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Arcade Mode - Part Two

Blitz Arcade director Chris Swan on staff training, finding content on digital platforms and the importance of company integrity

In part one of the interview with Blitz Arcade director Chris Swan he talked about the impact on retail outlets of digital distribution, and offered his opinion on the Dare to be Digital competition.

Here he continues those thoughts, and also talks about staff training, finding content on digital platforms and the importance of company integrity. Continuing on the Dare to be Digital subject, you feel that the competition allows individuals to learn more about working cross-discipline?
Chris Swan

Yes - that's crucial. You've got to have that element. Blitz spends a fair amount each year on training graduates to bring them up to scratch - how important is it for developers to be pro-active with regards to the education system?
Chris Swan

I think that's a key thing that we all need to join together and focus on. Because the trouble you're going to have otherwise, which I think we found quite a bit to start with, was that the lecturers for gaming courses aren't necessarily well-versed in what you need to be in game development.

Because most people who would be good at game development are still making games. There's not too much incentive for people to go back to the academic world and be a lecturer on games if you can still have the buzz of making games happen.

So I do think we need to work closely with the academic world to make sure that courses are appropriate. We've found quite a few times people learning Java, which isn't a language we use particularly at all in games development. Is it also partly a problem that the industry moves so quickly in terms of technology and platforms?
Chris Swan

Yes, that's definitely a factor, but it can't be just games that has that problem. I'm sure that media studies runs into that sort of collision, or they are now that things are becoming so convergent.

Perhaps we should focus more on the Dare to be Digital approach and actually try to get teams making things in cross-discipline groups - they're the skills that are going to help a lot more. Going back to XBLA - earlier in the year Microsoft announced that it was planning to cull some of the catalogue, and then changed its mind. Were they right to put that cull on hold?
Chris Swan

My personal thought is that I don't think it was the right decision to go for - to announce they were going to have the cull in the first place. I can't really understand when it's a digital platform why you can't just change it and have smart filtering instead.

Amazon sells millions of books, and some of them are terrible books, but it doesn't matter because there's filtering, and you can just find the top ten, popular genres, recommendations, and that kind of thing.

That's the solution that I would have thought would have been better. So you definitely feel there's a way for user to cut through the noise?
Chris Swan

It's the long tail approach that you're really after in terms of distribution, and you just need a filter on top of that so that you can get the products you need. How important are things like peer reviews or recommendations?
Chris Swan

I think that's a key element that needs to get sorted. The games do on the XNA platform, which we think could be a great system, but you definitely need to get that feedback loop in there so that people can know - and then you can also start tracking certain people in case what they like, you like, and that whole kind of system.

But you can't get that working if it's just a one-way street. It's an interesting time as far as developers go - there aren't too many independent companies left. Do you enjoy working for an independent company?
Chris Swan

Yes, definitely. I don't know if I could imagine it any other way, to be honest. The thing that keeps me happy is that we have the flexibility to control our own destiny, which is in all the various divisions we have, so that we can capture whichever way the market heads in the future. The company management seems to be well-respected.
Chris Swan

Yes - good integrity. I think that's the main thing that people say about the Olivers, is that they're fantastic people to work for. That whole culture comes from them, really. There's a lot of movement in the industry - it's an ever-shifting landscape. Can that create uncertainty around companies sometimes?
Chris Swan

I suppose there probably is in small doses, but there are probably plenty of opportunities there as well. It's all part of the fact that we've been forced to grow up over the last few years, and as the business has grown up some people have gone on perhaps quicker than others, and maybe some people have gone too far on that side without remembering that it has to be a fun environment to make good games.

So you need all the extremes to happen so you can keep going in a fast-moving industry really. And has integrity been the key to Blitz' success over all the years?
Chris Swan

I think it's definitely helped long term. They've been here 18 years now, and I think that we've proven again and again that we haven't just boasted something that isn't actually true about the company. We've just stuck to our guns, whether it didn't sound so formidable at some points compared to other companies, we just stayed true to our word and over the long term it's proven to be a winner for us.

Chris Swan is director of Blitz Arcade. Interview by Phil Elliott.

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