Eugene Evans may look like a success, but he feels like a survivor. Speaking at the Develop conference in Brighton this week, Evans reflected on a 30-year career that took him from one of the first computer retailers in the UK to the general manager of BioWare Mythic. Along the way, he held influential positions at Psygnosis, Viacom, Zipper Interactive and Electronic Arts, and yet his message for an audience of largely young developers is not how to succeed, but how to survive.
"I was joking with somebody earlier about the point in my talk when I asked everybody to stand up if they'd been in the business long enough," Evans says when we meet after his talk. "Well, there are plenty of people who've been in the business for 30 years and have been successful to the point where they don't have to come to conferences any more. Perhaps the really successful ones aren't here for that very reason."
"We could see the tech getting better, we were trying to drive the edge of what could be done, but what we couldn't foresee was the social changes, and the global reach"
Evans is very clear about one thing: a career in the games industry, or any other entertainment business, is a privilege, and something to be cherished. However, gaming has always been defined by relentless change, which makes success and survival near impossible to separate. And compared to the contemporary industry - with its myriad platforms, business models and distribution methods - the world Evans encountered in the Eighties was simplicity itself.
"We could see the tech getting better, the visuals getting better, we were trying to drive the edge of what could be done, but what we couldn't foresee was the social changes, and the global reach," he says. "Our view in the UK was narrow, especially at first: we were just trying to serve the UK market, then we started selling across Europe. The US wasn't even a consideration - how would we even get our products there?"
For Evans, this inability to predict the social implications of gaming's rapid growth is at the root of many of the prevalent issues of the day: representations of gender, race and sexuality, the ubiquity of violence in gameplay, the lack of depth in characterisation and storytelling; games are no longer made by men for an audience of boys, and the fact that these subjects are now debated with such passion speaks to how broad and diverse the gaming population has become.
"I think we struggle with it at times," he admits. "It's the same in other forms of tech, and online in general. When Facebook started, did they foresee some of the social issues it would produce and some of the challenges it would create around managing that community, and the tools they would need to create to manage that community and allow the community to manage itself? They've had to run and run to keep up with that, and games also struggle with it.
"We've still got to innovate, and figure out ways to tell new and interesting stories that challenge us in ways that, when we were making such simple games, we didn't even think about."
"We've still got to innovate, and figure out ways to tell new stories that challenge us in ways that, when we were making such simple games, we didn't even think about"
The ultimate goal, the ideal, is to have a game for every person and every taste, and Evans is confident that the industry is ready to meet that challenge. In his role as general manager of BioWare Mythic, Evans is closely involved with the hiring of graduates, and the diversity and ability of these young applicants is more impressive than at any time in the history of the games industry.
"They've been gamers all their lives, they've studied games at university, and they walk in with so much more understanding than they did before," he says. "They can choose between coming into a big company or scrapping it out and downloading the Facebook SDK, or iOS, or Unity. We now have people coming in with none of the prescribed notions of old, and they're giving us great, compelling ideas and experiences, some of which will fail, and some of which will break out.
"There's room for all of them. It's no different from when there was a fear that television would destroy cinema, or radio would destroy theatre. No: it evolves. There's such diversity now that developers are having to make choices. It used to be that a new technology would come along and we'd all jump on it and do that, but there are now too many ways to game and too many gamers.
"Developers will make choices, and they will make choices based on - I hope - their passions."