Monday, 11 July 2016

Guest Blog: War Child

1995 saw the release of War Child’s famous HELP album; a revolutionary project where some of the most high profile British musicians came together to record an album for children in war torn Bosnia. 20 years on, I find myself working at War Child working on a project which aims to follow in the footsteps of that famous record – but with a twist.

War Child’s new project, HELP: The Game, mirrors the collaborative efforts of the 1995 record, which asked artists including Paul Weller, the Stone Roses and Blur to record a song in a day to be released on a live album.

This time round however we’re working with some of the most talented gaming studios in the world who will take part in a unique game jam; each studio have been allowed a total of six days, the same time it took for the original album to reach number one in the charts, to bring their creation from concept to completion.

Funds raised will be used for War Child UK's ongoing activities to support conflict-affected children and their families. The result of all of this international collaboration will be brought together as HELP: The Game, a compilation of games which will be published by Sega on Steam as a digital download this summer.

As War Child UK’s gaming manager, it’s been a real honour to lead this project for our charity. But it’s important to note that the game is the creation of the War Child Gaming Committee, made up of the great and good from all over the gaming industry, including Sports Interactive, Gamer Network, YouTube, Sheridans and Bossa amongst others.

The bundle includes games from some of the world’s most innovative and exciting games studios, including Sports Interactive, Rovio, Team17, Hardlight, Creative Assembly, Bossa, Curve, Sumo Digital, Modern Dream, Spilt Milk Studios & Torn Banner.

And it’s really great that here at War Child we’re able to expand our involvement in gaming. The process began when Sports Interactive first got involved with us, contributing 10p from every game sold for War Child since 2007. Our other gaming partnerships include 11bit Studios with their charity DLC and now an additional $1 donation per sale of The Little Ones DLC as of June and’s charity packages – which was then topped up by the studio in aid of world’s most vulnerable children.

When it launches later this year, HELP: The Game will take the collaboration between gaming and charities to a new level. For me, knowing how many more conflict-affected children will be supported as a result of the money raised for War Child, I cannot wait to see it get started.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Guest Blog: Kate Russell

I’ve been writing about gaming and technology since 1995, the year the dot-com boom started. Back then, less than 1% of the global population was connected to the web – today that figure is around 40%. There are 6.5 billion mobile connections globally – almost one for every person on the planet.
Today’s gamers live in a hyper-connected online world where community and the ability to play together, and against each other, are often at the heart of enduring success for a game. The human desire to connect, be social, be part of the creation process, to interact and not be restricted by narrative or geography, manifests today in the phenomenon of live streaming on platforms like Twitch. 

I am one of over 13k streamers who earn a living playing games for others to watch. Last year Twitch had half a million average concurrent viewers devouring 459,366 years’ worth of video, with viewers on average watching over 7 hours of content per month. Those kind of sticky numbers are metrics traditional broadcast and entertainment producers can only dream of. And they are liquid, trackable gold to the advertising industry.

More and more indie game studios are approaching influencers on these platforms to tap into their audience for up and coming games, getting their support for crowd funding campaigns by providing early release download codes to whip the audiences up into a storm that often raises hundreds of thousands of dollars.

If you’re in the process of developing a game or looking for funding and support, you’d be a fool to overlook these avenues. But it’s not just shouting about your vision and hoping people will hear. ‘If you build it they will come,’ does not always work. Building a strong online community is a real art form that begins by understanding your audience and finding ways to relate to them.

You’re going to need to be friendly, interesting, honest and transparent. You’re going to have to involve your fans in conversations about the development process and as a result will likely be put under constant pressure to get it right. And you’re going to have to learn to take criticism on the chin. 

But get it right and you stand to gain a rock solid army of supporters, promoters and friends behind you, who are personally invested in seeing you succeed; emotionally as well as financially.

And that is a pretty good engine to build the success story of your future on.

I’m going to be talking more about this in my upcoming Develop keynote in Brighton on 14th July. During the session I’ll be revealing some of the tricks I’ve learned along the way - having successfully ran my own crowd funding campaign and being a partnered Twitch Streamer for almost a year. I’ll also be suggesting a few ways you can structure your own community activities to increase engagement and motivate your fans to campaign on your behalf. 

If you have a game to promote or get funding for, I hope to see you there.

Journalist, reporter and author, Kate has been writing about technology and the Internet since 1995. Appearing regularly on BBC technology programme Click she is also a partnered Twitch streamer and speaks at conferences and lectures in schools and universities inspiring the next generation of technologists. Her website, , won the 2015 UK Blog Awards for best individual digital and technology blog, and in June 2016 she was voted the Computer Weekly 13th most influential woman in UK IT. Her debut novel was published in 2014 under official licence to space trading game, Elite: Dangerous, the childhood passion that inspired her love of technology. As part of the licensing deal she got to name a planet in the latest release, Elite: Dangerous. She called it Slough.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Guest Blog: Stories Are Places We Go To

When you think about your favourite place, I bet it’s not just a location – it’s the people who are there with you, and the things you are feeling. It’s a magical place. I think the job of a storyteller, particularly a visual one, is to elicit wide-eyed, open-mouthed wonder from their audience. And great stories make us feel like we belong inside them, they transport us to different places.

When you experience a good story, you feel like you’ve gone on a journey, returning to your own life changed by the experience. The first time I saw The Breakfast Club when I was 15, I felt like I came back older, wiser and a bit taller. And I remember watching Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend one afternoon when I should have been in school and emerging blinking into the sunlight a changed person. That was a seriously messed up place to visit, especially on a Tuesday. 

I read somewhere that stories are survival training, giving you a chance to try things out in a safe environment before you might need to face them in real life. In hero’s journey structures, there’s always a phase where the protagonist acquires and tests out new skills before they master them in order to triumph in the climax.

Like dreams, stories are places we visit in our minds. The fantastical, and unsettling, nature of dreams and stories intertwine in cinema, television and games. Nightmare on Elm Street is a brilliant example of this, or the work of David Lynch, like the creepy scene in Mulholland drive where a man has brought his friend to a diner because he has dreamt about being there with him, and being scared. The source of the fear is a third man, “in the back of this place”: someone so scary that our erstwhile hero hopes never to see his face “outside of a dream”, yet before we know it, he’s headed out back to see if the man is really there, at which point Lynch switches the a point of view shot and we become the man, travelling towards the place which terrifies us.

In Back to the Future, we find ourselves aligned with the hapless Marty McFly, struggling at home with our cowardly father and alcoholic mother. However did these two deadbeats even wind up together? The mum recounts the story of how they met, but something doesn’t ring true. Marty ends up visiting the story himself by travelling back in time. In doing so, he smashes the story to bits and has to piece it back together in order to return home. Back at home in his own time, he momentarily becomes a helpless observer in his own story, watching as his friend Doc Brown is shot down.

I’m rambling on about this stuff because I think it’s particularly interesting given the surge in 360 degree video and virtual reality; advances that might herald a new era of immersive storytelling. Anyone who’s a cinephile and telephile knows what its like to want to live inside a favourite film or show. Good stories have always allowed us to do that, but using head-sets and 360 degree environments, we might take one step further.

I got really excited when I first discovered you could create interactive video that responded to what the viewer was doing: sharing control with the viewer over how the story unfolds rather than it carrying on regardless. Edits and music that change dynamically depending where the viewer is looking or what they are looking at with their mouse cursor (now finger). My first major foray into this world was a horror experience called The Burning Room, and I still love the sense we managed to instil of being present in a haunted place.

Sitting in a cinema or living room while the stories play out on screen allows you to experience love, terror and everything in between while simultaneously feeling the comfort of not really being there, of the characters being oblivious to you spying on them. Some filmmakers have played with this brilliantly, like Lynch’s POV shots, Michael Haneke acknowledging our complicity in his brutal Funny Games, or the classic fourth wall breaks in comedies. Deadpool prides itself on having a fourth wall break within a fourth wall break; “That’s like, sixteen walls!”

When you are free to look and roam around inside a story world, there’s potentially even more fun to be had with these concepts. Like immersive theatre in which the characters/actors are simultaneously aware and unaware of your presence. You can be acknowledged or ignored, the centre of the action or on the periphery. Perhaps you get left in one place while the story is happening down the corridor and its up to you to go and find the next act. Like real life, you can be anonymous in a crowd, a star in the movie of your life, or free to explore and find meaning – assuming you’re not supposed to be at school or work, or perhaps then also.

Stories are places we go to. Good virtual reality stories could be places you want to stay.

Jon Aird
Producer, writer and creator with a track record in making smash hit projects across online, social media and TV. Passionate about future trends and harnessing technology to delight audiences. Past projects include the BAFTA award winning digital Psychoville Experience and the viral hit interactive video The Burning Room.
Jon will be delivering a session at 11.15 on Thursday 14 July entitled Virtual Reality Thrills, Spills and Bellyaches