Friday, 27 June 2014

GUEST BLOG: Window Shopping in Steam

My dad used to own a shop. It was a men's clothing store. He was in business for a long time (over 50 years) and only recently retired. I've learnt a few things from his experience managing a small store. One of them I remember quite clearly is related to the shop window. He used to say that no matter what you put in certain spot in the window it will sell well. If you put something good then you'll sell truckloads of it, if it's something mediocre then it'll simply sell better than it ought to.

The store had 2 windows, a big one, where the 'sweet spots' (there were a couple I think) were placed, and a smaller one, on the side. In that smaller one he usually put stuff that was new or on sale, last pieces of last year's items, etc. He changed that one more often because it was there to serve a purpose (increase the sales of what was there) not to attract people to the store (that's the main window's purpose).

My dad's store as it appears in Google Maps. The side window isn't even visible from this angle

I can't but find similarities between how my dad's store worked and how Steam works. You have your main window (the big banner with game pictures that appear when you open Steam) and you have your side windows (the 'New Releases', the 'Top Sellers',...). If Steam thinks your game is a great game (or is going to be a great seller) you'll make it to the main window, otherwise you'll be in the side window ('New Releases') for a while and only if you prove to be good enough, move to the main one.

As of lately we're hearing a lot about nay sayers talking about the indie bubble. They argue that the amount of games published on Steam is going to drown the good indie games. I don't think that's what's going to happen. Indie hits are going to go on happening and Steam is going to support them just as much as they did in the past. The problem is going to affect niche indie games. There are a lot of games being published every day in Steam now. We released Super Toy Cars on June the 7th, along with 27 other games! What's the effect of that? Our side window time was reduced to mere hours (8-10 hours).

When we launched LightFish in 2011 the game stayed in the 'New Releases' first page for over a week. That's 15-20 times longer! That means we found then a lot more people that liked the niche genre of the game and it showed in our sales.

Still, blaming Valve for opening the gates to everyone is neither fair, smart or, more importantly, a solution. Actually, I believe there's no one to blame. How could you blame anyone for doing what you do (releasing a game on Steam) or for giving them that chance? I personally don't like many of the games but then again I'm stupid and I might have the same opinion about Minecraft if I didn't know better. Only the market has the right to decide what's worth it and what's not.

So, what can we do about it? Well, the first thing we should do is make sure we have good games worth playing. Then marketing them the right way. Make sure there's buzz about your game. You've tried e-mailing the main webpages and youtubbers and they are ignoring you? Maybe you need to do something different, something better, more unique with your game or the way you communicate it. Be it releasing the game in additional platforms, polishing a long forgotten genre or adding something unique to it, mixing two genres in innovative ways, creating something completely new, or presenting your game to everyone dressed in a pink suit or, better, do a combination of these.

Alexander Bruce not only had unique style but also an outstanding game in his hands (Antichamber)

You can do anything to try to get our game noticed by the press and thus by the public. Anything but blaming Valve because your window time is now a small portion of what it used to be. Now we have to work to get noticed while before just being in Steam gave you that marketing for free. Deal with it and find solutions to the problem!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go pick my green suit from the laundry.

This blog was written by Eduardo Jimenez from Eclipse Games. Eduardo will be talking in the Production track at the upcoming
Develop Conference 8 - 10 July, Brighton

Monday, 23 June 2014

GUEST BLOG: Life Moves Pretty Fast

Wondering whether to attend this year’s Develop Conference? Stop wondering, and commit. Commit right now. Clear your diary. Book your train ticket. THIS IS IMPORTANT.

To quote Ferris Bueller: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it”.

Everything is changing. Everything is always changing. Novelty, imagination, surprise and experimentation are fundamentally embedded into games culture and markets. We bestride the twin galloping horses of technology and culture like giggling, partially-blindfolded, stunt riders. Our job is to make millions of people do things they’ve never done before - while our platforms, models and markets are in a continual state of turbulence.

This month, Amazon announced a phone that tracks your head movements. Didn’t they used to sell books? Cloud Imperium revealed that they have 260 people working on Star Citizen. Didn’t you used to need a publisher to make a game like that?

So stop and look around once in a while. Remind yourself that games are made by people; people more or less like you - and that they’re ultimately FOR people, too. Good analytics will give you excellent insight into the way your players are behaving right now; but if you want them to stay with you next year, you’ll need a taste for the future.

Get it at Develop.

Jonathan Smith is Strategic Director at TT Games, and
a member of the Develop in Brighton Advisory Board.

Monday, 16 June 2014

GUEST BLOG: Realistic Jam

Game Jams are a lot of fun to be part of. They're inherently flexible, and can last anything from an hour to several days.

Most of the jams I've been involved with have been fairly typical affairs, where a bunch of people arrive with laptops or use lab machines at a university. I've organised and hosted some really strange ones too though; Nat Marco [ ] ran one a few years ago in which people made games out of paper and rocks:

The year after that, we did "Jam Game Jam: A Game Jam With Jam", which involved throwing jam around on the deck of an East German fishing trawler:

The same day, Jonathan Whiting [ ] ran a level design workshop in which people defined rules, stuck bits of paper down onto the deck, and pranced around:

 He'd initially approached me saying he had an idea with scary spatial requirements, and I replied that I generally read "scary" to mean "exciting".

Those examples might seem esoteric compared to the day job you spend at a tablet or keyboard, but there's a lot of value in them. Games are fundamentally about rules and behaviour, and when we bind those to a given type of hardware, we're also binding them to a lot of established convention.

The technology we use isn't the pinnacle of games, it's just another branch of stuff we can express them through. Play and games have a history stretching back thousands of years, all of it relevant to the things we make.

Sure, few if any of the weirder avenues point in viable commercial directions, but that's not what jams are about. They're increasing your skills as a designer, artist or programmer, they're a way of hanging out with other developers, and if you happen to make something amazing that's probably too weird for an existing audience or platform, there's a growing throng of festivals and events worldwide that might still be interested.

A game jam is a perfect place to experiment with the strangest ideas you have. That's because beyond tech (or the intentional lack thereof), the best thing about a jam is the time constraint it imposes. It creates a space where it's okay to try something new and perhaps fail horribly, knowing that the project won't drag on.

Some of the best things I ever designed, way back, came from speed mapping contests run by the Unreal Tournament mapping community. The results were never pretty with a four hour time limit, but they were an excellent way of getting a good, solid sketch done.

Without such constraints, it's easy to get attached to something then sink too much effort into it, and I've seen even established developers do this. A game jam is above all a focussing tool. You might still become myopically attached to a duff idea, but that deadline is going to come in nice and quick to finish it off instead of letting you toil at it for months.
David Hayward [ ] wrote this blog. He will be running the Develop in Brighton Game Jam  for 2014.
Photos by Natalie Seery [ ] and Jessica Bernard [ ])

Thursday, 5 June 2014

GUEST BLOG: Industry echoes: 19 years later, the first E3 still rings in my ears

I was lucky enough to attend the first E3 back in 1995. It was, I think, my second ever trip over the Atlantic.

For a reasonably young man, whose work travels had up until then taken him to Croydon, Derby and Woking, it was overwhelmingly exciting. I stayed in the hotel through which Arnie rode a horse True Lies, and the one friends tell me Pamela Anderson took her clothes off in “The Pamela Anderson Story” (sadly no longer available, apparently).

I thought of my teachers who said I'd amount to little and imagined them still tormented by little bastards like me, cursed to a life of endlessly scrubbing chalk phalluses off their suit jackets whilst I was on a business trip to where Americans came from.

They were actually filming Heat in the streets outside. Imagine that. No do: imagine that.

For an industry which had historically sold its wares on hunks of plastic or “floppy” “disks” (technically neither, though no-one seemed to mention this) that first E3 was a sign of intent. We were moving from business shows in stuffy hotels literally to Hollywood.

Of course, as a young industry, we were hopelessly naive. Rich execs decided that the best way of showing how great their games were was to throw vast amounts of money at their stands; setting a dick-waving precedent which would escalate so quickly that apparently Peter Moore originally suggested he announce GTA4’s appearance on Xbox at the 2006 Microsoft press conference not with a fake tattoo, but by dangling the game’s logo from his still smarting Prince Albert.

Poetically, in 1995, no stand was more impressive than that of Acclaim. Standing proudly inside the main doors, where EA usually is these days, it was a nightclub of a booth, all flashing lights, massive screens and pulsating music from show open to show fucking close.

I was working on the stand next door, so I was the regular unintended victim of Acclaim’s “theme “ – a 30-second ditty which opened the 10 minute showreel. I heard it 162 times.

Now and again – close to 20 years later – it still bounces round my skull.
It went like this: “[Something, something] Acclaim, your entertainment source. Hits on every format – can you feel the force? Interactive entertainment, it’s so hot you just can’t contain it, something something something something Acclaim!”162 times.

What’s most astonishing about this song isn’t that presumably an actual human being was paid coins of money in order to write it and that other human beings didn’t think that the first human was joking, nor that it made such an indelible mark on my then young brain that even now – at an age when I genuinely occasionally forget the names of my family – I can still recall most of it.

No, what was most astonishing was, that from a marketing point of view, spending such a vast amount of money on a stand and theme song did the job – even now, when people stop me on the street to enquire as to where they can find the source of entertainment, I remind them of Acclaim before showing them some SNES and Mega Drive cartridges and pushing them over so they can feel the force.

Sadly, that’s where the story ends. These people can’t buy Turok: Evolution, WWF Wrestlemania, nor Dave Mira’s BMX XXX even if they wanted to. Which they didn’t: Acclaim went out of business in 2004 – leaving nothing more than a few gaming controversies, some brilliant PR ideas and one dreadful song.
E3 has always been about attracting attention, making the most noise, having the biggest queues. Yet, with the exception of a just couple of years when, quite rightly, publishers questioned the amount they were pouring into the building that Nicholas Cage tried to blow up in Face/Off, E3 has got bigger but not necessarily better.

The news rarely comes from the show floor any more, beamed instead globally onto monitors the day before, via grainy, buffering streams. American execs trying hard to be casual without realising they’re memes in waiting.
Fact is, if you’re a publisher in decline or a hardware manufacturer which lacks confidence to deliver your vision, chasing Twitter favourites rather than sticking to your design philosophy, attracting such vast attention is pointless unless you’re able to deliver the goods. Come see my talk at Develop this year and I’ll show you how to be Mike Bithell – current King of the Indies, deliverer of goods and, at the time of writing, someone who’s yet to resort to a theme tune.

Though it is only a matter of time.

This blog was written by Simon Byron, a director at Premier PR. Simon will be talking in the new Marketing track at Develop in Brighton on 9 July.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

GUEST BLOG: Go With the Flow - A Fresh Look at Old Concepts

I suspect that some of you reading this will think “Why talk about something as obvious as flow when everybody in the industry understands the concept and gets it right?”
Well, believe it or not, there’s way more to flow than people in the industry might imagine.

Only the other week, Keith Stuart talked in The Guardian about the concept of flow as one of the reasons people find games like Candy Crush so compelling (

When players are so completely engaged with a game, to the extent that they don't even hear you when you call them or acknowledge you when you talk to them, there’s a very good chance that they’re experiencing flow in the game play. And when an individual is experiencing flow, they’re completely fixated on the task of playing the game, and you’ll find it pretty hard to break their concentration.

I remember late last year consulting at a large game developers studio and the fire alarm went off - it was lunchtime and a few employees were playing a game in the games room during their break. Despite the piecing sound of the alarm, they didn’t even look up from their games and the boss of the company had to literally go in and drag them out.

So you can see how flow, the state of utter engagement in gaming, can certainly account for how compelling video game playing can be.
A really great piece of work that I would recommend to developers is by Boyle et al (2012) – ‘Engagement in digital entertainment games: A systematic review’ - who initially uncovered a staggering 20,000 papers related to engagement, and then drilled this number down to 55 key papers to review.

The authors describe flow as the most influential construct used to explain the subjective emotional experience and optimal state of pleasure experienced in video game play. They highlight how flow is actually quite a complex construct involving eight different components. They maintain that central to the concept, is that the experience is intrinsically rewarding and enables immersion in the game, and they suggest that flow as a state evokes high levels of concentration and allows the player to have a sense of control, have clearly defined goals as well as providing direct feedback.
Further to this, is the motivation to escape the real world, because flow in gaming does offer opportunities to carry out behaviours not possible in the real world!

Last year I was delighted to be asked to contribute to the Charlie Brooker documentary ‘How Video Games Changed the World’. In the documentary I talked about the concept of flow and this really hit home with many gamers who watched the programme. In the weeks after, I had loads of emails from gamers who were quite relieved to understand what was happening to them when they were in this almost altered state of mind, completely fixated on a game.

Following the programme a blogger posted the stills of my contribution about flow on tumblr and so far nearly 60,000 people have reblogged or commented. ( As a psychologist, what this tells me is that gamers really want to understand what’s happening to them when they’re engaged in virtual worlds and that they very much want developers to make games that enhance this state for them, as they garner immense pleasure and contentment from the experience.

Alex Meredith, Cyberpsychologist from Nottingham Trent University says "Developers can really embrace the concept of flow and incorporate it into the development of their games, within ethical parameters of course, and of particular interest is how flow impacts on motivation to play and the sense of self during game play and cathartic release.”

And there’s a lot more to the concept of flow in video games that psychologists like myself are still uncovering, I’m especially interested in the group flow and recently saw a great presentation by Linda Kaye of Edge Hill University who examined the extent to which group flow experiences (versus solo flow experiences) impact on post-play positive effect. The results of her work indicate that post-play positive effect was heightened in group flow, something which is particularly interesting when designing for collaborative play.

At this year’s Evolve, on the first day of the Develop Conference, as part of the psychology track, a number of leading psychologists will join me to look at what it means to develop games that enhance this flow experience, and together we’ll be offering some ethical take-away tips about how to build in strategies that evoke the flow state in gamers and really heighten the gaming experience.
Berni Good is a psychologist who specialises in Cyberpsychology, particularly in video games and is the founder of Cyberpsychologist  Limited, This year Berni will curate the psychology track at Evolve which will see some of the leading psychologists and experts in the field of psychology in video games talk and give amazing insights and tips into how to develop games incorporating psychology to really heighten the experience for the gamer. 

Friday, 16 May 2014

GUEST BLOG: The War of Art

The belly. It was always the belly. Drawing Sonic the Hedgehog in my school book, trying my hardest to get it as accurate as possible, it was always the belly that was the trickiest. Too curvy and Sonic looked podgy, too slim and he looked like a 'hog with a drug problem.

Why the hell am I telling you about the fleshy tumpkins of fictional blue hedgehogs? Well, because that childhood memory of trying so hard to replicate my favourite character is burned into my brain and that speaks volumes about how much that group of blue and red pixels meant to me.

We've all got our favourite computer game characters and we especially hold on dearly to those plumbers, hedgehogs and monkeys... sorry, donkeys that formed our early years of playing with computers. The colours, the sound effects, the feeling of blowing on a Megadrive cartridge when Streets of Rage wouldn't load properly. All these connections stay with us because our tiny little brains are so eagerly soaking up all the stimuli we can get, especially the wonderful worlds being presented to us in pixel form and this is what I'm getting at (albeit in a waffling fashion), it's THAT connection that is our responsibility now.

Us wanky media types in the games industry are the magic makers now, it's OUR creations that will be recalled in a rose-tinted conversation in 20 years time, how incredible is that!? Just as I remember how exciting it was to plug a 2nd controller into a NES to control the ducks in Duck Hunt, someone in the future will be sharing their glee at having to pop their PS1 controller into port 2 to beat Psycho Mantis on Metal Gear Solid. These moments stick in peoples brains because their interactive art, they are narratives they feel a part of, stories they helped unlock.

Now it isn't just triple-A games that this nostalgic badge of honour is reserved for, for me it's the indie games right now that are creating lasting memories. Just as my MGS memory is imprinted on my grey matter, so is the first time I saw that bloody terrifying spider in Limbo or when I realised perspective isn't all that it seems in Monument Valley. These games, these interactive pieces of art not only satisfy my inner child for gameplay, their aesthetics are so strong and unique that the way they look will be remembered as much as the interactions in the games themselves.

So, what's your point I hear you ask!? Well, it's that now more than ever we are incredibly fortunate to be the ones making long lasting memories for people. The slew of stunning 'casual' games inspiring and entertaining folk who wouldn't call themselves gamers is rising all the time, from Badlands to Leo's Fortune, Journey to Flower.

There's never been a more exciting or more accessible time to get into making the game you want to make, and to share it with people who want something a little different. Looking at the amount of beautiful things on offer today, I just can't wait to see what happens next.
You never know, scribbled facsimiles of your creations could be adorning the school text books of the next generation...

This blog was written by Gav Strange from Aardman Studios. Gav will be talking about Super Sleep Fighter II in the Art track at Develop in Brighton on Wednesday 9 July.

Monday, 12 May 2014

GUEST BLOG: Creative Process(es)

A couple of weeks ago I was having a conversation with my drummer about writing songs and how different our writing process was to that of his other band. His other band lead with drums, he will write sections/whole songs creatively on drums and then the band will on that. This blew my mind because it’s so different to the way I’ve always worked. With my current band we will usually go one of two ways, either one of us will work on a near complete song at home, demo it, send it out to the others and then we will tear it apart at practice and work on it that way. The other way is we will take a vocal line, lyric or riff and just jam on it at practice and see what comes. I can hear you asking “Aj, what the hell has this got to do with video game development?” well, good madams and sirs, it got me thinking. 

I cannot even begin to imagine how many different creative processes there are in the world. You don’t often hear people speak of their processes very often so I thought I’d talk to you guys quickly about some things I like myself and the team to keep in mind when approaching idea generation:

1     There Is No Such Thing As A Bad Idea

So this is a big thing for Craig and I, I’ve probably mentioned it before, but we honestly believe that every idea deserves to be voiced because really no idea is bad. Now don’t get me wrong there are ideas that are inappropriate, won’t work and don’t fit the brief but they are not bad for the simple reason that they could be a spark. One throwaway idea you have could spark an idea in someone else that becomes the project of your dreams. So with that in mind:

2    Anyone Can Have An Idea

One thing that I really hate is when studios exclude certain disciplines from the creative process. It’s almost saying that you have to be qualified to have an idea. Which is bullshit, ANYONE can have a great idea and you should never be precious with this. I always get my best friend to sanity check all my ideas and the ideas of my team where possible. He doesn’t work in games but that means jack shit, he often inspires new ways of me looking at things.

  Write An Album, Not A Single

So I try to relate things to band life when I can to give a more simple explanation. This an example that comes up a lot. When you look to write a 14 track album you never just write 14 tracks. What you do is you write 20 tracks and you pick the best 14. This is because you sometimes need to get sections and songs out of your system to make way for your next great song. This is the same for idea generation whether it be for features, characters or full games. On our first day of looking at new game ideas we will just spend a day coming up with ideas and sticking them up on a wall, every single idea we have. We will then narrow it down over time to our favourite 8, then our favourite 4, 2 etc… each step of the process we add a little bit more detail to the game until eventually we’re pitching a game to the rest of the team.

4    Don’t Be Precious

This is one thing I learned the hard way but that we’ve tried to instill into our team. You should never be precious about an idea, sometimes something will seem like the best idea in the world and then an hour, day, week later it turns out it just won’t work, it’s not a right fit or it just isn’t that good. Thing is this is not a negative thing, this is awesome it means that the game has evolved past your early ideas and you should embrace it and not try to cling on to it. Good example of this is in our soon to be release game Overruled! we had a standard Deathmatch mode which we thought would be perfect. It took us 2 weeks after putting it in to finally admit that it’s just not that good, we used to be bored when it would come up and that we needed to scrap it. We didn’t complain about the work we had put in, we took it out and spent more time brainstorming game types and have come up with some of our best. Don’t cling on to ideas, be ready to move on and do better.

5    Love What You Do and Trust Your Gut

Now this is two rolled into one but I have already exceeded my word count for this blog as it is! These are two very simple points of the same whole. Never ever doubt how important they are. If you don’t love what you do then it will bleed through into your work creatively, people can only love what you do if you loved doing it and please please please trust your gut. Go with your instincts and don’t be afraid to try new things, ask questions and just get out of your comfort zone.
I’m not sure if these are my top 5 points or just 5 points that are really important to me right now but I hope it’s provided you with some sort of insight.
This blog was written by Aj Grand-Scrutton of Dlala Studios. Aj will be talking at the Indie Dev Day on Thursday 10 July.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

GUEST BLOG: Introducing the Develop Teardown workshop

GUEST BLOG: Introducing the Develop Teardown workshop

We're bringing something new to Develop this year – a multi-session teardown of Rare's Kinect Sports Rivals that will deliver a deep insight into developing innovative games.

I think it's an exciting innovation for the Develop conference, too.

At first glance you might think it's a bit over-the-top to dedicate so much space and time to just one game, but if anything the opposite is true. Here's why.

Alien activity

If some alien archaeologist of the future had to explain the shifts in video game development over the past five to 10 years with reference only to the historical record of conference programmes and trade magazines (the games themselves having long since vanished) then he/she/it might suppose we got bored of making and playing complicated productions.

And from the proliferation of free-to-play conferences and mobile workshops around the world, you could understand why a six-armed space-faring academic would reach that conclusion from the headlines.

Yet we all know big development hasn't been seen off entirely by smartphones, freemium MMOs, indies, and so on.

What it has become is harder to explain to outsiders.

Even 20 years ago, most people working on most top-of-the-range titles knew everyone on their team. Staff often had input into more than one aspect of the game. The era of the artist/designer and a myriad other 'slashes' was at its height, as studios struggled to cope with challenges that were steepening faster than the growth of their workforces.

Today, making big console games is a multi-disciplinary logistical nightmare, made feasible only by specialism, advances in development frameworks, and producers who've finally wrestled the whip hand from the most talented coders and creatives who used to speak for teams. There's simply no other way to drive hugely complicated next gen projects to completion on time and budget otherwise.

Mindboggling challenges

Indeed I often think modern game development makes blockbuster filmmaking seem a doddle by comparison.

You're working on the special effects for the new Star Wars? That's nice. Try doing that while devising the physics of the Star Wars universe, the AI of its free-roaming characters, a non-linear narrative to span 40 hours instead of the mere couple in a movie – and all for an audience that expects to see similar quality on the small screen as at the cinema.

Oh, and before anyone points to prima donnas sulking in their trailers game development also has egos to manage…

Making a triple-A video game is like making a fairground ride with a narrative plot and Newtonian physics on the side. There are so many moving parts.

As we continue to plod through the Uncanny Valley, it has to look and feel great, too.

Separate together

No wonder big budget game development is now the domain of specialists. Yet even today they hardly operate in a vacuum.

Game artists work to constraints set by the producers and programmers, for example, while constantly pushing their own requests back, too. Designers frequently see their vision for the game shift as concept art is produced or prototyping begins.

Agile development tries to address the Balkanisation of the creative process by re-integrating the difference disciplines involved, to harness their interdependence to best achieve the goals at hand. We hope our multi-session teardown can do something similar.

See the big picture

You see, all this complexity means it's very hard to get a true sense what it took to make a game in just a single 45-minute session.

Often I've left a conference session with more questions than answers!

Sometimes you hear about some particular aspect of a game's development in detail, for example, but it feels like learning about just one stop on a gigantic journey. Other times you get a good overview, but it's a Captain's Log bereft of colour from the engine room.

We hope Rare's teardown will give you as holistic a view into what goes into making a game today as is possible, short of being on the team yourself.

Please do feel free to make notes for the benefit of those extra-terrestrial game historians of the future!

This blog was written by Owain Bennellack who is Chair of the Develop in Brighton Advisory Board.

Monday, 24 March 2014

GUEST BLOG: The Ugly Side of Freemium

I'm a big supporter of the freemium business model. The removal of the initial financial barrier to entry, alongside the simplicity of many freemium titles has opened the door for masses of new consumers to get into playing games; something which is undoubtedly a fantastic thing for our industry.

If we look back to the 80s, there are parallels we can draw.

Lots of relatively small indie games were released which are comparable to the level of simplicity we see in many mobile titles today; as technology and gamers desire for more complex experiences grew, so did the games produced, ultimately leading to the more mature console gaming demographic we have today - something I very much hope will be repeated in the mobile arena. Which is precisely why, when I see implementations of freemium mechanics such as those presented in Dungeon Keeper, I get quite infuriated.

Back then we also had a comparable level of saturated content as we’re now seeing in the mobile space. Many publishers were pushing out poor quality titles and failing to respect their consumers, which ultimately led to the game industry crash of 1983.

And in 2014, my big worry is that we're at risk of repeating that very same mistake.

Take Dungeon Keeper for example - without wishing to pick on it - I find that it’s just one of an increasing number of titles whose implementation of freemium mechanics comes across as somewhat dismissive of those unwilling to pay.

While it's apparent that it’s still generating significant revenue (as is clear from the games featuring in the top grossing charts) I worry that it's an example of prioritising short-term gains over long-term benefit for the industry. When it can take up to 24 hours to remove a single 'square' of map, I’d argue that it makes the experience beyond simply an 'inconvenience' for non-paying customers; it makes it largely un-playable.

The undoubtedly high percentage of customers unwilling to pay are ultimately left with a sour taste in their mouth; and for many, it risks degrading their views of freemium titles as a whole. In turn, damaging potential future uptake of games utilising this model.

This becomes all the more apparent when reading some of the games reviews; users are not simply complaining about the game, They’re complaining about the industry, the model and are frequently stating (in no uncertain terms) that it’s putting them off freemium as a whole.

Freemium titles should intrinsically be accessible for all consumers – paying or non-paying.

There have been some great examples of freemium done right. Games like League of Legends, where consumers can play frustration-free for as long as they like; but are encouraged to purchase through offering compelling additional content. Users who don't pay are respected, even valued, on account of the competitive, viral and social benefits their involvement brings to the experience for everyone playing.

So, as an industry let’s not allow our desire to make more money in the short term take precedence over the potential alienation of our customers. Paying or otherwise, we must respect our users. If we fail to do so, we run the very real risk of losing them in the long term.

Put simply, we need to learn from our historical mistakes. It is our responsibility to do better.

Adam Green is MD of Assyria Games and chairs the judging panel for the Indie Dev Showcase at the Develop Conference. This year’s Showcase submissions open on 2 April 2014.

Monday, 17 March 2014

GUEST BLOG: The ‘Made in Creative UK’ Campaign

I’d like to use this blog piece to tell developers about the ‘Made in Creative UK’ campaign that aims to raise the profile of UK game developers.  The seed of this idea for the campaign started when I attended the launch presentation of The Livingstone Hope report (also known as the Next Gen. report) commissioned by the government in February 2011.
One observation made in the report was that so few of the public in the UK (or anywhere else in the world) know that the UK is responsible for many high profile video games. This means that students in the UK are less inspired to learn the skills required for careers in the games industry. Sadly IT (Information Technology) is seen by the brightest students as the worse subject on the curriculum.
I spoke to Ian Livingstone and Ed Vaizey about this at the reception afterwards and proposed that the government issue a ‘Made in UK’ logo that developers could use. I believed that developers would be keen to display this on their games and websites for the greater good of the UK games industry. They both said that would support such a campaign.
Unfortunately, after many meetings, I was unable to find government department that would launch and administer the campaign, so I decided to do it myself. I designed a logo, created the website and then starting contacting many friends in the industry to join the campaign.
The campaign has very clear goals:-
 Inspire students to learn important skills for the digital economy in the UK
 Raise the profile of the UK Games Industry across the world to promote global partnerships
 Raise the profile of an important 21st century industry with the general public
The campaign has the endorsement of government officials, trade bodies and leading industry supporters, including: -  Ed Vaizey (Culture Minister), Ian Livingstone (Industry Spokesman), Dr Richard Wilson (CEO - TIGA), Dr Jo Twist (CEO - UKie CEO), Karen Price OBE (Chief Executive - e-Skills UK), Hasan Bakhshi (Director of Creative Industries, NESTA). Caroline Norbury (CEO - Creative England), Kate O'Connor ( Deputy CEO - Creative Skillset), Kelly Smith (BAFTA) and recently Nick Baird (CEO - UKTI)

I’d like to see British developers promoting the origin of their game. The world is very aware of many British pop stars, film and TV stars, and creations like James Bond and Harry Potter, but the origins of video games are largely unknown.
I’d like students and their parents, studying new computer science lessons to appreciate that there are game developers all around them, hence the developer map on the website, and that there are great jobs full of challenge and creativity. Making games is a very real and very rewarding career in the 21st century.
I’m delighted by the fast and overwhelming response I’ve had by UK developers embracing this important campaign, it started with Game developers, as it’s my background, but I see all creative digital content creators joining in, as the UK is world leading in all fields of digital media and we rarely get the recognition we deserve.
See the website and if you make games in the UK and would like to support the campaign, contact me, Philip Oliver -

 This blog was written by Philip Oliver, Co-founder of Radiant Worlds and long time supporter of Develop in Brighton -

Thursday, 6 February 2014

GUEST BLOG: The fear of risk is crushing innovation in the console market

I'm a 40 year-old father of three and have been working in video games for nearly twenty years, which means, while I love games, I don't have much time to play them and I certainly haven’t had much hands-on time with the Xbox One or PlayStation 4.

As a convert from console to mobile development when our new studio – Boss Alien – opened two years ago, it’s hard to be any more involved in the console world than watching from the side lines. As much as I want to cheer the latest console transition, I have to admit it has left me a little cold.  

I’ll be honest:  I haven’t been excited about buying a video game for years. I've played many and completed a few great games. But I haven’t had that feeling of anticipation and the frisson of excitement of taking a shrink wrapped game home for a long time.

It may be I'm getting too old. Losing that childlike glee was something I never anticipated and it's disappointing to experience. As a teenager and through my twenties I looked forward to releases for months and was really getting excited about buying, unwrapping and loading a new game.  

The last time I enjoyed this level of anticipation and fulfilment was when Halo came out at the same time as Devil May Cry and I played them on my Xbox and PlayStation 2 simultaneously. They were both really great games and the generational leap to Halo was enormous. The graphics were richer and sharper; the AI was great; the control system made the FPS finally work well on console. some of the encounters were epic and you could drive vehicles while shooting! The ambition seemed huge at the time and its impact on the gaming experience was massive and measurable in many ways.

It is from this perspective that I review our latest console transition. So far, the general consensus seems to be disappointment. Again, this may be cynicism powered by age, but, to my eye, this new round of launch titles merely look a little better. There is no real innovation despite the massive budgets and lead times the biggest developers enjoyed.  Compared with PlayStation 2, these consoles are relatively familiar and easy to develop for and we – the gamers – ought to be playing better games than we are. I bought four headline launch games with my new console and I'm already bored with them. An expensive investment that has left me feeling robbed and seen me return to the PS3 and Xbox 360.

Why has this happened? Risk aversion. Publishers and developers want to make games that have known markets, that don’t risk failure, massive financial loss and potential studio closure. What has this left us with? Conservative designs and a chart of triple-A games that are mostly sequels or derivative products. A warning from me: being conservative about design is one thing. Being conservative about business is self-destructive and dangerous. 

Occasionally the big players move away from traditional business models but often by taking disastrous and crippling half-steps. The result is increased nervousness and a reluctance to take bolder steps in the future. I can give you two examples: the price of downloadable games and premium titles with dubious DLC offerings. 

First point – the price of downloadable games. Why do titles like Killzone cost over £50 to download from the PSN Store when they're available on Amazon for £35? Surely it should be cheaper to buy a digital version because it's virtually free to manufacture and distribute online?  Why? Because platform holders don't want to undercut retailers. As a gamer, I don't care about retailers, do you?  I just feel conned. The High Street can stock console hardware to make profit. The app stores prove you don't need a huge High Street retail presence to sell software.  

Second point - dubious DLC. EA was brave to try a sort of paid/freemium mix; brave enough to leap from the edge only to turn in mid-air and scrabble for it again at the last moment. Dead Space 3 was a game you had to pay for but if you wanted it to be as functional as Dead Space 2, you had to pay again. This is wrong.  And I say this as a freemium mobile game developer.  It's not fair to make people pay twice for something that they only paid once for before - especially in a very well established market with an incumbent business model and distribution network.

Personally, I believe downloadable games should be free. It costs nothing to deliver the game. If the customer likes it, they can pay for it and games should be good enough that customers do want to pay. Games can and should be designed to encourage customers to pay because a) they enjoy them, but b) because they are also seduced cleverly into paying for them.  

I know these tactics are not appreciated by everyone and I understand and accept those reservations. However, I really believe with good design, a moral balance and a respect for customers, developers will find a way to make it work in a palatable way for everyone.  It's just a matter of time. The products and models you see now are sometimes a little crass and cynical. Those rough edges will erode with time.

If gamers DO have to pay to download console games, can we at least agree that should not be expected to pay more than at retail? This isn’t fair. What is fair is exploiting the fact you have a customer's attention for several hours, so why not use that to try and sell them something different?  I don't mean a weapon upgrade, a level, a game-mode or special ability. I mean a new but related experience: a different story for a new character, perhaps, or a new perspective or completely different way to play. Perhaps this could lead to increased innovation. Perhaps games could further exploit niches within themselves?  

My eldest son is addicted to Skylanders: Swap Force. He's five and this is the first time he's become totally immersed in a video game universe. It's inspiring and gratifying to see the same hunger and appreciation in him that I have for games. He's chewing through the content at an incredible pace and constantly nags me for Skylanders figures. Why can't you buy them by mail order from the game? Why can't I download last year's Skylanders Giants game from within the Swap Force game? It looks to me that the world of games has moved on but the consoles are still trailing behind.  

They could consider unbundling, too. What’s stopping them from selling the single player campaign for £10, co-op for £10 and multi-player for £10? This isn't discounting so there’s no perception of price erosion or poor quality. And it might just result in a lift in sales as more players pick up individual parts of the game at an affordable price. It's not beyond the realm of possibility to anticipate an overall net-positive effect on revenues because the number of buyers lifts hugely.

Wouldn't it be great to see one of the big publishers make a proper, ambitious, brave leap of faith this year?  There are some brilliant new games on the horizon.  Some of the brand new, original, next-gen games previewed at E3 will be landing soon and we may well finally get the truly next level entertainment that our investment in the new hardware deserves. What's more, the big evergreen titles are starting to appear on Wii-U, which is what Nintendo does best. We all want to see great, innovative games.  More than that though, I'd really like to feel new ways to be inspired to pay for them. Come on consoles!  You can be great again! Give me something to cheer about from here on the side lines.

This blog was written by Jason Avent, managing director at Boss Alien and long time supporter of Develop in Brighton -