorrow.

This blog was written by John Broomhall who is a game audio specialist and organises and chairs the Develop Conference Audio Track. He is currently finishing work on original music composition and production for a major AAA console title TBA soon.

Find out more at or get in touch on Twitter - @BPLGameAudio and @broomerslive

Monday, 3 June 2013

GUEST BLOG: That's me in the corner... a video game psychologist's FAQ!

On a recent hospital visit the nurse (a woman in her 50s) asked me what I do for a living. I gave her my standard reply: "I am a psychologist specialising in cyberpsychology, so how humans interact with technology and specifically video game play." She gave me a fascinated look (it's the response I usually get) and replied: "I love playing Temple Run – why do I find it so compelling?" I answered her: "Because it makes you happy and getting high rewards compared to the effort you’re putting in makes you want to play more."

Psychologists have used physiological measurements such as heart rate to measure engagement

This conversation wasn’t a one off for me. When people find out what I do, they often want to know more and are instinctively interested in why humans engage in video game play. Personally, I think this speaks volumes about the power video games as entertainment on a global scale.

Developers are even more fascinated than gamers in the answer to that elusive question: “What makes people so engaged in video game play?” While developers  have many ways of gauging engagement, such as churning data, sales, time spent playing, etc., as a psychologist, I am more interested in scientific measurements as a result of research around gamer engagement, which can complement and even challenge the measurements developers already use to heighten the experience for the gamer.

A comprehensive review on game play engagement is published in Computers in Human Behaviour conducted in 2012 by Elizabeth Boyle, Thomas Connolly, Thomas Hainey and James Boyle. It sheds some light on engagement and highlights gaps in the research in this area. The study reviewed research from a ten year period between 2001 and 2011 excluding educational and serious games. All the papers reviewed were from research that was referenced in academic journals and included a large number of research papers all looking at different aspects of engagement.

The paper highlights the lack of consensus about what engagement actually is, although lots of constructs have been proposed: immersion, enjoyment, presence and flow, for example. Perhaps the best known concept is flow, which is often characterised by complete optimal experience and absorption in the task one is involved in to the exclusion of everything else. Other researchers challenge this suggesting that actually immersion is a better construct as it can be more varied in terms of the subjective experience and does not, as flow does, concern itself solely with the optimal experience.

Outside of the subjective experience, engagement may be measured objectively by studying the time spent playing a game, although some researchers suggest this is difficult to justify as a concrete measurement as factors like negative motives for playing may hinder this measurement. Lab research around physiological responses in gameplay are interesting, such as work around eye movements and re-engagement post play as a useful objective measurement of immersion, whilst other physiological measurements such as heart rate can inform around emotional responses, these can be ambiguous when measured.
According to psychologists enjoyment levels and motivation to play can predict engagement

Boyle's review showed that surveys were the most popular method of studying motivation and engagement, which is fine as long as they are scientifically designed to have good validity and reliability. However, there is a lack of good qualitative research which would further enhance our understanding of the subjective experience of engagement, and this is an area that developers may consider embarking upon in terms of research.

Players want more and more out of the gaming experience and developers could utilise scientific psychological measurements of engagement as objective robust measurement tools that can be specific to genre, gamer profile, target market as well as platform. The scope to get really close to the gamer using psychological scientific measurements combined with more traditional developer measurements can only be a good thing in terms of quality of the game experience for the player.

So, if you meet a cyberpsychologist in real life, please don't ask us what we do.

Boyle, E.A., Connolly, T.M., Hainey, T., Boyle, J.M. (2012). Engagement in digital entertainment games: A systematic review. Computers in Human Behaviour, 28(3), 771-780

This blog was written by Berni Good who is the founder of Cyberpsychologist Limited ( and who is speaking at Develop in Brighton –

Thursday, 30 May 2013


Yesterday the V&A announced the appointment of its first games designer in residence – 22 year old, BAFTA-winning Sophia George. The residency is a partnership between the V&A, V&A at Dundee, University of Abertay and Ukie. You can watch the BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones interviewing Sophia here .

Sophia George, the V&As new games designer in residence

Sophia will be taking inspiration from the collections at the V&A and hosting public participation workshops to, in her words, “show the public just how amazing games are.” A spokesperson from the V&A explained that the museum had always been about embracing new, cutting edge culture and games were no different. The vases and pottery in the V&A were cutting edge in their time - it’s just they’ve aged a little since those days.

On Wednesday at BAFTA’s games journalism evening Christian Donlan told the audience that one of the reasons he loved games was because LA Noire transformed the way his dad viewed them, what they are, what they do and what they can be.

Last Tuesday Maria Miller, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport visited NCSOFT in Brighton to learn more about the importance and size of the video game industry in the UK. Her visit was filmed by ITV News.

The week before I was listening to Heresy on Radio 4 and Victoria Coren-Mitchell asked the panel to argue for and against video games being accepted as a new Olympic sport. They said ‘yes’.

On 21st May, Microsoft not only announced Xbox One, it also announced the launch of a Halo TV series directed by none other than Steven Spielberg.

Forgive me if this blog reads a little like ‘My Week in Video Games’ by Ali Fearnley, aged, well none of your business what age, but this was one hell of a week for the games industry. If ever we wondered if and when this industry and the entertainment we create are going to evolve from being a sub-culture to just plain culture, from being the domain of 18-25 men to the domain of everyone, then this week confirms that this transition is definitely happening.  

Even Rory Cellan-Jones in his sign off described video games as, “One of Britain’s fastest-growing and most important industries.” Why? Because it is. And now that we have a generation who have grown up with games and have never known a world without them, this transition, evolution and acceptance will hopefully become more widespread and happen faster.

Ali Fearnley is the conference director at Develop in Brighton. You can comment on this blog below or @developconf on Twitter and /developconf on Facebook or contact her directly at

Tuesday, 21 May 2013


Meet Helen. Helen is a 40-something year old (sorry, Hels) working mother of two living in the south east of England. When I first met her fifteen years ago, she would never have dreamt she'd become a gamer. Even seven years ago, Helen had never heard of social media and didn’t play games. She was irrelevant to, and ignored by, the games industry.

Then Facebook opened its doors beyond colleges, Apple launched the iPhone and the likes of Zynga and King were born. These days, the first thing Helen does when she wakes up is check Facebook on her iPhone app, mostly to post (pretty funny, it must be said) status updates about her frustrations at being stuck on level 67 of Candy Crush Saga.

She is not alone. In fact, there are millions of Helens in the UK and beyond and, together, they have breathed new life into an industry that was suffering from the longest console cycle we’ve ever experienced and an ever-reducing pool of gamers happy to pay £40 for boxed product. The Helens were an untapped market. Now they are making the industry billions.

Candy Crush Saga, for example, has so perfectly tapped into the psyche and lifestyle of the ‘Helens’ that it now has its own Wikipedia page and for good reason. It launched in November 2012 and by March 2013 had surpassed Zynga’s Farmville with 45.6 million monthly active users. Its Facebook page has 20 million ‘likes’. It is the most popular app on Facebook. One in seven people in Hong Kong play it. And – despite being free to play – it is the highest grossing app in the Apple and Google stores. It is so ‘addictive’ that some people (not mentioning any names, DAD!) have joined Facebook just so they can hassle friends for tickets to give them access to higher levels. Getting to the end (without paying) brings with it major kudos and the determination of – and downright competitiveness between - Helens to stick with it and win is leading to humorous claims of addiction.     

From a games industry viewpoint, however, it’s not really a laughing matter, it’s one to be taken quite seriously. The Helens of this world have opened up a massive – and massively lucrative – new market: a market that is encouraging creativity and is accessible to even the smallest of players due to reduced development, publishing and marketing costs. A market that has, some might say, saved this industry and, many would say, saved a lot of jobs from being lost from within it. So when your alarm goes off in the morning, think of Helen, and thank her. 

This blog was written by Andy Lane, who is managing director of Tandem Events, organiser of the Develop in Brighton Conference. You can contact him at and follow conference updates on Twitter @developconf  

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

GUEST BLOG - AJ GRAND-SCRUTTON: With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

When I was asked to write a blog post about something I feel passionate about in terms of game development there was something which was very prominent in my mind: the way in which people are treated in the so-called chain of command.

                                                                                                          (Aj - right)
Looking at my career and the careers of my friends, it feels that the higher certain individuals move up that chain the more they behave like assholes to those below them. Whether this be seniors, leads, producers, directors, it was always the same, suddenly a holier than thou attitude of “Well, I’ve got a more important job title so I’m better than you,” appears.

One thing I didn’t understand until now is that job titles are just words. Since Dlala was formed last June, Craig [Thomas, co-founder Dlala Studios] and I have had an assortment of titles each. I’ve been Creative Director, Chief Creative Officer and now Chief Executive Officer and for the majority of that time we were the only two full time staff members!

Don’t get me wrong, job titles can serve a good purpose. Having roles defined can be a good thing, but not for the purpose of forcing authoritative nonsense down the throats of incredibly talented, and often underappreciated, individuals. Job roles, and their titles, should be seen as a driver and a reward, not as a stamp of power. Looking back on my own career now I can think of one time in particular that I had some absolutely horrendous arguments over a ‘promotion’. Reality was I was already doing the job itself. All the tasks, responsibilities, etc… they were all mine already, but I wanted that job title, I wanted that stamp of approval that acknowledged my hard work and effort. Not to feel superior to anyone but to know that I was progressing and recognised.

I should point out at this point that this isn’t the ranting of some disgruntled developer, or a chance for me to take cheap shots at people. This is a post from someone who has moved into a role which is more focused on production/direction/management. And in that role I try to remember the following two points every day:

1              Protect Your Team
“Congratulations! You’ve been promoted, you are now a manager.” What does this mean? This means you now have a responsibility to protect your team no matter what. The second Craig and I started hiring people we noticed a massive change of focus onto the security of our little family at Dlala. We know that if something went wrong tomorrow we could get back in the parents’ garages and start again, but now we won’t let it happen because we have four amazing guys who count on us to keep this studio going.

It’s not just about job security, though, you need to protect your team from blame. Reality is everyone fucks up and it shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing. The second you are scared to make mistakes is the second that making games becomes hard. Most important of all, protect them from yourself. It’s easy when you are being shouted at to turn around, blame your team, and then take them into a room and unleash on them. Your team should never be told, “If you don’t do better you will probably be out of job,” because it should never get to that point. Fear is an awful, unproductive motivator.

2              You need them, they don’t need you
How many successful projects have been made with just a producer, just a director or just a manager of some type? NONE. Now how many projects have been made by a single developer or a developer/artist combination? A metric fuck ton. Just remember that without your staff there is no game but without you there still could be.
As I said this isn’t a post for me to slag anyone off and this is definitely not me saying I know best. This is a post for me to warn myself and a reminder of what I don’t want to become.

This blog was written by AJ Grand-Scrutton, CEO of Dlala Studios. Visit for more information or contact AJ on Twitter @dnost.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013


Discovery is a big buzzword in the games industry. As the digital marketplace has expanded and platforms have multiplied, the floodgates have opened for developers of all ages and sizes to create relatively cheap games and market them directly to millions of gamers across multiple territories.

That’s the good news. The bad news is this means the volume of games now being released has grown exponentially and the process of discovering them is now a bit like hunting for a needle in a haystack. It’s easy to understand why some developers feel it’s nothing more than chance that seals the fate of one game over another. It’s not.

The onus is on the developer to enable gamers to make these discoveries; in the same way that big budget marketing campaigns could be accessed to enable gamers to discover blockbusters under the old order. Without developers enabling discovery, games won’t make it into the charts, gamers won’t buy them and months, if not years, of hard labour will go to waste.

Developers should also understand they need to do more than just promote their games. They need to start promoting themselves, too.  Developers who are able to get the world to take notice of their talent are doing themselves a big favour when everyone is competing for attention. Developers by nature aren’t extroverts, but more are going to have to go against their instincts and learn to shout from the rooftops. They need to get social – they need to use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, YouTube and Vimeo to promote themselves, their talent and their games.

Sitting back and relying on others to talk about their games just doesn’t cut it in this digital marketplace. Why is this so important? Think about any studio with a famous figurehead. Peter Molyneux at 22Cans? Now think how infinitely easier it is for a well-known, media friendly developer to attract that vital first burst of attention to his or her creation. Heard of Curiosity? Exactly. Every snowball has to start somewhere!

The UK has a fantastic pedigree of being at the forefront of innovation and creativity in the games industry. Indie studios are doing some great work but they’re not being recognised for it. They haven’t yet been discovered. It's time they were. It’s time these studios made themselves heard and, in turn, used their voices and talent to energise others within the industry.

A great place to start is Develop’s Indie Dev Marketing conference on 10 July; it launched last year specifically to help indie developers understand – and use – PR and marketing to take their games and their studios to market on limited resources. I’d also encourage all indie studios to enter the Develop Indie Showcase, whose sole aim is to help new studios get discovered. The deadline for entry is 13 May and all of the information can be found at


Susan Marshall is content director for the Develop in Brighton Conference – 9-11 July, 2013. Speak to her