Meet the 100 rising stars of the UK games industry
Check out our interviews with the winners of this year's GamesIndustry.biz 100 | Sponsored by Amiqus
Video games are the point where coding and creativity intersect, and that's precisely what attracted Innes McKendrick to a career in the industry. “Early on, I really enjoyed programming but hated the idea of applying that to a more traditional tech field,” he says. “Video games seemed a great way to combine significant technical challenges with creativity, art and collaboration.”
And few games of recent times have been more technically challenging than No Man's Sky, but Innes has won the admiration of his colleagues at Hello Games for his skill with procedural programming. What they achieved with a “tiny team” cannot be underestimated, and Innes says that, “seeing the game get a physical, disc-based release felt like a monumental achievement.”
Beyond the nuts and bolts of development, Innes is also a valuable voice in the the industry's trans and wider LGBTQ communities. A colleague at Hello Games credits Innes with shaping their view on what the industry should be in the years to come, and influencing its course is one of his chief ambitions.
“I'd love to see more support for games, beyond their commercial viability,” he says. “More funding, visibility and inclusion for people of colour, women, queer, disabled and marginalised developers. More space for people to tell their stories, explore their utopias, and describe their experiences through games.
"I hope to have helped carve out and build up a whole bunch more space for queer, trans, non-binary and gender diverse developers to succeed in the games industry. And maybe have made some more stuff myself, too."
It was clear from a young age that Jamie Holding was destined for success in the games industry - his determination to blag his way into E3 during its industry-only years is indication enough of how keenly he pursued his career of choice.
Experimenting with development before he even entered university, he created Facebook Chess as soon as the social network made its API available. This title became such a hit that it was later purchased and further developed by Chess.com, and remains the most popular chess applications in the world.
The NDreams staffer is described as “one of the most naturally inquisitive programmers”, with his strong technical knowledge allowing him to deliver “even the most complex of networking backends”. And this expertise also translates into passion for his products.
“I'm immensely proud of every game I've shipped,” says Holding. “I'm most proud of when we shipped The Assembly at NDreams for the launch day of PlayStation VR, which was quite an effort. But well worth the energy to get it released on time.”
Holding is keen to warn other developers about the impact of crunch and burnout.
“It can seriously damage developer mental health, and when it becomes commonplace within organisations, doesn't gain you anything at all,” he says. “I've been lucky enough to very rarely have to work extra hours myself, and work at a company which has no general expectations of crunching.”
Now in her third year as a games journalist, Jen Simpkins began her career as staff writer on Official PlayStation Magazine. Her tireless work helped the publication defy the ongoing decline of the magazine sector and increase its circulation by nearly 10%.
Describing herself as the ‘princess of print', Simpkins soon earned a promotion to games editor, before defecting to sister title Edge last year as its new deputy editor. It's the culmination of a lifelong love for writing.
“For most of my early life, I was obsessed with both books and video games,” she says. “I always saw games and writing as two wildly different parts of my life until the end of secondary school, when I started reading gaming mags and sites on a daily basis. When I began my literature degree and started thinking more critically, I finally realised that game journalism was something I could – and very much wanted – to do.”
She describes the offer of the Edge position as “surreal” having only been in the industry “for what felt like five minutes” but is proud to work on one of the world's most prestigious games magazines. She attributes her rapid rise not only to hard work but also “good timing and people's willingness to take a chance on me.”
“I love to think I'm proving them right, day by day – although maybe don't quote Nathan [Brown, editor] on that,” she says.
Having achieved so much so fast, you'd think Simpkins would be low on career goals, but she still hopes to write a book, give a guest lecture at a university and try her hand at games development.
Epic Games/Artist & Animator
Described as “one of the most passionate people in the industry and one to watch for the future”, Jess's CV already includes art work on the Wii U version of Minecraft, and Seek: Find Your Friends on iOS.
Jess most recently worked as community manager at Epic Games, where she contributed as an Unreal advocate and gives a lot of her free time to helping youngsters get their feet on the games career ladder. She is also part of the BAFTA Games Crew and a STEM Ambassador.
“When I was little my dad re-trained from being an electrician in the navy to a games programmer,” she says. “My parents would often take me into Abertay University with them and I used to sit in the labs playing and testing the prototypes the students were creating and any other games to hand - so I guess my games career started as a QA tester when I was four and I've been hooked ever since.
“I'd love to improve the public's awareness of the variety of games on offer now. It's frustrating to still talk to people – especially parents – who think 'games aren't for them', often tinted by a violent perspective of our industry. Games have matured to the point that there's a game out there for everyone; whether that's a romance, crime, comedy or philosophy; something fast-paced and adrenaline pumping or slow and calming; complex controls or a single button press - it's there ready to be played. We just need to show them where to find it.”
Jodie's first job in games was as an animator at Zoe Mode. This was followed by a spell at UK giant Rebellion, during which she was promoted twice, before she eventually ended up at Creative Assembly – her promotion count there currently stands at three. Right now, she's a lead technical artist.
“Jodie is so passionate about her work and loves to share her knowledge with colleagues,” one former colleague says. “She is fantastic with all the extra ambassadorial work she does for schools and colleges, as well as for other causes like Women In Games.”
Jodie was also recognised as a BAFTA Breakthrough Brit in 2016 thanks to her work on Total War: Warhammer.
“Constant advancements in technology mean we're always pushing boundaries and finding new ways of making game content and experiences,” she says. “Being able to help solve these new challenges in an ever-evolving area is what makes me excited about game development.
“I want to develop games that explore ideas that are less common in today's titles and tell stories that aren't currently being told. This includes creating games based on my own ideas and also enabling other people, who may not be developers, to tell their stories through collaborative projects.
“Games is a brilliant medium for sharing culture and perspective, and there are many ways that we can engage players. I want to provide experiences that resonate with different people and allow the audience to gain insight into things they wouldn't otherwise be able to in their day-to-day lives.”
Despite being just 24 years old, Joe Brammer is already heading up his own studio – Bulkhead Interactive. Furthermore, its first project, Battalion 1944, has already made plenty of noise and proved a big hit with the hardcore competitive FPS crowd, having been picked up and published by the Square Enix Collective label.
Joe's interest in games started when he was just 11 and liked to mod Battlefield 1942, Battlefield 2 and Half-Life.
“When our staff's morale was low in the middle of Battalion, we had everyone stop working for two weeks and paint our shiny new office, lay carpet tiles and fix doors,” Joe says when asked about his proudest achievement. “It felt like we were literally building a big game studio. When it was finished it looked great and we were happy knowing that we 'built' our studio.”
Joe, like many on this list, also wants to see an improvement in the relationship currently held between players and developers.
“Players need to become more educated on how games are made, that will help reduce the amount of toxic communities and abusive teenagers,” he adds. “The best way to do that is for developers to start being more open.”
John Griffiths joined the games industry after working on animated films, and still feels a connection to the silver screen thanks to his work as an environment artist at TT Games. Like so many in this industry, he finds the line between his passions and his duties blurring, as demonstrated when asked to choose a career highlight.
“Recreating the infamous Battle of Endor forest for the opening level in LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens is definitely up there,” he says. “It fills me with a real sense of satisfaction that I not only contributed to a Star Wars game, but that one of my levels is the first that people play. It still gives me goosebumps now when I think about it.”
Griffiths desire to develop games dates back to his early experiences with PC titles like Commander Keen and Little Big Adventure, and while he was able to find the resources he needed to learn how to become a developer, he hopes to see the industry become more open about other aspects of video game careers.
“There is already a lot of information being taught on how to make a game - code, art, design and so on - but there isn't as much on the actual business of making a game,” he says. “Finding funding, managing and operating a business, promoting and marketing the game, are all areas that often get overlooked but have to be considered in order to survive in this highly competitive industry.”
Fortunately, Griffiths has taken it upon himself to help rectify this, hosting regular livestreams to explore and discuss new techniques and theories behind games development, something that aspiring games makers of all skill levels can learn from. He also speaks at schools and universities to inspire future talent and hopes to one day present at GDC.
Jordan Erica Webber
You'd be hard pressed to find many journalists who've enjoyed such success over as many disciplines as Jordan Erica Webber.
She's best known for her extensive work writing for the games section of The Guardian, but will also be recognisable to many thanks to her presenting work on Channel 5's The Gadget Show. She's also a published author, having co-written Ten Things Video Games Can Teach Us.
She's also a regular contributor across a number of editorial sites, while podcast and event hosting also feature on her swelling CV.
“I started writing about video games because I wanted to write but I lack the imagination to write fiction, and I thought writing about the news or something else would be too competitive and depressing,” she says.
“I've been having a minor identity crisis recently because – thanks to two television shows and a podcast – I feel like I barely actually write anymore, but I did release a book last year so I guess I can just hold onto that for a while.
“It would be nice if I could still be on television in five years' time, but they'll probably replace me with a younger model while my male colleagues are allowed to get visibly older.”
Picture credit: Drew Forsyth
It was running a YouTube channel covering the world of Warhammer tabletop gaming that led to Josephine being headhunted by Creative Assembly. A three-year stint as community coordinator followed before she moved across to the Total War: Rome II IP.
“I had always hoped I could break into the industry but it was a not a realistic goal I had initially set for myself, or so I thought,” Josephine says. “Gaming, puzzles and strategy have always been part of me and my childhood and I'm so grateful to be able to work in an industry that I've always been close to in some way or another.
“I enjoy working with others and feel that it's together we can really bring out the best in each other and ourselves if the team is right.”
This sustained success was rewarded with the promotion to brand manager.
"She is so dedicated and passionate about her work,” a colleague says. “She's got a young family and is such an inspiration, always helping others and being a strong voice encouraging diversity in the industry."
“I've been working in the games industry for nearly 20 years and have managed a lot of staff in my time,” one colleague says. “The special ones always pop out, and I do believe that Julian is one of those special ones.”
Juju [Julian] is a relative latecomer to games, having worked previously as a sound engineer and a theatre production manager. However, he has already solidified his position at publisher Devolver, and also runs a Discord focused on helping new developers.
"His skillset, attention to detail, and ability to approach problems from multiple angles bely his relatively young age,” another nominator says. “He has evidently worked with a wide range of people from different backgrounds, and it shows in his ability to keep a cool head.
“This has most recently been demonstrated when he took care of and submitted the PS4 version of our title, without having done it before. It's a testament to his ability that this is honestly the smoothest submission I've been involved with."
Adds Julian: “I've always felt this gnawing, indescribable need to create things, but I was no good at art and I barely scraped by with music. Fortunately, game development gives me the opportunity to create vibrant, almost tactile worlds using code and rules instead.
“If I'd been born in any other century I think I might have struggled...”
As a Dare to Be Digital winner, a BAFTA Wales New Media winner and BAFTA Ones to Watch nominee, Kate already has a trio of accolades to her name. Her studio Angry Mango was also behind the award-winning Xbox title Mush.
Kate's recent successes include an overhaul of the UI of chart-topping kids app Hopster. As if all that weren't enough, she's also a Women in Games ambassador.
“I made my first website age 11,” she says. “As a teenager I spent many, many hours messing around with digital art. For some reason though, it was only when I was in my art foundation year at university that I found out I could study and even have a career making games. I knew instantly I wanted to do that - I could almost see the light bulb over my head.
“There was a significant period of time after graduating when getting a job in games felt like a distant, almost impossible goal, made more difficult by struggling with my mental health. I feel like I've come a long way. I don't think I'm alone in having found that time hard though, and I'd like to find ways for us to give more support to young people trying to get their foot in the door.”
Katie graduated with a first class honours degree from Sir Paul McCartney's Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts in 2016 and has been lavished with honours since, becoming the first recipient of UK Music's Outstanding Contribution to Music graduate award and then receiving a Diversi & King scholarship to attend GDC last year.
As well as being a guitarist, bassist and drummer, Katie composed the score for indie film Deep Breaths and is heavily involved in music website The Sound Architect. She now works for UK studio Rare, with colleagues saying she is “dedicated, incredibly hard working and always persevering for excellence" and has “a fantastic work ethic and personality”.
She was most recently involved with Xbox and PC release Sea of Thieves.
“I've always had a deep respect for games and the work that goes into developing them,” she says. “I've also always had a joint passion for creativity and technology and games for me is a wonderful combination of the two.
“I get the satisfaction and enjoyment of experimenting with and creating new sounds or music, whilst also enjoying the challenges that come with implementing audio and marrying it with game mechanics.
“The community means a lot to me, too. I have met some of my dearest friends, and many incredible people since being a part of the games industry, and my first ever meet up was enough to make me realise it was the kind of community I wanted to be a part of.”
The descriptions of Kieran received from voters include “unsung hero”, “hard working”, “incredibly creative” and “the driving force behind video production and content creation”.
Added another: “Without people like Kieran in the industry putting their heart and soul into everything they do, fans on YouTube and Twitch wouldn't be able to consume half as much content as they do.
“He's the invisible guy behind the screen, snipping away in video editing software, just so me and everyone else who loves these channels can sit back with a cuppa and watch endless amounts of content about the thing we all love. He's one of the good guys."
Kieran has always had a passion for games and for games writing, but it was the rise of video that gave him the chance to take his skillset and become a success in games.
“I know it can seem like a continuous drum people beat on, but honestly, it's a pretty important drum – I'd love to see more representation from people from different walks of life,” Kieran adds. “I love reading accounts in gaming from people with different creeds, people of different genders or hell, no gender. People who struggle with mental health issues or physical issues.
“There are some people in the network I work with who struggle with different afflictions in life who put their all into everything, and I'd love to see more of them brought to the spotlight because they are simply phenomenal people who are so damn inspiring.”